Copyright © 2013 Elizabeth LowellISBN: 978-0-06-213273-4
All rights reserved.
2 Elizabeth Lowell
wind. He wasn't wearing a jacket, either. It must have
been warm when he died.
Whenever that had been.
The rising sun showed more than Shaye wanted to
see, more than enough for her to guess that Lorne had
spent at least a day in the open. Probably more.
I can't even cover his ruined face.
The local deputies would lecture her if she went any
closer to the body than she was now. So would her vol-
unteer search- and- rescue unit. Her training had been
very clear: If there was no chance of life, the body was
to be left undisturbed until the authorities arrived.
He'll never laugh and call me a skinny city blonde
again. Never serve me coffee that would etch glass and
silently dare me to ask for sugar or cream. Never stand
in the dusty yard next to me and watch night flow like
a lover up the mountain slopes.
Roosters crowed from the direction of the barn,
telling the hens it was time to get out and scratch for
a living. Lorne had enjoyed the busy chickens, and
Dingo, his half- wild dog, had known they were off-
limits for eating or chasing.
Tears streaked Shaye's cheeks as she fumbled in her
fleece jacket pocket for her phone. The lining of the
pocket felt almost hot against her cool fingers.
Her movement sent a rustling through the nearby
sagebrush, where the animals that had scattered at her
appearance waited for her to leave. Magpies and crows
had come with the increasing light. They settled on the
rails of the ancient corral, watching, waiting. Two vul-
tures flapped harshly overhead, fighting gravity for a
chance to feed.
It was early for the big birds to be flying. Usually
dangerous refuge 3
they waited for the sun to heat the air enough to raise
thermals. Then the vultures would rise on the warm-
ing air and do lazy cartwheels, waiting for something
They must have been here yesterday, knew food was
waiting for them today.
She choked off an irrational need to scream at
the scavengers. They were what they were— nature's
cleanup crew. Nothing personal.
His last words to me were a furious phone message.
He died cursing me.
A slow wind blew down from the mountains. It dried
the tears on Shaye's cheeks as it dried everything else
it touched. The country on the east side of the Sierra
Nevada Mountains was arid, unforgiving, and beauti-
ful in a spare, open way.
She punched in three numbers on her cell phone,
waited, and then realized there was no cell ser vice
where she was. She thought of the backpack of search-
and- rescue basics she always kept in her Bronco. The
flashlight, first- aid kit, bear spray, and other necessary
tools wouldn't help her now, but the SAR beacon could.
I could use the locater, she thought. It's close and
has a radio. I wouldn't have to leave Lorne.
But the beacon was only to be used in a life- or- death
emergency. This was urgent, yet it wasn't an emer-
gency. Death didn't care about a few minutes or a thou-
She muttered something unhappy, waved her arms
wildly to drive the waiting scavengers farther back, and
retreated toward the weathered barn across the dusty
ranch yard. By some quirk of geography, the barn was
one of the few places on the ranch that had any cell
4 Elizabeth Lowell
connection. Lorne had been disgusted when she had
discovered it. He had prided himself on needing noth-
ing from civilization— and giving nothing in return.
The only exception to his daily solitude was Dingo,
the tawny mutt with erect ears, curled tail, and dainty
feet. Lorne had allowed the dog to share first the edges
of his life, then his small home. Like Lorne himself,
Dingo was aloof with people, independent, but had a
reluctant need for companionship.
Both mutt and man had softened toward Shaye in
the last months. In Dingo's case it was the treats she
brought him. In Lorne's it was the slow understanding
that she shared his love for the land in all its enduring,
A few days. A few days gone and she came back to
And all because her boss had never met any paper-
work she couldn't trash.
Shaye turned away and walked quickly toward the
barn. The dawn wind flexed, ruffling the feathers of the
bald- headed black birds sidling closer to Lorne's body.
She spun around, shouted, waved her arms, and threw
rocks. The birds grudgingly retreated. She thought
about pulling out the bear spray and blasting them with
concentrated capsicum, but that was anger and revul-
sion talking. Rocks would work better.