One night rodeo, p.6
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       One Night Rodeo, p.6

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  He looked over at Celia. She took his hand and didn’t let go until they were ushered into a good-size office lined with books.

  A tall, thin man, probably in his early sixties, offered his hand across the enormous mahogany desk. “Kyle? Bill Ruttan.”

  Kyle made introductions. “This is my wife, Celia.”

  “Pleasure to meet both of you. Please have a seat.”

  They settled into comfortable leather chairs that sat a good foot lower than Bill’s desk.

  “I’ll admit this case is out of the ordinary. I’m sure you have many questions, so let’s start with the basics. Were you aware Marshall Townsend was your biological father?”

  “No, sir. Not until my mother called me on Sunday.”

  “Did your mother tell you about the DNA test, confirming you are Marshall’s son?”

  Confused, because it was the first he’d heard of it, he said, “What DNA test? When did she…?”

  “The timing of the test was fairly straightforward. Evidently you were in a serious motorcycle accident when you were almost eighteen?”

  Celia muttered, “I’d forgotten about that.”

  Kyle remembered that after he woke up from surgery he’d asked the doctor if he’d be able to ride bulls again. The rest was a blur. “I was in a lot of pain. They kept me drugged up, and some nurse was always poking me for a blood sample or making me pee in a cup.” He frowned. “That’s when Marshall came forward and demanded a DNA test?”

  “Only at your mother’s urging. She wanted to ensure that you received the best medical care, so she contacted Marshall for financial help. He insisted on a paternity test first.”

  Kyle said nothing. But resentment flared. Why hadn’t he known any of this? For all intents and purposes he’d been an adult. “Is that why there weren’t any medical bills?”

  The lawyer nodded. “I’ve been Marshall’s attorney for twenty years, and he was quite shocked to discover he’d fathered a child. He and his wife, Inez, never were able to have children. At the time I encouraged Marshall to make contact with you. But he…” The lawyer sighed. “I’ll be blunt, Kyle. Marshall Townsend was an odd duck. He did things his own way, in his own time frame. I don’t know what he was waiting for, in regards to contacting you, especially after he changed his will.”

  “Changed it how?”

  “He’d intended to leave everything to the State of Wyoming as a land trust. But four years ago he came in and named you his sole heir, his sole beneficiary. Because we already had the paternity test results on file, there were no legal issues as far as inheritance because you are his blood descendant, whether or not you knew it.”

  Kyle said, “My mom said Marshall left me everything. What does that mean?”

  “That you are a very lucky man. I assumed you’d want a list of your current assets.” He passed over a piece of paper.

  Kyle’s hand shook so hard he couldn’t read the words. Celia threaded her fingers through his, grabbing the opposite edge to hold it steady.

  Land: 7083 acres, detailed in the attached plat, in Laramie County, Wyoming

  Dwelling: 1900 sq ft ranch house, and all contents

  Outbuildings: 2000 sq ft barn, 3000 sq ft metal bldg, assorted outbuildings

  Ranch equipment: detailed on separate page #4a section 1

  Livestock: app 170 cow/calf pairs, 12 bulls, 4 horses

  Mineral rights: all

  Water rights: all

  Optional state, federal grazing permits: subject to reapplication

  Liquid assets: all bank accts

  Bill handed him three other sheets of paper. “These are the most current bank statements. But keep in mind there will be medical expenses to be paid out of these accounts.”

  Kyle squinted at the number, then his eyes went wide.

  “I’m sure this is overwhelming—”

  “You’re goddamn right it is. He left me all this”—he waved the first batch of papers—“and this?” He shook the bank statement. “This says there’s half a million dollars cash in this account. Half a million. Five hundred thousand dollars and change in this account.”

  “Yes. And it’s all yours.”

  He looked at Celia, utterly dumbfounded.

  “It’s okay.” She squeezed his hand and repeated, “It’ll be okay.”

  Once he’d collected himself, he glanced at Bill. “What’s the catch? Change my last name to Townsend, or prove my ranching acumen for one year, or some other weird strings?”

  Bill shook his head. “It’s really simple. You inherited it. Everything on those lists is yours now.”

  This couldn’t be happening. Since the first time he’d set foot on Lawson land at the tender age of eleven, Kyle had wanted a ranch of his own. He’d dreamt of it. Scrimped and saved the last five years to make that dream come true. And now? Everything he wanted—boom!—had just been handed to him?

  While he sat there completely poleaxed, Bill began talking again. “As per Marshall’s instructions, there won’t be a funeral, a memorial service, or an obituary. He requested cremation and his remains will be inurned at the Wyoming military cemetery.”

