Tobin mimicked Abe’s posture on the opposite side of the support post. “Because I’m the third son of a rancher. My two older brothers were running the ranch by the time I’d started high school. And when I graduated from college, raring to bring my ‘new’ knowledge back to the ranch, Dad and my brothers saw nothin’ wrong with the way they’d been doin’ things. So I checked around to see how much education I’d need to get into commercial stockbreeding programs. Or what the state requirements were for ag positions. A master’s degree was optional, but it wasn’t like I had a job offer to mull over, so I stayed in school. I received my master’s in May. I’ve applied a couple places but the economy is tight around here.”

“What about elsewhere?”

He held Abe’s gaze. “I never wanted to live anywhere besides Wyoming. It’s not like I haven’t traveled. I spent part of last year in Brazil learning about their cattle industry. But the bottom line hasn’t changed. My family doesn’t need or want my help on the ranch. So I’d rather work as a ranch hand, doin’ what I love, than get stuck doing something I don’t, because my dad thought I’d be better off educated.” Tobin sipped his coffee. “Honest enough for you, Abe?”

He laughed. “Yeah.”

“What about you?”

“Do I have a college degree?”

“No, I’m curious about the cattle operation you’re running with your brother. Rumor is that the Lawson and Turner operations are the successful ones and have been for years when others failed.”

Abe shrugged. “We do all right. Why?”

“You’re younger than my oldest brother. I wondered if you stick to doin’ everything the same way your family did? Or if you’re open to new ideas in the ag industry?”

Here was a guy who despite his advanced college degree wants exactly what you’ve already got: a life as a Wyoming rancher.

“Sorry, man. Forget it. Sometimes I get a little gung ho about stuff.”

“It’s okay. Just tryin’ to . . .” Abe sighed. “Look. I graduate from UWYO next week with a bachelor’s in agricultural business.”

Tobin’s eyes widened. “No shit? That’s great! I’ll bet you don’t have a problem with your brother accusing you of thinking you’re all hot shit and stuff because of your Ag degree.”

“That’s the thing. No one knows I’ve been goin’ to school.” His eyes flashed a warning. “No one. Not my family. Not my friends.”

“Janie?”

“No.”

“Why would you keep that a secret?”

“I wasn’t sure I’d ever graduate. Some of them classes . . .” He shook his head. “I’ve been running things my way since I was nineteen. I implemented a few changes while my brother was bullfighting. When Hank came back, he never suggested I was dumb for doin’ things differently. Since I’ve put some of what I’ve learned in college into practical application, our cattle operation sustains two families, instead of one.”

“See? That is the reason you should be touting your degree to your family, Abe. I wish I could use you as an example to my brothers about how progress can work in conjunction with tradition.”

Abe had made up his mind to tell his family... after the ceremony. After he had the diploma in his hand for sure.

The door slammed. They both glanced at Renner.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” Abe drawled.

“Fuck off, Lawson. You can go. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.”

Abe chuckled. “This is the thanks I get? Fine. Ain’t like I don’t have plenty of my own shit to do.” Renner stopped beside him and Abe gave him a once over. “No offense, but you look like hell.”

“That’s what life on the road and nights with no sleep will do to ya.” Renner swigged from his insulated mug. “Thanks for your help, Abe. I do appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome. Need anything else, just holler.” He pushed away from the post. Tempting to swing by Janie’s office, but he had a shitload of stuff to do. Including study.

“Hey, Lawson,” Tobin yelled. “Remember what we talked about. Tell her. It’s important.”

Abe waved him off. But the kid had planted the seed.

“What was that about?” Renner asked testily.

“Just picking his brain about a couple of things. The Lawsons run a top-notch cattle company from what I understand.”

“You thinking about jumping ship and goin’ to work for Abe and Hank?”

Tobin shook his head. “No, sir. We were just talking. Old-school thinking in ranching versus new-school thinking. I like talking to him. He’s not so set in his ways, like my family is. He’s a smart man.”

“Yes, he is. But in light of your obvious Abe worship, I should tell you, that as much as I need your help around here as a hired hand and bellhop, if you’re serious about using your degree, I could use your expertise in setting up a breeding program. ’Course, that’ll be down the road a piece. But I wanted you to be aware of my long-term plans.”

“No shit?”

“No shit. I’ve also been thinkin’ lately about raising organic beef. Some guys I’ve known for a while have gotten into it and they swear it’s less work and more money.” Renner managed a smile. “I’m all about that.”

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