Holt sighed and for a minute Hannah thought that was the end of the story, but he continued slowly. “We bickered over it for a few days and then Lisa stopped talking to me. I figured she was sulking and I wasn’t going to put up with that so I stopped talking, too. We went three days like that. Worst days of my life.”
Hannah pressed her lips together to keep tears from sliding down her cheeks again. She’d cried enough today. She didn’t need to do it again. “What happened?” she asked when Holt hesitated.
“She gave me an ultimatum finally. Fifty dollars or she was leaving. I was furious. Oh, we had a row. Then she said something that’s stuck with me to this day. She said, ‘Am I not worth fifty dollars to you?’” Holt stopped speaking and watched her expectantly. When she didn’t say anything he shrugged and turned to leave. “I suppose I’ve done all I can. I’ll say good-night now.”
“Wait. I don’t understand.” Hannah rose to her feet. “What does that have to do with me?”
Holt paused by the door. “I guess it’s time to ask yourself. What is Jake worth to you?”
And he was gone.
Jake had exhausted all of Hannah’s contacts and he still hadn’t found her. She wasn’t at Morgan’s place, or at the Cruz ranch with Autumn, Claire or Rose, and she wasn’t with Bella, either. After his mother returned to her house he decided he wouldn’t stop looking for her until he found her and explained everything. Who knew how long that would take? Before he set out to scour the town he decided to stop by his brothers’ cabins and ask them to take on his evening and morning chores.
Ned met him at the door of his cabin and seemed reluctant to let him in. When he finally did, Jake understood why. Gone was Mia’s pink décor. The cabin was back to normal. But the meal Fila was cooking in the kitchen was anything but. The whole place smelled of foreign, exotic spices that made Jake’s mouth water.
“What are you making?” he asked Fila, then realized Ned had been elbow-deep in food preparation, too.
He suppressed a smile, amazed that he could still do so.
“What do you want?” Ned asked gruffly, obviously steeling himself against ridicule.
“Just to see if you could help take on some of my chores tonight.” He explained about the fight and Hannah running off.
“Sorry to hear you’re having troubles,” Ned said. Behind him Fila nodded.
“Thanks.” Jake quickly turned back to the door, unnerved by his brother’s compassion. “I’ll go pass the news to Luke.”
It wasn’t until he was out the door that he realized Ned should have been jumping for joy. After all, if he didn’t marry Hannah, Ned would get control of the ranch. Maybe he’d only waited for Jake to close the door before he started celebrating, but when Jake looked back he could see Ned and Fila through the front window of the cabin. Ned wasn’t jumping. He was bent back over his work.
At Luke’s cabin, things were as he expected. Pink ruled the day and Mia was singing a pop song in the kitchen while waiting for the microwave to cook a frozen meal. Luke was already scooping forkfuls of macaroni and cheese from another cardboard container.
When Jake explained what he needed, Luke made a face. “Why don’t you just let her go?” he said.
Jake bristled. “Why would I do that?”
“You’re obviously not on the same page. You want to stay here, she wants to go to Colorado. And this whole pregnancy thing—what’s that about?”
“It’s about the condom breaking.” Jake clenched his fists.
“Are you sure? Or is she just using it as an excuse to make you do what she wants you to do?”
Behind him, Mia’s eyebrows shot up.
“She’d never do that.”
“Sure she would. Let her go,” Luke said. “No pregnancy, no problem. Am I right?”
Mia spoke up angrily. “A baby isn’t a problem.”
“It is when it’s not wanted,” Luke said.
Jake grabbed him by his collar before he finished the sentence and yanked him to his feet. “Surprise or no surprise, you better believe that baby is wanted. Grow the hell up, Luke.” He slammed him back in the chair. “Sorry for the disturbance, Mia.”
“That’s okay,” she said automatically, but he could tell it wasn’t. He’d never seen the young woman upset before. Her face had turned an odd shade of white and her lips were compressed in a thin line. As he let himself out the front door he hoped for Luke’s sake he had a good defense ready for what he’d just said.
He was going to need it.
What was Jake worth to her?
Hannah curled up under the covers in her shirt and panties and tried to answer that question. Was she willing to compromise to be with Jake?
Becoming a vet was non-negotiable. The work called to her like nothing else did. And having a veterinarian on a ranch would be a helpful thing, not a hindrance.
She’d assumed that after her years of school she’d join Bella in the pet clinic, but she didn’t have to. In fact, after her time with Gladys she’d found herself growing interested in livestock. That was Bella’s brothers’ specialty. Craig’s clinic handled cattle, horses and other farm animals. Bella took care of pets almost exclusively. Hannah had no doubt there was room in Chance Creek for an additional vet of either kind. Both Bella and Craig had been overworked for years.
Could she open her own clinic on the Double-Bar-K?
What about Jake wanting to attend school? She pulled out her phone and logged onto the motel’s Internet access. Checking out Montana State’s agricultural programs, she found several that she could see would interest him and felt ashamed she hadn’t even stopped to ask which one he’d applied to. He was so fascinated by the idea of sustainability. That’s why Gladys had caught his interest in the first place. Evan Mortimer was interested in sustainability too, and he had money to invest. Could their interests meet in the middle somewhere?
One of the reasons ranchers in this part of the state didn’t ranch bison was a lack of infrastructure. What if she concentrated her veterinary practice on unusual and exotic farm animals? Could she help open up the area to more experimentation in livestock? Could she, Jake and Evan work together?
She sat up straight, feeling hope for the first time but almost as quickly she slumped again. What about Holt? What about the Double-Bar-K?