The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Page 13)

The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #5)(13)
Author: Cora Seton

Pulling open the door of the Burger Shack, Cab found himself surrounded by conversations, friendly greetings, the smell of burgers and fries and grease wafting through the air. His stomach rumbled with anticipation of the meal to come. Halfway to the counter, however, he stopped short. There was Rose in a window booth, sitting across a small table from Mia Start. Rose was making a point, waving a French fry around for emphasis. Mia watched her with wide eyes. What were they talking about?

Would they like some company?

“Does the father know?” Rose asked Mia. They’d only been at the restaurant for fifteen minutes, but they’d already covered a lot of ground. Mia still lived at home. She worked at the hardware store about thirty hours a week. She’d saved enough money to cover the cost of the birth, but she’d have little left over afterward. She had no idea how she’d pay for child care after the baby was born; her parents were in their fifties, and they both still worked, too.

“Of course,” Mia said and dropped her gaze to her lap. “I told him this weekend. He doesn’t care.”

“Do you want to tell me whose it is?” Rose asked quietly.

Mia shook her head and her high ponytail swished back and forth. “I’m so embarrassed,” she said, still not looking up. “He’s married.”

Rose sat back. “Oh, Mia…”

“He said he was getting a divorce,” Mia said. “I believed him. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”

Once again Rose found herself biting back the words she really wanted to say. It was far too late now to warn Mia not to go anywhere near a married man. “You can make him pay support, you know. Go to court and they’ll force him to take a paternity test.”

Mia wiped her eyes with the back of her shirtsleeve. “No way. If he doesn’t want this baby, he doesn’t get to come anywhere near it. Besides,” she said, her shoulders slumping, “his wife doesn’t deserve that. She has no idea any of this happened. They’ve reconciled and it looks like he’s giving his marriage a real go. At least that’s what he said when I told him. I was just… I don’t know… his midlife crisis, I guess.” She hunched miserably over her barely touched meal.

“Midlife?” Rose went to take a bite of her burger but stopped short when she spotted Cab coming their way, his plastic tray laden with food. He caught her eye and smiled, and her stomach did a funny little flip.

“He’s kind of older,” Mia admitted.

“How much older?” She snapped her gaze back to unhappy girl across the table.

“Forty-two.”

Rose dropped the burger. “Eww! Forty-two?”

“Hi Rose, Mia,” Cab said, arriving at their table. “Want some company?”

Rose glanced at Mia, who nodded, apparently all too happy for an interruption now that she’d confessed the worst. Rose welcomed it, too. She really didn’t know what to tell Mia. Forty-two? That was… ancient.

“Sure, have a seat.” She scooted over and Cab sat down next to her, taking up most of the plastic bench. She always felt so tiny next to him. It took strength of will not to tuck herself under his arm and snuggle into his delicious sexiness. Boy, she was one to judge Mia’s actions; here she was, still engaged and lusting after another man. She didn’t know what it was about Cab. Many of the men in their group were handsome, many of them were accomplished in their own right, but Cab was the only one she truly admired. Maybe it was the nature of his job, or maybe his stature, but in a pinch, Cab was the one she’d want by her side. Right close by her side preferably.

She found his proximity disturbing in this case, however. Muscular, masculine, he practically filled the bench seat, squeezing her into the corner. Cab was another man who was used to being in control, just like Jason. Even if her engagement was already over, even if she was considering dating again, he’d be the wrong choice. How could she possibly assert her individuality with a man so absolutely sure of himself?

“How’s Jason doing?” Cab asked with a glance at her ring finger.

Touching the thin silver band, she kept her expression neutral. Trust the sheriff to remind her she had a fiancé.

But not for long.

“He’s fine. Busy,” she said before the silence stretched out too long.

“Have you set a date yet?”

“No,” she said shortly. She hoped Cab would drop the subject.

“Do you like North Dakota?” The sheriff bit into his burger.

Did she like North Dakota? What a strange question. “Um… I’ve hardly been there. Only once or twice.”

Cab glanced her way and swallowed. “Shouldn’t you spend some time there if that’s going to be your new home?”

“New home? What do you mean?” She watched him polish off the burger in another two bites and then unwrap the second. She glanced down at her own burger, only half-eaten. She was practically full. When she looked up she found Mia watching her, her face alight with interest.

“Jason’s an oilman, right? I just assumed the two of you would settle where the oil was,” Cab said.

“Oh. Right. Well, we haven’t made our minds up.” In fact, we never discussed that possibility. Although… Rose realized Jason had tried to discuss it once or twice, early on. “You’d love it over here, Rosie—there’s so much action. It’s wild on the weekends,” and “The price of houses is rising fast. Anyone who wants in better buy up now.”

She’d always brushed him off. After all, they planned to live in Chance Creek, didn’t they? That’s what she wanted. It’s what Emory wanted for them, too.

Was that what had caused Jason to go sour on her? Had he thought she’d aligned herself with Emory against him? It wasn’t the case; she simply loved Chance Creek and had no desire to move away. This was her home. The inspiration for all her paintings. This was where she wanted to raise her family.

But Cab was right—Jason probably didn’t want to come back. Why would he want to leave North Dakota? He loved making money and he loved the work. Jason thrived in the heady mix of testosterone, sweat and danger. What would he do in Chance Creek?

Sell jewelry?

Suddenly all the missing pieces clicked into place. Jason had avoided her for the same reason he avoided his father. She must seem just as controlling, just as likely to hold him back with all her talk of settling down here, buying a house and putting down roots. Did he think she wanted him to take over his father’s store?