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Authors: Victoria James

Rescued by the Rancher (9 page)

BOOK: Rescued by the Rancher
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Chapter Ten

Meredith bit her lower lip at the sound of the toilet flushing. It was the second time today that Melanie had made a mad dash from the front of the boutique to the washroom in order to throw up. In one week, Melanie had gone from feeling fine to being nauseated nonstop.

Meredith wished she could be open with Melanie. She would have told her about her morning sickness, too, but she couldn’t. After a few nights of contemplating confiding in her, she decided she couldn’t. Not now. It wouldn’t be fair to Melanie. This was Melanie and Cole’s time to be excited and happy, and they both desperately deserved that. She would tell Melanie much later on, after she’d held her sweet baby in her arms.

Right now, she was comfortable with Gage being the only person who knew her secret, especially since Gage and Cole were crazy busy this week, something about it being time for the ranch’s annual on-site inspection for USDA certification. Not that she knew much about ranching, but she knew her brother-in-law had worked himself to the bone turning the ranch into one of the finest organic beef producers. But it was perfect timing, because after the night at the cabin, she had the immediate need to distance herself from Gage. He knew more about her than anyone, she had let him in, he’d comforted her, but he hadn’t shared a thing about himself.

Melanie walked out of the back room and Meredith took one look at her and ran over to help her onto the couch. “Feet up and relax.”

Melanie groaned. “I’m too tired to even argue with your bossy attitude.”

“Seriously, I think you need to take a few days off.”

“I’m fine. Don’t tell Cole.”

“Uh, that ship has sailed. He’s been calling here every hour.”

“I know, he caught me throwing up this morning and freaked out. I think he wanted me to go into the ER.”

Meredith laughed. “Yeah, I know. He texted me and told me I had better call him if you were sick at work today.”

Melanie shook her head. “Poor Cole, I don’t think he’s going to make it through this pregnancy.”

She smiled at her sister and went to get her a bottle of cold water. Ice-cold water had always helped her. She sat on the edge of the sofa and handed Melanie the bottle.

“Thanks,” she said, taking a sip. The color was returning to her face and after a few minutes she sat up a bit, and then she stared Meredith down in a way that only her sister could. Enough so that Meredith was squirming in under a minute. She braced herself. “So, how are things going with you and Gage?”

Meredith groaned and leaned back in the sofa as Melanie scooted over. Her sister was definitely feeling better, because she was now smiling with a giddy look on her face. “Gage and I are…” She struggled to find the right words to describe what they were. But she had no idea. “I don’t know what we are, Mel.”

“You’re in love with him.”

Meredith hopped off the sofa like a scared rabbit. “That’s ridiculous. No way. You’re just doing that thing that married people do where you try to make sure all your friends get married. Gage and I. No. I mean, the man is…”

Melanie took a long sip of water. “Hot.”

Meredith gave her a wan smile. “That’s putting it mildly.”

Melanie nodded, a knowing smile on her face. “And he makes you feel good.”

That was one way of looking at it. Meredith felt her face growing warm just thinking about all the ways Gage made her feel good. They looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Yeah, but I know it’s not serious and it could never go anywhere.”

“Why not?”

She shrugged. “Gage isn’t the type to settle down. I mean, the man has a waiting list of women at the Horseshoe.” She had to admit that she was jealous as hell that the man did have such a list. She didn’t like thinking of Gage with anyone but her. Ugh.

“I’ve gotten to know Gage pretty well over the last year and the thing that surprised me about him was that he’s much more than he lets on. I know on the outside he looks like this gorgeous playboy, but there’s so much more to him. He’s been such a rock for Cole.”

Meredith tucked her legs under her as she thought about what Melanie said. She knew that; she knew there was so much more to Gage. The night Melanie and Cole announced their pregnancy he hadn’t let her go. He didn’t let her suffer alone, and he looked at her as though he understood her shame, her pain. But Gage hadn’t let her in at all. To her, he was this larger-than-life, chivalrous, charming, sexy man determined to see her succeed and feel good.

