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Authors: Angel Moore

The Rightful Heir

BOOK: The Rightful Heir
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An Unexpected Partnership

Arriving in Texas, cowboy Jared Ivy discovers the grandfather he hardly remembers has passed away...and an unknown woman has claimed ownership of his family's newspaper. Jared has the will that proves he's the owner—but the sheriff refuses to enforce it. Instead, Jared must work with Mary Lou Ellison until a judge comes to town and rules in favor of the rightful heir.

Intrepid reporter Mary Lou has already lost her father figure. And she won't lose the
Pine Haven Record
—the legacy he left her—without a fight. But when she and Jared stop sparring long enough to investigate a story together, they become a force to be reckoned with. Will they let their battle over the
Record
get in the way of something even more newsworthy: true love?

“I reckon the two of you will have to run the paper together until the judge comes to town.”

“Run it together?” Mary Lou's protest was incredulous.

“I have no intention of sharing my inheritance with a perfect stranger.” Jared wouldn't give up the last claim he had to a family connection.

“It's not your inheritance.” Mary Lou took a step toward him. “It's mine. You may be blood kin, but
I was the only family Jacob Ivy had for the last eight years.”

The sheriff opened the door. “The two of you can argue all you want. I won't dispossess either of you. The judge should be through town between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Learn to work together until then.”

“He can't stay here!” Mary Lou was indignant.

“Sheriff, you have the authority to evict her.” Jared made another attempt to settle the matter today.

“I do, but I won't be the one to throw an orphaned girl into the street without the judge's say-so.” He tipped his hat to Mary Lou. “Good day to you both.”

And he was gone.

Angel Moore
fell in love with romance in elementary school when she read the story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Who doesn't want to escape to a happily-ever-after world? Married to her best friend, she has two wonderful sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and three grandkids. She loves sharing her faith and the hope she knows is real because of God's goodness to her. Find her at
www.angelmoorebooks.com
.

Books by Angel Moore

Love Inspired Historical

Conveniently Wed
The Marriage Bargain
The Rightful Heir

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ANGEL MOORE

The Rightful Heir

A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.

—Proverbs
13:22

In loving memory of Ashley Bailey

The light and joy of a niece who celebrated everyone is sorely missed.

To my editor, Dina Davis, for her support and expertise.

To Belle Calhoune, my fellow Love Inspired author and accountability partner, for the encouragement and laughs along the way.

To the readers, who join me for the story.

To Austin, for his continued sacrifice and wisdom.

To my sweet Maria, Melody, Asher and Judah. God has blessed me beyond measure.

Having these wonderful people in my life motivates me every day.

To Bob, my best friend.

And to God, for His mercy and constant help.

Chapter One

Pine Haven,
Texas
October, 1881

“I
'll be right with you.” Mary Lou Ellison was on her knees behind the press. A gust of wind from the opening door had caught her story notes and floated them under the edge of the beast of a machine.

A deep voice refused to wait. “I'm looking for the owner.”

Mary Lou caught the edge of the paper and pulled it free. The notes on the harvest celebration were the most interesting she'd had in weeks. She wouldn't disappoint the townsfolk by not covering the festivities for the next edition of the
Pine Haven Record
.

She stood straight and looked at the intruder across the top of the press. “I'm the owner.”

As expected, the man's eyes opened wide in apparent disbelief. The raised brows and confused expression were normal to her now. No one entering the office for the first time expected a woman to own a newspaper. Much less a young woman. At twenty-two, she was considered young by businessmen and old by most any man in search of a wife. Not that she wanted a husband. She could take care of herself.

“That's not possible.” The handsome face rejected her claim. If she weren't a journalist, she would scold herself for noticing his strong jaw, thick hair and cautious blue eyes. Since details were her business, she allowed herself to take in the cowboy's lean build. Strong arms were encased in a suede coat. A leather vest covered his chest over a shirt of gray. Boots showing signs of hard work shifted on her floor. A Stetson swung in his hands.

“It is possible.” She put the notes on her desk and placed the magnifying glass on top of them. The wind wouldn't send her on another merry chase. “And it's true. Has been for the last two months.” She blew the hair out of her eyes and asked, “What can I do for you?”

He turned and looked at the words on the glass window. Taking one finger and underlining the backward lettering, he read out loud, “‘Jacob Ivy, Publisher.' That's who I'm looking for.”

The pain of her grief had eased into hollowness. Jacob's death was the only reason she owned the paper. He'd been her mentor and teacher but mostly her only true friend. She sniffed and answered. “Mr. Ivy passed just two months ago. I'm the owner now.”

“Grump is dead?” He shook his head.

She saw it then. The breadth of his forehead and shape of his nose. He was Mr. Ivy—forty years younger. Why was he here? Why, after all the years his grandfather had reached out to him, had he come now? When it was too late.

