Homecoming Ranch | Chapter 15 of 43

Author: Julia London | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3588 Views | Add a Review

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EIGHT

With a carefully highlighted map, Madeline started for the ranch later that afternoon, driving cautiously on a narrow two-lane road. It wended up through a forest so thick with pines, spruce, and cottonwoods that the trees were forced to bend over the road, creating a canopy. Roads seemed treacherous enough, but they were made worse by the ground squirrels that sailed out of the underbrush and onto the road before her car, crisscrossing in crazy patterns and narrowly avoiding death beneath her wheels.

She finally reached a plateau where the road ran alongside a meadow bursting with daisies and sunflowers. A handful of horses grazed, their tails swishing away flies. It seemed to Madeline she’d driven miles and miles, when in fact, according to her speedometer, it had been only seven. She found the turn she was to take at mile marker 243, just as Jackson’s map said (kudos to him for accuracy) and turned onto a gravel road. The grade was steeper here, the curves around the mountainside longer. She drove through towering spruce trees until the road began to straighten out as it crossed another meadow. This meadow was much larger than the one she’d passed, and ahead, she could see the entrance to the ranch. It couldn’t be missed—two thick wooden posts held up a sign, faded by weather, that said HOMECOMING RANCH.

Madeline coasted to a stop. Jackson had said the gate would be unlocked, but it was closed. She stepped out of her car, landing awkwardly in her pumps on the uneven road. The gate, all iron, came only to her waist; she gave it a healthy shove, and it swung back, clanging against the stretch of iron fencing that marked the entrance.

So this is where her father had lived? Madeline turned to look back down the road she’d driven. The forest, the mountains and meadow, all so breathtakingly beautiful. And so vast. Too vast. In Florida, one could hardly drive ten minutes without encountering another community. Madeline could get lost very easily out here without markers, without signs, without something to say where she was. Was that what her father had done? Put himself so far off the map that she couldn’t possibly find him and the family he’d had that didn’t include her?

Speaking of family, if only loosely, made the knot in Madeline’s gut tighten. She’d come this far, she told herself. There was no room for nerves now.

She got back into the car and drove up a lane lined with cottonwoods and spruce trees, all of which seemed to grow out of a carpet of black-eyed Susans and daylilies. Through the trees, Madeline could see another meadow fenced in by split rails. It was coffee-table book perfect, save one jarring sight—in that lush meadow, a line of portable toilets that had been set up next to a split rail fence. She could not imagine what purpose those toilets served in a place where there were no people, besides marring an otherwise perfect mountain vista.

As her little car bobbed and bounced along the rocky road, she could see a glimpse of the house through a stand of alder trees. It was set back against the mountain and tall Ponderosa pines, situated next to a red barn with a steep A-line roof.

Madeline’s heart began to beat a little faster. She didn’t know what she’d expected, really—when someone said ranch, she’d thought of dusty rodeos and low-slung houses baking in the midday sun. She hadn’t thought of this. It was impossible that her father had left her this. Impossible! Things like this did not happen to Madeline Pruett. She didn’t possess a single thing that she hadn’t worked hard to get, hadn’t put in long hours of study or work to have.

When she pulled into the small circular drive before the quaint house, she could see the wear on it, but it was charming. The roof was a collection of steeply angled pitches over various rooms and floors. The ground floor of the house was built with stone, and the second story, which looked to have been added on at some point, was made of tongue-and-groove logs as big around as the wheels on her rental car. Large, plate-glass windows lined the front of the house, looking out at the vista of mountains rising up from the opposite edge of the meadow.

The realtor in Madeline appreciated the charm. But the realtor in her also understood the remote location would be a huge obstacle to overcome. It was as far from anything as it could possibly be, far from the world, and it would take a feat of marketing genius to sell it.

On the right of the house was a large room that had been added on to the original structure, judging by the difference in wood. It had a flat roof and crankcase windows, most of which were open.

