The illegitimate son of a wealthy rancher, Sheriff Slade Barlow grew up in a trailer hitched to the Curly-Burly hair salon his mother runs. He was never acknowledged by his father...until now. Suddenly, Slade has inherited half of Whisper Creek Ranch, one of the most prosperous in Parable, Montana. That doesn't sit well with his half brother, Hutch, who grew up with all the rights of a Carmody--including the affections of Joslyn Kirk, homecoming queen, rodeo queen, beauty queen, whom Slade has never forgotten.
But Joslyn is barely holding her head up these days as she works to pay back everyone her crooked stepfather cheated. With a town to protect, plus a rebellious teenage stepdaughter, Slade has his hands full. But someone has to convince Joslyn that she's responsible only for her own actions--such as her effect on this lawman's guarded heart.
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May 28, 2012
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Excerpt from Big Sky Country by Linda Lael Miller
"You weren't at the funeral," Slade Barlow's half brother, Hutch Carmody, accused, the words rasping against the underside of a long, slow exhale.
Slade didn't look at Hutch, though he could still see him out of the corner of one eye. The both of them were sitting side by side in a pair of uncomfortable chairs, facing what seemed like an acre of desk. Maggie Landers, their father's lawyer, who had summoned them there, had yet to put in an appearance.
"I went to the graveside service," Slade replied evenly, and after a considerable length. It was the truth, though he'd stood at some distance from the crowd, not wanting to be numbered among the admitted mourners but unable to stay away entirely.
"Why bother at all?" Hutch challenged. "Unless you just wanted to make sure the old man was really in the box?"
Slade was not a quick-tempered man--by nature, he tended to think before he spoke and offer whatever response he might make with quiet deliberation, traits that had served him well over the several years since he'd been elected sheriff--but the edge in his half brother's tone brought heat surging up his neck to pound behind his ears.
"Maybe that was it," he drawled with quiet contempt as the office door whispered open behind them.
Hutch, who had just shoved back his chair as if to leap to his feet, ready to fight, thrust a hand hard through his shock of brownish-blond hair instead, probably to discharge that rush of adrenaline, and stayed put. He all but buzzed, like an electric fence line short-circuiting in a thunderstorm.
Slade, though still confounded by his own invitation to this particular shindig, took a certain grim satisfaction in Hutch's reaction. There was, as the old saying went, no love lost between the two of them.
"Good to see you haven't killed each other," Maggie observed brightly, rounding the shining expanse of the desk to take the leather chair behind it. Still gorgeous at fifty-plus, with short, expertly dyed brown hair and round green eyes, usually alight with mischievous intelligence, the lawyer turned slightly to boot up her computer.
"Not just yet, anyhow," Hutch replied finally.
Maggie's profile was all he could see of her, but Slade registered the slight smile that tilted up one corner of her mouth. Her fingers, perfectly manicured every Saturday morning at his mother's beauty shop for the last quarter of a century, flicked busily over the keyboard, and the monitor threw a wash of pale blue light onto her face and the lightweight jacket of her custom-made off-white pantsuit.
"How's your mother, Slade?" she asked mildly without glancing his way.
Maggie and his mom, Callie, were around the same age, and they'd been friends for as long as Slade could remember. Given that he'd run into Maggie at his mom's Curly-Burly Hair Salon just the day before, where she'd been having a trim and a touch-up, he figured the question was a rhetorical one, a sort of conversational filler.
"She's fine," Slade said. By then, he'd gotten over the urge to commit fratricide and gone back to mulling the thing that had been bothering him ever since the formidable Ms. Landers had called him at home that morning and asked him to stop by her office on his way to work.
The meeting had to be about the old man's last will and testament, though Maggie hadn't said so over the phone. All she'd been willing to give up was, "This won't take long, Slade, and believe me, it's in your best interests to be there."
Hutch's presence made sense, since he was the...