- Author: Jodi Burnett
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Tin Star K9 Series - Book 1
Copyright © 2021 by Jodi Burnett
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For my Family
To Trevor, Emily, Skyler, and Sarah who taught me what crazy, fierce, overwhelming, and unconditional love feels like. That’s how I love the four of you. You’re my very best.
About the Author
Also by Jodi Burnett
The inky blackness of the cool spring night soothed Caitlyn’s frustration. Relief at having somewhere else to go reaffirmed her decision to move out. The fact that her brother, Dylan, would probably never forgive her was his problem. She absently stroked the furry head resting in her lap as she drove down the forest highway toward Moose Creek. Renegade, her German Shepherd-Malinois mix, slept stretched over the bench seat of her truck, using her leg as a pillow. Caitlyn and Renegade had been together for almost two years now, and she couldn’t imagine her life without his company.
Wispy fog rose from the river fifty-feet below to her right, drifting across the highway, permeating the night with a spooky atmosphere. The winding mountain road worked against her like a hypnotist’s watch, mesmerizing her toward sleep. She fisted her fingers and ground them into her dry and gritty eyes. Caitlyn cracked open her window to get some fresh air, then reached over Renegade to change the radio station to something more upbeat.
She’d barely glanced away from the road, but when she looked up again, high-beam headlights glared into the cab, careening toward her from the black abyss on her left. Caitlyn’s brain scrambled to make sense of the direction from which the impending collision came as she instinctively slammed on her brakes. The rear end of her truck fish-tailed and skidded toward the edge of the steep embankment that plunged to the river fifty feet below. One of her back wheels dropped off the soft shoulder, causing a sudden jerk that threw Renegade into the dashboard. He yelped and fell onto the floorboard.
One second before impact, tires screeched and the car racing toward her swerved, barely missing a direct broadside crash, though still clipping her front end. The sick sound of crumpling metal echoed through the cab, and her truck lurched perilously toward the cliff’s edge. Caitlyn stood on her brakes, praying her backend wouldn’t slide off, tumbling hood over tailgate to the bottom of the ravine. Never slowing, the smaller vehicle sped away into the night, leaving them to their fate.
Caitlyn flipped her pickup into four-wheel drive and sucking in a deep breath, braved shifting her foot from brake to gas. In that heartbeat, the truck bed dropped as the second tire skidded over the edge. She floored the gas, the engine roared, and rocky gravel riddled the underside of her rig.
With a growling surge, the truck fought the battle against gravity until Caitlyn barreled onto solid ground. Once safely on the pavement, she jammed the pickup into park. “Ren? Are you okay?”
Her dog climbed onto the seat and licked her face. Caitlyn hugged him tight and held on, trembling as her pulse steadied and the adrenaline flooding her system receded. She turned the cab light on to check on Renegade. Her hands ran over his bones and belly, searching for lumps and bruises until she was confident he wasn’t injured. “Where the hell did that car come from?” Ren answered with another long swipe of his tongue. “That idiot could have killed us!”
Caitlyn rummaged in the glove box for her flashlight. She clicked on her hazard lights and opened her door. It was too dark to see skid marks on the pavement, but the lingering smell of burning rubber assured her they were there. She and Renegade crossed the barren highway. Caitlyn flashed her beam into the foliage on the mountainside of the street. Her light panned across a rugged, forest-service entry road. “It was probably just some kids who were up on the mountain drinking and hooking up.” She shivered at the knowledge of how close they’d come to slipping off the highway and tumbling down the rocky cliff to the rushing waters below.
Having made sense of where the car came from, Caitlyn and her dog returned to the truck. She shined the light on the dented front bumper. The car smashed her signal light too, but it could have been a lot worse. She opened the door and told Renegade to load up. Once inside, she locked the doors and sat back against her seat, still shaking from the experience. Caitlyn considered calling the sheriff, but there was nothing to tell. Yes, it was a hit and run, but she had only seen headlights and taillights. She couldn’t describe the vehicle at all. And besides, this late at night she’d end up having to talk to Colt, and that was something she wanted to avoid at all costs.
On Sunday morning, Caitlyn bumped along the gravel road that wound through a thick pine forest and led to her family’s ranch. Renegade sat next to her on the front seat, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. The Reed Ranch had been in her family since the 1800s and was as familiar to her as her most comfortable pair of boots. Caitlyn had always loved this drive. It meant she was coming home. However, she reminded herself, her recent decision meant that was no longer the case. She wanted to move toward her future, even if she had no idea