“Freelance work. I billed you accordingly. Your accounts payable department paid me accordingly.”

“Are you still in a snit because of Steven?”

“Are you asking if I’m still upset that you promoted Steven instead of me? Not because he was more qualified—I have three advanced degrees in finance to his none—but because he was born with balls?”

Her father gaped. “Tierney. What is wrong with you?”

“What? Women aren’t supposed to say balls? Or they aren’t supposed to act like they’ve got them?”

“Is there a point to this crudity?”

“Is there a point to this surprise visit to Wyoming?” she countered. “I’d like to hear it.” She held up her hand, warning, “And please don’t use a bullshit excuse like you missed me.”

“Fine. No bullshit. I came to see how this training opportunity was working. Does your Mr. Jackson know what you’re giving up to play cowgirl resort proprietor for a few months?”

Nice. Now the ass**le was using his presence to rile Tierney.

“No. But I’m sure you’ll tell him.” She drained her wine. “Don’t forget to put all those dollar signs you’re so fond of in front of your answer.”

Gene Pratt focused on him. “I’ll admit I gave Steven the position in my company Tierney wanted. It wasn’t out of spite. It was because I’ve always had a higher station in mind for her.”

Tierney went motionless beside him.

“Awarding the position to Steven was a test for her. If she accepted my decision as what was best for the company and didn’t question it at all . . . then I knew I could count on her loyalty—almost to a fault.”

He leaned forward. “But Tierney didn’t accept it. She forced my hand by invoking the clause that allowed her to choose an oversight position for training purposes. Then she turned in her resignation and set out to prove she doesn’t need my company to be successful. That’s exactly the type of person I need steering my company. That’s why after she’s been seasoned a bit, in five years or so, Tierney will take over PFG as CFO.”

Her body vibrated with anger. “You’re lying.”

“No, dearest daughter. I am not.”

Silence.

Renner did not want to be dragged into this family drama. Needing a distraction, he frowned and pulled out his phone. “Excuse me. I missed this call and I need to get right back to him.” He dialed his voice mail box, waited and said, “Bixby! No, not bad timing.” He opened the front door and let it slam, then pressed himself against the inside wall. They wouldn’t speak freely with him in the room. Gene Pratt wouldn’t stand by and let his brilliant daughter settle for a livestock contractor with shit on his boots, in Nowhere, Wyoming. As much as it pained him to admit it, maybe it wouldn’t be best for Tierney to settle for it either.

Tierney didn’t hold back. “I cannot believe you’d come here and spew such lies. Giving Steven that job was not a test. You did it because you wanted to show me that you control the company. That blood—whether we share it, or whether I spill it to scrape my way to the top of the heap—means nothing to you. I was unhappy. Unhappy working for you, unhappy living the life I thought I wanted.”

“I can see why you’d be miserable. Living in a million-dollar condo overlooking Lake Michigan. A hefty stock portfolio. A position in a top company, which you’re well compensated for. And the ability to pick and choose whatever pet project struck your fancy. Like this one.”

This was a pet project for her?

“You own my condo. I started my own investment portfolio when I was eighteen with my inheritance from my mother. My salary was twenty-five thousand dollars below the national average for my educational level. And I wasn’t allowed to pick projects until after I handed in my resignation, Dad, so try again.”

Pratt sighed. “My point is, you might be happy here temporarily, enjoying thumbing your nose at me, but you won’t be happy for the long term.”

“You don’t know what makes me happy.”

“And neither do you,” he retorted.

“Yes, I do. I found it here.”

Renner’s heart absolutely turned over in his chest with love for this woman.

“You’ve found happiness with him? What will happen when the cowboy charm wears off?”

“It won’t. Renner is the real deal. He loves me in spite of my privileged background.”

“He loves you because of your privileged background,” Pratt said with false sympathy. “You’re the gravy train and he’ll ride you into the ground.”

“He’s not like that. I love him. I love the life I can have here. There is nothing you can offer me that would change my mind.”

“You sure about that?”

Tierney’s laughter held a sour tone. “In fact, you could offer me the CEO position, your job, right now, with the multimillion dollar salary and I’d turn you down. Flat.”

Silence.

“You’re brainwashed. This is not you talking, Tierney.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. This is me, the real Tierney, the person I’ve discovered myself to be when I’m here. Whether or not I’m with Renner. I love the work I’m doing, being part of the community. So don’t you dare denigrate it. I don’t need your approval, because for the first time in my life, I don’t care.”

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