Jared was feeling just as twitchy as his horse. Far from the haven he’d always known, the familiar sights and sounds of Montana brought a crush of memories. And a fresh surge of anger roiled in his belly.
His instinct had been to stay far away from the ranch this week. But his sister, Stephanie, needed him. Besides, Chicago had its own problems at the moment.
Ryder International had just signed a long-term lease to rent space to the City of Chicago in the Ryder office tower that was under construction on Washington Street. For some reason, the mayor had insisted on parading Jared from charity ball to art gallery opening. Jared had been out in public so often that the tabloids started to believe there was a reason to take his picture and stuff a microphone in his face.
It was beyond frustrating. He was a businessman, not a politician or a celebrity. And his personal life was none of their damn business. The reporter from Windy City Bizz camping out at the end of his driveway Monday night was the last straw. When he got back to the city, he was looking into restraining orders and disguises.
But for the moment he had no choice but to come to terms with the home front. He cleared the main equestrian barn, and a cluster of people on horseback at the riding arena came into view. His appearance caught their attention. One horse and rider immediately broke free from the group, trotting down the dirt road to meet him. Both Jared and Tango tracked the pair’s progress past the pens, dotted outbuildings and sparse trees.
“The prodigal returns,” sang his twenty-two-year-old sister, Stephanie, pulling her mare to a halt, raising a cloud of dust in the July sunshine. Her smiling, freckle-flecked face peeked out from her riding helmet. Her long legs were clad in tight jodhpurs and high, glossy brown boots, while a loose, tan blouse ballooned around her small frame. Her unruly auburn hair was tied back in a ponytail.
“I think you’re confusing me with Royce,” said Jared, watching her closely. She might not know what he knew, but they’d all been shaken by their grandfather’s death three months ago.
He halted Tango, who eyed the mare with suspicion.
“At least Royce makes it to my competitions,” Stephanie pointed out, shifting in her stirrups. “He was there to watch me win last week at Spruce Meadows.”
“That’s because he lives on his jet plane,” Jared defended. His brother, Royce, routinely flew from New York to London, Rome and points east, checking out companies to add to the Ryder International empire. Royce was mobile.
“I live in a boardroom,” Jared finished.
“Poor baby,” Stephanie teased. She smiled, but Jared caught the veiled sadness in her silver-blue eyes. Stephanie had been only two when their parents died, and Gramps was the closest thing to a parent she’d known.
“Congratulations,” he told her softly, reflexively tamping down his own anger to focus on her needs. He'd been fifteen when they lost their parents, and he liked to think he’d had a hand in raising her, too. He was immensely proud of her accomplishments as both a rider and a trainer.
“Thanks.” She leaned forward to pat Rosie-Jo, her champion gray Hanoverian, briskly on the neck, but not before Jared caught the telltale sheen in her eyes. “Want to see our trophy?”
“Of course,” he answered. There would be plenty of time later to talk about their grandfather.
“We’ve got a few hours before the meeting.” She drew a brave breath and squared her shoulders, shaking off the sadness as she turned the horse to draw alongside Jared.
Together they headed toward her two-story blue-gabled ranch house.
The annual meeting of the Genevieve Memorial Fund, a charitable trust named in memory of their mother, would take place today. Each year, it was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of their parents’ deaths. Picturing his parents, Jared felt his anger percolating once more. But he had to suck it up, be a man about it. There was absolutely no point in disillusioning his younger brother and sister. “I saw you in the Chicago paper last week,” Stephanie chimed in as they left the river behind them.
“That was a picture of the mayor,” Jared corrected. He’d done his best to duck behind the burly man.
“They named you in the caption.”
“Slow news day,” he told her, remembering the flashbulbs outside the gallery and how the reporters had shouted inane questions as he’d helped Nadine into the limo.
Stephanie’s expression turned calculating, her tone curious. “So who was she?”
“Who was who?” he asked, pretending he didn’t know exactly where his baby sister was headed. Raised in a male-dominated household, she’d been lobbying for somebody to please marry a nice woman since she was seven years old.