As chaos erupted all around her, Hannah wished more than anything a hole would open up in the hardwood floor and she could sink out of sight into it. Now six other people knew her secret—or a twisted version of that secret—which meant the whole town would know in seconds flat. So much for any chance to decide on her own which course to take. Should she even be pregnant—the chances of which were slim to none.
“You told him about—” Jake’s hands were flat on the table, his expression shocked.
“Is that true?” Lisa’s voice cut across the din.
Hannah raised her gaze to the older woman and shook her head slowly. “No. Probably not.”
“They had a little trouble.” Ned leaned forward. “Jake might need a refresher course on prophylactics.” He sounded out each syllable of the long word.
“Ned!” Lisa and Jake spoke at once.
Hannah stood up on shaky legs. “Excuse me.” She pushed back from the table and hurried away, catching only a glimpse of Jake’s stunned expression and Mia’s concerned one. Ned was grinning, the bastard, and Holt seemed amused, too. Lisa’s lips had pressed into a thin line.
“Hannah, wait,” Lisa said before she made it to the stairs. “My son owes you an apology and I’d like him to make it before I beat him into a coma.”
“Mom—Ow!” Hannah glanced back in time to see Lisa take hold of Ned’s ear and tweak it, hard. Ned tried to jerk away from her and got a second tweak for his efforts. “Darn it!”
“Fine! Sorry, Hannah. I didn’t realize it was a big secret; you were talking about kids with Dad in the middle of the ranch for all to hear.”
“That’s the sorriest excuse for an apology I’ve ever heard!” Lisa was truly angry. Ned slid a glance her way and straightened up.
“Sorry,” he murmured again. “That was uncalled for.” He shot a dark glance at Jake and Hannah suddenly understood. Ned hadn’t said it to hurt her, he was getting back at Jake… but for what? Well, who cared? She’d never understand this family and she didn’t want to.
“If Hannah does turn out to be pregnant, which is unlikely—and nobody’s business but ours,” Jake said in a steely voice, “we will deal with it as we see fit. I might as well say right now I’ve asked her to marry me.” At his mother’s intake of breath he held up a hand. “Hannah hasn’t said yes. She’s asked for some time to think it over, and I’ve given it to her.”
“I hope not too much time,” Holt said caustically.
“Two weeks,” Jake shot back. “We’ll let you know what we decide.”
Lisa let out her breath, but her eyes sparkled. “A winter wedding. How exciting.”
“I won’t say another word,” Lisa said and pretended to zip her mouth closed, but she couldn’t hide her smiles and Hannah warmed just a little to know that as far as her potential mother-in-law was concerned such a marriage would be a happy thing.
She hesitated at the base of the stairs, wanting to escape, but not wanting to offend Lisa. She also didn’t want to give Holt an excuse to come up with more unreasonable demands for her to meet during the next thirteen days.
“Come on back, sweetie. I’ll keep these boys in line,” Lisa said. “Now, Mia—tell me about yourself. Where do you work again?”
It could be worse, Hannah thought as she sat stiffly back down in her seat, holding herself apart from Ned. The Mathesons could all hate her guts. From the reactions of the family around the table, it looked like she’d be welcome here if she did marry Jake. She couldn’t imagine belonging to this crazy family, though. Maybe if she could remember that Holt and Ned’s disagreements were with each other and Jake, not with her, she might do better at maintaining her equilibrium. Time to get a grip and stop letting them throw her off her game. Mia grinned at her—probably in solidarity—and Hannah tried to smile back. At least as of tomorrow she’d have an ally on the ranch.
Mia thanked Jake when they said good-bye on the front porch after dinner.
“You were right about Fila,” she confided in him.
Jake felt a guilty pang. “Really?”
“She didn’t come right out and say so but I could tell she was really grateful when I told her I was moving out.” Mia leaned in to whisper, “She actually cried a little. I gave her a hug and she held onto me so tight.”
Jake’s heart sank. Was that gratitude or sorrow? Maybe Fila felt like her friends were abandoning her one by one. He hadn’t meant for that to happen.
“I’m glad it’s all worked out,” he said slowly, feeling that nothing had worked out even remotely the way he’d planned. Everyone knew about Hannah’s potential pregnancy; he’d somehow insulted her when he tried to thank her for cleaning the house; instead of Mia’s presence acting like a brake on Ned’s behavior it had spurred him to new heights of tormenting Luke; and now Fila was brokenhearted over being left behind at the Cruz ranch.
Mia slipped off to her car and Luke caught up to him. He looked as anxious as she had been glad. “You don’t think Ned and Mia will become a couple, do you?” he said without preamble.
“I don’t know and I don’t care.” Jake had enough problems of his own.
“But he’s not right for her. He’s not right for anyone!”
Jake had to agree with that. Ned had dated some, but not much. Not many women could deal with his moods or his penchant for trouble. Although…
Jake scratched his chin. When was the last time Ned had gotten into trouble? When they were younger it was just about every week. He couldn’t count the times Cab Johnson had driven him home and dumped him on their parents’ doorstep. Drunk and disorderly, or sometimes just disorderly, Ned had made a name for himself in town. And it wasn’t a good one.
The man could work, though, he had to admit, which was why they put up with as much of his crap as they all did.
“Work it out with Ned. This isn’t any business of mine.”
“But you’re the one who got her living with him,” Luke complained.
Jake turned on him. “How was I to know you had a thing for her? You never said.”
Luke retreated. “Well I do. So, now what do I do about it?”
The muscles in Jake’s neck tightened. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about. “I don’t know. Get her to move to your cabin, I guess.”