Pouring a glass of brandy, Jarrod turned and inquired, “He asleep?”
Closing the bedroom door off the suite’s common area, “Yeah. Before his head touched the pillow.”
The brothers made their way to the overstuffed chairs set opposite the low round table in the middle of the room, but never sat. “How do you want to proceed tomorrow?”
“We stay here. He ain’t traveling home until I say so.” Exhaling deeply, Nick continued, “After breakfast, I’ll try my damnedest to make my apologies to our brother, and pray he’ll forgive me.”
Handing the recently poured drink to Nick, “I’ll flip you over who orders dinner and who sends a wire to Mother.”
Enjoying the smooth taste of brandy, Nick relaxed his stance. “I’ll order and pay for dinner if you send the wire.”
“Chicken,” Jarrod slapped Nick on the shoulder before they finally sat down.
A faint morning sun filtered through the window, landing on and warming his face. Stifling a groan as he woke, Heath grinned at the sight of his rancher brother sleeping stretched out in a wing-backed chair, his stockinged feet resting on the end of the bed. Shaking his head, he gingerly sat up. As he had previously, anytime he’d been injured, Heath stubbornly struggled to stand on his own, before making his way across the floor to the door.
Content in the knowledge that his brother still slept, Heath opened the door and slipped into the main suite. He couldn’t help but laugh at the expression Jarrod wore, understanding that the lawyer had probably expected to see his dark-haired brother step into the room.
“Didn’t think you’d be up this early.” Jarrod folded the newspaper and laid it on the table in front of the settee. He stopped mid-rise at hearing Heath’s, “Don’t.”
Making his way slowly the few feet to the cart where coffee service, including a pitcher of orange juice and a carafe of milk, had been placed, “I’m always up early, best way to start the day is to watch the sunrise.”
“And your plans after that?”
“Figured I’d head back home…”
“And just where might that be?” growled Nick. Without boots or spurs to herald his arrival, Heath startled at his brother’s voice.
Understanding dawned as to why Nick had slept in his room, Heath struggled to answer with a mirrored gruffness, “You know where my home is.”
“Heath please,” Nick softened his voice. “I shouldn’t have reacted as I did the other day. Family is everything to me, and to learn that Mother could have been killed.”
“I protected her, Nick. I’d have given my life to save hers.”
“Damn it! That’s not what I want.”
Turning his back, he poured a glass of milk. “What do you want, Nick?”
“I want you to come home with us. Let me prove to you that you’re worthy of having the name Barkley, the same as Jarrod and I. I want you home to run the ranch at my side.”
“At your side, but not with you.”
“Yes, with me!” shouted the dark-haired rancher.
“And what of my suggestions for improvements.” Heath sipped from the glass, using it to hide the grin that shone in his eyes, the one that sent Jarrod to coughing as he realized what was happening.
“Maybe Jarrod has the right idea, at least until my leg gets strong enough to spend all day in the saddle.”
“I don’t understand.” Heath lowered the cup.
“Brother Heath, I suggested that Nick work the ranch in the mornings and at some time during the early afternoon, return home under the guise of working on the books. At least this way he stands a better chance of Mother not finding out how much his leg is still giving him fits when working.”
“Wallant’s ambush on the trail drive?”
“Yeah,” Nick acknowledged.
“That was weeks back.”
“I know. Doc said I could get back to work, but I guess it’s going to take a while longer before I’m ready for a full day in the saddle working so hard.”
“So that means I can try out my ideas?” Heath asked.
“No, that does not mean you can try out your ideas,” barked Nick.
Wanting to prevent another misunderstanding, “I think what Nick means is that you yourself are now recovering from a bullet wound to the leg. It will take some time for your leg to heal, too.”
Glaring at their older brother, Nick grabbed Heath by the elbow and escorted him to the settee, sitting him next to Jarrod. Taking a seat in the chair opposite, Nick continued, “What I meant, is that we’re going to sit down and calmly discuss your ideas and draw out plans to see if they’ll work, what we’ll need, the cost involved, and how best to implement them. I’ll also need to show you the books, and the plans I had for the remainder of the year.”
Heath warily asked, even though he knew he’d forced the initial blow up. “Why the turn around?”
The dark-haired brothers eyed each other, Jarrod indicating that Nick needed to be the one to explain.
“What gives?” Heath pushed.
“I was a horse’s a… posterior.”
“There’s more to it than that, Brother Nick.”
“What Jarrod means is, well, I’ve never handled the days leading up to the anniversary of father’s death that well. I’m always brood and jump down people’s throats for this littlest of things.” Shifting in the chair, “See what all of us failed to realize this year, was how close we were to the date.”
“Heath, the day Nick stormed out of my office and declared ‘your kind’ as he brushed past you was…”
“The anniversary of your father’s death?”
“Our father’s death,” Jarrod corrected. “You are a Barkley, and as such, whether he raised you or not, he was your father, too.”
