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“The will stipulates that the three sons shall inherit the ranch and the surrounding property provided you all live on the ranch for one year.”
Ty Hartman stared at the lawyer as the older man ran a thin, bony finger along the lines of the will, reading out the stipulations in a monotone, blissfully unaware that he had just hammered a nail through all of Ty’s dreams.
There was no way this was real.
He was the one who stuck around the ranch. Colton left. His mom left. He stayed.
He was the one who kept it going. The one who kept the animals alive and the fences mended even after his father had given up on everything and fallen into a depression. Beau had laid off all the ranch hands and reduced the herds to nothing. Despite that, he stuck around to make sure what little was left was up and running. And he did it all because this land was his legacy. He wanted to pass it on to his kids, and their kids, and keep it right where it belonged—in the family.
It was his dream to not only carry on the legacy, but to set up his vet practice on the ranch, eventually expanding to the point that he could hire more vets, take on specialty cases, and build a reputation as a cutting-edge operation.
And this was how his father thanked him for sticking around when no one else had? By making him share the ranch with two people who didn’t want to be there so that he was at risk of losing it? Colton had walked away a decade ago with no plans to return. Hell, Ty hadn’t even known that Jace—a half-brother—existed until two weeks ago. Jace had no knowledge of their legacy and to date had shown no interest.
“Our father is trying to manipulate us, even from the grave, and I’m not falling for this bullshit,” Colton snapped. He shoved forward in his chair, gripping the armrests.
Ty barely heard the words over the roar in his ears. He’d thought Beau had changed. That his father had finally acknowledged him. And instead, he passed two-thirds of the ranch to his brothers, who would no doubt want to sell. He knew that Colton was practically counting the seconds until he could get on the next plane out of Montana, and, despite not knowing Jace all that well, there was no denying that Jace looked at his watch more times than was necessary.
Ty shifted in the chair, the old wood and leather creaking under his weight.
“Is there a period of time that we can leave for and not break the will?” Again it was Colton, his voice carrying that tense note he always had when he spoke about their father.
The lawyer glanced over his glasses, taking time to stare at each of them in turn. “You can leave for one month, at most, during this one-year probation period. If you leave for longer than a month, you forfeit your right to the inheritance, and the estate will be donated to the University of Montana’s agricultural department.”
Ty held his breath as the lawyer glanced back at the document and continued to lay out the rules in the same monotone as before. Essentially, they all three needed to stay on the ranch, or they would lose the property.
The lawyer would stop by intermittently to check on them, and he only lived about a couple miles away, which was not that far in rural terms.
One thing was for certain, there was no way in hell Ty was leaving this ranch. His boots were staying firmly planted in Garnet Valley and the Rocking H land. He was going to follow the rules. However, he wasn’t so sure about Colton or Jace. Neither of them wanted to stay on the ranch and both had been pretty clear about it.
Meanwhile, Colton kept throwing out possibilities as to how they could keep the ranch while he returned to California.
He needs cash.
That was the only reason Ty could think of that would cause his brother to want to keep a ranch that had never meant anything to him.
Maybe Jace was in the same boat. He looked just as interested as Colton in leaving as quickly as possible while still holding onto the property.
Ty’s gut clenched. If they needed cash, they’d want to sell when the year was up.
But the ranch was Ty’s life, his blood. He couldn’t lose it.
His brain shifted into overdrive. There had to be a way to fix this. What had his father been thinking, passing the ranch to all three of them, when two of them didn’t care? His dad knew Ty’s plans and dreams.
And once again, his father completely disregarded them.
“We aren’t interested in our legacy. Is there no other alternative?” Colton demanded as soon as he ran out of scenarios where he could leave and still hang onto the property.
That spurred Ty into action. If he didn’t say something soon, the ranch would belong to the University of Montana and all three of them would be left with nothing.
“Speak for yourself,” Ty snapped, turning on his older brother. “The legacy is ours, and I don’t want to throw it away.” More than anything, it deserved to be passed down to future generations, even if all that remained were rundown buildings and a pathetically tiny herd of livestock.
“You don’t plan to keep the ranch, do you?” Colton’s incredulous question was answer enough for Ty. Colton needed cash.
“The ranch is ours, and I don’t think we should make any rash decisions about it.” He spoke with the same voice he used with panicked clients who brought in their injured animals.
Both brothers stared at him like he had sprouted antlers.
