Jarrod and Heath were seated at a quiet corner table in the restaurant. After ordering, Jarrod said, "I know you quit listening halfway through all that paperwork this morning."
Heath grinned at his brother, "Sorry."
"It's a lot to take in all at once," he chuckled. "You made it longer than Nick did. He quit listening after the second one. You can read them over any time you want. You'll have copies with you on the drive."
"I trust you, Jarrod."
Heath's head shot up and he glared into Jarrod's eyes, suddenly wary.
"You shouldn't trust anyone," the lawyer's voice was even and flat, no-nonsense.
"Not even my brother?" Heath was surprised to find that he was more curious than angry.
Jarrod grinned. "Not even your brother. But, in this instance, you'll have to trust that I was looking out for your interests as well as ours." He took a drink from his coffee cup. "I wonder when we'll stop referring to yours and ours as if we're on two sides of a battle."
"Should we be?"
Heath thought about this as the waitress set their meals before them. He was tired of being lonely. Now that he'd a taste of what life in the big Barkley family could be like, he didn't want to go back to his drifting from town to town and ranch to ranch. "No," he said quietly, "I don't want us to be."
"Neither do I, nor does the rest of the family."
"Even Nick." Jarrod cut his steak and spearing a piece brandished it at Heath. "Nick thinks you're a good cowboy. A top hand."
"You'd never know it by the way he . . ."
Jarrod waited patiently for Heath to finish his statement.
"I don't think we'll ever get along." Heath's voice was sad and a little defiant.
"Nick's been the lead stallion ever since Father died. I hate to think what life with two men such as my father and my brother would have been like if they had had to vie for the leadership of the ranch. It's early days yet, Heath. We all believe that you are Father's son. But we're still learning what type of man you are. And you are still learning what type of people we are. That's what I meant when I said don't be too trusting too early. Trust comes with time and experience."
"What was he like?"
"Father? He was like Nick, but more diplomatic. Father had a way of making men want to do his bidding." Jarrod smiled warmly at Heath. "Just like you've wound Mother and Audra around your finger in so short a time."
While he ate, Heath thought about what Jarrod had said. He understood that he'd managed to charm the Barkley women. It was a talent he always knew he had. Being raised entirely by women, he was comfortable with the opposite sex in a way that many men his age or older were not. He could even admit to himself that he was using his growing relationship with Victoria and Audra Barkley to get under Nick's skin. Yes, as long as Heath was being honest with himself, he had to acknowledge that he enjoyed tweaking Nick. He may not be getting the better of the rancher with the ranch work, but he would settle, for now, for besting his new brother with his mother and sister. And, perhaps with Jarrod.
The blond blinked unaware that he had been staring at his dark-haired brother. Heath laughed at being caught. No, not with Jarrod. Nick may be the lead stallion for his small ranch band, but Jarrod ruled the entire herd. Heath would have to work very hard to get anything past Jarrod. He honestly did not see himself having to challenge the lawyer for supremacy of any portion of the Barkley empire. If Jarrod wanted him to have any power, he would dole it out. Trust. Heath had trusted Jarrod from the moment the lawyer had offered him a cigar following the shoot-out at Semple's farm two weeks earlier. But every time he thought he'd reached a measure of trust with Nick, he'd found it flung back in his face. Jarrod said to give it time to develop. That it would be stronger because of all the current difficulty. With a heavy sigh, Heath placed his knife and fork on his plate and picked up his coffee cup.
"Why is this drive so important to Nick? He's trail bossed before, hasn't he?"
"Yes, but only with our own stock. With beef prices down, the only way to make a profit would be to sell a lot of cattle and the only way we could get a big enough herd was to combine ours with our neighbors. Nick's been working on this for almost six months now. He spent quite a bit of that time convincing the other ranchers to trust him with their cattle."
"So, he has to make this work or he loses a lot of money?"
"Yes. But more importantly if this doesn't work, he loses credibility in the valley. Nick is the youngest ranch owner; he has to make the other ranchers believe he is a worthy successor to our father. If Nick loses credibility, we all do. His reputation isn't the only one at stake. He'll bear the brunt of it, but if this drive collapses, we all lose."
"But you have other businesses which make a lot of money."
"Each of them has to stand on their own. The only two we mix are the farms and the ranch."
"Because they are on the same lands?"
"Exactly. Nick runs the ranch, the farms and orchards, the mines, and the logging. So you see he can use all the help he can get."
"And that's where I come in."