Read the first scene of A Horseman’s Mission

Lane Becker opened the cabin door and stepped into a scene straight out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

He planted his cowboy boots on the hardwood floor of the front room. One hand rested on his hip and the other held a paper cup with the dregs of an Americano from Jo E’s Java. His gaze swept the first floor of the renovated cabin on his property. Everything looked in good condition. Better than he’d left it, actually.

Still . . .

Next to a closed laptop on the kitchen counter, he spotted an open food magazine. A woman’s? Or was that a chauvinistic generalization?

A closed drawing pad was on the floor in front of the couch. Scattered colored pencils surrounded it. A child’s belongings or those of an artistic, food-oriented adult?

Lane sniffed the air. Cinnamon? Sugar? Definitely coffee. Maybe a little vanilla from the semi-burned candle sitting on the mantle of the stone fireplace.

He’d come across a mystery for sure. When he left a week ago, this place was sparse of furniture and musty smelling. Today, it looked like a home and smelled like a bakery.

He entered the only bedroom on the ground floor. Boxes stacked two and three high along the inner wall had replaced the double bed. On the hunt for the piece, Lane climbed the narrow stairwell to the two bedrooms on the second floor. He peered into the first one and found the missing iron bed. Someone had covered it with a flowery pink and white spread.

A woman’s silver wedding band and engagement ring rested on the chest of drawers. The oversized diamond winked at him. Behind the rings, a man Lane had never met stared at him from a framed photograph.

He opened the closet door and found skirts, pants, blouses, and women’s shoes. No men’s clothing, just an invisible trail of enticing scents, including an orange blossom perfume. Okay, a woman—a married woman?—slept in his supposed-to-be-vacant house. Who and why?

He peeked into the second bedroom. It contained a single bed with a navy-blue bedspread and a small chest. Normal looking, except for the boy’s pajamas balled up on the bed, a cell phone thrown on the mattress, and an array of children’s paperbacks on the nightstand. In one corner, a giant bean bag slumped like a deflated basketball. Two more boxes were beside it.

Exasperated by the invasion of his property, Lane jogged down the stairs. In the kitchen, a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls, half of them missing, sat on the stove. The sight and smell intensified the gnawing ache in his empty stomach. Should he, or shouldn’t he?

They were too tempting to ignore. Besides, he might as well collect a little rent from his unexpected “guests.” He tore off a roll and bit into it. Still warm and with a texture that melted in his mouth. He shut his eyes and savored the spiciness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the icing that dribbled to coat his fingers. Something a little different about the icing hit his tastebuds. Honey maybe? Whatever the flavor, either he was starving, or this tasted amazing.

His breakfast disappeared with four bites, and he stared at the pan. Should he eat another one? He resisted. No sense wearing out his welcome . . . on his own land.

After washing the stickiness from his hands, Lane opened the dishwasher. Inside, he found a large mug, a clear drinking glass, and two small plates. More evidence of only two people living here. He opened the back door. Someone had parked a silver, compact sedan behind the cabin.

Curiosity and irritation volleyed back and forth within him. Whoever trespassed had made themselves at home. Brazen, considering the main house was on the other side of a narrow strip of trees and less than five hundred feet away. The barn was a mere couple of hundred feet on the opposite side of the cabin.

He didn’t need great deductive skills to guess who on the ranch knew Goldie squatted in his cabin. What he didn’t know was why.

Lane dug the cell phone from his pocket and hit Monte’s number. Over the ringing of his great uncle’s phone came the distinct sound of a creaking porch board. Ending the call, he crept to the front door. As he whipped it open, a high-pitched squeal lanced his eardrums.

A woman dashed across the porch and down the steps. After putting a safe distance between them, she swung around to face him, her fists clenched and held in front of her like an amateur boxer. Seriously? He outweighed her by a good sixty pounds, not to mention the muscle strength he’d built after years of working with horses.

Under other circumstances, he might have enjoyed how cute she looked in her attempt to appear threatening. Instead, he straightened to his full six-one height, reminding himself that this woman trespassed. She could even be a criminal. He studied her. Maybe a crazy one.

Not that she scared him. Clearly, though, he scared her.

She jabbed a finger at him. “What are you doing in my house?”

His lips crimped. She wanted to play it that way, huh? “Your house?”

“Yes. You have no business on this property.” The soft, southern drawl contradicted the fierceness in her narrow-eyed expression, a look hard to pull off for someone as petite as this squatter.

“I hate to argue with you, ma’am, but I have all the business in the world.” Lane stepped onto the porch but stopped when she backed up. “I own this property.”

“No, you don’t. Mr. Becker owns it. It’s his land.”

“That’s right. I am Mr. Becker.” A cloud of doubt crossed her face. Without giving her time to recover, he said, “My name is Lane Becker. I own Crooked Creek Ranch.”

Her squared shoulders sagged, but she didn’t drop her fists. “You aren’t the one who hired me and told me I could move in here.”

She was an employee? Only one Becker could have hired someone while he was gone. “Would that person be a tough old man with a wiry, gray mustache?”

She stood like a wild-eyed mare looking for an excuse to spook. “He said his name was Monte Becker.”

Lane sighed. What else had Uncle Monte done during his absence? “My uncle hired you? To do what?”

“He’s your uncle? He doesn’t own this place?”

“My great-uncle, and no, he doesn’t.”

“Oh.” She unfurled her fingers, and her gaze dropped to the pair of flats she wore.

Lane propped his hands on his hips. Now what? He had promised the therapist a place to work while he helped oversee the upcoming programs for the equine center. How was Lane to fulfill that promise when this woman occupied the space?

She pointed to the coffee cup in his hand. “Jo at the coffee shop told me you were hiring.” Blue-gray eyes stared up at him in innocence before they turned to unyielding resolve. “I’m Macie Newman, your new cook and housekeeper.”

When he’d asked his friend, Jo, if she knew of anyone looking for a housekeeping job, he should have stressed that it wasn’t a live-in position.

A waterfall of sun-streaked golden hair draped over Mrs. Newman’s shoulders and framed the gorgeous face of a woman he guessed was close to his own early thirties. Faded jeans and a short-sleeved knit shirt covered curves in all the right places. And those steely eyes told him she wasn’t going anywhere. Not without a fight.

So, now he knew how Goldie found his horse farm. With that determination in her expression, he sensed something else brought her to his small hometown.

What, and how would he get rid of her?

FB Posts (8)