Cal and Charlie laughed.

“Maybe once she learns the the truth about the ranch she won’t stick around,” Casper said slyly.

“What truth?”

“Oh, haven’t you heard? With the most recent land purchase and you getting married that Dad is changing the legal parameters for inheriting the ranch.”

Carson stared hard at Casper. “What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

“Dad had an appointment on Friday with the trust attorney at the bank.”

“What?” Carson and Cal said simultaneously. Then Carson demanded, “Why the f**k would he do that and not tell us?”

“Because you’re legally tyin’ yourself to a member of the West family. He knows blustering about cuttin’ you off and kickin’ you off the ranch are meaningless threats. He can’t run the ranch without you. And I sure as hell don’t wanna pick up the slack.”

“No surprise there,” Cal said.

Casper glared at him. “Poor Cal. Twin to Carson but even that don’t get you close to the pedestal the first born son has been placed on.” Casper smirked at Carson and took a long swallow of beer. “But you tarnished that halo and even put a f**kin’ dent in it by finding the one woman guaranteed to send Dad into a red rage.”

“How long you been sittin’ on this information, Casper?”

“I overheard part of the conversation…a couple days after you informed Dad you were marryin’ Carolyn West. I don’t know what all he decided to change but it’s a done deal.”

Carson looked at Charlie. “Did you know about this?”

Charlie put his hands up. “First I’ve heard of it, I swear.”

Goddammit. It was so f**king typical of Jed McKay to do what he wanted and his sons just had to live with the consequences.

But what if you can’t live with them?

Then he’d leave. It’d serve his father right if his oldest son found a job working as a ranch hand for someone else. Yeah. He’d stick around just to make Jed McKay look like an idiot.

Casper stood. “I’m goin’ home. See you tomorrow. Come on, Charlie.”

Charlie didn’t say anything. He just put his soggy hat back on and followed Casper out.

After they left, Cal said, “Wanna get drunk?”

“No. I wanna hit someone.”

“I ain’t helpin’ you with that. But if you crash here tonight, we’ll confront Dad first thing in the mornin’ about this inheritance change bullshit.” Cal handed him another beer. “You think Casper might be full of it?”

Carson shook his head. “He was goddamn gloating, so no. He knew about it ahead of time and purposely told us after the fact so we couldn’t do anything to prevent it. He’s such an ass**le.”

Several moments passed where they didn’t speak.

Cal said, “Come on. Get outta them wet clothes and stop makin’ that huffing noise. It’s annoying as hell. There’s nothin’ we can do about it tonight anyway.”

“So you might as well crack open the whiskey.”

Early the following morning Carson and Cal found Jed in the dining room drinking coffee.

“So what’s this bullshit about you talkin’ to the estate lawyer at the bank and makin’ changes without tellin’ us?” Carson demanded.

“Mornin’ to you too.”

“Cut the shit. I ain’t in the mood.”

Jed motioned to Cal. “Get your brothers up. If we’re talkin’ about this now, I’m only sayin’ it once.”

When they were all seated in the dining room, Jed said, “Seems you’ve all heard I met with the attorney. I had language added to the original settlement deed and current land holdings.”

“Which is what?”

“Everything is still solely in my name, so before you get pissy, I didn’t have to ask, inform or consult any of you on my decision. Now the only person or persons who can lay claim to part of the McKay Ranch are McKay descendants, and even then, if any of you were to have daughters their claim isn’t recognized.

“In simplest terms, whoever you marry—” Jed looked right at Carson, “—will never inherit an inch of McKay land. You have sons? They’re part of the bloodline, they’re eligible to inherit. Any daughters you might birth aren’t eligible because their children won’t be McKays.”

“That is the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Cal said.

“Don’t care if you think it’s dumb. It’s how it is from here on out.”

“Why’d you do this?” Carson asked.

His father slammed his hands on the table. “To protect the ranch! Dammit, boy, pull your head out. If this marriage don’t work out between you and that West girl, she could sue you for her fair share of the ranch in the divorce settlement. Over my dead body that’s ever happening. This change don’t keep any of your kids from inheriting, but it will keep your wives from ever havin’ any control.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” Casper said. “Ranching is men’s business anyway.”

Cal and Carson exchanged a look and Charlie rolled his eyes.

“Like I said, the ranch is still in my name so—”

“Put up or shut up?” Carson snapped. “Fine. I’ll shut up. For now. But here’s some advice, old man. You ain’t gonna live forever. So while you’re tryin’ to protect the ranch from scheming women, maybe you oughta be thinkin’ about how you’re gonna parcel it out before you’re dead and buried and we have to sell every inch of land to pay the inheritance taxes since you didn’t specify an heir.”

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