Married for His Heir

By: Sara Orwig

CHAPTER ONE

“Just remember, curiosity killed the cat.” Nick Duncan shot his brother a narrow-eyed look, as if willing him to lay off.

But Stan didn’t take the hint. He merely shook his head and continued. “What do you expect, Nick? A woman you don’t know is coming by to tell you about an inheritance you didn’t know you had. Of course I’m curious.”

Nick had to agree, the man had a point.

He stepped off the porch into the front yard of his cattle ranch, the ND Ranch, taking a moment to let his gaze sweep over the landscaped front yard, green from the constant watering. But nothing could distract his thoughts. An inheritance?

“And you say our attorney told you to accept the appointment with her?” Stan asked, stepping up beside his oldest brother.

“Yeah. Apparently, she went to Horace and talked to him instead of calling me. How she found him, I don’t know. That should be personal information.” He swiped a hand across his neck. “I’ve been racking my brain, but heck, I don’t know any Talia Barton, not in the oil business, not from ranching, not socially. And I’m sure I’d remember. Since I stepped down as CEO at Duncan Energy, I don’t stay in Dallas. Only when I have to go to board meetings or something special. This ranch is where I live. I can’t think of any woman named Talia. There have been so damn few women in my life since I became a widower.”

“You mean no one that you’ve been interested in,” Stan clarified. “You have a steady stream of women coming to see you, bringing you enough casseroles and desserts to open a restaurant out here. I’ll bet you have a fridge filled with food in your Dallas house, too.”

“Oh, yeah. The ladies don’t want me to starve. They’ve got good intentions, but I’m not interested.” He hadn’t been interested in a woman in three years—and he didn’t figure he ever would be again.

He took off his Stetson and swiped it across his jean-clad thigh, as if he could banish the memories as easily as he did the dust on his hat. All this time and thoughts of Regina could creep up on him at the oddest times.

He squared his shoulders and replaced the hat. “Well, no matter who she is, this Talia Barton can come out here to see me. I’m not driving to Dallas. I told Horace.”

He’d also asked the attorney questions. Lots of them. But he hadn’t gotten any answers. Whatever this mystery woman had told Horace, he wouldn’t say. He’d merely insisted Nick make an appointment to meet her.

“Is Horace coming to the ranch?”

“No, I told him he didn’t need to. Whatever she intends to do, this meeting should be short.” Nick turned to his brother, looking into eyes that were as green as his own, and flecked with gold. “Come to think of it, Stan, you might as well stay. Whatever inheritance I’m getting, it may eventually involve you.”

“Oh, no,” Stan said, grinning. “I have my new horse loaded into my trailer and I’m taking him home. I’ll hear later what the mysterious Ms. Barton is giving you. And, by the way, have you told Grandmother?”

Nick rolled his eyes. “Are you kidding? Of course not. At least not until I know why we’re meeting.”

Stan laughed. “No, I guess not. I sure as hell wouldn’t tell her until I knew and maybe not even then.”

Nick clapped his brother on the back. “Come on—let’s go inside. I’m not waiting out here to greet Ms. Barton,” he said, turning for his ranch home.

“No, no.” Stan shook his head. “I told you, I’m leaving. This appointment is for you and it’s private. You can call and tell me what the hell a woman you don’t even know has for you.”

“I’m still tempted to ignore Horace and refuse to see her.”

“Horace has been our family attorney for years and your attorney since you turned twenty-one. You do what he says and meet with her. You know he’s not giving you bad advice.”

“I don’t know. Any attorney who won’t confide in his own client whom he has known since I was five years old is a damn poor attorney, if you ask me.”

“You know Horace has to have a good reason for not telling you what’s involved.” Stan started to leave, his wavy brown hair tangling in the breeze. “And it must be something good.”

“If it isn’t, I’m getting a new attorney,” Nick grumbled, gazing down the long ranch drive that disappeared around a curve where a tall cottonwood’s leaves fluttered in the wind.

Stan left, his boots clicking on the brick walk as he headed to his shiny black pickup with a horse trailer hitched to it.

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