She glanced over at Melanie, who was waiting for a reply. “I know he’s not just this playboy, but I also know he’s not looking for anything serious, and neither am I. I was close to making the biggest mistake of my life, and the last thing I need right now is anything serious.”

Melanie nodded and reached across the couch and wrapped her arms around her. Meredith hugged her sister back, never tiring of the feel of her. “You deserve the best, Mer.”

Meredith shook her head. “I need to tell you something. I know we talked about the past and where we went wrong, but I don’t think I apologized for that night when I came here. I shut you down.”

“Stop apologizing. We both made mistakes. Don’t you think I’ve tortured myself, imagining what your life was like back there? I walked out, Mer. I left you and Mom, and I walked. Don’t think for a second that I was right. There was no right and wrong. I did what I needed to for self-preservation, for my own sanity. That doesn’t make me strong and you weak.”

Meredith stood and sat down on the couch beside her sister. “I should have walked with you. I didn’t because I was a wimp.”

“Uh, no. No wimp would stay in that house. You were guilted. Maybe you have a kinder heart than I do and that’s why you stayed.”

“I was an enabler.”

“Okay, enough. I’m not going to stand for one more apology from you or more self-criticism. We are finally back. Partners in crime, together again. I don’t want to waste another minute talking about regrets or mistakes. Let’s leave it at the both of us making the best decisions we could at a young age. Okay?”

Meredith smiled and hugged her sister.

Gage pulled a T-shirt over his head and swore under his breath when he heard the knock on his door. He ran his hands through his still-wet hair and marched barefoot across the main room of his house. These people never left him alone. It was Sunday afternoon, and he’d put in his half day, showered, and was planning on sitting down to look over the deed and paperwork of his soon-to-be ranch. He was not planning on going back outside, so he put on his meanest expression as he swung open the front door, fully expecting to find one of the cowboys. Instead, it was a gorgeous woman. Meredith.

She didn’t wait for him to invite her in, which brought a grin to his face as she plowed past him and dumped a pile of files and her laptop on his kitchen table. “I didn’t think I’d make it without dropping those,” she said, and then gave him a cheerful smile. He had no idea what she was doing here, but he liked it. He liked that she felt comfortable enough that she could just come over here uninvited and wearing yoga pants and a hoodie. And he liked the way she filled them both out.

Almost a week had gone by since the night at Cole’s cabin. He knew she’d been avoiding him, and he wanted to give her space. Well, that was a damn lie. He’d just been too busy juggling his work at Tall Pines right now.

“What have you got there?” he asked, closing the door and joining her in the open kitchen.

She pulled out a chair and sat down with a sigh. “Lots and lots of accounting. I love my sister, but I seriously don’t know how her business survived with her bookkeeping skills.”

He smiled, not that she noticed. She was already busy placing files in different piles.

“Want a cup of coffee?”

This earned him a dazzling smile, and he pulled out the can of ground coffee.

“I hope I’m not interrupting your day.”

“Not at all, darling. You’re welcome to hijack my afternoon any time.”

Her mouth dropped open slightly and he stopped counting the spoons of coffee and leaned across the kitchen table and took her mouth in a long, wet kiss. She was a sight he’d never get tired of. He hadn’t realized how much he missed her until today. She made his empty house alive.

She waved a red pen at him. “Don’t be doing that kind of thing, Gage. I have work to get done. No charm, swaggering around here half dressed, no sultry smiles, and no kissing…for at least two hours.”

He grinned. “Sultry smiles?”

She nodded and glanced down at his mouth, and then licked her lips.

He leaned against the counter. “I had no idea I had that effect on you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, you did. You have that effect on the entire female population.”


“Yes. And I know I won’t be able to last longer than two hours in here with you, so I need to get some work done.”

“What happens after two hours?”

She blushed and he laughed under his breath, moving back to the coffeemaker. “So, did you come here with the hopes of getting—”

“Gage, don’t finish that sentence. Of course I would do no such thing. I came here because Cori and Adam are visiting and I thought they deserved some time by themselves. I didn’t want to feel like I was intruding.”

“All right, darling. I’ll brew the coffee, you make yourself comfortable, and in two hours, I’ll wait for you to keep good on your promise.”

