"I'm sorry to be calling, but I need to inform you that Graham Brisbee escaped from the California Correctional Center in Susanville two days ago. The media hasn't been alerted yet. I wanted to make sure you were one of the first to know. We'd like to put you in protective custody until he's apprehended. I can have a deputy marshal pick you up immediately and transport you to Sacramento."
"No." The word left Lily's mouth before she could think better of it. Her hands trembled and she worried she might not be able to keep her grip on the phone. It took a conscious effort to draw air into her lungs, but she forced herself to keep her shit together. "He escaped? How?"
"I'm sorry, but I can't share that information with you right now. Excuse me, but did you just say no?" He sounded almost incredulous.
She wasn't surprised by his incredulous tone. But Lily had made her mind up a long time ago. No one was ever going to be in charge of her life but her. She'd managed to keep this part of her life a secret, and she wasn't about to change that. "I said no. And I don't want any deputy marshals following me around either. Your job is to catch him. I'll look out for myself. Have a good day, Chief Deputy."
She ended the call and released a shuddering breath. Sallie and Shay walked toward the car and Lily stuffed the sudden fear and anxiety that had overtaken her to the soles of her feet. In a single moment, one of her worst nightmares had been awakened. She just prayed that the marshals would do their job and not make her regret her decision to look after herself.
Levi Roberts stepped away from the group of ranch hands. The persistent, rhythmic buzz of his cell let him know it was a message that couldn't be ignored. He retrieved it from his pocket and quickly read the text message. Disappointment puckered his brow as he fired off a quick response and tucked the phone away. He turned toward the driveway, his attention drawn to the three women climbing into a Toyota 4Runner. He pulled the brim of his hat down lower over his forehead, shielding his gaze from the sun as he watched the car drive off, sending a plume of dust into the air behind it.
"Levi, what do you think?"
Now that was a loaded question. He turned toward Jacob Donovan and jerked his head toward the acres of sprawling pastures beyond the ranch. "This is a bigger operation than the one I worked near Waco. But I can handle it."
"Good," Jacob replied. "Because I can always use another set of hands around here, even if it is only temporary. We have a bunkhouse on the property that you can stay in. If it works for you, I'd like for you to start tomorrow."
"I'm here now. I'd rather start today if that's not a problem." Levi fought the urge to look back at the road and the car that sped down the lane. Before he'd even been made aware of who she was, Levi had been drawn to the woman with auburn hair. The sunlight played off the red-gold strands setting them afire. Her voice and spunk had piqued his curiosity. Only after he'd heard her name had Levi made the connection. Lily Donovan. He hoped to see her again, soon. "Might as well hit the ground running, you know?"
"Sounds good to me. You've already pretty much met everyone here. John Grange, who you met earlier, is in charge of the day-to-day stuff. He'll line you up. If you have any questions, go to him." Jacob reached out his hand and Levi took it in his, returning the firm shake.
Levi nodded. "Thanks. I appreciate it."
"Not as much as I do," Jacob said. "The spring calving season is the busiest around here. I'm glad to have you join the crew."
Jacob left Levi to get straight to work. He was anxious to get to know the crew and the operation. Learn more about Deer Haven and the people who lived here. The best way to do that was to talk his co-workers.
The Rocking D Ranch was a decent-sized operation. Large enough to employ a crew of about a dozen or more. From what he'd heard, Jacob hired mostly ex-military, which was what made Levi a perfect fit.
"Jacob says you were an Army Ranger?"
Levi hoisted up a section of metal fencing, waiting for the other guy to secure it to the section they'd just set up. "Yup. Eight years. Joined straight out of high school."
"I'm Chris, by the way. Navy. Twelve years. Nothing fancy, just an enlisted guy."
"Levi," he introduced himself. "And no one is 'just' anything. Every job serves a purpose."
"Ain't that the truth," Chris agreed. "I thought about being a lifer, but I missed home."
"You're local?" Levi asked.
"Born and raised here," Chris said proudly. "Once a California boy, always one, right?"