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NOBLE LEGACY 1
By SUSAN MAY WARREN
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2006
Susan May Warren
All right reserved.
When the lanky form of Saul Lovell walked into the Watering
Hole Café, dragging with him the remnants of the late April chill,
Nick Noble knew that his last hope of redemption had died.
Nick didn't have time to deal with the arrival of his father's lawyer.
Not with one fist wrapped in the collar of Jake's duster and a
forearm pinning his cohort Rusty to the wall.
"We were simply offering to buy her lunch," Rusty snarled.
"I'm not stupid. I know exactly what you were offering." Nick
motioned for the girl to move away from the pair as he upped his
pressure against Rusty's Adam's apple. "It's okay, honey. They're
just fresh from riding fence. You go home now and say hi to your
folks from me."
He didn't comment on her low-cut shirt or the way it seemed to
have material missing at the waistline too. And a run into Miles City
three hours south for looser-fitting pants might be in order. He'd
have to swing by her parents' place after closing tonight to warn
them of their daughter's recent bent toward trouble.
Only that wasn't his job anymore, was it? He had to stop thinking
like a cop before it landed him in more hot water.
The girl glanced at Rusty, as if hurt, then turned on her boot
heel and flounced toward the door,followed by her blonde best
Nick didn't like the way Jake watched them leave. "If I see you
within ten feet of them, I'll run you all the way back to the border."
Jake shoved him away, and Nick let go, not interested in swallowing
one more whiff of day-old whiskey breath.
"You stay away from those two girls," Nick repeated as the door
jangled shut behind the ladies. He noted the petite brunette who
had entered during the tussle and now waited by the door. Tourist,
waiting to be seated.
"I ain't interested in nuthin' she ain't already advertisin.'" Jake
dusted himself off.
"Don't make me hurt you." Nick watched a fl ash of memory
cross Jake's face.
Clearly it wasn't enough to deter his mouth. "There you go
again, Noble. Jumpin' to conclusions. You've already got us tried
and hung. Same as ole Jimmy."
Nick turned back toward the counter, quelling a fl are of anger.
"Take a seat. I'll get you boys a pile of beans."
Rusty, however, wasn't ready to move on. Nick saw the swing
coming out of his peripheral vision and stepped back, letting the
kid's fist breeze by. He rounded on Rusty, warning in his tone.
"You're not the law around here anymore, Noble."
"In here, I am. And if I need to follow you home to make sure
you don't detour toward the girl's place, then I'll get my keys."
"A man can't even be friendly no more round you." Jake pushed
past him and found a stool at the counter, a wolfish grin on his face.
Nick kept his stare pinned on Rusty. The cowpoke's off-kilter
Stetson, his five o'clock shadow and padded jean jacket gave him
the look of Billy the Kid. All he needed was a six-shooter and a
"Sit down, Rusty. I know all you've eaten for three days is oatmeal
and coffee. There's a pot of chili and beans in the kitchen
that'll make you forget all about high winds and Herefords."
Rusty gave him a tight glare and reached into his pocket for a
pack of smokes.
Nick shook his head, pointed to the No Smoking sign, and headed
behind the bar, calling in the order to the cook. His eyes flickered
over to Saul. The attorney still wore the fl at-topped black Stetson
like Adam Cartwright out of Bonanza and had dressed for the drive
out to nowhere in eastern Montana in a pair of boots and a wool-lined
leather jacket. He met Nick's glance with a curt nod from his
place at the end of the counter.
Yep, this was exactly the moment Nick had dreaded. He
grabbed a cup, plunked it down in front of Saul, filled it, and
walked away. They'd get around to the topic of his visit. Meanwhile,
Nick had two surly cowboys at the counter, a rancher and
his wife at table three, the hardware-store owner and his assistant
hiding out at the table in back, the tourist waiting for a seat, and
a redhead in a ten-gallon hat at the end of the bar, watching him
with a frown.
He felt some solace in the fact that his father couldn't see him
now. However, having Saul here seemed nearly as humiliating.
He took the rancher's and his wife's orders, served the redhead
some water and a menu, gave the hardware-store owner his bill,
and gestured toward a booth for the brunette.
Saul drank his coffee, eyes on Nick, saying nothing.
Outside, the wind chased paper along the cracked pavement of
Main Street, a chill whistling through the cracks of the plate-glass
windows. The etching from the Watering Hole Café now read
Wclciino Hclc, but like everything in the tiny town of Wellesley,
Montana, signs were irrelevant. People either knew their way
around town in their sleep or they were passing through. Quickly.
Being right off U.S. Highway 2 on a straight shot between Minot
and the Pacific Ocean helped some with the desperate economy.
But over the last five years the harsh winters and drought had
driven off all but the hardiest of cowmen and women. Even Nick
would have left if he'd had anywhere else to go.
That anywhere had arrived on his doorstep today.
He served Jake and Rusty their beans and filled their coffees
before heading to the redhead for her order.
"Steak and eggs," she said, closing her menu.
