Authors: Paige Warren
Beau had been kind enough to let her use his laptop as promised, no questions asked, and she’d made great progress on her novel. From the smirk he’d cast her way after the first time she’d used it, she had no doubt he’d retrieved her document and knew what she was up to. Either that, or Elodie had spilled the beans and told him about her novel. She didn’t think the other woman would rat her out, but she wouldn’t discount it. It had only taken one day of Gemma being sequestered in her room with the laptop for Elodie to start questioning her. Was she job hunting? Chatting with friends? Gemma had finally caved and told her about the book.
While Elodie wanted company, she also gave Gemma her space, allowing her to write while the men were out working. She’d gotten into a routine. Wake up at five, have some coffee—okay, more like half a pot—then write until lunch. After lunch, she spent time with Elodie and usually helped prepare dinner, even if she wasn’t the greatest cook. At least she hadn’t killed anyone yet. That was something, right? Maybe being around Elodie would be good for her. Some of those domestic skills might rub off, so that when she did find the perfect man, she’d be armed and ready. She’d actually managed a halfway decent meatloaf the other night, except she’d scalded the sauce.
Gemma felt like a new person. She still had the memories of the horrible choices she’d made, but she definitely wasn’t that woman anymore. Not only did she feel better, but she looked better, too. The bags under her eyes were gone, and her skin had gone from pale to glowing. Eating Elodie’s cooking was putting some pounds back on her. Her cousins had given her a hard time about how skinny she’d become, and she couldn’t argue with them, they were right.
“Gemma, I’m going into town. I thought you might want to come with me and pick up some new clothes. You mentioned yours were getting tight,” Elodie said with a smile.
Gemma ran a hand through her unkempt hair and looked down at her pajamas. She’d been writing the past few hours and hadn’t bothered to shower yet. Elodie looked well put together, with her hair in a twist and a pretty sundress hugging her curves. She didn’t want to say anything, thinking it wasn’t her place, but she’d noticed the other woman seemed to have put on a little weight, particularly around her midsection. Gemma had her suspicions as to why that was, but she wasn’t about to say anything. If Elodie wanted her to know, she’d say something.
“Well, come on! Get up and get in the shower!” Elodie tugged on her arm. “Don’t make me go shopping alone. Or worse, drag one of the guys with me.”
Gemma saved her file and closed the laptop, knowing she wasn’t going to win the battle against Elodie’s enthusiasm. She had a feeling the woman was up to something other than regular shopping. She’d never seen her so excited before. Oh lord. She didn’t have another matchmaking scheme in mind, did she? Elodie meant well, and Gemma knew that, but she was like a dog with a bone. Just because she’d found her happily-ever-after, she wanted everyone else around her to be deliriously happy, too. She just didn’t realize that Gemma was happy, happier than she’d ever been, and if things kept progressing like they were, her book would be done in another few days. She’d already done her research and knew which publisher she was going to submit her manuscript to, had studied the submission guidelines, and felt like she was ready.
“Yeah, okay. I’ll take a quick shower and then we’ll head into town.” Gemma smiled. “Just give me fifteen minutes.”
“Make it twenty. Take the time to dry your hair so it does that pretty, fluffy thing it does when you take your time with it.”
Yep, she was up to something.
Elodie did have a point, though. Her clothes were getting too tight. She’d had to start wearing knit shorts with tees, stretchy dresses, or yoga pants, which was all well and good when she was just lounging around the house. Going out in public like that? Not something she really wanted to do, not if she didn’t have to. She supposed the dresses were okay, but the rest just made her look slovenly. At heart, she was a boots and jeans kind of woman.
She selected a powder-blue sundress with plain white undies. Her breasts weren’t large enough for her to worry about a bra. Men had told her that they were a nice handful, but she knew better. She had just enough to give her body a bit of curve, but they had been a long time coming. She’d been sixteen before her breasts decided to make an appearance, long after all of her friends had gotten theirs. There had been many jokes at her expense from the boys she knew, until she blossomed. But she had a good memory. When boys started asking her out, she snubbed the ones who had ridiculed her, had made her cry into her pillow at night. She supposed they’d had the last laugh though. Those boys, who had been so cruel, turned out to be good, decent men, men she’d avoided. Instead, she’d ended up with one loser after another.
