A vulture pecked at a lump of road kill a short distance ahead. Some might take finding a dead body in the morning as a bad sign. Not me. Not anymore. I’ve learned to look on the bright side, to be grateful.
A few minutes before, my ancient pickup began to chug, the temperature gauge screamed overheating imminent and the oil pressure flicked to zero.
Not exactly what I needed five days before a life-changing deadline.
I had guided the truck to the narrow slice of gravel between the crumbling edge of blacktop and grassy drainage ditch. That’s when I spied the vulture.
Leaning on the steering wheel, I shifted my gaze to my dog, Noire, who sat on the seat beside me, her ears pricked to the winter wheat outside, her nose at the gap above the window.
“Stay,” I said.
She snapped her big black head to me, brown eyes questioning.
“I’m sure there are rabbits and other critters out there, but I need you to stay.”
She sighed and turned back to pondering the fields.
I rummaged around until I found a couple of used napkins, popped the hood, and got out. The liquid clinging to the dipstick resembled milky tea rather than black coffee. I’m no motor head, but even I could guess this did not bode well for my engine’s state of health.
I shouldered my purse, strung a piece of baling twine through Noire’s collar by way of a leash, and locked up the vehicle. With my dog at my heels, I started walking, knowing the bags of horse feed in the bed would be safe out here in God’s country, also known as rural Missouri.
I could call my boss, Robert Malcolm. He’d come get me. But it was a soft spring morning, would be barely seventy degrees at midday. Birds sang to each other, and only a few cotton ball clouds hung in the sky.
Anyway, Malcolm was super stressed lately, working more than ever. Sometimes I thought he was hiding from me, from us, afraid of what would happen in less than a week.
To be fair, I hadn’t given him any indication of what I planned to do when our one-year contract concluded.
That’s because I wasn’t sure, and I’d taken to falling asleep in the tack room or on the couch in his living room, rather than climbing into bed with him as I had for nearly a year.
Avoiding each other. He probably thought he was giving me space. I probably thought I needed space. He hadn’t exactly begged me to stay.
I needed to decide. Should I stay with him at Winterlight, or return to my farm back on Long Island? Ed Todd’s farm, that is. I’d never get used to thinking of it as mine, even though I’d fantasized for years about owning it.
He’d died the previous summer. A couple of weeks later, I’d gotten a shock when I found out he’d left the valuable piece of real estate to me. Unfortunately, he hadn’t left any money to pay for upkeep or taxes, let alone feed the retired horses who lived there. Insurance covered some of the damage left by the fire, but I really didn’t know what to do. No matter how many lists of the pros and cons of each option I made, I was no closer to knowing than I had been six months ago.
Except, except…I might want to stay in Missouri. Part of me thought I should want to return to my roots, but whenever I imagined going to the East coast, a squirmy sensation invaded the pit of my stomach. Sometimes it felt like excited anticipation, others, more like worried apprehension.
The vulture abandoned his breakfast at our approach. He sat on a fence post, patiently waiting for us to move along. Taking a deep breath and exhaling noisily, I tugged Noire away from the dead possum before she could roll in it, and steered us onto the road to get over a culvert.
A warning tingle zipped up my neck like the feeling right before a horse spooks. I heard it the same moment it was on us. A speeding car coming from behind, the engine roaring at the top of its gear.
Jerking Noire’s rope, I hopped over the ditch, turned my ankle, and fell. My purse slingshotted over the wire fence into a cow pasture.
A sports car zoomed by, the whoosh of wind kicking up leaves and sucking the breath out of me.
I looked in time to see it was black, foreign, and had New York plates.
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