But he was too late.
“Gentlemen,” Adriana Gallant said, far too pleasant and friendly for his peace of mind. A typical feline, she liked to toy with her prey. “How lucky to find you all in the same place. I have a few questions that require confirmation. Mind if I join you?” She didn’t wait for their agreement, but took the spare seat at the table. “This won’t take long.”
Ryan sank into his chair. If the past thirteen months were any indication, she’d keep hounding them until one of them broke and she’d gotten her story. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut and let Dan, who’d been on the receiving end of one of her interviews before, do the talking. He knew the drill.
“Anything for a pretty lady,” Dan said, all country charm. “Fire away.”
“Is it true that Ian Palmeter was the presiding judge who let you all off with a warning after you stole a police car in college?”
“There was community service involved,” Dan said.
“Rumor has it that the judge left the three of you over four billion dollars as well as the Endeavour Ranch.”
Uneasiness nestled into Ryan’s chest. He wondered where she’d heard that particular story. The story was false. Except it was possible he might have led Dan and Dallas to believe it was true.
“You ever hear the saying, ‘A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way’?” Dan asked Adriana, oblivious to the disaster unfolding around him. “Spreading stories with no basis in fact isn’t news.”
Big mistake, Dan.Calling the stories Adriana produced news was too great a stretch. No way would she buy into that.
Her gaze sharpened. “According to my sources, this particular rumor has quite a leg to support it. They say your money came from Giaco the ‘Jackal’ Cienetti’s estate.”
Ryan’s heart skidded across his lungs before it braked to a halt. His blood sloshed around like the contents of a speeding oil truck approaching an unexpected red light. He’d told his friends a few vague bits and pieces about his background over the years. They’d guessed about witness protection. They’d suspected illegal connections.
They hadn’t known his grandfather’s name or that he was such a high-profile figure.
Dan donned his sheriff face. The one that went blank. The one that said he’d spotted the disaster too late and now damage control was the best he could hope for. The one that Adriana Gallant was about to ignore. “Never heard of him.”
She tucked a sleek lock of dark hair behind her ear. “He was a Chicago mob boss. Stories have been circulating about his missing daughter and her husband and son for years. One suggests he had his son-in-law killed for skimming money. A new rumor surfaced shortly after he passed away. That one claims his daughter Angela and her son Giaco junior entered the witness protection program—or the witness security program, take your pick—right after Giaco senior had Angela’s husband murdered. It further claims that Angela died before her father did, meaning there was no more need for any witness protection, because Giaco junior was only seven when Angela took him out of Chicago.” Her meaning, Ryan assumed, that as soon as his mother was out of the picture, anyone who had any knowledge of the case twenty-five years later would be free to talk. “He’s of no interest to Giaco senior’s remaining associates. But he was of great interest to his grandfather in the months before Giaco senior’s death.”
“I can’t imagine what a rumor about a Chicago mob boss would have to do with us,” Dan said. But Ryan could tell he was rattled.
Ryan was, too. His clenched fists trembled on his thighs under the table. In his head he was back in Chicago, watching the final moments of a father he’d loved very much.
“Giaco was a very rich man,” Adriana continued, relentless. “It seems he made a lot of legitimate money through offshore investing. He left that money to his grandson. And since he only had one grandson that my sources are aware of, that would have to be Angela’s son, Giaco junior.”
“That’s a great story,” Dan said. “But it’s got nothing to do with us. Food’s here,” he added cheerfully. Leila, Lou’s pretty daughter, set a tray loaded with burgers and fries on the table. “Would you care to join us?” he asked Adriana as the plates were passed around. “Hey, Leila. Get Ms. Gallant whatever she likes and add it to our bill.”
“No, thank you.” Adriana consulted the screen on her phone. “I’ve got to get back to Billings to catch a late flight.”
Their lack of cooperation didn’t bother her in the least. No doubt she was used to it, given her line of work. Besides, she had her story. It didn’t matter whether or not it was true. Plausibility won her the ratings.
After she left, and Leila disappeared into the kitchen, the table went silent. Dallas bit into his burger. Dan ate a few french fries. Ryan dug into his food, too.
They ate quietly until it became apparent that his friends were waiting on him.
“So,” he said, since there was no time like the present, “you guys would probably like an explanation.”
“Let me seeif I understand this correctly,” Dallas said. “Judge Palmeter left us the ranch and enough money for land taxes for two years. The conditions are that if we sell the ranch or any parcels of land, all proceeds go to charity.”
“Right,” Ryan said.
He really had stayed in touch with Judge Palmeter over the years, as he’d said. He’d gone to Judge Palmeter for advice when his grandfather first made an appearance. It was the judge who’d convinced him to take the money rather than allow it to revert to a more dubious heir, then offered him the ranch as a means to control it.
“No offense, boy,”the judge had said,“but while your morals appear sound enough, your ethics can be questionable at times. You might want to think about how you can keep those ethics away from temptation.”
That was where Dan and Dallas and the conditions surrounding the inheritance came in. The judge had arranged it all for him because Ryan hadn’t wanted the source of the money to affect Dan’s career as a sheriff.