He’d thought wrong. One stupid comment from him early on had soured any chance he had to convince her to date him. It was one of those things you said when you weren’t thinking. Jake and Hannah had been feeling their way toward marriage at the time, trying to reconcile their different visions of life. When they slipped up and faced a possible pregnancy, it made things even more complicated, and when it turned out there was no baby, Luke had thought it might be a relief—one problem off their plates, so to speak.
Which is why he’d said to his brother, “No baby, no problem, right?”
The five little words made Mia visibly flinch, and she’d kept her distance ever since.
Mia wanted kids. He was clear on that now. He was also clear she thought he didn’t. The truth was, he hadn’t much thought of it either way. He didn’t have anything against children. They just hadn’t been on his radar.
On his brothers’ advice, he’d been trying to show Mia that he was indeed father material by paying attention to children when they were around. He made a point to compliment mothers on their babies. He even held them now and then, which led him to understand that kids might be nice.
He just wanted to get married first. To Mia. Hell, he wanted a honeymoon and a year or two to themselves. He wanted to make love to her every which way from Sunday, as often as work and life let them do it. He wanted to know what made her tick.
Then he’d be ready for kids.
First he had to convince her to go on a date.
He slapped cologne on his freshly shaven cheeks, pounded downstairs and found Mia ready to go. Her bridesmaid’s gown was hanging in a garment bag draped over the banister. She was perched on one foot, carefully tugging on a scarlet cowboy boot, her dark hair looped around huge curlers, her sexy body squeezed into a hip-hugging skirt, a spaghetti-strapped tank top and a fluffy cardigan. If he knew anything about her, she’d done her toenails this morning and was trying not to mar them in the process of getting her boots on. Later she’d get all dolled up. For now she was prepared to pitch in and help set up for the wedding.
He stifled an urge to stride over and try to tempt her into letting him have his way with her right there.
“You’d better hurry,” Mia said, straightening and turning around. The lift of her brows told him she’d seen his thoughts in his expression. He couldn’t keep a grin from spreading across his face. He didn’t mind if she knew what he wanted. Hell, he wanted her to know exactly what he wanted. He wanted her to want it, too.
But as usual, she turned away without giving him any encouragement. Luke sighed inwardly and followed her out the door and into the frosty morning.
By the time they arrived back at his parents’ place, several more vehicles were parked in the driveway.
“Looks like everyone’s here from the Cruz ranch,” Luke said.
“With all these helpers, it should be easy to get set up.” Mia climbed the stairs and went in the front door, Luke close behind her. They found a crowd in the entryway, including most of the inhabitants of the Cruz ranch. Jamie and Claire Lassiter were standing in the doorway between the front hall and the dining room, Claire’s rounded belly announcing she was well along in her pregnancy. Cab Johnson and Rose Bellingham were still shedding their coats. Ethan Cruz was just hanging his up in the capacious hall closet. His wife, Autumn—also pregnant and just days from giving birth—was nowhere to be seen, however.
Apparently, Evan and Bella Mortimer had arrived just moments before Luke and Mia did, because they were struggling out of their winter gear just inside the doorway. Evan waved a manila envelope at Jake.
“I’d have thought you were too busy for jokes,” he called out over the din.
Jake looked confused. “What do you mean?”
Evan tossed the envelope at him. “All those photographs and everything. How’d you get them?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Luke shrugged out of his own jacket, craning his neck to see what Jake was pulling out of the envelope. Some kind of paperwork and several photographs. Hannah looked over Jake’s shoulder. “Wow—look at that place. It’s a palace.”
“Come on, Hannah,” Evan said. “You must have been in on it too. Jake couldn’t pull that off all by himself.”
“What is it?” Luke asked, making his way over to his brother’s side. The photographs showed a beautiful mansion surrounded by green lawns that flowed down to a beach and the ocean. In the background he spotted a tennis court and possibly a putting green. He flipped the photo and read, “The Breakers, Carmel, California.”
“Sweet pad. You thinking of buying it, Evan?”
“Hell, no. I’ve already got property in California,” Evan said. “And Bella and I are settled here. This is Jake’s idea of a joke.”
“What’s the punch line?” Luke turned to Jake.
“I don’t know. It’s not my joke,” Jake said. “Sorry, man—you’ve got the wrong guy. Rob’s the joker in the family.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Rob called from the dining room.
Evan waved the idea off. “You said just yesterday you wanted to buy my house, Jake. Then today Bella spotted a guy drive up and drop this in our mailbox.”
“What color was his truck?” Jake asked.
“I couldn’t see. It was early—still pitch dark,” Bella admitted. “But he was tall. Lean. Your size.”
Jake made a face. “It wasn’t me.”
Luke took the paperwork from him. It was an offer to buy the Mortimers’ ranch—or to do a simple swap for the property in California pictured in the photographs. As you can see, the handwritten note read, the Breakers is worth far more than your property. Luke whistled. “Well, they’re right; that mansion must be worth ten times as much cash as your place. No offense.”
“None taken,” Evan said, though he did sound offended. “But I think my property is pretty nice.”
Evan was right, Luke thought. The Mortimers’ home was nothing to sneeze at. Designed and built for Carl Whitfield, a wealthy man who’d left Chance Creek after being jilted by his fiancée, it was the largest home in the district and beautifully appointed. The grounds were extensive—stretching back into the hills to the north. Only someone as wealthy as Evan Mortimer could have afforded to buy it, but it paled in comparison to the seaside estate shown in the photographs.