Branding A Legacy (A Silver Star Ranch Novel)

BOOK: Branding A Legacy (A Silver Star Ranch Novel)
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Branding A Legacy
HJ Bellus

B
randing
A Legacy

Copyright © 2015 by HJ Bellus.

Edited by: Kathy Krick

Formatting: JRA Stevens

Cover Designer: Sommer Stein @ Perfect Pear Creative Covers

Photographer: Jeni B @ The Brink Studio in Twin Falls, Idaho

Cover Model: Talyn Henslee

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of HJ Bellus.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.

T
o those Branding A Legacy
in their own life. Dig deep, work hard, and leave a legacy.

Prologue

M
arvel

Hooves crash into the soft dirt as horses fight for position on the track. Hearts pounding and adrenaline coursing through the horses’ blood, jockeys’ nerves, and spectators’ wallets. It’s all a gamble and a simple art. The fastest horse wins. It takes desire, genetics, and training to sculpt the perfect racehorse that can win it all. Then an addiction is born to win more and more. Greed is cultivated.

It’s always been my destiny to thrive on the Silver Star Ranch. Countless hours have been spent on its grounds working my ass off alongside my brothers and Granddad. The ‘quiet brother’, ‘hard-working’ one, ‘stable’, and ‘loyal’—any and all of the above have been used to describe me.

But shit just got real. The pressure of training these colts and getting out from under our dad’s debt has hardened me, pushed me too damn far, and left me with the taste of greed. Standing here at the racetrack is all it took for everything to become absolutely transparent. We weren’t only being used to pay off dad’s debt, but also being taunted and ripped off.

As each race goes by, the rage builds inside of me, and my knuckles turn white as I grip the rusty rail. Weston keeps nudging me to see if I’m okay and I only nod. Only the family knows about Saint and the shit we have brewing at the ranch. It’s the way we Slatters work—our problems, our business, our empire.

In horse racing it comes down to a hundredth of a second. The fastest time ran by the reigning champ last year is at least a good five seconds behind what one of the weakest colts of Saint’s runs. Challis and I have at least a dozen of them running five seconds faster and harder than anything out here on the track. Saint is no fool. He needed the debt paid back, knew the Slatters would do anything to make it happen, and then he realized why not use the best horse hands in the country to shape up the most promising group of colts to walk on the land. It’s all speculation, but as I watch each race come to a close and the times flash up on the big screen, speculation morphs into reality.

Chills run up my spine when I turn around and spot the fat son of a bitch perched up in the stands. It doesn’t take him long to make eye contact with me.

At first I think he’s a bit shocked to see another Slatter back at the racetrack, “the devil’s playground,” but after studying me for a second he puts the puzzle pieces together and knows that I know. The devil himself has just been caught at his own game.

Being ridiculed and put down is easy to handle when your foundation is rock solid as I learned very early on in life. Integrity and strength is all it takes to knock down a bully. But to be scammed and cheated out of money earned by your family’s blood, sweat, and tears are crossing the line.

It’s a simple equation really—take a ruthless villain, add in a hardworking and loyal family, and you get the classic fairy tale of the good guy getting fucked over. Gossip, have your own opinion, but never take from my table.

As quick as Saint flashes his greasy smile my way, I feel my insides begin to boil and a monster within me grow. It may not be right, but all I want is revenge to beat a crook like Saint at his own damn game.

“Marvel, let’s go.” Weston nudges me in the shoulder. “Earth to Marvel.”

“Yeah.” I half ass nod to him.

“Dude, you okay?”

I send him another nod trying to avoid conversation. Weston Cooper has always been my best friend, partner in crime, and person in life. Both of us the youngest of ranch families and neither of us turned out to be stars of the rodeo. We love the land and the way of ranch.

“Damn, I thought you were going to pass out with how beet-red your face was.”

We begin to walk down the long row of grandstands that borders a stretch of the racetrack. I can’t help but stare up at the leaderboard and read the winning times. It’s all sabotage, and the master manipulator is Saint Johnson and his pawns are the Slatters.

