THE RANCHER'S HEART, Book 3 in the Hearts of Wyoming series, is ready for pre-order at Amazon. Here is the link:
And here is an excerpt which I hope you enjoy!
The judge, clothed in his ceremonial black robes, banged his gavel.
She had won. Except Cat McKenna didn’t feel like a winner.
Kyle Langley, the lawyer she’d inherited along with the ranch that had been in her family for generations, leaned over from the chair next to her. “Smile,” he said, his voice low. “It’s good news.”
The judge rose, and her lawyer nudged her with his elbow and stood.
So did the two people across the aisle.
Cat scrambled to her feet just as the judge turned to exit. Unfortunately, the purse she’d slung over her chair slid loose and tumbled to the ground with a thud.
Her phone skidded along the wood floor, and her wallet, lipstick, pen, and eyeliner pencil spun under her chair. A crumpled Kleenex, recently used to wipe her son’s perennially runny nose, and a partially wrapped stick of gum stayed where they landed. But to her mortification, the tampon she’d stuffed in her purse, just in case, had darted out and rolled right to the bottom of the judge’s bench. The judge, probably eager to leave, hadn’t broken stride as he exited the courtroom.
“I wasn’t worried,” Kyle said as he stuffed papers into his brown leather briefcase, ignoring the chaos on the floor. He was in his forties, married, no children, all business, just the type of lawyer her late father would choose. “We had over a century and a half of law on our side.”
She sat back down and bent under the table to retrieve her stuff and heard the click of Kyle’s briefcase.
Jamming her belongings back into her leather bag, she was glad for the distraction. She certainly didn’t want to look toward the other side of the room at the tall, broad-shouldered man or the pretty female lawyer who represented him.
She had known Cody Taylor all her life and yet had barely spoken two dozen words to him before or after the incident the summer following high school graduation. Today wasn’t likely to change that. There was no love lost between the Taylors and the McKennas—and that was an understatement.
Bending further under the table, she struggled to reach her phone. She’d get the tampon once the courtroom was vacant. Not that she was hiding under the table or anything.
The ding of boots on the wooden floor grew louder, while the tap of high heels grew fainter. As those polished, if worn, leather boots came into sight, she pulled her head out from under the table only to stare, crotch level, at a pair of tailored black pants. Warmth slithered up her neck.
She forced herself to look up, past the large silver buckle decorating a trim waist, past the dark suit jacket covering a white shirt and what she remembered as a load of hard-earned muscle, past the shiny burgundy tie, straight to the set of sterling-blue eyes drilling into her from under a black cowboy hat. Those eyes had caused many a friend’s heart to break, back in the day.
“How does it feel to steal somebody’s land?” He asked the question in the deep-throated growl of a provoked guard dog.
The warmth turned to heat, smothering her face, searing her throat, and clogging her windpipe. It didn’t feel good at all.
“Now Mr. Taylor, that’s not fair.” Kyle jumped to her defense.
“No. I want to know, Miss McKenna. What does it feel like to take land you know is not yours, was never meant to be yours?”
At the challenge, Cat rose on legs that weren’t as steady as she’d hoped. She was five seven, but Cody, a full head taller with shoulders at least a foot wider than hers, made her feel small.
Despite the anger storming across his face, he was a testament to God’s handiwork. A face sculpted by angels, no doubt to take a woman’s breath away. High cheekbones, firm jawline, straight nose a little on the large size but symmetrically placed, mahogany-brown hair, and those arresting blue eyes. He was tall, dark, and ruthlessly handsome, with hatred emanating from every pore of his body. Directed at her.
Kyle had assured her that she had a legal claim to the land in question, and the judge had agreed. She had done this for her son, for the future of the McKennas.
She dug deep for a dose of courage. “The law is the law, Mr. Taylor,” she managed to answer in an even voice, reciting the words Kyle always said in answer to her questions.
“If you have a problem with it, I suggest you take it up with the legislature,” Kyle added.
Cody’s eyes squinted as if he was looking through a rifle sight aimed straight at her. “The act allowing my forefathers to claim that land was also the law.”
“I guess those who passed that bill assumed landowners would be aware of the boundaries of their spread and guard it,” Kyle replied. It was the same logic he’d used to persuade her to file the claim.
“We wouldn’t need so many laws if people just did the right thing in this world,” Cody said, reaching down to the floor.