Madeline opened the door of her car and stepped out. In between the house and the barn was a grassy area enclosed by cottonwoods and alder trees. Faded Chinese lanterns had been strung through the trees, and three picnic tables were situated under the branches. From one tree, a tire swing spun lazily. She could picture her faceless sisters, growing up in this idyllic setting with toboggans and hayrides and sleepovers.

The knot in her belly tightened again. And now, her head hurt.

Madeline walked around the front of her car to the flagstone walk. That was when she saw the four dogs lying under the porch, their heads up, their eyes locked on her, She could just see them through the leggy daylilies that decorated the front of the house.

Her heart began to pound with panic. Madeline had never had a dog. As a realtor, she’d had her fair share of bad encounters with overly protective dogs. Her standard checklist when showing a house included some guarantee from owners that their pets had been removed from the property or put into proper crates.

The dogs lifted their snouts, sniffing the air, as if she gave off some sort of scent, and she wondered wildly if it was dogs or bears that one should not look in the eye? Slowly, Madeline began to ease back, hoping to get around her car and in before they attacked, when the screen door opened and a woman with curly hair bounded out. “Hey!” she said.

All four dogs leaped to their feet and headed directly for Madeline. Madeline shrieked and raced around the car to the driver’s side, crashing into the bumper and stumbling in her shoes as she reached for the door handle.

“They won’t bite!” the woman shouted at her, following the dogs to her car. “Back to the garage, you beasts! Garage, garage!” she shouted at the dogs, and swung her arm out, pointing at the garage Madeline had not noticed until this moment. She had one hand on the car door, another gripping her bag, prepared to use it as a weapon. But the dogs suddenly pulled up and lazily trotted in the direction of the garage with peeling paint, disappearing between two cars parked there.

“Are you all right?”

Madeline jerked around. Across the top of her car, the woman with the crazy curly hair was staring at her with blue-gray eyes.

“I’m sorry if they scared you. They’re just mutts. Harmless mutts.”

“I’m fine,” Madeline said, breathless. She wasn’t fine—she was terrified. She straightened the jacket of her suit, pushed her hair behind her ears, trying to gather herself. She smoothed down her jacket again and glanced at the woman.

The woman was grinning.

The mess of curls was held off her face by a bandeau. She was wearing jeans, Converse sneakers, and a red-checkered shirt. She looked a little like a carhop, and Madeline guessed she was a caretaker or housekeeper.

“You must be Madeline,” the woman said, her expression hopeful as she walked around Madeline’s car to the driver’s side.

“Yes,” Madeline said, and extended her hand. “I’m here for the meeting. And you are…?”

The woman’s smile deepened. “I am so excited to meet you! I’m Libby!”

The name did not immediately register.

“Libby Tyler. Your sister,” she said, as if Madeline hadn’t heard the news that she had inherited two sisters. And she walked right past Madeline’s extended hand and threw her arms around her, hugging her tight.

Madeline had tried to prepare herself for meeting sisters, but nothing could have prepared her, not really. A thousand questions danced through her head as Libby hugged her, such as how old Libby was, and where did the hair come from, and were there more like her? But Madeline couldn’t speak. She was momentarily overwhelmed by the actual, physical proof of a sister. Someone who shared her DNA.

Libby was not what Madeline had imagined—she couldn’t even say what she’d imagined, really, but she supposed she thought her sisters would look like her: medium height, brown hair, a butt that was this side of bouncy. Madeline had not thought once about curly hair, or boyish hips and a toothy smile.

“You’re suffocating her, Libby,” someone said, and Libby laughed, her breath in Madeline’s hair, then let Madeline go.

“That’s Emma. Your other sister,” Libby said, and turned her head.

Madeline followed her gaze. Not only did Emma look nothing like Madeline, she looked nothing like Libby. She was tall and thin, almost painfully thin. Her hair was golden blond, sleek and hanging to her waist, the sort of hair Madeline knew cost hundreds of dollars to possess. She wore a flowing skirt that danced around her knees and a short brown leather jacket that matched the brown leather boots that were loose around her calves.

