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Erin’s Favorites Collection




Deception

Fractured

If I Were a Boy



Erin O’Reilly




2018


Erin’s FAVORITES COLLECTION

Affinity E-Book Press NZ LTD.

Canterbury, New Zealand


ISBN: 978-0-947528-93-5



Deception

© 2011 by Erin O’Reilly

2nd Edition

Editor: Ruth Stanley

Cover Design: Irish Dragon Designs


Fractured

© 2009 by Erin O’Reilly

2nd Edition

Editor: Gail Robinson

Cover Design: Irish Dragon Designs


If I Were a Boy

© 2015 by Erin O’Reilly

2nd Edition

Editor: Ruth Stanley

Cover Design: Irish Dragon Designs


Production Design: Affinity Publication Services



This work is copyrighted and is licensed only for use by the original purchaser and can be copied to the original purchaser's electronic device and its memory card for your personal use. Modifying or making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, without limit, including by email, CD, DVD, memory cards, file transfer, paper printout or any other method, constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses.





Author’s Note




The first story I chose was Deception, which was the second book I ever published. Lane and Bryce were great characters to write and I still get the occasional question..who was the murderer? The second book Fractured is loosely based on a real event that was swirling around at the time. The events captured my attention and a story began to talking to me until I finally wrote it. The last book, If I Were a Boy, is my best selling book and one that I really enjoyed writing. The idea came to me after visiting Padre Island National Seashore and seeing all the people camping there.

Thank you for taking the time to read this omnibus I hope you enjoy all the stories.


Regards,

Erin



Back of the Books

Deception


Lane Cuthbert knew exactly where she wanted to go and what she had to do to get there. Her goal was to challenge the network legal gurus for their positions but first, she needed a juicy scandal or murder. What she found was a beautiful woman with a secret in need of a lawyer.

When the sheriff charges beautiful and wealthy Bryce Clayton with the murder of her nemesis Preston Garrett, Lane sees her chance at fame. The only problem is that Bryce won't say where she was at the time of the murder. Although Lane is able to discredit many of the district attorney's witnesses, she still has a problem - the alleged murder weapon belongs to Bryce.

Through twists and turns, the trial reveals secrets that people wished to keep private. Can Lane convince the jury of her client's innocence or will Bryce pay the ultimate price for her silence? Deception is the pretext that allows secrets to flourish and murderers to conceal the truth.




Fractured

For homicide detective Tess Jacoby her life is about self-control and putting on the face of cold indifference. She lives her life by one rule—never get involved. The murder of noted collegiate basketball player, Dana Stratton, sets her on a path that threatens to compromise all her beliefs about life and love.

As she tries to get a grip on her out of control emotions, Tess finds herself with another challenge—her attraction to a federal prosecutor, Anna Mikaelson. The murder case sends Tess and her partner Gus on a series of missteps and false leads as they work to discover who murdered the basketball star.





If I Were a Boy

Katie McGuire appears to have it all. A devoted husband, a job she loved, and a comfortable lifestyle. Helen Swenson is a successful financial director of a prominent investment firm, with an unfaithful husband, and few friends.

Their husbands’ annual trip to Padre Island National Seashore to reunite with their air force pilot squad becomes a pivotal point for the two women. Their lives take on a completely new meaning when an undeniable magnetism between them draws them together.

Passion and secrecy becomes the norm, as they have no choice but to succumb to their attraction. Can the vacation love affair continue? When they leave for their respective homes, will they regret what happened?

Life is not that easy to change and the people around them are the hardest to convince. There is no more powerful motivation than love. Except hate and there are plenty of people who want to see their relationship destroyed.

Will Katie and Helen be able to make a life together work or succumb to doubts and the pressures of family?

This story will fill you with the thrill of passion and the tenderness of love.







Table of Contents


Deception


Fractured


If I were a Boy












Acknowledgments


Thank you, Ruth, for your patience and guidance during the editing process.

Thank you, Sage, for your invaluable courtroom and legal help.

Thank you, Mari, for your help with the Portuguese language





Dedication

For Julie, my friend and mentor



Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Epilogue

About the Author




Chapter One





Lane Cuthbert looked through her office window and across the street at her new law partner Monty Geiger. He was in an animated conversation with several men who looked like cowboys. In spite of his classic look, he blended seamlessly with the other men. His fingers hooked into braided leather suspenders that held up his Armani suit pants. A custom-made white shirt with the French cuffs turned neatly up his forearm, a silk Jacquard string tie, a Stetson and handmade boots finished off the look. No one would suspect he was one of the richest and most successful lawyers in Texas.

She watched as several men peeled away from the conversation until only Monty and one other man stood on the sidewalk. A feral smile curled around her mouth as she recognized each of the cowboys who had been talking with Monty. She knew each client of Monty’s chapter and verse; that's why she chose him. He, of course, thought that he'd chosen her; after all, it was his law practice. She had set out to become his partner thirteen years earlier when she read an article in Texas Monthly about “The Rancher’s Lawyer”. She knew then where she wanted to go in life and Monty, or rather his clients, was her ticket to the big time.

Lane never did follow what everyone thought the conventional wisdom was for her. Her father, a prominent lawyer in San Antonio, had expected her to attend his alma mater and follow his example before joining his law firm. Nevertheless, and much to the dismay of her family, Lane had other ideas. Instead of going to school in Texas, she attended Columbia majoring in prelaw. When she elected to attend Dickenson School of Law in Pennsylvania, her father had shaken his head and said, “Why on earth would you go to that school…Yale, Harvard or any Texas Law School would be a better choice, girl.” He had no way of knowing that she was setting her master plan into motion by attending that particular law school.

