King’s Country, Oil Kings Book 4

I can’t wait to share this with you!! This book was a joy to write. It was one of those that wrote itself. I love Dawson and Bristol’s journey.

Sneak peek:

Chapter One

Bristol

Bitter wind cut around the collar of my old Carhartt jacket, sending shivers racking down my body. My teeth chattered, but I tucked my chin further into my jacket and encouraged Bucket forward. My bay’s full name was ShitBucket, thanks to Pop, but I’d shortened it. 

God. Pop. What would life had he been like if he’d been able to crawl out of the bottle? What did that say about me? That part of me was relieved I didn’t have to endure his need for control and the daily verbal tongue lashings anymore?

I blinked back tears and squinted into the wind. Bucket’s hooves crunched through old snow into the dried, brittle grass underneath. Daisy, my rescue dog, trotted next to us, her tongue lolling out. The pound had thought she was a mix of Australian shepherd and rottweiler, but I’d only cared that she wanted to herd cattle, and more importantly, that she had been free. That she’d turned out be a damn fine dog was one of the few good things that had happened to me.

Bucket was another. And I was risking them both in this weather, but the four-wheeler wouldn’t start. Again. 

 Another gust of wind bit into my skin. It was bringing an early March storm. I couldn’t remember which month was in like a lion, out like a lamb. March? April? Hell, in Montana, it could also be May. But this month had been all lion and I’d had two heifers calve early. One had lost her young.

Stress clenched my jaw. What the hell was I going to do?

I’d been asking myself that for as long as I could remember, but with Pop’s death had come open books to the actual state of the ranch. 

It was worse than I’d thought. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t lost everything already, and I knew the only reason we hadn’t was because Pop was so hard to deal with it’d been easier for businesses to ignore him. They wouldn’t feel the same way about me. 

Well…maybe a little. But since I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol, I also wasn’t fueled by liquid courage that stole all the fucks I had to give about what disparaging things I said to people’s faces. 

I had that going for me and it happened to be my biggest weakness right now. The mailbox was already full of notices. We owed for feed, we owed for equipment, and we were overdrawn. Not we. Me. Pop had put everything under Cartwright Cattle and now that he was gone, it had fallen to me, debt and all. 

Our cattle weren’t healthy. They routinely got injured because Pop had been too stubborn to move fencing to block bad areas the cows were drawn to, which only led to them getting stuck in mud, breaking a leg, or calving in the toughest spot for a human to reach. 

I was missing one now. Dammit, Pop. He’d let the bull in the cow pasture too damn early. I’d talked him into spring calving. We didn’t have enough bodies or resources to keep calves healthy in the cold months, and what we lost in income for lighter calves in the fall, we’d make up for in lower feeding costs and less wear and tear on bodies. Mostly me, out feeding and tracking down calving cows in bitter temperatures in January or February, even early March. We could turn calves out to pasture sooner after they were born, saving manpower and feed. April, even early May, would’ve been better to aim for. Sure, sometimes nature had other ideas, but for the most part, cows were less likely to give birth out in the middle of nowhere before impending storms. 

Pop had been resistant and last year after a spat between us, he’d turned out the bull. He’d probably thought he’d be around to deal with the fallout—even though he would’ve been in a drunken stupor. But he’d died, and it was only me. 

My phone vibrated against my chest. I should ignore it. It wasn’t like anyone was calling to offer their sympathies for Pop being gone. The only other person who mourned his death was the owner of the liquor store and he’d been a selfish bastard who had fueled Pop’s addiction no matter how often I asked him to turn Pop away. 

I yanked off a thin glove and pulled my phone out. It was the one luxury I’d managed to squirrel money away for. It wasn’t fancy, but it was smart and I could pay ahead for the data I used. Sometimes I had enough to splurge for a movie, but Pop had sniffed out extra cash more often than not.  

Marshall’s name flashed across the screen. I groaned. Dammit. I was late and since I hadn’t found the wandering cow, I likely wasn’t going to make our date. 

“Hey,” I answered, turning my head to minimize wind interference. Bucket was sauntering slow enough I didn’t have to watch where he was going.  

“Goddammit, Bristol, where the hell are you?” His tone wasn’t as irate as Pop’s usually had been, but familiar anxiety twined its way around my insides. 

“Marshall, sorry. There’s a problem on the ranch.”

“There’s always a problem on the ranch.” He paused for a beat but I had nothing to interject. He was right. “You aren’t even on your way to town, are you?”

