The Cowboy Lassos a Bride(10)

By: Cora Seton


“You sure you got it at the source? The water will find another way in if…”

“Dad, I got it,” Jake cut him off.

Holt eased himself onto the other end of the couch. “Don’t you forget who made this ranch what it is today.”

Jake knew exactly who had made this ranch what it was. His father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, stretching back up the line of Mathesons for over a hundred and fifty years. That made him prouder than he could say about taking his place on the ranch. But along with being excellent cattlemen, Mathesons were also known for being hardheaded. Holt certainly was. “I’m supposed to be managing the herd. That’s my responsibility. I’ve got to be able to do things my way.”

“I’ve got a sight more experience with cattle than you do.”

“Dad, I can’t second-guess myself out there. You must know what it’s like—you took over from Grandpa.”

Holt snorted. “Your grandpa called the shots until he was in his grave. And then some. The day after we buried him I found a schedule he’d written out for the next two months. I followed it, too. I was afraid if I didn’t he’d claw himself back out of the ground and give me a whupping!”

Jake chuckled despite himself. “You didn’t mind that he kept bossing you around?”

“Of course I minded. My father was a stubborn son-of-a-bitch. It’s different for you.”

“Different how?”

“I’m as sweet as maple syrup compared to him.”

“Sure thing, Dad. Sweet enough to kick me off the ranch if I don’t marry in thirty days.”

Holt shot him a look. “I’m helping you get something you actually want. You just don’t know it yet. Now what about that bison? You found somewhere for it to go?”

Jake heaved a sigh and decided to ignore the first part of that statement. He took a swig of his beer and gazed out through the windows. “I want to start a herd.”

“Start a herd of what?” Holt leaned forward and held out his hands toward the fire.

“A herd of bison.”

Holt straightened up. “Now that’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a long time.”

Figured. Holt wasn’t one to jump on new ideas, which was one reason Jake was feeling so fed up these days. “Dumb how?”

“The Double-Bar-K trades in cattle, not bison. Always has, always will.”

Jake sighed as a familiar restlessness overtook him. Would he ever be able to introduce a single innovation on the ranch while his father was alive? Some days he wondered if he was stupid for staying here. But he couldn’t leave. He just couldn’t. The very dirt of this place made the framework of his soul. None of those Mathesons before him had taken off when times got tough. He didn’t mean to be the first. “We can do both. Bison meat is becoming popular. It’s good for you. You can charge twice as much for it, too.”

“That’s because it’s twice as much work.” Holt eyed him. “What’s really behind this? A pretty girl with white-blond hair?”

“No. You’re dead wrong there,” Jake lied. He fixed his father with a hard look. “And just for the record, they’re half as much work, not twice as much. They don’t need all the extra tending in winter our herd does.”

“Stick to what you know, boy.” Holt stared into the fire. “If you’re smart you’ll shoot that bison yourself, eat it and be done with it.”

“You done lecturing me for tonight? Haven’t you made my life miserable enough for one day?”

“You think getting a wife will make you miserable? Getting married was the best thing I ever did. A man can’t run this place by himself. He needs a woman by his side. Someone like your mother—hardworking, level-headed, tough as nails. I’ve waited a long time for you to get to the matter on your own. I didn’t think I needed to play the kind of games I did with Rob.”

“I would have loved to play that game. Where’s my two hundred acres?” A couple of months back Holt had made the announcement that the first son to get married would get a parcel of land for his very own. Then he’d turned right around and told Jake, Ned and Luke they weren’t eligible to win the contest. He’d known Rob was on the verge of flying the coop, so he used the ruse to trap him at home. It had pretty much worked. Rob proposed right away to Morgan Tate and brought her from Victoria to Chance Creek. Now he owned property on both the Cruz and Matheson ranches, but while he was building his home on the Cruz side of the property line, he still helped out on the Matheson side, too, and he lived here in the meantime. Not across town or in another county. Holt was satisfied.

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