Three Cowboys - By Julie Miller


“Amiga.” Brittany Means rubbed her cheek against the itchy burlap of her pillow and tried to reclaim the blank oblivion of sleep. But a swat on her bottom jolted her from her drowsy state.

“Wake up!”

She sat bolt upright on the crackling straw mattress. “Hey! What’s...?” Her stomach churned at the sudden movement and she leaned over the edge of the bed and retched onto the dirt floor. She nearly tumbled over the edge herself when her hands refused to move where she wanted them to. Brittany steadied the ball bearings ping-ponging through her skull before opening her eyes again. Straw mattress? Dirt floor? Her hands weren’t working because they were bound together at the wrists with several loops of gray duct tape. Alarm replaced the turbulence in her stomach as she awkwardly pushed herself back into a sitting position to face the black-haired man sitting at the foot of the bed. “What’s going on? Where am I?”

“At the end of your little joy ride with my nephew.” The man’s Latin accent was thick, but his words were sharply articulate, his English perfect. He was a lot older than she, in his forties or fifties, probably. She supposed he was good-looking, the way somebody’s dad might be. But his black eyes were hard. And cold. This small room in the middle of nowhere had to be ninety-plus degrees and smelled of man sweat. But Brittany shivered at the chilling lack of compassion in the man’s dark eyes.

What had happened to her? The last thing she remembered was speeding across the Mexican border just outside Serpentine, Texas, where she’d grown up. She and her impromptu date for the day, Julio Rivas, were delivering hay to his uncle’s alpaca ranch.

Her life had been in absolute upheaval the past few months since her mother’s death. She’d had a blowup with the man who claimed to be her father that morning about staying home for Christmas break instead of going on a skiing trip with her friends at school. Brittany had jumped at the opportunity to cut classes and get to know the mysteriously aloof senior a little better. Feeling the wind in her long, dark blond hair, and snuggling up beside Julio’s bad-boy body had been the perfect antidote for the raging hurt bottled up inside her. They’d stopped for lunch. Julio had kissed her. And then...?

She cursed at the big blank spot in her memory. Panic pumped her heart faster as she tugged against the duct tape and took in the adobe walls, wood beams and stone fireplace of the room. It was like one of the old kitchens she’d seen on a field trip to the Alamo in San Antonio. Only that room had been well-preserved in the name of history as students and tour guides filed past. This room was used and dirty and filled with several men—two big bruisers at the door, a man wearing enough silver and turquoise and cologne to tell her he thought he was a player and a couple more who wore guns on their belts and rifles strapped over their shoulders. There was one scruffy old guy who looked like he might be the only one who actually knew about alpacas and ranch life. And even he was armed. But there was no one her age here, and certainly no sign of Julio. If she was a bound prisoner, what had happened to him?

The player in the black felt hat flashed a bright white smile and laughed. “The sedative has worn off and the muchacha is back with us now, patrón. I see it in her eyes—she is afraid.”

That fear pricked goose bumps across her skin. Brittany pulled her gaze from his leering grin and turned to the man with the cold eyes who was clearly in charge of this gathering. “You’re Julio’s uncle?”

“Many people call me that. Julio has a cousin who works for me. I am Javier Calderón.”

Javier Calderón? Mexican-drug-lord Calderón? The-reason-she’d-been-warned-to-stay-out-of-certain-neighborhoods-in-Serpentine-after-dark Calderón? How did she...?

She might have a wild streak and abandonment issues, but she was just a kid in high school. And she didn’t do drugs. This had to be a joke. Only, the duct tape and guns and raging headache left over from whatever they’d given her were no joke. “Where’s Julio?”

“The boy does not matter. I sent him away yesterday.”

“Yesterday?” How long had she been here? Why couldn’t she shake this groggy lack of focus? “What do you want with me?”

“A simple phone call.” Her bound wrists wouldn’t cooperate when