Slim to none, as it turned out.
He arrived at the ranch at six forty-eight to find a late-model, metallic-gray BMW coupe with an Illinois license plate parked next to the garage. He couldn’t resist checking it out.
As he walked around it, he let out a low whistle of appreciation. Elizabeth Benson didn’t live on a social worker’s salary if this was her ride. It was no base model either, although she’d opted for a color that didn’t draw a whole lot of attention. The car was expensive without being ostentatious—a lot like Elizabeth herself.
Who was nowhere to be seen.
He hunched his shoulders against the chill evening wind, bringing the wool lining of his trench coat into alignment with the back of his neck. Her car was crammed full of suitcases and bags, but she wasn’t waiting anywhere near it. A quick check informed him she wasn’t in the house, either.
She clearly didn’t know how to stay put, and he didn’t like the idea of a city girl roaming the ranch unescorted. What with moving equipment, and the bull pen nearby—whose fence was more of a suggestion than useful for actual containment—accidents were known to occur, even when a person was familiar with safety procedures.
He should have told her to wait here for him when he’d spoken to her that morning. Better yet, he should have called someone to be here to greet her when he saw he was running late.
But part of him was a bit of a stubborn ass, or so he’d been told, and having her forced on him brought the ass part to the forefront. He’d been harboring hopes she’d change her mind once she got here and be gone by the end of her first week—or maybe her second, since she’d held her own during her interview, even when it must have been obvious that he didn’t want her—and he planned to do nothing to make her job easy.
As for her drive from Illinois to Montana at the end of March, either she hadn’t learned a thing from her blizzard experience of a few weeks ago, or she was completely without fear. Perhaps a little of both.
Either way, he was annoyed that he had to go looking for her, even though he was the one behind schedule. He had a half hour to find her and get her settled. He fired off a quick text to Dallas to give him an update on his ETA at the fundraiser. Then, he set off on his quest. The lights were on in the cookhouse, which was attached to the machine shed, so he decided to start there.
He’d already been half annoyed when he walked in. The sight that greeted him escalated it to ninety-five percent.
The counter that divided the eating area from the kitchen was piled high with dirty dishes and the smell of seared meat lingered, suggesting they’d grilled burgers for dinner. None of that was extraordinary.
The tables that had been pushed back and the chairs shoved aside, clearing a space in the center of the room, was where things diverged. Furthermore, Young John, who towered head and shoulders above dainty, ladylike little Elizabeth, had an arm wrapped around her throat while Steve and Handy, the two idiots who were also about to get fired, cheered him on.
Ryan saw red.
“What the hell is going on here?” he demanded.