“Had you bought them for your baby?”
“No!” Mia shook her head vehemently. Autumn sat on one of the guesthouse’s sofas. Mia paced the room, unable to sit down. “I don’t know where they came from. There were dozens of them everywhere. Do you think Luke bought them and then got mad when I wouldn’t move back in?”
“I don’t know.” Autumn looked equally mystified. “I don’t think you should be with a man who has a temper like that, either.”
“He didn’t used to have a temper. He was always sweet.” Mia’s tears ran faster. “Maybe I pushed him over the edge!”
“You are not to blame for this.”
“Not to blame for what?” Claire came in, followed by Morgan, and Mia explained again what she’d seen.
“That seems awfully… strange.” Morgan sat down on the couch and pulled her feet up under her. “But there’s been some bizarre stuff going on. What’s the deal with all the practical jokes?”
“Has there been more than one?” Autumn asked. “The Preparation H thing was pretty weird.”
“Well, there was the topiary disaster,” Morgan pointed out.
“And the Sexy Cowboy calendar. Jamie’s been selected for August,” Claire said. “Just what I need—a thousand horny women staring at his photo all month. As if he isn’t vain enough already.”
“So why the sudden rush of practical jokes?” Autumn shifted Arianna. “I mean, didn’t all the men swear off of them after your marriage, Morgan?”
“I thought so. I’ll ask Rob and see if he knows anything about the dolls, Mia. Maybe Luke wasn’t mad at you at all. Maybe he was mad at the person who put them there.”
“Maybe.” Her voice was thick and uneven. She scraped at her tears with the back of her arm. “Maybe if someone put all those dolls there, Luke felt they were making fun of him, since I won’t marry him.”
Autumn brought her a box of tissues and Mia accepted them gratefully. She blotted her eyes but new tears fell as fast as she could dry them.
“That’s the whole point of practical jokes, right?” Claire said. “To make the other person feel bad?”
“I guess.” Mia dabbed at her face. “That’s pretty mean, though. Who would do that?”
The other women couldn’t answer. “I think it’s time to figure it out, though,” Claire said. “I know I’m sick of this. Aren’t you guys, too?”
“Definitely,” Mia said. If the dolls were part of a joke, then maybe Luke hadn’t lost his mind.
“Maybe you should talk to Luke, Mia. Give him a chance to explain,” Autumn said gently.
“Maybe tomorrow,” Morgan said as Mia yawned so widely she swayed. “Look at her. She’s exhausted. Mia—you go to bed.”
Mia wanted to protest, but Morgan was right. She was too tired to even think straight. Too demoralized, too. No matter what the reason, seeing Luke destroying her nursery had devastated her. Another tear rolled down her cheek as she climbed the stairs and by the time she reached her room, she was sobbing again. This had to be the worst day of her life, and she didn’t know how things would get better anytime soon.
Spotting the calendar on her desk, Mia realized she hadn’t returned the phone calls she owed to Lila or Tracey. And she hadn’t gotten everything organized for her meeting with Rose, either. But there was no way she could do it now.
Mia didn’t bother to brush her teeth or change her clothes. She climbed into her bed, pulled the blankets around her and cried herself to sleep.
At three in the morning in April, the Double-Bar-K was cold, dark and as still as a graveyard. Luke let himself out of his cabin and walked carefully across the grounds until he reached the small outbuilding where Ned’s tools were neatly stored around the workbenches where he fixed all the machinery that was needed for the ranch.
By flashlight he began to gather everything he could move—screwdrivers, rasps, a ratchet set, even the blades from the bandsaw. If it wasn’t nailed down, Luke took it and loaded it into his truck. He held his breath when he started the engine, and let the truck roll down the dirt lane as far as possible in neutral with the headlights off until he felt it was safe to press on the gas and pull out onto the country highway. He drove south of town until he reached an old barn on the Hamm spread that was so ramshackle it was no longer used.
Ned would never, ever find his tools here. No one would. Luke might have lost Mia, but at least he’d have his—
Luke sat stock still in the seat of his truck, staring out at the black hulk of the Hamms’ broken down barn. What good was revenge? It wouldn’t bring Mia back. It wouldn’t mend the gaping hole in his heart she’d left when she’d run out of his house.
It wouldn’t fix anything.
Alone in the dark the only sound was the beating of his own heart. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, grappling for the anger that had sent him on this fool’s errand. Somehow it had drained away, leaving only defeat behind.
What was he doing stealing Ned’s tools instead of rebuilding Mia’s nursery, fixing the stair railing, and doing whatever it took to win her back? Was he still a teenager, squabbling and bickering with his brothers until no one on the Double-Bar-K knew any peace or happiness?
No wonder Mia had run from him. He was a first class asshole.
He started up the truck again, revved the engine and turned around with a screech of tires. He drove back home quickly, but rolled into his driveway with the headlights off again. No sense letting his whole family know how low he’d sunk.
He put all the tools away except the ones he needed to repair the nursery. He couldn’t stay up all night or he’d be worse than useless the next day, but in time he’d fix what he’d broken—in the nursery, yes, but also between him and Mia.
And tomorrow he’d get to work winning her back from Carl.
“I don’t understand. You didn’t reserve the tents?” Lila White said into the phone. “We talked about them just the other day. I thought I made it clear how important they were. I’ve got seventy-five guests coming, my dear.”
“I know.” It was a strain for Mia not to let her frustration show. “I got caught up in work and wasn’t able to call the rental company, but I will do it today.”
“That’s what you said last time, dear. What about the silverware and plates? I don’t have seventy-five settings, you know.”