Marriage at the Cowboy's Command(8)

By: Ann Major

“No! You’re going to forget that stupid kiss and go—now.”

“And if I go, how will you solve your money problems?”

“I’m too upset to think about that.”

“Well, you’d better think about it.”

“I can’t work with you.”

“You’d better adjust your attitude, because you don’t have a choice.”

Looking every bit as upset as she felt, he shoved a lock of thick black hair back from his brow. “Tell you what. I’ll leave…for tonight, so you can adjust to the idea of me being around. But I’ll be gone for one night only. Then I’m moving in until we get this mystery solved and your mess figured out. You’re fifty miles from town, and, after tonight, I don’t want to waste time commuting. You’ll need to make up a spare bedroom for me.”

“The hell you say! Do you think I would let you move into my house after what just happened? I don’t want you in this state!”

“Do you really want me to tell Hassan you won’t work with me?”

Of course not. And Luke knew it.

“Because I will,” he said. “If I tell him to pull the plug on you, he’ll do it.”

She shook her head, not wanting to believe that.

“The ranch and your horse operation will be history. I could convince him to sell everything at auction. You know what that means.”

Yes. She knew. There was such a weak market for her horses, that several would be euthanized or sold to meat packers.

“Hassan would never…”

“I think I know him better than you do. He wants to help you, but if you refuse his help you will leave him no choice but to make unpleasant decisions. Do you want to lose the ranch again, like your daddy did?” he continued. “Only, this time there won’t be a rich idiot like Robert Wakefield to marry and give it back to you.”

“I haven’t lost it yet, thank you very much! You’re only rich because of your connections to Hassan. Well, I know the real you, and maybe I don’t think you’re so great. My mother warned me that you were just like Bubba.”

Her mother had fired Luke because he was a thief. Cait hadn’t wanted to believe he’d stolen cash out of her father’s truck, but when Luke had never returned or contacted her to contradict her mother’s claim, the truth of his betrayal had seemed self-evident.

“So, you believed her?” Something flashed in his eyes. Was it pain? Or rage? “You’re wrong,” he said. “You don’t know me at all. You never did. And I didn’t know you, either, or I would never have been fool enough to mistake you for a sweet, innocent girl and fall in love with you.”

His startling admission flashed through her like lightning. He’d never admitted he loved her, and she wasn’t about to believe him now. Believing him would only soften her heart toward him.

Love. He didn’t know the meaning of the word.

“Leave,” she whispered.

Much to her surprise, he nodded. “Like I said…I’m going…for now. I intend to spend the afternoon talking to your accountant. I had hoped to take you with me, but it seems our new business arrangement is going to take some getting used to.”

He spun on his heel and strode toward the long black limo parked in front of her house.

If only this would be the last she’d ever see of him. But he’d be back tomorrow, and while he was in town there was no telling what people might tell him about Daniel, especially if he asked the right questions. There had been talk at the time of her marriage—talk that had never completely died.

Even if no one talked, if Luke moved in, he’d see Daniel on a daily basis. There was no way she could keep the truth a secret for long.

Better that she control how he found out.

She shut her eyes and sucked in a breath. She had to tell him the truth herself.

“Wait!” She ran after his tall, broad-shouldered figure.

He turned and regarded her so coldly, a chill traced down her spine. How would she ever find the courage to tell him he had a son? But she had to. Period.

“I’ll meet you in town…a little later…after I finish working with Ramblin’ Man,” she said. “What time’s your appointment?”

He told her.

She licked her lips and said she’d be there thirty minutes late. “After we get through talking with Bruce, there’s something I need to tell you. Something personal,” she whispered awkwardly, staring anywhere but at him. “It’s very important. Maybe we could have coffee at Jean’s Butterchurn. We can talk privately there.”

His eyes narrowed. “This isn’t going to be good news, is it?”