After graduating, she went to work as a clerk for the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Three years later, she began a stint as an ADA in Houston. Then, the opportunity presented itself—the rancher’s lawyer was looking for a partner. His only full partner had unexpectedly died and now he was searching for the right lawyer to buy into his practice. There were three other lawyers in his practice, however none had the necessary cash and, more importantly, Monty didn’t feel any were partner material. He was looking, the grapevine said, for someone with solid qualifications who would impress his clients.



The day after they buried Richard Steiner one of Monty’s most important clients was in trouble for unethical lobbying practices in Washington. The client’s trouble brought finding a new partner to the forefront of Monty Geiger’s to-do list. If he were to prevail in the DC case, he would need to concentrate all his time and energies on that litigation.

That afternoon, a registered letter arrived from a woman he had litigated against several years earlier in Houston. To his surprise, Lane Cuthbert was inquiring about the position of partner, and that made him sit up and take notice. He knew her father, and along with his personal experience in the courtroom, he believed that she was an up-and-comer.

As he perused her résumé, he couldn’t believe his good fortune. Her credentials were impeccable—Phi Beta Kappa, top of her class in law school, the law review, glowing recommendations from the state Supreme Court and a stellar ninety percent win rate as an ADA. Added into the mix was the fact that she'd attended Monty’s law school. She was exactly what he was looking for—a sure winner. He wasted no time in calling her.

“Ms. Cuthbert, this is Monty Geiger,” he said in his smoothest drawl.

Lane took a deep breath to calm her excitement. “Why, hello, Mr. Geiger, I assume you’re calling because you received my inquiry.”

“Yes. Are you free tomorrow night for dinner?”

Lane didn’t skip a beat. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible. I have a case starting in two days.” Lane smiled as she let the man dangle a bit longer. “I just can’t justify taking the time to drive to Garrett Springs.”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t completely explain myself, Ms. Cuthbert.” Monty cleared his throat. “I’ll have my jet come and get you, or I can come to Houston.”

Lane played a little longer. “That’s very nice of you…but I don’t know.”

Monty scratched his forehead. “Ms. Cuthbert I would very much like to meet with you about the partnership. Is there any way that can happen?”

She let a few seconds tick by before she spoke again. “Are you familiar with Perry’s at Clear Lake?”

“Why yes I am.”

“Okay, I’m going to put you on hold while I check my schedule.”

“Certainly.” Monty said before he heard the sound on the phone switch to soft music. Annoyed, as the time seemed to drag on by, he drummed his fingers on his desk and gritted his teeth. . When he heard the music switch to silence he blew out a breath.

Lane let two minutes pass before she reconnected with the man. “I can meet you at Perry’s tomorrow night at eight.”

“Well that, little lady, is the best news I’ve had all day,” he drawled. “I’ll make the reservations and see you there at eight.”

That meal brought her to Garrett Springs as the partner to Monty Geiger, the cattlemen’s lawyer.




Chapter Two





“Wasn’t that Sam Clayton?” Lane asked as she caught Monty coming in the door.

“You just got to town. How do you know that?”

“Oh, I remember reading an article about him when he donated money for a hospital wing in Austin.”

“That was ten years ago.” He laughed. “I remember the day he came into my office with that proposal.” He gave her a serious look. “Are you all settled in?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Good. I need to bring you up-to-date with all my clients before Sunday.”

“Sunday?” she asked with a knitted brow. “Why then?”

“I’m having a barbeque for you at my home that afternoon. I’ve invited everyone from the firm, all our clients, and several other dignitaries along with the sheriff, mayor and perhaps the governor.” He shook his head. “Richard was the only partner I ever had...” A note of regret was in his sigh. “Well, what’s done is done. Now, we need to get you situated.”

The mention of Monty’s longtime law partner, who died, made Lane feel strangely happy. His presence was always the one sticking point in her plan, and his death came as good news to her. The other lawyers in Monty’s firm were not full partners, which made Lane’s arrival on the scene somewhat sticky. At the final stages of the partnership negotiations, Monty told her she was perfect partner material because she was so dynamic that she would bring in clients. And, clients, he told her, means billable hours.

“I’m ready to take it on whatever you send my way.”

Monty liked the woman. Her qualifications were impeccable, which was what surprised him the most when she applied for the position. He knew of several firms in Austin that were courting her and there was a rumor that several New York firms had offered her very lucrative packages. My good fortune he thought. “Tomorrow morning at six thirty we'll begin.”

“Six thirty?” That was the only time of the day when she allowed herself to relax. Her morning routine for the last fifteen years consisted of a vigorous workout followed by the crossword puzzle and a cup of coffee while she soaked in the tub.

“Yep, meet me at the Lone Star.”

Cocking her head and furrowing her brow, she said, “I don’t understand.”

“Foundation, I have always believed, is an essential key to understanding your clients. You've been in the office for two days, and tomorrow your education into ranchers’ psyches will begin.” He saw the look on her face, took it for bewilderment, and laughed. “Not to worry darlin’, they don’t bite…too hard.”

She'd wondered how she was going to scope out the famous meeting place, and Monty had just presented her with a gift. “Okay, I’ll be there.”

“Don’t go wearin’ those lawyer clothes of yours either. Folks ’round here don’t take kindly to fancy dressed people.” He gestured with his finger up and down her body. “If you’re going to make it here you have to fit in,” he said with a wink.

Taken aback by his comments about her dress Lane thought, I can do ranch casual. She self-consciously ran her hands over her suit jacket. It’s not as if I’m going to be here forever. All Lane needed from Monty was her one big break—the one client that would make her name a household word. That was her master plan and she was certain one of Monty’s clients would make it come true. All she needed was one big scandal or juicy divorce to make the headlines and she would be on her way. Watch out Nancy, Greta and Katherine, I’m nipping at your heels.



When she officially arrived in the office the day before, Monty welcomed her to the firm and unveiled the firm’s new name—Geiger, Cuthbert, and Associates. Her eye scanned all the faces and she was sure she saw bitterness on the other lawyers’ countenances. Nevertheless, she dove headlong into the mix knowing she could win them over. Before she settled in her office, her first order of business was to meet each member of the firm, starting with her own secretary. She inherited Richard Steiner’s secretary and she knew the woman would be the hardest sell.

