The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Page 29)

The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #3)(29)
Author: Cora Seton

"In other words, you’re still housing every stray animal for miles around?"

"Yeah." Her face fell, but then she brightened again. "You know, I think the number of strays is dropping. I haven’t had as many brought in these past few weeks."

As she turned to adjust something on her counter, Rob rubbed a hand across his face. Morgan suspected he was trying to rub off the disbelieving smile that was lingering there. What was that all about?

"We’ve actually come to take one off your hands," was all he said.

Bella spun around. "Really?" Now her face was as bright as the sun with happiness. This woman really wore her feelings on her sleeve, Morgan thought. It made it hard to dislike her.

It got harder as Bella led them into the back of the clinic to an adjoining building that housed the animal shelter she also ran. It was the biggest facility Morgan had ever seen, with cages and cages of dogs and cats and a large exercise yard for them behind it all. Bella explained how local students volunteered and helped her exercise the animals and keep them acclimated to humans.

"How on earth do you feed them all?" Morgan asked.

Bella’s face fell again. "It’s hard," she admitted. "Somehow we manage."

"Well, you’ll have to manage with one less animal," Rob said. "We’re looking for a kitten."

"I’ve got kittens," Bella said. She led the way to one corner where indeed she had several mother cats with litters of kittens. "If you want to take one home today, these guys are your best bet." She took them past several cages in which the kittens were little more than piles of fluff huddled next to their mothers to one in which the kittens were noticeably older. They were alert, pouncing and playing. The mother cat was nowhere to be seen.

"These little guys are ten weeks. Ready for their own homes and families." Bella leaned over and opened the door. "What do you think?"

Five little gray faces turned toward them. Morgan melted at the sight of their big eyes and still-fluffy bodies. She’d never had a pet. Her grandparents wouldn’t think of it, and her apartment building didn’t allow them. "Can I hold one?"

"Of course." Bella beamed. "Put your hand in the door and see who comes looking. The best pets are the ones who pick you."

"Oh, it’s not for me," Morgan said, but she did what she was told. A kitten with a white front paw scampered right over and nosed her fingers. She felt the rasp of its tiny tongue on her palm and shivered with delight. "It’s so cute." When it climbed right into her hand, she pulled it out and cradled it to her chest, rubbing her chin over its soft fur. It licked her on the nose.

"That’s it – she’s chosen you," Bella said. "Now you have to take her."

"Who are you getting her for?" Morgan asked Rob.

"You, dummy. Who’d you think I was getting it for?"

Morgan lowered her hands. "But…"

"You’re getting a pet," he insisted. "The minute I saw how you were living in Victoria, I promised myself I would get you one when I convinced you to move back here. People have to have pets. Anyway, we need a cat for the ranch. In fact, Ethan and Autumn don’t have a cat yet, so we need two," he told Bella, then scanned the large room with all its cages. "Actually, make that five."

Bella beamed as she went off to find a cardboard box to carry them in.

"Five?" Morgan asked when she was gone.

"There’s plenty of room for them," he said. "They’ll keep the rat population down. I’ll let Ethan and Autumn have a couple, keep one for Claire and Jamie, and we’ll take the rest. "

"There are so many animals here," Morgan said, daunted by the noise of them in their pens.

"She doesn’t put them down – the strays, I mean. Most shelters have a time limit before they get rid of unwanted animals. Bella doesn’t. She’s going to bankrupt herself if she keeps on like this."

"She said the population of strays has gone down, though."

Rob laughed. "Seriously? You believed that? Most likely people are taking pity on her and bringing the strays to her brother, instead. He’s a livestock vet – he doesn’t do pets, but he’s a realist. He takes care of the problem."

"That’s awful!"

His faced softened. "It is awful, honey, but it’s life. Unneutered cats breed like bunnies. There’s no way to keep up with them all. Bella would have to be a millionaire to take in every last one."

"I guess." Morgan hugged the kitten in her hands tighter. This one was safe, at least.

"What’re you going to name her?"

"Button." She nuzzled the kitten again. "My little Button."

Rob rolled his eyes. "Gunsmoke would be better."

"Button’s a darling name," Bella said, returning with the box. "Let’s load them up and get you guys out of here. It’s past dinner time, and I’m starving, and I’ve still got a lot to do."

"Are you looking for any more volunteers?" Morgan asked her.

"Are you kidding? How often can you come?"

"I’m not sure, but I’ll try for once a week to start. I’ve never had pets," she confided to Bella.

"Then you need to make up for lost time, and this is certainly the place to do it," Bella said.

"Come on," Rob nudged her toward the door.

"I’m hungry, too," Morgan said as they returned to the car with their box of squirming, fluffy kittens. She looked back at the clinic, though, as Rob backed out of the parking lot and swung the truck toward home. It would be fun to go back and spend time with all of those animals.

"Let’s pick up some cat food, grab some takeout, and get these critters home."

* * * * *

An hour later, Rob joined Ethan on the back porch of the bunkhouse to plan the following day’s work, dropping one of the kittens into Ethan’s lap.

"Here, I got you a present."

"Huh." Ethan lifted the kitten and rubbed its fur against his face. "Nice. I didn’t even know I needed one of these."

"But you kinda do now, don’t you?" Rob said.

"Matter of fact, I think I do." He nuzzled it again. "Gunsmoke. That’s your name," he told the kitten.

Rob turned to him. "That’s exactly what I said to Morgan. She didn’t like it."

"Yeah? What did she name yours?"

"Button," Rob mumbled.

"Man, that’s rough." Ethan chucked and settled the kitten in his lap, petting it while they talked over their plans.

Rob found it hard to concentrate, though. The question of how to earn the money he’d promised Morgan was preying on his mind.