I swallowed. If he was pissed already… “One of the cows I planned to get in before the storm is missing.” I’d missed the last meet-the-parents meal and Marshall could be persistent. 

“For fuck’s sake, are you telling me that you can’t make another dinner with my parents? We’ve already canceled once.” 

You’ve already canceled once.” My jaw set as humiliation chased away some of the cold. I’d shown up to dinner at Hogan’s, the local steakhouse, in my best jeans and the nicest shirt I owned. Marshall had blanched and asked if that was what I was wearing. Then he’d called his parents and said that I had the stomach flu. 

“Bristol… we talked about this. We might not be from King’s Creek, but even my parents know your dad’s reputation. You can’t show up to a nice dinner in your work clothes looking like you don’t give a damn.” 

I ground my jaw together. Those were my best clothes. My only set of nice clothes. 

“They’re already put out, having to drive an hour to get here when the weather sucks.” He blew out a gusty sigh. “When are you gonna arrive?”

“I don’t know.” I glanced around the bleak landscape. A few flakes fluttered on the wind. Shit. I had to find her.  

“Are you telling me that you’re putting a cow before your boyfriend?”

If you were a good boyfriend, you wouldn’t have to ask. I brushed that thought away as fast as it formed. Marshall was a good man. Unlike a lot of the men in King’s Creek, he thought I was worth more than a quick fuck and a brag that they’d bagged the prickly Bristol Cartwright. I’d learned the hard way that dating in my hometown was only a trial in failure. 

“Marshall, if she calves and one or both die, that’s a lot of money.” And more lives added to my conscience. These animals were either raised for food or to breed more animals for food, so having them suffer and die for nothing was waste on so many levels. It hurt my heart more than I cared to admit. 

“Bristol.” There was the patronizing tone that I’d worked hard to ignore the last couple months of dating. “This was an important night for me.”

“And this is an important job to me.” I bit my tongue before telling him that if he cared about me at all, if he’d been listening to me at all, he’d know how critical this was. Too many people already made comments about how I was just like Pa. 

“It’s your job. These are my parents and they drove an hour to meet you—again. If you don’t get here in the next half hour, I can’t do this.” 

It wasn’t like I could invite them to my place, tell them to make themselves at home, kick back, and I’d be in shortly. My home wasn’t presentable, which hadn’t been an issue. Marshall hadn’t expressed interest in seeing my place, or staying the night. He’d always invited me over to his house in Miles City. I’d spent good money on gas to get there when the funds should’ve gone back to the ranch—or to buy a new set of clothing that would’ve passed the parent test.

Which brought up another issue. I still didn’t have any nicer clothing than before. Putting Pop to rest had emptied my bank account, and since no sympathy cards flooded the mailbox, much less any filled with money, I was on a tighter budge than normal. 

These cows and their calves were my future. Without them, I didn’t have a ranch or a way to bring in money. I couldn’t slowly build the ranch up to be self-sustainable. I couldn’t grow it until it sustained me. I couldn’t throw my livelihood away over one man’s hissy fit. 

Marshall would have to understand. He’d see my side. He’d support me. 

Right? 

“Marshall—”

“Fuck, Bristol. Are you kidding me? You’re choosing a cow over me?” 

“I—”

“No, if you can’t tell me that you’re on your way here right now, then I’m done. Done, Bristol.”

I blinked against the onslaught of his anger, against the urge to shrink into my coat, turn Bucket around, and race to the RV I was living in and hide. 

“Bristol?”

I squeezed my eyes shut. The grind of Bucket’s hooves on the ground centered me. This was the right decision. “I…can’t.”

“All right then.” He bit out the words and ended the call. 

I stared at the phone and bit my lip, momentarily considering turning Bucket around and racing home. 

Then what? I’d show up and he’d be pissed that I was wearing cowboy boots and had hat hair? Then I could be publicly shamed once again. 

“Shit.” Nothing was happening until I found my cow. The task took my mind off the unexpected breakup. 

It shouldn’t have been unexpected. I hadn’t even thought of Marshall when I’d saddled Bucket and headed out. Selfish like Pop. Wasn’t that what people would say? 

Daisy whined next to me. 

“Follow the fence,” I said as if the dog could understand me. Daisy might. She was a smart creature. “There must’ve been a hole she escaped through. Let’s find it.” 

The phone buzzed. I glanced down and scowled at the screen. 

I can’t believe you.

He dumped me. He’d gotten the last word. Why the message? 