“Doris,” she said. “I understand you worked for Mr. Steiner for almost twenty years.” When Lane saw tears well up in her brown eyes, she moved closer and touched her shoulder. “I know this transition will be hard for you. Is there anything I can do to help make that easier?”

Doris Talbert looked up into hazel eyes that too held a hint of wetness. “Thank you my dear. It is hard, he was such a dear man.”

“I’ll look to you, Doris, as my most valuable source of information. I don’t have any friends here and I hope I can count on you to help me.” Lane shrugged and her hand squeezed the older woman’s shoulder.

Along with the tears rolling silently down her cheeks, Doris sighed. “I’ll do whatever I can.”

Lane smiled broadly. “Will you please have lunch with me? I’d love your company.”

Doris accepted the offer and Lane took the opportunity to become acquainted with the woman. Inside of fifteen minutes, Lane discovered that Doris had a wealth of information that she gladly shared.




Chapter Three





Lane arrived in Garrett Springs three weeks before she officially began work at the law firm. In that time, she'd managed to find a home to purchase, which fortunately was vacant, and have her furniture moved in. The home was bigger than she needed—four bedrooms, three baths, three-car garage, all on three quarters of an acre—but she reasoned the price was a steal. She wouldn’t be living there forever and was certain to make a hefty profit when she sold. Opened and unopened boxes were scattered throughout all the rooms except two—her bedroom and her office. The rooms she occupied the most were the first she decorated and set up exactly the way she wanted. Each evening and during the weekends, she made her way through all her belongings organizing the boxes in the rooms where they belonged. Her cat Penny inspected every box and Lane checked each one before she tossed it to see if Penny was inside.



It was five in the morning and Lane stood in front of her closet assessing her wardrobe for something to wear to breakfast. She looked at her lone pair of jeans and passed them by opting for a pair of khakis, a red tank top, and a light blue long sleeved shirt. Perfect. She took the clothes to her spare bedroom, maneuvered around boxes to get to the ironing board out so she could give her clothes a quick pass over them with the iron. By six o’clock, she was showered, dressed, and ready to go. Although she wanted to see the renowned meeting of the richest ranchers, Lane grumbled to her cat about getting up so early. Driving into town she was further annoyed that a slow moving tractor was making the journey longer than it should be.“Shit I don’t want to be late. Come on asshole move over!”

When she pulled into the parking lot of the diner, Lane drove by a myriad of big trucks and SUVs that made her BMW convertible seem exceedingly small. Rather than risk getting a ding by squeezing into a spot, she exited the lot and parked on the street.



Once inside the restaurant, she saw a long corridor that seemed to lead to the kitchen. She walked forward until she took a turn left and saw three distinct dining areas. The one immediately in front of her was filled with what she thought must be the geriatric crowd for they all seemed to be gabbing about their health and how much medications cost. Beyond that, was another area that had tables and chairs but she couldn’t see if it was occupied. There was another dining area to the left and she saw Monty waving her over. As she stepped into the room, she ran her eyes over the other occupants. About fifteen scruffy looking men sat loosely around several tables. Once she looked past the hats, jeans and denim, she recognized most of them. Her heart leapt as a rush of adrenalin surged—she knew exactly who these cowboys who were eating, laughing, and talking were. As she reached Monty, she resisted the smile playing at the corner of her mouth.

Monty jumped up and pulled out a chair to his right. “Sit here, darlin’, you can see everything from here.”

Lane made her lips remain flat as she exchanged glances with her new partner. “See what?”

“Over there.” He raised his head slightly and pointed his chin toward the group of men.

Lane looked in the direction he indicated keeping her face neutral. “You got me here to look at a bunch of down-and-out cowboys?”

“Oh they’re not cowboys and they certainly aren’t down and out. They all have one thing in common…money…lots of money.”

Lane looked harder at the group. “You’re kidding right? Not one looks like they have a penny to spare.” The urge to let an all-out grin fill her face was hard to resist.

“No, ma’am.”

The waitress came and poured each a cup of coffee. “You two ready to order?” she asked. “I know you want your usual Monty. What about you, honey?”

With a quick look at the woman’s nametag, then back to her menu, Lane said, “I’ll have the special with scrambled eggs.” She smiled up at the woman and handed her the menu. “Thanks, Joyce.”

Lane tried not to stare at the table on the other side of the room, but her eyes slid there anyway. They gradually fixed on a young woman sitting among the men. “Who’s that blond woman? She doesn’t look like she belongs there.”

Monty looked in the direction of the woman. “Now, that little gal is another story. See the fella sitting next to her?”

“The older gentleman?” Lane looked hard at the man and recognized him from her dossier of Monty’s clients.

“Don’t go lettin’ him hear you say that…Preston Garrett is not a man to get riled up.”

Lane smiled. “So what’s the relationship with the woman? Sugar Daddy?”

Irritated by the innuendo, Monty said, “No! That’s his niece.”

She looked at him incredulously. “Sure she is.”

Taken aback by her comment, Monty felt he needed to defend his client. “His wife’s sister passed several years back and her daughter came to live with them. Lydia took quite a shine to her uncle and goes with him everywhere. Pres is like a father figure to her.”

“Mmm-hmm…and that's why he has his arm draped around her chair so possessively.” She challenged Monty by fixing her eyes on his. “I bet you can’t look me straight in the eye and tell me nothing is going on between them.”

A sly smile formed around Monty’s mouth. “Now, darlin’, we both know never to ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.” He picked up his cup, took a sip of the steaming brew, and eyed her before speaking again. “Wealth is the only thing they have in common. You'll learn that some of them have power, some have influence, and others are dangerous. Preston Garrett falls into the latter category.

