The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Page 31)

The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #6)(31)
Author: Cora Seton

Holt crossed his arms. “When you marry Jake and raise his children you’ll be part of this family. Mathesons stick together. That makes you part of the equation.”

She crossed her arms and stared back at him. “I haven’t agreed to marry Jake or raise his family, but a bison herd would be lovely. Besides offering companionship to Gladys, I believe that bison are a better alternative to cattle—both for us and for the land.”

“Humph. Spoken like a liberal.”

She knew that was an insult. “Spoken like someone who cares.”

“Do you? Care?”

“Of course I care.”

“About Jake? About that baby?” He nodded to her belly and she placed a hand protectively over it.

“There probably is no baby,” she reminded him. “But yes, I do care… about both of them.”

“Enough to put your own wishes behind you and do what’s right?”

Anger flared within her. “How come I’m the only one who has to put my wishes behind me? Why are you trying so hard to box me into this corner?”

“Because if I don’t you might just make a run for it and my son might follow you.” He looked away, swallowed, and Hannah saw the same sadness she’d seen in him before. She reminded herself that as deranged as his methods were, he only wanted what most parents wanted—to see his grown children happily settled down, preferably close by. “You youngsters don’t think I pay much attention to what’s going on. You underestimate me. I know my son. He loves this ranch more than I do, but he’s restless and he’s hungry for something he may not be able to find here; a wife and a mission.”

“A mission?”

“Every man likes to innovate and Jake is no different. My father was a conservative man. He grew this ranch slowly and carefully. When it was my turn I learned everything I could about maximizing the land and the herd and I doubled the size of it. Now Jake wants a chance at the helm. He wants to look back to our past heritage to find a more natural way to run the ranch. He wants his bison herd. He thinks it will preserve the integrity of the land. Maybe it will. If I try to stop him he’ll jump the fence and find a new pasture.” He turned his iron gaze on her. “If you jump the fence he’ll follow. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually.”

“So I just give up, stay home, forget about my career? That’s my fate?”

“It’s the fate my wife chose. Can’t be too dire.”

But it felt like a prison to her. She wasn’t Lisa or Autumn. She didn’t find joy in transforming a house into a home. She wasn’t Mia, playing with redecorating and cooking. She wanted something big to do, something hard, something lucrative. She wanted a career.

“You’ve got that look on your face,” Holt said.

“What look?”

“That jump-the-fence look.” She saw a flash of desperation in his eyes. Then it was gone. She felt for him, knew he wanted to be surrounded by a loving family, but she couldn’t give up her own dreams to make his come true.

“The thing is, Holt, you’ve made it crystal clear,” she said. She gathered her purse and coat and ushered him toward the door. “I can either be with Jake or I can have my career. In that scenario I choose my career.”

When Jake opened the barn he found his brothers facing each other, nearly nose to nose.

“Just stay away from her,” Luke said.

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

Jake wanted to turn on his heel and walk straight back out, but he knew his father would show up soon and that would make things worse.

“What’s going on?” He tried to pitch his voice with the same fearsome authority Holt mustered at the drop of a hat, but judging by the way his brothers ignored him, he still didn’t quite have the knack.

“How do you suggest I stay away from Mia? She lives with me,” Ned snarled.

“She’s supposed to come live with me,” Luke said. “That’s why I brought Fila here in the first place.”

Jake closed his eyes. Uh oh.

“You what?”

“I thought…” Now Luke looked to him for support but Jake refused to offer it. If his brother was stupid enough to explain this to Ned he deserved what he got.

“You thought what?” Ned said.

“I thought if Fila was staying with me, Mia would want to come stay with me too. Then they could be together.”

“You thought you’d use a traumatized kidnap victim to lure another woman to your house?”

Luke sent a pleading look Jake’s way. “It wasn’t my idea, it was…”

“Shut your trap,” Jake intervened quickly. “The way I see it, it isn’t up to either of you where those girls choose to live. It’s up to them. They’re not here for your pleasure.”

Both his brothers turned to face him. “That’s rich, coming from you,” Ned said slowly. “You used your house to lure Hannah in, then got her pregnant so she’s stuck here.”

Jake’s jaw tightened in anger. “That’s not how it went at all. And she’s not pregnant, so quit saying that like it’s a done deal. If you were any kind of gentleman you would have kept your mouth shut the other day. No one else would even know about what happened.”

“If you were any kind of gentleman you wouldn’t have forced me to take in Mia.”

Luke’s mouth dropped open. “Forced you? If he forced you to take in Mia, then give her to me, because I actually want her!”

“I ain’t giving her to nobody. She’s not mine to give.”

“You got that right.”

Jake pushed between them. “Simmer down. Dad’s coming. He’ll be here any second and he’d love to see the two of you like this. Nothing makes him happier than the both of you with your fists up.”

That silenced them because they knew it was true. For all Holt’s talk of family he seemed to get a charge out of seeing them fight.

“Ned, do you care for Mia?” Jake asked. Ned made a face and tried to walk away, but Jake grabbed his shoulder. “Answer the question.”

Finally Ned shook his head. “No.”

“Luke, what about you and Fila; something going on between you two?”

“No,” Luke said quickly. “I don’t understand her at all.”

“Well then, seems simple enough.” When the two of them still looked at him blankly, Jake threw his hands up. “Swap them!”