The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 63)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(63)
Author: Cora Seton

“Really.”

“Okay.” She decided she’d think that over when she was alone. “So, what about you? Any luck yet with buying a house?”

“No. But I decided that’s a good thing. When I got here I was in a rush to buy a place and start feeling like I belong, but I think that’s backwards. I think I’ll figure out how to belong here first—then find the right property.”

“So you’ll be looking for a long-term rental? I could put out the word for you.”

“I’ve found a situation, actually. There’s another family moving back to town—the Coopers. Apparently they pulled stakes and moved to Wyoming for some years to be part of a venture there, but now they’re coming home and getting back into the ranching business. I’ll get their house in order for them, supervise some repair work, that kind of thing, and I’ll move into one of the other houses standing empty on the property. I figure it won’t hurt me to get some hands-on ranching experience before I buy my own spread, and living with the Coopers should give me an in with the community I never had before.”

“Sounds like things are looking up for you, too,” Mia said.

“Here’s to progress.” He raised his cup of coffee and Mia raised her cup of milk in return.

Marry her now.

If only he could, Luke thought as he crumpled up the latest mystery message and tossed it in the trash. He’d marry Mia any day of the week, in his best suit or fresh from a day of work in his jeans and a sweaty T-shirt. All he wanted was to know they’d spend the rest of their lives together, come what may. But Mia had been perfectly clear—no proposal and no marriage until after the birth.

At least he’d get to see her tonight. They were eating with his family—the whole gang from the Double-Bar-K and the Cruz ranch, plus the Mortimers and a surprise guest he’d invited without the knowledge of anyone but his mother. Lisa was cooking her signature baked chicken and he was sure there would be all his other favorite fixings. The meal would taste great, even if the company got ornery.

He and Ned were back on speaking terms at least, although things weren’t entirely smooth between them. He knew Fila and Mia had patched things up much more thoroughly than he’d managed to do with his brother.

A half-hour later, he was sitting around the large oak dining room table in his parents’ house, laughing at Jake’s rendition of Ned’s first time mounting a horse since he broke his leg back in January.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Ned protested.

“It was that bad,” Jake returned. “But you’ll loosen up again in time. I’m just glad Fila was there to get your leg back on straight when you broke it. Otherwise who knows if you’d be riding today at all.”

“That’s right,” Lisa said, passing a platter of chicken to Jake. “Fila, we’ll always be grateful to you.”

“Thank you.”

“And Morgan, that son of yours is as cute as a bug. Are you getting any sleep?”

“A little.” Morgan smiled at Rob. “Not much.”

“No, not much,” Rob agreed.

“Who’s the empty seat for?” Evan Mortimer spoke up.

“A friend’s joining us for dessert,” Luke put in quickly.

“Mia, how are you holding up?” Lisa asked. She caught Luke’s eye and winked. He smiled to show he appreciated her help in diverting the question. He meant to bring up the practical jokes soon and Carl’s unwitting part in starting them off.

“I’m okay. Tired. Achy. Sleep-deprived.”

“The last few weeks of a pregnancy are the hardest. I was like that with all four of my boys.”

At the far end of the table, Holt shifted. Luke wasn’t sure if his father was uncomfortable with the topic of conversation, or if he had something to say. But his father remained uncharacteristically quiet, as he had for weeks now.

“This time next month you’ll have your little one, too,” Morgan said to Mia. She was holding baby Jack in her arms and trying to eat one-handed.

“I can’t wait.”

Holt shifted again.

“Are you all set? Do you have a bag packed for the hospital?” Hannah asked.

“I’m going to do that tomorrow. I didn’t want to jump the gun.” Mia smiled. “I’m off work now, so all I have to do is lounge around and wait for this baby to arrive.”

“What about a crib?”

“I’ve got a bassinet for now.” It was Mia’s turn to shift in her seat and Luke figured she didn’t want the question of her living arrangements to be the topic of conversation. They hadn’t said as much, but he felt pretty sure that soon after the baby was born, Mia would move back into his cabin. With the nursery all set up there, it didn’t make sense for her to buy a crib.

“Luke’s got a crib,” Ned said, echoing his thoughts.

Luke frowned.

“I know,” Mia said. “It’ll come in handy if I ever visit.”

Holt dropped his silverware on his plate. “When the hell are you two getting married?”

Everyone froze in shock at his sudden outburst, then Lisa’s laughter pealed out. “Paris! You owe me a trip to Paris, my dear!”

“Don’t Paris me, woman! No one here is talking about Paris.”

“You’re right. We don’t have to talk about it. We just have to pack our bags.” Lisa beamed.

Holt turned on Luke with a growl. “What are you waiting for? That girl’s as big as a barn. Marry her already!”

“We’re waiting until—”

“You’re waiting too long! Get on with it! What do you want—Christ to descend from heaven to do the ceremony himself?”

“Holt!” Lisa’s smile vanished. “No need for blasphemy.”

“I’ll blaspheme all I want if that’s what it takes to light a fire under their asses. Look at you two! What a pair you make!”

“Dad—”

“I thought for once one of my sons wouldn’t need my interference to get himself wed, but I was wrong, wasn’t I? Every last one of you needed me to hold your hand all the way up to the altar. I raised a pack of fools!”

“I want to marry her!” Luke couldn’t restrain himself any longer. “I’ve been trying to marry her. I proposed twice! Maybe you should have meddled a long time ago. I’ll take any help I can get!”

“Wait a minute,” Mia said. She’d been staring at Holt ever since he started talking. “You’ve been interfering all along, haven’t you? The notes—those were yours!”