Bucket started up an incline that normally wouldn’t give him problems, but the crunch of snow under his hooves filled me with anxiety. He shouldn’t be out in this. I’d need to make a decision between the cow and my horse, and the cow wouldn’t win. I couldn’t do this job without Bucket. He was a good ranch horse. 

My phone buzzed again. Another message or just the reminder buzz? 

After this hill, the rest of the terrain wouldn’t be that bad. I’d moved all the cattle out of the pasture with the nasty ravine before Pop had died and before winter had set in. Pop had been too sick to get out of the house to know what I’d done. He’d refused every other time and my asshole neighbor Dawson had gladly called to berate me about the poor cows that had found their way into the ravine and hadn’t survived the trip. 

He might’ve texted that message, but I knew Dawson well enough to infer the tone. 

If he knew that I’d lost a cow ready to give birth, he’d have more choice words to give me. The guy had no inkling what it’d been like to ranch with Pop and I doubted he cared. He only cared that I was a Cartwright and apparently that was enough to earn his hate. 

The phone kept buzzing, but Bucket was close to the crest, his powerful body bunching and heaving to keep from slipping down the incline. I should stuff the phone back into my pocket and hold on with both hands. I should turn him back around and find a safer way down. My search for the cow was done.

And yet, my heart ached. Gritting my teeth, I clutched the phone in one hand and the reins in the other. “Come on, boy, you can do it.”

Daisy ran ahead and danced in a circle like she was cheering Bucket on. 

Montana winters were brutal, but the last few years, there’d been stretches where temperatures reached nearly forty degrees. All it did was melt the top layers of snow and make it hard to get through the pasture on horseback. I should’ve thought of that before I risked cutting up Bucket’s legs. 

“Almost there.” 

Bucket’s sides heaved. If I had oats to spare, I’d rain them down on him when we got back. He deserved spoiling and I couldn’t do it nearly enough. 

My fingers were stiff and the phone vibrated again, falling out of my hands. 

I gasped and scrambled for it at the same time Bucket lunged over a particularly bad spot. The way he landed bounced me in the saddle and I yelped, startling him just as he was primed for another lunge. He heaved and landed off-kilter by a section of fence that was loose. Barbed wire sprawled onto the land bordering mine. 

Already thrown out of his calm, Bucket spun, tossing me from my seat. I was an experienced rider, and had it not been for Marshall and that damn phone, I would’ve been ready. But I went airborne and tried to right myself before landing in a mess of barb wire. Agony exploded through my right leg and the rest of my body slammed into the unforgiving ground. 

Crying out, I rolled and pinpricks of pain stabbed through my legs. I gasped in breaths and forced myself to focus through the blaze of pain. 

What the fuck had happened?

My brain registered it before I recognized it. 

I’d broken my leg. 

Son of a bitch. I blinked and carefully raised my upper body, my breath coming in panicked pants as fire engulfed my lower body. I’d landed on the line of barbed wire that was supposed to be attached to the top of the fence posts. My jeans had taken the brunt of their angry stabs, but each move drove the barbs deeper. 

Shaking, I looked at my leg. My vision was blurry. I didn’t know if the tears were from the pain or the cold, but I sniffled and forced myself to concentrate. 

How did I get out of this?

“Bucket?” 

A soft nicker met my ears. He hadn’t run off. But he was on the other side of the fence. Maybe I could crawl to him and drag myself onto his back. 

The wind howled and more flakes danced in the air, zipping by me like they had better things to do. Daisy ran around me, whining and sniffing my face. 

“I’m all right, girl.” The wind stole my words. I wasn’t all right. I was in the middle of nowhere, tangled in barbed wire, with a broken leg and a storm on the way. 

The cow wasn’t the only one in trouble.

#

Dawson

I stomped into the house, grateful to let the warmth of my favorite place in the world swallow me up. 

“Shit weather’s on its way,” I said to no one. The house was empty. Should I bring one of the barn cats inside? 

I shook my head, answering my own question. There was no reason not to. Other than my brothers giving me eternal crap for spoiling cats. 

I couldn’t help it they liked me so much.

I tossed my jacket on a hook. The mudroom off the garage wasn’t nearly as full of winter weather gear now that Xander and Savvy had left. Once the weather wasn’t so far below zero, they’d taken off to find their own piece of paradise and do a little traveling. 

The house was quiet once again. 

I set my gloves and hat on the bench and toed out of my boots. I was prepared to get snowed in. The guys who worked for me had wrapped everything up. Our calves had all dropped. I could semi relax though this storm for once. Tucker had put the cow we’d found wandering through the back forty in the barn. It was going to drop any day, but I could keep an eye on it so Tucker and Kiernan could hunker down at their homes.

