From the book
Stillwater Springs Ranch
The weathered wooden sign above the gate dangled from its posts by three links of rusty chain. The words, hand-carved by Josiah Creed himself more than 150 years earlier, and then burned in deeper still with the edge of an old branding iron, were faded now, hardly legible.
Logan Creed, half inside his secondhand Dodge pickup--"previously owned," the dealer had called it--and half outside, with one booted foot on the running board, swore under his breath.
Startled, the bedraggled dog he'd picked up at a rest stop outside of Kalispell that morning gave a soft, fretful whine, low in his throat. Little wonder the poor critter was skittish; he'd clearly been from one end of lost-animal hell to the other.
"Sorry, ol' fella," Logan muttered, his throat constricted with a tangle of emotions, sharp as barbed wire. He'd known the family ranch--a legacy shared equally with his two younger brothers, Dylan and Tyler--would be in sad shape. The whole spread had been neglected for years, after all...ever since they'd had that falling out after their dad's funeral. He and Dylan and Tyler had gone their stubborn, separate ways.
The dog forgave him readily, that being the way of dogs, and seemed sympathetic, sitting there on the other side of the gearshift, his brown eyes almost liquid as he regarded his rescuer.
Logan grinned, settled himself back into the driver's seat. "If I were half the man you think I am," he told the mutt, "I'd be a candidate for sainthood."
The idea of any Creed being canonized made him chuckle.
The dog responded with a cheerful yip, as if offering to put in a good word with whoever made decisions like that.
"You'll need a name," Logan said. "Damned if I can think of one right off the top of my head, though." He turned in the seat, facing forward, cataloging the fallen fences and disintegrating junk, and sighed again. "We've got our work cut out for us. Best get started, I guess."
The sign bumped the truck's roof as Logan drove beneath it, and the rungs of the nineteenth-century cattle guard under the tires all but rattled his teeth.
Weeds choked the long, winding driveway, but the ruts were still there, anyway, made by the first vehicles to travel that road--wagons. Mentally, Logan added several tons of gravel to the list of necessities.
There were three houses on various parts of the property and, because he was the eldest of the current Creed generation, the biggest one belonged to him. Some inheritance, he thought. He'd be lucky if the place was fit to inhabit.
"Good thing I've got a sleeping bag and camping gear," he told the dog, leaning forward a little in the seat as they jostled up the grassy rise, peering grimly through the windshield. "You okay with sleeping under the stars if the roof's gone, boy?"
The dog's eyes said he was game for anything, as long as the two of them stuck together. He'd had enough of being alone, scrounging for food and shelter when the weather turned bad.
Logan told himself to buck up and reached across to pat the animal's matted head. No telling what color the mutt was, under all that dirt and sorry luck. As for the mix of breed, he was probably part Lab, part setter and part a whole slew of other things. His ribs showed and a piece of his left ear was missing. Yep, he'd been nobody's dog for too long.
When he'd pulled into the rest stop to stretch his legs after the long drive from Las Vegas, he hadn't counted on picking up a four-legged hitchhiker, but when the dog slunk out of the bushes as he stepped down...