The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Page 53)

The Cowboy Lassos a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #6)(53)
Author: Cora Seton

“Yes.” He nodded. “Tell me what to do.”

“If you can keep him calm, I can give Chester a local anesthetic. When it kicks in I can clean the wound and stitch him up. If you think he’ll fight us, we’d better wait for Bella to sedate him.”

“I can keep him calm.” He wasn’t sure Chester could wait that long.

They worked in tandem, Jake keeping Chester as calm as possible while Hannah cleaned a patch of his hide and administered the sedative. Her movements were easy and careful, and Chester tolerated her presence well, as long as Jake kept up his monologue. Jake knew his long relationship with the animal was paying off. Chester trusted him, and Jake trusted Hannah.

Soon her lithe fingers had cleaned the wound with antiseptic from the first aid kid, threaded a needle and were suturing the gash. She worked methodically but quickly and in less time than Jake would have imagined, the work was done.

“Thank you.” His voice was gruff and he cleared his throat.

She came to touch his arm. “Of course. I know he means the world to you. I would do anything to help him.”

In that moment, Jake understood thoroughly why Hannah needed to be a vet. Caring for animals, healing them in order to heal their owners’ hearts was as much a part of her as this ranch was for him.

As this ranch had been for him. He swallowed against the raw burn in his throat, knowing that it wasn’t his ranch anymore. He had turned his back on it. He and Hannah had thrown in their lot with the Mortimers and there was no going back now.

“That’s some first-rate stitching.”

Jake was surprised to find Holt standing beside them inspecting Hannah’s work.

“Thank you.” She stepped back.

“A veterinarian would come in handy here on the ranch.”

She gave Holt a funny look. With a last glance at Chester, she gathered her medical supplies. “I’m going to put these away. Keep him as still as you can. When Bella gets here she’ll look over the wound and then cover it up.”

Jake nodded. To his surprise Holt stayed by his side. He leaned against the doorframe to the stall. “Are you really going through with this—moving to Carl’s house?”

“It’s Evan and Bella’s house now. Besides, that’s what you wanted, right? For me to leave.”

“You know damn well that’s not true.” He shook his head. “If someone had told me that every time I got one of you boys sorted out another one would go off half-cocked, I might not have been so quick to have four of you. You’re like cockroaches when the light turns on, scurrying every which way, no sense at all. Everywhere I look, there are giant boots about to step on your heads and squash the daylights out of you.” He blew out a breath. “Not a single one of you ever thinks to look up.”

“Thanks a lot. It’s a flattering analogy.”

“Maybe it ain’t flattering, but it’s true.”

“Did you ever think we have enough brains to plot our own course?” Jake struggled to keep his voice down. He didn’t want to rile Chester. “Maybe what looks to you like blind flight is actually a carefully crafted plan.”

“I doubt it.”

Why did he even try? Holt couldn’t be reasoned with. “Why don’t you go on to bed. I can handle this from here.”

“Why? So you can scurry away again as soon as my back is turned?” Holt looked him in the eye. “Are you ever coming home?”

“No.”

Holt sagged against the door frame. “Then what’s the use?” His voice thickened with emotion.

Jake felt intensely uncomfortable. “The use of what?”

“Everything. All of this. I did it for you. It was all supposed to be for you. The ranch, the herd…”

“For my brothers and me.”

“For you especially.” Holt braced his hands on his thighs as if he’d run a long race and couldn’t catch his breath. “You’re my heir. You’re supposed to take my place. Now you’ve left…” He shook his head. “I told that girl of yours you’d jump the fence.”

“You pretty much forced me to. You all right?” He had to ask the question even though he didn’t want to. Holt looked mighty gray.

“I’ll live,” Holt said, brushing his concern away. “All I wanted was my family here. My sons and their wives and their children.”

“I know,” Jake said with a sigh. The trouble was, he did know. Holt was a nightmare at inter-personal relations, but when you clawed through all his baloney there was often a good intention buried there somewhere. “But you can’t force people to do your will, Dad. You have to give them options.”

Holt looked up at him, his breathing still shallow. Jake was just about ready to call for an ambulance when he spoke. “How about this option? I give you two hundred acres, just like Rob got. You move back onto the ranch. That wife of yours can either start her own clinic when she’s done her schooling, or work with her friend up the road.”

Jake scowled. His father wanted to negotiate? Now? “Ned won’t like that.”

“Ned will still run the show. I’m just offering you a place to stay. A bit of land to do your experiments on.”

“Like Rob?”

“Exactly.”

“And you wouldn’t interfere?” Was he really having this conversation? Everything had already been settled. He’d left the Double-Bar-K, gotten out from under his father’s scheming ways.

“No, sir. I’ve learned my lesson. You can’t teach a cockroach anything.”

Jake rubbed a hand over his face and thought it over. Two hundred acres wasn’t enough to do all the things he wanted to do, but it was enough land for them to build a home of their own on. Definitely enough to build a clinic for Hannah. “I’ll have to ask Hannah. We’ve made plans with Bella and Evan.”

“They’re just down the road.”

“That’s true. We could still work together and take care of their place when they go away.” They could keep the bison herd at their place, too—it was a large spread. He felt wary, though. There’d been too many tricks—too many twists he hadn’t seen coming. He wavered, not knowing what to say. On the one hand he’d always thought the Double-Bar-K would be his home forever. On the other hand, he’d begun to get used to the idea of truly being his own man.

“Consider it a wedding gift.” Holt straightened up slowly and came to shake Jake’s hand. “I’d like to have you back. It’s not the same without you.”