Hart's Girls

DEDICATION:

This book is dedicated to my

family; my devoted husband,

children and grandchildren.

You are my legacy,

My gift to the universe.

May you forever be blessed with

love and be safe from harm.

This world is a better place

for having the

treasures you are in it.

Love you, always,

MomMe



CHAPTER 1


Lemon Sage Benton sat in her vehicle in The Roberts Agency’s parking lot awaiting FBI Special Agent Reggie Casse’s appearance. It was almost six-thirty. Sage had arrived a few minutes early.

A dark, mid-sized sedan pulled into the lot across Second Street. The building faced Main Street and had been vacant for years. The automobile sped into a spot beside a new, black pickup truck. A burly gent in a leather jacket stepped from the car and slammed the door shut. He hastily strutted toward the back steps and took them two-at-a-time, as he raced to the second story landing. A fierce yank opened the door, and it slammed behind the guy disappearing in a huff. What little had been visible of his face from the angle and his manner said he was agitated and rushed.

“That’s odd.” Sage spoke to herself.

Real estate agent Chloe Roberts waltzed from her office side door and gestured to Sage, as she walked toward her SUV. FBI Special Agent Reggie Casse pulled her black, luxury sedan into the spot beside Sage’s truck. Both women stepped from their autos at the same time. They hugged and proceeded toward where Chloe waited.

“I’m excited.” Reggie griped Sage’s hand then opened Chloe’s passenger door and jumped in beside their friend. “Thank you both for helping me. I’ve never lived in one location long enough to purchase a house before. This will be my first ever, very own home.”

Sage climbed into the backseat of Chloe’s SUV. “Of course, Reggie; I’m thrilled about you moving back to Sweetwater. Hey, Chloe, how you doing?”

“You’re welcome, Reggie. It’s what I do. Thanks for choosing me as your agent. Hi, Sage. I’m good. You?” Chloe glanced around with her brows knitted.

“I’m great. Let’s do this thing.” Sage fastened her seat belt then relaxed into the cozy bench.

Chloe handed a file to Reggie. “We’re viewing these properties tonight. Take a look as we drive to the first one.” Chloe gunned the engine to life.

As Chloe pulled from the lot onto Second Street, Sage pointed across the street. “Say, what’s up with the building across from here?”

“I’m not sure. Why?” Chloe glanced at the neighboring parking facility as she drove away. It wasn’t unusual to see overflow parking using the empty lot.

“Some big guy hastily parked and went in through the second, floor back entrance. He looked angry.” Sage bit the side of her lip.

“Did you recognize him?” Chloe glanced at her across her shoulder.

“No, didn’t get a good look.” Sage winced, wishing she’d gotten a better view of the man.

“Maybe someone has bought it. The structure has been closed since the owner died a few years ago. It’s beginning to show signs of abandonment. It’s a shame. I hate seeing properties go to waste. I wonder if the new owner wants to fix it up to resell. It could bring a tidy profit with a little effort and minimal investment. Maybe I’ll contact them to learn what their plans are. If they want to resell, I’d love to list it.” Chloe volunteered. “Want me to let you know what I find out?”

“No need. I’m curious. That’s all.” Sage needed to focus on Reggie, having volunteered to help her view homes.

Chloe got to business at hand. “We’re touring three homes tonight. The second needs a furnace. The first is a divorce case, but the guy’s living there until it sells. The third is at the top of your price range, but doesn’t appear to require updating.”

“Sounds good.” Reggie shifted through paperwork, reading condition reports divulging issues and repairs completed.

Chloe pulled into the driveway of a secluded house at the end of a quiet, wooded lane. A single, shabby automobile rested in the driveway. “Probably the owners’; there is no garage. He was supposed to take a drive, so we could have the place to ourselves. He must be running late.” Chloe cut the power as they pulled into a spot beside the car.

“I hope he’s leaving. I’d hate snooping in nooks and crannies with the owner watching.” Reggie and Sage stepped out and closed Chloe’s door.

Chloe pointed toward the roof. “It appears to need gutters.”

