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“Did all of your ranch hands run off or die?” she asked.

He gave her a wry smile. “Believe it or not I occasionally do some work myself.”

She nodded. Everyone knew Marcus was a hard worker. Ever since he graduated from college, he had a passion to make his ranch even more of a success than it already was. “Sort of like the guy who owns Boardwalk buying up all the rest of the board,” she said.

“My favorite piece is the car,” he said.

She was surprised he had picked up on her Monopoly reference. Lately she had been blurting whatever crossed her mind without running it through a filter first, and when it happened, most people stared at her in silent confusion.

“I like the dog,” she said. Her mind conjured the image of the little metal dog, and she looked off toward the distance as she remembered afternoons spent playing Monopoly with Kitty and Dante. She never won. It’s like a metaphor for my life now. The stakes are higher, and I’m still losing.

“Are you ready?” Marcus asked. His gentle tone grated on her nerves. She didn’t want pity, especially not from one of the high and mighty Henshaws--the highest and mightiest Henshaw, no less.

She nodded curtly.

He offered his hand to help her down, but she ignored it and jumped off on her own. She brushed at the seat of her pants and led him to the entry of the corral.

He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “I sure am sorry about the trouble your family has been having lately.”

She nodded curtly again in acknowledgement of his sentiment. “We’ll manage. Congratulations on your engagement.”

He laughed. “Where did you hear that rumor? I’m not engaged.”

She paused and looked at him with some of her old self returning to her. Once upon a time she had loved nothing better than neighborhood gossip. Now since they had become the main source of gossip she had lost her taste for it. “You’re not?”

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