A Real Cowboy

By: Sarah M. Anderson

One

The wheels of Thalia’s rental sedan spun on the gravel as the driving winds tried to push her off the road, but she kept control of the car. It was nice to have control over something, even if it was a Camry.

Because she certainly did not have control over this situation. If she did, she wouldn’t be stalking James Robert Bradley to the middle-of-nowhere Montana in what could only be described as the dead of winter. Hell, she didn’t even know if she’d find him. And, as it had been close to an hour since she’d seen another sign of life, she wasn’t sure she’d find anything.

Still, there was a road, and she was on it. Roads went places, after all. This one cut through miles and miles of Montana grassland that was probably lush and green in the summer. However, as it was late January, the whole landscape looked lifeless and deserted. Snow so old it had taken on a gray hue lined the road. If she were filming a postapocalyptic movie, this would be perfect.

At least it wasn’t snowing right now, she told herself in a forcibly cheerful tone as she glanced at the car’s thermometer. It was twenty-two degrees outside. Not that cold, really. She had that going for her. Of course, that didn’t include the wind chill, but still. It wasn’t like it was subzero out there. She could handle it.

Finally, she passed under a signpost that proclaimed Bar B Ranch, which also announced trespassers would be shot. The Camry’s wheels bounced over a metal grate a part of her brain remembered was called a cattle guard. She checked the address she’d entered into her phone’s GPS, and a sense of relief bum-rushed her. She was actually in the right place.

This realization buoyed her spirits. James Robert Bradley’s agent, a small, nervous man named Bernie Lipchitz, hadn’t wanted to give up the address on his most famous—and most private—Oscar-winning client. Thalia had been forced to promise Bernie she’d give his latest would-be starlet a role in the new movie she was producing, Blood for Roses.

Of course, it was her movie only as long as she could get James Robert Bradley signed for the part of Sean. If she couldn’t do that...

No time to dwell on the worst-case scenario. She was making excellent progress. She’d tracked down Bradley’s whereabouts, which was no easy task. She’d gotten onto his property—so far, without anyone shooting at her. Few people could claim to have gotten this close to Bradley since he’d disappeared from Hollywood after winning his Oscar almost eleven years ago. Now she had to sign him to the comeback role of a lifetime. Easy, right?

The clock on the dash said four o’clock, but the sun was already setting, shooting brilliant oranges and purples across the icy-blue sky. Beautiful, Thalia thought as the colors lit up the gray landscape. Off to what she thought was the north were a series of low hills that merged with taller mountains in the west. The south and east were as flat as a pancake. She could almost see it in the full bloom of spring. The land was beautiful.

Maybe we could do some of the filming here, she thought as she rounded a bend and saw a massive structure that would have been called a log cabin, except cabin didn’t do it justice. She couldn’t tell if the huge, rough-hewn logs rose up two stories or three, and she also couldn’t tell how far back the building went. Behind it were a number of barns—some with an old, weathered look, others made of gleaming metal. Except for the shiny metal buildings, everything looked like it had been on this patch of land for decades. If not centuries.

She didn’t see a single living thing. Not even a dog ran up to greet her as she pulled in front of the house. A wide covered porch offered some protection from the wind.

Well, she wasn’t going to get anyone signed to anything by sitting in a car. Gathering up all of her positive energy, she opened the door.

The icy wind nearly slammed the door shut on her leg and cut right through her patterned tights. Dang, she thought as she pushed against the door. Sure, it had been cold when she’d left the small airport terminal in Billings, Montana, to get into the car—but it hadn’t been this cold. Suddenly, the knee-high boots and tights under the wool dress didn’t seem like a smart business outfit making a concession to winter. They seemed like the definition of foolishness.

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