I shook my head again. I’d have to let the fucking Cartwrights know I had the cow in our pen and he’d— 

I let out a sigh. Danny was gone. I’d rarely dealt with him, and Bristol and I were more than happy to communicate through curt text messages. But I’d call her for this one. 

The haunting image of her from her dad’s memorial service snaked through my mind. Shoving away the guilt, I dialed her number, primed to give her a piece of my mind. The cow had dug into one of my bales and chomped away. 

After the fifth ring, I hung up and tried again. For all of Bristol’s prickly ways, not answering my calls wasn’t one of them. Her land bordered mine, and we had to deal with each other. We sucked it up, and I stayed as professional as my get your shit together tone would allow. 

No answer. 

I punched out a message. Found one of your heifers. I hit send.

Dammit. It was about to storm. I tapped out another one. She’s safe in my barn. 

That was all I could do. It wasn’t like a Cartwright to let us do much for them. They’d accuse us of screwing them over anyway. 

I went to the kitchen and opened the fridge door. I had hamburger, roasts, steaks, vegetables, pasta in the cupboard, potatoes on the counter, but cooking for one got old fast. While my brother and his wife had been here, I’d indulged way too often in my favorite hobby. There’d been three of us and I’d had leftovers for me and the guys. I had to pare it down to just me riding out a storm. Maybe I’d just make some spaghetti. 

With meatballs. Mozzarella stuffed meatballs. 

I was digging out a pound of hamburger when barking intruded my recipe formulations. I shoved the food back in the fridge and straightened. Claws skittering up and down my porch filtered into the house. My old cattle dog had died a couple of years ago and I should’ve gotten around to replacing him a couple of years ago, but I hadn’t.

Going to the front window, I peered out. Bristol’s dog was going batshit on my porch, racing up and down the length, hopping at the windows and rising up to her hind legs at the door like she was going to barge in. “Daisy?” 

The dog must’ve heard me. She spun around and went crazy barking. Every few barks, she’d pause and gaze toward the pastures. 

Something was wrong. 

I ran to the mudroom and got back into everything I’d just gotten out of. Jogging outside, my boots crunched against old snow and ice that hadn’t gotten a chance to melt yet in our cold March temperatures. 

Daisy raced around the house and stopped when she saw me. She turned one way, then whined and looked back at me.

“What’s wrong?” As if she could tell me. 

I dug into my pocket and fished out my keys. This wasn’t the weather to take a horse out in. The guys and I maintained painstakingly manicured trails through the pastures so that we could use wheeled vehicles, whether it was the Ranger or the pickup. I went for the little Ranger. It had a cab and was more versatile than my pickup in the pastures. 

Daisy didn’t wait for me. She ran off. 

“Dammit. Wait.” I sprinted for the Ranger, slipping and sliding, but made it without falling. I fired up the engine and hoped I could find the dog. 

She raced through the pastures, not waiting for me to stop and open gates, then stop on the other side and close them. I sped after her.

I bumped and jumped over the pastures, pushing the speed of the small engine. After we crested one rolling hill, I spotted Bucket. My stomach bottomed out. He was saddled, but there was no rider. There was bad weather coming. Where the hell was Bristol? 

As the Ranger struggled up a particularly nasty hill, my gaze was on Bucket, struggling to think of any logical reason that Bristol wasn’t around, when Daisy’s barking caught my attention. Bucket trotted away from the noise but I barely noticed. 

Bristol was on her side, her body curled in on itself. 

Fear drove adrenaline though my veins. I stopped as close as I could to Bristol. A section of fence had fallen, not a surprise with the shoddy work Danny Cartwright had done with his land. But somehow Bucket had bucked Bristol right into the mess of it. She had her arms hugged into her and her stocking hat tugged so far down it was hard to see her brilliant red hair. 

“Bristol?” 

I don’t know if she nodded or just shivered. I gingerly stepped over the fence. It was twisted around her legs. The headlights of my Ranger lit the rusty blood staining her jeans where the barbs had stabbed her. 

“M-m-my l-l-leg.” 

“Broken?” How’d a rider like her gotten thrown? It didn’t matter. My mind worked over everything I needed to do. “Which one?”

She extracted one hand to tap on her right leg, then tucked it back into the warmth of her body. Sitting in a heap of metal on top of ice, injured, she had to be freezing. Freezing to death. 

