Authors: Cindy Stark
A Blackwater Canyon Novel
By Cindy Stark
Caleb: A Blackwater Canyon Novel © 2015 C. Nielsen
All rights reserved
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. The ebook contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or stored in or introduced into an information storage and retrieval system in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the copyright owner, except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This ebook is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
lso by Cindy Stark
Cowboys and Angels
Come Back To Me
Crazy One More Time
I’m With You
Pinecone Valley Series
Love Me Again
Whispers (An Argent Springs Novel)
Moonlight and Margaritas
Which Witch is Which?
Which Witch is Wicked?
The day of reckoning hung over Rachel Halsted like a black sky pushing across the Rocky Mountains, bringing the first storm of the season. She’d known she’d be in this position one day when her uncle died. She’d never expected it so soon.
The plush leather chair she occupied in the office of her uncle’s lawyer might as well have been made of stone for all the comfort it provided. Energy pulsated in the air like untamed lightning, searching for the crack that would allow it to escape its bonds. Waiting for answers was as harsh as the Wyoming winds.
Rachel folded her arms across her dark brown sheepskin jacket in a vain attempt to keep from falling apart. Her entire future hinged on today. On the reading of a few sheets of paper that comprised her uncle’s last wishes. She tried to pretend she’d be fine despite the outcome of her uncle’s will, but quite the opposite could be true.
Rachel shifted her gaze to her hulking cousin who sat across the room digging at his fingernails. He outweighed her by double or maybe even triple. Still, she might have a slight frame, but she’d been more than able to hold her own on the ranch.
The harsh box cut of his light red hair furthered his intimidating appearance, and she wondered if there had ever been a point in time when they’d been friends. Or at least friendly with each other.
She couldn’t remember one.
Franklin had worn a suit even though most citizens of her small town rarely did so. Of course, he would. Anything to make her jeans, ponytail and work boots look less. She dragged her fingers through the ends of her long dark hair, hoping she looked presentable.
Franklin Halsted shifted his gaze to her, his blue eyes watching her like a starved coyote prepared to fight for its next meal. She supposed that’s what they were both doing. Waiting to see who would be the victor and who would lose.
The door opened, and she startled. Each step her uncle’s attorney took into the room tightened the invisible bands around her chest. By the time Conway Owens removed his brown leather jacket and took a seat across the desk from her, she could barely breathe.
Silver graced the lawyer’s temples and provided a nice contrast to his thick dark hair and the closely cropped goatee he sported. He’d opted for a white oxford shirt and jeans instead of a suit, which lifted Rachel’s spirits. The folks in Moose Meadows seemed happy to hold onto their small town, unsophisticated roots.
“Thank you both for coming today.” Conway opened the file he’d brought in with him. Rachel strained to read the tiny, upside down print to no avail.
“Your sister wasn’t able to make it?” he asked Rachel, looking over the top of his glasses.
She tried to speak, but had to clear her throat before words would come. “No. Daisy doesn’t believe my uncle left her anything of significance, and she said she was fine if I relayed the information to her later on.”
As much as Rachel loved her sister, she was glad she’d stayed away. Rachel had always been the strong one in the family, the glue that had held them together after her father had died years ago. Her mother and sister were more of the fussy feminine type who preferred an air-conditioned apartment in the city as opposed to fresh air in the great outdoors.
If Rachel fell apart after the reading, Daisy would be of no use. Not to mention, less witnesses was better.
“Well, then, that leaves the two of you.” Conway bestowed them both with a courtesy smile before turning his attention to the document in front of him, intensifying her fears. She tried to read his features to see if he granted either one of them with a friendlier look indicating the will might favor that person, but he had a hell of a poker face.
. Rachel cursed her raw nerves. Her uncle had promised to give her Blackwater Canyon Ranch years ago, but what if he’d changed his mind? What if guilt had gotten the best of him and he’d decided to give his ranch to his full-blooded son instead? After all, what man didn’t want to pass along his heritage to a son? Especially since her uncle had made attempts to repair their relationship during the past few months. Franklin had half-heartedly responded, much to her surprise.