A second later he placed her phone on the table. His expression, equal parts disapproval and disgust, caused a dump truck of remorse to fill her, making it hard to breathe. Turning, Cody Taylor walked away, back erect, head high. As sanctimonious as a newly ordained preacher.
Cat pulled in air to reinflate her lungs. “He’s right, you know,” she whispered, giving a soft voice to her apprehension. “The land was never meant to be ours.”
“Your family ranched it for more than a hundred years. In this state, for an adverse possession claim, you only need to prove ten. They should have enforced their borders, and none of this would be an issue. In this day and age, you have to know what’s yours and defend it. The Taylors didn’t, and they lost,” Kyle lectured.
“By the way”—Cody’s deep voice boomed from the back of the courtroom—“when the hell are you going to move your cattle? It’s past birthing time, for God’s sake.” The bang of doors slamming shut echoed in the chamber.
“Am I supposed to be moving the herds? Will didn’t say anything.” She felt the erratic pulse of panic rise up. One more thing she should have known to do. But why hadn’t Will Springer, her range foreman, said anything?
“Taylor’s trying to rattle you,” Kyle opined. “Still, I hope you’re considering my recommendation to put Pleasant Valley up for sale. You’re not a rancher, Cat.”
Cat slung her designer bag over her shoulder. How true. She knew as much about ranching as their barn cat, and here she was trying to run hundreds of head of cattle on tens of thousands of prime acres. “I’m thinking about it.” But it would be betraying everything her father had worked for. Everything her ancestors had worked for.
Cody Taylor’s family went just as far back as her family, hence the court proceeding. It couldn’t be right, taking land, just by using it, that wasn’t deeded to you, but apparently it was legal.
Putting his hand on her back, Kyle guided her down the center aisle framed by empty wood benches.
“You think your father would have had any qualms about filing an adverse possession claim if he’d had the survey done and discovered it after his father had died?” He opened one of the large double doors and held it for her.
“Of course not. Only I’m not my father.” Thank goodness. But her father would have known whether to move cattle or not.
They headed down the corridor, and the clicking sound of her heels against the old hexagon-shaped tile echoed off the marble walls. Cat trailed slightly behind the fast-walking Kyle as she tried to collect her thoughts.
The ranch was hers now. She was responsible for making the decisions that would ensure its success or cause its failure. Assuring she had water rights was critical. Because keeping the ranch intact for her son was the one way she could prove she wasn’t completely useless. Selling it would be admitting she’d failed—failed her son, failed her father.
“You’d better learn how to be like him when it matters if you are going to run Pleasant Valley. Because on issues of land or cattle, it will matter.”
Cat didn’t miss the doubt in Kyle’s voice. Something about her lawyer always had Cat on the defensive. Maybe it was his condescending tone. Or the feeling that she had to ask the right questions, or he wouldn’t tell her all she needed to know.
“I still don’t see why we couldn’t have offered the Taylors a compromise, like giving them back their land but maintaining our right to the water. Lord knows that family is hurting enough.” It had felt like she’d kicked a wounded animal.
Kyle stopped so short, Cat almost stumbled into him.
“You didn’t spend all of this money asserting your claim to that land in order to give it back.” With his eyes narrowed and his mouth pinched, Kyle looked a little like a lizard. “If you own the land up to that creek, there will never be a question as to water rights. And that will be important whether you stay or sell.”
“And likely why one of my forefathers co-opted it before the Taylors knew they owned it.” There had been a dark history back in Wyoming’s early days. One of rich ranchers lynching poorer ranchers, of land grabs and hired guns, and the McKennas had been in the thick of it.
“As best I can piece together, the Taylor that filed the original land claim died, and his widow and children inherited it. If your ancestor began running cattle on it and the widow didn’t know any better, that’s just tough luck.”
What Kyle didn’t say was that the Taylors’ ancestor had been murdered and the murderer had never been caught. The Taylor version of history had always laid blame for that murder at the McKennas’ door.
“And the Taylors kept using their side of the creek, and we used our side, only it wasn’t ours.”
“Your family’s fortunes would have been vastly diminished if they didn’t have clear access to that creek.”
“Survival of the fittest, right?”
“Now you’re sounding more like your daddy.” Kyle smiled his approval, but it only made Cat’s stomach feel hollow, like the victory they’d just claimed.
“Still, it doesn’t seem right.” And those arresting blue eyes and deep voice had accused her of as much.
And then Cat remembered. She’d forgotten to retrieve the tampon.
Release date is December 27 but you can pre-order it today!