  The lawyer continued. “There are two pieces of urgent business. The first being the livestock. Marshall’s neighbor, Josh Jones, has been dealing with Marshall’s livestock the last two months. Calving season is closing in and Josh doesn’t have the manpower to handle additional birthing bovines. So you’ll have to deal with that this week. Second, one of those bank accounts—”

  “There’s more than one?” Kyle blurted out.

  “Yes. One is earmarked as back pay for child support. But there is a catch. Marshall was very clear on this point. It’s up to you to determine whether your mother receives the money or if you keep it.”

  “How much we talkin’?”

  “A little over one hundred thousand dollars. Which I believe is what financial experts claim it takes to raise a child to age eighteen.”

  “And she’d get it all?”

  “Yes. Naturally she’d have to pay taxes on it.”

  “She deserves it. After all she’s done for me, by herself.” Even when he was mad as hell at her, he would never have denied her a windfall that she had more than earned. He took a deep breath. “I’ll tell her. But not now.”

  “That’s fine. I’ll bring all the paperwork into the conference room and we can get everything changed over into your name.”

  Kyle nodded numbly. “Am I allowed to tell people he was my father and that’s the reason for this sudden inheritance?”

  “There’s nothing in the language of the will that prevents that. I’d imagine since Marshall left it to you, he was expecting that you would reveal your relationship.” Bill buzzed his assistant. “Will you escort Kyle and his wife into conference room B?”

  As soon as the conference room door shut, Celia wreathed her arms around his waist and hugged him.

  Kyle held on, letting her anchor him. Once he felt reasonably sure he wouldn’t faint, he released her.

  She fiddled with his collar before searching his eyes. “So, wow, huh?”

  “Yeah. I’m havin’ a hard time processing anything.”

  “I can imagine. Do you think it’ll sink in when you actually see the place that you own it?”

  “Probably not. But I’ll admit I’m dying to see it.”

  “Me too.”

  “So you’re comin’ with me to Rawlins?”

  “Of course. I’m your wife. All day, remember?” She grinned. “Plus I’m snoopy as hell.”

  Bill entered the conference room with a stack of papers. All of which seemed to require Kyle’s signature. He hoped this lawyer wasn’t some kind of shyster because he merely skimmed the legal jargon. It took an hour to get everything wrapped up so they could leave, but Bill warned he’d have more things to deal with once they were through these initial steps.

  The biting cold outside snapped Kyle back to reality. He held Celia’s door open and contemplated his next move as he w
alked around to the driver’s side.

  They’d made it about a mile when Celia said, “I heard your stomach growl, Kyle. You need to eat something.”

  “We need to check out of the hotel too.”

  “What about your mother? Weren’t you supposed to call her?”

  He stared at the red stoplight without answering.


  “I’ll call her and make up a white lie about the lawyer needing me to inspect the property or something, but I can’t deal with her today.” He looked at Celia. “I know that sounds awful. Ungrateful.”

  “I think it’s better to wait. Time to think things through is rarely a bad thing. It lessens the chance you’ll say something to hurt her that you’ll regret.”

  His mind was spinning. Neither of them said much of anything until after they’d eaten a quick lunch at the Flying J truck stop and were back on the road heading up the overpass on I-80.

  “Do you want me to drive? You were up late last night.”

  “I’ll let you know if I get tired.”

  Kyle expected Celia would pepper him with questions, but she was oddly subdued.

  He’d made this drive a thousand times, but today it seemed longer than usual. Outside Rawlins they filled up the gas tank, grabbed a few grocery items, and put the coordinates into the GPS. Kyle was pretty sure he remembered how to get there, but it’d been fourteen years and the last thing they needed was to drive around Wyoming back roads in subzero weather.

  “I sure hope Marshall left the heat on in his house before he went to the hospital. It’d really suck if you had to face frozen pipes.”

  He gave Celia a droll look. “Thanks for that.”

  Kyle turned off the main highway onto a gravel road. It’d been plowed at least once this winter, and that was saying something in Wyoming. The next turnoff was in three miles. He tried to remember what the house looked like, but drew a blank.

  In the last twenty-four hours he’d gone back over the conversations he’d had with Marshall that summer. Nothing memorable came to mind. Marshall had to have known he was his son, since it was the year after his motorcycle accident.

  The last time he’d run across the man who’d fathered him was at a bar in Rawlins a few years back. Marshall had been drunker than hell and he’d cornered Kyle, babbling about…the mark of good stock. He hadn’t known what that meant then and it seemed ridiculous to start assigning meaning to it four years later.

  Wait. Hadn’t the lawyer said Marshall changed the will four years ago?

  What were the odds one random conversation in a bar caused Marshall to rethink his will and sign over everything to a son he refused to publicly acknowledge?

  “Whatcha thinkin’ about so hard?”

  “How weird it is to be driving to a place I don’t know. A place my father lived most of his life. How bizarre it is to say my father in any kind of context at all.”

  “What would you have said to him if he were alive?”

  “No idea.”