Emma eyed Madeline suspiciously, as if she’d caught her trying to make off with a cow. She casually perched one hip on the railing as she gave Madeline a good once over, and said, “You should probably know that we never heard of you until a couple of weeks ago.”

Madeline appreciated straight talk, but in this case, she didn’t care for the accusatory tone. “Same here,” she said. She didn’t add that she hadn’t heard anything about her father, either, until a couple of weeks ago.

“Isn’t this exciting?” Libby said again, looking between the two of them. “I mean, how often is it that you find out you have a sister?”

“Never,” Emma said and stood up from the railing. “Leave it to Dad to omit that detail.”

Dad. That casual reference did not escape Madeline’s notice. It suggested Grant Tyler wasn’t just a sperm donor to them, he was a dad, just as Madeline had assumed. A tiny bubble of resentment pressed against Madeline’s thoughts, making her head hurt worse.

“Come in!” Libby said. “Come in, come in, I have so many things to ask you!” She hopped up on the porch steps as Madeline moved carefully in her pumps on the gravel drive, watching the garage in case the dogs renewed their interest in eating her.

“So you live in Orlando, is that right, Madeline? Do you go by Madeline? Or do people call you Maddie? I knew a Madeline once and she went by Linny.”

Madeline couldn’t even begin to explain how far removed she was from a Linny. These questions, fired at a rapid clip, in a cheerful manner, made Madeline feel uncomfortable and exposed. Outside of her bubble as Trudi would say. Moreover, she was mystified and a little alarmed that she should feel so panicky. Control freak, yes, she was definitely that, but she didn’t generally panic.

“It’s Madeline,” she said. “And I live in Orlando.” Was that the question? She stepped up on the porch, noticed the sag in the steps. The roof looked old, and she could see evidence of rot around a couple of window frames.

“Have you always lived there?” Libby asked. “When I heard about you, I wondered if you were from there, or moved there?”

“I’ve always lived there.” Madeline didn’t think this meeting was supposed to go this way. She thought surely there would be some introductions, some facts presented. She didn’t think she would be questioned on the steps of the porch. Order—that’s what Madeline needed. But for once, Madeline’s curiosity won out over her need to shelter herself. “And you’ve lived here?” she asked, gesturing vaguely around her.

“Mostly,” Libby said.

Madeline could picture Libby here in this charmingly quaint house in the mountains. She could picture her swinging on the tire swing, or standing at the window and watching it snow.

“When I was little,” Libby said, “I lived in California for a while with Emma and her mother.”

Whoa. Well that was a curve ball tossed out of left field—Emma and her mother. Did that mean there were three mothers? Good God, Grant was a serial monogamist! Hell, she didn’t know what the man was. “In California—with Grant?” Madeline asked carefully.

Libby paused on the top step next to Emma, who was casually studying Madeline. “Is that what you called him? Grant?”

Among other things, Madeline thought wryly. “I didn’t really call him anything,” she said with an uncertain shrug.

“What do you mean?” Libby asked.

“I didn’t know him.”

“Ever?”

Madeline resisted the urge to rub the nape of her neck. “I never met him. I mean, there was once, when I was a toddler. But I don’t really remember anything about it.”

“Sounds fishy,” Emma said.

“No it doesn’t!” Libby said, looking horrified by Emma’s remark.

But Emma’s gaze flicked over Madeline, lingering on Madeline’s briefcase before lifting her eyes to Madeline’s face again. She said nothing, but turned around and walked inside without a word, letting the screen door bang shut at her back.

Madeline looked at Libby.

Libby gave her an anxious smile. “Just ignore her. She may not be the warm and welcoming type, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you.”

“It doesn’t mean I do, either,” Emma called matter-of-factly from inside the house.