“Jared Ivy?”

“How did you know my name?”

Mary Lou pointed to a frame on the wall near the front door. It held a tiny photograph of two men and a small boy. “That's you and your father with Mr. Ivy.”

The only man who could take away the life she'd built in Pine Haven followed her direction to study the photograph. Could Jared Ivy really disrupt her situation now? The deed to the building was locked in the drawer of the heavy desk Mr. Ivy had worked at for all the years she'd known him.

“I've never seen a photograph of my father.” He lifted a hand and wiped the dust from the frame.

Mary Lou's heart ached for him. As much as his appearance was a mystery—one that could be upsetting to her future—she knew what it was like to be without any knowledge of her father.

“Mr. Ivy told me about the accident that took your father's life when you were a small child.”

“He did?” Jared Ivy turned back to her. “Perhaps you could tell me.”

“You don't know?” Why wouldn't a grown man know the circumstances of his father's death?

“My mother refused to speak about him. She said it would cause me unnecessary pain as a child. Then, when I became an adult, she didn't speak much about anything.” He said the words without judgment.

“He and your grandfather started the newspaper together as a family business. Your father was killed while working to construct this building. He fell from the top of the wall when the wood was being pulled up to put on the roof.”

Jared Ivy didn't flinch or blink. Somehow he absorbed the death of his grandfather and the details of his father's death without an outward reaction.

“What happened to Grump?”

“Doc Willis said his heart gave out.” She dealt in facts all day long, every day. Some people accused her of being cold, but direct was the only way she knew to be. Years of condensing a tragedy into a few paragraphs, or a big event into a couple of sentences, had taught her to be concise. She smiled at the memory of Mr. Ivy telling her it made her a good newspaper woman. Having loved Mr. Ivy like she did, it hurt to tell his story in so few words.

“I see.” He reached into the pocket of his vest. “If you'd be so kind as to direct me to the land office.”

“Do you intend to stay in town? I thought you came to see your grandfather.”

“I did come to see him.” He pulled a watch from the pocket, opened it to check the time and slid it back into its place. “But as that is not possible, I have other business to attend.”

Did she dare to probe beyond his vague answer? “I wonder you have other business in town. You must have arrived on the train today.”

“I did.”

The way he ignored her veiled query gave her cause for concern. What purpose did he have in Pine Haven with no living relatives here? “The land office is most likely closed this late on a Saturday.”

“Nevertheless, I need to know where it is.” He put a hand on the door latch. “If you've no wish to tell me, I'll ask at the hotel.”

“It's beyond the hotel, on the opposite side of the street.”

He thanked her and left. The Stetson went back on his head before he closed the door behind him.

Jared Ivy was nothing like his grandfather had imagined. More than once, Jacob Ivy had talked about how like his father the young Jared had been. The years since the man's death had left the young Mr. Ivy with no hint of the warm and caring family she'd grown to love through his grandfather's stories.

A looming deadline for the paper to be ready to print pushed the handsome man out of her thoughts. He could go to the land office, but he wouldn't find Mr. Little there.

She only had a short amount of time to put the words of her last story for the coming edition on paper. Almost everyone in town had attended the harvest celebration on the previous evening. The festivities had been pleasant and the food good. The annual affair warranted a spot at the top of the page. First she'd pen the words and then the tedious task of setting the type for the press would begin. She hoped she'd left enough space to do the story justice.

Her words had formed numerous articles for several years, but the town was judging her differently as the owner. As a reporter with Jacob Ivy looking over her shoulder, she'd done well. His years in the paper business had built a reputation of truth and integrity for the
Pine Haven Record
. Building the trust of the community now that she was the publisher was another story indeed.

Her heart ached anew at the loss of Mr. Ivy. He'd been the only true father figure in her life. She wouldn't let his grandson do anything to tarnish that memory.

* * *

Jared left the hotel and walked in the direction of the land office.

Grump was dead.

In the almost twenty years since his father had passed, it never occurred to Jared that his grandfather would die before he returned to Pine Haven. Jared had vague snatches of memories in which he sat on the edge of Grump's desk while the man scratched a pencil across the page to tell a story.

Grump had told his last story and Jared hadn't been here to read it.

When he found the land office closed, he went in search of the sheriff. The little sprite of a young woman at the paper office had proclaimed herself the new owner. The papers he'd retrieved from his luggage at the hotel said different. This piece of business could be settled before nightfall. He persuaded the sheriff to go with him to his grandfather's office and explain the situation to Mary Lou Ellison.

When he opened the door this time she had her back to the entrance. She turned and he was struck again by her confidence. Nothing about her spoke of the cowering fear he'd seen in his mother.