An hour later, Gage was unsuccessfully trying to concentrate on the papers in front of him and not stare at Meredith. She was hot. She was sitting at his table, every now and then letting out a puff of exasperation as she riffled through files. She was also wearing some cute black-rimmed glasses that were perched on the edge of her nose that he found inexplicably attractive. She had chucked her hoodie and was wearing a pink tank top with thin spaghetti straps that he was envisioning removing with his teeth in exactly fifty-five minutes, because he was a man of his word.

“So, you’re enjoying working with your sister?”

“Love it. It’s what I was meant to do. I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder. For the first time in my life I feel useful and smart. Melanie and I have turned her business around and doubled the positive cash flow this year.”

He was damn proud of her. “You’re good at what you do.”

“This may sound ridiculous, but I wanted to be an accountant when I was in high school.”

“Really? I didn’t think any teenager would dream of accounting.”

She laughed softly and he smiled at the sound. “I love that numbers don’t lie. You can manipulate them all you want, but… Shoot,” she said, looking down at her pencil. “Can I get a calculator from your desk?”

She didn’t wait for his reply and because he was an idiot, and busy checking out her ass in the yoga pants, he forgot what was sitting on his desk. He leaped over the coffee table and ran to her but it was too late. Meredith was dead still, staring down at the deed transfer papers in plain sight.

“Gage, what is this?”

He ran his hand through his hair and met her accusing gaze. “It’s a deed to a ranch I’m planning on buying.”

She leaned against his desk, picking up the papers. “Where is this?”

He jammed his hands in his pockets. “Texas.”

Her mouth dropped open, and the hurt look in her eyes made him shift his gaze to the window. “Why? I thought you loved it here? Cole and—”

And her, but they weren’t anything. People didn’t stick around and alter life plans for something that should only last one night.

“I need to own my own place. My own ranch.”

“But you’re foreman, and this is your family.”

He turned to look down at her. He wanted to tell her that a foreman would never be good enough for someone like her. She had been about to marry a man who could buy out Tall Pines five times over with just his checking account. She’d been born into money and a life he knew nothing about, and would never be able to give her. Unless he made good on an offer given to him long ago…but that would mean compromising his principles, forgiving a man he didn’t think deserved forgiveness. And he couldn’t do that for anyone, no matter how sad Meredith’s green eyes were. Meredith was making him want things and want to be something he’d never wanted. “This is Cole’s ranch. And Cori’s. I want my own.”

She put her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes on him. She would have made an intimidating teacher. “Why? Cole will be heartbroken.”

He snorted. “‘Heartbroken’ and ‘Cole’ don’t belong in the same sentence.”

She rolled her eyes and gave him a little shove that he found inexplicably hot. “You are family to Cole. And what about Mrs. H? She adores you.”

He ran his hands down his face with a groan. “She understands.”

“Well, what about…” Her voice trailed and she scanned the room rapidly, her eyes looking everywhere but him, but he saw the vulnerability.
What about her
, that’s what she wanted to say. He took a step into her, knowing the one way of making her feel better, making himself feel better, because right now moving away didn’t feel right at all. Right now, the only thing that felt right was being with Meredith.

“It’s something I have to do. Something I need to do.”

Meredith nodded and gave him a fake smile, then patted the front of his chest. “Okay, well then, what do you say we go out tomorrow and celebrate?”

Sweet. She was so damn sweet. Gage cursed inwardly. Tomorrow was the one day he couldn’t. “Sorry, darling. I can’t.”

The disappointment played across her features, but Meredith was a woman who knew how to control what she was really feeling. She kept her smile plastered on and he cursed himself for not being able to tell her where he was going, but there was a lot he kept close to his chest. And his whereabouts tomorrow was one of them. “Okay,” she said and tried to back away.

He tugged her back into him. “I’ll be all yours the rest of the week, but tomorrow is out.”

He couldn’t even tell her that he’d probably be home by dinnertime, but he’d be in such a desperate need for a shower, a whiskey or beer, and the company of no one. Hell, he never knew what to expect on those days, so he couldn’t even promise he’d be any kind of decent company.

BOOK: Rescued by the Rancher
10.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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