The Black Sheep's Inheritance

By: Maureen Child

One

 The lawyer’s office at the firm of Drake, Alcott and Whittaker was too crowded for Sage Lassiter’s tastes. He much preferred being out on his ranch, in the cold, crisp air of a Wyoming spring. Still, he had no choice but to attend the reading of his adoptive father’s will.

 J.D. Lassiter had been dead only a couple of weeks and Sage was having a hard time coming to grips with it. Hell, he would have bet money that J.D. was far too stubborn to actually die. And now that he had, Sage was forced to live with the knowledge that now he would never have the chance to straighten things out between himself and the man who had raised him. Just like J.D. to go ahead and do something whether anyone else was ready for it or not. The old man had, once again, gotten the last word.

 Sage couldn’t have said when the tension between him and J.D. had taken root, but he remembered it as an always-there kind of feeling. Nothing tangible. Nothing that he could point to and say: There. That was it. The beginning of the end. Instead, it was a slow disintegration of whatever might have been between them and it was beyond too late to think about it now. Old hurts, old resentments had no place in this room and nowhere to go even if he had let them take the forefront in his mind.

 “You look like you want to hit something.” His younger brother Dylan’s voice came in a whisper.

 Shooting him a hard look, Sage shook his head. “No, just can’t really take in that we’re here.”

 “I know.” Dylan pushed his brown hair off his forehead and gave a quick look around the room before turning back to Sage. “Still can’t quite believe J.D.’s gone.”

 “I was just thinking the same thing.” He shifted, folded his arms across his chest and said, “I’m worried about Marlene.”

 Dylan followed his gaze.

 Marlene Lassiter had stepped in as surrogate mother to Sage, Dylan and Angelica after Ellie Lassiter died during childbirth with Angie. She’d been married to J.D.’s brother Charles, and when she was widowed, she’d come home to Wyoming to live on Big Blue, the Lassiter ranch. She’d been nurturer, friend and trusted confidante for too many years to count.

 “She’ll be okay, eventually,” Dylan said, then winced as they watched Marlene hold a sodden tissue to her mouth as if trying to stifle a wail of agony.

 “Hope you’re right,” Sage muttered, uncomfortable seeing Marlene in pain and knowing there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.

 Marlene’s son, Chance Lassiter, sat to one side of her, his arm thrown protectively around her shoulders. He wore a leather jacket tossed on over a long-sleeved white shirt. Dark blue jeans and boots completed the outfit, and the gray Stetson he was never without was balanced on one knee. He was a cowboy down to his bones and the manager of J.D.’s thirty-thousand-acre ranch, Big Blue.

 “You have any idea what the bequests are?” Dylan asked. “Couldn’t get a thing out of Walter.”

 “Not surprising,” Sage remarked with a sardonic twist of his lips. Walter Drake was not only J.D.’s lawyer, but practically his clone. Two more stubborn, secretive men he’d never met. Walter had made calls to all of them, simply telling them when and where to show up and not once hinting at what was in J.D.’s will. Logan Whittaker, another partner in the firm, was also working on J.D.’s will but he hadn’t been any more forthcoming than Walter.

 Sage wasn’t expecting a damn thing for himself. And it wasn’t as if he needed money. He’d built his own fortune, starting off in college by investing in one of his friends’ brilliant ideas. When that paid off, he invested in other dreamers, and along the way he’d amassed millions. More than enough to make him completely independent of the Lassiter legacy. In fact, he was surprised he had been asked to be here at all. Long ago, he’d distanced himself from the Lassiters to make his own way, and he and J.D. hadn’t exactly been close.

 “Have you talked to Angelica since this all happened?” Dylan frowned and glanced to where their sister sat beside her fiancé, Evan McCain, her head on his shoulder.

 “Not for long.” Sage frowned, too, and thought about the sister he and Dylan loved so much. Her much-anticipated wedding had been postponed because of their father’s death and who knew when it would happen now. Angelica’s big brown eyes were red rimmed from crying and there were lavender shadows beneath those eyes that told Sage she wasn’t sleeping much. “I went to see her a couple of days ago, hoping I could talk to her, but all she did was bawl.” His scowl deepened. “Hate seeing her like that, but I don’t know what the hell we can do for her.”

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