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  • Jennifer Mueller

Never turn your back on a Wolf


Never turn your Back on a Wolf July 20th, 2008 Gold Springs, Montana was recently rocked by the murder of Cole Dennison, owner of Western Mining, the main town employer. Mr. Dennison was found in his house with his throat cut. The first suspect should have been his recently estranged fiancée, however her incarceration in jail for breaking his jaw rather clears her name. Sasha Stanton, owner of the Wolf Mountain Horse Company, was released for lack of case with the victim of her anger dead. More shocking to find though is that the mine Mr. Dennison owned is out of gold. Miss Stanton who until her father died had been away from town is the sole beneficiary of the will, a complete fluke since Cole had no chance to change it before his death. Gold Springs being a company town is now owned by Miss Stanton. In that one fact the town might have a chance at not imploding. Local Lawyer Ethane Brandt has been helping with Miss Stanton’s investigation into the mine’s irregularities since the police have been arresting her employees and friends for the crime. Sheriff Harland Lang would be wise to not antagonize her. It could only end badly if the State Police are called in. Corruption rumors have been circulating for some time.

Excerpt from the upcoming release

Wallingford Park was set up for fireworks while the Flatland Bastards played too-loud country music. A stand sold beer nearby, and to judge by the line, was doing a brisk business.

“I’ll go get us a couple,” Cole excused himself as Sasha spread out a blanket. He never did listen that she didn’t drink the stuff. Tequila would tempt her more.

The mountain air was cooling quickly even though the day had been in the eighties. Resting back on her elbows, Sasha blocked out the noise as her eyes closed. The quiet of the ranch was all-encompassing. Even after years away, she’d never gotten used to the noise elsewhere. The cabin, her home away from the working center, might have been from another century. Computers and phones could invade the office, but the cabin? Never; it remained stuck in the silent past. Her family had been there since 1851, the first ones. If they hadn’t settled, the Coltons wouldn’t have been there to find the gold or any of the rest. No mine, no cattle, no town.

Her eyes snapped open when a body landed beside her, but it wasn’t Cole with the beer. It was Galen Rogers, Cole’s chief engineer. He didn’t look like a miner as most of the town did. He was small and thin but leaning toward a paunch. She could smell tequila on him big time. “You’re drunk, Galen.”

“I thought all the Blackfoot went to a funeral for their land today. What are you doing here?” The slur to his speech was obvious, so was him being an ass. “Me, I’m celebrating.”

“Go sleep off the Fourth then. The Stanton side of me was invited to see some fireworks. The Thundercloud side takes what she can get for a night off work.” It was no secret she was a quarter Blackfoot, and with the reservation close by, her grandfather marrying a Thundercloud made her easily related to half of them.

His head shook slowly as if the movement would send him to the ground. “Screw the Fourth. I’m celebrating you and those sexy Stanton green eyes. We could use a little reincarnation of the wild west these days.” Maybe people thought she was a wolf because they thought she was a reincarnation of her great-great-something grandmother Elizabeth, another wolf in people’s eyes. Certainly in her fathers’. Hanging on her cabin wall was an 1850’s painting of Elizabeth, Sasha hated to invite the comparison, they were nearly identical. Tall, brilliant green eyes, dark chestnut hair, dusky skin, beautiful. Her mouth was a little different but being born 60 years after the other died, it was hard to escape the word reincarnation.

“I’m getting married in two weeks, Galen. You’re a little late.”

Galen’s drunken laughter could hardly be heard over the band.

“That’s why I’m celebrating.” He took another long drink from his bottle. “The mine’s out of gold and if you weren’t marrying Cole, with all of that seven hundred thousand acres, well, everyone knows you’re sitting on the best gold field in the state while you lose money at raising horses. It’s a match made at the accountant’s.” Galen started laughing hysterically at his joke. “Personally, marry him and then make sure he dies. Even better for the company if you’d get it all. At least then I’m not stuck with him running the company into the ground, keeping all these people paid when there’s nothing coming out. A doctor in business, you’d keep me my job.”

“How long have you known?”

