Home > Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(8)

Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(8)
Author: Catherine Cowles

“Feel that?” I asked.

“Like the first taste of air after being underwater for too long.”

My mouth curved the barest amount. “Good way to think about it.”

Shiloh didn’t need any more encouragement. She petted and patted, moving around the gelding until he’d all but turned into a lap dog. I knew the feel of him from working this week, and this was the most relaxed he’d ever been.

“You’ve got the touch.”

Her eyes lifted to mine. “I’m trying to learn—”

I shook my head. “I’m not talking about something you can teach. This is instinct.”

Shiloh stroked the gelding’s cheeks and then lowered her head to his. “I always did understand horses a lot better than people.”

People were overrated. This kind of connection? It was far more precious.

She pressed her lips to the horse’s muzzle and then straightened. “I needed that. Thank you for giving it to me, Ramsey.”

And with that, she headed for the fence and her grazing horse. I was stuck, frozen to the spot, trying to take in all the beauty that was Shiloh as the sound of my name on her lips echoed in my head.



My truck jostled as I drove over Kenny Chambers’ cattle guard. I scanned the property as I headed towards the ranch house. Several cattle filled a field that barely had any grass, and more were in a handful of paddocks. I pulled to a stop and parked next to a rusted truck with no wheels.

Sliding out of my vehicle, I searched for any signs of life. As my gaze caught on a few horses, my jaw tightened. Most of them were skin and bones, and many had what appeared to be lash marks on their backs.

Memories flashed. The crack of the belt. The burn on my skin.

I forced the images and sensations from my mind, but my back teeth gnashed together so tightly I might’ve cracked a molar. The slam of a screen door had me looking up. A teenage boy hurried down the front porch steps with a younger boy on his heels. The older one was probably sixteen or seventeen. His t-shirt hung off him in a way that had me wondering if he was struggling to get food the way the horses were. The little boy couldn’t have been more than six, and he held tightly to the teen’s hand.

The older boy’s gaze bounced around as if looking for someone to jump out. “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for Kenny Chambers.”

The boy swallowed. “He’s not here right now. I’m his son, Aidan. Can I help you with something?”

He met my gaze, but there was uncertainty there, a guardedness that prickled the back of my neck. “I wanted to talk to him about buying your horses.”

I glanced at the cattle. I should probably see about buying them, too, but I didn’t do cows. Maybe I could send them to the animal sanctuary that had opened in the past couple of years. Or give them to a rancher who would treat them decently.

Aidan’s eyes widened. “You want to buy our horses?”

I shifted my focus to the five creatures in the paddock. They’d obviously been through hell. Most looked as if they’d given up. But one mare had wild eyes that told me she was still fighting.

“They deserve some peace, don’t you think?”

“You should take ‘em, mister. Dad isn’t nice to them, and now they bite and kick—”

“Elliott,” Aidan said in a hushed command.

The little boy looked up at his big brother. “It’s true. Maybe he’ll be nicer to them.” He studied me carefully. “Are you nice?”

My insides twisted violently. “To animals, I am.”

The boy frowned. “But not to people?”

“People and I don’t get on that well.”

He nodded, seeming to accept that. “You should take them.”

Aidan shook his head. “He’ll never let you.”

“I’m willing to offer good money.”

His shoulders slumped. “It might work, but I doubt it.” He glanced towards the paddock. “And I’m not sure they can come back from this.”

I studied the kid in front of me, taking in his hollow cheeks and the circles under his eyes. I had a fiery need to deck his asshole of a father. “You’d be surprised what a horse can come back from. What we can all come back from.”

“You don’t—”

The sound of a truck that clearly needed its muffler replaced cut off his words. The vehicle bounced over the cattle guard and came to a stop in front of our group. The man who climbed out had bloodshot eyes and scruff around his jaw. The paunch at his middle told me only his horses and sons were going without around here.

“Who the hell are you?”

I kept my blank mask firmly in place but didn’t miss how Aidan shifted in front of his little brother. “Mr. Chambers, I came by to see if you’d be interested in selling your horses and cattle. I have a horse ranch outside of town and a friend looking for cattle.”

The lie slipped out easily. The only friend I had was Lor, and she’d shoot me if I dumped a bunch of cows on her spread.

The man’s mouth opened and closed a few times before he answered. “You take my animals, and I got nothing.”

“You’ll have money in the bank.”

“And that’ll only last me so long. I need what the animals provide.”

By looking at them, that wasn’t much.

“Could give you time to look for a new job. I hear the feed store is hiring.”

Kenny Chambers sneered at me. “I’m not working for some other asshole. I’m my own boss here. Now, get the hell off my property.”

“Mr. Chambers—”

“I said, get the hell off my property!”

Elliott jumped at his father’s bellow, and I had the burning desire to end Kenny right there. I pulled a card out of my back pocket and placed it on the hood of Kenny’s truck. “You can reach me there if you reconsider. I’m willing to pay top dollar.” Anything to get these beautiful creatures out from under his control.

Kenny grabbed the card and ripped it into tiny pieces, scattering them on the ground. “Get out of here before I use my right to shoot your trespassing ass.”

I dipped my head. As I did, I caught sight of Aidan. He had his jaw clenched as he glared at his father. Nausea swept through me at the idea of leaving him and his brother here. But I had no choice.

I climbed into my truck and started the engine. My hands locked on the wheel as I pulled onto the dirt road. It took me ten minutes to loosen them enough to hit the hands-free button for my phone. “Call Lor.”

It rang twice before she picked up. “How’d it go?”

“He’s an abusive asshole who has no business around animals or children.”

“Shit. He has two kids, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah.” It was the only word I could get out.

“We need to get the cops involved.”


“You can’t break in there at night and steal all his damn horses and his kids, too. I’m telling you, I know some good people at the sheriff’s department. Let me reach out to them.”

I ground my molars together as I made the turn towards home. “Fine. They’ve got one shot.”

I wasn’t overly optimistic. I knew better than anyone that the cops weren’t always on the side of justice. Sometimes, they were on the side of whoever greased their wallets—even if that person was evil incarnate.

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