Summer Conroy entered the law office that was the size of her entire
apartment. She fisted her hands until her nails bit into her palms. What
was she doing here? Why had she been summoned? The attorney had refused
to tell her anything over the phone. What if she was being sued by one
of her brides? But which one and why?
A rich, buttery color like old, soft suede covered the walls. A huge
stone fireplace dominated one wall. A thick maroon and navy rug sprawled
over red oak floors. She remembered a similar room, a similar rug where
she’d faced off with her ex-husband’s parents.
How much? How much do you want to walk away from our son?
Summer pushed away the painful memory.
A blue-eyed man with grey touching his temples sat behind a desk the
size of a banquet room. He stood and extended his hand. “Barry
Henderson. Thank you for coming, Ms. Conroy.”
Did she have a choice?
He gestured toward a man sitting in a chair in front of the desk. Tall
and lean, he rose from the chair. A black and white Border collie lay at
his feet. The dog lifted its head, pricked its ears.
“Ms. Conroy, this is Bryce Jericho,” Mr. Henderson said.
His stunning gray-blue gaze met hers. One corner of his mouth kicked up.
He nodded. “Ms. Conroy.”
Her pulse skipped a beat. Who was this man? Why was he here? “Mr.
Jericho, it’s nice to meet you.” I think. Her voice cracked. She
cleared her throat and lifted her chin a notch. If she was in some kind
of legal trouble she didn’t want Mr. Jericho to think she was a
pushover. She hadn’t been involved in any sort of accident. Her
business was in trouble. She had her mother’s debts hanging over her
head. She clung tighter to her purse. Inside was the last forty-two
dollars and sixty-three cents she had to her name. Sick of worrying over
her financial situation, she blurted, “Are you suing me, Mr.
He arched a brow. “No.”
The weight of uncertainty lifted from her shoulders. “Then why am I
“I’d like to know that too.”
“Please sit and I’ll explain everything,” Mr. Henderson said. He
sat down behind the desk, slipped on his glasses and shuffled some
What kind of papers?
Mr. Jericho settled in a leather wing-back chair in front of the desk,
scuffed boots on his feet. He leaned forward and rested his arms on his
denim-covered legs. His fingers held a beat-up brown cowboy hat. His
body was still but to Summer he seemed tense. He turned his hat around
and around between his fingers. He nodded toward the matching chair.
Self-conscious, she sat down and adjusted her skirt over her knees and
focused on the attorney.
“You’re here, Ms. Conroy because you’ve been named as a
beneficiary in the will of Wynn Jericho.”
Shock stiffened her spine. “Beneficiary? I never knew Mr. Jericho, I
never even met him.”
Mr. Henderson gave her an avuncular smile. “Nevertheless, he knew you,
“I’m going to dispense with the legalese and read Wynn’s own
words,” Mr. Henderson said. He cleared his throat and began.
“I’ll make this short and sweet. Bryce, you’ll be steaming mad
enough to spit nails because of what I’ve done, but I had to do it
this way. I have years of living greedy and selfish to make up for.
Bryce, even though I know you’ve sweated buckets and even shed some
blood, not to mention given a big piece of your heart for the sake of
the ranch, and your family, and you expected to inherit all of the
ranch, I leave half of Silver Creek Ranch to Ms. Summer Conroy along
with one-hundred thousand dollars in cash.
Shock hit Summer in frigid waves. Her stunned mind reeled. She shook her
head in an effort to clear it. Had she heard him correctly? “Did you
just say he left me half the ranch? Plus all that money? Why?”
“What’s this about, Barry?” Bryce’s voice rasped like the crunch
Summer glanced at Bryce. His lips twisted into a thin line, a muscle
worked in his jaw, his hands fisted.
Mr. Henderson held up a hand palm out, regret in his gaze. “The ranch
will still be your home for as long as you live. All ranch business, day
to day operations will be supervised and run by you.” He flicked his
gaze to Summer then back to Bryce. “And Ms. Conroy of course,” he
Bryce leaned forward his hands on his thighs. “The ranch is mine.
Period,” he ground out.
Mr. Henderson set the will aside and picked up a sealed envelope.
“This is a letter addressed to you and Ms. Conroy that explains
everything.” He held it out to Bryce.
Bryce took the letter but didn’t open it. “I want to contest the
The attorney nodded. “Okay.”
“What are my options?”
