Second Chance Colton

By: Marie Ferrarella

Prologue

There was a time when he loved coming up to this ranch. Loved riding through its fields, getting lost in its acreage.

Right now, that time seemed as if it were a million years ago. Back then he’d been a boy and this had been his ranch.

Well, his and his family’s, Ryan Colton amended silently.

Back then, the only crimes, large or small, harmless or serious, had all been made-up, part of the make-believe games he, his brothers Jack, Eric and Brett, as well as his half brother, Daniel, and his baby sister, Greta, would play.

Playing had been serious business back then.

He wished for a moment that he could go back to that point in time. Back to when innocence had been a major player in all their lives.

But a lot of things had happened since then. Jack had gotten married, become a father and then gotten divorced before he finally got it right and found Tracy. Eric had left the ranch to become a trauma surgeon at Tulsa General Hospital, where he had met Kara, the love of his life. Daniel, along with his wife Megan, and Brett and his wife, Hannah, were still here on the ranch, along with Jack, but Daniel and Brett had ideas about managing the ranch that differed from the direction that Jack had initially wanted to take. All three were currently trying to iron things out rather than clashing over methods the way they had once done.

And Greta, well, Greta was Greta. Her gift for training horses took her away from the ranch a great deal more than it once had. These days found her in Oklahoma City more than here because of her engagement to Mark Stanton. But even when she was gone, her presence seemed to just ooze out of the very shadows, as if unconsciously reminding the others that she, too, was a Colton and every bit as much a part of this ranch as they were.

As for him, well, he had gone into the Marines in search of himself. He came back still looking, except now he did it as a homicide detective with the Tulsa police department.

And it was in that capacity, as a police detective rather than a Colton sibling, that he was here now, standing in one of the Lucky C’s smaller stables, staring at a broken windowpane with blood smeared on the jagged edges.

Whose blood was it and why had they broken in? Other than defacing some of the property, he saw no reason for this. Nothing seemed to have been taken.

But it was obvious that something sinister was going on here at the Lucky C—something that seemed to call the ranch’s very name into question.

This wasn’t the first time he’d been called up to the ranch to investigate a sinister occurrence. In the past few months there had been a series of “mishaps,” for lack of a better word, Ryan thought darkly as he methodically examined the crime scene.

There’d been the fire that’d started up for no apparent reason—no faulty wiring, no carelessly discarded matches or cigarette butts—and several wanton, senseless acts of vandalism. And there was that break-in that had occurred just the other day, also with no particular rhyme or reason to it.

And then there had been that initial break-in at the main house, shortly after Greta’s engagement party, that had been the start of it all. Someone had broken in and stolen some things—and beaten his mother in the process. Beaten her senseless. Jack had been the one to find her that day. Ryan didn’t want to think about what the possible consequences of that beating could have been if he hadn’t.

As it was, Abra Colton had remained in the hospital for some time, in a coma and all but lost to all of them. He’d thought his father would come completely apart during that time.

Mercifully, his mother was out of the hospital now and back home, but when he’d finally questioned her, she’d been unable to shed any real light on what had happened to provoke that attack—or, more important, the name of the person who had attacked her. Her testimony—when his mother was finally up to giving it—had been jumbled and vague.

And then she had just shut down, saying she didn’t want to “speak of it.” Afraid for her mental state, Ryan knew better than to try to push her. So he was resigned to waiting until such time as his mother was ready to “speak of it.”

He sighed, moving slowly about this latest crime scene. His mother’s attack—and the robbery—had been the beginning. These other senseless acts of destruction had followed, but they’d left no discernible pattern.

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