“Yeah, I guess I can understand how you felt.” Looking to the floor, Heath softly added, “So it didn’t help when I baited you, did it?”
Surprised, the other brothers sat straighter.
Continuing without further prompting, “I heard your mother telling you what happened on our way home from Strawberry, and about the letter from Aunt Martha. I knew I needed to face her and Uncle Matt once and for all. And maybe I did it the cowardly way.”
“How so?” Jarrod asked while Nick sat open mouthed.
“I didn’t want to drag you into problems with my family, and I was afraid if I asked for help...” Setting the glass of milk to the tabletop, “Besides, I didn’t know exactly how to ask for help. I’ve always taken care of things. I couldn’t let them sully the Barkley name.”
Sitting forward in his chair, Jarrod spoke, “We weathered your arrival, the family could have handled this.”
Playing with the shirtsleeve button, “I never knew what it was like having brothers when I was growing up, and well…”
“Well what?” Nick asked. “Wait a minute, back up. You eavesdropped?!”
“Yeah,” Heath lowered his eyes once more.
“You knew I was already mad.”
“And you stuck your head in Jarrod’s office, and asked me if I was done with my bath.”
“You knew I’d blow up.”
“Sure, you’re Nick. I knew you were moody, figured I could use that to give me some time to get away.”
“Brother Heath, I commend you for prodding an angry bear. Not sure if I’d classify that as brave or fool hardy.”
Slapping his knee, “That means I don’t owe you an apology!”
Jarrod’s eyebrows rose at the declaration. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Heath looked back and forth from one brother to the other.
"Yeah, well... I really didn't mean the words the way you heard them or the way I said them. I was angry at your….uh, the Simmons."
Lowering his head again, "I won't say hearing your words didn’t hurt, but I couldn’t blame you.”
Turning to his blonde brother, “But why? You know Nick's temper.”
Looking up to answer, “Like I said, I wasn’t used to brothers growing up, or asking for help.”
Showing the lawyer in him, Jarrod countered, "But to deal with your aunt and uncle by sneaking out in the middle of the night and not letting anyone know?”
Boldly addressing his oldest brother, “I didn’t sneak out in the middle of the night, and I told Silas where I was heading,” Heath chirped, his eyes grew light with mirth, “Besides, this way, Nick couldn’t turn me down.”
“I couldn’t turn you down? Now you’re talking riddles boy.”
“My plan was simple. Make you act before you think. While everybody is giving everyone else breathing room and time to cool down, I leave. Later, I knew you’d have regrets, at least I hoped you would. Then you'd come after me. I mean, you’d probably think I’d left the ranch and wasn’t coming back.”
“Wait a minute!” Nick barked, trying to comprehend, “You mean you weren’t leaving for good?”
“Heck no, Nick." Taking another drink from his glass of milk. "I left Charger there. Ain’t no way I’d have left him there if I wasn’t planning on returning.”
“You left your….horse.” Nick’s face turned crimson, he palmed his face to hide his growing frustration. Unable to stop grinning, he shook his head at his brother's logic and the milk mustache he now wore.
“Sure, wouldn’t you? I mean, if you were going to be traveling fast, probably at night, would you take one of the best gifts your brother ever gave you, knowing how risky it could be?”
Listening intently, and still not understanding everything, Jarrod asked, “So, you planned this, to get us to come after you?”
“No, I only figured Nick would come. You’re an added bonus.” Leaning back to stretch out his legs, “Sure is nice having brothers to back ya up.”
“Brothers to back him up,” Nick blustered between being peeved and shaking with a healthy dose of laughter.
After the laughter subsided, Jarrod was first to speak. “There’s one thing I’m not sure I understand about yesterday. From everything that happened, you couldn’t have arrived at the hotel that much before we did.”
“Well, I hung around as long as I could before breaking came. Finally decided….”
Jarrod interrupted, “Maybe you were wrong about us?”
“Yeah, I really wanted Nick by my side, but I knew I didn’t want to spend another night on the trail. I wanted to get back home. So, I packed up and got to travelin’.”
“He wanted to get back home.” Nick reached over and slapped Heath on the knee of his uninjured leg. “Just so you know, we left before the sun rose, and rode like the devil. We stopped at that old mine and looked around.”
Jarrod finished speaking, “We’re both thankful that neither, and we do mean, neither of you were injured.”
Their attention was drawn to the door after hearing a knock; Heath began to rise, only to be stopped by Nick’s hand held out indicating he should sit back down.
“Brother Heath, have you forgotten you’re wounded?” Jarrod asked as he rose to answer the door.
“Not really, just used to doing for myself.”
“Well, that stops here!” blustered Nick as Jarrod allowed the hotel bellman to push in a cart carrying a silver domed tray. “Just leave it right here.”
Pulling a few coins from his vest pocket, Jarrod showed the man out, and began to close door. He stopped at the second set of knocks. He stared at the figure in the hallway before pulling the door fully open once more.
“Good morning, Marshal Osbourne.” Nick rose from where he’d been seated.
Link to Chapter 06