The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 48)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(48)
Author: Cora Seton

She got up, kissed him on the cheek as she walked by and left without another word. Luke didn’t bother to contradict her, even if whatever she thought he’d done, he hadn’t. He moved to the table and picked the book up.

See Spot run. Run, Spot, run.

Hell. Ned must have been ballistic when he saw this. He was a proud man and he hated that people knew about his difficulties with reading. He’d been working steadily with Camila, who volunteered at the local literacy center, and had been making good progress. Luke hoped this stupid joke didn’t ruin it.

He threw the book in the trash and went to look for Ned, but his brother wasn’t in the barn or stables, or even in the shed he used as a mechanic’s shop. When he finally gave up the search, he was hungry and discouraged, so he returned to his cabin, rustled up a quick lunch and ran upstairs to change his shirt. The sight of the guest bedroom door—the nursery door—hanging wide open stopped him in his tracks.

He’d closed that door this morning.

Hadn’t he?

A quick peek into the room confirmed his worst suspicions. Someone had been in there. Someone with a grudge.

Ned.

Luke stepped inside to take in the scene. Dozens of pairs of plastic eyes stared back at him out of baby dolls of every shape and size. There were tiny dolls and oversized dolls. Girl dolls with lots of hair. Boy dolls with plastic swirls to indicate hair. Lifelike baby dolls. And stuffed animals, too. Teddy bears, dinosaurs…

Ned must have raided the Salvation Army, Luke realized, remembering the bins of toys he always saw when he dropped things off for sale. Luke understood exactly what Ned meant to say, too; he might not read too well, but he had a wife and soon he’d have a family.

The only babies Luke could look forward to were the plastic ones staring back at him right now.

A slow burn of anger twisted with the pain the joke had blossoming within him. Ned should have known Luke hadn’t meant to tease him about his dyslexia and certainly wouldn’t have compounded the insult by sending the book. He should have known someone else was yanking his chain. Instead, he’d rushed to play a trick he knew Luke would feel like a stab to the heart.

Well, Ned had better watch out. Forget making it right. Luke was determined to get revenge.

“I hope you’ve reserved the tents, dear. It can be quite hard to get a tent this time of year, you know,” Lila White quavered into the phone. Mia checked the clock on her dresser again. She needed to leave for work in ten minutes. Would Lila stop talking by then?

“It’s on my list to do today, Lila. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of everything. Your reunion will be a stunning success.”

“There are seventy-five people coming.”

“I know.” Lila had told her a half a dozen times in this call alone.

“I might not live to see another reunion. I want it to be special.”

“It will be. I promise. Lila, I have to run, but I’ll check in tomorrow with an update, okay?”

“Okay, dear. Don’t forget the chairs. Lots of chairs. Everyone needs to be able to sit down.”

“Yes. I’ll get plenty of chairs.”

“And be sure to reserve the tent today, dear. You know how hard it is—”

“Lila? I’m sorry—I have to go right now. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Mia ended the call feeling bad for cutting the elderly lady off, but if she didn’t get her hair dried now she’d look a fright. There were never enough hours in the day now that she was working two jobs. She planned to meet Carl again during her break—a very quick half-hour break—this afternoon and she still hadn’t perfected her pitch. She had a feeling I deal well with cranky people wasn’t quite what Carl had in mind.

When she reached the restaurant, her cheeks stinging from the fresh April breeze that was sweeping away the last remnants of the winter snow, Fila took one look at her, pressed her lips together and retreated into the kitchen.

“What’s wrong?” Mia looked at her watch. She was only a minute late—not bad considering what she’d accomplished already this morning.

“Luke played a really mean joke on Ned,” Camila said as she, too, headed for the kitchen. “He made fun of Ned’s dyslexia, which really isn’t cool.”

“Luke did?” Mia was surprised. “That’s not like him at all. He gets furious if anyone says anything bad about Ned.”

Camila shrugged. “Fila’s upset. I’d keep my distance if I were you.”

“She blames me because of what she thinks Luke did?”

“You’re his girlfriend. She thinks you should have stopped him.”

“I’m not his girlfriend.” Not really—despite their interludes in bed.

Camila shrugged again and pushed through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Mia took her place behind the counter and pulled on an apron, still wondering why Luke would act that way toward his brother. She reached for a cloth to buff the counter. Unless, he was so upset about them not being together all the time that he was taking it out on everyone else. She slowly moved the cloth back and forth across the already clean surface. She knew he wanted to marry her. Was he so frustrated that he was lashing out?

And was she being stupid to drag things out when she wanted him as badly as he wanted her?

No—she needed to establish her business and her identity as a self-sufficient, trustworthy adult before she entered into a relationship. He needed to prove he would respect her boundaries, too. But maybe she should go talk to Luke and tell him how she felt. She could clarify that she did love him and wanted to be with him, too. She just needed a little time.

And she’d tell him to behave himself while she was at it. Mia grinned. Then they could get it on to seal the deal. She looked forward to that.

She also hoped to send the letter she’d finally written for Inez later today, too. She wanted to look it over one last time, but she thought she’d done a fair job summarizing the events that had taken place six years ago. She’d copied Inez’s style and kept things simple and to the point. That had made it a little easier.

She didn’t know what would happen next. Every time she speculated about it, anxiety gripped her. What if Warner denied the allegations? What if he tried to get back at her?

No sense in getting overwrought, she told herself, but she found it hard not to expect the worst.

The rush started the minute the restaurant opened and continued until well past two, but by two-thirty there was enough of a lull that Mia was able to take her first half-hour break. She stashed her apron under the counter, grabbed her purse and rushed to Linda’s Diner, savoring the fresh wind that lapped her cheeks on the blustery April morning. She’d noticed the last vestiges of snow in the shady spots were melting away. Soon the days would lengthen and the watery sunshine would strengthen into the strong hot heat of May and June.