Worse, what if her uncle wanted them to
Franklin couldn’t care less about the land. Not like she did. He’d like the money he’d get by selling the cattle and property, but the ranch owned her heart and soul.
“If you’re both agreed, we’ll skip the legalese at the first and get right to the meat of it,” Conway said.
She nodded her agreement.
“Give it to us straight.” Franklin’s gruff voice caused by too much smoking and drinking didn’t match the cut of his fine suit.
“Okay, then,” Conway continued. “Walter Halsted accumulated a considerable amount of cash and fairly liquid assets during his lifetime. Daisy is to receive ten percent of that amount. The remaining ninety percent will be split between the two of you.”
“How much?” Franklin asked, his tone clipped and direct.
Conway gave him a chilled smile. “I thought you would ask so I had it tallied before I came in. The amount is roughly five hundred thousand for each of you.”
She gets as much as me
?” The hostility behind Franklin’s statement hit her like toppling bales of hay.
“Why shouldn’t I?” Rachel threw back at him, trying and failing to keep the bitterness from her voice. “You haven’t been part of his life for years. You weren’t here to pick up the slack the year he broke his hip. You weren’t here when that wildfire nearly destroyed us. You only came around when you wanted something.”
Franklin fired an equally volatile glare back at her. “Why do you constantly throw that in my face? Yes, I was wrong to be gone all those years. I should have been here, but things between us were better. I did come back to make amends before it was too late. Unfortunately, God took him from me before we really had a chance to reconnect.”
“That or you needed more money.” His efforts spanning a couple of months had not convinced her of his good intentions.
“Need I remind you he was
father, not yours?”
Franklin’s barb dug deep. Uncle Walter had been the only dad she’d really known. He’d taken his brother’s troubled kid under his wing several years after her dad had died, back when she’d needed to escape the city and get back to the wide-open spaces in order to stay sane.
She and her uncle were cut from the same cloth and understood each other perfectly. That Franklin could waltz in and stake his claim to everything that mattered deeply to her was so unfair.
“Let’s keep this civil, please,” Conway stated, his grey eyes lit with concern.
Reluctantly, she nodded and held her tongue lest she say something worse.
“He specifically left Gemini to Rachel knowing how much the two loved each other.”
A bolt of fear struck deep. “Only Gemini? What about the rest of the horses and livestock? Please tell me they did not go to Franklin.” She shook her head vehemently as a sickening smile twisted her cousin’s lips.
Conway held up a hand. “Please, let me continue. Your uncle would not want the two of you squabbling like this.” He aimed his remark at Rachel, and shame heated her cheeks.
“Next, he left his new Cadillac Deville to Franklin.” Conway smiled at Franklin. “He knew you would appreciate her beauty.”
“Damn straight.” Franklin nodded. “What about the house and the ranch?”
The attorney scrubbed his palm over his mouth and goatee as he shifted his gaze back to the document. “There are several other incidentals, small things of not much value that he wanted to be certain went to both of you amongst other individuals. I will contact everyone separately regarding those.”
“The ranch,” Franklin insisted.
Conway inhaled a deep breath. “Other than what I’ve already stated, Walter Adam Halsted has bequeathed the entirety of his ranch to…Rachel Halsted.”
Deafening silence exploded in the room. Rachel struggled to catch her breath, holding her hand over her chest to keep everything contained. “To me?” she whispered, still not sure she’d heard correctly.
Franklin jumped to his feet. “The whole goddamn thing?” he roared.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh…my…God
. Her uncle hadn’t let her down after all. Relief gushed through her like a heavy summer rain down the gully, breaking her almost as much as bad news would have.
“Calm down.” Conway gestured with his hands. “There are stipulations.”
Rachel’s short-lived reprieve evaporated. Uncertainty attacked with a swarm of shivers. “What kind of stipulations?”
