Except she was already here.
Rob ran a hand through his hair and looked down at the jeans and t-shirt he wore. He’d worked all morning and he suddenly became aware how ripe he was. Hell, if he’d known Morgan was coming he’d have spiffed up a bit. Put on a fresh shirt at least.
"She won’t mind your stink," Claire said.
"She won’t notice my stink under your stink," Rob said, elbowing her. The car’s path wobbled.
"Hey, watch it." Claire got the Civic back under control and soon they were pulling into the airport parking lot. The Chance Creek Regional Airport had been refurbished a few years back and it sported a modern glass and granite façade.
Inside, though, it still was the same pokey little terminal it had always been. She tugged him down the single long corridor to the point beyond which airport security blocked their way.
"That’s her flight," Claire called out, pointing to a line of people spilling into the building from an airplane boarding ramp. "We made it just in time."
Rob realized he hadn’t told anyone back at the ranch he was leaving. His father had asked him to sort out the equipment stored in the south stable this afternoon. Luckily it wasn’t an important job. If Holt was in some kind of all-fired hurry, he would have to find someone else to do it. With three brothers, there was always someone to fill in for him.
He craned his neck as each passenger came through the entrance. Each time he was disappointed. Morgan must be sitting near the rear of the plane.
The number of passengers slowed to a trickle and then stopped.
"Where is she?" Rob demanded, turning on Claire. He caught her wide smile and his stomach sank.
"Got you! You should have seen your face when I said she was here," Claire crowed. "Ooooh, Rob’s in love!"
"Stow it," Rob said, jamming his fists in his pockets and trying to restrain himself from picking Claire up, shoving her into a suitcase and sending her to Timbuktu.
"Come on – you play jokes on other people all the time. What’s wrong? You can dish it out, but you can’t take it?" Claire danced around him, enjoying her triumph all too much.
"If you don’t shut your trap, I’m going to dish something out," Rob said, turning on his heel back the way they’d come. Claire’s laughter followed him. She was right, though; he had put many people in the same spot he was now. He was sure some day this would seem funny to him, too.
But not now. He was aching for Morgan, and she was a thousand miles away.
He stopped in his tracks when Ethan, Autumn, Claire, Jamie, Cab – hell, even Ned, Jake and Luke – appeared before him, all laughing fit to burst.
What the hell?
"Got it all on camera!" Ethan hollered, holding up the cell phone Rob knew Claire had bought him a couple of months back. Someone must have finally showed Ethan how to use it.
"Very funny." Okay, he could see why Ethan would want to film his humiliation – he’d made a movie of Ethan’s drunken rant about the qualities necessary for a ranch wife last spring, and posted it on the Internet as a wife-wanted ad. The movie had gone viral, and Autumn had been one of the women to answer the ad. She’d been all set to write a scathing article for the magazine she worked for about cowboys and their arrogance when she arrived in Montana. Instead, she and Ethan fell in love.
He’d expected gratitude. Not retaliation.
"Should we send it to Morgan? Show her how much you looooove her?" Jamie asked, knocking back his cowboy hat, the better see Rob. His dark hair was falling into his eyes as usual. A bit shorter than Rob and Ethan, Jamie’s model-good looks still caught the eye of every woman who walked by.
Rob supposed he deserved that, too. After all, he had screwed up Jamie’s proposal to Claire with a well-timed practical joke, as well.
"No – don’t get her hopes up," Claire chimed in. "Morgan deserves a real man. One who isn’t afraid of commitment."
"You mean a guy who can date a woman more than two weeks running?" Rose said, laughing like she knew all about it. Well, she did, didn’t she?
"Has he ever dated anyone for two weeks running?" Cab said. The sheriff had way too much time on his hands if he could show up at the airport for this. Usually the large man held his peace, but this time he seemed all too happy to throw his lot in with the rest of these jokers.
Everyone else laughed.
Ethan looked the sheriff up and down. "Hey, I’ve got an idea, Cab. Why don’t you date Morgan? Get her to move to Montana for good. If Rob here keeps going after her, she’ll end up running away to Alaska or something."
Rob stiffened. Cab? Dating Morgan? "Hey!"
They all ignored him. "Cab’s perfect," Claire said, turning an appraising eye on the big man. "You’d be part of the family, then. You know, after the two of you got married."
Married? Cab and Morgan? Rob fought to keep his hands from clenching into fists.
Cab appeared to consider this. "She’s awfully pretty," he agreed. "Got a good head on her shoulders, too."
"Lay off!" Rob couldn’t keep his voice from rising.
"Why – you getting serious about her?" Cab goaded him.
"Serious? Rob?" Claire said. "That’ll be the day."
Feeling like an unbroken horse caught in a corral, Rob glared at all of them. "I can be serious."
Everybody laughed like he’d uttered a terrific joke. Damn it, wasn’t anyone going to back him up?
He saw Autumn lingering behind Ethan. Despite her months on the Cruz ranch, she still stood out from the rest. Her long, brown hair and elfin face always made her look a little other-worldly. He knew from experience she didn’t like practical jokes – didn’t like it when people got laughed at – and now he understood why. It sucked being on the receiving end, didn’t it? Why had he ever become such a prankster?
Well, he knew exactly why, didn’t he? To keep three older brothers off of his back. To keep everyone else from teasing him. He’d been different, once – too sensitive, too much of a dreamer – but that was a long time ago – a hell of a long time ago. No one messed with him now.
"I’m out of here," he said, and stalked off down the hall toward the exit. He realized he didn’t even have his own truck to ride home in. Well, he’d be damned if he took a ride from one of his so-called friends. He hoped there’d be a cab out front when he reached the door.
There was, thank God, and he climbed in and told the driver to take him to the Dancing Boot before anyone else reached the pavement.
To hell with all of them. He could be serious. He could date a woman for more than two weeks.