Meier Ranch BrothersBy: Leslie North
The Complete Series
Texas rancher Nathaniel Meier always puts his responsibilities first. With his father dead, his brothers away, and his mother off “finding herself,” it’s Nat who runs their sprawling ranch. But with cattle to sell and the bank breathing down his neck, he needs all the help he can get, even when that help comes from the last person he ever expected to see again—his childhood sweetheart January Rose.
Free-spirited January always dreamed of traveling the world. The moment she turned eighteen, she left Close Call, Texas behind and barely looked back. So now that she’s home, she intends to stay only long enough to earn some cash and get back on the road. But when she comes face to face with Nat Meier, she quickly realizes the boy she left behind is now all man.
Even for a nomad like January, wanderlust sometimes gets lonely, and Nat is the one person who’s called to her, even after a decade apart. But for a man ruled by responsibility and a woman whose suitcase is her home, the future is uncertain. And the closer they get, the more Nat worries he’s going to get burned…again.
October in Texas was damned near perfection. Gone was the scorching heat that anchors a pair of jeans to the thighs like a wet straightjacket, hell-bent on dropping anyone not in air conditioning straight to the devil’s back kitchen. Sporadic, deep reds on the sweet gum trees teased the landscape with impending change. Even the cow pies took on the scent of money.
Selling season in the cattle business had a fragrance all its own, and Nathaniel Meier wasn’t above pulling in a potent lungful of the end.
The end. God in heaven, he fucking hoped not.
Nat’s least favorite part of the ranch was the south acreage. Eighteen wheelers barreled down the adjacent two-lane county road to avoid construction fifty miles and another world away, scattering everything from mockingbirds to piss-filled sports drink bottles. The south acreage’s only saving grace was the perfect alignment of the squeeze chutes and ramps so as not to cast morning shadows or blinding sun—two factors that could make loading hundreds of cows onto trailers feel like a fire-ant enema.
His general apathy toward anything beyond Close Call, Texas, was a side effect of being hyper-attuned to the ranch, cradle to loan, as his grandfather had always said. Four generations saw fit to ensure the Meier legacy continued. For now, the burden fell solely on his sunbaked shoulders.
Nat set to work applying fresh rubber stops to the metal gates so the banging wouldn’t spook the animals. Earbuds in place, he ignored the world beyond the periphery fence. The sidewinding melody of a steel guitar calmed his pre-auction nerves—and was why he failed to notice the SUV tires eating up his good grazing grass until they had damned near galloped up his ass.
Rubber stops tumbled out of his hand. His pulse played catch-up, the way it did when he accidentally stepped into a steer’s flight zone. Spine straightened, he slow-crawled a gaze from the pristine tires to the glossy black rims of a late-model Cadillac, as out of place on a ranch as a drag queen singing show tunes would be.
Austin Pickford exited his trust-fund vehicle. The banker stood in place as if he could spare no more than a minute, as if the pasture were a mine field. Nat supposed to the guy’s imported alligator loafers, the pasture was Cambodia.
Nat swiped the adhesive bumpers out of the grass and resumed circling the curved race. “You visit all your borrowers this often, or can I tell my mother we’re officially courting?”
“Nice to know the impending sale hasn’t affected your juvenile sense of humor.”
“Juvenile? Keep flattering me like that, and we’ll be married by nightfall.” Nat shot him a wink for good measure.
Austin rolled his eyes and jingled coins in his suit pocket.
Nat and Austin had a history straight out of rural Shakespeare—same graduating class, same primal ambition, the occasional quarrel between well-established families, a general distaste disguised as friendship. Austin went away to a private university to study finance. Nat attended state school to try for an ag degree. But Nat couldn’t escape the truth that the Meier family couldn’t do what they did best without the generations-old backing of Pickfords. Close Call Community Trust was the only lender left in town. Banks close to the city didn’t understand the financial cycle of ranching past how much a porterhouse at some country club in Houston set them back. Nat and Austin had history. Around here, history counted for something.