Here’s this week’s excerpt of BIG HORN, leading up to its 6/1 release. Did you miss the first few excerpts? Get them here:
Chapter One: https://pamelafaganhutchins.com/2022/04/26/sneak-peek-big-horn-chapter-one/
Chapter Two: https://pamelafaganhutchins.com/2022/05/04/17917/
Chapter Three: https://pamelafaganhutchins.com/2022/05/12/sneak-peek-big-horn-chapter-three/
Chapter Four: https://pamelafaganhutchins.com/2022/05/20/sneak-peek-big-horn-chapter-four/
For anyone that pre-orders the BIG HORN Kindle ebook, you’ll get BUCKLE BUNNY, a Wyoming suspense novella. Free. Included with your ebook. You can do that here: https://amzn.to/3KSKe5q.
Before I release you to the exciting BIG HORN excerpt, though, I want you to know that my Amazon Top 25 bestselling Patrick Flint novel, SWITCHBACK, will be both free in Prime Reading (and Kindle Unlimited) from now through May. If you haven’t tried it, now’s the time. Do it here: https://amzn.to/3xzADMO. Hurry reading it and the other books in the series, because #7, SITTING DUCK, comes out 7/28!
With no further ado, here’s Chapter Five of BIG HORN:
Big Horn, Wyoming
With Jennifer shepherding George to the lodge as fast as she could and the man in the septic tank hole clearly dead, Aaron devoted his attention and skills to helping the St. Bernard. He carried the dog to the wooden top of the breakfast room table. Liam was large but weighed less under all his bushy hair than seemed possible. Poor old guy. Aaron’s blood simmered. How could people hurt animals like this? He understood grievances between humans, less so ones that led to deadly violence, unless it was self-defense. But when people took out their rage or depravity on animals, it made him feel close to deadly violence himself.
George lurched into the room with Jennifer hot on his heels. “Is he going to be all right?” In the bright light of the kitchen, he looked like a gallon of maroon paint had been dumped over his head and down his body.
Liam’s tail thumped, fanning a short stack of napkins to the floor.
“I’m going to examine him now. What about you? Are you okay?” Aaron kept one hand on the dog and motioned George toward him.
George didn’t approach. He gave one quick shake of his head. “I’m fine.”
“What happened to you?”
“I don’t know.” He touched his scalp, and his face contorted. “I . . . I can’t remember.”
“Let me take a look. You need medical attention.” Aaron wasn’t a doctor, but a lot of his veterinary knowledge transferred well to humans, not to mention the expertise he’d developed in self-diagnosing his own football injuries. George appeared okay for now, although Aaron didn’t like the glazed look in his eyes. It could be a symptom of a concussion.
George waved him off. “Take care of my dog.”
Aaron nodded. Head injuries could generate a lot of blood. But an ambulance was on the way, and George didn’t seem in any immediate danger. Liam needed Aaron now. And, if George wasn’t injured, and that wasn’t his blood all over him, it was best for Aaron to keep his distance anyway. He’d only known the guy for twenty-four hours. Less than that. No matter how nice he seemed, Aaron had no idea what he was capable of, not really. “At least have a seat while I work on him.”
George pulled a chair away from the table, wincing. He sat gingerly, like the movement hurt.
“What do you need me to do, Aaron?” Jennifer asked. “Black Bear Betty is with the, I mean she’s by the, uh . . . she’s outside waiting on the cops.”
“Get me some of that rubbing alcohol from yesterday, please. Scissors. A razor. And I’ll need to stitch him up, too.”
George raised a maroon-splotched finger. “I’ve got an emergency kit in my bathroom, under the sink. It’s got needles and line to stitch with.”
Jennifer nodded and disappeared.
Aaron started palpating Liam, searching for tender spots. “That’s handy. Your kit.”
“Been a snowmobiler all my life. There’s nobody to take care of things for you in the back country. I’ve stitched myself and other folks up more than a couple of times.”
Liam wasn’t sensitive to Aaron’s probing except at his wound site. Aaron was glad to see that it had stopped bleeding on its own, and that while the cut was long, it wasn’t deep. He ran his hands along the dog’s legs. No obvious breaks. He bent Liam’s legs to check the joints. No reaction. He checked Liam’s eyes, mouth, and nose. No bleeding, but his nose and gums were dry.
Jennifer returned carrying alcohol, scissors, and a razor in one hand, a bag of cotton balls between her elbow and side, and a shaving kit in her other hand, which she held aloft. “Is this your emergency kit?”