“Wait here.” I went back to the Ranger. Bristol had to be in bad shape if she didn’t bite my head off asking about where else she could go. I searched the little tool box for what I needed to free Bristol from the wire. 

Going to work, she stayed still as I cut around her. I cut as many points as I could, but I still had to remove it from her body.

“Bristol, this is going to hurt.” The animosity we’d nurtured over the years was tabled. She needed help and I was the only one to give it. 

“D-doesn’t matter. D-d-do it.” 

Not many points were actually still stuck in her, but even I winced as I yanked them from her body. 

She drew in a shaky breath, but I wasn’t done. “I have to move you, and you’re lying on some wire. Can you sit up?”

I knelt next to her, cold leeching through my jeans. How fucking cold was she? She struggled to a sitting position, trying her best to keep from jostling her right leg, but her already ashen face was bled of more color. 

When she moved her arms to brace herself, one hand without a glove. “What the hell happened to your glove?” How could she go out in this weather so unprepared? 

She flinched and I immediately regretted the heat in my words. She’d been through a lot today and didn’t need my shit. “I w-w-was trying to warm up my hand before t-t-rying to get up again.”

One glove was missing. Obviously she hadn’t meant to lose it. “Here.” I took mine off.

She shook her head and squirmed to try to stand again. 

I kept my hand on her shoulder. “I can wrestle the gloves on you and waste more time.”

“F-fine.” She put them on and I didn’t miss the beat of relief that passed over her face. “G-grab Bucket.” 

“He’s fine.”

“G-get him.” Her jaw was rigid and she wouldn’t budge. I’d have to wrestle her if I didn’t get her horse first. 

“Don’t move while I grab him. And put this on.” I shrugged out of my coat and draped it around her shoulders. Her own jacket was way too thin for this wind. 

The wind batted against my shirt. It was frigid, but I was moving and we’d be in the Ranger soon enough. 

I jumped the fence and walked slowly toward Bucket. He watched me warily, but I was familiar enough. I snuck him goodies when I was out on Gold Rush and riding past his pasture. 

Bucket allowed me to take the reins. As I was going back, aiming for the hole in the fence and hoping that Bucket was comfortable enough with the rumble of the engine to let me tie him to the Ranger and lead him back, I spotted a rectangular black object on top of the snow. 

She’d lost her phone. Bristol had been in more trouble than I’d thought. I picked it up and the screen sluggishly flashed on to show a series of messages from a man named Marshall berating her, and then my missed calls. 

Whoever Marshall was, I didn’t like him. I didn’t care how obstinate Bristol was, she didn’t deserve a series of text bubbles telling her she was trash. 

I secured Bucket and went back to Bristol with my hands tucked under my armpits. “I have to pick you up. 

“I can stand.”

“Bristol.” 

“I can stand.” Her green eyes flashed determination. There was only so much help she would accept. As stubborn as her daddy.

“All right. Stand then.” I put my hands under her armpits and lifted.

A pain-filled cry echoed around us and she sagged, her right leg limp.

“Shit.” I snugged her against me with my arm around her and half carried her, half limped her to the Ranger. The only reason I didn’t swing her into my arms was so she could have some control over how her leg dangled. If I carried her, it’d get bumped around. 

Once I had her loaded, I patted the back platform and Daisy jumped on. I took off, going only as fast as Bucket would follow. He had no problem with the Ranger, probably because I was the treat guy. Eternity came and went with only Bristol’s ragged breathing. I wanted to pull up next to my pickup because she needed a hospital, but I knew she’d argue about Bucket. 

“I’ll put Bucket with the other horses, and then we’re going to the ER.”

Indecision crossed her face, but she had to realize she didn’t have a choice. “Okay. Thanks.” 

“It’s what neighbors do.” I got out and untied Bucket. I shouldn’t have gotten that dig in, but for years I’d tried to extend an olive branch to her and she slapped it down on a good day. Most days, she sent that branch back smoking from a verbal tongue lashing. She didn’t hold back on her opinions. 

Once Bucket was unsaddled and settled, safe enough for the storm, I started the pickup, flicked the heat to high, and pulled it close to the Ranger. I wasn’t going to worry about parking the Ranger in its spot by the shop, or even getting it inside the shop. Bristol needed medical attention. 

She was already trying to get out of the Ranger on her own. 

“We should splint it,” I offered.

“Let’s just go.” Damn woman. 

I rushed to her side. Her jeans were stiff from horse sweat and blood—blood that should’ve been in her white face. 

