The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Page 49)

The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #6)(49)
Author: Cora Seton

“Can I help?” Hannah jumped to her feet.

“Not this time. This time you’re the guest of honor.” Lisa beamed at her.

Mia and Morgan took the hint and followed her back to the kitchen. In a few more moments they’d filled the table with food.

For a short time the room was filled with noise while everyone passed the dishes around and helped themselves to the meal. As soon as the clatter died down, Holt spoke up.

“I’m glad to see the two of you have finally come to your senses. High time you got married.”

Lisa turned to Hannah. “On the twenty-first? Will you let me host the wedding here?”

“Oh, I hoped you would ask,” Hannah said. “I know it would mean the world to Jake.”

“It would mean the world to me, too,” Lisa said. “Let’s put our heads together about the menu tomorrow and all the other plans.”

“I’ve got guest lists and everything else,” Hannah said with a wink at Morgan. That load lifted off her chest, she attacked her ham with gusto.

“What about all that college business?” Ned spoke up.

“We’ve figured that out,” Jake said quickly. “Hannah will go to Colorado. I’m going to Montana State.”

Lisa’s smile widened, but Holt frowned and Hannah swallowed. Uh oh. Here’s where the trouble would start.

She was right. Holt set down his knife and fork and wiped his hands on his cloth napkin. “What do you mean you’re going to Montana State?”

Jake faced Holt with confidence. He was marrying Hannah, after all. Holt had gotten what he wanted. Now he was going to have to compromise a little—just like the rest of them.

“I’m getting my degree.”

“Who’s going to run the ranch?”

“Me. And Ned. And Luke.”

“How’s that going to work?” Ned said.

“The three of us can figure it out.”

“What about children?” Lisa asked unexpectedly.

“We’ll work that out, too. Look around this table.” Jake gestured at each of them in turn. “We’ve got five men and five women here on the ranch. We ought to be able to help each other. If Ned, Luke and Rob will pitch in to cover my chores when I’m at school, I’ll pitch in and help them when I’m home. Hannah and I have decided to go ahead with children as soon as we’re married. We hope you all will help with them, too.”

“Why should we?” Ned exploded.

Lisa thumped her hand on the table. “That’s enough. Don’t you disrupt this meal.”

“I’ll say what’s got to be said,” Ned persisted. “If you leave the ranch then I’ll become manager. It’s as simple as that.”

“We’ll share it.” Jake kicked him under the table. If Ned balked then Holt would balk too and he hadn’t even told them about the bison herd yet.

“Don’t kick me. And don’t try to get one over one me, either. If you leave, you don’t stay head of the ranch.”

“I’m marrying Hannah, and I will stay head of the ranch.” Jake glared at him.

“That’s not the deal. That’s not what Dad said and you know it!” Ned stood up and threw his napkin on the table. “You don’t just have to marry her, you have to stay here!”

“That’s enough!” Lisa stood up too. “If you two can’t behave then leave the table!”

Hannah couldn’t seem to breathe. This had all turned out much worse than she thought. Her mother-in-law was furious. Holt looked like he’d swallowed a bug. Ned was ready to leap across the table and strangle Jake, and Jake…

Was looking at her. Guilt, horror, panic crossed his face in quick succession.

Ned’s words caught up to her. You don’t just have to marry her, you have to stay here.

What did he mean by that?

Jake had to marry… her? Or what? What would he lose?

The answer hit her like a slap to the face.

He would lose the ranch.

“Hannah.” Jake reached for her but she stared at him, dumbfounded. “Hannah—it’s not like that.”

“Sure it is,” Ned sneered. “Dad forced your hand just like he forced hers. The two of you let him play with you like a couple of dolls. Well, I’m not getting played. Time for you to stand by your word, Dad.” He faced Holt. “If Jake can’t do his duty, then I’m the one in charge. You said so yourself.”

Jake turned to Holt and she realized it was true. Holt must have blackmailed Jake the same way he’d done with her. And as much as it killed her, she couldn’t even blame Jake for falling for it. Look at her; she’d slept with a man to get a home for her bison. How paltry an excuse compared to Jake losing the livelihood he’d worked for all his life.

No wonder he’d insisted on marrying right away. No wonder he’d capitulated to her demands when the deadline drew near. She covered her mouth with her hand when she thought of how happy she’d been just a few short moments ago. In love with Jake. Their future mapped out. So sure it could work.

A tear splashed down her cheek as the whole house of cards came tumbling down.

Did Jake even love her?

Was any of this real?

Morgan leaped to help her as she stumbled to her feet. “I’m sorry,” she said to Lisa, whose face was white with shock. “I have to go.”

“No.” Jake blocked her way. “Not yet. Dad? We’re waiting for your answer. All of us are.”

Holt looked around the table. He seemed almost bewildered by the hubbub and once again Hannah saw a flash of the old man he’d become. The last thing she wanted was to feel sorry for him—not now—but she knew Holt didn’t have a clue how to fix this.

“Ned’s right,” he said finally. “That was the deal. If you can’t do the job, it’s his.”

Jake nodded. “Fine. That’s just fine. I’ve given everything to this place. Everything.” A muscle pulsed in his jaw. “But that’s obviously not enough. If none of you plan to be here for me when I need you, then to hell with it. I won’t be there for you, either. Come on, Hannah.”

She shook her head, meaning they weren’t a pair. She wasn’t going with him anywhere. She couldn’t find her voice, though, and she let Jake hustle her from the room.

“Wait!” Lisa called after them. “Where are you going?”

Hannah closed her eyes at the pain in her voice. Lisa would pay the biggest price in this argument that was splitting her family apart.