“Yes,” Bella said. “She’s had a million questions about them this week.”
“Odd,” Evan said. “I do, too.”
Bella looked at him askance. “Why?”
“I’ve read their meat is healthier for us than beef. And since bison ranged here long before we brought cattle with us, you’d think they’d do less environmental damage. It’s one of the things I want to investigate with Jake.”
“There are a few bison ranches to the west,” Cab said. “Mostly for meat, but a few stock the animals so that big game hunters can come and hunt them.”
Bella wrinkled her nose. “I don’t get that. Where exactly is the sport if they’re all penned in?”
Cab shrugged. “Beats me.”
“It’s all about the rush.” Cody appeared suddenly in their midst. A stocky man of medium height, dirty blond hair and brown eyes, he sat down at the far end of the couch Cab occupied, his legs wide and a beer propped on the armrest. He wore faded jeans and a rumpled sweatshirt. Cab doubted he’d done anything to clean up for the gathering tonight. “It’s just you and five thousand pounds of wild animal squaring off. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Hannah came to sit on the edge of Bella and Evan’s couch. She held a glass of soda with both hands, balancing it carefully on her knees. Her frown told Cab she didn’t agree with Cody.
“But… you’ve got a gun, right?” Bella said. “So you’re far enough away that the bison can’t hurt you.”
Cody waved that off. “Plenty of things can go wrong on a hunt. All kinds of things.”
“Like what?” Cab asked conversationally. He didn’t mean to rile the man, but he also didn’t like letting him off the hook that easy. Something about Cody got under his skin.
“Like… your firearm could jam. Or you could… trip.”
Somebody snickered. Cab thought it was Bella. She shook her honey-blond curls. “It doesn’t seem altogether fair to me.”
“Well, I’d like to see you come face to face with a bison. See what you think is fair then,” Cody said. He shook his empty bottle and turned to Hannah. “Darling, you want to go grab me another?”
Hannah’s eyebrows shot up and Cab was sure she would tell Cody where to get off, but instead she took a deep breath, let it out and stood up. “Sure, honey. Anyone else need a refill?”
The rest of them shook their heads, but Cab stood up, too, and followed her to the kitchen. He wanted to see how Rose was faring. She glanced at him over the other women’s heads as he approached. “That’s when Cab arrived and stopped me from murdering Emory,” she said as if finishing up a long story.
“Thank goodness for Cab,” Autumn said and smiled at him, flipping her long hair over her shoulder before reaching into the oven to pull out another tray of appetizers. Cab had liked her right away when she came to Chance Creek from New York City, and he was glad she and Ethan had hit it off so well. Now nearly six months pregnant, she glowed with good health, her belly noticeably rounded. It was no coincidence that most of their get-togethers happened at the Cruz ranch. Autumn was a born hostess and she never seemed happier than with a roomful of guests.
“Thank goodness for you,” he said. “I didn’t like the thought of Rose going back to the carriage house last night.”
“There’s always a room for you here, Rose,” Autumn said.
“Have you talked to your parents at all about what happened?” Cab asked Rose.
She nodded. “They were pretty shocked. My Mom took Emory’s side at first, but she backtracked pretty fast. Even she couldn’t justify him burning my paintings. They don’t like it that I’m moving out, though. Dad said he’ll take Emory to see his family physician and get it taken care of. I told him you can’t get something like that taken care of. It got pretty ugly. I think they think that since I’m marrying Jason, I should be Emory’s nurse or something.”
“But you’re not marrying Jason, right?” Autumn said gently.
Cab flashed her a grateful look. Just what he wanted to say.
Rose looked down. “No, but I haven’t talked to him yet. I will, though—tomorrow. I want to be single again. I want to be on my own. I don’t ever want to be around a man who thinks he can tell me what to do again.”
Claire snorted. “Better not ever get married then.”
The other women chuckled.
Rose looked from one to the other. “Do you really believe that? Is it impossible to find a man who will mind his own business and let me mind mine?”
Autumn wrinkled her nose. “Would you really want that?”
“Yes,” Rose was adamant. “I mean, what does some… guy… know that I don’t know? Why should he have anything to say about what I do?”
“Well, maybe because he loves you?” Morgan said, leaning against the counter. She waved her Perrier. “Not that you have to listen to him or take his word for gospel,” she added, “but if he’s got nothing to say about anything you do, why be with him at all?”
Rose blew out an angry breath. “You don’t get what I’m saying.”
“Actually, I think we do,” Autumn said. “Or at least I do. You live in the same town where you grew up, your parents are still alive and you’ve been living on a property your fiancé’s father owns. Plus your fiancé’s father is a busybody who has just about lost his mind. You haven’t had time to discover who you are. You haven’t really been out on your own. Now that you’re ending things with Jason, you need to do that before you can become part of a couple again. Then you won’t feel so overwhelmed by it.”
Rose’s face fell. “Yeah. I guess that’s it. I tried to be independent before, though. I moved out from home, I got a job, but being engaged to Jason meant I lined up my whole life around his decisions, and with Emory being how he is I might as well have had a second set of parents living with me. I seem to attract people who want to tell me what to do.”
She flashed a glance at Cab, and a weight settled in his chest. Did she mean him? He wasn’t like that at all. Not usually.
Not all of the time.
“Oh, we all attract people like that,” Claire said, her black bob swinging. “It’s just some of us are better at telling them to go hang themselves.”