“His family is old Texas, settlin’ here in the eighteen hundreds and grabbing up all the land. That’s where Garrett Springs got its name. At one time, they had close to a million acres. Over time they divided the land among the siblings.” He took another gulp of coffee. “Preston is a taker and when his brothers fell on hard times he bought them out except for one, Brett.” Monty shook his head and laughed. “That boy just never would sell to his brother.” He saw the questioning look on Lane’s face. “Brett hated his brother for stealin’ away his girlfriend and marryin’ her.” Monty shrugged. “What makes Preston so dangerous is that he takes what he wants without remorse. Watch out for him, girl,” he said seriously.

Lane took in Preston Garrett again. He was a big man, square of jaw with a hard, cold grizzled face. Steel gray hair, that matched his moustache, poked out of his black Stetson. The girl, who Lane thought must be in her early twenties, had very short blond hair and seemed relaxed by the man’s side. He’s banging her no doubt about that. She let her eyes drift back to the man. “Dangerous you say. Bet you spend a lot of time keeping him out of trouble?”

“That’s why I get the big retainer,” Monty said winking. “Here’s our breakfast. Everything here is homemade and delicious.”

Lane looked down at her plate of greasy eggs and bacon and fought back the urge to send it back and get her usual dry toast. “Yummy, it looks really good.”

“So how much land does Garrett own now?” She reluctantly took a mouthful of scrambled eggs and was astonished at how good they tasted.

Monty noted the surprised look. “Told you it’d be good.” Pleased with himself, he smiled broadly before his face went flat. “Not as much as he once had. He's what we call land poor. He sold off quite a bit to developers, which didn’t sit too well with his neighbors.”

Around her fork, she asked, “Why?”

“Cattlemen don’t take kindly to the land being used for anything else.”

Lane nodded in understanding as she shoveled in another mouthful. They sat in companionable silence for several minutes as Lane discreetly studied the group on the other side of the room. Although she was certain she knew the answer, she asked it anyway. “So, tell me, who’s the richest?”

Monty put his fork down and let his gray eyes rest intently on Lane. “Now that’s an odd question. You fixin’ to marry one of ’em?” Lawyer instincts took over as he studied her face for any reaction—he saw none. “Well, it used to be Sam Clayton.”

It was impossible for Lane to hide her shock. Something’s wrong. Just last week I checked and Clayton was Monty’s richest client. “He’s not? I thought he was the richest rancher in these parts…maybe in the whole state for that matter.”

“Well, he ain’t even close to his daughter.”

“Daughter?” Lane mentally ticked off her notes on the Clayton family. “He has two girls right?”

“Yup.” Monty picked up his coffee cup and smiling, motioned for the waitress to bring him another. “Thank you, darlin’.” He slowly stirred more sugar into his coffee while mulling over whether to say any more on the subject. “Bryce,” he said in a whispered tone.

“Really? Is she here? I didn’t see any other women in the group.”

“She’s there in the corner next to her father.”

Lane cocked her head to one side trying to get a glimpse of the person next to Sam Clayton but the man was in her line of vision. She finally saw a profile of sorts—a nose, chin, and a burnt orange hat brim. Gotta be a UT cap. When the man moved forward, she saw a long, straight black ponytail hanging out of the back of the cap. “She doesn’t look that old.”

“She’s about your age.”

“And she’s richer than her father? How can that be?” she asked urging him on with her eyes. Even with all her research, she had no idea that the daughter was in her father’s league or that she was an important client of Monty’s.

Monty fingered his coffee cup then picked it up and drank slowly as he peered over the rim at his new partner. When he placed his cup back on the table he nodded. “Bryce is a child prodigy. She graduated from high school when she was fourteen then went to A&M where she had a double major in business and finance. By sixteen, she had her degrees and took over her father’s small meatpacking plant. In three years she turned a middling business into a large multimillion dollar enterprise.” He took another drink of his coffee and saw the disbelief in Lane’s eyes. “It’s all true.”

“So that’s how she got rich? That hardly seems possible.”

“No,” he said. “That was only a stepping stone. At twenty, she attended UT for her MBA and in twelve months, she had two masters—one in business and the other in economics. Everyone thought she would become the CEO of some big corporation but her heart was with ranching so she came back to live with her parents. She began discreetly buying up small ranches, but she was interested in more than ranches.”

Lane craned her neck to see the woman as she screwed up her face in disbelief. “Really? What was that?”

“Well, she had a pretty hefty inheritance from her grandmother and she put that money to work. At that time, many of the ranchers were suffering…prices for their cattle were low and we’d had a drought, which meant that grazing pastures were barren making the price of hay exorbitant. On her first ranch, named Ascensión, she planted hay using an organic mulching technique but didn’t rely on only that—she dug a well for irrigation. The result was a crop that flourished during the hottest of seasons. Not too many around here at that time irrigated so everyone just shook their heads and figured she was young and inexperienced.”

Lane’s mind compartmentalized the word Ascensión as she turned her attention back to Monty who was laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“It was a big joke round these parts when she had a blue metal roof put on the house and outbuildings,” Monty said.

“Why?”

“Back then, if you had a metal roof it was dull gray. Anyway, once that operation was in full swing she bought a feedlot.”

“For what?”

“Ah, it was all part of her master plan, ’cept no one knew it at the time.” He looked over in the direction of the woman. His voice took on a conspiratorial tone. “She’s smart, very clever and a damn good businesswoman.” He paused.

Lane waited for more of the story and, when it was obvious Monty was lost in his thoughts, she spoke. “So she had a ranch and a feedlot what did she do next?”

Monty smiled. “Why she started buying more ranches.”

“That must have taken a great deal of money.”

“She capitalized on ranches that were close to foreclosure. She’d approach the owner and make one hell of a sweet deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

“She’d buy the ranch, remodel the houses…put blue metal roofs everywhere…the owners could stay there and continue as before. She had a few stipulations though.”

