Montana Legacy


By R.C. Ryan

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They’re the McCords…three rugged, sexy cowboy cousins who’ll inherit the family range–if they seek the treasure hidden on it. But even more precious are the women who can tame their wild hearts…

She was the one person who shook Jesse McCord’s quiet determination. She was the only one he ever let in, body and soul. Then suddenly Amy Parrish was gone and the oldest McCord cousin devoted his life to the family ranch. Now Amy is back, offering help to Jesse find the McCord gold. Yet Jesse’s not about to give her a second chance, and he hopes his pride will protect him from her irresistible charms. But under the wide prairie skies a dangerous, unseen enemy is fast closing in, threatening Amy and Jesse’s very lives and the promise of their …




Amy slipped the shirt from her shoulders, revealing a nude, lace-edged bra that barely covered her breasts. "But I warn you, if you try to leave here, I'll have to kill you."

Jesse managed a husky laugh, though it nearly choked him. The sight of all the cool, pale flesh had the blood draining from his head and rushing to another part of his anatomy.

"I'd be a fool to risk death. Do with me what you will, Ms. Parrish."

She wrapped her arms around his waist and ran hot wet kisses down Jesse's chest to the flat planes of his stomach.

She felt his muscles quiver before he clamped his hands at her hips, lifting her off her feet. His mouth was almost bruising as he devoured her with a kiss so intense she could do nothing more than hold on as he took her on a wild roller-coaster ride.

As Amy started to pull back, Jesse kissed her again. "Before we're through, I'll make you forget everyone and everything except me. And this. Just this…" he growled.


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by Ruth Ryan Langan

Excerpt from Montana Destiny copyright © 2010 Ruth Ryan Langan

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


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First eBook Edition: March 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56399-4

To Tommy, Bret, Patrick, Johnny Ryan, and
Ryan Paul—the next generation's band of brothers.

And to my darling Tom,
proud patriarch of the clan.



Last one to circle Treasure Chest Butte is a dirty, rotten skunk." Ten-year-old Jesse McCord urged his horse into a gallop, leaving his cousins, nine-year-old Wyatt and seven-year-old Zane, in his dust.

The three cousins lived with their parents and grandparents in a sprawling, three-story house on their grandfather's ranch, Lost Nugget, which covered thousands of acres of rangeland in Montana. Because of the vast size of their families' holdings and the distance to the nearest town of Gold Fever, the three were homeschooled and spent much of their spare time exploring the hills and rich grassland that formed the perfect backdrop for the thousands of head of cattle that were raised here.

The three were alike in coloring, with dark, curly hair, now slick with sweat, and their grandfather's laughing blue eyes. In town they were often mistaken for brothers, which pleased them enormously. They were, in fact, closer than brothers. Not just blood-related, but best friends. Since birth, they'd done everything together.

"Hey, wait for me." As always, Zane, the youngest, had to scramble to catch up.

By the time he and Wyatt slid from their mounts, Jesse was kneeling beside a fallen log, fishing something from the dirt.

"What'd you find, Jesse?" Wyatt looped the reins of his horse around a nearby sapling and crept closer to drop down beside his cousin. Zane mimicked his older cousin's actions.

High above them, the peaks of Treasure Chest Mountain glistened gold in the late summer sunlight.

Jesse held up a dull bronze-veined stone the size of his fist. "Looks like a nugget."

"Gold?" The two boys watched with rapt attention as Jesse turned it this way and that, grinning each time it caught and reflected the sun.

"Could be. Or it could be fool's gold." He rubbed it on his sleeve, hoping to clean away some of the dirt. "Coot's got a shelfful of fool's gold."

"Is it heavy enough to be real gold?" Wyatt held out his hand and Jesse dropped the stone into his palm. After testing it, he grinned. "I don't know what real gold ought to feel like."

Jesse shrugged. "Me neither."

"Let me see." Zane closed his hand around the nugget and felt the heat of the sun-warmed earth radiating from it. He looked up. "You think it's part of the lost treasure Grandpa Coot's been searching for his whole life?"

The three cousins exchanged eager glances.

Everyone in the McCord family knew the story of their ancestor Jasper McCord, and the sack of gold nuggets he and his son Nathaniel had found at Grasshopper Creek in 1862, which was later stolen by another prospector, Grizzly Markham. Though Markham was found dead scant weeks later, the sack of nuggets was never found, and rumor had it that he'd buried the treasure somewhere nearby after slitting Jasper's throat. That was how Treasure Chest Mountain, the town of Gold Fever, and even the McCord ranch, Lost Nugget, came by their names. Now, following the lead of three generations before them, the McCord family continued the search, much to the scorn of folks around these parts, who believed that the gold carried a curse. Hadn't it consumed the lives of every McCord male?

