The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Page 45)

The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #6)(45)
Author: Cora Seton

Jake was going to Montana State. Just like that. Forget the ranch. Forget her dreams. Forget her.

More importantly, there was no baby and she couldn’t believe how bitterly disappointed she was. She was cramping painfully and her head had begun to pound, too. Why hadn’t she recognized all the signs that her period was arriving? She felt worse today than she usually did when it came, but that was the stress piled on top of everything else. Otherwise, all was normal. Bloating, crankiness, being way too emotional? Check, check and check. She should have known she wasn’t pregnant. She shouldn’t have let herself get attached to the idea.

And why had she let herself get attached to Jake, the one man guaranteed to leave her heartbroken? She couldn’t blame anyone else for her predicament. Not even Holt, damn him. He’d started the whole thing off, but he’d told her clearly her job was to prime the pump to get Jake interested in the idea of settling down. Even he had known she wasn’t the right woman for him to settle down with.

Hannah perched on the motel room bed, her arms wrapped around her stomach. Still in her winter jacket, she was cold down to her bones. Maybe a hot soak would help calm her down. Good thing she wasn’t hungry since she hadn’t eaten dinner and she’d have to go out if she wanted food now. She didn’t think she could face the world tonight, not when all her dreams were crashing down around her head. A bath and bed. That was the best plan. She would try again tomorrow.

She turned the television on to mask the emptiness of the room, hoping it would mask the emptiness inside her, too. As she walked toward the bathroom she passed the room’s long, low bureau topped with a large mirror. She’d aged ten years in the last hour. Her face was taut with sorrow. Her hair limp. Her body hidden by the thick winter coat. She looked like the kind of woman who lived alone and existed on the margins. The kind who ran to a motel room instead of home to a family when times got tough. She hadn’t had anyone to depend on for a long, long time. This was normal for her. Nothing had changed.

But something had changed. For one moment she’d let herself imagine a life that contained a husband who loved her. A child. In-laws. A home. All the things she’d never let herself picture before because she couldn’t stand the disappointment if it didn’t work out. She’d set herself up for heartbreak and heartbreak had arrived, right on schedule. The pain of it doubled her over until she wept into her hands.

When the knock sounded on her door ten minutes later, Hannah didn’t want to answer it, but if the insistent pounding drew her neighbors’ ire she’d have even more fuss to deal with. She dragged herself up off the bed, scrubbed at her face with the arm of her jacket and approached the door cautiously. A glance through the peep hole showed Holt standing outside.

She rested her forehead against its smooth surface in defeat. “Go away, Holt.”

“I’m not leaving until you let me in.”

She knew him well enough now to know he’d make good on his threat. Taking a deep breath, she opened it. Shrugging out of her jacket finally, she tossed it on the bed and faced him.

“What do you want?”

“I think the real question is, what do you want?” He kept his coat on and stood near the door, his tall, broad frame taking up all too much space in the room.

“I don’t have the energy for games tonight.” She felt raw and tired—too tired for this conversation.

Holt peered at her and she knew he was taking in her reddened eyelids and splotchy face. “There’s no baby, is there?”

A sob rose in her throat again. She forced it down and shook her head.

“Jake doesn’t know.” It wasn’t a question.

She shook her head again. “No.”

“Shouldn’t he?”

“He won’t care. He doesn’t care about anyone besides himself.”

“My son cares about you, that’s for damn sure. Why else would he chase all over creation to help you round up that bison and cart it over to our ranch even though he knows I wouldn’t cotton to it? Why else would he spend all his time for the past two weeks either with you or mooning over you? You think we told him to do any of that? Hell, no!”

“Holt, just leave me alone, would you? It’s all over—”

“It’s not over.” Holt approached her. “You’re crying yourself silly over here. And I bet my son’s pacing like a wild animal back at home. I saw you race out of there like a bat outta hell. Don’t worry; I sent Lisa to talk to Jake. I figured I’d better come talk some sense into you. The two of you love each other; you’re just being a pack of fools!”

“We’re not foolish. We’re realists. We can’t make this work.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“What’s the difference?”

“There’s a world of difference. Sit down.” He pointed to the bed. When she didn’t budge he folded his arms across his chest. “Do an old man a kindness by listening to me for a minute. Maybe you’ll learn something.”

“I want to be alone.”

“I’ll leave as soon as I’ve said my piece.”

“Fine!” Hannah plunked herself down on the bed, too exhausted to fight anymore.

“I nearly lost Lisa once out of stubbornness.” He began to pace as he talked. “It was over a dress, believe it or not. This was back in the days when we were getting started and struggling a bit. I’d just increased the herd far faster than my father ever would have done. I made a bet and used credit. He would have been furious. That bet paid off in spades, though.”

She could tell Holt had traveled back to those days in his mind. He was seeing something other than the motel room in front of him.

“Truth was I nearly over-extended myself and I was hell-bent on paying back that loan as fast as possible. We pinched every penny we could for several years and some pennies we didn’t have, too. One day Lisa asked for some money to buy a new dress. She was hosting a fundraiser for some cause or another. Something church-related.” Holt waved a vague hand. “She’d been wearing the same dress for three years to all of these functions and she was bound and determined to have a new one. She wanted fifty dollars.” He rubbed a hand across his jaw. “Fifty dollars.” He turned bright eyes toward Hannah. “I said no. She could keep wearing that dress another year. I was still wearing the same old suit I always wore when I dressed up, wasn’t I? I didn’t understand it was different for her. That her friends were talking—saying I didn’t value her. I didn’t care. She knew the truth but it killed her to think that everyone else didn’t. She wanted that dress to show them that her husband…” His voice got a little unsteady. “…wasn’t a cheapskate who neglected his wife. I refused.”