“There’s always a catch to any sweet deal.”

Monty winked and chuckled. “That there is,” he said with an edge to his voice. “First, if they needed feed they bought it from her…they already did ’cause she had the lowest prices, but she gave them additional discounts. Then, if they needed a feedlot, they had to use hers—again at a discount. Lastly, she was to be paid twenty-five percent of their earnings.”

“If I understand this correctly, the people she bought out became nothing more than her chattel.”

Monty cocked his head and furrowed his brow. “I don’t know how you can think that. Most of them were close to losing everything. She gave them back their dignity. Now, they live without a mortgage, property insurance, or rent and she even has an affordable health plan they can buy in to. The ranch keeps the name they gave it and in all respects, the land is theirs. She doesn’t own them—she saved them. To have a ranch with a blue roof is a point of pride ’round these parts.”

“It’s all in how you look at it I guess,” Lane said with a shrug. She tried to get a glimpse of the woman. “So which one is she?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Powerful, influential, or dangerous?”

Monty’s face took on a serious expression. “All three,” he said in a hushed voice. “Most people around here tolerate her. Some even like and respect her, but I’ve seen her when she feels threatened or wronged. She’s one person I never want to be on the wrong side of if you know what I mean.”

Lane nodded her head in agreement although she really didn’t understand the mentality for the woman sounded like a bully to her.




Chapter Four





Bryce saw Monty enter the café and knew he must be on a mission. He rarely, if ever, was up that early unless it had to do with business. Once the strawberry blond woman entered and joined him, she knew why he was there. When the woman came to town three weeks earlier, Bryce had noticed her immediately…it was difficult not to take in a newcomer who looked that good. Once she found out the woman was Monty’s new partner, she guessed why he'd taken her on. He has his eye candy new partner out showin’ her off today…wonder why. I’m glad he doesn’t handle much of my business anymore. As her holdings grew, she gradually eased them away from Monty in favor of a more business-oriented firm. She retained Monty’s firm for some of her contract work but that was limited at best. She covertly watched as the lawyer looked at his breakfast partner. His eyes seemed to focus on one place—her breasts. Men are such sleazes. A slight smile curved around her lips. I’ve checked her out and she’s more than eye candy…much more.

She was so intent on the events at the lawyers’ table that she almost forgot her father’s number one rule at breakfast. Always listen to everything. When she was five and her father brought her here to have breakfast with the boys for the first time, she'd asked, Daddy, why don’t you ever talk? His answer was simple. Because, darlin’, by listenin’ you can learn so much more. As much as she grew to hate the ritual of breakfast with the boys, she always heeded her father’s words—even if you don’t like the man, it's important to keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. He had been right, and she'd honed her skills to the point that she could pick up on the most casual comment and capitalize on it. She heard the tail end of Roger Briscoe’s sentence…I’ll be needin’ to sell. Above all, Bryce understood the hierarchy of the breakfast group and knew Roger Briscoe was a small player. The man’s father died suddenly leaving everything to a son who knew nothing about ranching. He was floundering and the speculation was he would be selling off his land before long. She wouldn’t allow that to happen. She knew the north pasture where Roger grazed some of his cattle had very little grasses due to the lack of any measurable moisture. So he is going to sell…hmm what? She took a chance.

“You know, Roger, that pasture of mine that butts up to yours on the north hasn’t been grazed in two years. You’d be doin’ me a big favor if you were to let your stock graze there.”

Roger’s eyes narrowed. “Can’t afford it, Bryce, but thank ya kindly.”

“Not askin’ for money.” A warm smile crossed her face as her cold eyes sought his. “You really would be helpin’ me out.” Always make sure you allow those you help to have their dignity, her father’s words echoed.

“Well if it will help you out…I guess I can do that.”

Bryce’s father patted her on the arm and gave her a slight wink. “Need to be gettin’ back home.”

Bryce nodded. “I’ll be along shortly.” Pleased with her benevolent gesture toward Roger, she leaned back in her chair so that it rested on two legs. She hooked her booted foot onto the rung of her dad’s empty chair and listened intently to the other ranchers complain about the weather. As she listened, her eye wandered back to the lawyers’ table and was a bit disappointed that they'd left. She thought about Monty and his reluctance to share his clients with his last partner..

“Hey, girl you ignoring me?”

Her gray-blue eyes leveled Preston Garrett with a look. He had an angry scowl on his face with eyes that bored into her. “Sorry, no, I would never ignore you. What’s up?”

“You’re in such a givin’ mood, why not sell me my two hundred acres.”

“It’s not your land Preston…your brother sold it to me. As I told you before, it’s not for sale.” Brett Garrett hated his older brother so when he needed cash to pay off gambling debts, he offered to sell Bryce two hundred of his acres that bordered her land. The only stipulation was that she would never sell it to his brother. Ever since, Preston was after Bryce to sell him the land that he felt was his.

“I had an appraiser look it over and I’m willin’ to pay you two hundred thousand, which is five times more than it's worth.”

Bryce rocked her chair slightly before shaking her head. “You had someone go on my land to appraise it?”

“Everyone knows you stole the land from me by conning my brother into selling it to you just like you con everyone else,” the man said shaking his finger in Bryce’s direction. “Just tell me how much you want for it!”

“You can’t afford it, Preston.”

“Try me.”

Bryce loved goading the man about the two hundred acres and had to hold the exhilaration she felt in check. “If I tell you a price you will only have sixty seconds to give me an answer.”

“Just tell me, damn it!”

“I’m tellin’ you that you can’t afford it.” She saw the anger rise as his breathing quickened and chuckled. “The price is a hundred million.” A satisfied look crossed her face as the man sputtered before he pounded the table. She glanced at her watch. “Thirty seconds to answer,” she taunted.

