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Because of all she had been through with Jesse, Honey hadn't given Jack a thought for the past twenty-four hours. In fact, she had spent most of that time in a euphoric haze. Memories of Jesse's lovemaking had preoccupied her in the morning, and their interlude in the barn, his proposal and their subsequent quarrel had kept her agitated until well after dark. It wasn't until nearly nine 'o'clock Saturday evening that she realized how late Jack was in returning home and began making inquiries.

Honey was aghast when she discovered Jack had not spent the night with a friend-or even made plans to do so. He hadn't gone tubing on the Frio, either! Jack had never lied to her before. She couldn't imagine where he could have gone last night, unless

The worst conclusion to be drawn from the facts came first: Jack had run away from home. Honey suddenly remembered how hard Jack had hugged her last night before he left the house, how intently he had looked into her eyes. She hadn't paid much attention to the hug except to be pleased by it because Jack^o seldom indulged in such sentimentality these days. Now his hug took on ominous significance. Jack had been saying goodbye!

Honey's heart began thudding heavily. Her palms tingled. She felt light-headed. Her knees went weak and she had to sit down before she fell down.

Things had been rough for the past year since Cale's death, but surely not bad enough for her son to want to escape the situation. Jesse's appearance had injected a note of tension in the household, but Jack seemed to have made his peace with Jesse the day they worked together on the corral.

But maybe Jack had only been pretending things were all right. Maybe he had resented the hired hand much more than he had let on. Maybe having his mother courted by two men at the same time was more strain than he could handle. But he didn't have to run away!

To Honey's chagrin, the first person she thought of to help her hunt for Jack was Jesse Whitelaw. But shortly after their argument in the barn, Jesse had gotten into his pickup and driven away. Honey didn't know where. And she didn't care.

Honey snickered in disgust. Who was she trying to kid? She cared. She already missed Jesse and he hadn't even left the Flying Diamond. At least, she didn't think he was gone for good. His things were still in the small room off the kitchen. She knew because she had checked.

Honey shuddered to think that the man she loved had been in any way responsible for her son running away from home. What an awful mess her life had become!

Well, she would just have to straighten it out. Jack had to learn he couldn't run from his problems, that he had to confront them head-on and resolve them. And Jesse, well, he could stand to learn a lesson or two about not running from problems himself. She was just the woman to instruct them both!

Deciding she could use reinforcements, Honey picked up the phone and called Dallas Masterson. Angel answered.

"Is Dallas there?" Honey asked.

"I'm afraid he's gone for the evening. Some Ranger business," Angel said.

Honey had completely forgotten about General and the trap Jesse was supposedly laying for the rustlers. Was that where he was tonight? Was his life in danger even now?

"Honey, are you okay?" Angel asked, concerned by the long silence.

Honey sank back into a kitchen chair. "I don't think so."

"What's wrong? Can I help?"

"Jack's missing," Honey said. "And I don't have the first clue where to look for him."

"I'll be right over," Angel said.

"What about the baby?"

"I'll bring him. He'll be fine riding in the car while we look for Jack. Don't go anywhere till I get there. I won't be long."

"I'll use the time to call some more of Jack's friends. Maybe they'll have some idea where he is," Honey said.

Angel was as good as her word, and a short while later she drove into the yard. Honey came running out and jumped into the passenger's side of the car.

"Do you have any suggestions where we can start looking?" Angel asked.

"No," Honey said. She bit down on her lower lip to still its tremor. "We might as well start on the Flying Diamond. Maybe he-" Honey stopped herself from saying had an accident; it was a possibility she didn't want to consider. It was almost better believing he had run away.

They searched the Flying Diamond in vain. Jack was nowhere to be found. Honey was getting frantic. It was nearly midnight. Where was her son?

"I don't know where to look from here, except to check whether he might have gone to see Adam at the Lazy S," Honey said at last.

" Dallas told me to stay away from the Lazy S tonight. There's something going on at that corral where your boys practiced roping earlier this spring."

"As I recall, there's a pen for livestock," Honey said, thinking aloud. "So that's where Jesse hid General!"

"What are you talking about?'' Angel asked.

"Last night Jesse stole General."


"It's a long story. Anyway, he said he'd put him somewhere safe. I'm betting he meant the pen at that roundup corral on the southern border of the Lazy S. If Dallas told you to stay away from there tonight-"

''-because of Ranger business-''

"-then chances are that's where they both are right now." Honey hissed in a breath of air. "Jack couldn't have suspectedhe wouldn't have gone Jack just couldn't"

"Jack couldn't what?" Angel asked.

Honey had a terrible feeling of foreboding. "We have to get to that corral," she said. "Hurry!"

" Dallas specifically said to stay away from there," Angel protested.

"Jack's there!" Honey said.

"How do you know?"

"Call it a mother's instinct if you like, but he's there, all right, and he's in trouble! Let's go!"

| Honey and the Hired Hand | c