The Cowboy Lassos a Bride(7)

By: Cora Seton



While she enjoyed this budding friendship with Jake, she longed for more. She still felt his mouth on hers and his arms around her when she closed her eyes at night. No man she’d ever met could compete with him as far as her body was concerned.

She wanted Jake. No matter if it was stupid, or the wrong time, or impossible.

If only he wanted her the same way.

Holt squared off against Jake in the loft, his face like thunder. “You think you’re so smart? I’m sick of your guff and I’m tired of your inability to follow orders.”

“I’m tired of you giving me them!”

“Are you saying you’re ready to leave?”

“No.”

“I’m not sure I want you to stay.”

“Dad—”

“Don’t Dad me.” Holt put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “I’ve had it. It’s time for you to grow up.”

“I am grown up.”

“Prove it. You turn thirty-four one month from today. I’m going to give you one last chance—get married before your birthday or get out.”

“What?” Jake cocked his hat back. His father had to be joking.

But the old man looked dead serious. “Do you need me to write it down so you can read it?”

Jake wanted to kick himself. Teasing his father and Ned about their dyslexia was a low blow at the best of times. Today he’d stirred up a hornet’s nest. “Are you insane? I can’t get married in the next month.”

“If you’re man enough to give me lip, then you’re man enough to settle down and start your family, and I expect you to do just that. You’ve dillydallied enough time away acting like an alley cat. I put you in charge of the herd because I thought you had what it took to the do the job. But you can’t even move the damn cattle when I tell you to do it.”

“If I’m in charge of the herd, then I’m in charge of when to move them.”

“You won’t be in charge of nothing if you don’t marry by your thirty-fourth birthday. I had four sons by the time I was your age!”

“You can’t tell me when to marry!”

Holt turned to Ned. “You ready to take on some more responsibility?”

“Damn straight.” It was obvious Ned was loving this turn of events. Jake, however, felt like the ground had tilted beneath his feet. He’d begun to think of marriage in the last few weeks—in an abstract way as something he and Hannah would do in the future. In the far, far future. Now Holt wanted him to marry within the month?

“I’m the one in charge of the herd.” Jake knew he was losing ground fast. Why the hell did he have to throw his father’s dyslexia in his face today of all days? Most of the time he was on board with the family’s campaign to keep that information private. Holt had quit school young over it. Ned, suffering the same problem, barely lasted longer. Mentioning their affliction was like setting flame to a powder keg.

“For now.” Holt brushed past him. “You’ve got until December twenty-first to bring your wife to the altar—a proper wedding, too. None of this justice of the peace crap. If you’re still single on the twenty-second, Ned takes over.” He clambered back down the ladder and disappeared from sight.

Ned clapped him on the back. “Don’t worry, when I’m in charge I won’t boss you around. Much.” He followed Holt down the ladder, laughing.

Jake stood motionless, the leak forgotten. Thirty days to get married? Or leave the ranch?

Well, why the hell not. Maybe his father was right. Maybe it was high time to get married. If Hannah was the one, then she was the one. A smile curved one corner of his mouth. He bet Holt hadn’t figured on him already picking a bride. Now he just needed to fast-forward his timeline to snare her for his wife.

Hannah Ashton had better watch out.

Hannah was just about to give up when she spotted Jake exiting the big barn. He stood for a moment in the dim light and scanned the yard as if he was looking for something. When he spotted her, he immediately strode over.

“Morning, Jake,” she said when he was close enough to hear. She hoped her voice didn’t betray how glad she was to see him. If she was honest she came almost as much for the chance to chat with him as to see Gladys these days.

More, maybe.

“Morning,” he said. He leaned on the fence. Something was different about him today. Usually Jake could be depended on for a smile and a laugh, but now his mouth was set in a hard line. She wondered what had happened. “I think she likes it here.” He nodded at Gladys.

“I know she likes it here. What’s not to like?” Hannah smiled at Jake, then bit her lip, hoping that hadn’t sounded too flirtatious. “I wish your father wasn’t so set against her.”

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