Midnight in Montana - Chapter 1


Rain came down in buckets on Cassandra Lindgren’s battered minivan as she slowed to take a turn off the western Montana back road.

“I think I’m at Kingsland Ranch now,” she announced loudly so the speakerphone on her cell would pick up her voice over the sound of the deluge pummeling the windshield. “My GPS says it’s a mile up this road.”

Weary after a twelve-hour drive from St. Paul, Minnesota, where she’d been living for the last six years, Cassandra was grateful to her friend Lauryn Hamilton for giving her a place to stay on short notice. A safe place.

Cass shivered at the memory of the incident that had driven her here, grateful she could put it from her mind for the next few weeks.

“Stay on the phone with me until you’re inside the house, okay?” Lauryn was a friend from Cass’s days in the foster system, and she’d been the first person Cass had thought of when she knew she needed to get out of Minnesota for the rest of the spring months.

Their friendship had been born when they were just kids, but those kinds of bonds stuck. Lauryn had gotten out of the system long before Cass, finding a forever family in the town of Silent Spring, Montana. Cass had bounced around three more living situations in western Montana after that, including that last home where she’d fallen in love. Hard.

And promptly got her heart broken when he ended things. No doubt Emilio Medina had moved far from their old haunts, the same way she had the moment she turned eighteen.

“I definitely will, but—oh, my God. Lauryn, you can’t seriously mean I’m staying here?” Cassandra slowed to a stop in front of a massive three-story log house with cedar shake roof. The elaborate driveway depicted the Kingsland Ranch logo of interlocking k’s. Even with the driving rain and dark, the whole spread was visible thanks to landscape lights.

“Not big enough for you?” Lauryn quipped on the other end. “Seriously, I feel badly that I’m not in town now or you’d definitely stay at the Broken Spur with Gavin and me.”

Cassandra slowed her breathing as she turned off the engine of the minivan, telling herself it was fine. The last thing she wanted to do was appear ungrateful. “It’s perfect, Lauryn, and I really appreciate this.”

Lauryn knew the real reason Cassandra had needed to get out of St. Paul for at least a few weeks. That Cassandra had intervened in an empty hotel parking lot when she saw a teen being strong-armed by a brutal-looking dude into the back of his fancy SUV. The girl had been fighting, and Cass couldn’t stand by and just watch when there were no cops to be found. So she’d helped the girl get away and gotten a few bruises to show for her trouble—although she’d lost her wallet in the process and feared the assailant had her ID. Local police had deemed it in her best interest to get out of town considering the guy she’d battled was a well-known gangster.

She’d never regret helping that girl, but Cassandra’s life had turned upside down in an instant.

“This will be safest, Cass,” Lauryn reminded her. “There are numerous private entrances with their own locks and an excellent security system. Plus, one of the Kingsleys are usually around. Gavin’s half-brother Levi is in the main house, and Gavin thought you’d be comfortable in the pool house.”

Cassandra squinted through the sheeting rain.

“Is that in the back?” she asked as she searched the floor of the minivan for an umbrella and only found a few hockey pucks from the girls’ peewee team she coached.

“Yes. Is that okay?”

“More than okay—it’s perfect. It’s just raining a little, so I’m grabbing my umbrella.” Cassandra disconnected her phone from the charge cord and released it from the holder on the dash. She would use her sweatshirt as a shield when she got out so she could at least keep the phone dry while continuing her conversation with her friend.

“I asked the temporary ranch foreman to meet you at the door so he should be there any minute. I texted him when you turned onto the ranch road.”

“Thanks, Lauryn. I can’t wait to get settled.” Shoving open the door to the minivan, Cassandra draped the sweatshirt over her head, keeping her cell pinned to her ear.

“Emilio just texted me that he saw you pull up,” Lauryn continued. “Do you see him?”

Cassandra stopped short in a deep puddle.

“Emilio?” Surely Lauryn didn’t mean the same man. Had the two of them even crossed paths before Lauryn was adopted?

“Emilio Medina. He spent some time at Ellen Crawford’s house after I left there,” Lauryn explained, referencing the last foster placement before her adoption. “I see him over there sometimes helping Ellen with the horses, so when the Kingsleys needed a temporary foreman, I asked him—”

But Cassandra was no longer listening.

Because just then, a dark figure emerged in front of her, holding out a wide black umbrella. Underneath the waterproof canvas, she met the gaze of gray-green eyes she would recognize anywhere.