The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 61)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(61)
Author: Cora Seton

“We’ll see about the plaque. For now my only goal is living through the next few hours.”

“You sure about this?” Carl said as he made out a check to Luke.

Luke sighed. “Yeah, I’m sure. If you’re going to be a real rancher this time, you’ve got to have a real truck, not one of your namby-pamby foreign excuses.” They stood in front of Linda’s Diner, where Luke had asked the other man to meet him for a cup of coffee. They’d talked business and finances, and then Luke had mentioned he wanted to sell his truck.

“I guess you’re right.” Carl scrawled his signature and tore off the check. “For what it’s worth, I think this is a good start. Cash in the bank is a solid foundation for any venture.”

“I don’t really need all the bells and whistles this baby has.” Luke considered the vehicle. It stung a little to let it go, but not nearly as much as losing Mia would have. He could pick up a perfectly good used truck at half a dozen dealerships around town for a fraction of the price Carl had just paid for this one. Carl had been more than fair in the deal, paying nearly as much as Luke had when he bought it new, when everyone knew that when you drove a truck off the lot it immediately lost value.

“Guess I’ll see you around,” Carl said.

“Guess you will. You found the property you want yet?” At Carl’s surprised expression, he added, “Mia said you two met in a realtor’s office. She said you were looking to buy a house.”

“I haven’t found anything I like yet, so I’ve decided to rent for a bit. I’d hoped I could buy my old house back from the Mortimers, but they didn’t even get back to me about my offer.”

“The Mortimers? Wait a minute.” Luke thought back to Ned’s wedding. “Did you make them an offer face-to-face, or did you send it to them?”

“I dropped it off in their mailbox the first morning I was in town.” Carl smiled deprecatingly. “I was a little on fire to get the deal done. Too on fire, I guess.”

Luke rubbed a hand over his mouth, covering a laugh. “Well, that explains that.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what? It wouldn’t make any sense if I tried to tell you now. Give me a day or two and I’ll fill you in.”

“Okay.”

Luke tipped his hat and turned around. He was supposed to meet Jake at Fila’s in fifteen minutes to go truck hunting. He wondered what Jake would think of what he’d just learned.

He wondered what everyone else would think when they knew, too.

“No spelling errors,” Autumn exclaimed when she looked over Mia’s shoulder at the latest handwritten note she’d received in the mail.

“You’re right. Do you think the sender is taking lessons?”

“Maybe he’s foreign.” They’d long ago decided it was a man because of the strong, blocky handwriting.

“Maybe.” Mia read it over again.

Enough already.

“Enough what?”

“Enough torturing Luke?” Autumn guessed. “Whoever it is seems to want you two together.”

“I’m not torturing Luke.”

Autumn shot her a look. “Really?”

“Not anymore. Not since he’s decided my wedding planning business isn’t such a harebrained scheme after all. Now I’m just waiting for the right time.”

“To propose to him?” Autumn chuckled.

“To be proposed to. After the baby’s born.”

Autumn went to the kitchen, cut a slice of the quiche she’d recently taken from the oven and set it down in front of Mia. They were having lunch together since it was one of Mia’s days off. “Why after?”

“Because I want to be pretty when he proposes. I don’t want to look like this.” She patted her belly, which felt like it had grown several inches in the last week.

“What…beautiful? Glowing? Goddess-like?”

“Hardly goddess-like. You know what I mean.”

“I do,” Autumn said gently, “but don’t you think Luke would like to be engaged before the baby is born—maybe even married—so he feels he’s a part of the family?”

Mia, about to take a bite of her quiche, lowered her fork. “You think so?”

Autumn nodded. “You have to see it from his point of view.”

“I guess so. I guess I keep wanting a picture-perfect proposal. I want a picture-perfect wedding, too.”

“Doesn’t every bride? But you know what? Life keeps happening whether we’re ready for it or not and sometimes you just have to grab hold of it and go on the ride, whether or not it’s perfect. Think about it. I have a feeling it would mean a lot to Luke.”

Of course it would, Mia realized, no longer hungry. He’d been consistent on that point since the first time he proposed. He wanted to marry her. He wanted to be her baby’s father.

Wasn’t it time to pledge to him that he could do just that? Maybe she’d been too hard on Luke. After all, he’d simply tried to be the best man he could be. With Holt as a father, it was a miracle that a little hardheadedness was his only vice. Maybe she could trust that he wasn’t trying to undercut her when he tried to help. Maybe she could trust that he truly loved her. At his most aggravating, he’d always been trying to protect her.

Well, she needed a little protection now. She’d received another e-mail from Inez, letting her know they’d need to meet with the police in just a few days’ time. She’d decided to go through with it, but she was nervous. She wondered what Warner would do.

For once she wouldn’t mind if Luke took the lead and kept her safe. She pulled out her phone. She’d call him right now.

“I don’t think I’m going to get my trip to Paris,” Lisa said when Luke stopped by the main house that afternoon. He was having trouble keeping a smile off of his face. He’d just gotten a text from Mia asking for his help in a few days. She hadn’t said what for—but she’d asked him to come by that evening to talk it over. Things were looking up.

“Dad hasn’t screwed up yet, huh?”

“Well, has he?”

“No.” And it was uncanny that his father had kept so much to himself, except for that conversation they’d had about the pageants. He’d have figured Holt would either be working to block the wedding, or working to promote it.

Instead, the old man was tied up in his building project. Luke hoped like hell he hadn’t decided to break up the ranch and sell off a piece.