“Don’t worry about him.” Jake shifted closer, the sleeve of his rugged winter work coat brushing hers. She wished he would put his arm around her shoulder and kiss her again like he had at the wedding.
He tapped his fingers on the top rail a few times, still gazing out toward Gladys. Then he nodded once like he’d come to a decision. He touched her gloved hand and her breath hitched. He’d never done that before. He turned to face her. “I like these morning visits.”
Hannah fought for composure as her pulse kicked up a notch. What did his touch mean? Was it just a friendly gesture or an intimation that he was still interested in her?
“I like them, too.” Did she sound as nervous as a teenager? She sure felt that way.
He leaned closer. “Maybe we could…”
“Jake! What’s the holdup? I said to move those cattle!”
Jake muttered a curse before raising his voice to call, “I’ll be right there.”
“Time’s a wasting!” Holt trudged toward them. Jake sighed and turned back to her.
“Are you going to be at Ethan’s tonight?” His low voice sent shivers down her spine. Jake was so masculine. So much sexier than Cody had ever been.
“Good. We’ll talk there.” Jake went to meet his father. Not for the first time, Hannah felt like strangling the old man. Why couldn’t he have waited another five minutes? Jake might have asked her out.
The two men conferred a moment and Jake headed off toward the barn. Holt turned her way, and Hannah turned back to the pasture quickly for a final look at Gladys before heading on to work. The bison did seem happy here, although perhaps a little lonely.
“I’d like a word with you.”
Hannah jumped when Holt spoke up right behind her. Would she get another lecture about the uselessness of bison? Or would he attack her from a different angle today? Holt had never liked her.
“Isn’t she pretty?” She jutted her chin at Gladys.
“She looks pretty tasty.” Holt pushed his hat to a better position on his forehead. “I’ve always loved bison meat.” He had the slow drawl of a Montana rancher which only increased her irritation at his words.
“She’s not for eating; she’s a pet. She was raised by hand.”
“I don’t see how that figures into it.”
“Now don’t get your feathers all in a ruffle, hear me out.” Holt still stood as straight as he ever had. Only a stiffness in the way he walked betrayed the fact that his years were beginning to wear on him. All the days he’d spent working outside in the sun had tanned his skin and deepened the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth, but he was still a handsome man in a tough, no-nonsense way. She knew Jake, Ned and Luke did most of the physical labor around here, but Holt still thought of himself as the ruler of this roost, and when he said jump, everyone around him asked, “How high?”
She was not one of those people. She’d be polite because she was polite to everyone, but she wouldn’t allow Holt to boss her around.
“Go ahead,” she said coolly.
“I have something you want. A long-term pasture for that beast of yours.”
Hannah raised an eyebrow. He was right; she did want that, but she knew Holt never did a favor when he could extract a payment. She wondered where this was going.
“I’ll let you keep your bison on this ranch for the rest of its natural life if you’ll do one thing for me.”
He had Hannah’s full attention. A place for Gladys forever? She’d been searching far and wide for a suitable home for the animal, but no one within a hundred miles had a place for her. There were a few ranches far to the west who might take her, but the cost was high and she’d rarely get to see the bison, and… well… she’d gotten a bit attached to her.
Okay, a lot attached.
“What would I have to do?” Holt’s weathered face was angular, his eyes bright with intelligence and cunning. She wasn’t sure she could trust him, but his offer intrigued her.
“Sleep with my son for two weeks.”
Hannah’s jaw dropped open. Her cheeks flushed to what she was sure was a brilliant red. Had Holt lost his mind? Had she? He couldn’t have said that out loud.
“You heard me right, but you can get your mind out of the gutter.” Holt’s laconic tone was shaded with a hint of laughter at her expense. “I said sleep with him, not screw him. What you two get up to is on your conscience. All I ask is that you share a bed.”
“I… what…?” She glanced around wildly, wondering if anyone else had overheard him. Surely this had to be a joke. Would Holt’s youngest son, Rob, come rushing out with a video camera? He was always playing practical jokes.
“Sleep with my son for fourteen consecutive nights. All night. That’s it. Your bison gets a pasture, food, and shelter for the rest of her life. What do you say?”
She sputtered, searching for something to say that encompassed the depth of her anger that he’d even speak to her this way. She settled on sarcasm. “Two weeks? I’ll have to check my calendar. Some other guy’s father might have extorted me to sleep with him one of those nights.”
Holt chuckled. “Just how many bison do you have stashed around the ranches in these parts?”
“I don’t need to listen to this.”
“By the way, the son in question is Jake.” He eyed her sharply and Hannah felt the heat creep up her cheeks all over again.
An image of them together in bed—naked, disheveled—flashed into her mind and her body tingled with the idea of it. She and Jake could have a lot of fun between the sheets.
She forced the thought out of her head. “Not interested.”
“Then I guess I’ll get my pasture back sooner than I thought. And I’ll have to find some other woman to get my son’s mind on marriage.”
“Damn it, Holt—that’s not fair.”
“Which part isn’t? The part where I eat your bison or the part where another woman sleeps with my son?”
Hannah fought mightily against the urge to slug him. “Even if I did this—which I won’t,” she assured him, “how would you know? Are you going to bug his bedroom?”
“Nah,” Holt said. “You’ll report to me every morning, look me in the eye and tell me if you slept with him or not.” Her eyes widened and Holt guffawed. “No way a girl with your color hair can tell a lie. Your face gives you away every time.”