George gave the smallest of nods. “Yes.”
She set the supplies on the table by Aaron and leaned against the breakfast bar. Her eyes flitted from Liam to George, like the metronome Aaron’s piano teacher used while he fumbled his way unevenly through beginner lessons, until his parents released him from purgatory to concentrate on athletics.
Aaron said, “Could you get him some water, Jennifer?”
“Of course.” She rummaged in the cabinets. Then Aaron heard water running from the faucet.
To George, Aaron said, “Good news. No breaks and no wounds besides the one cut, and even that’s not too bad. I suspect what he needs most is rest and hydration. We need to watch him closely for trouble standing, walking, breathing, eating, or drinking. Or whining or getting too stiff. If any of those happen, he needs to get to a vet with real equipment. But if not, I think just cleaning him, stitching him up, and giving him something for his pain will do the trick for now.”
George nodded with a little more energy. “I have some Tramadol in my bag, leftover from the last time I got hurt. The doctor prescribed more than I needed.”
While Aaron didn’t condone prescription sharing, he would make do with what was on hand. “All right. I may need your help holding him down for the stitching part.”
Aaron rooted in the shaving kit. Jennifer brought a cake pan to the table. She set it in front of Liam’s muzzle. A little water sloshed over the low sides. She wet her fingers and touched them to Liam’s tongue. He licked, and she repeated the process a few times, then lifted Liam’s head and let him lap at the water himself. When he seemed to be satisfied, she laid his head gently back on the table. Aaron found the Tramadol and guesstimated Liam’s weight. The fifty-milligram pill would be just right. He scavenged a piece of raw bacon from the refrigerator and wrapped it around the pill.
“Here you go, boy.” He offered the dog the bacon.
Liam sniffed it with interest. After a moment, he swallowed it whole.
The dog was calm, so Aaron began working on him without asking for George’s help. He trimmed the hair around Liam’s cut as short as he could get it, then shaved the skin, murmuring soothingly to the dog. “You’re going to be fine, boy. Just fine.” Then he rubbed in some topical Lidocaine to numb the area. “You still good, George?”
“As long as my dog’s okay.”
“He’ll recover. Hadley, on the other hand . . .”
George sighed. “How did he die? Was it a fall?”
Aaron shot George a glance. Did he really not know? He really hoped George had nothing to do with Hadley’s death. It wasn’t impossible to imagine the bad blood between the men escalating into something serious. But even if George had hurt Hadley, he would never have hurt Liam. Certainly not on purpose. Not with a knife.
Aaron threaded a needle. “Hadley was stabbed, too.”
“It wasn’t Hadley that cut Liam?”
“No reason to think so.”
“So, whoever killed Hadley stabbed Liam.” George scratched his chin, flaking off dried blood. “We had a killer here last night. Hard to believe.” His voice grew soft and thin. “I’m sorry. Not a great thing to happen while you’re staying here.”
Jennifer was standing near George. “We’re fine.”
Aaron closed the wound with one hand and stitched with the other. Liam didn’t even flinch. “Good boy, Liam. Just keep holding still for me.” The dog’s tail thumped. Aaron wished all his patients were as chill as the St. Bernard. To George he said, “Who would come all the way up here and stab Hadley?”
George’s voice was listless. “I don’t know.” His forehead dropped. “God, I’m so tired. So, so tired.”
Again, Aaron worried about concussion.
Jennifer’s phone rang. “Excuse me.”
“Everything okay with you?” Aaron asked.
“Yeah. I just, um, need to pick this up.” She headed down the hall toward the back of the lodge.
What’s that about? For a moment, Aaron’s mind returned to the night before. How hopeful he’d been when they left the restaurant. How badly things had gone back at the lodge. How much he dreaded returning to Houston. But right now, he needed to focus on the problems in front of him. Liam and George. George had said he was tired. “Did you not get any sleep, George?”
George waved a hand like he was shooing a fly. “What I mean is I’m so tired of this. Of all of it. I want to sell this place, simplify my life. Get back to doing what I love.”
Aaron looked up. “You want to sell the lodge?”
“I talked to a real estate agent about listing it last week, then I got cold feet. I was worried it might not have been what Shelly wanted me to do. But this settles it for me. I’m done. It’s all just . . . too much.”
