Ana gripped a handful of the horse's mane, lowered her head and gave the animal its lead as she flew over the dew-soaked meadow.
She felt the sting of the cool Montana air against her cheeks, but didn't stop. If she did she was afraid she'd fall apart. And Analeigh Maria Slater was always composed and calm. She had to be. She was the oldest daughter, and since her mother's desertion, the responsibility of her younger sisters had fallen on her shoulders.
Finally reaching her destination, she slowed her horse. The buckskin mare was reluctant to end the run, but obeyed by the time they reached the old, dilapidated cabin. The place Ana had come to as a kid when she needed to be alone, or needed to think. When she needed to cry.
She climbed off, and her legs nearly gave out as she hit the ground. It had been a while since she'd ridden, and she'd pushed it hard today.
After tying the mare's reins to the post, she climbed the single step onto the sagging porch. Using her shoulder, she nudged open the weathered door and walked inside.
The cabin was just as dismal as she remembered. The one room was small, but serviceable. A sink and a water pump, a shelf overhead that still held canned goods. There was a set of bunks attached to the opposite wall, with filthy mattresses. The building would have been torn down, but her great-great-grandfather had built it when he'd settled in this area.
She walked to the one window and looked out at the view she loved. The lush meadow was green with new spring grass and wildflowers. She shifted her gaze to the side to see the Rockies, then in the other direction toward Pioneer Mountain and the national forest. In between were miles and miles of Slater land. Colton Slater's pride and joy, the Lazy S Ranch.
And at one time this ranch had been home to Ana and her three sisters. That had been a long time ago.
She brushed a tear from her cheek. But now with her father's emergency... Another tear followed. What was going to happen? What if Colt didn't survive?
She tensed at the sound of another horse approaching, then boots on the porch. She swung around, but didn't feel any relief on seeing the ranch foreman, Vance Rivers, stepping through the doorway.
The man was tall, with wide shoulders. Over the years, she'd caught sight of him without a shirt when he'd been digging fence posts. He'd earned the muscular chest and arms. Her gaze moved down to his flat stomach and narrow waist.
A black Stetson hid most of his sandy hair and shaded those deep-set, coffee-brown eyes that seemed to pierce right through her. She hated that he made her feel nervous and edgy whenever he got near.
"I figured I'd find you here."
"Now that you have, you don't need to hang around," she told him, and turned away. He had been the one who'd called her early this morning about her father's stroke. He also had been the one she found in the hospital room. Of course that was who her father would want with him. "Shouldn't you be at Colt's bedside?"
Vance had always hated that Ana Slater could make his gut twist into knots. All that thick ebony hair and flawless olive skin showed off her Hispanic heritage, but her brilliant blue eyes let you know she was a Slater. All he knew was the combination made a perfect package.
He drew a calming breath.
Ana had never liked him much. Too bad he couldn't feel the same about her. "It's you who needs to be there when he wakes up."
Vance watched as she straightened, her shoulders rigid.
"Look, Ana, you're the only family here to make the decisions."
He thought about the...