“I really don’t like airplanes,” she retorted.

“Yeah, they both kind of suck, don’t they?”

As we left Missoula, I told her it would be about an hour until we got to the ranch.

“Why don’t you fill me in on what I should know about the job?” she asked. “Since we have the time to kill.”

“Sure,” I said. “That sounds great. I’m not sure if Hank mentioned it, but the reason we hired you is that the ranch has been expanding and I frankly just can’t keep up with the animals anymore.” I ran a hand through my long hair. “Besides, I don’t have all the skills necessary to handle a ranch by myself. I studied animal husbandry in school and minored in veterinary sciences.”

“It does sound like you have a lot on your plate. I’m happy I’ll be able to help.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate you saying that. It’s been a lot.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw Jada pause, clearly lost in thought. “So I’ve been reading a lot about problems specific to cattle since I got hired, but was hoping you could give me a firsthand account of what I’ll be dealing with.”

“At Break-Ridge, we mostly deal with the things all other cattle ranches face. Bloat, grass tetany, prussic acid poisoning, foot rot, white muscle disease. They’re all common to varying degrees. It’s hard when you have so many cattle that need your attention, and I’m not really equipped to handle surgeries. We’d always have to call in an outside vet, but they’re always so booked up, the animal often died before they could get there.”

“I’ve dealt with a lot of dogs with bloat at the clinic in Las Vegas, but I know it’s a bit different in cattle. It’s caused by eating legumes, right?” she asked.

“Typically, yeah. Our cattle are all grass-fed so it isn’t as big of a concern for us as it is for grain feds, but it’s still possible for grass-fed cattle to get bloat from eating clover,” I explained.

“Oh, I remember learning about that in school,” Jada said excitedly. “Clover ferments in their stomachs and they’re unable to burp. If that happens, they can end up suffocating, right?”

I was impressed. Jada was clearly a knowledgeable and competent doctor.

“That’s right!” I explained. “Have clover in the pasture is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s great for the quality of your pasture, but on the other, it could make the cattle seriously sick.”

“Wow,” Jada murmured. “I’m going to be permanently on my toes until I learn most of this, huh?”

Laughing, I said, “Probably. But don’t worry, I’ll be there to help you every step of the way.”

I turned my head and saw her wide smile before looking back at the road.

The conversation turned toward the people Jada would soon be working with on the ranch.

“I’ve already met Hank, but it was hard to get a vibe from him.”

“Hank can be like that,” I said. “Animals are his first love. If he even thinks you’re being cruel to them, he’ll write you off in a nanosecond.”

“As a vet, I think that’s more than fair,” Jada said, laughing.

“I definitely agree. He can be a little intense sometimes, but he’s a really good guy. Especially once you get to know him.”

“Who else works on the farm?”

“Well, there’s Ace Holsum,” I began. “He’s the farm manager.”

“Is his name really Ace?” Jada asked, her eyebrows raised.

“You’ll have to ask him that,” I replied with a chuckle. “Anyway, he studied agriculture and biology in school and worked at another ranch before Break-Ridge. He can be pretty quiet much of the time, and we like to joke that he was a philosopher in a past life.”

“Your very own Socrates?” she asked.

Thinking about Ace, I said, “Nah, I think he’s more of a Nietzsche.”

“Ah,” she said, though it was difficult to know what she was thinking.

“There’s another guy at the ranch too, Ben Ares.”

When Jada, who’d been so animated only moments ago, didn’t respond, I glanced her way. She was stoic, her eyes wide as she stared down at her hands.

“Where is he from?” she asked, her voice soft. Clearly something wasn’t right, something about Ben.

I wracked my brain trying to come up with a reason someone would have a problem with Ben, but I couldn’t think of any. Ben sometimes got himself into a bit of trouble for being too blunt or his propensity for being an adrenaline junkie, but he’d been a great friend to me ever since Hank hired him.

Clearly, mentioning Ben was causing Jada pain. I wondered why.

Then I realized where Ben was from. “Las Vegas,” I replied, my mind churning. They probably knew each other. Ares wasn’t exactly a common last name in the United States.

I looked over at Jada again and saw that she had her eyes squeezed shut. “Thought so.”

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