Hatred rips through every part of my being just thinking about us being his pawns. Silver Star is a legacy and everything to us Slatters. Granddad has given his heart and soul to the ranch, building an empire for us. When a crook like Saint so carelessly jeopardizes the stability of our empire to simply ridicule, use our talents, and make a killing off of us…I see red like I’ve never seen before and feel the rapidly growing monster inside of me contort to something uncontrollable.

He expects us fools to be okay paying off a double-digit thousand dollar debt when we’re sculpting a million dollar project. Fuck…Merek drained his account to pay off the other four payments, and once the colts are handed over to Saint we are free and clear and the fat son of a bitch rolls in the money we made for him.

A singular drive clouds my head and I know it has to be done. It’s the cowboy way to fight for honor and integrity and to stand up for your brand. I refuse to let the Silver Star brand be tarnished.

“I hate that asshole.”

“What?” Weston stops walking.

“I hate that fat asshole right there.” My voice is loud and I don’t hide the fact I’m pointing at and talking about Saint Johnson.

“Marvel.” Weston slugs me upside the shoulder. “What in the hell are you doing?”

“Yeah, you motherfucker, the one ripping off my family.” I eye the security officers closing in on me, but I’m not nearly finished saying what I need to. “You have another thing coming, Saint, and I can’t wait to deliver it.”

Before I know what’s happening, I’m running up into the stands to square off with the devil.

“You’re not going to get away with this.”

“What are you talking about, kid?” Saint takes a long drag on his cigar. “Picking up your daddy’s habit?”

I make eye contact with his pregnant wife whom my dad knocked up. “I wouldn’t touch that bitch with a ten foot pole. Hell, my dad already got her knocked up.”

“Boy, shut up.” Saint’s face transforms from arrogant to bright raging red.

“Funny thing is you’ll have a little Slatter running around your place for the next eighteen years.”

“You were warned, Marvel, and you just crossed the line.”

I take a step closer to him so we’re nose to nose. “Let’s talk about crossing lines, Saint. Thousands compared to millions, you’re ripping off my family and I intend to right your wrong.”

I turn to walk away but have to get in one more thing. “I don’t make promises I can’t keep.”

“The era of the good cowboy has vanished, Marvel. To get anywhere in life you have to take what you want, and I will suck every ounce of blood out of that shithole you call Silver Star.”

The monster awakens in me, pumped and ready for war. In a flash, my fist connects with Saint’s jaw. A flash of pain rings through my head as something strikes me from behind. I land one more punch before I’m thrown to the ground and cuffed.

Blood runs down my lip and coats my teeth. My face is slammed into the bleachers as security takes me down. I can’t help but smile. It felt fucking fabulous nailing that asshole in the face. Merek’s landed quite a few punches on him as well. I pass Weston, who has his hat off and scratching the side of his face.

“Bail me out. Do not call my family.” He stares blankly at me. “Do not call my family, Weston.”

He finally waves me on with his hat as security passes me over to some local cops.

1
Marvel


T
his is not a good idea
, Marvel.” Weston thumps his hand on the dash.

“Quit freaking out.” I take the last sharp turn toward Saint’s place. “Everything is set up. I’ve paid off Saint’s hired man. The colt will be haltered and waiting for us at the end of the lane.”

“You really think this is going to work. Don’t you?”

“The only thing I wish was different is that I could be there when Saint’s told the colt is gone.”

I’ve broken every single aspect of trust with my family, risked everything I have, and dragged my best friend into this mess. It all has to work out. I had no other choice but to send the colts back to Saint with Merek and Maverik breathing down my neck.

I slipped the day after I blew up at the racetrack and told my family. They entertained my idea for nearly four seconds. Granddad, Merek, and Maverik all sat me down separately telling me to let it go. Hell…Granddad even made my brothers babysit me.

That’s when Weston and I became the party animals staying out late into the night. When the truth is we never stepped foot in a bar. We researched and analyzed Saint’s hired men and operation until we discovered the perfect insider.

