“Let’s go,” he said gruffly. “See you around, Rose.” He knew he should say something else—apologize for Rob’s behavior at the very least—but he couldn’t form the words. He turned on his heel and headed for the front door, hoping against hope the rest of them would follow his lead for once.
They did and a moment later they spilled out onto the sidewalk. Cab waited until Rob took his keys out and headed for his truck before he grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and slammed him face down on its hood.
“What the hell?” Rob bellowed. “Hey, let go! You can’t arrest me for playing a joke.” He struggled, but Cab had already pocketed his keys and slapped a handcuff around his right wrist. In a few spare motions he locked the other cuff on his left.
“I’m not arresting you. I’m going to throw you into the creek and watch you drown.” He opened the door to the extended cab and gave Rob a shove. “Climb in.” Rob did so, cursing, and Jamie got in beside him, chuckling. If Cab had another set of handcuffs he wouldn’t be laughing long. Ethan got into the front passenger seat while Cab made his way around to the driver’s side.
“You better not throw me in the creek,” Rob said as Cab climbed in.
Cab shut the door and turned on all of them. “What the hell was that in there?” he demanded. “What would make you do that to Rose?”
The others exchanged a look. “We got to talking,” Ethan said. “That’s all. Who you’d likely match up with. Rob said Rose was gone on you. Jamie said no way because she’s engaged to Jason. Rob said there was one way to tell for sure. So…” He shrugged his shoulders.
“You’ve got to be kidding.” Cab looked from one to the other. “First of all, I’ll marry who I marry, with no help from any of you. Second of all—” He broke off, exasperated. “Even if I wanted to marry Rose, she’s taken. It’s a done deal. You shouldn’t have done that to her.”
A long silence greeted this speech, broken at last by Rob. “Engagements can be broken, you know. Jason’s been away a long time. Seems to me if he was going to marry her, he’d have done it by now.”
“Yeah, well, until his ring is off her finger, I won’t go near her,” Cab said. He started the truck and pointed it toward the diner. He still planned to have his lunch. Rob could sit back there and starve for all he cared.
When Rose pulled into the parking area in front of the Big House on the Cruz ranch, she shut off her truck’s engine, but didn’t climb out. It was seven in the evening and, being November, nearly dark already. With her engine off, the cold outside air quickly brought the temperature in the cab down. Still, she kept her seat, not ready to go inside and face all of her friends. The incident in the jewelry store this morning had replayed in her mind all day. How could she react so strongly to Cab’s ring when she was engaged to Jason?
Because your heart has moved on even if you haven’t. The voice in her head sounded like Grandma Allison, a plainspoken woman who had died over a decade ago. She would tell Rose it was high time to make up her mind about her engagement.
The truth was her relationship with Jason had been going downhill for months. Years, even. She’d begun to suspect the only reason it had lasted this long was because they weren’t living in the same state. If they were, Jason’s attempts to organize and control her life would have driven her crazy. Back in high school she’d thought it romantic when he’d boss her around in that slow drawl of his. Sexy, even. Now it just pissed her off, not the least because everyone else in her life seemed to think they could boss her around, too.
Immediately she felt contrite at the uncharitable thoughts she’d aimed at her fiancé. She’d promised herself only last week she’d give this relationship one last real shot before giving up. It didn’t make sense to overthrow a six-year engagement on a whim. Even if that whim had lasted for months. Maybe she could change the way they interacted if she tried hard enough. She needed to be more direct about what she wanted. She needed to speak up. Jason would finally listen to her and stop trying to do everything his way. He loved her, after all. He always had.
She pulled out her phone and checked for messages. None. He hadn’t called or texted her in days, and she hadn’t reached out to him, either. He’d barely crossed her mind this week until Rob yanked his ring off her finger and replaced it with Cab’s. Refusing to think too deeply about what that meant, she called him, waiting as the phone rang and rang.
Finally Jason answered. “Yeah?”
Rose frowned. Hadn’t he seen her name on the screen? Why was he being so abrupt? “It’s me.”
“What is it, Rose?” He sounded impatient. He was somewhere noisy. At a restaurant, maybe?
“I just wanted to say hi,” she said brightly. “I wondered what you were doing.”
A pause. “Nothing.”
He wasn’t going to make this easy, was he? This is how their conversations went these days—stilted, with long gaps and awkward questions that betrayed how little they knew about the day-to-day circumstances of each other’s lives. Well, she was trying to bridge those gaps, wasn’t she? Her last-ditch effort to save their sinking ship of an engagement. She tried again. “Where are you?”
“Jeez, Rose, what are you, my father?”
Stung, Rose snapped. “No, I’m the one who has to deal with your father. You’re five hundred miles away, remember?”
“I didn’t tell you to move in with my old man. In fact, I told you to keep living with your parents so we could save more money,” Jason snapped back.
Rose shut her eyes. There it was, that harping, bossy tone he always directed at her. Jason knew she hated the idea of living at home. She felt like a child under her parents’ roof. When Emory offered her the carriage house three years ago, she jumped at it. The rent was nominal and the place was all her own. At least, that’s what she thought in the beginning. Now she knew better. Still, how many times had she and Jason had this particular fight? They could say the lines in their sleep. Jason was right; moving onto his father’s property had been a mistake. Emory Thayer was overbearing to say the least. Jason had warned her, but she hadn’t truly understood until she moved in.
“Look, I’m not trying to check up on you,” she began, ignoring the rest of what he’d said.
“Sure sounds like it. Have you found a new job yet?”