Galen took yet another drink from his bottle. “Hell, Sasha, we’ve been winging it for a couple years. He’s even been taking the rock from other outfits to boost the numbers, reprocessing tailings piles from the old days. Cole has the plans all drawn up. He’s waiting until after the ceremony to start digging the new pit. Couldn’t get his hands on the place from your father when he was alive, so the moment you showed up he went to work on you.” The arrangement had nothing to do with business, either of theirs. He wanted…

Sasha looked over at Cole, still in line, cussing in her head. If it was any other story she might have passed it off as fantasy, but looking down the main street, it was clear enough the mine wasn’t doing good. People were worried enough about the economy after the housing market collapsed the year before. Every time she stopped and got coffee at The Goldminer Arms, the fact the town wasn’t doing well in this economy was being discussed. It was always there, even when she was a child. One hundred and thirty years was a long time for a mine to be open. They were a pessimistic lot: the mine was always half-empty instead of half-full, the same as it had been since her father was a kid. He was over forty by the time she was born; the talk had been around for a long time. That meant Cole had been planning this for a couple years, before she ever came back.

Anger she couldn’t control flamed up. She had to fight it all the time, and this time she couldn’t. Every day, she had fought her father, never violent but once. That time he scared her. It all meant one thing. She was nothing. He wanted the ranch, to strip it bare and dig another big hole.

Sasha pushed Galen away, and he started laughing again as she stood up.

Cole smiled as she walked up to the little shit. “You might as well go sit while you wait. No need for you to be in line, too.”

Between songs, the park was oddly quiet as people adjusted to the lack of noise. “Did I ever tell you that I made sure I could protect myself?”

Cole’s eyes narrowed, trying to get her meaning. “What, I didn’t tell you how well you shot enough? Are you that insecure?”

That wasn’t the thing to say either.

“You should have paid more attention while you were trying to take over the ranch.” His eyes widened just enough to scream his guilt. Sasha spun, her foot slicing the air only to stop abruptly as it collided with Cole’s jaw. Her boots meant that there was an even larger heel to connect with his face. The sound brought everyone’s attention. They were all facing the wrong direction as the fireworks shot in the air. Cole Dennison lay on the ground moaning, his jaw broken. “If I see you or one of your men come near the ranch again, I’ll start shooting. You really should have picked another woman to try this crap on. I’ll shoot your ass!”

Sheriff Lang was only feet away, he rushed over. “Christ, Sasha.”

The moment he tried to lay a finger on her, her arm swung out of instinct, heading to connect hard with his neck, until the man who had shot against her earlier stepped in the way. He was quite a bit taller than the sheriff and blocked the blow before it could land. In the haze that the fireworks sent across the park, all she could see was a pair of unflinching grey eyes. His hand closed around her wrist. She could have pulled loose if she tried, but it was enough. She never meant to hit the sheriff in the first place.

When she lifted her head, a feat for her to look up to any man, the look in her eyes—the one that everyone talked about—disappointed him. Sasha could see it in his face. Too many thought they were sex-filled eyes.

“Don’t give me that look. He was trying to steal everything from me.”

“Then I’ll represent you.”

She couldn’t keep from snorting. “Don’t waste your time. I’ll pay my consequences; I assaulted the man. Harland has me dead to rights.”

“Consider it pro bono.”

Sasha shook her head; no one ever took care of her. Certainly not some stranger.

“What? You’re going to stand up and tell them I’m not guilty before they call every damn person in town as a witness? I can save you the time. I’m able to take care of myself.”

“I noticed,” he laughed faintly. “But you see where that got you.”

“Same place it always has—not raped again. This time it was my property, though, and not me. I protect what’s mine.” Hell, she never told anyone about the rape even under her breath. An angry whisper at least kept it between them.

The lawyer’s look changed. It wasn’t disappointment any longer. What it was now she couldn’t say. The sheriff grabbed her arms and pulled them behind as he recited the Miranda warning. Harland didn’t have much crime to deal with on a regular basis. He looked uncomfortable enough, even with her in handcuffs. He led her away toward the jail.

“I’m Ethane Brandt,” the lawyer called after her. “Call if you change your mind.”

Cole thought there might be gold under the ranch, and she didn’t know. Too bad he had never asked her about it; she could have saved him from wasting her time. Wolf Mountain might sit in the middle of the biggest gold field in the state, but that was in the gold rush days, a century and more ago. Only a few gold nuggets had been found on the ranch in the last hundred and sixty years. Every now and then one of the men took up gold panning as a hobby, and might find a thousand or so. Then they’d decide it was too much work for the time they had to put in. Wallingford, the original mine owner, got a lease to the mining rights to half a section back during the Depression, when the price of gold was doubled to try to boost the economy. They pulled all the gold out of the vein that started on the mine’s land. Even with modern technology, there wasn’t enough gold to make it worthwhile—even with the price of gold as high as it was. Timber that was where the money was. Jail was not going to get it cut either.

Release to be announced soon

#neverturnyourbackonawolf #montana #mystery #murder

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