The older gentleman met her gaze head on. “Your uncle asked me to deliver this news as kindly as possible.”
She shook her head. “Spit it out, Conway. What did he say?” Impatience shoved fear out of the way.
“He said…he said the two of you had had many conversations in the past about you marrying someone who could help you on the ranch. He didn’t want to burden a lady with too much work.”
“Oh, no.” She shook her head as her pulse thickened. “Do not tell me he came up with the crazy idea that in order for me to inherit I’d have to get married. That’s the stuff of stories. People do not really do that to each other.”
She slid a glance at Franklin, thinking he’d love her humiliation, but he remained stoic.
Conway tipped his head in acknowledgement. “I’m afraid he really did. His will states that you have two—” He paused and leaned closer to the document.
“This can’t be right.” He pulled a pair of reading glasses from a drawer in his desk and slid them on. “Goddammit! Rosalie!”
His voice bounced off the walls, but his assistant didn’t appear. Probably because she wasn’t in the office. She hadn’t been when they’d arrived.
“Is there a problem?” Franklin asked, suddenly much more interested than he’d been a minute ago.
“Your father’s will was supposed to state that Rachel had two complete years to find a suitable husband in order to retain the ranch. Unfortunately, the wording in here says she has two months.”
?” It was Rachel’s turn to jump out of her chair. She placed her palms on Conway’s desk and scrutinized the will. “It doesn’t matter if it’s two months or two years, he can’t force me to get married.”
“No,” Conway agreed. “He cannot force you to marry. He can, however, refuse to give you his property if you are to remain single.”
Despite her intention to keep her emotions at bay and remain focused, her world spun in a dizzying circle. “What happens to the ranch if I don’t get married?” She dreaded the answer, but she had to ask.
The attorney leveled a stern look in her direction. “The title to Blackwater Canyon Ranch and all its holdings will go to Franklin.”
She dropped into her chair. This couldn’t be happening. No. This wasn’t happening.
Why on God’s green earth would her uncle want to torture her this way? He’d always been a strong man insisting they do things his way, but he’d taken his demands too far. This was her life, and his actions were beyond cruel.
Her cousin drew closer to Conway’s desk, an excited fire burning in his eyes. “Let me be clear. If she doesn’t marry in two months, the place is mine?”
Conway nodded. “That’s what it states.”
Franklin hooted with laughter. “Well, hell. What am I worried about? You might as well sign it over to me now. Rachel doesn’t date. Ever. I doubt if she’s ever let a guy kiss her, let alone agree to go out with anyone.” He chuckled again, looking far too pleased with himself.
She inhaled an angry breath. “I date.” At least she had.
He mocked her with his grin. “When? With who?”
“That’s none of your business.” So maybe she hadn’t dated much in the past few years. It’s not like she hadn’t dreamt about finding a man to fall in love with. Plenty of imaginary tall, dark and handsome men teased her during the twilight hours, but she’d been too busy helping her uncle run the ranch to find a real one.
“Like I said, it’s mine.” He looked down at her, and she ached to smack the jubilant expression from his smarmy face. “I don’t know what you did to my dad to piss him off and make him punish you this way, but I gotta say I like it.”
Son of a bitch
. The bastard’s true colors flew like a damning flag over his head. It no longer mattered if anyone thought he deserved the ranch. Her uncle had set the conditions in stone, and she couldn’t bring him back and beg him to change them. But if Franklin thought she’d let Blackwater go without a fight, he was dead wrong.
“You might want to think again.” She blinked a few times and refused to look at Conway. “Not only have I dated, but I have a fairly serious boyfriend.”
Franklin’s snort mocked her. “Get real, Rachel. No one believes you. You do realize you actually have to produce a living, breathing man who is in his sane mind.”
She inadvertently allowed her gaze to slide to her uncle’s lawyer. “It’s true,” he said.
“I’m fine with that.” She’d never admit otherwise. “Just because you don’t know about my boyfriend, doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.”