Reggie made a note on the listing sheet. “Thanks, I’ll have it checked by a roofer, if I like it. I like that the neighborhood is quiet, and the view is beautiful.” They gazed across a rolling field of wildflowers and bluegrass.

Chloe bypassed the lock box hanging on the door knob and knocked, then rang the bell. “He could’ve ridden with someone else, but I like to make sure no one’s here before rushing in. I’ve seen some strange things, selling real estate.” Chloe winked and rolled her eyes. When no answer came, she tried the door. “It’s unlocked.” She opened it a ways and stuck her head in. “Anyone here? This is Chloe Roberts with The Roberts Agency, here to show the house.” When no answer came, she stepped into the vacant living room.

Reggie followed her inside. “Guess you’re right. The seller’s gone as promised.” Sage trailed Reggie, taking care to inspect everything she saw.

“Yep, let’s check this place out.” Chloe led them into a large, airy kitchen. “Nice modern appliances and a granite countertop.”

“I like windows around the room. It’s sunny and bright. Tile looks in good shape and goes well with the cabinets. There seems to be lots of storage.” Reggie slid a hand across the counter.

Sage opened and shut several cabinets, mostly bare of contents. The refrigerator held an open six-pack of beer, a pack of cheese, loaf of bread, a plastic container of lunchmeat and a jar of mayonnaise. “Looks like a bachelor’s fridge.”

“Hell, it looks like my fridge.” Reggie snickered, and they laughed.

Chloe led them into a dining room. “They should be motivated. If you like the place put in an aggressive offer. It might not fly, but is worth a try.”

Reggie followed. “So far so good.”

Sage trailed them. “The living room is large enough for entertaining, along with the ample dining room.” Both were vacant, except for a lounge chair and large television in the living area.

Reggie knelt and ran a hand across flooring. “Carpeting looks newer and is neutral like the walls. This might work.”

Reggie and Sage shadowed Chloe into a hallway.

Reggie poked her head through a door and laid a hand on the wall. “I like the white and black tile. This guest bathroom is modern and convenient.”

Sage nodded. “It’s got a linen closet and there’s an extra-large clothes closet in the hallway.”

Chloe stood in the doorway. “The guest room is empty except for a couple half packed cartons and a stack of cardboard boxes flattened and stacked against a wall.”

The women followed Chloe into the slight space. Reggie nodded her head and looked around. Sage opened the closet to find it empty.

“Let’s check the master.” Chloe opened the closed door. Her face blanched to the same shade as eggs Sage had gathered before leaving the farm.

Sage rushed to her side. Her heart plummeted toward her stomach. Her windpipe froze. She turned away from the gruesome scene. Arms went around her friend’s quivering shoulders, as she drew Chloe into the corridor. Finally she gasped. “What the hell happened here?”

Reggie passed them and hastened into the room they’d vacated. “Oh, hell. Don’t tell me you’ve found another one.” She gazed at Sage over her shoulder with one brow high.

Sage’s shoulders rose and fell.

Chloe huffed out air. “Not again. This is becoming a habit.”

Sage patted Chloe’s back. Sage and Chloe had acquired a knack for locating dead bodies.

Reggie eyed Chloe critically. “You too?” Reggie rolled her eyes at Choe’s nod.

Chloe looked like she might toss her dinner. “It’s the second corpse I’ve discovered since I returned to Sweetwater. I never paid attention when I was a kid. I’m beginning to think this town has as much violence as New York.”

♥♥♥♥

Reggie pulled vinyl gloves from a back-pants pocket and donned them. She stepped into the master suite for a few minutes without making a sound. She examined the man without touching him. Blood pool and injury were a dead giveaway. He was beyond help. She gently touched the second victim’s throat for pulse, and when she didn’t find one, lifted the wrist and checked for one. She returned to her friends and closed the door carefully.

Sage placed hands on Chloe’s shoulder. Chloe’s attention diverted to her face. Sage’s words were soft and soothing, impressively keeping her own cool. “It’s not a first for me either. I discovered a friend’s body soon after moving here. Sweetwater is an amazing, warm and welcoming community. Wyatt does everything possible to maintain that status. Every town, no matter where, has its share of violence. Don’t let this scare you away.”

