John (Guardian Defenders #3) - Kris Michaels Page 0,1
cold had solidified the snow. Still, the snowshoes were a necessity due to the drifts. He fell into formation as they moved silently through the river valley. They moved at a steady but relaxed pace. Sweating in the bitter cold was a recipe for disaster and a rookie mistake the men of this squad wouldn’t make. John settled into a shuffle and let his mind wander back to the event that had pulled him from the obscure safety where he’d been existing.
The mare’s dark chestnut coat shivered under his fingers. He followed her swelling belly with his hand and talked to her to keep her calm. “You are going to be a good momma.” A soft muzzle reached back, looking for the carrot she knew he had for her. He couldn’t wait to see what kind of foal she’d throw. He’d bet anything the babe would be big and beautiful, just like her. Yeah, come June she’d be a fine mom. He chuckled and pulled the carrot pieces from his back pocket and held them in a flat hand for her to take. The loneliness he lived in was lessened by Dancer’s affection. It had been a long road to get to this point. Not only for the horse but for him. He came to this ranch under the guise of assuming the role as ranch manager. Manager—hell, he’d never seen a horse, cow, or chicken in person. But he put on the cloak provided for him by Guardian and disappeared into the long, hard workdays where he battled the elements and thousand-pound beef critters. The animals, work, and protection given to him here on the South Dakota ranch had saved him, and because it had, he’d dedicated himself to learning everything he could about ranching. Frank Marshall was one hell of a teacher.
He grabbed the curry comb and gave Dancer some more attention. The mare’s neck stretched out and her upper lip danced when the brush hit her spot.
“You’re spoiling that mare.”
Frank’s voice from the stall door snapped his attention from his musings and the horse. “She’s a survivor, she deserves it.” He’d rescued the horse as a colt. She’d been caught up in barbed wire, the scars were still visible, and she was wild as hell, but when he’d seen her at the livestock auction, it was love at first sight. He recognized the fear in her eyes and her desire to escape. They were kindred spirits, both forced into a place they didn’t understand, and they both needed to learn how to adapt in order to exist.
“Your plane only landed ten minutes ago.” He gave the horse one last stroke with the comb and turned to his boss and friend. “What’s wrong?”
Frank reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of taffy. He extended his hand into the stall and John shook his head. He knew that gesture meant there were either words of wisdom or words of caution coming. Since he heard the plane bringing the crew back to the ranch land about ten minutes ago, it was safe to infer Frank was not here to check up on what he’d been doing for the last two weeks. “I’ll take my straight talk without the sugar coating.”
Frank pushed his ball cap back on his head and nodded. “Guardian has found something.”
John stepped out of the stall and shut the door behind him. “Regarding?”
John’s gut dropped to the hardpacked dirt beneath his feet. It took two attempts to draw a deep breath. He’d watched his sister die in a car bomb. A bomb planted by someone within the CIA. “What about her?”
“That’s just it. They aren’t sure. Her name and some numbers were found embedded in code. The numbers could be longitude and latitude.”
“Where was the information embedded?”
“Programming code.” Frank held up a hand. “Don’t know much more than that.”
“I’ve got to go.” His gaze danced around the barn before it settled on Frank, although he saw nothing but the vision of that ball of flames as the car his sister had gotten into exploded.
“I know it. The aircraft is being refueled. Come back when you’re ready. This is your home.” Frank extended his hand. “It may well be nothing.”
He nodded and took his friend’s hand. “I know, but still, if there is any information on who killed Lori…”
“I understand. Get yourself packed. Jason said the same protocol is in effect.”
John nodded. In Washington D.C., his plane would be taxied into a hanger, the doors would