Authors: Ann Jacobs
Bye had the feeling the woman wouldn’t like what she’d be hearing from Four. He’d been on the receiving end of his father’s temper often enough to recognize that tightly controlled disdain masked true fury about to be unleashed.
Four turned back toward Bye and Deidre. “Bye, I’ll excuse your rudeness this time, but don’t let it happen again. It’s been a long and difficult day. It’s past time for us to say goodbye.”
When Marianne made no move to leave, Jack placed a firm hand on her arm and lifted her to her feet. “Come on, Mother. Let’s go,” he said in a tone that suggested she’d do well to obey. “Deidre, Bye, I’m sorry for your loss.
, I’ll be talking to you later.”
* * * * *
Bye could hardly wait for the door to slam behind Jack Duval and his father’s mistress before changing out of his suit and escaping. Whereas before the funeral grief had hung heavy in the house, now a pungent aura of betrayal pervaded every room, its scent oppressive. He doubted the place would ever feel like home again without Mom.
The rain that had persisted yesterday and throughout this morning had finally let up, though the sky was still cloudy and overcast. Bye checked his watch. Good. He had nearly two hours before Karen had said she’d meet him at the line shack, so he could ride instead of drive.
Maybe a hard run would be as good for him as for his blood-bay stallion, Vampire, whose exercise had been limited lately to short rides in the paddock. Bye had trouble understanding why none of the stablemen dared to ride him out on the ranch roads, since he always welcomed the challenge of controlling his spirited seventeen-hand thoroughbred.
Yeah, a gallop across the fields should do wonders toward clearing his brain. Eager now, Bye exchanged his hand-tooled dress boots for the worn pair he kept in the tack room and grabbed a pair of leather gloves while waiting for Manuel to saddle Vampire. Knowing how the stable boy shuddered at the thought of having to go anywhere near the horse, Bye would have done the chore himself if his father hadn’t always insisted that taking care of the horses and doing stable chores were parts of what he paid the help to do.
“Thanks, Manuel.” The boy handed over the reins and scurried back just in time to avoid a nip from Vampire. “You need to let him know he doesn’t frighten you.” Bye checked the girth to be sure it was cinched tightly before swinging into the saddle.
“But Vampire, he does scare me. He bites.”
“Then I’ll just have to tell him that’s not very polite,” Bye said, his tone deliberately teasing.
Manuel’s eyes widened. “
I don’t mind taking care of your horse, Mr. Bye. I am happy to have the job.”
No doubt that was true. Like most of the Mexican ranch hands, Manuel sent most of his minimum-wage pay to his family south of the border. “Take it easy. I don’t think we ever fired a stable hand just because he got nervous around a full-grown stallion.”
As Bye rode out of the stable yard, he wasted no time giving his fractious horse a few gentle reminders as to who was boss, and by the time they turned onto a ranch road, Vampire had quit fighting the bit and was responding to Bye’s light touch on the reins.
* * * * *
Gray clouds hung low, buffeted in a fierce wind over the high plateau. Bye watched the miles go by under the big horse’s clattering hooves as if nothing had changed. At the fence encircling the wind farm he’d built above a large oil field that doubled as a pasture for calves and their mothers, he reined in, paused and stopped to look. Whereas seeing the turbines turning usually exhilarated him, today they were just objects to note.
The windmills weren’t dreams realized or obstacles overcome, only hundreds of three-bladed turbines placed on fifty-meter-high platforms in a precise pattern above the pasture to capture energy from the strong winds that constantly blew across the land. Bye recalled bringing his mother here before she got too weak to ride, watching the joy on her face when she realized he was finally doing something useful.
My boy has grown up.
Her words rang in his ears. She’d been so proud of him, her love unwavering and unconditional. She’d always supported and loved him, even when he’d done little or nothing to deserve it.
“Mom, I’ll miss you more than you’ll ever know.” Though she was dead and beyond being hurt, Bye wouldn’t talk about what had happened back at the house. Not here, where he felt her presence almost as if she were still at his side, teasing him gently for tilting at windmills, expecting nothing more from him but that he be her loving son. She’d never demanded or expected perfection from him or expressed disappointment when he fucked up, the way Four always had.