Madeline suddenly felt like the little girl with an envelope stuffed full of magazine cutouts all over again. This moment reminded her of one of the many times she’d been transferred to a new school. It was her third class that year because Brad hadn’t worked out for Mom, but David had. At the new school, Madeline had told some girls that she liked the Backstreet Boys. They’d looked at her as if she’d said something really wrong, and Madeline could recall how awkward she’d felt in that moment, like the only person not in on the joke. She felt that way now, as if she’d said something to keep her standing outside their little circle.

She didn’t quite know how to proceed—how did she go about addressing the issues at hand under these circumstances? Okay, well, generally she found that it was best just to get down to business. Madeline decided the best course of action was to skip over the getting-to-know-you phase and go directly to the necessary business. The quicker the issue of this ranch was resolved, the quicker she could get out of here and go back to her safe world. I wish, I wish, I wish. She gripped her briefcase tighter. “You were saying you lived in California?” she asked, marching up the steps with resolve.

“Yep. With Emma.”

“Only a year,” Emma’s voice came at them from an open window. “Libby is from Colorado. Pine River if you want to get right down to it. I am from California.”

Libby smiled at Madeline and shrugged. “Emma’s always right,” she said airily, but Madeline heard the twinge of sarcasm in her voice.

Madeline followed Libby inside, her pump hitting the yellow pine floor with a resounding clap. The walls were covered in dated wallpaper, green vines of ivy meandering to the ceiling. The ceilings were tall and the windows cased with dark, polished wood.

She could see Emma sitting on a rose-colored camelback sofa in a room to her right, her arms folded, her legs crossed, and one foot swinging anxiously. Or with tedium. It was difficult to know.

The potbellied stove on the interior wall of that room made Madeline wonder if that’s how the place was heated.

“Let me show you around,” Libby said.

“That’s okay, I—”

“No, no, Madeline, you should see what we have here. Emma and I have had a good look.” She glanced at Emma over her shoulder. “Are you coming?”

“I’ll let you do the guided tour,” Emma said, and yawned.

Madeline followed Libby around the ground floor. She chatted incessantly, asking questions that only made Madeline tenser. How old are you? Do you like Orlando? Have you ever been to Colorado?

Madeline answered sparingly and kept her focus on the house. The kitchen was straight out of 1968, complete with what had to be the most ancient microwave she had ever seen. A sunroom overlooked a garden and what Libby called a river, but looked more like a creek to Madeline. It turned out that the room with the flat roof, added to the original house, was the dining room. But what made the ground floor spectacular was the views. From every room, big windows framed another slice of big sky, mountains, and meadows.

Libby led Madeline upstairs, to a surprisingly wide second floor corridor. There were four bedrooms in all, and even a sewing room, which Madeline guessed was originally a nursery. The sewing machine and a few bolts of cloth were still there, some of the cloth spread across an ironing board, as if someone would appear at any moment to iron.

Throughout the house, a lot of the furniture had been removed. But the remains of a family’s life had been left behind in bits and scraps. In one room, on a dresser, was a family photo of twenty or so people, dressed in the trappings of the sixties. On the hallway floor was a photo of two young boys in baseball uniforms.

When they had completed the tour, Emma had peeled herself off the couch and was standing at the door of the living room, her shoulder propped against the frame. She openly took in Madeline’s clothes as she and Libby descended the stairs. Trudi was right again—Madeline felt conspicuously overdressed in comparison to these women. Wardrobe had always been the bane of her existence—she never understood how to dress for different occasions. She couldn’t latch on to ideas like Casual Friday, as there was nothing remotely casual about her Fridays.

Today, what she’d wanted—what she always wanted—was to present a professional, polished image. It was her shield of armor. But in that moment, looking at a comfortable Libby and a chic Emma, Madeline chided herself for thinking these shoes and this suit were a good idea.

“Well!” Libby said cheerfully, as if they were having a grand old time, “we’ve had the tour! Madeline, would you like some tea?”

“What? Oh, no. No thank you.”

“Water?”

“I’m good,” Madeline said.

“Are you hungry? I have some—”

“God, Libby, stop,” Emma said. She sighed, and Madeline had the impression that this wasn’t the first time Emma had told Libby to stop.