Mr. Henderson ticked them off on the fingers of one hand. “Fraud,
undue influence, not of sound mind—”
“That’s it. Wynn Jericho could not have been in his right mind when
he drew up this will.”
“I’ll begin by taking a deposition from your grandfather’s
caretakers and we’ll go from there. Understand the process will grind
probate to a halt. It could take years to resolve.”
“Do what you have to do.”
He grabbed his hat from where he’d left it on the chair seat, slapped
it on his head. “Come on, Jasper,” Bryce said in a gentle voice. He
headed toward the door with the dog trotting by his side. His fingers
closed around the knob.
“At least read the letter before you walk out.”
Bryce turned, handed the letter to Mr. Henderson and slumped down in a
chair. “You read it.”
Mr. Henderson looked at Summer. “Is that all right with you, Ms.
She nodded when what she really wanted to do was leave. She felt about
as welcome as an ex-wife at her ex-husband’s wedding.
Mr. Henderson set the envelope aside. “I already know what it says.
Silver Creek Ranch used to be divided into two ranches, The Silver Creek
and Two Antlers.”
“Yeah, I know,” Bryce said. “My grandfather bought Two Antlers
from the Bradford family and expanded Silver Creek. So?”
Bradford, mama’s maiden name. Summer knew her mother had grown up on a
ranch, but she never knew it had any connection with Silver Creek Ranch.
“What you don’t know is how or why,” Mr. Henderson continued.
“Summer’s grandfather purchased the water rights to a spring on his
land from Wynn. But Wynn wanted Two Antlers bad. Didn’t matter that
Silver Creek had water on it from five different springs. So he
dynamited the spring and diverted the water. Mr. Bradford couldn’t
afford to haul water or trench from the well at his house across the
county road. No water, no ranch. The land was basically worthless.”
He looked at Summer. “Your grandfather had no choice but to sell it to
Wynn for a song.”
“He basically stole the land from my grandparents,” Summer said.
Mr. Henderson looked at Summer. “He was also head over heels in love
with your grandmother.”
A jolt darted through Summer’s stomach. Mr. Jericho was in love with
my grandmother. She smiled. How romantic.
“He did this because of love?” Bryce asked.
Mr. Henderson nodded. “Yes. When Summer’s grandmother chose Rick
Bradford over Wynn, he wanted to punish them both in the worst way he
knew how, by taking their land. The older Wynn got the more he regretted
what he had done until the guilt nearly ate him alive.”
Mr. Henderson’s expression softened. “Your mother and father used to
meet in the gazebo at Silver Creek. Wynn let them use the old cabin on
their wedding night. Not because he was sentimental. He wanted to sling
a little more mud in your grandparents’ faces.” He stared at Summer.
“Wynn knew your mother had passed and he knew about you. For Wynn, you
could have been the daughter he never had.”
“I get it,” Bryce said in a low rumble.
Summer looked at him.
“After my grandmother walked out, the old man took up skirt chasing
with a vengeance. I’m bettin’ your mama was one of those skirts.”
Her skin tightened. “I beg your pardon?”
“Look, Ms. Conroy I’m just trying to make sense of this, that’s
all.” He smirked. “How did you do it? How did you get him to sign
over the ranch to you?”
Summer swallowed. Her hands shook. “I never met your grandfather.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Summer rose from her chair, walked to the door and opened it. She
turned. “I’m an honest person, not a gold digger, Mr. Jericho. And
to prove it, you can take your ranch, and the money, and stick them up
your over inflated ego.”
The next day, sunlight poured in through the floor to ceiling windows in
the work room of Wedded Bliss, Summer’s wedding planning company.
She hummed to the classical music wafting from the CD player and smiled
to herself. Her back and feet hurt, her eyes felt gritty, but she
didn’t care. There was nothing she loved better than planning the
perfect wedding celebration for her clients. Only her clients had been
few and far between the last several months. She needed a plan to save
her business from financial ruin.
Even though she’d told Bryce Jericho where he could put his precious
ranch, she was no fool. She needed money. Bad. She’d spent some time
thinking about how she could make the will work to both their benefits,
if she could only get him to listen and change his opinion of her.
Lovingly, she attached another lustrous seed pearl and tiny iridescent
sequin to the crown of her current client’s veil, a whisper of floor
length white tulle. She stepped back and turned to her assistant, Trina
Knowles who was finishing up the hem on the bride’s dress. “What do
Trina glanced over and smiled. Bright, red curls tumbled around her
pixie face and her green eyes shone with appreciation. “Oh, Summer
it’s beautiful. She’s going to love it.”