Chloe sniffed and nodded silently, blinking away tears.

Reggie led the way to the kitchen and pulled out chairs for her friends. They gladly slumped into them. “You’d be surprised where I’ve encountered crimes in my line of work. Bad things happen to good and corrupt people everywhere. There’s no hiding from it.”

Closing her eyes with a sigh, Chloe shook her head, but remained quivering. “You’re right, and I don’t scare easily. I’m living in the house where I found a murder victim.” She snickered, as if in control of her senses. Her body continued to quake—a natural instinct.

Sage groaned. “Me either. This sort of thing isn’t about to frighten me away, though it’s going to piss Wyatt off royally. He swears I’m a danger magnet. I’m beginning to believe he’s right.”

“Want me to phone him? Or you want to? This is his jurisdiction.” Reggie placed a hand on Sage’s shoulder and found it surprisingly steady.

Sage shook her head. “Thanks. I’ll do it.” She whipped her phone out of her jeans pocket and dialed her husband. “Hi, Wyatt; yes, I love you too. No, it’s not going well. You’re not going to believe this.” Sage explained the situation to her husband.

Unfortunately, Wyatt would believe it. Reggie took a seat, and the three women sat holding hands, waiting for sirens.

♥♥♥♥

The two-bedroom cottage teemed with activity. The CSI Team marked locations, collected evidence and took photographs. They took finger prints and made impressions of Reggie, Sage and Chloe’s shoes. The women remained seated in the dining area. Another crew worked outside doing the same and inspecting the owner’s vehicle.

The coroner’s voice was easily heard in the small house, as he spoke to Wyatt. “Bodies are warm. Rigor hasn’t set in. Time of death is less than three hours ago. This was definitely murder, as you can see. I can tell you more after a thorough examination in my lab. Let’s get them ready.” His last comment was meant for his crew.

Two men waiting at the door pushed a vacant stretcher into the room. Another empty gurney in the living room awaited the second victim. As men wheeled the first out of the bedroom, Wyatt halted them. “Sage, Chloe and Reggie, please take a look.” He waved them forward.

Stepping carefully so they didn’t disturb areas investigators had marked, they reluctantly approached the corpse. Wyatt studied reactions, as the women gaped at the dead man. Chloe and Reggie shook their heads. Sage gasped.

“I’ve only seen the man when I checked him out before you arrived.” Reggie’s face showed no emotion. She’d gone into professional mode.

Wyatt stepped between Chloe and Sage. A muscular arm draped across each woman’s shoulders. He led their return to the kitchen. “Do you know him?”

Sage drew in a slow inhale. Her breath came heavily. “My head’s swimming.” Her body appeared to weigh more than her legs could support. Good thing Wyatt had a grip on her.

Chloe’s face was whiter than before, but she shook her head in answer. Tears streamed down her cheeks in rivulets. “His throat was sliced. No wonder there was so much blood. The bed was soaked with it.” She closed her eyes and puffed out a breath. “I’ve never seen him before. He could be the owner. It’s what I assumed—he was . . . nah—”

Wyatt finished for her. “Yep, the dude was partially naked.” He helped Chloe into her seat.

“The listing report and tax data says the house is the property of Simon and Carol Ann Bedford.” Chloe leaned against the table.

“We’ll check it out . . . unless . . . you know him, Sage.” He deliberated Sage’s face.

She nodded. “It’s Simon Bedford. I . . . ah . . . know him. He’s a customer.” Reggie thought she’d seen recognition in Sage’s expression when she’d lost her breath at the sight of him up close and personally.

Wyatt eased his wife into a seat. “Okay, baby, stay calm; that’s helpful.”

The coroner’s men moved Bedford’s remains to a waiting vehicle and maneuvered the second cot into the scene of the gruesome murder, while Wyatt had questioned the women. They returned with a black bag zipped around the second stiff.

“Hold up, guys. Let’s give the ladies a quick check. I need to know if they recognize her.” The men wheeled their cargo toward the kitchen and unzipped the body bag.

