“How are we going to play this, Danny? Since I know these people, I think I should ask the questions,” Jordan said, groaning when the pickup hit a bump on the back road to Santana Circle Ranch and her head connected with the roof. “You think you could slow down a bit, bro? I’m pretty sure Rusty’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.” She added an extra touch of sarcasm as she rubbed her head.
“I thought you’d lose that smart mouth when you became a big time reporter.” He chuckled. “Oh wait! I forgot. You write personals.”
She slapped his shoulder playfully. Too much time had passed since her brother had teased her, and she’d missed it. “I have my own column, loser.”
“Yeah, writing recipes you’ve never heard of and have no clue how to cook.”
“Shut up! At least I didn’t get my job because I came cheap.” She paused, and then laughed out loud. “Okay, maybe that is how I got the job, but I still think you should let me do all the talking.”
“No way! I’m the one investigating this cattle rustling ring, sis. My job, remember?”
“Yeah, but I’m the one who held my date in my arms while he was dying.” She huffed. “And I’m the one who got the invite to come to the funeral and the wake. I was going to bring Victor until you whined like you did when you were eight and Mom wouldn’t let you go hunting with Dad and the Three Musketeers.” She tsked. “Don’t make me regret my decision.”
Danny pressed his lips together in a move Jordan recognized as his retreat-and-rearm tactic. She prepared herself for his zing back.
“You might have a point,” he said, disappointing her a little. She loved the back and forth, one-upmanship they usually shared. “But for the record, Patrick was eight when Dad took him on his first hunting trip.”
“Mom always called you the sensitive one. When she thought she’d never get her little girl, she decided to keep you away from all that macho stuff.” Jordan paused, remembering how her mom had shifted all that focus onto her, dressing her in frilly clothes like a baby doll. But Sylvia McAllister had lost that battle when the testosterone in the house had overpowered the estrogen, and her brothers discovered Mama’s little girl could throw a precision touchdown pass in traffic better than any of them.
“Okay, I get it. If any of Rusty’s partners in crime are there today, I’m sure the last thing they want is to get chatty with me.”
“My point, exactly,” she interrupted. “That’s why we shouldn’t tell them you’re here on an investigation. Let’s just say you’re hanging out with me while you job hunt.”
He made a sharp right turn off the road and stopped in front of an ornate gate with a huge, wrought iron banner swinging above that read SANTANA CIRCLE RANCH.
“Whoa! You said this guy was rich, but you didn’t say how freakin’ big this ranch was.” He pointed to the clumps of black cows grazing to the left of them in a pasture that looked like it went back as far as the skyline.
“You obviously weren’t listening when I said he was one of the biggest cattle raisers in the state,” she said, but even she was impressed.
“And Rusty was his right-hand man?”
“Yes, and from what I gathered at the ball the other night, the two were tight.”
“Hmm. Wonder if Santana was in on the rustling?”
“You don’t even know for sure if Rusty was involved.” Jordan turned to face her brother. “Why would he risk ending up in jail when he had the prefect setup here? It was crystal clear Santana thought of him as more than an employee. And don’t forget the male ego. Most guys would flash that kind of money around to impress a date. He didn’t.” She shook her head. “I’d bet money he wasn’t involved.”
“Because he didn’t pull out his wallet to impress your skinny bones? Ha! Maybe he wasn’t interested. Did you ever think of that?” He snickered, and then got serious again. “Our sources tell us his name showed up on several questionable bills of sale for Wagyu bulls that were probably stolen.”
Danny turned down the gravel road, and a ranch house came into view several miles away. “Wagyu cattle are like the Rolls Royce of cows. Think Kobe beef and go one step better.”
“I thought Kobe beef was imported from Japan.”
“It is, but plenty of ranch owners raise their own around here.”
Danny slowed down near a mass of cars lining the side of the road. After parking the truck in the first available slot about a mile from the house, he got out. Jordan followed suit, pulling at the hem of the black jersey number she’d worn on her first assignment at the newspaper, swearing it had shrunk. Since it was the only black thing she owned other than the long slinky skirt she’d bought for the Cattleman’s Ball, she hoped it wasn’t too short for a wake.
Nothing says white trash like slutty funeral clothes.