Hannah was glad Autumn insisted the other two stay. Both Fila and Mia were young and in circumstances that would make it difficult to make their own way in the world. They needed someone like Autumn to look after them. She’d be fine at Jake’s for the time being. After her fourteen days she’d find an apartment in town.
“Jake’s pretty handsome. I always thought he was the best-looking of the Mathesons,” Autumn said to her.
“Don’t let Ethan hear you talking like that,” Hannah said. Even if it was true.
“Well, anyway, I’ll miss having you here, Hannah.”
“Thanks.” As soon as she could, she retreated to her room to pack. And plan. Fourteen nights with Jake. Maybe more.
You’re jumping the gun, she told herself. There’s no guarantee Jake wants to sleep with you. But she wasn’t naïve enough to believe he’d offered her his spare room out of the goodness of his heart. She had no doubt she could climb into his bed tonight.
But would she be able to leave it when her two weeks were up?
“Still single?” Holt queried when Jake stopped at his parents’ house on the way home. He, Ned, Luke and Rob had cell phones and used them frequently to stay up-to-date with each other and ranch matters, but Holt refused to get with the twenty-first century, which meant a nightly check-in was in order, or his father would be banging on his door at four in the morning with a list of the day’s chores.
“Yep. But not for long. Hannah Ashton is moving in tonight.”
“Hannah Ashton? Weren’t there any other single women at that shindig you went to?”
“Yes, there were.” But why did Holt want to know? Didn’t he like Hannah? Did his prejudice against her bison extend to the woman herself?
“You want a list?”
“Yep.” Holt waited, ramrod straight in the door that separated the kitchen from the living room.
Jake sighed. He knew his father well enough to understand that the sooner he answered the question, the sooner this conversation could be over.
“Mia Start and Fila Sahar.”
“Humph. And you couldn’t land either of them.” It wasn’t a question; it was a statement of Holt’s disdain.
“I didn’t want to. Good-night.” Jake left before Holt could incite him into an argument. He got back into his truck and drove the rest of the way to his cabin seething with anger. Couldn’t his father approve of anything he did? For once he’d like Holt to react with pride rather than his usual snide remarks, but that would be hoping for too much, wouldn’t it?
Jake knew his father hadn’t had it easy when he was growing up. For all their joking around about Holt’s father earlier in the night, the truth was the old man had been quicker to criticize or raise a fist than Holt had ever been. Jake knew his father loved all his children and doted on his wife, but he often had a strange way of showing it. Praise from his father was as rare as a two-headed snake, and often just as disturbing.
Well, it didn’t matter what Holt thought. He hadn’t specified which woman he needed to marry as long as he married someone, and Hannah Ashton was the only woman who interested him. As soon as they were hitched she’d take that curiosity of hers and apply it to the ranch in general. No telling what she’d come up with. He hoped she’d be a little like Autumn or his mother—a whiz in the kitchen. He, unfortunately, was not. He could picture them sitting across the breakfast table from each other, eating a real ranch meal instead of the cold cereal he shoveled into his mouth these days, and talking about the day ahead. Some chores they’d do together, like riding fences or helping with the hay harvest. Other chores they’d do on their own, him in the barn and her in the house. Their children, when they had them, would have both parents close by on the ranch—not like those city kids who didn’t see their folks from early morning to late at night. When Holt finally relinquished control over everything, Hannah would support his experiments with new ranching techniques. She’d help him research and plan and carry out trials. Maybe they could even publish their findings. He hoped Bella would be able to find a replacement receptionist without too much trouble.
Within the month.
He wondered if he should give Bella some kind of heads’ up, but decided against it after a little thought.
Time enough for that after his ring was on Hannah’s finger.
It was well past midnight when Hannah turned in the lane to the Double-Bar-K. She passed the main house first, where Holt and Lisa lived and the boys had grown up, then drove another quarter mile to the cabins the Mathesons had built when their sons reached maturity. Jake’s came first, tucked off beside the lane flanked by two tall pine trees. With its wide front porch and generous proportions it didn’t seem diminutive to her, but she knew the Mathesons regarded the cabins as such and had heard from Morgan that they were built with an eye to adding on in the future.
She pulled up and parked in front of Jake’s place, but once she switched off the engine she found she couldn’t open the door.
What was she doing here? Did she really think she could sleep with Jake for two weeks and then just leave? She’d never entered a relationship before without the hope that it could turn into a permanent one. Now she was starting something with a definite expiration date. She wasn’t even sure that was possible.
It would be over a month until she could move back to the Cruz ranch, so she needed a plan for what to do when her fourteen days with Jake were up. She’d better start hunting for a cheap apartment tomorrow. Maybe she could handle a fourteen day romp under the covers with Jake. Maybe they’d spin it out over the holidays and into January, but then it would have to stop. Not only was she taking on a full-time course load next semester, she also planned to work. The commute to and from Billings would eat up more time, and to top it off she’d have to move to Colorado this fall. There were no closer vet programs.
Besides, she knew herself too well. She was already half stuck on Jake. If she got all tangled up with him, how could she concentrate on the years of school that loomed in front of her? All in all, this was a very bad idea.
Maybe the nights with Jake should remain chaste, after all. But how? Could she claim she had nightmares so bad she needed company to stave them off? Would Jake buy that?
“Hannah? You coming in?”
Hannah jumped at Jake’s sudden appearance at her window. His voice was muffled by the glass between them, but his words were clear enough.