Filling a water glass, he stuck a menu under his arm and shook
his head, watching the brunette at the booth clean the table with a
wet wipe. He forced a smile as he approached her. Maybe she was
one of those obsessive-compulsive types he'd read about in school.
Or worse, one with a schizophrenic edge. He set down the glass
quietly. "Would you like some disinfectant?"
When she glanced up, he saw a blush. "Oh no. There was some
... ketchup." She took the menu. "What's good here?"
"The beef." He gave her a lazy smile, hoping she caught the joke.
Cattle country, honey, get it?
She frowned. "Do you have a Caesar salad?"
He quirked an eyebrow that broadcast his answer.
She sighed, and he recognized fatigue around her blue eyes.
"How about a house salad?"
"We're short on the lettuce and tomatoes right now. Can I interest
you in a cheeseburger?" He glanced at Saul. The man watched
him with a half smirk, probably remembering the time Nick had
worked at Lolly's Diner. That had lasted all of one day and ended
when his father had dragged him home by the scruff of his collar.
The second time he'd left home, however, it took.
How he wished now he'd returned.
"All right then, I'll have ... a bowl of chili beans." She closed the
menu and smiled at him, tucking her dark hair behind her ear. For
a second he wondered where she came from and if he should make
sure she left town okay.
Especially after the article in last week's Sheridan News about
Jimmy McPhee's release.
According to the newspaper, Jimmy was innocent. Nick didn't
know what to believe. He hadn't exactly turned over every stone
searching for Jenny Butler's killer. No, he'd bitten when they'd arrested
Jimmy McPhee-hungover and smelling of guilt-for her murder.
He'd bitten because Jimmy had pushed the law too far this time.
Nick should have listened to his gut, been the man his father
had taught him to be, the one who protected the innocent and
stood up for the truth. Clearly he'd left that man back at the Silver
Thankfully, a drifter's testimony had exonerated Jimmy McPhee
and set him free. Five years too late.
"Very good," Nick said to the woman as he took her menu. "You
in town long?"
"Visiting family," she said. "Near Scobey."
"That's about thirty miles north of here. Roads are clear-you'll
get there by bedtime." He resisted the urge to encourage her to stay
the night in town. But the only beds open this time of year were
the hunting cabins, and he wouldn't even send his sister there, even
though Stefanie spent half her life camped out on the open trail.
"Better leave before the sun hits the horizon," he said, surrendering
to the ex-cop inside him as he turned away.
The cook had the steak and eggs under the heat rings, and Nick
served them to the redhead. "You here for the rodeo camp?" he
asked as he poured her a cup of coffee. Twice a year, a rodeo camp
for barrel racers, bronc busters, and bareback riders was held right
Nick remembered his brother, Rafe, attending once-and coming
home with more bruises than a truckload of apples. He'd figured
out how to stay on a bronc by now.
"Nope. Just passin' through." The redhead covered her eggs with
Jake and Rusty finished their meal, threw down a few bills, and
left without a word.
Glancing at the rancher and his wife, still deep in conversation
and not needing him, Nick knew he'd whittled his procrastination
down to a nub. "Howdy, Saul," he said, a sigh at the end of his
greeting as he faced his father's oldest friend and attorney.
"Good to see you, son."
Only Nick knew how well Saul delivered that lie. "You too, sir."
Nick picked up the coffeepot and a cup and headed around the
counter to an empty booth.
Saul followed him, sliding into the opposite bench. "I guess
you're expecting me," he said, reaching for a toothpick. "No reason
Nick nodded, poured himself a cup of coffee. "How did it
"In his sleep. Your father went peacefully. Stefanie was there.
And Rafe had been by not long before that."
Nick ran his thumb and forefinger along the handle of his mug.
His mouth felt tinny. "When?"
Saul looked past Nick. "Near a month ago. We tried to find
you, but the army still had you listed in Miles City. Newspaper in
Sheridan had an article about that fella Jimmy McPhee last week.
Tracked you down from there."
Something inside Nick had died when he'd seen that article.
What was worse, however, was that he should have made it home
years ago. He didn't exactly have anything in Wellesley holding
Except shame, of course.
Saul chewed a toothpick.
"How's Stefanie?" And Cole? And Maggie? But he couldn't-no,
wouldn't-ask about them.
"I can't lie to you, Nick. The Silver Buckle's in trouble. The
drought has been bad. And one out of every three cows didn't
conceive last year. The herd is dwindling, and Stefanie's only one
woman. The Buckle is in debt over its head, and she's thinking of
turning the ranch into a dude operation." Saul shook his head. "Your
father would have my hide, but I can't stop her."
Nick stared into his coffee, cringing at the image of city slickers
from Seattle or Denver or even California stomping on the silver
sage and black-eyed Susans as they tried ranch life on for size. He
closed his eyes. "I should have been there."
Saul said nothing.
Nick opened his eyes, taking a good look at his surroundings.
From the kitchen the cook sang an old hymn. The rich smells of
coffee, French fries, and baked apples filled the café. Late-afternoon
shadows cast a somber glow across the dingy linoleum.
