The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 22)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(22)
Author: Cora Seton

“Not that much to be in charge of right now. Wait until things liven up again in the spring.”

Luke snorted. “If you can hold on to the job that long.”

“Well, look at this. The whole gang’s here.” Holt let himself into the barn and shut the door against the cold wind blowing outside. “Hate to bust up the tea party, but those cattle are getting hungry.”

“I’ll get right on it,” Ned said, pulling his gloves on.

“Hold up. I want a word with you. No, the rest of you stay put—you can all hear this.”

Now what? Ned wondered. It wouldn’t be good—he could bet on that.

“I met up with Ethan in town again yesterday. He was asking after those girls again. Wondering when they’d be coming back.”

“What?” Luke stepped forward. “I don’t want Mia to leave.”

“He’s not concerned with Mia,” Ned said, meeting his father’s gaze and holding it. “He just wants Fila off the ranch. Right, old man?”

“Don’t old man me. But that’s right. She’s got no place here.”

“I told you she has a place with me.”

“And I’m telling you she doesn’t.” Holt pointed a finger at him. “She’s not the one for you. Pack her things, send her home. I got a job for you that’s going to take you out of town for a few days anyhow.”

“I’m not sending her home.” Ned raised his voice.

“Let me make this perfectly clear. She no longer lives on the Double-Bar-K. Don’t push me any further, Ned.”

All went silent in the barn as the two of them faced off.

“I don’t get it. You strong-armed Jake and Rob to get married. Now that I’ve found someone you’re trying to break us up? Come on, Pop—where’s my four week deadline? How come you’re not offering me a chunk of the ranch to try to get me to marry her?”

“You want a deadline? I’ll give you one. You’ve got one hour to get that foreigner off this ranch. And after you drop her off, you keep on driving. All the way to our hunting cabin.”

“Why the hell would I go there?” The change of topic threw Ned off guard.

“Because the roof’s about to collapse. Heard from Fitzgerald late last night. They’ve been getting snow and freezing rain alternating for the past week. It’s piled up more than three feet, he says, solid ice between the layers of snow. His kid just came and picked him up to take him to his house for the rest of the winter.”

“Damn,” Jake muttered as they all exchanged glances. Fitzgerald was their closest neighbor at the hunting shack. Situated on a large acreage down a long dirt road in a remote area in the northwest corner of the state, the hunting cabin had been in the family for several generations. Most of the cabins up there were primitive affairs used intermittently during hunting season. Fitzgerald had turned his into a year-round abode after his wife died ten years ago. Most winters, his grown son ended up bailing him out when the snow got too deep, but he stayed as long as he could. He used his satellite phone to relay any emergencies to the Mathesons. If Fitzgerald said the roof was in danger of collapsing, he was serious.

“I want you to get up there and shovel off that roof before we lose the whole thing. Figure you’ll be gone three to four days.”

“That’s not long enough to change my mind.” Ned settled his hat more firmly on his head.

“Well, then maybe it’ll be long enough to change hers. If you don’t bring her back to Ethan’s place, I will as soon as you’re gone.” No one spoke as Holt turned on his heel, walked out the barn door and slammed it behind him. All three of Ned’s brothers watched him warily as if he might explode at any moment. Finally, Luke ventured, “I can’t believe you didn’t haul off and punch him for that. Or at least try to.”

“You’ve changed,” Jake said, consideringly. “I’ve had that thought before in the last few months, but this clinches it. When did you get a handle on your temper?”

“That doesn’t matter. He ain’t going to throw me off this ranch, no matter what he says.” He looked from one to the other of his brothers. “You know he ain’t.”

“I don’t know,” Rob said. “I’m not sure he’ll budge this time.”

“I’m not taking Fila back to Ethan’s. No way.”

“I don’t think I’d leave her here at Dad’s mercy,” Jake cautioned him. “Not for four days.”

“Take her with you.” When the others all turned to him, Luke shrugged. “It’s the obvious solution.”

“But you came up with it and you want me off this ranch, too,” Ned said. “So what’s up?”

Luke looked angry. “You’re already going to be gone for four days. Who do you think is going to take up the slack while you’re away? Me, that’s who. I’m getting my chance. I plan to show Dad I’m way better at running things than you are. I don’t have anything against you hooking up with Fila.”

“So in other words, you’ll screw Ned over until the cows come home when it comes to the ranch, but you’re the first in line to support his love life?” Jake looked at him askance. “Or do you want Ned to stay with Fila so Dad will kick him out and you’ll get it all?”

“I don’t need to listen to this.” Luke left as well.

“What do you think I should do?” Ned asked Jake.

“Actually, I think Luke’s right; take her with you. If you leave her in Chance Creek, Dad will do something to screw with her while you’re gone. I wouldn’t put it past him to buy her a plane ticket, zip her into a suitcase and send her to Timbuktu.”

Ned sighed. It was the truth. “She’s supposed to be working on her restaurant.”

“The tasting party is week from Saturday, right? You’ll be back in plenty of time to set that up. Tell Fila to e-mail Hannah a plan for what needs to be done—shopping, prepping the restaurant, you name it. We’ll split up the work and handle it while you’re gone. She’ll still have several days to finish up preparations when you get home. I’ll tell Ethan and Autumn what happened today, too. I bet they have room for both of you at their place if Dad won’t back down. Like you said, he wants us all to stay on the ranch. Maybe if you leave for a week or two, he’ll think better of his methods. Things worked out for me and Rob. I bet they’ll work out for you, too.” Jake clapped him on the shoulder.