“Oh, you’ll know,” the man said, laughing. He walked out into the cold, still chuckling as if Bridge’s and my lives were playthings to him. I suppose they were. If he worked for my father, he would be devoid of morals. Says the pot.

I ignored my inner jab and rushed out to the truck. It was running and near the door. I got into the driver’s side quickly. The interior lights were on, and I could see everyone, including Cricket.

“What-what happened?” Bridge asked, scooting to the edge of her seat.

Her eyes were red from crying.

I glanced up at Cricket through the rearview and she looked nervous.

“Uh, well, Dad’s found us,” I said.

“No,” she cried, slumping into her seat.

Jonah wrapped his arm around her, and I couldn’t muster up an objection. She bent into him and cried into his shoulder.

“What does this mean?” Jonah asked.

I drove out of the pub parking lot and started to make my way back to Hunt Ranch. “Honestly, I don’t know. I say this because I threw something at him I don’t think he was expecting that might tie his hands.”

Bridge raised her head and wiped below her eyes. “What?” she asked tearfully.

I looked straight at Cricket. “I shouldn’t really say,” I said, afraid to admit something so heinous in front of her. “Let’s just say, if he were smart, he would leave us be.”

Bridget nodded, thankfully accepting my vague answer, and laid her head back down on Jonah’s shoulder. I looked up and noticed Cricket’s narrowed brows, then quickly glanced back down at the road. She wanted to know but she wasn’t going to press.

Guess we all have our secrets, Cricket Hunt.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Weeks went by and the calves started making an appearance by the droves. Jonah and I worked side by side a lot, and although I was still visiting Cricket at night, we barely said a word to one another, both of us afraid to come clean. I didn’t care though. I had to be around her if for nothing else than she appeased my nightmares at night, but we all know it was more than that. It was more than that because I was falling in love with Cricket Hunt, and I was finding it increasingly more difficult to keep that fact to myself.

It had been weeks since Piper had made a manifestation, and I was so grateful. She was starting to eat at my soul. After the nightmares, it would take at least two days to shake her completely. Cricket was a balm to my disturbed spirit.

Cricket still hadn’t given me the sculpture she’d promised me. I wanted to ask her about it, but it felt clumsy between us, and I couldn’t force myself to demand it. Though so many times I wanted to. So many times.

Bridge was about five months along by then and starting to show. Much to my surprise, Jonah wasn’t distancing himself as I had thought. In fact, he was even more attentive which, frankly, shocked me. I had decided the night we had an appearance from my dad’s lackey Dominic that I was going to keep my mouth shut and just let things play out.

Dominic had not made a single attempt at contact. Neither had my father or my mother, which made me think my dad hadn’t told her. The fact that he hadn’t reached out in any capacity left me more than a little nervous, but with each day that passed, my uneasiness subsided more and more. We were fast approaching Bridge’s eighteenth birthday, which also made me more comfortable.

There were also a few serious things going on at the ranch, but any time Bridge and/or myself would walk into the room, the conversation would turn silent. It wasn’t our business, and we decided to respect their wishes. Although it did make us extremely curious.

About mid-February, Emmett assigned Cricket to be my partner because he needed Jonah to work with him more closely as they began to plan their new season, when they would inseminate the cows in April, etc.

On a random Wednesday, as we spread pellets out in the horse stalls, I broke down with Cricket. Ethan continually took her into town for hours at a time, and I was finding myself green with envy. I wanted answers.

“Hey, Cricket,” I began.

“Mmmhmm?” she asked, throwing her rake back and forth with practiced ease.

“Where do you go with Ethan so often?”

She stopped raking and studied her hands a moment before going back to work at a furious pace. “Nowhere really.”

“You’re lying,” I said, knowing her well enough then to know when she was indeed being untruthful.

I stopped and leaned on my rake. She did the same.

“I am not,” she insisted.

“Cricket,” I said, exasperated. “Why won’t you just tell me where you go?”

She pushed her rake back down and avoided looking at me.

“Cricket,” I pushed.

“Jeez, Spencer, can you just let it go?”

“No, I have to know.”

She dropped her rake.

“No, you don’t,” she gritted, wounding me.

She picked her rake back up and we finished the stall, moving on to the next.

“Eugie,” she said out of nowhere.

Instinctively, I opened the gate for him as I usually did when Cricket and I would have our one-word conversations.

“Eugie, come eat,” I ordered into the dark path, knowing what she wanted of me and laying out his food as one of us always did.

We’d perfected those one-worded conversations, really. At night, when she worked, all she had to do was mention one word: “please,” “that,” “here,” etc. and I would know exactly what she meant or wanted. It got so that we were so good at it, Ellie would often tease us because we found ourselves doing it around the group, much to Ethan’s dismay, I might add.

