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Chapter 1

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The big black car drove up the laneway towards the barn, pulling up just short of the big doors. Dust swirled out, coating the shiny black paint with a fine film of good country dirt.

Liz leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed, a frown on her face. The only time black cars like this showed up in her yard was when something bad was coming. The past few weeks had been nothing but bad, so her radar was obviously up. She steeled herself to deal with whoever it was that had arrived, and straightened.

The driver side door opened, and her step-father's lawyer poked his salt-and-pepper head out, expensive sunglasses winking in the early afternoon sun.

"Hello there!" he shouted as he waved, a big, lawyer-sized grin on his face. Liz's insides clenched. It wasn't as if Frank was a terrible person, he was nice enough. It just meant dealing with more of the shit left behind when Brett West had keeled over three weeks ago, dead as a doornail, leaving the entire ranch, and her family, in the lurch.

"Frank! What brings you out this way?" she asked as friendly as possible, walking out towards the car, wiping her hands down her jeans.

Frank grabbed her hand and shook it vigorously, lifting his sunglasses.

"Elizabeth, my girl! I'm here with some paperwork for your mom, Tanner, and Brady to sign. Going to finally read this dang will too. They about?"

Liz nodded, and pointed back towards the cattle operation barns. "I'll walk you over to the boys. Good drive from the city?"

Frank nodded, and hefted his briefcase, smiling again, a flash of perfect white teeth punctuating the moment as he slammed the car door. Liz wondered why he couldn't have couriered the paperwork, but then she didn't pretend to understand how lawyer stuff worked. Plus, you had to be in person to read a will, didn't you?

They walked in silence, Liz's well-worn work boots a contrast to Frank's shiny dress shoes. They were expensive leather, she could at least tell that. They'd buried Brett in his best boots, a beautifully tooled pair of Boulets that he'd not been able to wear for years with his gout acting up, making them painful. She hoped, from wherever he was, that he was appreciating that he at least got to wear them one more time.

Tanner was coming around the corner of the barn when they walked up, and he stopped, his frown mirroring Liz's.

"Frank! What brings you out this way?"

Frank chuckled and stepped forward, shaking Tanner's hand. Tanner's eyes narrowed, and he shared a look with Liz, indicating he too was feeling apprehensive about an unexpected visit from his dad's lawyer.

"I have some papers for you to sign, son, and I need to chat with you, Peony, and Brady. I also have the will ready to read."

Tanner nodded and gestured towards the office off one side of the large cattle barn. Liz turned to go. This was none of her business, she wasn't blood family. She had things to do.

"Liz, wait. You're part of this family too."

She turned and Tanner was still standing, waiting for her to follow them, beckoning her with an outstretched hand. She sighed, and followed him reluctantly. Dammit, he was right. Her mother had been more fragile the past bit, so it might be good she was here.

Tanner jabbed angrily at his phone with one finger as they entered the office, and a few minutes later, her mother poked her head in the door.

"Frank! What brings you out this way?" she said as sat in one of the beat up old chairs by Brady's desk, shooing a cat off of it with little kissy noises. The cat scurried off out the door towards the main barn, hissing. Liz wished she could do the same thing, high tailing it out instead of clamping down on the uneasy feeling something bad was about to happen.

Frank chuckled again and threw up his hands, his grin wider, the humour in him bubbling out. "If Brady asks me the same thing, I may just lose my mind."

Liz smiled despite her sour mood. Family thought alike, it seemed.

"Now Frank, don't you dare. I need that mind to deal with the mess my husband went and put us in," Peony chided, her own large smile mirroring his. Liz watched her mother delicately cross her legs, wincing slightly at the pain, and she gave her a concerned look, to which her mother made a sourpuss face back.

"Frank! What brings you out—" Brady said, then stopped as everyone else broke into laughter.

Frank threw up his arms, Brady looking around in confusion, but let it go as Frank pulled his briefcase over and opened it, signalling it was time for business.

"Okay. I have some standard forms for you to close out the old man's bank accounts, that kind of stuff," Frank said as he passed over a sheaf of documents to Peony. She glanced at them quickly, handing them to Tanner, who then proceeded to look them over carefully.

"Says here to transfer all remaining balance to the working accounts on the ranch. Can he do that? What about Peony?" Tanner asked abruptly, looking up sharply from the papers. "Doesn't she get to have a livable income?"

"Now hang on, Tanner. I'm sure that's not the case," Peony said, while Brady peeked over Tanner's shoulder. Tanner pointed out the line to him, and Brady sucked in a breath.

"All of it?" he murmured, eyes swivelling up to his step-mother.

Frank folded his hands and Liz felt her guts rile up. Here it was. The real reason he drove out the documents and will on the same day, instead of a fax or an email. She knew it. Bad was happening.

"Jesus, Frank. What is it?" Peony said quickly. "I know that look. Something's up. Enough with the paperwork and will reading. Why are you really here?"

Frank looked around the room and nodded. "Okay, okay. Now that the death certificate is signed, I can let you in on Brett's final wishes. He asked me not to until it was time."

"Time for what?" Tanner asked, setting the papers down, and folding his arms, his eyes snapping fire. He was close to popping, his famous temper simmering close to the surface, his jaw was so tight he could likely pulverize diamonds between his teeth.

"Well, I don't know how much you know. But I found Jake," Frank said, frowning. "He's due here this afternoon, and then I can read your father's will."

"Who the hell is Jake?" Brady asked, coming around to perch on the desk, his own arms folded to mirror his brother.

"So you don't know. Shit," Frank muttered, and ran a hand down his face, glancing at her mother, who automatically looked guilty, averting her eyes and hunching with the stress of that statement.

"Know what?" Tanner growled through his teeth, standing up and balling his fists. Brady put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head when Tanner looked back at him. Liz went to her mother's side, seeing her mother's hands move to her chest.

"Mom?" she murmured, but her mother wouldn't look up. Her mother knew who Jake was. That was certain.

"He's their older half-brother," Peony said quietly, gesturing over at Tanner and Brady. "Heather's son."

Tanner sat back on the desk with a thunk, and Brady went a little wide-eyed, running a hand over his head, his hair flopping through his fingers. Both of them were silent.

"What brother? They don't have another brother, so you'd better explain this one more time, in detail," Liz said for them, the shock of what her mother had just said obviously making the West brothers speechless.

Which, honestly, was a first.

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