Could Ned and Luke step up to fill the gaps temporarily while Jake went to school? Would Holt allow a bison herd on the ranch? What would happen when Jake finished school and wanted to get back to work on the Double-Bar-K? Would it be too hard to partner with Ned? Would Holt even allow it?
So many questions and ifs—but for the first time she considered the people around them and how their dreams and plans might dovetail into hers. She and Jake had a whole community of friends and family who might support their journey.
But she’d have to trust Jake. And he’d have to trust her, too. They’d have to learn to make sure both were being served by their actions instead of basing all their plans only on themselves.
Could they do it? Would Jake want to?
She picked up her phone.
Thank God Hannah had finally called. She hadn’t said much—just asked him to come to the motel in town. Jake had just opened the door to his truck when he spotted his father’s Chevy rumbling down the dirt track. Holt pulled in next to him and rolled down the window. “Going somewhere?”
“I’m going after Hannah.”
“That’s good, but I’ve got news for you first. I’ve just been to see her.”
“How did you know where to find her?” Jake demanded. It burned him to know that Holt could guess her whereabouts when he hadn’t been able to.
“How many places are there to go in this town? She’s at the Big Sky Motel.”
“I know—she just called.”
“Well, she’s waiting for you, but there’s something you need to know first.” Holt looked grim and Jake’s heart sunk.
“What’s that?” He braced himself for some new blow. His father seemed to love to provide them.
Holt hesitated. He looked old tonight. Almost… sad. “I’m sorry, son. There’s no baby this time.”
“No…” Jake trailed off and looked away. “Hell,” he said quietly.
“There’ll be other chances in the future. Hannah needs you to be with her, though. Go talk to her.”
Jake hesitated, his hand on the door. “Yeah?”
“Don’t let her use this as an excuse to postpone the wedding. The two of you need to get hitched more than ever. Come to dinner on Saturday night. We’ll hammer out the details.”
Jake nodded. He couldn’t even think that far ahead. He climbed in his truck and started the engine. He wanted to ask what Holt had said to her, but didn’t want to waste any more time. His father waved, turned his truck around and headed back toward the main house. As Jake drove down the long lane and toward town, he had to swallow hard a couple of times. No baby. He felt its loss as if he’d already held it in his arms.
When he reached the Big Sky Motel, he took the stairs two at a time to the second floor and banged on her door. “Hannah? Open up.”
After several agonizing moments, Hannah opened the door. Her hair fluffed in its usual halo around her head. Her face was white and strained, her eyes lined with red. She was dressed only in her shirt and panties and he could tell by the disheveled covers she’d been curled up in bed.
“Are you okay?” He pushed his way into the room and gathered her into his arms.
“I… got my period.”
“I know,” he said softly. He pulled back and searched her face, expecting relief or at least acceptance. What he saw instead mirrored his own reaction. Bitter disappointment.
Tears brimmed her eyes. “Oh, Jake.”
She didn’t need to say anything more and neither did he. He pulled her in close, wrapped his arms around her and let her cry.
While she showered, Jake ordered a pizza and when she got out of the bathroom he tucked her into bed, heaping the covers around her. When the pizza arrived he made sure to block any view of her the delivery boy might get. She appreciated his concern for her privacy. She felt too raw, too vulnerable to come in contact with anyone.
Anyone except Jake.
They ate in silence, Jake sprawled out next to her on the bed. He kept close to her, pressing his leg against hers as if he knew she needed some contact to keep her grounded. She hadn’t expected such an ache inside her chest at the loss of the idea of being pregnant. She had no idea she’d become attached at all to that idea, much less would mourn its absence.
“I would never go to school and leave you behind,” Jake said at one point.
“I know.” She did, too, now that she thought about it. Jake would never steal her dream but he might get caught up in it. She leaned against him. Why had she jumped to such awful conclusions?
“Are we going to be all right?” he asked.
“I don’t know. But I had an idea. A start of one,” she amended when he turned to face her. She filled him in on her interest in treating bison and other alternative livestock. She spoke about Evan’s interest in bison as well and the fact he and Bella were looking for land to build on. “Maybe there’s some way we could work together.”
Jake nodded slowly. “I’ve actually been thinking the same thing. I scheduled a meeting with Evan and Bella for tomorrow night.”
“Really? What will you say to them?”
“That we should join together the way Ethan, Jamie, Rob and Cab have done on the Cruz ranch with their families.”
“What about your Dad? Will he go for it?”
“I don’t care anymore. He’s promised to let me head up the Double-Bar-K soon. Sooner than you think,” he added. “When I’m in charge I’ll share most of the management duties with Ned and Luke. I’ll give them more of a say than they’ve ever had before. They’ll like that. In exchange, I’ll carve off a corner of the ranch for a bison herd. I’ll ask Evan to help fund it. I know he’s interested. And if I give Ned and Luke what they want, they’ll be on our side, too. That’s how we’ll get through the next few years, by asking our friends and family for help. By the time you’ve gone through vet school and I’ve gotten my degree, we’ll be sitting pretty. There are all kinds of things we can do.”
She could only stare at him. “You really think Holt will let you do that?”
“I know he will. You just get busy planning that wedding. I’ll take care of everything else.” He bent down and kissed her nose. “I love you, you know. We’ll make this work.”
“But how do I pull a wedding together in two weeks?”