He watched her hurry back into the house and forced himself not to go after her. Pressuring her wouldn’t make things any better. Kota whined and lay down, propping his chin on the top of his paws.

“I know how you feel, buddy.”

This was something she had to realize on her own. That she needed to stay in Texas. That they needed to make a family. It could work. Why not? The attraction was there. They were having babies together. Wesley adored her. All the makings for a perfect family were in place. So why couldn’t she see it?

Damn! Nights like tonight made him wish he’d never stopped drinking the hard stuff. But whiskey wouldn’t take the edge off his desire for her. Or get rid of his raging hard-on. The first night he’d spent with her had taught him that. And the hard liquor would just make things fuzzy, and whenever Bryn was around his thoughts were indistinct enough.

Actually that wasn’t entirely true. His thoughts were crisp and clean, but they were all about pulling her close and never letting her go. He hadn’t allowed himself to feel that way about anyone in a long, long time. Cecelia had been his last love. He’d met her when he’d gotten his master’s, a city girl from Houston and a West Texas rancher. It was an ill-fated match from the start, but they had tried. Oh, how they had tried.

He pushed those thoughts from his mind. He wasn’t traveling down that road tonight.

“Jake, are you out here?” Grandma Esther came out of the house, still wearing her clothes from dinner.

Kota jumped back to attention.

“It’s getting late, Grandma. You should be getting ready for bed.”

“Don’t sass me, young man. I just saw Bryn running through the house looking like the devil was on her heels. What’d you do to her?”

He’d kissed her like there was no tomorrow, because maybe for them there wasn’t. He’d tried to talk to her about staying in Texas and raising babies, but mostly he’d just kissed her. But he couldn’t tell his grandmother that. “Nothing.”

“Now you and I both know that isn’t true. And whatever you did or said, you better go make it right.”

“Yes, ma’am.” His intention had been to go back into the house, head in the general direction of Bryn’s room, then abandon the idea.

His grandma must have figured that out. She followed him all the way to Bryn’s room and stood behind him, overseeing his every move. What choice did he have but to knock and wait?

“Jake.” She seemed breathless as she pulled open the door.

“I came to make sure you’re all right.” He cut his eyes to the side trying to let her know that his grandmother was just out of view. This was almost as bad as the time he asked Danielle Maynard to the seventh-grade dance and his grandmother had come along, hiding just out of sight and feeding him unwanted lines like some crazed Cyrano de Bergerac.

“I’m fine.” But she looked tired. Not physically, but emotionally. He couldn’t say that he blamed her. It had been a trying week. And she had been dealing with all the stress and surprises a lot longer than he had.

He cut his gaze to the side once again.

“Do you have something in your eye?” she asked.

He smiled and repeated the motion. “No. Can I come in?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Please, Bryn.” He cut his gaze to the side once more, and she finally understood that something else was afoot.

“Okay, fine.” She stepped to one side to allow Jake the space to enter.

His grandmother patted him on the back encouragingly. “Attaboy.”

At least Bryn waited until the door was shut behind him before crossing her arms and staring him down.

“You want to tell me what that was all about?” With her arms folded like that, her belly looked all the bigger. He reached toward her wanting to feel the curve, touch the place where his babies rested. But he stopped himself, shoving his hands into his pockets instead.

“Grandma Esther can be a little meddling.”

“And she’s trying to push us together?”

“Something like that.”

She raised one brow and waited for him to continue.

“She saw you come through the house and decided I had done something to upset you. She wanted me to come in here and make sure you’re okay.”

“And she followed you here?”

Jake nodded.

“I’m okay.” She seemed to relax a little and dropped her arms at her sides.

He shot her a sheepish grin. “I’m a little afraid to leave.”

“You don’t think she’s out there waiting for you?”

“I wouldn’t put it past her. She takes her great-grandchildren very seriously.”

Bryn shook her head. “No, no, no, you can’t stay here.”

“Just for little bit.”

“Jake, really. This is ridiculous.”

He made his way over to the door and pressed his ear against it. He couldn’t hear anything, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t out there silently waiting.

Of course she could have already headed to bed. But he wasn’t willing to chance it. And . . . okay, he admitted it. It gave him the perfect excuse to stay with Bryn a little while longer.

And what? Sit panting at her feet hoping for a couple of scraps of her attention like Kota?

He was being overly dramatic, but it beat facing the truth. The more time he spent with Bryn, the more time he wanted to spend with her. And that was something he didn’t want. He would marry her if only she agreed, but he didn’t want to love her. Love got messy. He had fallen for a city girl once, and he didn’t plan on doing it again. But somehow whenever Bryn was near, he forgot all those rules he had set for himself.

“Trust me. I know.” He turned around and rested against the door as he stalled.

“I’m sure you do. But you can’t stay here. I don’t want you here.”

“Are you afraid of me?”

She shook her head. “When you kiss me, I lose my direction. I forget about things I need to remember. Always.”

“Like what?” he quietly asked.

“Like the fact that I don’t belong here. This isn’t my family. I live in Georgia. And—”

“And what?”

She shook her head. “You should leave.”

But he didn’t want to.

“So which one is it?” he asked, grasping onto the first thought he had to prolong their time together. “Which one is your lie?”

“I thought the object of the game was to guess.”

“Okay.” He straightened to his full height and rubbed his chin. “Every girl in Cattle Creek wants to be a cheerleader, so that one’s got to be a truth. And you’ve already defended romance novels.”

“I did?”

“Pretty much.” He took an involuntary step in her direction. She pulled him to her like metal to a magnet. “And I certainly hope that you had Kool-Aid before you were in college. So that’s my guess.”

“Final answer?” she quipped.

He gave a quick nod. “Final answer.”

“Nope. I never wanted to be a cheerleader.”

“Really?”

“I was all about art class.”

“And you never drank Kool-Aid?”

“Science nerd parents.” She took ahold of his arm and led him back to the bedroom door.

“Right,” he said.

“Good night, Jake.”

He shook his head. “What if Grandma Esther is still out there?”

“It’s a chance you’re going to have to take.”

“Hold on.” He dug in his heels, using his superior size to hold his ground. “Don’t I get a turn?”

She dipped her chin in a quick nod. “Okay, then. Go.”

He thought about it a minute. “My favorite color is yellow. I love barbeque ribs, and I don’t own any type of shoes but boots.”

“You aren’t even trying.” She maneuvered him toward the door once again.

“Let me go through there, at least.” He pointed toward the bathroom door.

She stumbled a bit as if she had forgotten that their rooms connected, then caught herself and redirected him. “Fine, as long as you leave.”

Next thing he knew, he was halfway through the bathroom door. “Wait. So that means you really do read romance novels?” It was a pitiful attempt to distract her and as he had known all along, it didn’t work.

“Good night, Jake.”

“But—”

She closed the door on his words.

He stared at the stained wood. When had he lost his charm? Wasn’t he the fifteenth most eligible bachelor in Texas?

 

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