When researcher Grace Talbot and her team discover a possible solution for weight loss they become targets of a group dedicated to controlling the multi-billion dollar a year diet-product industry. Her unsanctioned testing methods bring tragedy to the family ranch and the attention of the local sheriff’s deputy. With her colleagues either dead, missing, or on the run she soon realizes she must trust the deputy with her life, but can she trust him with her heart?
The unmistakable haze of smoke filled the valley below. Snow covered the ground and weighed heavily on the pine boughs lining the highway, ruling out a forest fire as the source of the dark billows. The old rancher rolled down his window, despite the bitter cold, and inhaled deeply. The air smelled of fire, destruction, and death.
With the last switchback navigated, he shifted up and pressed the accelerator down as far as he dared while driving on icy roads. He tried not to let his imagination get the best of him, but couldn’t help but fear the worst. Someone, maybe even him, was suffering a loss.
As he approached the turnoff to his ranch, he realized immediately the nightmare was indeed his. Gunning the one-ton’s motor, he churned down the snow-covered dirt lane at such a rate of speed he didn’t even notice the fresh set of tire tracks cutting through the white powder—new tracks, since he’d left for town just hours before.
The large truck skidded to a stop. The rancher leapt out and raced toward the burning building, praying there were no animals inside. The real terror came as he realized his ranch manager was nowhere in sight. Hoses remained coiled up, hanging on a fence post, not connected to the spigot, as would be expected if anyone were attempting to control the blaze.
Flames and smoke poured out of the second-story loft, sucking the oxygen out of the air as he approached the now fully engulfed building. Grasping the handle on one of the barn doors, he yanked back with all his might. It didn’t budge. He could hear the crashing of timbers collapsing onto the floor and the crackling and popping of fire eating away the interior of the building. Throwing his shoulder into the solid wood, he could feel the intense heat through the door and his heavy winter coat.
The situation made no sense. The large double doors had no lock and could, in fact, swing inward or outward. Glancing at the ranch manager’s house, he prayed his longtime friend and employee was sleeping through the chaos, but he knew better. If the startled cry of hens harassed by raccoons in the middle of the night could stir him, the fire would have drawn him out instantly.
Yelling at the top of his lungs, the old man got no response but inhaled a choking dose of smoke in the process. He doubled over as he tried to expel the smoke from his lungs and gather his strength. His eyes burned and his lungs ached as he backed up, giving himself a running start. He threw his body against the door, but the strong timbers held fast. After several more attempts to break through, he realized the futility in his efforts. As the heat, flames, and smoke intensified, he knew he had to act quickly. If anyone were inside, it might already be too late.