By: Delores Fossen

 Chapter One

This was exactly the kind of homecoming that Deputy Josh Ryland had wanted to avoid.

Just the sight of the guy with the gun caused his head to start pounding, and his heartbeat crashed in his ears. The flashbacks came.

Man, did they.

Flashbacks of another surveillance, another gunman. And the three .38 jacketed slugs that the gunman had fired into Josh’s chest. The wounds had healed, for the most part anyway, but still the flashbacks came.

“You okay?” his cousin whispered.

His cousin was Grayson Ryland, sheriff of Silver Creek, Josh’s hometown where he’d been born and had spent his childhood. Not a town where Josh had expected to see a man carrying an assault rifle. It wasn’t exactly a standard weapon for a Texas cattle rancher.

“I’m fine,” Josh lied. And he tried to level his breathing. Tried also to ignore the healing gunshot wounds on his chest that had started to throb like a bad toothache.

“I can call one of the other deputies to come out here,” Grayson offered.

There was no shortage of them. Like Grayson, four of the deputies were Josh’s cousins, too. And if Grayson had thought for one second that he would encounter a rifle-toting man on what should have been a routine call, then he would have almost certainly brought one of the others and not Josh.

“You made me a deputy,” Josh reminded him. “This is part of the job.”

That sounded good. Like something a small-town deputy should say to his boss.

It was pretty much a lie, though.

The truth was, Josh had come back home after taking a leave of absence from the FBI so he could avoid gunmen. Assault rifles. Bullets to the chest. And the tangle of bloody memories that he fought hard to keep out of his head.

So much for that plan.

Using the binoculars, Josh watched the rifleman pace across the front porch of the two-story ranch house. He was clearly standing guard.

But why?

Too bad Josh could think of several reasons why a rancher would need a guard with an assault rifle, and none of those reasons involved anything legal.

Josh handed Grayson the binoculars so he, too, could have a look. “You think they’re hiding drugs in the house?” Grayson asked.

“Drugs or guns, maybe.”

Whichever it was, it had created a lot of traffic, because there were plenty of tire tracks on the gravel driveway in front of the ranch house.

It was that unusual traffic that had prompted someone to make an anonymous call to the sheriff’s office to report possible suspicious activity at the ranch. It didn’t help that no one knew the tenants. The place had recently been rented by a couple from nearby San Antonio who’d yet to turn up in town.

Josh could see the source of some of that traffic. There were four vehicles—two trucks, an SUV and a car, all parked around the grounds. No tractors, no livestock or any signs of any ranching equipment.

That didn’t help the knot in Josh’s stomach.

“The gunman’s not the new tenant of the place,” Grayson explained.

No. Josh had glanced at the couple’s driver’s license photos in the background info that he’d pulled up on them before Grayson and he had even started the half-hour drive from Silver Creek out to the Bluebonnet Ranch. A peaceful-sounding name for a place that was probably hiding some very unpeaceful secrets.

And speaking of hiding, the front door of the ranch house flew open, and Josh didn’t need the binoculars to see another armed man step into the doorway.

Yeah, this was definitely a bad homecoming.

Grayson and he stayed belly down on the side of the hill dotted with spring wildflowers that overlooked the ranch, and Grayson returned the binoculars to Josh so he could take out his phone and call for backup. Unfortunately, they were going to need it.

Josh zoomed in on the second guard who’d stepped onto the porch. Both men were dressed in dark clothes, and both carried the same type of assault rifle. Maybe they were part of a militia group, though Josh hadn’t heard of any reports of that kind of activity in Silver Creek.

The second man glanced around. The kind of glance that a cop or criminal would make to ensure he wasn’t being watched. Josh was pretty certain that Grayson and he were well hidden, but he ducked down lower just in case, and he watched the man motion toward someone else in the doorway.