"I feel the same way," Ethan said quietly. "I’m willing to structure that loan however you two need it to be to make this work."
Rob looked uncomfortable and he shifted in his seat beside her. "The only thing is…I’m not on track to finish Carl’s garden by October first, which means I’m not on track to give Morgan the money I promised her for her wedding gift. Now hold on," he raised a hand to stop Morgan when she began to speak. "I don’t want anyone here to misinterpret that. Morgan isn’t marrying me just for my deep pockets," he paused to let everyone chuckle, "but we made promises to each other when we got engaged that were important to both of us. She’s kept her promises and I mean to keep mine."
"You have kept yours," Morgan said in a low voice. It was hard to speak of things so intimate in front of a crowd, but the people gathered here in this room were the most important people in her life. "I told you I wanted to feel cherished, and I’ve never felt so cherished in my life. You’ve been working day and night to help me reach my dream, no matter what the cost to you in terms of your health, your sanity, or even your family. You don’t need to prove anything else to me. I love you. If it takes a few more months – or even a year – to save up for the rootstock, so what? It will happen someday."
"There’ve been too many times in my life when I haven’t kept my word, though," Rob said. "I’m sorry, I need that deposit back, Ethan. It’s the only way I have a hope in hell of keeping my word to my bride."
"It’s not the only way," Claire said. "I’ve cleared my schedule. I’m available to help you out on Carl’s garden for the next week."
"I’ll help every evening after chores are done," Jamie said.
"Me, too," Ethan chimed in.
"Rose told me she’s available Thursday and Saturday," Autumn said. "And Tracey can help out on Friday and Sunday."
"Count me in for the weekend," Cab said, "Tuesday and Thursday nights, too."
Rob sat back, looking stunned. "You all would do that for me?"
"You bet," Claire said, "And I’ve made some calls. I’ve got all kinds of people lined up to help next week. You better get used to managing a crew, because you’ll have eight to ten people working with you every day. Don’t worry about the ranch chores; we’ll pick up the slack on those. You get that garden done."
Rob turned to Morgan and grinned. "What do you think? Want to own part of both ranches?"
"Yes. Absolutely," she said and kissed him. "I wouldn’t miss this for the world." She kissed him again, savoring the feel of him.
"Get a room," Cab drawled and everyone laughed. Morgan turned to him, her cheeks pink.
"You’re next, you know." She said, pointing from Ethan to Jamie to Rob. "All the rest of your friends are getting hitched. Now it’s your turn to find the woman of your dreams."
The big man blanched in the sudden attention of everyone in the room.
* * * * *
"Where are you going?" Rob asked the next day when Jamie turned left instead of right. They were supposed to be driving to Carl’s ranch to get to work on the garden, but Jamie had just gone in the wrong direction.
"We have a stop to make," Jamie said. A few minutes later, he turned onto the lane that led to Rob’s family’s ranch.
"Yep. Let’s find your brothers." Jamie pulled up in front of the house, parked the truck and hopped out before Rob could ask any more questions, and by the time he maneuvered his way out the door his friend had taken off in long strides toward the nearest barn.
When Rob caught up with him, Jamie had already corralled Jake and Luke. "Where’s Ned?" he was asking.
"I’ll get him," Luke said. As he disappeared into another outbuilding, Jake asked, "What’s all this about?"
"Once Rob’s married, he’ll divide his time between the ranches. He’s got to help Morgan start her vineyard, Ethan with his trail rides, and me with my horse-breeding and riding school," Jamie said, "so he needs to nail down what part of this operation he’ll be running, so he can schedule his time."
Rob nearly choked and Jake looked like he was having trouble swallowing this piece of news, as well. "The part he’ll be running?"
"With your dad laid up and all, don’t you think it’s time he did his share?"
"Well, sure…but…" Jake seemed relieved when Luke returned with Ned. When Jamie repeated his piece, all three of them exchanged uncomfortable looks.
"It’s not that we don’t want you," Ned began, finally. "I’ve been trying to get you over here for weeks. It’s just…"
"There are no other parts to take on," Luke finished for him.
"What are you talking about?" Rob said. "Ned’s been on my back all this time about how much work is going undone. With Dad getting an operation there must be lots to do."
"After Dad went to the hospital, we decided we’d better get together and sort out the rest of the ranch," Jake agreed. "It was the darndest thing – when we sat down to do it, we figured out there was no extra work. We were already doing all of it."
"We realized Dad had been preparing us for years to take over the spread. He’d already handed out his responsibilities," Luke chimed in.
"But…" Rob sputtered. "What’s he been doing all this time? And what about all the work you said there was for me to do?"
"Let’s just say Dad was supervising a lot more than he was working," Ned said. "As for the rest of it, there’s always work to be done, you know that. But there aren’t any real jobs to take on – not supervisory ones – and we figured you wouldn’t want us to boss you around for the rest of your life. We can hire another hand or two."
Rob shoved his hands into his pockets. Hell, now that they didn’t want him, he felt a little offended.
"You’ll always be part of the ranch," Jake said.
"Don’t see how," Rob said.
His brothers exchanged another glance.
"Look," Jake said. "You’re starting something of your own, and we’ve agreed we’re all behind you 100 percent. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll always be a Matheson."
"I like the sound of that winery," Luke said. "It’ll bring a little class to the place."
"Plus a lot of wine," Ned said, grinning.
The lead weight of worry and familial duty fell away, and for the first time Rob felt like he could pursue his dream without losing his family. He stood straighter as the truth hit him; he’d done everything he set out to do – everything but marry Morgan.