She wore a white blouse with the sleeves pushed up near the elbows. Black bands held them out of her way while she worked to gather the letters that would shape the stories she'd written. An ink-stained apron covered the front of her clothes. Her brown hair had been kissed by the sun and shone lighter around her face. A smudge of ink peeked from behind the tresses that escaped their pins and hung loose on her forehead. Green eyes met his again. The wariness he'd detected earlier came back with a vengeance.

“Miss Ellison, I've brought the sheriff with me to show you something.” He knew the best way to deal with unexpected or unpleasant news was to get right to it.

“Let's not get in a rush now, Mr. Ivy.” Sheriff Collins spoke up. The man's disheveled clothes and tired face made Jared wonder how well he could be protecting the citizens of Pine Haven. He looked like he needed a fresh shave and a good night's rest.

Jared wouldn't wait. Best to handle things immediately. “I see no need to dawdle.”

Sheriff Collins looked him up and down. “I don't know how I feel about a cowboy who talks like a schoolteacher.”

Mary Lou Ellison chuckled. “I'm not sure what to make of him, either, Sheriff.” She put down the letters she was sorting and came to stand in front of the press. “He says he's Mr. Ivy's grandson, but he's nothing like the way his grandpa described him.”

“He hadn't seen me in almost twenty years.” Jared was losing patience with these two.

“That's what troubles me.” Mary Lou pointed at him. “Why didn't you come see him in all that time?”

The sheriff ran his hand over the stubble on his chin. “That's a good question.”

“My business is not the business of either of you.” Jared watched the sheriff stand a bit straighter at his rebuff.

“Mr. Ivy, if you want my help in solving this situation, you're gonna need to hold your words a bit.”

Mary Lou spoke up. “What situation, Sheriff?” Her eyes darted from the sheriff to him.

“Seems Mr. Ivy here has a will from Jacob Ivy saying the paper belongs to him.”

Her face blanched at the sheriff's announcement. Jared hated to cause her pain, but Grump and his father had wanted him to have the paper. He'd let his grandfather down his whole life. He wouldn't deny the man the legacy he'd earned by building the
Pine Haven Record
to what it was today. His mother had prevented contact with Grump since his father had died. Without her presence to hinder him—
God rest her soul
—he would follow through with his father and Grump's wishes now.

Mary Lou turned to the sheriff. “The paper is mine. You were there the day Mr. Little gave me the deed.”

Sheriff Collins nodded in agreement. “I remember, Mary Lou. It's just that you didn't have a real will. All we had was your word saying what Mr. Ivy had told you.”

“So that's how you got the paper.” He wondered if she'd swindled Grump in his old age. Had Grump lost his reasoning? Did she hoodwink him?

Her wary eyes became daggers. “Don't you dare accuse me of swindling Jacob Ivy.” The level tone of her voice spoke of controlled rage. Was she guilty and trying to cover it, or had she really cared about his grandfather? “He was like a father to me.”

“He wasn't
like
a grandfather to me. He
was
my grandfather.” It was best to say it and put everything out in the open. He reached into his vest for the will. “See for yourself.”

Mary Lou took the will from his hand and unfolded the aged document. Her eyes skimmed the page. She folded it and gave it back.

“It says the land and the paper are mine.” He tucked the will away.

“I read it.” She turned to the sheriff. “Sheriff, you know Mr. Ivy wanted me to have the paper. You know how close we were. How he taught me about the newspaper business. Even if Jared Ivy is his grandson, does that mean he can come in and take away what was given to me?”

Sheriff Collins looked at Mary Lou and then at Jared. “She's right. The old man loved her. He took her in years ago.”

“I'm glad to hear he had people in his life who loved him.” Jared patted his vest pocket. “But his wishes are plain. I found this will in my mother's things after she died. Grump must have sent it to her when I was a boy.”

Sheriff Collins asked, “Did you come here just to make your claim to the paper?”

Jared shook his head. “I came here to see my grandfather. I didn't know he'd passed.” To his surprise, Mary Lou validated his words.

“That's true. He came in asking for Mr. Ivy.” It seemed she was a person of integrity. If she'd chosen to lie about that, there would be nothing he could do to prove her wrong.

“Don't see why you brung the will then.” The sheriff seemed to be doubting his word.

“I brought everything I own with me. My intent is to settle in Pine Haven.” Jared glanced at Mary Lou. “I had hoped for the opportunity to spend time with Grump.”

Sheriff Collins grunted and looked at both of them. “Only thing I know to do is make you sell it and split the profit.”

“No!” Mary Lou stomped her foot as she said the word.

Jared agreed with her on this point. “The paper is not for sale.”

She persisted. “I'd never sell. Mr. Ivy worked too hard to build the
Record
to what it is today.”

He seized on her words. “And you said yourself, he built it for my family.”

She glared at him then. “And
you
didn't want it!” The vehemence in her words was palpable.

“I didn't know about it.”

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