Jesse broke off a low-hanging tree limb and began pushing it into the dirt. When it was firmly planted he took out a handkerchief and tied it to the top.

Wyatt eyed it. "What's that for?"

"We need to mark the spot so Grandpa Coot knows where to dig if this turns out to be real gold." Jesse pocketed the nugget, then, enjoying the drama of the moment, looked around to make certain no one was nearby. He felt a tingling at the base of his skull. What if it turned out to be part of the lost treasure?

This was, he realized, why his grandfather continued the search, despite all odds.

His voice lowered to a whisper. "We have to keep this a secret. We can't tell a soul except Grandpa Coot. We have to swear an oath."

The two younger boys nodded solemnly, looking to Jesse to show them how.

Jesse spit in his hand, and the other two followed suit. Then the three rubbed hands, mingling their saliva, while Jesse said, "I swear to God I'll tell nobody except Coot about this gold." He looked properly stern. "Now you have to swear it."

"I swear," Wyatt said.

Zane swallowed, feeling the weight of this momentous occasion weighing heavily on his young shoulders before saying, "I swear."

Jesse pulled himself into the saddle and waited for the other two to mount.

As they started toward the distant ranch house he turned in the saddle. "Remember. Since we all swore, if anybody breaks the vow, something really bad will happen to them."

"Like what?" Zane brought his horse even with Jesse's in order to hear every word.

"I don't know." Jesse shrugged, thinking about all the adventure novels he'd read as part of his homework assignments. "Maybe anybody who breaks the vow will be banished from Lost Nugget ranch forever. Or they'll die or something."

The three boys slowed their mounts and looked properly worried. Not about death, which seemed too improbable for their young minds to conceive. But being banished from the ranch was the worst possible punishment they could ever imagine.

Each boy knew he would take his secret to the grave before he'd risk the loss of this place he loved more than anything in the whole world.


Montana—Present Day

Damned north pasture's a sea of mud." In the doorway of the barn, Jesse McCord shook rain from his dark hair like a great shaggy dog and shoved past wrangler Rafe Spindler, who happened to step out of a stall in front of him, nearly causing a collision.

With a rough shove he growled, "Get the hell out of my way."

Rafe jumped back before huffing out a laugh at Jesse's mud-spattered jeans and boots and faded denim jacket with a torn pocket. "Looks like you've been wallowing in it."

"Up to my knees. And it's still rising." Jesse's usually infectious smile was gone, replaced by a flinty look that most of the wranglers mistook for impatience. Those closest to him recognized that look as one of pain.

Tall, lean, and muscled from his years of ranch chores, Jesse was, like all the McCords, a handsome devil, with a hint of danger about him that men found daunting and women found irresistible. From the bloodshot eyes it was apparent that he'd been up most of the night.

Jesse turned toward the white-haired man bending over a calf in a stall. "Cal, I'm going to need a crew to get on it right away."

"I'll see to it." Cal Randall, lanky foreman of the Lost Nugget ranch for more than forty years, didn't bother to look up as he continued examining the calf. "I'll see who's left in the bunkhouse before I head on up to the main house."

When Jesse strode away, Rafe ambled over to lean his arms on the wooden rail. "I know we're burying the old man today, but that doesn't give Jesse the right to tear my head off. Like it's my fault it's raining on the day we're going to bury Coot. Damn Jesse. He's just like the old man. Ornery as hell. Hated days like this. Only good for ducks and funerals, Coot used to say."

Grumbling among the cowboys was as natural as breathing. Especially for Rafe Spindler, who grew up not far from here and signed on as a ranchhand after the deaths of his parents while still in his teens. Like so many of the unmarried ranch hands, Rafe was a hardworking, hard-drinking cowboy whose only pleasure was a game of cards and an occasional fling with the local women. Though something of a hothead, Rafe could be counted on to do his share of the toughest, dirtiest ranch chores.

Rafe lowered his voice. "Jesse's been working up a head of steam ever since Miss Cora told him his cousins are coming in for Coot's funeral."

Cal straightened. The ranch might consist of hundreds of wranglers spread out over thousands of acres, but gossip had a way of spreading faster than fire through a bale of hay.

