The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 57)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(57)
Author: Cora Seton

By the time she arrived at Linda’s Diner, however, her good mood had slipped away again. The new girl—Frieda Smith—had so much to learn that she slowed Mia down instead of speeding things up. Mia knew that would change with time, but right now her patience was worn to a thread.

“Sorry I’m late,” Luke said, sitting down on the other side. “Got tied up at the ranch.”

“That’s okay. I only have a half-hour, though.”

“The restaurant still doing good business?”

“Too good, if you ask me.”

“And how’s your business?”

Mia wasn’t sure how to answer. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yeah. I really want to know.” He took her hand. Squeezed it.

“It’s good and bad,” she said slowly, very aware of her hand in his. She felt alone a lot these days. She missed living with Luke—missed his presence beside her at night, too. She wished she knew which was the real Luke—the man who cared enough about her to ask these questions, or the man who always thought he knew better than her what to do. “Rose loves what I’ve done for her wedding and it’s all really coming together. Tracey has had more issues. So far I’ve managed to solve them, but it’s been a rocky road, and Lila White…well, she’s not as happy.”

“What’s wrong with Lila?”

She waited a beat to see if he really wanted to know the answer. When he didn’t say anything, she pressed on. “I botched up her tents. I was supposed to reserve three large tents for her family reunion, but by the time I called the rental companies, all the really big ones were taken. Autumn helped me come up with a work-around, using a bunch of smaller ones in a creative way. Lila went for it, but she’s not pleased and she lets me know about it every time we talk. No matter what else I do to make up for that, it’s not good enough.”

“That’s too bad.”

She waited for him to tell her what she’d done wrong, or to reiterate this was all too much for her, but he didn’t.

Instead, he asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Mia blinked back tears. Help? God, could she use help.

“No, I’ve got it,” she said, but didn’t pull away from him. Instead she found herself threading her fingers through his and holding on for dear life.

“Well, you just let me know if that changes. I’ve got two hands and a strong back, and I’d be glad to loan them to you.”

She was definitely going to cry if he kept that up. “There are a few other parts of you I could use.” She bit her lip at her lame attempt at a joke, but it worked to shift the conversation.

Luke squeezed her hand again. “Oh yeah? Which ones?”

“Why don’t you come over tonight and see? Don’t be too late, though. I’m exhausted these days,” she confessed.

“I’ll come over and rub your feet.” He smiled at her. “If you’re still awake afterward, we’ll see what else happens.”

Luke was happier than he could say when Mia managed to stay awake through his foot massage that night and welcomed him into her bed afterward. He took things slow—really slow—because he worried about how tired she looked, but she seemed to enjoy his body moving within hers.

He enjoyed it, too. Going slow meant he could really concentrate on his movements and her reactions. He could learn exactly what she liked—and what she loved—and change things up to make the most of it. After he brought her to a first climax, he started over, going even more slowly, making love to her even more thoroughly. This time he came with her. The wave of sensation washed away any worry he had about what they were to each other.

Afterward, he cradled her in his arms until she fell asleep. As he lay awake watching her dream, the tension that had filled him for weeks slowly ebbed away. His focus had been on the wrong thing for a long time. Mia wasn’t a prize to be won; she was a partner to be wooed and cared for and nurtured. He couldn’t just put together a magic chain of actions that would result in them standing side-by-side at the altar, as if that was the final goal, because it wasn’t. It was just the start. They had to create their goals together and figure out how to move toward them at the same time.

That meant he had to be a partner to her right now, before they were married.

Which meant he needed to get his priorities straight. Who was he to tell Mia what she could and couldn’t do when his own business dealings were messed up? Why was he spending all his income paying off a fancy truck when Mia obviously didn’t care a fig what he drove? Why was his credit card maxed out when he was working morning, noon and night? It was time to sit down and figure out where he’d gone wrong, and what he needed to do to get back on track. He might never be a millionaire, but he owed his future wife more security than his current debts could offer her.

He would set up an appointment with Matt Underwood, and lay everything out on the table. Matt would know what to do. He remembered Carl’s business card sitting at home on his dresser. Carl might have some ideas as well, if he could swallow enough of his pride to ask the man. He heaved a sigh. He probably should do just that. Carl knew more about business than he did—that was for sure.

He settled closer to Mia, tucked a tendril of her hair back behind her ear and kissed her neck softly. Wrapping an arm around her sleeping form, he basked in a peace he hadn’t felt in months. He was right where he wanted to be.

“You realize when you ruin Lila White’s reunion, everyone’s going to blame me,” Mia’s mother said the afternoon before Tracey’s wedding. Enid ran a finger along Mia’s bureau in her room at the guesthouse and humphed, even though Mia was positive she hadn’t found any dust. Autumn was a meticulous housekeeper and even though Mia had begged her not to consider it her job to clean her room, she refused to give up dusting and vacuuming it.

“It’s good exercise for me,” she’d said, when Mia told her not to bother. “I have all this pregnancy weight to lose, and you’re so busy. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

Mia didn’t believe that, but she accepted the help in the spirit it was given. It burned her that her mother would criticize Autumn’s handiwork.

“I won’t ruin Lila White’s reunion.”

“You already did. You forgot to order her tents. Yes, I know all about that. Everyone does.” Enid’s mouth was set in a hard line. Mia knew how much her mother hated to be judged and found wanting. Too bad Enid never considered how it felt to those around her when she passed those judgments on.