His dad held out his hand. Dane took it. His father pulled him up, and Dane stood on his good leg. He tested out his twisted ankle. The slight pressure sent a bolt of pain up his leg.
“How’s your vision?”
“You did a good job using your shirt to bind that ankle and staunch the bleeding on your head.”
“I didn’t. She did.”
His father eyed him, shaking his head side to side. “Dane—”
“I’m telling you, Dad, there was a girl. She helped me.”
“Okay, son. I believe you, but I didn’t see anyone out here with you. I don’t know where she could have gone. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
Which was the reason Dane liked it out here so much. Still, how did she get out here, and where did she go?
He lifted himself up into the saddle and grabbed the reins on the horse his father brought back for him to ride. He kept his eyes trained, searching the entire area the whole way back home, but he saw nothing, no one.
Dane went back to the spot beside the river more than a dozen times, looking for his dark-haired, blue-eyed angel. He never found her, but he’d never forget her either.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Pro Bull Riders World Championships
Bell loved everything about her first rodeo. The cowboys in their Wranglers and chaps. The beautiful horses. The excitement that built with every second of the ride. The lights in the arena and the roar of the crowd as they cheered for each competitor. She’d never seen such a spectacle.
She thought the same thing when her plane flew over the Las Vegas strip the other day.
Her half sister, Katherine, grabbed her arm when another bull burst out of the chute. The crowd’s cheers turned to an ominous “Oh” as the rider flew off the massive animal and landed on unsteady legs, making a run for the fences when the bull turned and rushed his way. Katherine’s husband, Tony, waved his arms along with the other rodeo clowns to distract the beast from going after the retreating bull rider.
“He’s so sexy,” her sister said about Tony, finally letting go the death grip she had on Bell’s arm.
Bell smiled at her vibrant sister, wondering how the hell they got here. Bell had tried to get out of this trip to Las Vegas and, of all things, the Pro Bull Riders World Finals. She might be from Montana, but she’d never been a ranch girl.
Two years ago, Katherine moved to Montana and Tony’s ranch. She visited her grandmother’s house—Bell’s purgatory—and discovered the family secret—a half sister from an affair her father had years ago. The look on Katherine’s face changed from shock to dawning understanding about all those angry snippets of hushed-up conversations between their father and her mother. For Katherine, it finally all made sense. Angry about being kept in the dark, she’d apparently contacted their father in California, demanding answers. Only one was given. Bell might be Katherine’s half sister, but she was not family. Flabbergasted by their father’s response, Katherine went against their father’s dictates and continued to contact Bell.
While Katherine had known nothing of Bell, their grandmother had rejoiced in sharing all the details of Katherine’s blessed life, torturing Bell with the fact she was nothing more than an unwanted burden. Katherine had been the chosen one. Bell, the whisper behind one’s hand. The skeleton locked in the family closet. Never to be seen again.
Somehow Bell ended up here, sitting beside the woman who had the life Bell had once dreamed about. Katherine had grown up in a beautiful home surrounded by love from both her parents. She’d been the golden, spoiled child.
Bell’s life had been anything but charmed. Her whole family hated her, including the grandmother who’d raised her. A religious zealot, she’d told Bell every day that she was nothing but a sin, a spawn of evil, something to be hidden away from civilized, God-fearing people. Even her own parents had recognized the evil in her and cast her out. She should be grateful her grandmother had taken pity on her and raised her, trying every day through prayer to convince God to save her from her wicked ways.
She’d lived in hell under her grandmother’s rigid dictates, enduring her sharp, bitter tongue. Because once she’d known kindness.
Before her grandfather died, he’d taken a keen interest in educating her and sparking her interest in gardening and raising chickens. She’d never forget the day he brought her outside to the new coop and asked her to hold out her hands and close her eyes. She cupped them in front of her, closed her eyes, and thrilled at the anticipation rising inside her. He set something fuzzy in her hands. When she opened them, she squealed with delight at the bright yellow chick he’d given her and the ten others flitting about her feet.