“Okay.” She’d prefer to spend today with him, and shoot some pictures of him checking those fences, but she didn’t want to scare him off by being too pushy. It seemed like he hadn’t put a whole lot of thought into her arrival. If she hadn’t known better, she’d think he’d been surprised by it. What kind of guy roped a woman into marriage, then tried to feed her takeout food, didn’t give her a ring, and ditched her on her first full day in town? Maybe this was why he had to use the internet to get a wife in the first place.
She resigned herself to sticking around the house. She decided she would use the opportunity to take some photographs of it and the surrounding area, too. Lots of them, in case she decided to bail early. She could always do a fluff piece on Montana ranch life. If she got bored, she’d work in that garden.
“Is Jamie your only ranch hand?”
“No, but he’s the only one living on-site right now.” He shrugged. “I didn’t have anyone to run the place – do the cooking and all that – and as you can see, I’m living in the bunk house. I didn’t feel much like living in the Big House once my parents passed on. Most of the men live nearby. They drive in each day.”
He ate his sausages in two bites and mopped up the remainder of the egg with half a slice of toast. “Gotta run. Sorry to leave you in the lurch.” He stood up and she did, too, trailing him to the door. He hesitated, one hand on the handle. “I’m glad you came. We’ll talk more tonight, work out all the details.” He bent down and gave her another kiss that sent shivers of desire down to her toes.
“Okay,” she managed to say, and watched him disappear out the back door and around the corner of the house.
As she stepped back into the kitchen and looked around, she got the feeling leaving Ethan when the time came might end up being much more difficult than she had expected. No other man made her lose control with the slightest touch. If he’d wanted to take her right here on the kitchen table, she’d have swept the dishes onto the floor herself. What was there about him that made her want to leap into his arms and give herself up to his command? Was she losing her mind? Had worry about her career completely unhinged her?
She cleared the table, swept her leftovers into the trash and filled the sink with soapy water, exploring the kitchen as she went to figure out where everything belonged. It was spare but adequate and while her mother might look down on the plain board counter tops and linoleum floor, she had a feeling this room had seen a lot of life and had many stories to tell. As a teller of stories herself, she felt a kinship to the room she’d never felt with any of her city apartments.
It was just a month, she thought. What if she allowed herself the fantasy of being a farm wife to the sexiest cowboy alive? She could sew gingham curtains for the windows, bake comfort food every night, rub his back at bedtime, and…sleep with him?
Could she sleep with a man for a month and then walk out?
Well, why not? She’d had other short term relationships that started with a bang and then fizzled out fast. She hadn’t planned them ahead of time, but she’d lived through them and no one was worse for wear. She could do it.
She dropped a hand to her belly, then jerked it away. That was just stupid. Even if she was pregnant, she wouldn’t be able to tell for weeks, and by then she’d be well on her way back to New York. No sense getting her panties in a wad about something that wasn’t even on the radar.
She scrubbed the counters, swept the floor and admired her handiwork. She’d plan a menu for the week this afternoon and ask about curtain material when Ethan got home. For now, she was going to take advantage of this break from her normal life, grab her camera and head outside.
Ethan looked up as soon as he felt the shudder of hoofbeats heading his way.
“Rob’s coming,” Jamie said. “Looks like he’s got Cab with him.”
Ethan turned his back on the approaching horsemen and returned to resetting a fallen fencepost in its hole. He welcomed the chore today as a chance to get out into open country and think about his situation. He didn’t need Rob around to taunt him, as well.
“Get any sleep?” Rob hollered as he rode up on his chestnut quarter horse, Monty.
Ethan didn’t answer. He hoped Rob would get the message and keep on riding, but Rob being Rob, it didn’t happen that way.
“Did you sleep at all? I bet the springs in that mattress of yours got quite a workout.” He made creaking noises until Ethan stood up and fixed him with a glare. Cab kept quiet, but he could tell he was working hard to suppress a smile.
“Come on, admit it – we picked you a good wife, didn’t we? So, you gonna keep her or are you putting her back on that plane?”
“I’m putting her back on the plane.”
Rob scratched his neck and made a show of looking around. “This don’t look like no airport, buddy. She’s going to miss her flight.”
“She’s not leaving today.” Suddenly he found it hard to look Rob in the eye. Jamie stood up from where he’d been running a new wire, and came closer.
Cab cocked his head. “She’s leaving but she’s not leaving?”
“Let me get this straight,” Rob drawled. “You dumped her, and she decided to stick around for a visit?” He felt Rob’s assessing look. “Oh, I get it. You haven’t told her yet, have you? You figure you’ll keep her around for a few days, bang her a few more times, and then let her down easy. Real smooth, cowboy.”
“That’s not how it is at all.” Damn it, couldn’t a man get a moment to think things through before people came poking around and telling him what’s what? Jamie had the good sense to keep his mouth shut all morning – too bad Rob couldn’t be like him. “I’m not going to keep banging her.” Shit. That didn’t come out right.
All three men laughed. “I knew you’d had a good roll in the hay last night,” Rob said. “Hell, the two of you were practically hitting home base in the truck. So, how was it?”
“Get the hell outta here.”
“No. I’m not done with you yet. Look, you like Autumn. She’s hot, she likes you, she wants everything you have to offer. Why the hell would you send her home?”
“Seems kind of stupid to me,” Jamie put in. Even Cab was nodding.
He stifled the urge to kick the fence post. No sense having to do the job over twice. “I’m not sending her home right away.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Look, I’m going to slow this down. I’m going to try to get to know her like normal people do before I jump back into the sack with her.”