“Okay.” Libby smiled. But it was not the grin she had met Madeline with. It was much tighter. “Maybe you could tell us a little bit about yourself while we wait, Madeline,” she suggested. “I’ll be honest—I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. I mean, it’s so exciting to find out I have a sister. I want to know everything there is to know about you.”

Too much, too soon! Madeline wanted to say. “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

Libby was not one to take hints, because she suggested, “Well, what sort of things do you like? Do you have any hobbies?”

Hobbies. Her hobbies were work and taking care of her mother. She once had tried to learn to knit, but had put it down and never picked it up again.

“Scrapbooking?” Libby offered helpfully. “Sports?”

“Scrapbooking or sports?” Emma snorted disdainfully.

“What about siblings?” Libby asked, taking another tack. “Do you have any siblings?”

Surely she meant besides the two of them. “Ah… no. Just me,” Madeline said.

“I have two younger brothers. Twins,” Libby said. “Emma has a sister.”

Stepsister,” Emma clarified as she studied her nail.

“Is your mother still alive?” Libby asked.

Madeline’s head was beginning to pound. Why was she on the hot seat? Why wasn’t she questioning them? She hated this, not knowing what to do. And she wanted to sit—her feet were beginning to hurt. “She is,” Madeline said. “Mind if I sit down?” She didn’t wait for a response. She walked into the living room and sat heavily in a chair.

“So when is the last time you saw him?” Emma asked without looking up from her nail.

“Who?” Madeline asked, confused by all the questions and the mention of siblings.

One of Emma’s carefully sculpted brows rose. “Your father. The reason we are all gathered here today like a litter of puppies. I am curious how well you knew him, because like I said, he never mentioned you.”

There was no reason that statement should bother Madeline, not after a lifetime of never being mentioned. But it did, and in a surprisingly strong manner.

“God, Emma, you make it sound like she’s making it up,” Libby sighed.

“Maybe she is,” Emma said. “I just find it very hard to believe that Dad could keep his mouth shut about her because God knows he couldn’t keep quiet about anything else.”

Something inside Madeline tipped, and out poured years of carefully controlled feelings about her absent father. “Are you kidding?” she asked.

Emma merely shrugged.

“Are you always so blunt?” Madeline asked.

Oddly enough, that made Emma chuckle with amusement. “Blunt is the least of what I am.”

“Don’t mind her—”

“I swear, Libby, if you tell her not to mind me one more time, I’m going to kick you. I have nothing to apologize for. I’m not the one who invited her here.”

“Wow,” Madeline said, truly taken aback. “Just to put your mind at ease, I didn’t ask for sisters, either. Like I said, I never knew Grant, so if you think I am here to rip your inheritance out of your hands, think again. I never asked for it, never wanted it.” She folded her arms, waiting for them to challenge her.

But Emma suddenly looked interested. “So this is really out of the blue?”

“Yes,” Madeline said, angry that she suddenly had to justify her appearance at a place she’d never wanted to come. “It was a complete shock when Jackson showed up in Orlando. I obviously knew I had a father out there in the world somewhere, but I never knew him.”

Wow,” Libby said thoughtfully. “I assumed that you didn’t know him as well as we did,” she said. “I mean, Emma’s right, your name would have at least come up, but still… I thought you at least knew him. Why didn’t you? Did your mom keep you from him?”

Madeline snorted. Her mother had never kept anything from her, not even the things she should have kept from her. It made Madeline angry with herself and with these women that she suddenly felt guilty, as if she should have known Grant. That not knowing her father should feel like a failure as a daughter and a human being. “Let’s just agree that you are both better acquainted and leave it at that.”

“More than I wanted to be, that’s for sure,” Emma said, and moved deeper into the living room, her skirt swinging jauntily around her knees.

It occurred to Madeline in a moment of sheer insanity that she’d never had a skirt swing around her knees like that. Even her skirts were controlled.

“Emma, don’t say that,” Libby chided her as she followed her into the living room and took a seat on the couch.