Preston Garrett’s face turned red as he rose and lunged at Bryce. “You thief…it’s my land.”

He was almost upon her when she raised her leg letting her boot catch him in the middle of his stomach. Preston flew backward and landed on his back on the floor. Bryce was on her feet instantly and placed the same boot on the man’s chest. “Time’s up,” she chided. “I guess that means you don’t want the land.” Her smile turned feral. “If you ever come at me like that again it'll be the last thing you ever do.” She removed her boot and held her hand out to help the man up.

Preston slapped her hand away and struggled to his feet. He grabbed at the hat Bryce was holding out for him, and shook his finger at her again. “This isn’t over. Your daddy is going to hear about this.”

“Go ahead, tell him.” She shrugged. “Won’t make any difference—the deed is in my name.”

“Bitch,” he said before taking his niece’s arm roughly. “Let’s get out of here, the stench is overwhelming.”

“Guess he'll never get it,” Bryce said to the stunned onlookers. “I’m not interested in selling.” She sat back down, picked up her cup, took a sip, and once again leaned back in her chair.




Chapter Five





Lane stopped at Doris's desk when she returned to her office after breakfast. “Unless there’s an emergency I don’t want to be disturbed.”

Doris cocked her head at the curious look on Lane’s face. “Okay…is there anything I can help you with?”

Lane looked at the woman, who she really liked, and smiled. “No, I don’t think so. I’ve some homework to do.”

Doris let out a genuine laugh. “Having breakfast with Monty always had that effect on Richard too.”

With a swift move, Lane stopped in her path and went to Doris’s desk. “Thanks for the encouragement. I’m glad to know it isn’t just me.”

Lane shut her office door and went immediately to her computer. She was certain Bryce Clayton was not among Monty’s client profiles and was wondering why she hadn’t picked up on her name if the woman was as rich as Monty had indicated. She raised her eyebrows in thought as she contemplated her next move. She clicked on the Google search engine and typed in ‘Sam Clayton, Texas’. What came up was an extensive listing about the man, his ranch, and his philanthropic deeds. But, there was no real information regarding his family members. Then she typed in ‘Bryce Clayton, Texas’, and came up empty. When she typed ‘Ascensión, Texas’, she came up with over a million seven hundred thousand hits. “Shit, I can’t believe this!” After an hour of searching through empty sites, she rubbed her eyes in frustration and growled, “Dammit,” before leaning back in her chair and thinking before typing, ‘Ascensión’. On the second page, she found what she was looking for—Ascensión Enterprises LLC.

On a legal pad lying next to the mouse, she jotted down every pertinent fact about Bryce and her corporation. She owned seven ranches between Dallas and Austin, five farms that grew cotton, wheat, and sunflowers in the panhandle and three farms in the Rio Grande Valley that produced maize, alfalfa, and corn. Together the fifteen properties totaled almost seven hundred and fifty thousand acres. In addition, she owned two feedlots, several farm equipment dealerships, and three small convenience stores. From the few pictures that were available, the signature blue roof appeared in each one. She jotted down the locations of the nearby ranches then sat back in her chair. So why isn’t her file available to me? A soft knock interrupted her thoughts before Monty poked his head in the doorway.

“You ready for a client?”

Lane focused on the man and nodded. “Yes.”

“Good. Pete Galloway is on his way in. He needs to amend his will to include his new grandson.” Monty began to leave then leaned back in. “In the big picture, Galloway is just a little fish but he knows everyone and it won’t hurt to have his endorsement. I’m countin’ on you to do right by him.”

“I won’t let you down.”

“It’ll be good to have him in your corner.” He smiled knowingly. “Come Sunday you’ll meet the real players.” With that comment, he left.

An insincere smile crossed her features as the door closed. For Lane, wills were mundane and she hated commonplace work.

Lane tapped her computer to life and clicked on the icon that allowed her access to all the client files. She was tempted to see if she could find anything more about Bryce, but resisted and opened the Galloway account.




Chapter Six





Lane knew the time-honored tradition of a barbeque in Texas is an event like no other. As she guided her BMW through the gates of Monty’s estate, she spotted the white tents and the huge covered smokers. The distinctive smell of burning mesquite filled the air and she was certain that briskets, whole hogs, sausage, and chicken had been smoking through the night. Dozens of men and women, all decked out in western attire, scurried about setting up tables and readying the area. Monty told her Friday before she left to make sure she was early, noting it wouldn’t do any good for his other guests to be there before she was. She looked at her wristwatch and smiled as she noted she was fifteen minutes early.

Monty greeted her with a big hug and pulled her toward a woman dressed in a full skirt, cowgirl shirt, boots, and hair as big as Texas. “Sarah, this is, Lane Cuthbert,” he said with unabashed pride.

The woman’s face beamed with a full, bright smile. “Why, Lane darlin’ I have heard so much about you. Please forgive me for not having you to supper sooner.”

“Mrs. Geiger it’s so lovely to meet you at last.”

“I’ll have none of that Mrs. Geiger business, my name is Sarah.”

Lane liked the woman. She was the personification of what the proper Texas matron should be. “Thank you, Sarah. You have a lovely place here.”

“Thank you, dear. Oh, look the Claytons have arrived.” She beamed. “They're such a lovely couple. I can always count on them to be punctual.”

Lane looked in the direction of the newcomers and saw Sam Clayton and a woman she recognized as his wife. “Don’t see their daughter with them,” she observed.

“Bryce? She won’t be here…never comes to this sort of thing.”

“Really, why?”

“Social graces and all that,” she whispered behind a cupped hand. Once again, the woman put on her brightest smile as she took Lane’s arm and moved toward the couple. “Welcome Marta and Sam. It’s so good to see you.” She warmly hugged Marta before she turned to Lane. “This is our guest of honor, Lane Cuthbert.”