Reggie, Chloe and Sage stood to get a good look. The men secured their load and wheeled it out.

Reggie leaned her butt against a counter. “I checked her pulse before you arrived—never seen her before that.” Sage and Chloe returned to their chairs.

“Wyatt, I don’t recognize that poor child.” Chloe burst into waterworks and laid her face in her hands.

“Me either,” Sage muttered through sobs of her own. “She’s so young. It’s sad. That poor baby died before she got a start in life.”

Reggie crossed her arms and eyed Wyatt. “There’s bruising on her face, neck and arms. She obviously fought for life. Heavy makeup is smeared. Tears streaked down her cheeks, leaving muddy trails. Prints on her slim neck appear to be from strangulation.”

“Looks that way. I agree.” Wyatt nodded.

“She can’t be more than twelve or thirteen. She had a tattoo on her neck. That seems strange for someone so young.” Sage sagged in her seat. “But of course, so do her clothes. She’s dressed like a tramp—way too seductive for a kid.” She winced. “Wyatt I need to tell you something about Mr. Bedford. I had a rousing argument with him a couple days ago at the warehouse where he works. The altercation was witnessed by some of his staff.”

Reggie’s gut felt as though something inside was trying to chew its way out. She inhaled. How did Sage draw trouble to her? She was the most peaceful soul Reggie knew.

“Okay, wait a sec. Say nothing more.” Wyatt’s hand went up. He went to the front door. “Leo, can you come in here, please?” Wyatt returned to his seat followed by Deputy Sanders.

Leo took the fourth chair, as Wyatt indicated he should. “Please take charge of this interview and the case. It’s important I not be the one to question Sage. My wife and the deceased have a connection.”

Leo nodded and pulled out a phone. He turned it to record and laid it on the tabletop in front of Sage. “I need to record this.” Sage nodded. “Go on, Mrs. Gordon.”

Formal address sounded odd, since Leo and Sage were on first name basis, but this was an official murder investigation. Tapes could be used by the court. Sage was about to disclose information that would likely make her a prime suspect. Wyatt didn’t want to be accused of interfering with a crime for personal reasons. He would stay out of it and let Leo run the show.

It was comforting, knowing Wyatt would simply be acting as Sage’s husband during the investigation, whether she needed his support or not. It sounded as though Sage was going to be a suspect. She was lucky to have him to surround her with love. Reggie couldn’t ignore jealousy welling insider her at the heart-warming exchange between her two best friends, Sage and Wyatt. Would any man ever be there for Reggie like that?

“Simon and Carol Ann Bedford are customers of Parsley, Sage, Rose, Mary & Wine Farm. Carol Ann is a chef who overseas their five restaurants in a tri-county area. She purchases organic produce and cheeses from me. Simon manages their warehouse facility. Carol Ann is professional and pleasant. Simon’s rude, gruff and I generally tolerate him because their business is important to me. I’ve seen him treat his crew disgracefully, cursing them, yelling and calling them names.”

Leo nodded and smiled easily. “What was your beef with him?”

“Rose Coldwater delivered a truckload of our products to the warehouse last week. Simon made her wait a long time to unload, and took an unscheduled truck before her, though she arrived at the designated time. When she was finally backed to the dock, there was no one to unload the shipment. She finally saw a worker in the warehouse and asked him to help. He unloaded the cargo. Before he could move it to proper refrigeration, Simon Bedford waltzed over and berated the guy for helping. He instructed him to get back to his assignment or he’d be fired. Simon told Rose he’d assigned another team to take our pallets to the cooler, but they were told to finish their current work first. They’d be with her in a jiffy. That jiffy turned out to be a full hour.”

Wyatt held Sage’s quivering hand on the table. His thumb stroked top of it absently. Eyes focused eyes on his trembling wife. His face was strained but encouraging.

Sage’s involvement must be eating him alive. Poor guy was a peacemaker and safe-keeper. Sage had killed before, and it was concerning. Reggie and Wyatt knew Sage wasn’t capable of such violent, gruesome murder.

