“Who was that?” Jake asked later that evening when Luke clicked off his phone and stuck it in his back pocket. The two of them were out in front of Jake’s cabin where they were trying to un-jam the snowplow blade on Jake’s truck in the glare of the cabin’s floodlights. More snow was due overnight, which meant they needed to be able to plow the driveway and lanes around the ranch. It also meant he’d have to make time to get over to Amanda Stone’s house, too, in the morning to shovel her walk again. Which was the least of his problems right now. He took a deep breath.
“Is Mia’s engagement ring ready?”
“No. They called to tell me she said she doesn’t want it.”
“Shit.” Jake turned to him. “She must be pretty pissed if she’s given back your ring.”
Rob stepped out onto the front porch of the main house, spotted them and waved. A minute later he joined them. “What’s up?”
“Mia dumped Luke.” Jake went back to working on the mechanism holding the snowplow blade in place.
“A one-day engagement. That’s got to be a record or something,” Rob put in.
“Shut up.” Luke’s jaw tightened as he fought for control. He didn’t know whether to go find Mia and talk some sense into her, or give her time to cool down. The thought of doing nothing had his shoulders bunching and the muscles in his neck tying themselves in knots.
“Calm down. You’ll get her back,” Jake said. “Just go find her and turn on the Matheson charm.”
“I don’t think that will work. Not this time.” Mia had already proven herself immune to it.
“And you were worried that Dad would scare her off. Where’d he go, anyhow?”
“I don’t know. He got a phone call this morning and he’s been gone all day.” Luke was glad he hadn’t seen Holt. If it wasn’t for his father, he wouldn’t have flown off the handle and yelled at Mia like that. Jake was right, he needed to talk to Mia—just as soon as she got home. He’d waited an hour in the cabin, then packed up the dinner she’d made. Jake’s knock on the door to ask for his help had come as a relief. He couldn’t sit still another minute. He could see now this wedding planner idea was important to Mia. He could scare up a few dollars to help her get started, maybe.
Emphasis on maybe. In truth he was a tiny bit relieved she’d cancelled the ring. He did want her to have something special enough to stop all the speculation about his commitment to their marriage, but after their blow-out he’d had to admit to himself the ring would take years to pay off. That wasn’t very practical. Not to mention the damned truck payment. The fact that Mia hadn’t even been impressed by it—or the ring—galled him. Why’d he let his brothers convince him he needed something so flashy to win Mia’s love?
And why had he pushed Mia so hard to accept a ring she didn’t even want? The ring she’d liked was far more affordable. He should have let her have her way.
“Did you see what Cab did to my topiary horse?” Rob asked them. “Sick son of a bitch.”
Despite his problems, Luke chuckled.
“It’s not funny. I’m going to have to take the whole damn bush out and start over,” Rob said.
“Aw, come on—there’s still enough left you can turn it into a horse,” Jake said.
“A quarter horse, maybe,” Luke said.
“Ha, ha, very funny.” Rob’s eyes flashed with anger. “Those bushes aren’t cheap, I’ll have you know. Not ones that big.”
“I’m sure you’ll recover from the expense,” Jake said.
Luke’s laughter died away. He wasn’t sure he’d recover from his own expenses any time soon. It weighed on him that his credit card had a running total, too. He’d never meant to accrue it, but life was expensive and until recently Holt had barely paid any of them for their help around the ranch. Instead he’d given them an allowance that was enough to make a payment on a beater truck, cover drinks at the Dancing Boot and that was about it. He’d used his credit card to bridge the gaps in his income. That had been a mistake.
He wouldn’t be able to front Mia much money for this new business she wanted, which made him angry all over again. He wasn’t sure she’d find enough clients in Chance Creek, anyway, and they couldn’t afford to throw good money after bad.
Still, if it was a business she wanted he’d try to help her. Anything to make her happy—to convince her to give him a second shot. A new thought occurred to him—what if she didn’t come back? He shook his head. She had to come back. He loved her. One night with her in his bed had done nothing to quench his desire for her. When they’d talked of marriage, one thought had been uppermost in his mind: that every night she’d be waiting for him to come home. He liked the thought of her eager for his company, touching him as she served the evening meal, snuggling up close when they watched television afterward, leading him by the hand to their bedroom.
It was selfish. It was old-fashioned. It was probably wrong.
But could anyone blame him?
“Here you go,” Hannah said the next day, handing Mia a small suitcase. “I hope you know what you’re doing. I felt like a secret agent slipping into your cabin and rummaging through your things.”
“Thanks for using up your lunch hour to do it,” Mia said. Between work at the Pet Clinic and school, Mia knew Hannah rarely even took lunch, so she’d felt bad about asking her to sneak enough clothing and toiletries out of Luke’s cabin to see her through her exile at Autumn and Ethan’s place.
“That’s all right. Next time I need someone to infiltrate my house I’ll know who to call. I think you might be overreacting, though. You shouldn’t dump Luke over one little fight.”
Not Hannah, too. Everyone seemed to take Luke’s side. Even the people who didn’t come right out and say so made it clear they thought she was crazy to leave him. She knew what they thought: Luke was willing to take care of her, even when her baby wasn’t his, so she should let him. Everyone obviously thought she was incapable of caring for herself, so they didn’t see why she’d turn him down.
“It was a pretty big fight, actually—our ideas about marriage and how we want to live are totally incompatible. He was completely against me starting a business.”