The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 3)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(3)
Author: Cora Seton

Fila lurched to her feet again, damned if she would let them control her now. She leaned on the counter, not caring that the flour had tipped over, not caring that her clothes were dusted in white. She lifted her voice again, softly but at least out loud—at least audible, if only to her. She raised her voice again, catching the chorus as it came around a third time, pairing her words to the singer’s, her tones to the melody coming out of the iPod dock.

As her hands shook, her stomach cramped and tears ran down her cheeks, she sang along until the song ran out. Then she dashed for the bathroom and heaved until her stomach was as empty as it ever was on a snowy day in the middle of the Hindu Kush mountains of northeastern Afghanistan.

Chapter 2

Luke dropped an envelope on Ned’s workbench in his mechanics shed about a half hour before lunch. Taller than Ned, but somewhat slighter, he was barely a year younger than him. They’d been the middle ones, sandwiched between bossy Jake and trickster Rob. People liked to think of the Matheson boys as a unit—the way they’d appeared when they were kids forced by their mother to attend church. Four blond boys in a row like stairsteps, each a year apart from the next in line. Ned had separated himself from the others by his penchant for trouble. Luke had gone in the other direction. He was upright, a hard worker, rarely fussed or complained, and saw the whole world in terms of black and white. People had a tendency to forget about Luke. Ned knew part of his own hair-trigger temper when he was younger was a desire for people not to forget about him.

“Enjoy,” Luke said and turned back to the door.

“What the hell is that?” Ned eyed the large envelope suspiciously.

“Feed supplement order. You place the order online, of course—that’s just the catalog and a reminder of what we’ve ordered in the past.

“That’s Mom’s job.”

“Jake did it until now.”

“So give it to him.” Ned turned his back on the envelope. Wasn’t going to do him any good, since he couldn’t read its contents.

“You’re in charge of the herd, as you keep reminding all of us. So you’re in charge of the feed supplement order.” Luke walked out of the shop and slammed the door behind him.

Ned felt his anger flare. He knew damned well that Luke could send this order in if he wanted to. For that matter, Jake hadn’t even started classes at Montana State yet, one of the reasons he’d stepped down from managing this place. He could do it in a matter of minutes as a favor to them. If not him, then Rob or his mother, Lisa, could place the order.

Luke was deliberately giving him a hard time. This was his way of showing Ned that his grip on the reins of this operation was tenuous at best. Luke wanted the job as much as Ned had ever wanted it. Ned shook his head. He should have expected something like this. He wouldn’t get help from Luke—or Rob or Jake, for that matter. His mother would be sympathetic, but going to her would open up a whole new can of worms. Would she try to convince him to sign up for tutoring again? Or drag him to one of those doctors she was always on about?

Lisa was the only one who didn’t accept his dyslexia as a done deal. Everyone else in the family knew he couldn’t read and never would. No one outside of his family knew about his difficulty at all.

He hoped.

A familiar tightness gripped his chest at that possibility, but he forced himself to remain calm. No one knew and no one would ever know. That was that. But his dyslexia had dogged him his entire life and he could see that taking charge of the ranch wasn’t going to change anything. It might just make things worse.

In his younger days he’d used his fists to cover up his deficiencies. At school he was always fighting until he’d finally dropped out. As a young man, those fights continued. Nothing stopped questions faster than fear. He’d been feared for the power of his punches and his hair-trigger temper.

Funny how no one seemed to notice that he’d changed.

He was still ill-tempered some of the time, he’d grant them that. But when was the last time he’d used his fists? When was the last time Cab Johnson—the county sheriff—had dragged him home? When was the last time he’d given anyone any grief?

Except his brothers, who hardly counted.

And deserved it.

He’d stopped all that, thanks to a timely word from Cab himself about a year ago, when he lost Boomer, the last in a line of yellow labs that he’d favored since he was a kid. Boomer had been his best friend for years—the kind of dog that was never more than a few feet away from him unless he’d been ordered to stay while Ned left the ranch. The kind of dog that waited patiently for his return and leaped with happiness every time he did. The kind of dog that rode in the front seat of his truck on errands, lay at the end of his bed at night, and was alert to his every mood and movement from sunup to sundown. Boomer had loved him just because he was Ned. No questions asked. No judgments given. He’d been old and slowing down when Ned had lost him, but he would have lasted another year at least.

If Ned hadn’t taken him to town, let him off the leash and turned his back. He didn’t know why Boomer had seen fit to cross the road just as Henry Dillon took the corner of Main and First a little too fast. Boomer’s end was swift—over before the dog could feel the pain.

But Ned had felt the pain.

He didn’t know what happened next, except suddenly the baseball bat that had been rattling around in the bed of his truck for months was in his hands, and the windows of Henry’s Chevy were all busted out, glass scattered far and wide across Main. Henry himself was backing away, his hands stretched out in supplication, pleading for him to come to his senses.

Just for a moment—just for one moment, Ned had considered what else he could do with that bat.

And then he saw his future as clear as day in one blinding flash of insight—the kind he rarely had in life. If he took this step it was good-bye ranch, good-bye family, good-bye cattle and pastures and horses and dawns breaking over a landscape so big it seemed God could hardly hold it in his hands.

Good-bye Sunday dinners at his parents’ dining room table, good-bye Thursday poker and pool, good-bye aching shoulders and the peace that comes after a twelve-hour day in the mud and muck of a spring washout fixing a downed fence.

Good-bye newborn calves struggling to take their first wobbly steps toward their mothers’ milk. Good-bye sunrises and sunsets and sunrises and sunsets, and all the days between that made up each year.

He’d dropped the bat just as Cab swerved around the corner in his sheriff’s cruiser, stepped out and surveyed the scene.