We didn’t say a word until we got to town. Concentration was etched into her features and from the way she bent over her leg and held it off the vibrations of the floor, she was probably trying not vomit from the agony. 

“I found one of your cows,” I said. We rolled past the buildings on the edge of town. The lumber yard, a dollar store, and a gas station. I turned onto the main road that’d take us to the small hospital that served King’s Creek. 

Bristol’s sharp inhale had me looking over. Hope shone in her eyes. “Is she all right?”

“I put in her in the barn.” She’d know that there was nothing like a storm to bring on labor. One of the top ten of Murphy’s Laws of Ranching. 

Relief made her body sag as much as it could when she was in so much pain and trying to keep her leg stable. “I was out looking for her.” 

“Wouldn’t have to if that section of fence had been fixed better last fall.” 

Her expression shuttered and she stared out the window. For the second time today, I regretted saying something to hurt her. I never tried to hurt her. I was usually making a point, but tonight that seemed like more of a dick move than usual. 

The clinic came into view and I drove to the ER entrance. It was a small five-bed hospital, with an extra room for the ER that I’d been in more than a few times when I was younger and doing stupid shit. I still had the scar from a broken arm I’d gotten diving off the top of the barn when the snow hadn’t been nearly deep enough to land in. 

“I’ll get a wheelchair.” I killed the engine and ran inside. One of the nurses behind the desk rose, her face brightening. We’d gone on a few dates until it was clear she wanted more than I did. 

“Dawson,” Emma said.

She might be happy to see me, but I wasn’t happy to be here. “Hey, Emma. I’ve got Bristol—I think she broke her leg.”

Emma blinked. “Bristol. Cartwright?” The whole town would be surprised a King and a Cartwright had ridden in the same vehicle. 

I didn’t answer, but grabbed a wheelchair by the door and sped out before I had unfolded it. 

The passenger door was open, but Bristol’s head was on the headrest, her eyes closed as she breathed through the pain. 

Emma was behind me. A younger man trailed her. “We’ve got her, Dawson, thanks.” 

I ignored the dismissal in her voice and helped Bristol get out, landing on her good leg and pivoting to sit in the chair. We all wheeled in while Bristol shrank lower in the chair, holding her leg like it was levitating on its own. 

“What happened?” Emma asked. 

“Slipped on ice,” Bristol rasped. 

I bit the inside of my cheek, but didn’t say anything otherwise. A fall from a horse was different than slipping on ice, but with Bristol it was a matter of pride. 

I trailed them and was about to follow them to the room when Emma turned. “You can go now.” A smile played on her lips. “Your role of hero is done for the night.” 

My feet were rooted in place. The kid and Bristol disappeared behind a door and I craned my neck like I could see through wood. “I’m not leaving.” The words were out before I’d thought about them.

Emma’s dark brows popped in surprise. Her silky hair was twined up in a messy bun and she wore a wide headband to secure the strays away from her face. She was attractive but any interest had died before we’d done anything that required removing clothing. 

“Okaaay. Are you two dating?”

I scowled. “No. Why?”

She cocked her head like she was trying to figure me out. “Then you can wait in the waiting room, but I can’t tell you anything without her approval.” 

Shrugging, I dropped into a chair. “She’ll need a ride home.” 

Emma stared at me for a second, then sat next to me. “She’s going to need more than a ride home.” 

“What?” 

Emma glanced to the door, then to the desk. The other lady that had been there was gone, maybe getting Bristol’s information. “She obviously broke her leg and the blood—”

“That’s from barbed wire.”

Emma’s sympathetic wince was quick. “I don’t know if she has anyone to help her”—the whole town knew she had no one—“but whether she’ll have to use a wheelchair or crutches, she’s going to need help.”

“I’m shocked she didn’t insist on driving herself.” Her broken leg made it impossible. 

“I’m shocked she let you help her,” Emma said wryly, then her expression sobered. “Look, when I was in high school, I broke my leg. It makes doing the essentials tough. You know what I mean.” She patted my leg. “I’ve gotta get in and help the doc.”

“She can stay with me,” I blurted. I’d seen Bristol’s house. The trailer she’d grown up in. It’d been in rough shape when I was kid. I’d be surprised if it survived this storm. 

Emma gawked at me. “Seriously.” 

“She’s a pain in the ass, but I don’t hate her, Emma.” 

“The King-Cartwright feud stops for a broken leg? I’m glad there’s limits.” 

I shrugged. The words it isn’t my feud dangled on the tip of my tongue.

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