His throat felt tight, too tight, making it impossible to breathe. His heart hammered against his ribs, threatening to break one as it worked overtime to keep oxygen circulating.
It seemed that his heart was as panicked as his brain.
“I’ll fight this,” Colton hissed at the lawyer, but the barb felt more aimed at Ty than at the lawyer.
Colton clearly wanted to sell.
Ty closed his eyes, feeling sick as his mind whirled in circles trying to figure out how to handle the situation. He had to stop his brothers from breaking the ranch into three parts and selling it—or worse, losing it all together. Their jobs weren’t tied to the land. His was. If he lost the ranch, he’d have nowhere to live.
He needed to start saving as soon as possible. Thankfully, he had a year to add to the nest egg he had built up. The trouble was, there was no way he could afford to buy out both brothers. Which meant he needed at least one brother to stick around after the year probation period.
And if he bought out a brother, there was no way he could afford to expand his practice to the ranch. It was like his dad was forcing him to choose—the ranch that was his legacy or the vet practice he had built from scratch.
Ty glanced at the man who was supposedly his eldest brother. The shock of seeing someone who looked like him and Colton still hadn’t eased.
Jace’s jaw was tense, and he gripped the ends of the armrests in his tight fists. There was no way Jace was going to stick around. He’d lived his whole life unaware of Montana or his legacy. Sure, he was from Texas, but did this guy even know a horse from a cow?
The lawyer finally wrapped up the reading. The second the will was set on the desk, and the lawyer was done, Colton was on his feet and out of the office, moving faster than a herd of cows bolting toward an open gate.
Shit. Ty stared at his brother’s retreating back before willing his feet forward.
He still didn’t have an idea if either Jace or Colton planned to stick around. They needed to get something sorted between the three of them. Because if even one of them left, the ranch was instantly forfeited.
He needed both men to stick around, including Colton, who would rather cut off an arm than do anything for his father. Hopefully Colton would be willing to stay as a favor for a brother.
Ty pushed out of the chair and chased after his brother. “Colton, we need to hash this out.”
“There’s nothing to hash out. I’m not sticking around. I can’t do this. I have to go back to California.”
“Then we lose this ranch,” he snapped. His life, sweat, and time were engrained in the lands of the Rocking H. He couldn’t lose it. His dreams were centered around this ranch. His ranch. “The ranch is our legacy.”
“Ha!” Colton whirled around and jabbed him in the chest. “Our legacy? A bitter man lived there and ran it into the ground.”
And he was doing everything he could to keep it from falling apart. Once he moved his practice to the ranch, he could dedicate more time and funds to repairing the ranch and restore it to its former glory. He almost, almost told Colton.
But he snapped his mouth shut before he could say anything. After all, Colton had left ten years ago. It wasn’t like he was that close to his brother anymore. Colton probably thought it was a ridiculous idea to keep the ranch, dream or no dream.
“Look, we all know Dad wasn’t the greatest, but that doesn’t mean we should throw our history out. William Hartman started the ranch six generations ago. It’s ours, well and truly.” He was practically pleading with his brother, trying to make him realize just how valuable the ranch was—for all of them. Of him and Jace, Colton would be the one who understood how important the legacy was. He and their dad may have fought, but he’d been raised on the land.
Colton shook his head and pressed his palms against his eyes. “I don’t want to deal with this now.”
Ty stared at his brother, his neck tense in frustration. “Colton, I have big plans centered around this ranch.”
Colton’s jaw set as he met Ty’s gaze before dropping his head and rubbing at the back of his head.
“Sorry, Ty.” The words were barely out of his mouth before Colton hopped into his SUV and backed out of the spot.
“I’ve got to admit,” Jace said as they watched Colton drive off, “I’m with your brother on this. What are we going to do with the ranch? Our lives are elsewhere.”
“Mine’s not,” he said stonily, fury at his father riding him hard.
His life was on the ranch. And it was sifting through his fingers like grains of sand.
There had to be a way to convince his brothers to stick around. He hadn’t spent years dealing with Beau to have his dreams go down the drain.
Colton was right about one thing; his dad was an ass. Ty had tried, damn how he tried, to make his relationship with his dad work, but his dad was never happy. Not with anything, or anyone, especially not with him.
His brother was wrong about the legacy, though. Ty was going to make sure it lived on in his name. One way or another, the Rocking H belonged to him.
End of Excerpt