Trumped Up Charges - By Joanna Wayne


R. J. Dalton’s days were numbered.

The prognosis pricked at him like a bull nettle. Nobody like a neurosurgeon to hand it to you straight. Not that he blamed the doc. Can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s belly.

R.J. eased up on the accelerator of his new Dodge Ram pickup and made the turn onto the familiar back road that led to Dry Gulch Ranch.

He didn’t have any real gripes. He’d had seventy-eight years on this earth. For the most part, he’d lived them on his terms. He’d never backed down from a fight or walked away from a good time.

He wasn’t always proud of what he’d done, but he’d never killed a man or got a woman pregnant he hadn’t married—or at least offered to wed. The last wildcat he’d tangled with had told him what he could do with his proposal. Pretty as a new foal, but the woman had been all horns and rattles.

Not that Kiki or any of his exes would be coming around to plant daises when he was belly-up under a plot of red Texas clay. Nobody even might show up for the funeral ’cept a few of his neighbors. Most of them would be there only to shoot the bull with the other pseudo mourners or to get the inside scoop on how to pick up the Dry Gulch for half its worth.

A man should have his funeral while he was still alive. That way he’d find out who his friends were. He’d also find out if any of his kids deserved a claim to the ranch that had been in his family for two generations.

“You should get your affairs in order as soon as possible.”

That had been the doc’s only solid advice. R.J.’s affairs had never been in order. He had no idea where to start now. He’d already offered to sell his land to the one family he fully trusted not to turn it into yet another golf course community or some noisy, high-traffic amusement park.

Hugh Lambert’s beautiful widow, Carolina, had refused the offer. Told him he should leave the ranch to his kids. Hell, he didn’t even know his kids and they’d given him no reason to believe they were interested in getting to know him. Probably more his fault than theirs, but it was what it was.

R.J. nudged his summer Stetson back an inch or two and stared at the passing scenery. Miles of barbed wire. Clusters of pecan trees. Grazing cattle. A tractor in the field, kicking up dust. All of it as familiar as his own face in his shaving mirror, yet somehow it looked different today.

The heat was the same, though. It rose in shimmering waves from the ribbon of asphalt that stretched in front of him. R.J. lowered the window and let his left elbow rest on the hot metal while the steamy Texas humidity slapped him in the face.

His thoughts slid back to the good old days when he’d been young and full of piss and vinegar. Back when his most pressing worries had centered on coming up with the entry fee for the next rodeo or checking out a firm-breasted buckle bunny.

If he’d thought about death at all then, he would have figured he’d get shot while slipping an ace from his sleeve or caught bonking another man’s wife.

He’d never expected it to end with an inoperable tumor growing in his brain. Too bad he couldn’t just saddle his horse now and ride off into the sunset like Randolph Scott used to do in the closing scenes of his movies.

Most folks around today didn’t even know who Randolph Scott was. Worse, his own flesh and blood didn’t even know who he was. Six kids. None of them would shed a tear when he died.

Leaving them a ranch and a few million dollars wouldn’t change that—unless...

An idea popped into his head. It was unconventional. A tad devious. Pulling it off would require a good deal of underhanded scheming.

He liked it. He liked it a lot.

Chapter One

One month later

Adam Dalton pulled up behind a line of cars, pickup trucks and the Harley that blocked the driveway in front of the rambling ranch house. Judging from the number of vehicles, he’d guess all four of his half brothers and one half sister had also shown up for the reading of the will.

He’d never met any of his half siblings. The only reason he knew most of them existed was because their names and relationship were all listed