As Bye watched the mesmerizing synchrony of the turbines, he wondered if anything would ever be the same. Deep down, he knew it wouldn’t. Not for him or for Deidre. With the revelation of one old, previously well-kept secret, all their lives had changed.
Of course Bye didn’t give a fuck about Jack. Not when the bastard had let Deidre fall halfway in love with him and done nothing overt to let her know he couldn’t be enticed, even in the couple of months when he’d known a relationship between them was impossible. And not when Jack had professed to be Bye’s friend but had left that generation-old secret hanging silent for months, never revealed until today.
I’m your brother.
Would Bye have felt less betrayed if Jack had told him when he’d first learned he and Bye were half brothers? At least when they’d teamed up to pleasure Karen that night at the Neon Lasso, neither he nor Jack had known. That was to Jack’s credit.
Had that encounter constituted incest? Probably not since they hadn’t pleasured each other, just Karen. And technically speaking, Jack hadn’t fucked Karen where it mattered. Still…
Bye had let his older brother take the lead with him and Karen, even though he hadn’t known it at the time. The memory left a dirty taste in Bye’s mouth. It had to have been wrong. Or was it? Did a lack of knowledge get them off the hook for having sort of violated Nature’s laws?
He didn’t know. He did know his life had changed. His world had tipped on its axis, all because he had a half brother whose accomplishments to date were so much greater than his own, academically, career-wise and God only knew where else. In their father’s eyes, Bye knew he’d pale by comparison with the man who’d come so much farther, who’d had to scrap and fight for each accomplishment while Bye had everything handed to him as his due.
Had Jack ever had to extricate himself from trouble? Bye doubted he’d been stupid enough to get in the sorts of scrapes Bye had frequently experienced. Knowing he’d only have his own wits to fight his way out of trouble would have been one hell of a motivator for Jack to stay on the straight and narrow.
Bye recalled how many times he’d picked up the phone and let Byron Four take care of making his problems go away. School project not turned in on time? Daddy got him an extension. Damages at a campus bar after a drunken fraternity fight? Caden money made the barkeeper’s threats to press charges go away. A bag of pot found by campus cops during a routine check of his car? Four had made that charge go away as well, although he’d been royally pissed off because the fix had apparently cost him some costly political capital as well as a bundle of cold, hard cash.
Finally, he was beginning to realize he’d have been better off, not having had that lifeline to Byron’s cadre of cronies and his seemingly unlimited flow of cash and influence. If he hadn’t had those crutches, maybe he’d have studied harder, partied less.
Stroking his mount’s elegantly arched neck, Bye looked out over the wind farm. He couldn’t have achieved this particular dream by now, even with the electrical engineering degree it had taken him six years to earn, if not for Four’s reluctant help. Yeah, he’d done the planning and the sweating, but it was Bar C land and Bar C money that had made this all happen.
Would he have to share his dream with Jack now? Karen was a lawyer. She’d know the ins and outs of laws governing inheritance and sweat equity if there was such a thing a whole lot better than Bye did. He’d ask her. And he’d use her as his personal attorney from now on. It would give him a good excuse to see her in public, away from the Neon Lasso.
Fuck her old man and his, and whatever it was that had gone on generations earlier and had them itching to do each other in. Despite the fact Jack had seemed strained by the day’s events, Bye ungraciously imagined him chuckling over the situation his mother had foisted on his half siblings today. Bye wasn’t in a mood to be charitable about what his older
might be feeling. To tell the truth, he felt hurt that his
hadn’t warned him so he could have prepared himself mentally for Marianne Duval’s revelation.
The money didn’t matter. Byron Four had enough wealth to spread among a hundred bastard kids plus Deidre and Bye if that was what he wanted to do. Besides, it did Bye no good to agonize over things he couldn’t control. Closing that line of thinking, he concentrated instead on inspecting the portion of the vast Bar C holdings visible from this lofty vantage point.