Cal nodded toward the calf. "Keep an eye on him, Rafe. Any change, you can reach me up at the house."

Cal's movements were slow and deliberate as he trudged through puddles. His only concession to the downpour was the wide-brimmed hat pulled low on his head. Autumn had brought more rain than usual to this part of Montana.

After a stop at the bunkhouse, Cal crossed the distance to the sprawling house on the hill. His thoughts were focused on Jesse McCord. He understood the young man's anger and misery. As the only grandson to stay in Montana and share the old man's dream, Jesse was feeling the death of his grandfather, eighty-year-old Coot McCord, more keenly than anyone.

Gabriel McCord had earned a reputation early on as a fool and a dreamer. When he'd begun buying up huge tracts of land around his ranch, folks in the area said he was, like his ancestors, just a crazy old coot, and the nickname stuck. Even his sister, Cora, ten years younger, who some said was just as crazy, had eventually taken to calling him Coot. The old man embraced the name and wore it like a badge of honor.

By the time he died, Coot had bought up over two hundred thousand acres of surrounding land, and he had planned on going over every inch of it with a fine-tooth comb searching for his ancestor's lost fortune. Folks figured if that didn't make a man crazy, nothing did.

Cal didn't share the opinion of the others. There'd been nothing crazy about Coot. Driven, maybe. Determined, definitely. But he was the truest friend a man could want. The old man might not have found his treasure, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

As for Cora, she may have been a bit eccentric, wearing her brother's cast-off clothing while she wandered the countryside alone for weeks at a time, creating paintings of the lush landscapes, which sold for ridiculously huge sums of money in the international art world. But that only added to her charm. She was a true artist. She didn't paint for the money. She painted because she was driven. It was as necessary to her as breathing.

That was another thing she'd shared with her brother. That determination ran like steel girders through all the McCords. That's what made them all so ornery.

Cal stepped into the mudroom, cleaning his boots on a scraper before hanging his hat on a peg. He carefully washed his hands at the big basin before walking into the kitchen where Dandy Davis was flipping hotcakes. As always, Dandy wore a crisp white apron tied over clean denims and a spotless plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows.

The wranglers had a bet going that Dandy probably owned more than two dozen shirts in the same plaid, and an equal number of pairs of denim pants and shiny black boots.

Dandy had come to the Lost Nugget looking for work as a wrangler. Instead he'd been pressed into service in the kitchen, and agreed to cook until a replacement could be found. Twenty years later he was still cooking.

He kept his kitchen spotless, spending hours each day polishing everything from pots and pans to countertops. Any cowboy who forgot to scrape his boots or wash his hands before entering Dandy's kitchen did so at the risk of life and limb. His demands were tolerated because he was, quite simply, the best cook in all of Montana. His chili, spicy enough to bring tears to the eyes of old-time cowboys, was his most requested meal on the range. But running a close second was his slow-cooked pot roast, tender enough to fall off the bone, served with chunks of potatoes, carrots, and winter squash. When Dandy was baking bread, the crew found excuses to go up to the house, knowing he was always good for a handout of hot, crusty heels of bread slathered with the honey butter he made from his own secret recipe.

Dandy turned from the stove. "Morning, Cal. Just coffee, or do you have time for pancakes?"

"I'll make time." Cal smiled at the woman in the denim shirt and oversized bib-overalls. Gray hair curled softly around a face too pretty to be improved by makeup. Whenever her hair needed cutting, she simply snipped a curl here and there, and fluffed it with her fingers. She had been, for all her seventy years, completely without artifice. "Morning, Cora."

"Cal." She looked up from the newspaper. "They wrote a nice piece about Coot."

He nodded. "I saw it." He waited until Dandy set a steaming cup in front of him. "Rafe tells me the boys are coming in."

"They are." Cora nodded absently and finished the obituary before setting the paper aside. "Isn't that nice?"

"Yeah." He glanced at the empty chair across the table. "How'd Jess take the news?"

She shrugged. "He's angry, Cal. He said his cousins should have been here all along, instead of waiting until it's too late. I've told him it would please his grandfather to have all his grandsons together, but right now, the only thing Jess knows is that he's lost his best friend, and he doesn't want to share the good-byes with anyone else." She stared down into her coffee. "I know how he feels. I hate the idea of saying good-bye. It makes it all so final. I can't imagine this place without my brother." She sighed. "But I'm glad Wyatt and Zane are coming in for the funeral. It'll be the first time we've all been together since their fathers left years ago."