“It’s true,” Emma said as she sat next to Libby. “It’s not like he was a good father, Libby, you of all people should acknowledge that. Don’t worry, Madeline. You didn’t miss out on much.”

Madeline wondered why Libby of all people should acknowledge that he was a lousy father.

“Emma!” Libby cried, and glanced sheepishly at Madeline. “He was an okay dad. I don’t know what Emma’s problem is, but he wasn’t that bad.” She looked at Emma again. “I know you didn’t like him, but he was still your dad.”

“If that’s what you want to call him,” Emma muttered.

“Could you, just once, be nice?” Libby demanded.

“What, like you?” Emma said casually. “So people can take advantage of me?”

Libby gasped and gaped at her sister.

Emma groaned and held up her hands. “Sorry.

“That was mean,” Libby muttered.

“Yeah, I know. Sorry, Libby.”

Madeline wanted to run. Endless questions were one thing, but conflict was the worst. Conflict was messy. People said things that they could never take back—she’d heard her mother say enough to know. Madeline didn’t understand what Emma had meant, but judging from Libby’s face, Emma couldn’t take it back.

And yet, Libby only sighed and sank back against the couch. “Well, I guess I knew Dad the best then,” she said crisply to Madeline.

Best, how? Had Grant Tyler taken Libby skiing, or to a father-daughter dance? Had he attended her soccer games and waited up for her when she came in from a date? And why did Emma say she knew him more than she’d wanted? What had he done to earn her disdain?

But the questions stuck in Madeline’s throat. She wasn’t certain she wanted to hear the answers—they wouldn’t change anything. She was still the one he had never bothered to know, and Madeline would still feel awkward and out of place here. She suddenly wanted nothing more than to agree on what was to be done and go home to her ordered world where her so-called father did not exist. Where she didn’t have sisters and no one argued around her.

“Maybe we should discuss what to do with the inheritance,” Madeline suggested.

“Jump right to it,” Emma said.

“We are going to discuss it,” Libby said. “Just as soon as Jackson gets here, which should be any minute.” She suddenly hopped up and went to the window to peer out.

“Right,” Madeline said, and opened her briefcase. She pulled out a file folder.

“What’s that?” Emma asked.

Madeline opened the file. “I jotted down some notes and ideas about how to proceed.”

Emma frowned. “Proceed with what?”

Madeline glanced up; she was sitting much lower than Emma and scooched to the edge of her chair. “With the disposition of the ranch.”

Libby whirled around so quickly that she startled Madeline. “What do you mean?”

Was it not obvious? “Well… to sell it,” she said.

Libby’s mouth dropped open.

“You are jumping to a very presumptuous conclusion, Madeline,” Emma said calmly. “What makes you think we want to sell?”

Oh no. No, no, no. “Jackson said you live in California, Emma. I’m in Orlando. And Libby, I… it’s so far out here.”

“I don’t care, I don’t want to sell,” Libby said. “I want to live here. I want to make something of it. We could make this into something huge. We have an incredible opportunity here.”

That was crazy, full-on crazy. There was nothing they could do with this place in the middle of nowhere. “Make it into what, exactly?” Madeline asked as politely as she could.

“Exactly like this,” Libby said, gesturing to the windows. “Most people would be very happy to have landed in a spot as gorgeous as this.”

“Oh my God, I knew it,” Emma said, and stood up. “I want a drink.”

“Okay,” Libby said, watching Emma move across the room. “What do you want, Emma?”

“I don’t know what I want,” Emma said with a shrug. “But it will take more than a letter from Jackson Crane and meeting a supposed sister for the first time for me to decide what I want.” She tossed a wry smile over her shoulder as she walked out of the room. “Maybe we should turn it into a spa.”

“Spas are very hard to get off the ground and become successful,” Madeline said.

“Are you a spa expert?” Emma shouted from the other room.

“It’s a ranch. A working ranch,” Libby said firmly. “Why would we mess with that? Look, you two don’t have to be involved if you don’t want. I just thought that maybe.…” She shook her head and looked out the window. “Never mind. You don’t have to be involved. I’ll do it. I’ll take care of everything.”