Sage took a deep gulp of air as though hoping to suck in courage from Wyatt before continuing. “It was blazing hot. Simon crudely reprimanded Rose for not moving her truck, screaming she was holding up the next van form taking her spot for unloading. It was true, but she ignored the irate buffoon and refused to leave until her delivery was properly stowed away. The cartons sat on the dock for almost an hour before being moved.” She hesitated.

Leo tilted his head with a blank expression. “I’ll need to question Rose personally, so do not speak with her about this. I don’t want you influencing how she responds. So far it sounds as though Rose has more reason to be angry with Simon than you do.”

Sage rolled her eyes. “I can’t avoid Rose. She’s my partner at Parsley, Sage, Rose, Mary & Wine. I will not speak with her before tomorrow when I return to the farm.”

Leo nodded. “Fine; I’ll go to her home and get her statement after we finish here. Do not contact her. Understand?” When Sage nodded, Leo continued, “Is there more?”

She sighed. “I was livid when my freight was returned later that day. Carol Ann had inspected cargo in the refrigerated locker and deemed it unfit to serve. I checked. She was correct. I had personally handpicked each item before delivery. It was in pristine condition when Rose took it to the warehouse. Simon’s inefficiency cost me a bundle. He offended Rose, which pissed me off. That was bad enough. I was livid. He jeopardized my business with his wife. The restaurant chain is a valuable account.”

Her shoulders rose and fell with her deep intake. When Leo waited she appeared to get control of her emotions. “I went to the depository and cornered that asshole. I told him in no uncertain terms, he was on thin ice. Their eateries depend on my crop. He not only cost me a bundle. He cost himself by not having ample staples at his establishments, and he insulted my partner. I will not stand for mistreatment of my people.”

She only had one—Rose had started as a farmhand and friend and was now a full partner. Rose was more timid than Sage.

“Rose allowed the bastard’s words to roll off her shoulders. I wouldn’t stand for it.”

The truth put Sage in jeopardy, revealing her as having motive for killing the little twerp in the body bag. She didn’t appear to be holding anything back.

“I have confidence in the justice system and in Wyatt and his team of enforcement experts. You’ll find out who did this.” Sage’s smile was weak, but her nerves appeared steadier.

Leo’s expression showed hatred for having to ask. “Did you kill Mr. Bedford, Sage?”

“I did not. Leo, I have faith you and Jaiden will discover who killed Simon Bedford and that poor girl. Directly or indirectly, Simon is responsible for her death. That miserable man must have many enemies. Surely I’m not the worst of them.” Her brows rose and fell.

Wyatt twisted his head, as though releasing a cramp. With his free hand, he scratched the nape of his neck.

Sage winced at his concerned look. She’d put herself in a perilous predicament. He might be right about her being a danger magnet.

The End

Dear Reader,

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my book. It would please me a great deal if you would drop me a short line at these review sites. I value your time, so feel free to copy paste the same review on both, if you would please. Reviews affect readership and are more important to me as an author than you can imagine. Thank you for your time. I hope we become lifelong friends.

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If you liked the book, you’re going to love 2nd Chance Ranch. Here’s the first chapter to get you started.

2nd Chance Ranch

CHAPTER 1

Sweetwater Townspeople line Main Street welcoming home one of their own wounded in battle. The mayor waves from the front passenger seat of his baby blue 1957 Chevy. The reigning hero sits on the rolled-down soft top, looking wan but elated.

Dory Farmer hadn’t expected her heart to race at the vision dressed in full regalia. A white, flat-top hat covered his still blonde, but short cropped hair. His face was thinner than she’d expected, but still ruggedly handsome.

His dress jacket lined with chrome buttons down the front was pulled tight with a white belt. A mass of ribbons was displayed on the left side of his chest. Red stripes ran down the outside of navy slacks draping awkwardly on abnormally thin legs.

Captain Chance Gibson had changed since he’d creeped out of town. Of course he had. The man had fought in a bloody war.

Dory was a different person, too. No longer the gullible, innocent who had fallen headlong for a high school basketball champ, she was a strong, capable, independent woman.

