Home > Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(3)

Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(3)
Author: Catherine Cowles

The staccato movement helped to keep things in check. I’d learned to hold tight to the things that helped. But the greatest balm for everything churning inside me was the thing I didn’t have nearly enough of—solitude.

“Did you have lunch?”

My mom’s voice cut through my swirling thoughts. I let out a breath as I kept walking. “In my saddlebags.”

Her gaze went sharp, and that telltale furrow appeared between her brows. “I don’t think you should be riding without eating. The sun’s bright today. You could faint. Fall off Sky, and we’d have no idea where you were.”

The movement of my fingers picked up its pace. I clenched and flexed my hand to keep from screaming. As if at twenty-seven years old, I didn’t know when I needed to eat. I knew hunger better than she ever would. Instead of biting her head off, though, I stayed quiet.

So often, silence was the best gift I could give my family. Biting my tongue and staying out of the way. Erasing the reminder of the thing that had marked each of them in such different ways.


I cut her off by stepping into the barn.

“Hey, Mom.”

Hayes’ voice brought a wash of relief. Mom turned, focusing on her youngest son, and I hightailed it to the crossties. If I were quick, I might get out of here before she finished talking wedding plans with him.

I led Sky into the grooming space. The truth was, I didn’t even need the lead rope. She would’ve followed me anywhere. It was the kind of trust I knew I’d only ever have with animals. They didn’t have the same kind of agendas that humans did.

They also didn’t push for conversation. I hooked Sky to the crossties and bent to grab the curry comb from my grooming kit. I took the brush to her back, working at the worst of the mud. “Did you take a bath in it? This is ridiculous, even for you.”

She lifted her head up and down as if nodding, but it was just because she loved the sensation of the curry comb against her coat. It was like one of those little massagers that dug into all the right muscles.

I worked my way around her, getting every speck of caked-on dirt. Then I moved to the hard brush to clear it all away. Grooming was a silent meditation, in and of itself—for both Sky and me. I could get lost in whatever I needed to puzzle through or let go of.

Today, it was my frustration with my mom’s overprotectiveness. With each swipe of the brush, I reminded myself why she was the way she was. And as the frustration melted away, guilt took its place. No matter how many times I told myself just to be the daughter Mom needed, I couldn’t do it. Every time I tried, I ended up with panic attacks so bad I nearly passed out.

Footsteps sounded on the stone aisle. The first steps had me stiffening, but by the third and fourth, my muscles loosened some. The tread was too heavy for Mom. It had to be Hayes.

I kept moving through my process, switching the hard brush for the soft. As I did, Hayes stepped forward to give Sky a rub. He wasn’t in his sheriff’s uniform, so it was either a day off, or he’d taken off early to help Everly with something.

“Where are you headed?”

Hayes played the game better than Mom did. His tone was casual. The question thrown out like a simple one you’d ask anyone. But I knew it wasn’t how he’d meant it. If he had his way, he’d have me mapping out my exact route and implanted with a tracker before I left.

I ran the brush down Sky’s leg. “Not sure.”

His mouth thinned, the dark stubble surrounding it twitching with the movement. “Can’t you at least give a destination? Just in case there’s an accident?”

I’d lived my entire life after the kidnapping as one big just in case. Mom hadn’t let me go back to school for the rest of the year. There was no more hide-and-seek on our property. Or riding our bikes around town without one of my parents present. Slowly but surely, every piece of freedom I’d taken for granted had disappeared. On the dark days, I wondered if returning home had made much difference at all. Because in so many ways, I was still a hostage.

I’d slowly gotten some of those pieces back, and I wouldn’t let anyone steal them from me now. “Do you tell Everly exactly where you’re going when you go on a trail run with Koda?”

Hayes frowned. “She has a general idea.”

“Fine. I’m heading that way.” I pointed west. It was the truth. But I’d never tell Hayes exactly where I was going. Because if I did, he’d likely lock me up and throw away the key.









My phone vibrated as I headed towards the round pen. The gelding inside pawed at the ground the moment he caught sight of me. A wildness in his eyes spoke of a mixture of fear and fire.

I grimaced as the vibrations continued, finally pulling the device out of my pocket. An alert for the front gate signaled, and my frown deepened. I slid my thumb across the screen and opened the security app. The camera showed a delivery truck and a man with a ballcap pulled down low.

My gut tightened as I scanned as much of his face as I could see. He wasn’t familiar. My jaw worked back and forth as I tapped an icon for the intercom. “Yeah?”

The man jolted at the bite in the single word. “I’ve got a delivery for a Ramsey Bishop.”

“From who?”

“Uh, no clue.”

I was silent, watching the man squirm. He sighed. “Hold on, let me check.”

He moved into the back of his truck. I didn’t take my eyes off the screen, watching the play of shadows for any hint of more than one person in the vehicle. A few moments later, the man reappeared. “It’s from Western Saddlery.”

“Leave it at the gate.”

The man twisted in his seat. “Requires a signature. Guess it’s insured.”

I muttered a curse. “What happened to Dale?”


“The usual driver.” The one I’d run background checks on. I knew he spent far too much of his paycheck on his bar tab, but I also knew he was harmless. This guy was an unknown.

“No idea. Must be sick or something because I’m covering this route. Look, they time us, so are you going to open the gate or not?”

Like hell I’d let someone onto my property that I didn’t know and hadn’t fully vetted. “Stay there. I’ll come get the package.”

“You’ve got two minutes.”

My back molars ground together as I hopped into the ranch truck. I was at the front gate in just over two minutes, but the guy was still waiting. He’d carted the large package out of the back of the truck and had it balanced on the gate.

He eyed me carefully as I came to a stop and climbed out of the truck. His gaze swept over me and then behind me, trying to see what my property might house. He’d never be able to tell from here. Tall pines lined the road and hid everything. I’d planted more than enough of them to create a wall.

“You’re not gonna shoot me, are you? Heard you chased off one guy with a shotgun.”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes as I motioned for the tablet to sign for my package. It was a toss-up which I hated more: going to town for supplies or ordering them online and dealing with whoever brought them.

“Asshole,” the delivery guy muttered under his breath as he handed me the pen to sign.

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