“No. Isn’t he with you?”
“No. He went out for minute and then never came back. I got bored waiting for him.” She looked from one brother to the other. “Who died?”
“No one. Fila’s upset.” Luke was looking intently at Mia, Jake saw, the puppy love evident in his eyes.
“Maybe I should go help,” Mia said.
“No!” Luke snapped. “I mean, Hannah’s already gone to see her. You’ll just… overwhelm her.”
Jake bit back a chuckle at Luke’s tone.
“I guess.” Mia trailed over and sat on the couch beside Luke. Jake’s mouth quirked as color flooded into his younger brother’s cheeks. Luke was acting like a schoolboy with his first crush. His brother didn’t have quite the history with the ladies that he had, but he was no slouch. He should have a better command of his emotions than that.
Still he could see the attraction. Mia was petite, cute, lively, with hair that a man would like to wrap around his wrists and pull to get her a little closer. She was much too young and inexperienced for him, but she might suit Luke just fine.
If Ned didn’t want her. Somehow he didn’t think Ned did want her, or he wouldn’t have disappeared and left her time enough to wander over and get distracted by his younger brother. Ned would fight fiercely to keep hold of any woman he really wanted. He was the kind of man who kept tabs on what he felt was his.
Mia sighed. “What’s there to do around here?”
“We could watch a movie,” Luke said eagerly. “Do you like Jarhead?”
Jake rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you leave that at your place? Where Fila’s upset?”
Luke deflated. “Yeah. Right.”
“Actually, I love military movies. Soldiers are hot.” Mia brightened. “I’ll go grab my laptop and we can stream it. I’ll make some popcorn, too.” She popped up off the sofa and was out the door in a minute. Luke trailed after her happily. Jake shook his head. He was only two years older than Luke. How come his brother seemed so young?
Because he wasn’t the one trying to head up the ranch, Jake mused. He had always craved the responsibility of that position without considering its downside—the long hours, the stress of having to get everything right, the worry that was digging lines into his face around his mouth and eyes. Someday he’d end up as haggard as his father.
Jake smiled at the thought. If he did, it meant that he’d have a number of solid ranching years behind him and that’s all he’d ever asked for.
The door opened again and Hannah came in.
“Everything all right?”
“Yes, actually.” She looked bemused.
“Ned.” She shrugged. “He… surprised me.”
“Really?” Jake sat up. “How?”
“I was making everything worse, but Ned knew exactly the right thing to say.”
The days passed all too quickly. Hannah and Jake fell into a rhythm of playing house that was more pleasant than she might have imagined. She began to get up much earlier than she ever had before so they could talk over their plans for the day before Jake headed out to do his chores. He liked to follow her around as she spiffed up the place and she liked that too, since he unconsciously helped her, picking clothes up off the floor in the bedroom, drying the dishes in the kitchen and keeping her company, if nothing else. As they worked, they kept up a constant stream of talk. Jake quizzed her about the animals in her and Bella’s care, asking about their injuries and illnesses and what they were doing to help. He was surprised to hear how much she assisted Bella with the animals and interested to know she could stitch up an incision and give shots. She questioned him about his duties around the ranch. It fascinated her that Jake, his father and brothers knew what to do each day when so many chores vied for their attention. She learned that Jake knew all kinds of things about tending minor wounds and injuries among his cattle. He promised to fetch her the next time a medical emergency occurred.
Hannah remembered what Jake had said the first night they were together: that her mind was sexy. Now she knew what he meant. Jake’s body would always turn her on, but it was this mental connection, this ability to fire up each other’s curiosity that would make him hard to leave.
Once he left to do his chores, she showered, dressed and started a load of laundry before Holt appeared at her door. As much as she hated his early morning visits, she appreciated that at least she didn’t have to hunt him down. He never asked her outright if she’d slept with Jake the night before, just gave her a hard look as he pushed into the house and nodded his head when a blush crept up her neck.
“You’re getting the hang of it now,” he said as he swept a look around the first floor one morning. “Neat as a pin. It isn’t so difficult, is it?”
Hannah repressed an urge to punch him. It was one thing to appreciate her own labors. It was another thing altogether to deal with his condescending insistence that everything about the house was her job. She didn’t tell him that Jake cleaned up right alongside her in case Holt would count it against her. In fact, she didn’t answer him at all.
“Evan Mortimer was by last night,” he went on, not expecting her to. Nine days into this routine, they had it down pat.
“Really? What did he want?” He’d surprised her into the comment. She tried to maintain an icy silence on these morning visits to demonstrate to Holt how inappropriate they were, but she was rarely successful. Holt was a master at jolting her out of her calm.
“Seems Jake’s not the only one interested in a bison herd. Evan is, too. Of course when you’re a billionaire you can piss your money away any way you want to.”
“Why’d he come to see you?”
“Because I have a bison.”
Hannah’s eyebrows shot up.
“We have a bison,” Holt amended. “Evan is interested in a joint venture.”
“With Jake and me?”
“With the Double-Bar-K. Which I own.” Holt frowned. “I’m not dead yet.”
Too bad. “Of course not. So what do you think about the idea?”
“I think it’s a bunch of tomfoolery! But money has always got its uses. If Mortimer wants to invest, I can at least think about it.”
“Jake would certainly be pleased.”
“What about you?”
“What does it matter?” Hannah said. “I don’t come into the equation.”