Giving herself a mental shake, she carried her clothes into the bathroom and started the shower. Not wanting to keep Elodie waiting too long, she rushed through washing her hair, not letting the conditioner set the full three minutes. Despite what Elodie said, no one was going to notice her in town anyway. So what if she had limp hair? She’d ridden with her cousins to the feed store, had been in the bar the one night she’d slipped into her old ways, except this time she’d left after just one beer. Never once in her visits to town had she run across a man worthy of her attention. Oh, there had been some lookers, especially at the bar, and there’d been that scrumptious Synclair, but she’d decided she needed a nice, sedate… accountant, lawyer, or teacher. Someone with a steady job who used their brains for a living. She was done with the macho bartenders and mechanics. She wanted a man who earned his muscles in the gym, not from fighting. Hell, he didn’t even have to have muscles! She could be happy with a paper pusher. Couldn’t she?
Gemma dried off and dressed. Since Elodie had made it a point to ask her to fix her hair, she supposed it was the least she could do. The blonde tresses were long, but her hair was baby fine and not very thick so it wouldn’t take long to dry. Her brothers had ended up with the incredible hair. She figured she took after their father, who’d had a receding hairline by the time he was thirty and was well on his way to a shiny bald head now that he was fifty. As long as her hair stayed on her head, she’d never complain about how little of it there was.
When she’d finished drying and brushing her hair, she eyed the bag of makeup Elodie had given her. Honestly, she’d never really worn much makeup. She’d brought lip-gloss and blush with her, but little else. It made her feel like she was wearing a mask, and she hated trying to scrub off the mascara at the end of the day. Her skin felt fresh and clean at the moment, and she didn’t understand why she’d want to cover it up with something. Instead of pawing through the bag, she dug a tube of ChapStick out of the drawer and smoothed some on her lips. Satisfied with her appearance, she went downstairs to meet Elodie.
“Maybe we should take one of the guys, you know, to hold back the hoards of men who are going to descend upon you,” Elodie said when Gemma walked into the room.
Gemma rolled her eyes. “You’re going too far and you know it. I’m no raving beauty. My top lip is thinner than my bottom one, my eyes are too big, and my nose is pointy.”
“Have you ever lacked for male companionship?”
“Well,” she hesitated. “No.”
“Then don’t argue with me.”
Gemma knew she wouldn’t win against Elodie. She didn’t know what the woman had been like before her cousins had gotten their paws on her, but now she was sassy and in charge. Oh, the men huffed and puffed and barked orders here and there, but it was no secret Elodie ruled the roost. All she had to do was ask for something, or even mention in passing that she wanted something, and it seemed to appear as if by magic. And if the woman got a paper cut, you’d think she’d nearly lost a hand the way the men would fall over themselves trying to make sure she was okay. It was funny to watch, and a little sad. Gemma wanted someone in her life like that.
Elodie looped her arm through Gemma’s and guided her toward the door. “Come on. Let’s go see what sort of mischief we can get into today.”
“Beau gave you his credit card, didn’t he?” Gemma asked.
“I wouldn’t take it.”
Gemma stared her down.
“All right. I might have taken some cash from Cody. But I really do need new clothes and I was thinking I might do something different with my hair. Other than trimming it myself, I’ve never had anything done to it before.”
“Elodie, if you cut your hair, my cousins will kill me for allowing it to happen. At some point throughout the day, each and every one of them pets your hair, curls it around their fingers, or just stares at it. They love your hair almost as much as they love you.”
“Well, I was thinking I might get some layers, particularly around my face. It wouldn’t
be cutting it, now would it?”
“You’re like a kid in a candy shop sometimes.”