Lane smiled sweetly while her mind tried to work around the words ‘social graces’. Is the Claytons’ daughter some sort of misfit? “It’s so nice to meet you both,” she said as she extended her hand. Marta Clayton, who Lane knew was from Brazil, was a beauty to whom time had been extremely kind. Sam Clayton was a distinguished looking man who appeared to be unaware of his wealth and fame. He was tall and trim. His dark hair streaked with gray seemed to accentuate the gray-blue eyes that shone with merriment.

“Ms. Cuthbert, I do believe I've had the honor of meeting your father on several occasions,” Sam said grasping her hand in his larger one and squeezing it firmly. “We’ve served on several committees together over the years.”

Lane instantly liked the man. “Yes, he asked me to tell you hello and that he looks forward to seeing you again when he comes here to visit.”

“You tell him he’s welcome at my ranch anytime…as are you my dear.”

It was then that Lane decided to go ahead and just ask what she wanted to know. “Will your daughter Bryce be joining us today?”

The Claytons looked at each other and sighed. “Not today.”

Marta was about to elaborate when Sarah interrupted. “Lane darlin’, there are other guest arrivin’ and you must meet them too. You can chat with Sam and Marta later,” she said, taking Lane’s arm and guiding her to what looked like a receiving line. “Don’t worry about who’s who; I’ll be right here by your side to introduce you to everyone.”

Lane sighed quietly before she smiled and held out her hand. Long before coming to Garrett Springs, she'd learned to work a crowd for optimum personal benefit so she made a point to visit with each person at every table. The one person who surprised her was Preston Garrett. When she'd seen him at the café, she’d considered him a disreputable character that was carrying on with his niece. What she found when she met him in person, was a very charming man. If he was screwing his niece, it wasn’t evident. He seemed completely devoted to his wife, Sidney, who appeared to be a beautiful woman with a trim body and the grace one gets from years of social gatherings.

“Hello again,” she said as she sat down at the table with Preston and his wife and gave them her best smile. “I’m flattered that you took time out of your busy schedules to come here today. It gives me the opportunity to get to know you both better.” Lane glanced around the tables. “I don’t see Lydia. Did she go home?” She had only spoken to their niece briefly, and wanted to explore the sexual attraction she felt for the younger woman.

“Oh, she’s over there with Marta,” Sidney said pointing to a table in the far corner. “They're probably hashing out Lydia’s next menu.”

Lane’s ears perked up. “Menu? I don’t understand.” It’s odd that Lydia and Marta would be so cozy.

Sidney laughed. “You’re new so you don’t know,” She said and laughed again as red tinged her cheeks. “I don’t cook…never have. So when Lydia came to live with us she volunteered to do the cooking. Marta spends time with her each Sunday morning showing her how to prepare various traditional dishes. I think they make up menus for the week too.”

“Oh, I see. That certainly is very kindly of Mrs. Clayton.”

“Marta ran a restaurant at one time and is an excellent cook.”

“Enough talk about that, sweetheart,” Preston said patting his wife’s hand. “What made you decide to practice law in these parts, Lane?” He paused for a moment then added, “Is it okay if I call you Lane?”

“Of course. As to why I came here…well, I grew tired of the pace of life in Houston and the criminal element. I just love it here,” she gushed.

“We’re glad you’re here too,” Sidney added.



After some time, Lane found a spot where she could sit alone and collect her thoughts. Much to her surprise and pleasure, Lydia sat next to her.

“Taking a break from the schmoozing?”

Lane’s laugh was genuine. “Yeah, something like that.” She eyed the girl. “How have you fared?”

“Oh me, I just go with the flow.”

Lane looked again at the younger woman and noticed her striking good looks. Boldly, Lane took in the woman’s body. The raggedly short blond hair gave her a boyish appearance, but that was the only part of her body that resembled a male. Nipples, on breasts that seemed to be just a bit fuller than what would be the right size for her proportions, stood at attention—implants. Even under the girl’s slacks, Lane could tell that her legs were shapely. Amused green eyes seemed to sparkle in the sunlight as their eyes met and Lane saw what she had hoped for—desire. She'd seen enough I-want-you eyes to know the look. “Once everyone is gone I’ll be heading out. Would you care to join me for supper later on?”

It was Lydia’s turn to give Lane’s body a once-over. She smiled and nodded, “I’d like that.”

“Good.” Lane smiled fully. “Shall we meet around seven at the Trail Head?”

“Yes,” Lydia said with a nod. “I’ll be there.”

Lane watched as the girl walked away and a broad grin crossed her face.

“There you are,” Monty’s wife Sarah said. “Some of our guests are leaving.”

Lane took the mild censure and stood up. “Shall we say good-bye to them together?”

Sarah’s face brightened. “That would be delightful.”



Once everyone had left, Lane collapsed in a chair next to Sarah. “I had no idea being sociable was so much work.” She inwardly patted herself on the back for her day’s performance. “Thank you for all your help introducing me to everyone, Sarah.”

The look on the older woman’s face was bright and happy and Lane suspected it was more from whiskey than her comment. “I’m more than pleased you liked our little get-together,” Sarah slurred as she patted Lane’s hand before letting out a small inebriated sigh. “I think everyone likes you just fine.”

Lane took advantage of Sarah’s loosened tongue to ask the question that had been rattling around in her brain all day. “Why does Bryce Clayton lack social graces?”

If it was at all possible, Sarah’s face lit up even brighter and she leaned into Lane holding her hand alongside her mouth. “She doesn’t have any people skills. Most people don’t like her at all.” She giggled softly as if she'd just told a deep dark secret.

Lane backed away, fearing she might get drunk from the woman’s breath. “Why?”

Sarah leaned in even closer. “She’s not nice…” The woman let out a small belch, laughed, then looked at Lane as if she had horns. “What were we talking about?”