Unbroken by mountains, valleys or heavy growth of trees, the view of the high plateau went on for miles, past the nearest boundary between Caden land and the Laughing Wolfe Ranch. Mavis Wolfe and her daughter Liz had been at the funeral earlier. His father had paid Mavis special attention, though Bye was only realizing that now. Liz, a quiet girl who’d been in his class at school, had stayed out on the front porch while other guests mingled in the dining room over the obligatory funeral spread. She was shy, or else she found funerals depressing. If so, Bye shared something with her.
Maybe he should hit on Liz now, the way Four had hit on his mother thirty years ago. When they’d married, Four had gained control over forty thousand acres of land that had proved to be rich with oil. The same land where Bye was now farming wind, high above the pumpjacks and some of the Brangus cattle that still brought in a fair share of Bar C profits every year.
Fuck Liz and her land. Bye wanted Karen Oakley. Too bad she was the only woman in Texas he couldn’t marry for love or money.
Get off your high horse, Bye.
It was all well and good to talk about how much better he’d have been, character-wise, without Four’s backing, but he wasn’t willing to take the step of flouting it and walking away from it all.
And that’s what taking Karen would mean, if she’d have him, because she’d essentially have to do the same. It was impossible. He saw futility in her expression every time they were together, and he was sure she saw the same in his.
Straining his eyes, he saw a thin trail of smoke from the line shack where they were to meet and nudged Vampire to a distance-eating gallop along the narrow path.
It amazed him how much he needed to see her now, not for sex but for companionship, advice…
Was he in love? Maybe. Bye had never felt this way about any other woman, and he’d fucked plenty of them. Girls had flocked to him—or more likely to the prospect of grabbing on to Caden money—ever since he’d hit puberty. At least he knew Karen liked him for his cock and maybe a little bit for his gray matter. Anybody named Caden would be the last man on earth that any woman named Oakley would seek out with the intention of bagging a rich husband.
Four would not approve if he knew one of the Oakley clan was waiting for Bye to join her. Not even Karen, a bright, beautiful twenty-six-year-old who’d already finished law school and passed the bar. It was stupid. If not for her last name, Four would be frothing at the mouth to host their wedding because Karen was an only child and heir to the five-thousand-acre, flat-out full-of-oil Rocking O butted up against the southwest corner of the Bar C.
Right now Bye didn’t give a shit what his old man thought. He’d lost the right to demand his kids’ respect, though he’d expect it anyhow.
Not for the first time, Bye wondered why Four seemed to like looking down on all the Oakleys. It wasn’t that they didn’t have land and money, because Bye imagined they had a good chunk of both, the money coming mostly from oil and gas royalties. Apparently it was the way they’d reputedly come by their land in the first place—and how they currently were going about increasing their wealth—that branded them as outcasts.
Bye doubted that was the whole story, but he didn’t care. To him, it made sense that Buck had reopened the Neon Lasso as a members-only sex club after the county fathers had refused to restore the liquor license they’d jerked following Buck’s conviction and imprisonment a few years ago for selling alcohol to minors. By adding the airstrip, Buck had been able to attract potential members from a wide area that included not only the immediate ranching communities but also larger cities several hundred miles away.
Slade Oakley, Karen’s father, admittedly was a crazy old drunk who liked to play with guns, but it wasn’t right to paint everybody named Oakley with his brush. Particularly Karen herself.
Bye felt fractured. Part of him was numb after watching them lower his mom’s casket into the soggy ground at the family cemetery. Another part of him wanted to beat his old man to a pulp. But the biggest part of him could barely wait to sit in front of a fire and pour his heart out to the only person alive now that he trusted. He wanted to share his dreams and talk about what he’d accomplished so far with his wind farm. Most of all, he needed to share his fears and have her ease them.
At the line shack, he dismounted and tied Vampire to a weathered hitching post by the watering trough. “I’ll be back, buddy,” he said, patting the stallion’s sleek neck.
As they lay together hours later on the narrow bunk, their limbs entwined, Karen couldn’t help wishing…but no, it was futile to hope for a future with Bye, not to mention downright stupid. They were fuck buddies and maybe friends, nothing more. She couldn’t help letting out the sigh of regret that made Bye sit up and look her in the eye.