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The Black Sheep's Inheritance

By:Maureen Child

The Black Sheep's Inheritance
Maureen Child


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."                       


"Not much really," Dylan agreed. "I saw her yesterday, but she didn't  want to talk about what happened. Evan told me she's not sleeping,  hardly eating. She's taking this really hard, Sage."

Nodding, he told his brother, "She and the old man were so close, of  course she's taking it hard. Not to mention, J.D. collapsing at her  rehearsal dinner adds a whole new level of misery. We've just got to  make sure she gets past this. We'll tag team her. One of us going to see  her at least every other day..."

"Oh," Dylan said, chuckling, "Evan will love having us around all the time."

"He's the one so hell-bent on marrying into the Lassiter family," Sage  pointed out wryly. "If he takes one of us, he gets all of us. Best he  figures that out now anyway."

"True." Dylan nodded then sat back in his chair. "Okay, then. We'll keep an eye on Angelica."

Dylan kept talking, now about his plans for the restaurant he was  opening, but Sage had stopped listening. Instead, he watched Colleen  Falkner, J.D.'s private nurse, slip quietly into the room, then make her  way to the front, where she took a seat beside Marlene. The older woman  gave her a watery smile of welcome and took her hand in a firm grip.

Sage narrowed his gaze on Colleen and felt a hard jolt of awareness  leap to life inside him-just as it had the night of the rehearsal  dinner. The same night J.D. died.

That night, he'd really noticed her for the first time. They'd met in  passing of course, but on that particular night, there had been  something different about her. Something that tugged at him. Maybe it  had been seeing her long, amazing hair loose, cascading down her back in  beautiful shimmering waves. Maybe it had been the short red dress and  the black heels and the way they'd made her legs look a mile long. All  he knew for sure was when he'd caught her eye from across the room, he'd  felt a connection snap into place between them. He had started toward  her, determined to talk to her-then J.D.'s heart attack had changed  everything.

She wasn't wearing party clothes today, though. Instead, she wore baggy  slacks, a sapphire-blue pullover sweater and her long, dark blond hair  was pulled back into a braid that hung down between her shoulder blades.  She had wide blue eyes that were bright with unshed tears and a full,  rich mouth that tempted a man to taste it.

If he hadn't seen her in a figure-skimming red dress at the party-a  dress that remained etched into his memory-Sage never would have guessed  at the curves she kept so well hidden beneath her armor of wool and  cotton.

He hadn't had much interaction with Colleen, since he and J.D. hadn't  exactly been on the best of terms, so Sage didn't spend much time on Big  Blue. But that night at the party, she'd intrigued him. Not only was  she beautiful, but when J.D. collapsed, she had sprung into action,  shouting orders like a general and taking charge until the paramedics  showed up.

She had been devoted to J.D., had earned the family's affections-as  evidenced by the way Marlene reached out to take the woman's hand-yet  through it all had remained a bit of a mystery. Where was she from? Why  had she taken a job working for a grumpy old man on a remote, if  luxurious, ranch? And why the hell did he care?

"Colleen do something to you?"

He glanced at Dylan. "What?"

"Well, you're staring at her hard enough to set her hair on fire. What's up?"

Irritated to have been caught out, Sage muttered, "Shut up."

"Ah. Good answer." Dylan just smiled, shook his head and leaned forward to ask Chance something.

Sage let his gaze slide carefully back to Colleen. She bent her head to  whisper something to Marlene, and he watched that long, silky braid  slide across her shoulder, baring the nape of her neck. Soft blond curls  brushed against her skin and he suddenly had the urge to touch her. To  stroke that skin, to slide his fingers through her hair, to- He cut that  thought off as fast as he could and scowled to himself.

The only possible reason she had for being here was if she was  mentioned in J.D.'s will. Sure, J.D. had needed a nurse over his last  few months, with his health failing, but such a beautiful one? Was that  why she'd taken the job of caring for the old man? Had she been hoping  for a nice payoff someday? Maybe he should spend a little time looking  into Colleen Falkner, he thought. Do some checking. Make sure-