Images formed in Aaron’s mind. The shop, converted into a veterinary clinic. The stables, with kennels and stalls ready for animal patients. The lodge, which, with a little TLC could be a wonderful home, with or without guests. Even the cottage. If he could talk Jennifer into a move, she could use it as an office. Maybe even as a writing retreat. The thought of getting out of the rat race was tantalizing. A longer dose of peace and serenity—a permanent one—might be the solution to their marital problems. Jennifer would probably say no. But it didn’t hurt to talk to George about it.
“How much would you want for the place?” he asked.
“I’m not looking to get rich off it.” George named a number.
Aaron tied off the stitching, thinking, calculating. He and Jennifer could afford that. “And that comes with how many acres?”
His heartbeat accelerated. “Water? Fencing?”
“It’s all fenced. A nice five-strand. It’s got a good producing well, seasonal drainage, and I’ve got rights on the ditch that runs alongside here. I’m pretty far down the line, but it’s enough.”
Suddenly, Aaron wanted this place like he’d wanted few things in his life before. To play quarterback for Tennessee. To win the SEC title. To be drafted into the NFL. To recover from his head injuries. To become a vet. To marry his wife.
Will Jennifer go for it if she realizes how important it is to me?
Yes, he decided. If they were to have a future together, yes, she would.
He stroked the dog, then picked up a pen from the counter and a paper napkin from the floor. He wrote, “I hereby make this offer for the Big Horn Lodge with forty acres and outbuildings.” He scrawled the day’s date, added a number ten thousand lower than the one George had given, then signed his name. “Would you take this much?”
George picked up the napkin and read it. His cheeks flushed. “Let me think on it.”
A knock sounded at the front door. Liam stood, tilting the table, and Aaron helped him off of it.
Before either Aaron or George could get to the door, it opened and was filled by a tall man with a close-cropped beard and mustache. He was dressed in a tan law enforcement shirt and dark pants. “Anyone home?”
Liam woofed, a surprisingly robust and menacing sound given his age and ordeal.
George walked toward him. “Come in, deputy.”
A second deputy—a dark haired woman half the man’s height—followed, wearing the same uniform plus a cap that matched her shirt. She glanced at the dirty kitchen and wrinkled her nose. Then she gave George a onceover, and her eyes glinted. To her partner she muttered, “If I ever saw a cautionary tale about drinking, this is it.”
The male deputy blew a horse’s laugh, showing a discolored front tooth. George didn’t react.
George doesn’t smell like booze, Aaron realized. He imagined the blood away and looked past it, looked closely at George. His eyes were as blood shot as Jennifer’s, but his pants weren’t clanking with bottles today, and his speech had been distinct and their conversation clear, even with his head injury. But through the eyes of someone who didn’t know him, someone in law enforcement, he looked like a good bet for a murderer.
The male deputy said, “Which one of you is George Nichols, and where’s the body?”
George raised the hand that was holding the napkin Aaron had given him. “I’m George, but I haven’t seen the body.”
“I have,” Aaron said. “It’s out back. In a hole where a septic tank was being installed.”
The deputy ignored Aaron. “Is that blood on your clothing, Mr. Nichols?”
George looked down. “Maybe.” He touched his injured head. “I think so.”
“You think or you know?”
“I’m fuzzy on the details.”
The two deputies shared an intense look, eyebrows up.
The female deputy stepped forward, shoulders bunched. She looked like she could bench press twice her body weight. “Do you have any objections to special agents from the Division of Criminal Investigation coming onsite and working the crime scene?”
“No. Why would I?”
“Good. I’ll let them know.” She typed on her cell phone, then looked up sharply. “We need to talk to you sir. Alone.”
“Here is fine.”
Liam growled. Aaron frowned. The deputies hadn’t seen the body or even given their names. He didn’t like how things were going, and he wished Jennifer was with them.
“Without your dog either,” she added.
Aaron reached down for Liam’s collar. George gave him a wild look. Then he grabbed the pen from the table. He scribbled on the napkin, shoved it into Aaron’s other hand, and walked over to the deputies.
Over his shoulder, he said, “Jeremiah Johnson and the rest of the animals are part of the deal.”
Aaron stared at the napkin. Before his signature and the date, George had written one word in block capitals. ACCEPTED.
To lock in your pre-order Kindle ebook and bonus novella, order BIG HORN + BUCKLE BUNNY, here: https://amzn.to/3KSKe5q.
See you on 5/31 with your last excerpt, Chapter Six!