* * * * *
"Hello! Hello? Yoo-hoo!"
Morgan rushed to the top of the Big House stairs to see who was barging through the front door. When Autumn had offered her a temporary job helping her cook and clean for the guests, she’d jumped at it.
"I know it’s not as glamorous as running a winery," Autumn had said, "but I could really use the help. Tracey and Rose have been filling in for weeks, but they both have real jobs and they can’t keep doing this. Eventually I’ll hire someone permanently, but I can’t really afford it yet. You won’t get started with the winery for a while, right?"
"If ever," Morgan said gloomily.
"Think of this as something to fill the time, then," Autumn said. "Thankless hard work for slave wages. What could be better?"
"Well, when you put it that way, how can I resist?" Morgan said, laughing. "Sure, sign me up."
They worked it out that she would help Autumn daily from five in the morning to early afternoon. First they’d prep breakfast, serve it and clean up afterward. Then she and Autumn would do the rooms. They’d end the morning with lunch prep and cleanup.
It was late morning and she’d persuaded Autumn to go back to the bunk house and relax while she finished readying the bedrooms for guests. Several families were descending on the ranch this afternoon. She figured after all the excitement of the wedding, Autumn could use a break before the next round of chaos hit. Autumn and Ethan seemed to work almost every hour of the day and she had resolved to help as much as she could. Autumn wasn’t paying her much, but since sleeping in the bunkhouse wouldn’t cost her anything, at least she wouldn’t be dipping into her savings to pay her daily expenses.
When she peered down the large staircase, she saw Lisa poking her head through the door. Uh oh, this could get ugly, she thought, but descended the stairs anyway. No matter what happened, she and Rob were getting married, and Lisa would be her mother-in-law.
"Oh, honey," Lisa said when she spotted her. "I’m so sorry my husband’s being a royal pain in the ass."
Morgan blinked. That wasn’t what she’d been expecting at all.
"These men," Lisa went on. "It’s all pissing and marking their territory, I swear. With five of them around the place it sure gets ugly sometimes. Don’t you fret about it. I’m working on Holt and we’ll simmer all of this down and get your wedding off the ground. You hear? But if you don’t mind, could we put off our trip to Ellie’s Bridals until Wednesday? Turns out I need to go help out an old friend this morning."
"Um…okay," Morgan said. "I’m free after two. I’ll be helping Autumn in the morning."
"That’s sweet of you. Poor girl is working her fingers to the bone. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking into flowers and catering and everything else. You leave it all up to me! I’ll see you on Wednesday at the shop."
Morgan waved good-bye, wondering if there was any hope that Lisa could actually patch things up between Rob and his father. From what she’d seen, she doubted it, but Lisa had been married to Holt for over thirty years. She must know a thing or two about how to handle the man.
When Rob arrived back at the bunkhouse later that afternoon, she was eager to tell him about his mother’s visit, but before she could, he swept her off her feet and into an embrace.
"It’s settled. Ethan’s selling us 150 acres of land and I’ll work off the cost over time. I’ll help out with the guest ranch business and teach rodeo riding to local kids and visitors. I’ll also team up with Jamie on his horse-breeding business, and I’ll get your vineyard up and running for you."
Morgan tried to keep up. "What land?"
"The parcel next to Jamie’s! We’ll live right here with the rest of our friends."
"Really?" Morgan lit up. "You think we can afford it? Where will we get the money to start the winery?"
"I’ll earn it, I swear I will. I already told Ethan I need to take on extra work." He hugged her again, then slid his hands lower and gave her ass a squeeze. "It’ll all work out, so don’t worry about a thing."
"I got a job, too – helping Autumn – so we’ll both be earning money."
Rob kissed her until she got weak in the knees. "The wedding is on," he said firmly when they split apart. "I asked Ethan and he said we’ll hold it here if my Dad doesn’t back down."
"Autumn said the same thing." She grinned. "But your mom stopped by and said she’s working on Holt. She thinks he’ll change his mind."
Rob shrugged. "Doesn’t matter if he does, really. Our future is secure either way." He stopped and took her hands in his. "You know that, right, Morgan? I’m going to keep my promises to you, and make you my wife, whatever anyone throws at us. I’ll make damn sure you have a winery to run, too."
Looking into his eyes, she could see he meant it. All the doubts she’d harbored slipped away and she stepped into his embrace again.
When Morgan made her way back to the bunkhouse the following afternoon, after spending most of the day helping Autumn with her guests, she was surprised to find Rob waiting for her.
"Come on – you and I have an errand to run."
"You have something better to do?"
"Let me grab my purse."
Twenty minutes later they arrived at the Chance Creek Pet Clinic, a small, neat building near the center of town. Morgan turned to Rob in surprise. "What are we doing here?"
"Visiting a friend of mine." He got out and came to open the door for her. She smiled at the gentlemanly gesture, and followed him to the entrance.
"It’s closed," she said, pointing to the sign in the door.
"It’s never closed," he said. "You’ll see." He knocked and called out, "Bella? You in there?"
The door opened a moment later and a young woman appeared, her blonde hair piled atop her head in a mass of wild curls.
"Rob! I haven’t seen you in ages," she said. "Come on in."
Morgan fought down a surge of jealousy at the pleased tone in her voice. She was pretty, curvy, and obviously happy to see Rob.
Rob gave Bella a quick hug and the ugly feeling grew. Had he brought her here to show her how attractive he was to other women? To give her a quick reminder that he had other options? The certainty she’d felt since his declarations last night began to slip away.
"How’s your family?" Bella asked him.
Rob grimaced. "As ornery and controlling as ever. How’s the business?"
Bella mirrored his expression. "Same as usual."