In the Ranger's Arms (The Men of At Ease Ranch)

By: Donna Michaels

To those who serve and have served, and their families, thank you for your sacrifice.





Chapter One


Could the day get any worse?

Shutting down his computer, Stone Mitchum silently cursed his stupidity. After a decade as an Army Ranger, he knew better than to tempt fate with such a blatant thought. Too many times he’d witnessed others throw caution to the wind and invariably pay for the mistake in the end. Not him. Caution was his middle name. Until lately. Jackass seemed more fitting. Like now, thanks to that wayward thought, he just invited more shit to rain down on his sorry ass today.

Way to go, Stone Jackass Mitchum.

With a grunt, he closed his laptop and stood, unsure if the creaking sound came from his knees or the old oak desk barely noticeable under a mound of papers and receipts. He glanced around the small office, just big enough to house the desk, chair, filing cabinet, and worn sofa…covered in more paperwork and receipts. At least the holes in the green plaid cushions were no longer visible.

Organizing the ranch office was on Stone’s to-do list, but not a top priority at the moment. Today was rent day, and for a change, he was the collector, not the payee. And after the last two emails he’d just read, he had some serious scrambling to do.

The first was from the bank reminding him the loan payment on the ranch was overdue. Again. The second was from a new tenant, insisting she’d already paid her first payment. His bank account said otherwise. Was this what he had to look forward to with her for the next few weeks? If he hadn’t been so damn desperate for money to keep the ranch and business afloat, he never would’ve signed a tenant who wanted to rent one of his storefronts in town for only one month. Good thing he insisted she start her lease early. Too bad the woman was tough to pin down for payment. He was right tired of dealing with the northerner through emails. It was time to have a face-to-face with this Jovy person.

He came around his desk and grimaced. What kind of a name was Jovy, anyway? The pain was probably one of those eternally happy people who constantly smiled, chewed gum, and drew hearts in her signature.

A few more curses rumbled in his throat as the door to the office swung open and his older brother Brick strode in, smudges of grease clinging to his jeans and chiseled face, while a troubled gaze mirrored Stone’s discontent. Great. Looked like he wasn’t the only one having a bad day.

The two of them, along with their buddies Vince and Cord, had been working nonstop for weeks on end to get their construction business off the ground. Requests for estimates from word of mouth started to trickle in. If they kept up the pace—provided nothing broke down—they’d be operating in the black by the end of next week. That meant they could hire more veterans.

The very goal of Foxtrot Construction—to give returning veterans a purpose, a reason to exist, and a place to stay on their ranch, if needed.

“Damn backhoe’s broken again.” The scowling giant tossed his large frame on the sofa, sending papers and receipts cascading onto the worn wooden floor.

One more thing to add to Stone’s never ending to-do list. Stripping and staining the oak planks. The chore fell right below organizing the office. Damn list was getting bigger every day.

“Yo! Did you hear me, little brother?” A brow quirked over a set of dark eyes and tired expression Stone knew too well. It mirrored his, except Stone had gray eyes and a slimmer face. “The backhoe’s broken, again.”

He sighed. So much for avoiding broken equipment. But considering nothing they owned was brand-new, breakdowns were expected. Good thing Cord was an ace mechanic.

“I heard you.” Twelve months younger and shorter by one inch, although the way his brother teased you’d swear it was a whole damn foot, Stone leaned his six-foot-two-inch frame against the front of the desk. It creaked in protest again. He sympathized.

The ranch he purchased from his dad eight months ago with his brother and their two former Army Ranger buddies seemed like a great deal at the time. The large homestead, built by his grandfather, had been the perfect size and location to give returning veterans a safe place to stay while readjusting to civilian life. Or so they thought. Thousands of dollars and man-hours later, he wasn’t so sure. The repairs seemed endless, and he had the added burden of knowing his brother wanted to leave but wouldn’t until the ranch was fixed and the business was making a profit. Stone felt old and worn out like his desk. And their bank account.

He blew out a breath. “What’s wrong with it now?”

“Starter’s gone.”

He stiffened. “Gone? Or broken?”

“Does it matter?”

“Hell yeah, it matters. Is someone stealing stuff or is the damn thing broken?”

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