Colorado Abduction - By Cassie Miles & Marie Ferrarella

Chapter One

Too impatient to wait until the rotors of the helicopter came to a stop, Carolyn Carlisle disembarked, ducked and ran with her laptop in one hand and briefcase in the other. Dirt and dead leaves kicked up around her feet. Her long black hair whipped across her face. When she was in the clear, she gave the charter pilot a thumbs-up signal and the chopper took off, swooping through the Rocky Mountain sunset like a giant white dragonfly.

Silence returned to the wide valley, which sat in the shadow of snowcapped peaks. The surge of joy Carolyn usually felt when she returned to the cattle ranch where she’d grown up was absent. Her home, Carlisle Ranch, was under threat.

Last night, there was a fire at the north stable. Across the pasture, she could see the place where the barn once stood. The blackened ruin stood out in stark relief against the khaki-colored early December fields. The stench of burnt wood tainted the air. All the livestock had been rescued, thank God. But expensive equipment had been destroyed, and the sheriff suspected arson.

She marched up the walk toward a sprawling, two-story, whitewashed ranch house, originally built by her great-grand-father and added to by subsequent generations. Her first order of business was to kick her brother’s butt for not calling her last night when the fire broke out.

Dylan had waited until today to inform her, probably because he didn’t want her interfering. The family ranch, running about two thousand head of Angus, was his responsibility and he preferred that Carolyn stay in the Denver office of Carlisle Certified Organic Beef. Usually, their arrangement worked out well. She liked the city and loved the daily challenge of running a multimillion-dollar corporation.

But she was still a rancher at heart. As soon as she had heard about the stable fire, she’d had to be here. Hadn’t even taken the time to change her business attire—teal silk blouse, black wool suit with a pencil skirt and high-heeled boots.

As she climbed the three stairs to the veranda that stretched across the front of the house, she was confronted by a cowboy with a rifle.

“Who are you?” she demanded.

“I work for Longbridge Security, ma’am.” He pointed to a trefoil patch on the arm of his denim jacket.

“Did my brother Dylan hire you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He held open the front door for her.

She considered the presence of a bodyguard to be a good sign. At least Dylan was taking action. They couldn’t really expect the Delta County sheriff’s office to patrol the thousands of acres they leased for grazing.

Leaving her laptop and briefcase by the coatrack, she went down the hallway toward her brother’s office. The door was ajar and she heard voices from inside—angry voices.

Her brother’s wife of five years, Nicole, stormed from the room. Her blue eyes were furious. Her jaw clenched. “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Carolyn.”

“I just got here.” She liked and respected Nicole. Considered her more like a sister than a sister-in-law. “I was just getting ready to yell at Dylan myself.”

“Be my guest.”

“First, we could go out to the kitchen and have a cup of tea. Or something stronger if you like.”

“Right now I just want to be alone.” Nicole went to the front door. “I’m going to take a ride down by the creek.”

The door slammed behind her.

Carolyn’s first impulse was to follow her, but Dylan stepped into the hall. “How the hell did you get here so fast?”

“I chartered a chopper. After you finally got around to telling me about the fire, I wanted to see for myself that Elvis was all right.”

“Your horse is fine. He’s in the corral by the barn.”

She’d intended to read him the riot act, but he already looked miserable. His shoulders slumped. His pale green eyes—identical to hers—were red-rimmed. “We need to talk.”

“You missed Thanksgiving. Again.”

“I had to work.” And she wasn’t going to let him guilt her out for shirking family responsibilities. Her every waking thought was devoted to running the family business. “What happened, Dylan? Was it arson?”

“There’s nothing you can do.” He stepped back into his office and shut the door.

Good old Western stoicism. Closed doors all around. Never show emotion. Never share what’s really wrong. Never ever cry. That cowboy ethic might have worked in the Old West, but this was the twenty-first century with psychologists on every corner.

In search of a sympathetic ear, Carolyn left the house and headed toward the outdoor corral attached to the big barn with stables