“I know what you thought,” Emma said, appearing in the doorway again. “You thought this would turn into a chick flick where we bond as sisters and discover we have all these things in common and we root for each other and marry brothers and raise each other’s children. But that’s not happening, Libby.” She disappeared into the other room again.

Libby looked so wounded by what Emma had said that Madeline couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. “Libby, I’m sorry… but I don’t… I don’t think this is for me,” she said honestly. “I don’t know why a father I never knew left me anything. My hope was that we could wrap this up as soon as possible.”

“Wow,” Libby said, her effervescent smile gone. “You just met us. Can you take a moment to decide if you want to know us? Have you considered why Dad left us this place? Maybe it was his way of reaching out, of giving you sisters, Madeline. Of giving me a purpose. Of giving Emma…” she trailed off.

Emma appeared at the door again. “Go on, Libby. Give Emma what?”

Libby frowned and looked away from Emma, declining to answer.

Madeline’s head was pounding. This was not going well at all—she’d never guessed they would want to somehow make this forced partnership work.

“Here’s what I think, if anyone is interested,” Emma said, and pointed at Madeline. “I don’t care if we are friends.” She cocked a brow, almost daring Madeline to challenge it, knowing that she wouldn’t. “And I’m going back to L.A. in a couple of days.”

“But we need to make some decisions,” Madeline said.

“I don’t.” Emma disappeared into the kitchen again.

Emma, Madeline thought, was a bitch. And Libby was too… eager. But of the three of them, Madeline was the one who had no real business here at all, no ties, no feelings, no history, not like these two apparently had. She wanted only to do what had to be done and leave before Grant could mess up her life any more than he already had. He could have left everything to Libby and Emma, and Madeline would never have known, would never have been the wiser.

“Then go,” Libby called out to Emma, her feelings clearly hurt. “How stupid of me to think that maybe three sisters could make something of this place. Together.”

Madeline felt awful. She hadn’t come here to hurt anyone’s feelings. “I’m sorry, Libby. I am. But I don’t know how we can be… partners,” she said, discovering that she couldn’t even say sisters. “We don’t know one another. Grant must have known it would be a difficult situation for us, so I don’t know why he left it to us like this.”

“There is nothing here!” Emma shouted, and that was followed by the banging of a cabinet door. “Nothing!”

“Because he was our father,” Libby said. “Isn’t that what parents do? Don’t they leave their worldly possessions to their children? And besides, he couldn’t sell it, not with the contract.”

“The what?” Madeline asked.

“What contract?” Emma asked, appearing again with a glass of water.

“Jackson didn’t tell you? There’s a contract Dad’s heirs must honor, and we can’t do anything before we meet the terms of it.”

Madeline’s pulse began to quicken. If she’d come all this way to find out it was even more complicated and impossible…

“The Johnson family reunion,” Libby said, enunciating a little more than was necessary, looking at them both. “The contract has been signed. The deposits have been paid and applied to the event. Two hundred Johnsons are going to show up in a matter of days and they are expecting one long weekend of happy family reunion, and we have to honor that commitment.”

For some reason, Emma actually laughed. “Well if that’s not the topper on the cake.”

Madeline thought she might pass out. She preferred to know what to expect, and she did not expect a family reunion. “I don’t understand,” she said, and rubbed her temples against the pounding in her head.

“I can’t believe Jackson didn’t tell you. It was Mr. Kendrick’s idea, a way to make some money. He and Dad were setting this ranch up to host family reunions. The family will camp here, and they will use the kitchen, and the showers in the bunkhouse, and they will do all the things that make Pine River so attractive in the summer, only on private property with private guides. That’s why the Port-A-Johns.”

Two hundred Johnsons. And just like that, Grant Tyler had complicated Madeline’s life even more.

Emma laughed again. “He’s dead and he’s still a prick. God, I need a drink.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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