  Chapter Three

  The driveway seemed to go on forever.

  They passed a turnoff that led to another ranch, which meant Kyle would have fairly close neighbors.

  Celia squinted through the windshield when they crested a small hill and finally came upon the house.

  It looked a lot like the house she’d grown up in. A low-slung standard ranch with an attached garage on the left side and a cement slab for a front porch. The house wasn’t in horrible shape, but it needed work.

  To the left were two smallish structures. One that might’ve been a chicken coop. Off to the right were two buildings, a barn that matched the age of the house, and a newer metal building. There were no cattle in the pasture or around the stock tank. Snow was piled nearly to the middle of the barbed wire fence that disappeared down the gently sloping hill. She could see a windmill in the distance, which was odd given that the water table in this part of the country was so deep. Was it decorative? But maybe there was a stream nearby. Easy access to water could make or break a ranch.

  “Well? What do you think?” Kyle asked after he’d parked by a split rail fence covered in tumbleweeds.

  “Let’s check out the inside.” Celia studied the sagging roofline just a beat too long. When she went to open her door, Kyle was already there, helping her down.

  “Careful of those ribs,” he murmured. “I’ve been so self-involved I haven’t asked you how they’re feeling today.”

  Sore. “Fine. You don’t need to coddle me.”

  “Maybe I like coddling you.”

  She tried to catch his gaze but it was already on the house, his anxiety apparent. He held her hand as they skirted snow piles.

  Kyle said, “Stay here,” and snagged a shovel from beside the front door. He chiseled and scooped until he’d created a walkable path. Then he took her hand and led her up the steps. He inserted the key in the door.

  The waft of air from the house was decidedly musty. Celia’s first thought was that all houses inhabited by older folks always smelled the same.

  The front door opened into the living room. There wasn’t much in the way of furniture. An old-fashioned high-backed couch in a hideous plaid pattern and a reclining chair patched with duct tape. Two TV trays flanked the easy chair; one held a remote control and a copy of TV Guide. The other had a box of tissues, a glass of water, a coffee mug, and several pill bottles. On the left and right sides of the couch were open built-in shelves, loaded with magazines, knickknacks, shotgun shells, and small hand tools. Both the couch and the chair faced an outdated square-box television. The oatmeal-colored carpet was badly stained. A dirty path led from the front door around the edge of the wall.

  Kyle crossed to the first doorway.

  Celia followed and peered around his arm. The galley-style kitchen filled the entire length and ended in a large eat-in nook. “I like that.”

  “Probably be all right once this shit is cleared out.” Stuff was heaped on the kitchen counters so she could scarcely tell what color they were. The stove and oven combo was a burnt orangish red, the dishwasher was avocado green, and the refrigerator, which looked fairly new, was white. The double-sided enamel sink was piled to the windowsill with dirty dishes and smelled to high heaven.

  “That’s disgusting,” Kyle said.

  “He was a widower. He probably only did dishes when he ran out of clean ones. Maybe when he went to the hospital he expected to be coming back that same day.”

  Kyle gave her a soft look and kissed the top of her head. “Thanks.”

  This unsure, sweet Kyle was throwing her for a loop. She headed through the next doorway at the far end of the living room.

  Not a traditional hallway at all, but more of a large square, with each door inset and then offset at an angle, which made the area seem spacious. She counted six doors and opened the first one on the left. A smallish bedroom. Packed with crap. The second door opened into a full-size bathroom, done completely in pink and black tile straight from the 1950s. Pink toilet, pink sink, and a pink bathtub.

  “Jesus Christ,” Kyle said.

  “I think it’s awesome. Very retro.”

  “It’s awesome if you’re a girl who fuckin’ loves pink. That is so not a dude’s bathroom.”

  “It looks plenty dirty enough to be a guy’s bathroom to me.”

  Kyle laughed.

  The third door was to a closet, also piled with junk.

  The fourth door led to another bedroom, larger than the first, with a desk, a computer, and lots of boxes.

  The master bedroom was behind the fifth door, a surprisingly large space, big enough to hold a king-size bed with room for dressers and a small sitting area. Celia spied another door inside the room and found another bathroom. No bathtub but a decent-size tiled shower, a vanity, and a toilet. She withheld her snicker until Kyle popped his head in. “Seriously? Another goddamn pink bathroom?”

  “But this one is pink and turquoise, not pink and black.”

“Who the hell ever thought that’d be a good combination?”

  “Mrs. Townsend, evidently.”

  The last door opened to the basement. Nothing had been done to this part of the house besides designating a laundry area. Given what they’d found in the rest of the house, she’d expected the space to be chock-full of stuff, but it was disturbingly barren.

  “Kinda spooky down here,” Kyle said. “Let’s go back up.”

  Once they were upstairs, Kyle inspected the living room, specifically
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