Chapter One

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Declan Blackthorne's stomach tightened as he dug through his father's papers. Something was off, but it would take a lot longer than he had anticipated to uncover the truth.

Since he lived the closest to his hometown of Healing Springs and his father's farm, he had arrived before his brothers. He had thought he'd get a head start on looking for clues that he hoped would help them find their missing father, but the mess he found wasn't going to lead to any quick answers.

He couldn't wait for the door to hit him on the way out, but apparently his time here would be longer than any of them wanted.

He returned the file he had been perusing to his dad's top drawer and closed it gently. He wasn't ready for his stepmother to know he was going through his father's personal things. He had doubts about her trustworthiness, and he wasn't about to mar the investigation before it even began.

His phone buzzed to alert him that he needed to leave in one hour to pick his brother up at the airport in Boston. Annoyance clawed at the back of his neck, but he refused to give it too much attention. Instead, he would do what he most looked forward to doing. What he hadn't been able to do since his stepmother chased him and his brothers away so many years ago.

He was going to visit his cows.

The walk to the barn surprised him. The property had become overgrown and unkempt—a far cry from the pristine conditions Declan had grown up around. His dad had always prided himself on his farm. Was this a hint as to what led to his departure? Maybe he just needed to escape. Who was Declan to question that? Hadn't he and his brothers done the same thing?

Declan let out a long stream of air. Maybe by this evening he would be able to reassure his great-aunt Miss Molly that everything was perfectly fine and that his dad had just needed a break. Then Declan would return to his formerly predictable life that had just been turned upside down and figure out what he could do to fix that mess. But he wasn't ready to think about all of that.

He didn't think the cows could possibly remember him after eight years. He also knew they were more than likely not the same cows he had raised and cared so lovingly for. A cow's lifespan on a dairy farm—even a nurturing organic dairy farm—was not very long. But familiarity wrapped itself around him like a warm sweater or a mother's loving embrace. Though these cows had all been born long after he left, they knew him. He knew them.

A scuffling sound, followed by a slam, drew his attention when he entered the barn.

"Hello?" The shuffling and the slamming had been human noises, but his stepmother had sent the entire small staff home early that day. He questioned her motives for clearing out staff before he could meet them, but now he had to question why someone was hiding when they heard him coming.

Drawn immediately to the hay area where he had loved to play and hide as a young child, it didn't take him long to find where the intruder hid.

The cover of the giant wooden toolbox his older brother Blaze helped Declan and Kaden build as a Boy Scout project when they were in fifth grade slowly closed as he approached it. Before closing completely, he caught the blinking red light on what had to be a recording video camera. A long strand of hair gave clues about the intruder's identity and beckoned him toward its striking red shine.

A child must have snuck onto the property and startled when he entered the barn unexpectedly. Declan would be gentle and kind—he had nothing against children—but he couldn't let her get away with playing in here. Not only was it dangerous to be unsupervised around the animals, but a child's playful presence could be stressful for the cows, as well.

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