Chapter 2

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Spotted Horse Ranch, Jackson, Wy

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Spotted Horse Ranch, Jackson, Wy

Piper whinnied as she charged up the hill, and I laughed out loud. We were months overdue for this. I leaned low over her neck, slowing her only at the top of the hill to take in the valley, the coiling rivers, the placid lakes. The endless bulk of the Tetons with their jagged snow-capped peaks made me feel small and insignificant. Hidden even.

It didn't feel quite right to be so happy and in love with Jackson when it was causing Tara so much pain. But the small, quaintness of the town, how far away it was from my past, and the breathtaking horse country was everything I'd ever dreamed of. Temecula had been a 'horse town' once, too. Then one by one the ranches and orchards had been scraped off to make room for cookie-cutter housing tracts and shopping centers. City folk moved in by the droves. They loved their Starbucks and Wi-Fi.

That would never happen out here.

I dragged my eyes from the Tetons and saw Spotted Horse Ranch nestled in the trees below. A lazy river meandered past the green pastures, arenas, and barns; with a white split-rail fence surrounding the endless acres. Behind the ranch rose majestic pine-covered mountains. The river reflected puffy white clouds scooting across the sapphire sky. It was a trainer's paradise.

A man on horseback rode toward me as Piper and I loped down the hill. I eased Piper back to a walk as the man waved and approached us.

"You sit that horse like music, young lady," he said. "Even bareback."

"Thank you, sir."

He reached out a tan, weathered hand. "I'm John Hunter." He looked about my mom's age and his pleasant manner put me at ease.

"Chloe," I said as I clasped his strong, wiry hand, the kind of hand that had mended many fences. "Chloe Matthews." Yep, that was my name now.

"I own this place." He swept his arm wide and his faded blue eyes reflected the look of 'home' from beneath his beige cowboy hat.

"Most beautiful ranch I've ever seen," I said. "Are you hiring?"

"I get lots of kids looking for work this time of year." The skin around his eyes crinkled when he smiled. "Most of them can't sit a horse like you. What kind of work are you looking for?"

"I've been told I have a way with horses." I shrugged. "I like training them."

"Well, you definitely have a way with your mare." He tried to hide his glance at my pink hair streaks. "But I was thinking more along the lines of a trail guide, after you prove yourself mucking stalls and feeding."

Of course he wasn't going to hire an unproven outsider to train his horses. No other ranch would, either. My numb left hand rested on my thigh. It wouldn't be long before he discovered I was a one-handed cowgirl. And chase me off his ranch.

I nodded. "I can muck stalls."

"Great. Then I'll give you the tour." He turned his horse and headed down the hill.

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