At Wolf RanchBy: Jennifer Ryan
For my husband and children. Thank you for always supporting me and hardly ever complaining that dinner is late and the house is a mess. Kids, I hope I’ve shown you that with courage and a lot of hard work you can make your dreams come true, whatever they may be.
Thank you to my amazing editor, Amanda Bergeron, and my incredible critique partner, Lia Riley. I appreciate all you do. I’m so blessed to have you both in my life and along for this amazing ride.
Thank you to my fans, who make this all possible. I hope you love my Montana Men—Gabe, Blake, and Dane—as much as I do.
New York City
Three long days without a word. No call. Not even a text. Ella stared at her phone, willing it to ring. She tapped her finger on the screen and stifled the urge to call Lela for the hundredth time that morning.
The coffee shop buzzed with activity. People headed off to work with their lattes and scones. She sipped at her caramel macchiato, reading over the newest projections on her laptop for the cosmetics line debuting in March. The numbers looked promising.
Ella jumped when her phone vibrated on the table. She snatched it up and read the caller ID.
“Finally.” She swiped the screen to accept the call. “Lela—”
“Where have you been?” Uncle Phillip’s demand surprised her.
Why did Uncle Phillip have Lela’s phone?
Ella opened her mouth to answer her uncle’s question, but he spoke first.
“I oversee the estate. You answer to me.”
“Twisting the truth again, Uncle. Ella and I sign off on everything,” Lela said, her tone unusually sharp. “You’re just a watchdog, there to ensure we adhere to the terms of the will. You have no real power, but you’ll do anything to steal it away, won’t you?”
What? Ella had never heard her sister talk to their uncle in such a disrespectful and spiteful way, or anyone for that matter. Why did her sister call and not say anything to her? Maybe she’d pocket dialed?
“Lela, it’s me. What is going on?” Ella got no response. Uncle Phillip continued to speak over her.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about, my dear.” Uncle Phillip’s soft voice belied the steel in his words. “Don’t make me ask again. Be a good girl and tell me where you’ve been.”
This time, her sister answered, but didn’t explain a damn thing. “Uncovering your dirty secret. I know what you did,” her sister accused.
Butterflies in Ella’s stomach fluttered like a flock of birds taking flight. The uneasy feeling she’d carried with her these last days intensified.
Ella gathered up her laptop and notebook, stuffing them into her oversize tote. She dumped the dregs of her coffee in the trash on her way out the door. The penthouse was only a block up from her favorite café where she had breakfast every Tuesday when the house staff had the day off. She kept the phone to her ear and headed home to find out what the hell was going on.
“You won’t get away with this.” Lela’s voice rose in pitch. It took a lot to rile her sister. Whatever Uncle Phillip had done touched a nerve.
“Whatever you think you know doesn’t amount to anything without proof.” Her uncle used that chilling, yet utterly calm voice.
Ella picked up her pace, sensing the escalation of the situation into something more than just an argument about company business. She pulled her bag close to her side under her arm and ran for her building, knocking elbows and shoulders with other pedestrians. No time to apologize, she ignored their outraged remarks.
“Oh, I have the proof.”
Proof of what?
“You’re lying.” Uncle Phillip let out a nervous laugh.
Ella passed her building’s doorman and ran for the elevator, pushing the button three times, frantic for the doors to open.