Just then Monty appeared. “Darling, Jeb has just arrived and I need to introduce Lane.” Lane stood up and he took Lane’s arm to guide her away from the table. “I hope my wife didn’t talk your ear off.”

“She’s a perfectly delightful woman, Monty. She was telling me that Bryce Clayton doesn’t come to any functions and I thought that was odd.”

Monty stopped midstride. “Growing up as a child in an adult world makes it hard for the child to develop normal childhood friendships. Bryce is a wonderful businesswoman but lacks the experiences to mingle in large crowds. One-on-one she does okay but this would have overwhelmed her. It’s my thinking that being a child prodigy isn’t good for social development.”

“Does she have any friends?”

Monty continued walking toward the newly arrived guest. “Ah here we are.” He leaned in so only Lane could hear, “You’re going to really like Jeb and he’s single.”

Lane laughed and shook her head. If only you knew…he’s not my type, Monty.

“Jeb Tenant, this is my new partner Lane Cuthbert.”

Monty stood there as if he had just made the match of a lifetime. Jeb’s face flushed and Lane’s showed amusement as she cast her eyes in the direction of her vehicle.




Chapter Seven





As soon as Lane arrived home from the barbeque, she realized she needed to get ready for her date. Humming at the prospect, she gave the doorjamb a high-five as she went into her bedroom. The light on her answering machine was blinking and when she pressed the play button, she heard the familiar voice of her father. He wanted her to call as soon as possible— and she would after her shower.

The conversation with her folks had taken much longer than she'd anticipated and time was running out. Lane still hadn’t decided what to wear and Monty’s words ‘if you’re going to make it here you have to fit in’, kept running through her head with each outfit she chose. “SHIT!” she screamed. “Okay, I can do this.” She thought as she pulled out a tight-fitting Ann Taylor black leather skirt and a Hawes and Curtis white shirt. Oh yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve spent time in the company of a gorgeous woman. Rummaging through a drawer, she found a black tank top to complete the outfit. Her eyes ran up and down her body as she critiqued her attire in the full length mirror before she nodded and said, “Not bad…maybe I can ask Lydia if she wants to go shopping with me.” Get a grip Lane. You’ve only met the girl, don’t be hooking up the U-Haul just yet. “Like I’d ever do that for anyone…Lydia will just be a lovely diversion for a while.” She laughed and finished dressing by splashing just a hint of Fendi behind her ears. “Perfect.”



Lydia was already sitting at a table when Lane arrived at the Trail Head Bar and Grill. The place was typical—a large dimly lit room with tables made of dark wood crowded together and the smells of various foods wafting through the air. Lane gave Lydia the once-over as she approached the table. She looks hot!

Lydia stood up. Her face beaming as her eyes lazily took in Lane’s body. “Hi. I hope you don’t mind that I got us a table. This place fills up fast.” Lydia shrugged. “You look amazing in that outfit.”

In spite of the dimness of the room, Lane was sure Lydia was blushing as she openly appraised the young woman’s body, clad in jeans that left nothing to the imagination and a crème colored cashmere sweater that clung to the ample breasts with erect nipples. “You look pretty good yourself.”

Once they sat down, the waiter approached the table. “Would you care for anything from the bar?”

“Yes, I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks.” Lane looked at Lydia. “Do you want something?”

“Yeah, I’ll have the same.” Lydia’s green eyes twinkled as they reflected the flickering candle on the table.

“I’ll need to see some ID,” the waiter said.

Annoyed, Lydia pulled her license out of her pocket and handed it to the man. The man looked at the date, handed it back to her, and left to get their drinks. “I hate that! It makes me feel like a little kid.” She felt her face heat up again as she focused on her napkin. “I’m not that young you know.”

Lane bit her tongue to prevent her mouth from saying, do you think I’d be here if you were. Instead, she coughed slightly and changed the subject. “I’m so glad we got to talk today.” Lane tilted her head. “This is my first night out since I arrived.”

“And you wanted to spend it with me—that’s awesome,” Lydia said, trying hard to curb her excitement. “I’m really glad you asked me out. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a date.”

Date she definitely said date. Lane couldn’t stifle the smile that forced its way onto her face as she thought about the promise the night held. She eyed the girl over the rim of her glass. Wonder what she’s like in bed. With a mental slap on her forehead, Lane chased the thought from her head. She said, “Tell me about you, Lydia.”

“Not much to tell really.”

The bartender arrived with their drinks. “You want a menu?” he asked sliding their drinks in front of them.

The two women eyed each other. It was Lydia who said, “How about some loaded nachos.” When she saw Lane nod she added, “That should do it.”

“Good choice,” Lane said. “Would you believe that at every table I sat at this afternoon I was offered a plate full of brisket?” Lane said. “Now, back to you…tell me about yourself.”

“It’s boring.”

It seemed to Lane that Lydia was deciding whether to continue or not. “I bet it isn’t as boring as you think,” she said. “Why not just start and if it bores me I’ll stop you.”

“Okay, but I bet you’ll stop me real fast.” Lydia opened her mouth, closed it, and then spoke. “Well, my parents died when the plane my mom was piloting crashed near Dallas. I was an only child so the question of where I was to go came up. My Aunt Sidney was my mom’s sister so she said she’d take me.”

“That was nice of them.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Lydia said with an exaggerated sigh.

Lane shifted into lawyer mode. “You’re not happy there?”

For a moment, Lydia had a faraway look. “Oh, I’m happy there. They treat me like a daughter, it’s just that…”

Lane reached across the table, took the younger woman’s hand, and felt the need to cross her legs in reaction to the response the touch had on her clit. “What?” Lawyer instincts told her that this story was anything but boring.

Lydia looked down at the hand over hers and smiled. “My parents were great friends of Marta and Sam Clayton and were apparently in the process of making them my guardian if anything happened to them. There were a lot of hard feelings over that.”

“Where did you want to live?”


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