The smile fell from Elodie’s face. “I didn’t used to be. When your cousins found me, I was a shell of a woman. I’d been ridiculed my entire life, treated like common trash. But Beau and Beck saw something in me that day and they took a chance on me. Then I met Cody and everything clicked into place. I know I’ve only been with them for a few months, but I feel like a completely different woman.”
“Elodie, I didn’t mean… I wasn’t thinking when I said that. I just meant that you get really excited about things, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. I’m a bitch for making you feel bad.”
“You’re not a bitch, Gemma.”
“Yes. Yes, I am. You’ve been super nice to me from the moment I stepped foot on the ranch. Even before that! You’ve done everything you could to make me feel welcome in your home, gave me the means to realize my dream, and I’ve been ungrateful.” She blew out a breath. “I won’t even pitch a fit if you try to introduce me to some hunky guy again. I promise I’ll give him a chance. Well, as long as he isn’t gay.”
Elodie snickered. “I guess I was a little off on the whole Everett thing. I could have sworn I saw him checking out a woman at the post office last week. Must be preg—I mean…”
“Aha! I knew it!”
Elodie blushed. “You don’t know anything. Not a thing, you hear me? I told the men I’d let them tell you our news when they were ready, and now I’ve let the cat out of the bag.”
“You’re going maternity clothes shopping today, aren’t you?”
“I was going to buy a few outfits, after leaving you to do your own shopping in another store.”
Gemma squeezed her hand. “You need to celebrate this, not hide it. I know you couldn’t have had the time to go out and have fun since learning you were pregnant, not with me landing on your doorstep. Let them take you out, Elodie. Get all dressed up and ask them to take you to San Antonio for the night. Have Cody get one of those fancy hotel suites downtown where you can look out over the city while they tell you and show you, in a hundred ways, how much they adore you.”
“A hundred ways, huh?” Elodie arched a brow. “I’m not sure I’d be walking the next day.”
Gemma shrugged. “At least one of us is getting some. I’ve been celibate for over a month now. I wasn’t even sure I was capable of such a thing.”
“Do you want someone to break your streak, or someone who can mean something to you?”
“I want what you have,” Gemma said softly.
“Three overbearing men?”
“You know what I mean. I want love.”
“Did I tell you about the lawyer who hung his shingle up last week? I think I may have drooled a little. I mean, I’ve never gone for the type of guy who wears a suit and tie, but he pulled it off nicely.”
“Elodie! What are you doing drooling over other men?”
“I’m engaged, not blind, and seeing as he was bigger than any of my men, he was a little hard to miss.”
“He’s probably married.”
“I asked. He’s single. He graduated after me, so I never knew him in school. Apparently he moved away for college and is now back in Grizzly Pines to stay. His parents died in a car accident last year and he didn’t want his brother to be alone.”
Gemma shook her head. “Why don’t we just let nature take its course? If I’m meant to meet this lawyer, then I will. I’m not ready to stalk the poor man though.”
Elodie got a mysterious look on her face, a smile curving her lips. “Very well. We can do that.”
Gemma got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. Elodie had agreed all too easily, which meant she’d just played right into her hands. Again. Something told her, she’d be meeting a lawyer today. If what Elodie said was true, a sexy hunk of a lawyer. God, she hoped she didn’t embarrass herself.
Elodie plucked Beau’s keys from the hook near the door and Gemma followed her out the door. They set off down the bumpy driveway, the radio playing softly in the background. Gemma admired the scenery on the way to town. It really was rather stunning with the morning sunbathing everything in its brilliant light.
Grizzly Pines came into view about ten minutes later and Elodie waved at people as they passed by, whether those people were happy to see her or not. Elodie had told her about her life in Grizzly Pines. Her life before meeting Gemma’s cousins and after. It seemed that once people realized she’d gained the respect of not one man but three, she’d risen in their esteem. Gemma found that a little funny, since she figured most people would frown on a ménage relationship. That wasn’t to say that Elodie didn’t still get an attitude from some people, and disparaging remarks were made, but overall things had improved a great deal.