Another thing that infuriated me about Cricket was that she obviously hadn’t told Ethan about our late-night sessions. I found myself constantly frustrated, toggling between wondering if she was ashamed of me, or if she was afraid Ethan would put a stop to them.

When Eugie was done eating, I let him into the stall with us and picked him up as if he was a lapdog, kissing his neck and setting him down. Cricket bent down and kissed the top of his nose then stood and went back to work. I piled a corner with a little bit of hay as usual and he laid on top. I did this in each stall we visited, and he would follow us from stall to stall.

When the pellets were done, we bathed and brushed down the horses, combing out their manes and tails. We’d put them all away for the night except one. We began to shampoo him together, working in sync as we always did, moving together as a cohesive unit.

“Six?” I asked, pointing at the horse we were cleaning.

She nodded her head that it had been six weeks since his last shoe change, so I grabbed the farrier tools.

Cricket was teaching me the trade because she was amazing and knew pretty much everything you needed to know to run a ranch because Emmett had taught her. I loved the lessons because it meant I would be close enough to her I could feel her warmth and smell her hair. I also hated the lessons for the same reasons.

“You want a go?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said quietly.

I picked up the right hind leg and wedged the hoof between my legs right above my knees. I grabbed the nippers and carefully started to wedge the shoe back and forth to loosen the nails, hitting it to provide room between the top of the shoe and the nail itself and used the nippers to pull the nail. I did this slower than Cricket ever had because I wasn’t as practiced, but she wasn’t impatient with me at all. In fact, she was really encouraging, nodding every time she approved of something I did, another thing I liked about her.

She bent beside me and our shoulders touched, a fact she was probably unaware of but I was acutely perceptive of. She leaned forward a bit when I dropped the used shoe and began using the hoof knife.

This was the part I was always most nervous about because if you hit the frog of the hoof just right, you could hurt the horse and I was deathly afraid of causing any pain to the gentle giant.

“Perfect,” she soothed, and I made an attempt toward the heel.

She stopped me with a cool, slender hand on my own when my tool drew closer to the bar and we both stilled, stood motionless, neither looking at the other, but the deep drawing of our breaths told us everything we needed to know.

She lifted her hand, pulled it into a fist at her side, and cleared her throat. “Uh, see this, um, angle of the wall right here?”

I gulped. “Yeah.”

“This is where the painful part of the frog starts,” she explained. “Just take care on this part.”

I nodded and continued the job until she was satisfied with the rasp filing I’d done, and we let the leg rest a bit before fitting the shoe. I grabbed the hoof and put it back between my legs and placed the fitted shoe over the bed. I had a handful of nails in my hand and was losing control of them trying to balance the shoe as well as the hammer.

Instinctively, I went to put a few in my mouth to hold until I needed the next one.

“No,” she said, placing her hand on my forearm. I peered down at her hold then back up at her slowly. “That’s not a good idea.”

She held out her hand and I dropped the nails in her palm.

“Why?” I asked, staring again at her hand.

“Because,” she breathed quietly, “horses’ hooves have a lot of bacteria. Pop Pop never lets us put the nails in our mouths.”

I nodded and watched her beautiful hand slide back down and finished shoeing the horse, dropping the foot back down.

“Now come here,” she said, leading me toward the front of the horse and bent down. I followed her lead and she inspected the final shoe, giving her approval with that clever smile and a thumbs up.

“Good,” she said, standing.


She finished the rest in half the time, but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the hell out of watching how beautifully she worked without thinking. It was so second nature to her. She didn’t notice that I was staring and I followed her every move, from the elegant swing of the hammer, how easily she cinched the nails and filed them down, the way her hands smoothed their way down the hoof to check her own work, down to the way her hair swung over her cheek.

When she was done, she let the hoof fall and stood, stretching her back and flipping her hair out of her face. She always gave the horses she shoed an apple for their troubles and would secret lovely things into their ears. She was so unbelievably attractive.

She clicked her tongue and led the horse out and toward its stall. I followed closely, memorizing the way her hips swayed. Inside, I kept the gate open just long enough to let Eugie in and closed it, letting the metallic clang break the silence.

Refusing to look at her, I gripped the top of the gate and grasped the wood so forcefully, I could feel tiny splinters break skin.

“Where?” I asked her.

She sighed. “I can’t say.”

My hands fisted and I slammed them on top of the gate, making my hair slide into my face. “Damn it, Cricket, it’s eating me up inside.”

“Stop,” she said. I could feel she was on the verge of tears.

I faced her and ran my fingers through my hair, holding it back and sagged against the stall door. “I don’t think I can take this anymore,” I admitted.

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