The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 50)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(50)
Author: Cora Seton

Luke shook off the man’s barrage of words, his anger unabated. “I’m her fiancé,” he repeated. “And I’m telling you to leave her alone.”

Carl leaned forward. “No.”

Jake reached the table just in time to catch Luke’s arm as he took a swing at Carl.

“Whoa! Easy now. Not here!” He half lifted, half dragged Luke up from the table. “Let’s go. You two can reconvene this little meeting outside.”

Luke allowed his brother to manhandle him up the aisle and out of the restaurant. A battle in Linda’s Diner would bring wrath down on his head from every quarter. Outside, Jake let him go, but stood between him and Carl as Carl exited the restaurant, too.

“I’ve got no quarrel with you,” Carl said, holding his hands out. “All I’ve got is advice. That’s what Mia came to me for—advice on how to grow her business. Now I’ve got some advice for you: listen to her. Have you ever started one?”

“One what?” Luke couldn’t see past the vision of Carl and Mia chatting, of Mia turning to the older man for help. Of Mia choosing Carl over him…

“A business.” Carl’s exasperation was plain to hear.


“I thought not. Otherwise you’d know how terrifying it is to find yourself solely responsible for every decision. She’s young, Luke. She’s feeling her way. She’s pregnant, working two jobs.…Why aren’t you helping her?”

Luke blinked. Then lunged. Jake stopped him. Pushed him back.

Carl held up his hands again. “I’m going back to my motel room, but I’m not the man you have a problem with. Look in the mirror and you’ll see who you should be angry at.”

“Fuck you!”

Carl walked away, shaking his head. Jake kept his grip on Luke until the man had turned the corner.

“Shit, Luke. It’s like being out with Ned.”

“That’s bullshit. Everything he said was goddamn bullshit.”

“Really? Because it sounded like good sense to me.”

Luke turned on him. “You’re supposed to be on my side!”

“I am on your side, but Carl’s right. If Mia is meeting with him because she wants someone to talk to, that means the two of you aren’t talking enough.”

“Maybe she isn’t interested in just talking to him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? You heard the guy. Mia’s too young for him.”

“When did that ever stop a man?” Luke thought about Warner. Shook it off. “Even if he isn’t into her, which I doubt, she could be into him. Everyone knows he’s rich as sin, right?”

Jake nodded slowly. “You think Mia would hit on Carl in order to get her hands on his money? Are you listening to yourself, asshole? Mia’s the one who keeps refusing to let you pay her way because she wants to do it herself. She’s the one who’s set her heart on running her own business—an idea you keep trashing. If you’re going to accuse her of whoring herself out for cash, maybe she should dump your sorry ass.”

“Maybe I don’t have enough money for her. Maybe that’s what she’s been trying to tell me all along.”

“That she won’t let you support her because you don’t have a million dollars? I don’t think—”

“You know what? I don’t need to know what you think. I need to figure this out on my own.” Luke climbed into his truck, slammed the door shut and roared off down the street, not caring who saw him or what happened next.

Hours later he stood in the nursery watching the sea of dolls watch him back, still seething from his encounter with Carl. A long drive down country roads hadn’t calmed him. Neither had slogging through the remainder of his chores. Ned was right. These were the only babies he’d ever see in this nursery, because there was no way he could compete with a millionaire. Maybe he could have once, back when Carl was the soft, pasty-white businessman he had been, but this new Carl was both rich and masculine enough to attract a woman like Mia. Had the asshole been working out?

Anger boiled up within him that it had ever come to this. That Mia had ever slept with Ellis. That she had held back from him when she moved in. That he’d blown his chance with her while she still lived here. That he couldn’t have a simple conversation with her without turning it into an argument. Mia would sleep with him, but she wouldn’t pledge her life to him. She’d have Ellis’s baby, but she wouldn’t let Luke become the father to her child.

His chest tightened until he could hardly breathe. His pulse pounded at his temples. The sea of dolls stared back at him unblinkingly until Luke couldn’t stand it anymore. He charged downstairs, found the trash bags and grabbed a handful. Back in the nursery he opened one up and swooped armfuls of dolls and stuffed animals into it. When it was full to the brim he balanced it in front of him to tie off the ends. His fingers, shaking from rage, fumbled at the plastic ties and slipped, spilling half the dolls back to the floor. With a roar of anger, Luke kicked the nearest. It ricocheted off the crib and the dresser, and came to rest on the other side of the room. It felt so good to vent his fury he did it again, and again, sending the dolls and stuffed animals flying.

“Damn it! God-damn it!”

“Luke! What are you doing?”

Luke spun around to see Mia in the doorway, her coat still on and her mouth hanging open. He glanced around him and took in the room the way she’d see it—dolls scattered over the floor and furniture, most of them dented, scuffed and damaged from his kicks. The walls and furniture scarred. He noticed one curtain half torn from its rod.

Mia’s face crumpled and tears filled her eyes. Luke went cold. “It’s not what it looks like.”

“What is it then? No!” She held up a hand, a tear spilling over her cheek. “No, I don’t want to hear.” She turned and ran down the stairs as fast as she could. Luke went after her, but halted halfway down when the front door slammed shut behind her. He sat down hard on the wooden steps. Kicked out at the railing once, twice—until it splintered and crashed to the ground.

What the hell had he done?

Chapter Seventeen

“What do you mean he was kicking babies?” Autumn asked, cradling Arianna closer.

“Baby dolls. Stuffed animals. Just kicking them all over the nursery!” Mia was still crying. She couldn’t stop. She couldn’t make sense of what she’d seen when she’d stopped by Luke’s cabin on her way home. All she knew was that it felt like Luke had aimed all his anger at her.