Life was good. She had everything she needed, though her friends constantly encouraged her to date and tried fixing her up. She had no need for a man and no room in her world for one. Life with her incredible son on the ranch she adored was a hearty meal. Men were simply desserts one indulged in occasionally—not to be taken seriously.

Did Chance notice her in the crowd? Their eyes never met, as he passed Dory and Lee watching from sidelines. Why should he recognize her?

Six years ago she’d been a fling—nothing more. Like all teenaged boys, his goal was to get into her pants. Once she gave it up, he’d gotten what he came for. She was nothing but a notch on his belt. He likely didn’t remember her name.

“Can I go to the party, Mom?” Lee hopped from her knee bouncing side-to-side.

Her gentle hand swiped the adorable blonde hair. “You know better, young man. You’re too young to parade around in a barroom.”

“Okay; Ty said his mom is making my favorite walnut cake to the party. Can you bring me a piece?” He twisted sideways with that sly snicker that made her heart melt. He looked so like his dad and had the same effect on her. She could refuse him nothing and didn’t whenever possible.

“You know it. Sage bakes the best pastries in town. I’ll bring two slices. We can eat them for breakfast tomorrow. Sound good?”

His face lit up. Those deep, chocolate brown eyes gleamed. A grin spanned width of his square jaw. “Wow; that sounds amazing, Mom. Cake for breakfast. Yum.” He rubbed his belly through his red-white-and blue tee shirt.

“Don’t get used to it. This is a special occasion.” She stood and folded their lawn chairs. Taking his hand, she led him to her pickup truck.

“Why not, Mom?”

“Cake isn’t a traditional breakfast.” She rustled his blonde hair playfully.

“It should be. Doesn’t it have milk and eggs in it?”

“You’ve got me there.” Logical and smart as a whip in a debate—like his father.

As she hoisted him into the passenger’s seat and watched him secure the seatbelt, he studied her with a tilted head. “Is it special because the soldier was hurt?”

“No; because he returned home alive. The Captain is brave and strong. He saved three soldiers’ lives.” She shut the door and placed the chairs in the truck bed, hoping he’d change the subject by the time she slowly rounded the vehicle and climbed in.

♥♥♥♥

Get your copy at:

https://www.amazon.com/2nd-Chance-Ranch-Lynda-Rees-ebook/dp/B085X4JR6X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=2nd+Chance+Ranch&qid=1585173456&sr=8-1

or www.lyndareesauthor.com/2nd-Chance-Ranch/

ALSO BY LYNDA REES

Historical Romance:

Gold Lust Conspiracy

Mystery:

The Bloodline Series:

Leah’s Story

Parsley, Sage, Rose, Mary & Wine

Blood & Studs

Hot Blooded

Blood of Champions

Bloodlines & Lies

Horseshoes & Roses

The Bloodline Trail

Real Money

The Bourbon Trail

Single Titles:

God Father’s Day

Madam Mom

2nd Chance Ranch

Hart’s Girls

7 Book Anthology: Sacrifice For Love:

Second Chance Romance, Lynda Rees

Children’s Middle Grade:

Freckle Face & Blondie

The Thinking Tree

Find information about these books at website: http://www.lyndareesauthor.com

About Lynda Rees

Lynda is a storyteller, an award-winning novelist, and a free-spirited dreamer with workaholic tendencies and a passion for writing. Her dreams come true, blessing her with a supportive family. Whatever crazy adventure Lynda congers up, her loving Mike is by her side. A diverse background, visits to exotic locations, and curiosity about how history effects today’s world fuels her writing. Born in the splendor of the Appalachian Mountains as a coal miner’s daughter and part-Cherokee, she grew up in northern Kentucky when Newport prospered as a mecca for gambling and prostitution.

Lynda’s work is published in cozy mystery, historical romance, children’s middle-grade, advertising copy, self-help and freelance.

Author’s Note:

Enjoy my work. I hope we become life-long friends.

Time for Romance!

Lynda Rees

Love is a dangerous mystery. Enjoy the ride!