Cal accepted a plate from Dandy and began pouring syrup over the mound of lighter-than-air flapjacks.

When the back door slammed he looked over to see Jesse McCord hanging his hat on a hook before crossing to the table.

"Morning, Jess."

"Aunt Cora. Sorry I dashed out so early, but I got word that the rain washed out a culvert under the road leading to the north pasture."

"I've got some men on it." Cal sipped his coffee. "Cora tells me that Wyatt and Zane are coming."

"Yeah." Something flickered in the younger man's eyes before he looked away. "Just coffee, Dandy. I'm not hungry this morning."

The cook filled a mug and set it in front of him before returning to the stove.

Cal glanced at Cora. "What time's the service?"

"Noon." She sighed. "Coot told me years ago how he wanted to go out. He always said he'd feel like a hypocrite being buried from a church. It was nice of Reverend Carson to agree to drive out here and say some words. It'll add a nice touch, don't you think, Jess?"

He shrugged. "I doubt Coot cares one way or the other. Just so he's laid to rest on the land he loved."

Cora nodded. "He did love this land, didn't he?" She closed a hand over her great-nephew's. "It gave him such pleasure to know that you loved it, too, Jess."

He felt his throat closing up and, afraid of embarrassing himself, shoved away from the table. "Think I'll drive up to the pasture and give a hand with that culvert."

"But Jess…" As he stalked out of the room Cora turned to the ranch foreman. "Maybe you should go after him, Cal, and tell him you don't need his help."

Cal gave a slight shake of his head. "He needs to be busy. Work's good for the soul, especially when it's troubled."

"You'll see that he's back in time for…" She fisted her hands in her lap, unable to say the words.

Cal pushed aside his half-eaten breakfast. Funny how quickly an appetite could flee. As he started away from the table he paused to drop a hand on her shoulder and squeeze. "Don't you worry. I'll make sure of it, Cora."

And he would. Even if he had to hog-tie the young hothead and haul his hide home like a sackful of spitting cats.

There was nothing Cal Randall wouldn't do for Cora.

The Harley roared along the open road. Water sprayed up like geysers as the wheels glanced over ruts. As it came up over a hill it slowed, then came to a stop.

Wyatt McCord whipped off his helmet and stood a moment, listening to the incredible silence. Gradually the sounds of the countryside began to seep into his consciousness. The trill of a meadowlark. The distant lowing of cattle. The whisper of the wind through the ponderosa pines.

It was as though the years rolled away. It was all here, just as he'd pictured it in his mind for the past fifteen years. It was, he realized with startling clarity, the only place he'd ever called home. When his parents had taken their leave of the Lost Nugget, he'd grieved the only way a sixteen-year-old could. By breaking all the rules. Dropping out of school. Getting into as much trouble as he could.

It had taken him years to put his life in order. Long after his parents had given up on him, he'd returned to school to earn his degree. But he'd never been able to put down roots. Instead he searched the world over for a place that would call to him. He'd meditated in Tibet and climbed Mount Everest. He'd traveled to India, just to experience the culture. He'd worked on a luxury yacht in the South Pacific, and had even wrangled sheep in Australia. Through it all, he'd made enough money to live comfortably. Not that he needed much. He'd learned to travel light. Maybe his mother had been right, all those years ago, when she'd teasingly suggested that he'd been dropped on their doorstep by a Gypsy.

He had the look of a Gypsy about him. Thick shaggy hair the color of coal spilling down the collar of his faded leather jacket to brush his shoulders. A dark stubble covering his chin and cheeks, giving testimony to the fact that he'd been on the road for more than a dozen hours. There was a world-weariness about him, especially in the set of his jaw and the challenge in those piercing blue eyes.

He pulled on his helmet and climbed back onto his Harley before roaring off in a mist of rain.

He'd told himself he was coming home to bury his grandfather, but it occurred to Wyatt McCord that he'd actually come home to bury his childhood regrets.

Cal stepped out of the barn just as the motorcycle roared to a stop. He hurried over, his weathered face lit with a smile. "Welcome home, Wyatt. It's been a while."

"Yeah." Wyatt set his helmet aside and offered a handshake. "How you been, Cal?"

"I've been better. Your grandfather's death hit us all hard."

"Was he sick?"

"Nope." The older man's eyes watered for a moment before he blinked. "He was climbing around some rock cliffs like always, and took a nasty fall. As soon as he called in his location from his cell phone, I phoned Marilee Trainor and then raced out there with some of the wranglers. Before the medevac could fly in, he was gone."