"There's something else, Nick." Saul drummed his fingers on the
table for a moment, then reached inside his jacket pocket. "There's
been an offer made on the ranch." He slid a packet of papers toward
Nick looked at the packet, uncomprehending. "An offer?"
"To buy you out."
Nick refused to touch it, feeling it a betrayal suddenly of everything
his family had built. "I can't ... I'm not ... why would you
bring this to me?" Surely Stefanie wasn't in on this. She loved the
Saul removed his toothpick and twirled it between two weathered
fingers. Nick wondered if Saul still ran his own herd, falling
back on his law degree as a sideline. Most people in their hometown
of Phillips ranched first and fed their families with a second
"With the chunk of land your mother left you and your father's
bequest, you own the biggest section of the remaining Noble property.
Of course, you'll have to wait until the land officially becomes
yours, but as your father's lawyer, I'm obliged to convey the offer to
you. You can sign the purchase agreement today contingent on-"
"Wait-go back to the word remaining. I don't understand. Was
some of it sold?" Nick pushed the folded papers back toward Saul.
Saul hesitated a moment. "It was divided into four sections."
Nick stared at him. "Last count I had, there are only three of us
in the Noble family-Stefanie, Rafe, and me."
"Actually, you and your siblings are entitled to only half of the
Silver Buckle land. Your father deeded the other half to Colton St.
Half? Nick stared at Saul, nearly choking on the word. "Half ?"
Nick felt something hot and heavy punch through his chest. "The
Silver Buckle has been in the Noble family for three generations!
How could my father-?" Words vanished, and Nick found himself
on his feet, stalking back to the counter, coffeepot in hand.
"You need a refill?" Nick bit out the words to the redhead, filling
her coffee before she answered. The order of beans sat baking
under the heat lights; he grabbed the bowl without a tray, burning
his hands. He plunked it down before the brunette, dropping
a spoon on the table next to the bowl. It clattered and nearly fell
on the floor. He noticed Saul watching him with pursed lips as he
Cole St. John. Nick still had a scar on his hand where they'd
mixed blood so many years ago. Blood brothers, through thick
Cole St. John, wide receiver to his being quarterback, bulldogging
partner, coconspirator in the case of the missing school mascot.
Cole St. John, son of the woman who'd stolen his father, Bishop
Nick swallowed as he sidled close to Saul's booth. He kept his
voice low and tight. "What did he do to make my father deed him
Saul shook his head.
Nick looked out at the bullet gray sky and its refusal to grant
a glimmer of cheer. This morning from his apartment above the
café he'd seen a line of black clouds piled up against the far-off
mountains. He'd hoped it meant rain, but apparently it only meant
high winds and trouble.
"I may not have been the son I should have over the past ten
years, Mr. Lovell, but I can promise my father this: I'll make sure
that St. John never sets one foot onto Silver Buckle land."
* * *
It took Piper Sullivan about 2.3 seconds to confirm that everything
she'd assumed about Nick Noble hit the mark. Underneath that six-foot-one-inch
frame, dark eyes, and muscular alpha-male exterior
lurked a bona fide bully. A man whose world revolved around one
Case in point, his chest-thumping attack on the two tired cowboys
making small talk with some pretty locals. What did he think
would happen-that they'd buy the girls one too many milk shakes?
maybe ask them to go for a stroll along the muddy street? She
hadn't spotted even a hint of a saloon in this no-stoplight town, and
they looked like two post-high school girls stuck in a one-horse
smudge on the map. And Protector of the Weak had just eliminated
two of their very few options for escape.
And if his barroom-bouncer act didn't confirm her reporter's
instincts, his low-toned vow to the lanky man at the booth said it
Nick Noble was trouble.
"I'll leave first thing tomorrow," Noble growled as he moved
away from the booth. Clearly the man had delivered some dark
news, because Noble's expression went from sizzling to downright
hostile. And the way he poured her coffee made her want to don
"Thank you," she mumbled, not wanting to add to his mood.
Thanks to her father she knew how quickly a bad mood accelerated
to danger, pain, and sirens. And this time, thanks to Noble, Jimmy
wasn't here to protect her.
"You okay, miss?"
The voice, full of more concern than she expected, jerked her
from her thoughts. She looked up, frowning. Noble stood over her,
coffeepot in his hand.
"You're hurt." He gestured to her bandaged wrist.
She realized she'd been rubbing it again. Even bandaged, the
scar still felt funny, nearly numb. Wouldn't it be nice if all wounds
eventually went numb?
She found a different voice. Not that he would recognize her,
but she hoped to smear beyond recognition any associations for
the next time they met. "It's healing. I'll be fine."
She watched as Noble filled the other woman's coffee, then dug
out her guest check. The redhead at the counter paid him, and he
didn't even look as she slipped out the door, obviously hoping for
his attention. Apparently he didn't bend easily to feminine wiles.
Perfect. Piper didn't want him assuming anything the next time she
showed up with an innocent smile.
Excerpted from RECLAIMING NICK
by SUSAN MAY WARREN
Copyright © 2006 by Susan May Warren.
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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