Brothers of Cooper Ranch

By: Leslie North


And if it didn't…?

Suddenly Bella felt suffocated. She pushed open the bathroom door and ran out into an unfamiliar hallway. A long set of stairs spiraled down to the ground floor on her left, and she took them as quickly as she could, leaning most of her weight on the railing as she went. On the landing she found a pair of old work boots and a heavy work jacket, which she threw on hastily with a guilty look over her shoulder. No harm in stepping out for a bit of fresh air, she thought, knowing all the while that she was lying. She wanted to find Sawyer. She needed to find Sawyer. He was the only person she really trusted to tell her what the hell was going on.

Before anyone could stop her, she pulled open the front door and escaped out into the night.

The property stretched out before her, dark and expansive, and littered with hulking buildings that loomed out of deep shadows. A million and one stars lit the sky overhead. They were so numerous and breathtaking that they wheeled in her vision, and she struck out with a hand to catch herself on the porch railing in case she passed out. As a child, Bella had once visited the Boston planetarium on a field trip; now, she could see how inadequate those pinpricks of wan, twinkling light had been. They may as well have been Christmas tinsel.

These were Sawyer's stars.

She steadied herself against the railing and drew a long breath of early summer air. She had come this far, and she didn't want to admit her physician was right telling her to stay in bed, so she had better keep going now to prove him wrong. She squared her shoulders and scanned the property again, an explorer about to disembark into a brave new world. This time, she noticed a light on in one of the bigger barns. The building's open doors and windows glowed with cozy orange light, and she swore she could hear male voices coming from within. I think I can make it that far, she mused. She hated that she had to weigh her odds for covering such a short distance.

What the hell happened to me?

Bella squared her shoulders again, ignored the dull pounding in her skull, and started across the lawn.

She arrived just in time to hear the tail end of his tirade. Bella crossed her arms, aware that the man Sawyer was ranting to saw her, but he didn't appear able to get a word in edgewise. She thought about clearing her throat for dramatic effect, but it turned out not to be necessary. Sawyer revolved slowly on the heel of his cowboy boot to face her.

The two hands disappeared pretty quickly after that.

Bella waited until they were alone before breaking the silence. "You make it sound like you clubbed me over the head and dragged me here by my hair all the way from Boston," she said. Sawyer looked away. It surprised her to lose his eyes that quickly; he usually maintained eye contact no matter what she threw at him. She took pity on him. "I assume I had some say in coming here?"

"Your idea, actually," he said.

It felt strange being introduced to her own ideas…or reintroduced, rather. Push as she might, the locked doors of her memory just wouldn't give. She hoped the doors she was beating her fists against didn't hide empty rooms on the other side. Her doctor had assured her the last month's memories weren't really lost, just inaccessible to her for the moment.

But when would the moment come that she knew herself again?

"I'm full of great ideas, then," she said. She moved to run her hand along one of the stall doors. She wanted to touch things, to know them with all her senses.

The thought of getting to know Sawyer Cooper the same way made her face flame. The thought that she probably already had was even worse. The electric tension had been building up between them for the last year…to think that she couldn't now recall the moment of its release was the worst feeling yet.

There was tension between them now, but it wasn't the same. There was nothing delicious, nothing pleasantly troubling about it—it felt like they were balanced on a high wire that might snap at any moment beneath their combined weight, and Bella wasn't sure what awaited her at the bottom of that plunge.

"There are more stars in your Montana sky than God must know what to do with," she remarked.

She hadn't expected Sawyer's expression to crumple. Alarmed, she moved toward him, but he quickly turned away and busied himself gathering up the hose he was holding.

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