The next week passed in a blur for Hannah. She spent Sunday revising her wedding plans to take into account the new location. Morgan came over and together they devised ways to use the house’s present décor to stand in for wedding decorations. With the ceremony slated for four in the afternoon, with a sit down dinner to follow, the biggest problem would be to find enough tables and chairs for all the guests. Party rental companies were overbooked, so she spent the next few nights calling everyone she knew to beg and borrow as many of them as possible. Table cloths and place settings were easier to locate and the celebration quickly took shape. Autumn had volunteered to handle the catering, with the help of several other women. Hannah accepted the offer with pleasure and knew the food would be great.
She rushed out invitations on Monday morning, and spent a hilarious evening at Ellie’s Bridals with Mia, Fila, Autumn, Rose, Morgan, Bella and Claire. The elderly proprietress regaled them with stories of wedding disasters while Hannah tried on dress after dress until Ellie pulled out just the thing.
Just the thing turned out to be an off-the-shoulder gown with a slim fitted bodice and a flowing skirt. Delicate stitchery on the bodice turned the plain dress into something spectacular, and Hannah felt like a princess in the gown. A collective sigh from her friends told her this was indeed the one, and the transaction was wrapped up quickly. It required a minimum of alteration and she received it several days before the twenty-first rolled around.
More snow fell in the meantime, making the view out the windows of Carl’s home sparkle in the lowering sun. The ceremony would be held in its enormous living room at the back of the house, where large windows would let in the last of the light. Afterward they’d set up tables and shift the rows of chairs to circle them. An awkward arrangement, but one Hannah knew wouldn’t put out her country guests one bit.
They hired a local band to play after the supper and she suspected the party would last longer than most, since she and Jake had no honeymoon to leave for. That was all right. Any night in bed with Jake was a honeymoon, she mused.
If only Jake would patch things up with his father, everything would be all right.
The night before the wedding, all of Jake’s regrets overwhelmed him. Hannah was putting up a brave front and he knew she was genuinely happy to marry him, but the rift between him and his parents was leaching all the joy out of the occasion. No matter how many times he assured her he was fine, and no matter that his parents had duly sent their reply card with the number of guests filled in with a two, she couldn’t get past the idea that she had broken up his family and he knew it would forever mar her memory of her special day.
He didn’t know what to do about it, though. He knew from past experience that one didn’t reason with Holt. You either agreed with him or you didn’t. If you didn’t, he treated you like you didn’t exist, until he had need of you again. Then he’d pick right up where he left off as if nothing had ever been wrong. If Hannah could be patient it would happen sooner or later.
He wished it would happen sooner.
When Ned called, he and Hannah were going over their lists one last time before they called it a night. Hannah was pale with tension. She was worried over all the final details. Jake had begun to wish they had put the wedding off, both so she’d have more time to arrange things and so his Dad would have more time to come around.
Why did he care so much what the old man thought, he wondered as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. All Holt did was cause trouble.
“It’s Chester,” Ned said without preamble. “He’s hurt. Thought you’d want to know. We’ve got a call in to Craig Chatham, but he’s out at another ranch and he’ll be a while. You’d better get over here.”
“Be right there.” He relayed the message to Hannah. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Don’t wait up.”
“I’m coming with you. Maybe I can help.”
One look at her face told him not to argue. He wanted to, though. If he had to put Chester down, he didn’t want her anywhere near.
He didn’t want to put Chester down, either. The horse had been with him through thick and thin. As they shut the door behind them and clattered down the porch steps to his truck, Jake kicked himself for not asking Ned what happened. He drove the short distance down the road to the Double-Bar-K as fast as he could. They bumped down the dirt lane, parked in front of the main house and got out of the truck.
“In the barn.” Ned intercepted them. He’d obviously been waiting for their arrival.
“How bad is he hurt?”
“Hard to tell. He has a pretty good gash. Looks like a nail worked loose on the wall of his stall. He must have scraped against it. He’s lost a lot of blood and needs stitches, I can tell you that much. We got him into another stall, but that’s about it.”
Jake blanched. “How soon will Craig be here?”
Luke shrugged. “As soon as he can.” He looked at Hannah. “Think we should call Bella?”
“Yes. I’ll call her.”
By the time they reached the barn, she’d phoned Bella and told her what had happened. Bella said she was on her way, but it would be fifteen minutes at least until she arrived. Inside they found Holt and Ned both doing their best to soothe Chester. The horse was sidestepping in its stall, whinnying in pain. Blood ran down its flank from an angry wound. Jake’s heart sank as the horse reared up and kicked the side of the stall. Chester was getting frantic from the pain.
“Do you have any medical supplies?” Hannah asked.
“Yes. In the storage shed.” It was Ned who spoke up. Jake had gone to Chester, murmuring to him. The horse whinnied again.
Jake was dimly aware that they’d left the barn, but he was too busy trying to calm Chester to pay them much attention. “There, boy. Come on, settle down. That’s a good boy.” He kept up a stream of easy words and motioned for Holt to step back. His father did so, leaving him alone with the horse. After some long moments, Chester quieted a little. He still shuffled in his stall and whinnied now and then, but Jake kept murmuring to him, kept soothing him as best he could.
Soon Hannah was back. “I have what I need to stitch him up if you trust me. Otherwise you can wait for Bella.”
Jake glanced at Chester’s flank again. Too much blood was draining away. Chester couldn’t take much more of that.
“Do you trust me, Jake?”