A rush of feeling washed over Jake. His father cared whether he stayed or went. He realized now he’d never been truly sure about that. And the Double-Bar-K still meant as much to him as it ever had. It would be strange not to be in charge of the cattle herd here, but it would be a relief, too, in some ways. He wanted to concentrate on other things. He wanted to go to school. Maybe he’d even transfer to Colorado with Hannah when she went. Anything to make her journey to becoming a vet easier. If they were together, they could think about starting a family along the way. Having their own acreage on the ranch would give them so many options. “I’d like to come back. Thanks, Dad.” He clapped his father on the shoulder, the nearest any of the Matheson men came to a hug.
“I hope you’ll still help out with the main work we do here.” It was a testament to how far they’d come that Holt was asking rather than demanding.
Holt nodded and turned to the door. “Ned, did you hear all that?”
Ned straightened from where he’d been leaning against the far wall of the barn, hidden in the shadows. “I sure did. Jake, don’t you think you and Hannah better get home? You’ve got a wedding tomorrow. I’ll sit up with Chester and wait for Bella. I can sleep in here tonight if need be.”
“I don’t want to leave him.” Jake hesitated. It was the night before his wedding, though. His bride needed some sleep.
“You’re leaving him in capable hands. Just like you’re leaving the ranch.”
Jake sized his brother up. Maybe Ned did deserve this chance to prove himself. “All right. I’m counting on you, though.”
“I won’t screw it up.” Ned’s voice was caustic.
As he left the barn to find Hannah, Ned called out, “You better stop in to see Mom; she’s got something to say to you.”
Jake just bet she did. He retrieved Hannah and led her inside the main house, pausing on the front porch to fill her in on his father’s offer. To his surprise, she launched herself into his arms with tears of joy. “That’s so much better. I knew it would kill you to move away from here for good. This is your home. Our home, now. Did your dad really say he’d build me a clinic?”
“You bet. I think he likes you.”
“I don’t know whether to be glad or scared.” She kissed him on the mouth. “I’m so happy. It’s all going to work out!”
“I know.” And he did. With things patched up between him and his father, he could really move forward into his new life. He led the way inside, where the smell of his mother’s roast beef overwhelmed him the moment he stepped through the door. “What’s cooking?” he asked as he entered the kitchen.
“Your wedding supper, I hope,” Lisa said. Jake gazed around him in surprise at the large aluminum tins filled with every country delicacy imaginable. “I’m nearly done,” she huffed, lifting an enormous roast out of the oven. “I just need to slice this up to store in the refrigerator overnight.”
“But, Mom… you realize we’ve got food coming to Carl’s place. Autumn’s handling it.”
“The hell you do.” Lisa stood up and put her hand on her hips. “I nearly died when I read the location of your wedding on your invitation. Which I should have been the one to send, thank you very much!”
“We did the best we could, considering the circumstances. Dad didn’t leave us much choice.”
“Circumstances have changed, haven’t they? And as for your father,” Lisa shook her head. “Let’s just say I gave him a piece of my mind after you left the other day. I can’t believe the shenanigans he gets up to. Not that he wasn’t provoked.” She gave him a hard look.
“I take responsibility for my part in it.” Jake knew he should never have made fun of his father or his brother. “Still, he went a little overboard, don’t you think?”
Lisa chuckled. “I think your father likes matchmaking.”
“Is that what he calls it?” Hannah’s eyes were wide with disbelief.
“You’re getting married tomorrow, aren’t you? I called every last person I could think of to tell them about the change of venue. You’re getting married in my house. Not Carl’s house. Mine.”
Jake rolled his eyes at her tone. “What about Hannah?” He nudged her. “She’s worked all week to get ready. What about Autumn? She’s making all the food.”
“You know what? I’m happy about the change of venue,” Hannah said. “Your mother can kidnap my wedding any time. I’d much rather have it here.”
“That’s good to hear, because I’m not giving it back,” Lisa said. She hurried across the room to give Hannah a hug. “But Autumn’s still helping me. You should see all that she’s got cooking at her place. Please don’t be mad.”
“Are you kidding? I’m overjoyed! We tried decorating Carl’s living room—I mean, Evan and Bella’s living room—with all those Ming vases and the place ended up looking like a museum. This is so much better.” Hannah gestured to Lisa’s Christmas decorations which filled the house with red and green. “Did you tell Bella and Evan that the wedding has changed venues? They were so nice about letting us use their new place to host it.”
“They were the first people I called. Don’t you worry about a thing—it’s all under control. Go get some sleep,” Lisa told them. “Be back at noon tomorrow. Bring your things. You’ll get dressed upstairs.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Hannah said with a grin.
“Now you’re beginning to understand what it is to be a Matheson,” Jake said.
“I’m also beginning to understand who’s really in charge around here.” Hannah nodded at Lisa. “It sets the perfect precedent for my own family.” She gave Lisa a peck on the cheek, then sidled over to Jake and gave him a squeeze.
“We’ll see about that.” He bent down to kiss her, knowing that right now he’d do whatever it took to make his wife happy.
On the day of her wedding, Hannah loved the feeling of being almost outdoors in the snowy landscape while she said her vows. The ceremony was held in Lisa’s glassed-in solarium, with temporary heaters working overtime to warm the usually chilly room. Mia and Fila acted as her bridesmaids, with Bella as her Matron of Honor. Jake stood straight and strong beside her and her heart tripped in excitement when he said, “I do.”