UPDATE: Stone House Farm will be re-released in November 2021 from Wings ePress! New cover coming.
Noona stood, head over the top rail, nickering welcome. Amanda walked up and placed a lead line on the mare’s halter before opening the gate. Sides bulging with her pregnancy, Noona didn’t look distressed or about to go into labor. The mare wore a blanket and Amanda checked the straps.
“Naughty girl!” she said softly starting to lead the mare back to the barn. She stopped, realizing Buck wasn’t with her. “Buck! Here, Buck. Come, Buck!” When only silence answered her, she called and heard a faint bark. Repeated calls brought more barking, but no Buck. “You see where your truancy got us?” Amanda asked the mare. “He’s probably caught his collar on some shrub.” She tied the lead to the fence, then climbed over the slippery rails into the northern orchard to find what had distracted Buck.
By concentrating on the direction of the now constant barking, she searched. When he fell silent, she would call and the barking would resume. The orchard looked unfamiliar in darkness and falling snow, with tree limbs appearing to loom out of nowhere, and the ground strangely transformed. With frequent calls, answered by Buck’s barks, she homed in on the dog. He looked like a dancing shadow in the surrounding whiteness.
Buck wasn’t trapped by his collar. An unusual long mound of snow lay under one of the apple trees. The dog
barked and dug around the shape. Approaching with caution, Amanda swept her flashlight’s beam over the mound and caught a flash of khaki and fingers. The mound was human. She hurried her steps. Kneeling down she rolled the camouflage-jacketed form over. His face was pale and drawn, his black hair ice-coated, dark, wet strands plastered his forehead. Wade Preston!
“What are you doing out here? Visualizing where to put your condominiums and golf course?” She asked the
unconscious face. He had to have walked here. She noticed shallow snow footprint impressions in the snow. Why come now, during a snowstorm?
“This makes as much sense as anything has lately,” she complained to Buck.
Buck whined, his tail striking her back as he stuck his head under her arm and snuffled the coat of the prone man. She pushed Buck away. “Good-boy, yes, you found him, down.”
She pulled off her glove and felt his face. Wade was cold, too cold, his lips blue, his skin deathly pale.
“Please, God, don’t let him be dead,” she whispered, feeling his throat for a pulse. She found a beat and sighed in relief. Taking off her jacket she threw it over him. Jumping up, she ran to Noona, climbed the fence and slid onto Noona’s back before untying the lead.
It was dangerous, but she pushed Noona into a gallop back to the barn. Once there, Amanda jumped off the mare and led her into her stall and latched it. She grabbed the slick piece of plastic that Kari used as a sled and some old horse blankets, then ran back the way she had ridden. Several times her feet slipped forcing her to catch her balance and slowing her progress as she tried to run through the rapidly accumulating snow. She arrived out of breath. Falling to her knees, she pushed and pulled him onto the sled, calling, “Wade, wake up. Wade!”
Wade’s eyelids flickered, but he didn’t respond. Amanda continued shouting, unable to stop though she
doubted he heard as she pulled his body. His eyelids fluttered and then opened. He raised his head and his gaze locked on her.
“You!” His soft, hoarse outcry cost him, his head fell back in a helpless fashion and his eyes closed to mere slits. He gasped as she pushed him further on the sled, his face grimacing, his eyelids scrunched shut. “Why not me? You’re trespassing on my property.” Wade’s words came thick and slow. “Is that why you shot me?”