“I have a really bad feeling about this, Marvel.” Weston wipes the sweat from his brow. “Let’s turn around. You don’t need the money. The ranch is free and clear right now. You’re just stirring up a hornet’s nest.”

I crunch down on the brake and feel the trailer whip up around the bed of the truck. Easing my foot off the brake while applying some gas, I fight to right the wrong. The slam of the trailer to the truck bed rattles the cab.

“God dammit, Weston, are you in or out?” I shoot him a glare and then back to the dirt road. “You’re in or not. What the fuck is it?”

Weston tosses his hands up in the air. “Fine, there’s no talking you out of this shit and I’m not letting you go alone.”

I finally bring the truck to a stop and stare him down. “So, you’re in?”

“You’re not committing suicide on your own, dumbass.” Weston shifts nervously in his seat. “We’ve always been one unit.”

I’ve known Weston way too long and pick up on his lie quickly but don’t dare point it out. I need him right now to keep my nerves calm and get this shit down. Once the colt is back in the stables at Silver Star then let the bargaining begin. Saint will finally realize that Slatters are not to be picked on or screwed with.

Gripping the steering wheel, I push down on the gas and know there’s exactly 1.2 miles left to travel until I hit the pick-up spot. I’ve been secretly meeting Jose here over the last few weeks. He was very unsure in the beginning because nobody crosses Saint—until now that is. It took some money and time to build up the trust to get this deal done.

Jose will hand over the colt in exchange for a hefty pile of cash. It’s everything I’ve saved up but worth every penny of it. Being the youngest on the ranch I never had to pay for shit, it was always being picked up by my brothers, Granddad, or Mom. I had planned on using that money to build a big fancy house on the ranch one day when I found the right woman. I haven’t thought twice about spending it in exchange for the colt once I knew Jose would come through.

“Weston, you stay in the truck while I grab the colt and give Jose the money.”

He reaches in the back seat of the truck and hoists over the large black duffle bag of money before he nods to me.

“If anything goes wrong, you hop in the driver’s seat and take off for help.” I bring the truck to a stop at the intersection and stare Weston and his soft heart down. “Do you hear me? Go for help if anything goes wrong.”

I see the profile of his barely lit face nod lightly and feel instantly horrible for dragging him into this. There was no one else to trust and fight alongside me.

“We’ll go hide the colt in the place we talked about and then hit the bar tonight.” I grin at him and waggle my eyebrows.

“Thank fuck.” He lets out a worried breath. “I’ve been missing Hailey something fierce.”

“And Jill, Rebecca, oh and Oakley?” I ask.

“Ass, you know I’ve slowed my roll since Hailey.”

Checking both ways, I make the final turn toward the meeting spot. “Whatever, Casanova.”

Weston has always been the ladies’ man, even dating way back to kindergarten. He’s had the chicks hanging off him since I can remember. His olive tanned skin and dimples seem to set panties spontaneously on fire. I rarely complain as I seem to get pretty damn lucky as his wingman.

“I really think Hailey is the one, Marvel.”

“Now you’re fucking joking.”

“Dead serious. I’m really into her.”

I let his words soak in and realize he has been into her for the last few months, always wanting to go to whichever bar or party she’s at. The fucking drama Saint has started has consumed me completely, making me feel like an ass. I haven’t been a good brother or friend.

“Sorry, man, I swear after tonight it’s back to the old us.” I stretch my fingers out rewrapping the steering wheel, trying to ease some of the tension coursing through my body. “Plus she has that hot fucking friend Tabby, right?”

“Yeah, asshole, it’s her best friend, so don’t fuck shit up there.”

“Me?” I laugh. “Ever screw anything? Pshhh, you’re out of your mind. I had Tabby one night, and let me say she was wild.”

“She asks about you every time I see Hailey.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, she must have a low IQ wanting you.”