A tinkling sound filled the air signaling that someone had entered the
shop. Anticipation surged through Summer. She looked at Trina, Trina
looked at her. They crossed their fingers. Could this be a badly needed
She and Trina raced to the front office.
Francine Bailey stood just inside the front door. Tears poured from her
blue eyes, mascara ran down her cheeks. Her full lips twisted with
misery. “The wedding is off.”
They rushed to Francine’s side. “Whatever it is we’ll fix it,”
Trina said guiding Francine into Summer’s office. She settled the
distraught woman in a chair in front of the desk and fetched a cup of
“Yes, we’ll fix it, don’t worry,” Summer crooned to Francine.
She brushed a strand of blonde hair from her mottled face.
Francine held the cup in her trembling hand. She sipped some water and
inhaled a ragged breath. “You can’t fix th-th-this,” she sobbed in
a jerky breath.
Concern spread through Summer’s chest. She eased into the chair next
to Francine and laid her hand over hers. “What happened? Is Richard
okay? Has there been some kind of accident?”
Francine licked her lips. “No, Richard is fine.” A fresh wash of
tears pooled in her eyes. “He doesn’t want me anymore.”
Trina shook her head. “Ridiculous. I’ve seen how he looks at you.”
“I agree.” Summer grasped Francine’s chin and turned her face
toward her. How could she help Francine put aside her fears and grab the
happiness she deserved? “Francine, you’re feeling what all brides
feel the closer they get to their wedding day. Everything will be fine.
Trust me. Richard will make you a wonderful husband.”
Francine slowly shook her head. “No, he won’t. The truth is Richard
saw his old girlfriend recently and he realized he’s still in love
with her.” Her voice broke on a sob and Summer’s heart went out to
In the four years since she’d started her company, she’d never had a
bride cancel her wedding. What could she possibly say to Francine to
make her feel better? Often she had moved heaven and earth to make her
brides happy. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for them. But if
Francine’s fiancé was still in love with his old girlfriend no amount
of silken lace and beautiful flowers could change it. “I’m so sorry
this happened to you, but I know your future will be brighter because of
your courage. When life throws us curves, we just have to tie a knot and
hang on.” Summer had been tying knots for months in an effort to save
her company. The more knots she tied, the looser they became. “You
might not think so right now but you’re going to make it.” She
thought about the dress and veil in the other room. “Do you still want
“No, I can’t bear to look at it again. Sell it if you can.” She
wiped her eyes, stood, and headed for the door.
“Francine, the right guy is out there waiting for you to find him, I
just know it. Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
A watery smile creased her lips. “I’m fine. Thank you, Summer.”
As Francine walked out the door, the phone rang. Summer’s heart filled
with hope. Please God, let this be a new client, she prayed silently.
Trina was in the work room putting the finishing touches on Francine’s
dress so they could put it up for sale. Summer picked up the receiver.
“Hello, Wedded Bliss, Summer Conroy speaking. How may I help you?”
Summer said with a smile in her voice.
“Ms. Conroy, this is Nathan Baxter again at the First Maiden Falls
Summer’s mood took a nose dive. “Mr. Baxter.” She supposed there
was no use hoping the bank manager needed a wedding planner.
“Ms. Conroy, I’ve reviewed your file again, and I’m afraid I must
insist you make up your mother’s delinquent mortgage payments.”
Anxiety twisted through her stomach, the beginnings of a headache
thumped at her temples. “Mr. Baxter, my mother’s house has been on
the market since right after her death. With the bad economy, I’ve
barely had a nibble from any interested buyer.”
Her mother had passed away suddenly in her sleep six months before, and
since Summer was cosigner on everything from her mortgage to her credit
cards, she was expected to pay off her mother’s debts.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Conroy but the bank needs those payments by the end
of the month, or we’ll have to foreclose.”
Excerpted from "Cowboy, Mine" by Kathleen Ball, Krista Ames, Cheryl Gorman, Melissa Keir, Lyssa Layne, and D’Ann Lindun. Copyright © 2015 by Kathleen Ball, Krista Ames, Cheryl Gorman, Melissa Keir, Lyssa Layne, and D’Ann Lindun. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.