Here's your happy 2024 Kittah picture!

This pic is of my lovebug, my sweet little kittah who sleeps under the covers with me and purrs all night long. He's the one that, when I'm sick, is right there, the whole time. His superpower is LOVE. My other gray cat is the Pest Control Professional. The orange cat is the goofy clown.

This guy, he's my snugglebunny.


The next morning, Sarah Bell was up and doing the farm chores—mucking and raking, curry-combing and chicken-feeding—while the sunrise was still a pink suggestion in the dusky red sky.

Remi the guard dog was reluctant to leave his chickens. He pawed and pranced in the dusty yard around the henhouse. His dark eyes scanned the horizon, analyzing every twitch in the cornstalks, as she fed him his breakfast of dog food and meat scraps.

Something must have happened during the night. Sarah gave Remi a good once-over, sinking her fingers to his thick white fur, but he was unscathed. He stood in the chicken pen, alert, protective, and fluffy.

An eagle or another bird of prey had probably swooped at the flock, and Remi must have scared it off. In early summer, fledgling bald eagles learned to hunt and left their nests, always a dicey time for easy-pickin’s chickens. Why go after a wily catfish in the river when a fat chicken will just sit there and let an eagle snag it? Before she’d gotten Remi, gangly teenager bald eagles used to fly into her henhouse and perch in the rafters, picking off another dumb chicken whenever they got the munchies.

As Sarah was walking back to her barn, the shadow long on the hard-packed earth and cool on her arms, her phone rang, buzzing in her back pocket. The screen read Tiff Meeks. “Hello? Tiffany? What’s up?”

“Sorry for the early call.”

“I’m up and doing chores in the barn.”

“I knew you would be. The weirdest thing just happened. Four men stopped by the house looking for you.”

“Yeah, Google Maps still thinks my address is somewhere in your back forty.”

“They were talking like Easterners.”

“Did they say what they wanted?”

“They said you’d won the Publisher’s Clearing House lottery. I didn’t know that thing was still going on.”

“I don’t think it is,” Sarah mused, rubbing her face.

“Yeah, I directed them down the road, but I didn’t get too specific.”

“If they’re meant to find me, they will. Was one them real tall with blue eyes and a little bit of British accent?”

“No. The tall one had brown eyes, and they all just sounded like Easterners or something.”

“Huh. Okay, then. Thanks for letting me know.”

Maybe she should get her varmint rifle out of the gun safe.

Sarah worked through her chores, feeding and watering and herding the animals to their daytime locations, and was about halfway down the morning list when she found one of the water lines to a watering tank had been chewed through during the night.

Some coyote or other varmint had been mouthy during the nighttime hours. That’s probably what had set Remi off. She just needed a utility knife and some waterproof tape to fix it, which were in the barn.

She shoved the big ol’ barn door aside, slipping in so she could get her supplies. The door’s creak echoed through the farmyard as the metal wheels rolled on the track.

Her metal toolbox of odd tools rested on the utility shelves in an unused stall, and she grabbed it and went back outside to clean up the mess. The homemade container was made of bent sheet metal, soldered on the corners and enameled red, and the hinges squeaked when she wrenched open the lid.

Her dark braid swung over her shoulder a few times and got in the way as she trimmed the edges of the line and glued a joint into it.

The watering trough was full, so no one had been without water. In the summer heat that was beginning to scald her back with the rising sun, livestock could dehydrate and die quickly.

Her braid swung again, nearly dragging her hair through the glue.

Maybe she should cut it off, but then she’d have to do something more with it than just braiding it to keep it out of her face. Sarah was not a blowout type of girl.

The repair took longer than she’d thought, as it always did, and thus the time was after seven-fifteen when she lugged her tool kit back into the barn. Already, it was going to be a long day on the farm.

She was walking through the barn and back to the storage stall when a dark silhouette coalesced on the straw covering the concrete floor.

A man stepped out of the stall into the wan sunlight and towered over her. He wore a desert camouflage uniform this time, its pixelated fabric the pale ochre of her hay bales he must’ve been hiding behind. His skin was a few shades tanner than the straw, and his eyes were the blue of the Iowa sky outside.

Tiny lines gathered around the corners of his eyes like he was squinting, making him look older.

“You have to come with me,” the man said in a deep, too dang familiar voice.

Definitely the same man.

“Oh, no way,” Sarah said, stumbling backward.

Without the jungle-camo greasepaint slashing diagonal blocks over his skin, his jaw was strong and cut like a geometry angle, and his cheekbones were deep lines above.

That jerk was handsome without his camouflage paint.

She dropped the tool kit with a clang and clatter and sprinted for the barn door, her boots clomping over the straw-strewn concrete.

“Hey, stop!” he yelled.

Like heck. She wasn’t a stupid inbred chicken who’d stand in the middle of the chicken yard and watch an incoming eagle snatch her.

Sarah poured energy into her farm-strengthened thigh muscles and pumped her legs as fast as she could, slamming her boots against the floor.