The fundraiser turnout was good, considering the venue was small. The taproom seated thirty comfortably, could accommodate sixty standing, and appeared to be close to capacity. He recognized quite a few of the people, even though he didn’t hang out much in town.
Zack McGregor, a close friend of Dan’s, was here with his wife. Posey McGregor was rumored to be an heir to a fortune worth more than the Endeavour’s, although no one would guess it by looking at her. She was blond, and pretty enough, but in an understated, backup singer kind of way. Not like fiery, beautiful, red-haired Elizabeth at all, who—thanks to her teambuilding session—he couldn’t get out of his head.
Weldon Scott, who owned the Running River Ranch, had also made an appearance. He wasn’t much liked in Grand and rumors circulated about his tense relationship with the three McGregor brothers, who owned the Wagging Tongue Ranch next to his. Weldon and Zack were on speaking terms, but Jake, the oldest McGregor, and Luke, next in line, both kept their distance. Ryan didn’t see Jake or Luke anywhere, and hadn’t expected to. He scanned the room for Dallas and Dan.
Dan, who never seemed in a hurry, stood near the bar with an arm around Jazz, the leggy blond base manager who ran the Endeavour’s seasonal smoke jumping operation. They’d been a couple for almost two years now, and whenever their lives settled down, were headed for marriage.
Dallas was working the room, which Ryan knew wasn’t his favorite thing, but this was his event, and he was the guest of honor. He glided easily from one group to the next, but his eyes flitted continually to Hannah, the adorable brunette behind the bar, and Ryan found no fault in that. Hannah was as sweet as she was pretty, and their relationship was as solid as Dan and Jazz’s, although mainly because Dallie, like an eager, overgrown puppy, never knew when to give up. Obliviousness had worked well for him in this instance.
Ryan was happy that his friends had found partners who cared more about them than their money. Dan and Dallas weren’t all that comfortable with their newfound wealth and didn’t have the faintest idea of how to protect themselves. Dallas, in particular, liked to give it away—which was the whole plan, yes—although not necessarily to give it away, so much as to put it to good use.
He’d missed Dallie’s speech, which was unfortunate, but not the end of the world. The clinic would get its money. He’d already written a sizeable check on the Endeavour’s behalf.
He worked his way toward the bar, pausing to speak to a few people—Zack McGregor in particular. He liked the youngest McGregor. On the surface, he seemed as laidback as Dan. After a few business dealings with him, however, Ryan discovered Zack had a practical, ruthless streak a whole lot like his own, except Zack’s came from a better gene pool. He knew where lines should be drawn whereas Ryan knew better than to leave his to chance.
One more reason to hate the old Jackal. He had a terrifying fear of turning out like him, which was the biggest reason why he’d drawn his unsuspecting friends into the inheritance with him. He relied on Dan and Dallas to keep his ethics in check.
“Hey, Ryan,” Zack said.
Posey smiled politely and slid a little closer to her husband. Ryan knew he frightened her, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. If anything, he found her timidity around him exasperating.
Elizabeth, who should be, wasn’t afraid of him in the least.
Zack hugged his wife to his side and kept right on talking. “Any truth to the rumor the Endeavour Ranch plans to host a PRCA-sanctioned rodeo and you’ve hired Miles Decker as spokesman?”
He’d expected word to get out fast in a small town like Grand, but two hours had to be some sort of record. “It’s all true. Planning to enter?”
Zack laughed. “Those days are behind me, I’m afraid. I tried bull riding once and once was enough. I’ve got a family to think of these days.” He smiled proudly at Posey, who beamed back. “Number three’s on the way.”
The McGregor brothers were big into family, something Ryan had very little personal experience with, and even less interest in, given his roots, but he admired loyalty. Jake had custody of their sister’s three children after she and her husband, and the senior McGregors, were all killed in a plane crash. Zack and Luke had come home to help out and ended up staying.
“Congratulations,” Ryan said.
There wasn’t much else he could think of to say. The hell with the gladhanding. There were too many happy couples in here and he needed a drink. Elizabeth had rattled him and he wasn’t good at small talk to begin with.
He said goodbye to Zack and Posey and went to the bar.
“What took you so long?” Dan asked when he sidled up.
“I was talking to Zack and his wife. Hi, Jazz,” Ryan added, peering around Dan to greet his friend’s better half.
Jazz’s polite smile held even less warmth for him than Posey’s. No question about it. He had a real way with women.
“Not what I meant. You were only planning to show the new case manager to her bunkhouse,” Dan said. He leaned back, hanging both elbows on the bar behind him. Lazy blue eyes—which weren’t nearly as lazy as unsuspecting people might think—homed in on him. “Problems?”
It was a matter of perspective. Dan likely wouldn’t see it in the same light Ryan did, so he dodged the question. “I got held up at the chamber of commerce meeting by a few dissenters, but dropping Miles Decker’s name did the trick.” He scanned Hannah’s menu. She had a maple-based beer on tap that he liked, but it packed quite a punch. “If I have a few drinks, can I catch a ride home with you?”
“It’s up to Jazz. She has the keys.”
Jazz lifted a toned shoulder to indicate her indifference, which was about as much enthusiasm as she worked up when she was forced to interact with Ryan. It was his own fault that she didn’t like him, he acknowledged. He’d had her investigated when Dan began to get serious and she hadn’t been happy when she found out—mainly because her gene pool didn’t contain much more to be proud of than his—although it turned out Jazz herself was plenty good enough for his friend.
“We’re all going to the same place,” she said.
Dan, who thought it was funny that she didn’t like Ryan, tried to rein in his grin.It’s all on you, buddy, that wiseass grin informed him.
It was. He’d do it all over again, too. He didn’t let very many people get close to him and he took good care of the ones who did. Dallas and Dan were at the top of the list.
He caught Hannah’s eye and flagged her over. “I’ll take a large glass of the maple,” he said. “Maybe bring me a pitcher.”
After Elizabeth and Adriana Gallant, he’d need it.