Read an Excerpt
Five Brothers And A Baby
By Peggy Moreland
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
Copyright © 2003
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
The room the Tanner brothers gathered in was like everything in Texas. It was big. Rough-hewn logs felled and
notched by the first Tanner to settle in the Texas Hill Country in the 1800s framed three sides of the room; a stone
fireplace, broad and deep enough to barbecue a whole steer, spanned the fourth. Photographs framed in tooled leather
covered the walls, depicting the family's climb in both prosperity and power.
Though considered large even by Texas standards, the room seemed to shrink in size as the current generation of Tanners
filed inside. Death had brought the brothers together again, but it was duty that bound them now. Duty to a father who
had single-handedly driven them away with his careless and wild ways from the home and ranch where they were raised
and, ultimately, from each other.
Ace, the oldest, seated himself behind their father's desk, assuming the position as head of the family - a job, he
knew, his brothers were more than willing to relinquish to him. Woodrow, four years Ace's junior, took a seat on the
leather sofa opposite the desk, while Rory, the youngest, dropped down on the opposite end. Ry, the second-born, paced.
His expression grim, Ace met each of his brothers' gazes in turn. "I guess y'all know he's left us one hell of a mess
to deal with."
Woodrow snorted. "So what's new?"
Ace nodded, understanding his brother's sarcasm. "The old man did seem to thrive on stirring up excitement."
Rory, the most laid-back of the four, stretched out his long legs and folded his hands behind his head. "Excitement,
hell," he drawled. "Trouble would be more like it."
Ry stopped pacing to shoot his brother a quelling look. "There's no need to be disrespectful. This is our
father we're talking about."
"And just about everybody else's in the county," Woodrow muttered under his breath.
Though Woodrow's comment was an exaggeration, not one of his brothers challenged him on it. With his tomcatting ways
and his secretiveness, the old man could have populated a town twice the size of Tanner's Crossing and they never would
have known it.
"Ry's got a point," he said, hoping to steer the conversation back toward the purpose of the meeting. "We're not here
to judge the old man. Our job is to untangle the mess he's left us with."
Ry glanced impatiently at his watch. "Then let's get on with it. I need to get back to Austin. I've got a full surgery
schedule in the morning."
Woodrow snorted a breath. "And we certainly wouldn't want to keep the good doctor from making another million or two,
now would we?"
Primed for a fight since the day he'd arrived, Ry lunged for Woodrow, caught him by the lapels of his Western suit and
dragged him to his feet.
Rory jumped up to separate the two. "Come on, guys. You can beat each other's faces in later. Right now we've got
business to tend to."
Ry glared at a Woodrow a full second, then gave him a shove that sent him sprawling back on the sofa. Ace nailed him
there with a steely look, before he could leap back up.
"The old man didn't leave a will," Ace said, hoping to refocus his brothers' attention on the business at hand, before
another fight broke out. "So it's going to take awhile to settle the estate. In the meantime, we've got a ranch to
Ry whipped his head around. "We?" he repeated. "I can't work the ranch. I'm a surgeon. I've got a practice to
"We all have other obligations," Ace reminded him.
"But it's going to take all of us, chipping in what time we can, to keep this place going. At least, until we decide if
we're going to sell it."
Woodrow shot to his feet. "We can't sell the Bar-T! This is Tanner land and always has been."
"And hopefully it'll remain Tanner land," Ace told him.
"But we won't be able to make that decision until the estate is settled and we know what we're dealing with, both
financially and legally."
Sobered by the reminder that their father was as secretive about his business dealings as he was his personal life,
Woodrow and Rory sank back down on the sofa.
Ry crossed to frown out the window. "What about Whit?" He glanced over his shoulder at Ace. "He should be in on this."
"I left him a message on his machine, asking him to meet us here. If he gets it in time, he'll come."
Woodrow grunted. "He didn't show up for the old man's funeral. What makes you think he'll come here?"
"Why should he?" Ry returned. "The old man treated him like dirt."
"Whit was at the funeral."
Woodrow turned to look at Rory. "Where? I didn't see him."
"That's because he didn't want to be seen."
Chuckling, Woodrow shook his head. "That damn kid. He always was a sneaky little bastard."
"Quiet," Ry corrected. "Not sneaky."
"Is that a professional diagnosis?" Woodrow shot back.
"And here I thought you were a plastic surgeon for the rich and famous, not a psychiatrist."
Though Ry tensed at the verbal jab, he didn't respond to it, an act of control that Ace would thank him for later. With
all they had to deal with, both known and unknown, Ace knew fighting among themselves would only complicate matters
more. He quickly directed the conversation back to the purpose of their meeting.
"Since I'm currently between photo assignments, my schedule is the most flexible, so I'll stay here at the ranch until
the estate is settled. But I can't run the ranch alone. I'll need all of you to pitch in. We'll need to -"
The doorbell chimed, interrupting him, and Ace pushed to his feet. "That's probably Whit now."
"More likely a neighbor coming to pay their condolences," Woodrow grumbled, unwilling to let go of his anger.
Ace stopped in the doorway and slowly turned back around. "Whoever it is," he said evenly, "I expect the three of you
to be on your best behavior. Understood?"
Woodrow and Rory rolled their eyes and looked away, but Ry met Ace's gaze squarely almost defiantly, as if to let Ace
know he wasn't a little kid any more who could be bossed around by his big brother.
Pushing a disgusted hand at the lot of them, Ace headed for the front entry, praying it was Whit at the door, so they
could get this business settled once and for all. The sooner he could get away from Tanner Crossing, the better. Being
on the ranch again and in the town named for his family, was already beginning to wear on his nerves.
But when he opened the door, instead of his stepbrother Whit, he found a woman standing on the porch. Dressed in faded
jeans and a bright blue T-shirt, she clutched a blanket-wrapped bundle against her chest - a bundle that looked
suspiciously like a baby. Ace glanced behind her at the beat-up car parked on the drive. Not recognizing the woman or
the vehicle, he peered at her curiously. "Can I help you?"
"You can, if you're one of the Tanner brothers."
The bitterness in her voice surprised him. This was no neighbor coming to offer her condolences, that was for sure.
"Ace," he informed her, and stepped out onto the porch. "Ace Tanner. The oldest. And you are?"
Excerpted from Five Brothers And A Baby
by Peggy Moreland
Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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