Wyatt stuck his hands in his back pockets and looked out at the towering buttes in the distance. "Sounds like old Coot, doesn't it? I think that's the way he'd have liked to go."

"Yeah." Cal nodded. "Your great-aunt's inside. You go ahead and I'll get your bag."

"No need." Wyatt reached into his saddlebag. "All I've got is this duffel."

He climbed the steps and let himself into the house, pausing at the mudroom to drop his bag before continuing into the kitchen.

"Aunt Cora."

She was instantly out of her chair and into his arms. "Oh, Wyatt." After a fierce hug she held him a little away.

He took that moment to shake Dandy's hand. "Good to see you again, Dandy."

"And you, Wyatt."

Cora was studying him with a look of disbelief. "Oh, look at you. You're the picture of your daddy."

"Except he wore denim instead of leather." He grinned. "You haven't changed a bit, Aunt Cora. In fact, I think those are the same overalls you were wearing the day I left."

She gave a girlish laugh. Wyatt had always been able to charm her. "They're Coot's. I always liked his clothes better than my own. I think I'll like them even better now."

Wyatt sobered. "I know what you mean." He dug into his pocket and held up a battered watch on a chain. "I've been carrying this ever since the crash. The authorities found it in the wreckage and sent it to me. I like having something of Dad's."

Cora cupped it in her hand and studied it before looking at him. "Coot gave that to your daddy when he graduated high school."

Wyatt nodded. "I know. That makes it twice as special to me."

The old woman wrapped an arm around his waist, loving the big, sturdy feel of him, all muscle and sinew. Like his daddy. "Come on. I'll take you up to your rooms."

He leaned down to kiss her cheek. "Don't bother, Aunt Cora. I remember the way."

As he retrieved his duffel and walked away, she stayed where she was, listening to his footsteps as he climbed the stairs.

Dandy set a fresh cup of coffee on the table. "Here, Miss Cora. You look like you could use this."

"Thanks, Dandy." She sank down onto a chair, wondering why she felt this sudden urge to weep. Instead, she leafed through the paper until she found the obituary, thinking Coot's grandsons might want to have a look at it later.

Wyatt paused in the doorway of the suite of rooms he'd once shared with his parents, memories of his childhood sweeping over him. He'd always loved living in this big, sprawling ranch house, knowing an entire family lived just rooms away. His cousins, Jesse and Zane, had been his best friends and constant companions. If his father was busy, there was always an uncle or his grandfather to talk to. When he needed help with schoolwork, his mother, one of his aunts, or his great-aunt Cora was always available to lend a hand. There had been a strong feeling of camaraderie in this house when he was young.

Gradually, as he grew into his teens, he'd begun to sense the unease. His father and mother yearned to break free of the constraints of ranch life to travel around the world. They resented the treasure hunt that had become Coot's obsession. Angry words triggered endless arguments. As a teen living in his own selfish world, Wyatt seemed barely aware of the tension until his father and mother had ordered him to pack his things. When he realized that there were no plans to return to the only life he'd ever known, he became angry, distant, difficult. While his parents attempted to share their love of world travel with their only son, he repaid them by dropping out of school and out of life. It was only years later that he'd managed to pull himself together and make something of his life. But by then, with his parents gone in an instant, killed in a plane crash, his anger had turned inward, directed at himself.

He'd overcome the anger and guilt. And now, just when he'd accepted a life alone, here he was, back where it had all begun.


  • "...a tapestry of beauty filled with the colors of love. A must read..."—Romantic Times on Highland Heaven
  • "...a delightful addition to a memorable series. Catch this before it flies off the shelves..."—Romantic Times on Ruby
  • "...Powerful story...Exquisitely done."—Rendezvous on The Highlander

On Sale
Mar 1, 2010
Page Count
304 pages

R.C. Ryan

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author R.C. Ryan has written more than ninety fiction novels, both contemporary and historical. Quite an accomplishment for someone who, after her fifth child started school, gave herself the gift of an hour a day to follow her dream to become a writer. In a career spanning more than twenty years, Ms. Ryan has given dozens of radio, television, and print interviews across the country and Canada, and has been quoted in such diverse publications as the Wall Street Journal and Cosmopolitan. She has also appeared on CNN News, as well as Good Morning America. R.C. Ryan is a pseudonym of New York Times bestselling author Ruth Ryan Langan.

You can learn more about R.C. Ryan and her alter ego Ruth Ryan Langan at:
Twitter @RuthRyanLangan

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