Weston laughs at his own joke, and I can’t help but smile at the typical bullshit we usually throw at each other. The little bit of our carefree personalities sneaking in the cab of the truck feels good. In this moment, I promise myself to get back to that spot once Saint pays up and damn good, for that matter, for the laughing stock he tried to make my family out to be.

“Weston, thank you, man. I had no one else to turn to.”

“Don’t even, Marvel, I know you’d do the same thing for me.” Weston finally turns a bit looking me in the eye. “It’s the cowboy way.”

An old Brooks and Dunn song starts playing on the radio as we drive the rest of the way in silence. Thought after thought races through my head as I mentally check off the list of my plan. Every single thing is in order without one hiccup.
It can’t go this smoothly, can it? What am I missing? Maybe the time has come for the good people to win the battle of morals.

A set of headlights flash on and off in the distance and I know it’s Jose. He’s on time and just sent me the signal everything is in the clear. Saint is no fool and has eyes and ears everywhere. I strategically placed several security measures to make sure I wasn’t being played by one of his men. Jose has been nothing but spot on with all of his promises and following through with everything.

“Here we go, Weston.”

I pull the truck in next to Jose’s, who already has the colt out and waiting for me. I study the colt’s markings to make sure it’s the right one before I hop out. I nod to Jose and waste no time taking the colt by the lead rope and tossing the bag toward Jose. He gives me a silent nod as I pivot on my heels to head for the trailer.

“Did you really think I’m that big of a fucking fool?” An eerie and evil laughter fills the air.

When I look up from the dirt road to the end of my trailer five shadows walk out in front of me. The voice continues to berate me as it streams from behind. The crunch of gravel nears me. From every direction shadowed figures close in on me. The next sounds I hear are the slamming of a truck door and the hollers from Weston.

The truck and trailer shifted slightly forward before I heard his voice.

“Make the coward face me.”

One of them jerks me by my collar toward him before he wraps his hand around my neck. The lead rope is ripped from my hand as I’m whirled around and come face to face with Saint.

“Well, ain’t you as dumb as your old dad.”

My right shoulder pops with a bang as the man who has me in his grips tugs my arm further behind me. The pain explodes in my head but isn’t as shocking as the reality playing out in front of me.

“What? Not a tough boy now without your brothers here or out in public?” Saint runs his hands down the body of his colt as one of his men walks it past him. “You Slatters have always thought you were bigger than everyone else.”

His comment can’t be further from the truth, but with my shoulder throbbing, the hollers from Weston, and the blade held to Jose’s neck, I can’t find the words to argue back.

“Your granddad screwed over my family back in the day, and not to mention your old man knocking up my wife.” Saint lands a punishing blow across my cheek. “It’s time you get what’s coming.”

Saint steps to the side giving me full view of Jose. He gives his man a nod that has Jose under a knife. Shrieks and cries fill the air when the shiny silver blade slices across his skin. My head swims fighting to make sense of everything when my eyes roll back.

“Wake his ass up now.”

My arm is twisted further behind my back causing me to drop to my knees and bringing me right back to reality. Streams and streams of deep red liquid flows down Jose’s chest. He gurgles, fighting for air, as his escaping breath has no hope of living, but it never stops him from fighting for his next breath of air. After several minutes of him fighting to live he finally collapses in a slump in the man’s arms.

“Next,” Saint demands.

Weston is brought around the front of the truck. His face is already bloody and swollen.

“No.” My cracked lip stings when I finally fight to say a word. “Not him. Me. Come for me, Saint, you fucking coward.”

His laugh is piercing and fills the night air. It’s a sound I know I’ll never forget. He sends another nod to the two men who have Weston.

“No.” I protest over and over as I watch my best friend drop to the ground from the brutal force.

His screams of agony are lost in my pleas for them to stop. They never take out a knife to finish him off as fists and boots fly. Flashes of silver fleck before my eyes but I refuse to understand the situation, and when Weston’s body goes limp underneath their torture, I give in letting the inevitable reign.

BOOK: Branding A Legacy (A Silver Star Ranch Novel)
3.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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