Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In (9 page)

BOOK: Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In
3.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Do you think it's going to snow? Colin didn't take his coat today.” Clara began to pleat the material of her dress into small, neat folds.

Edward smoothed her hair gently. He knelt in front of her and stilled her hands by gathering them in his. “It's not going to snow, Clara. It's summer. Feel the heat?”

Robyn knelt at her mother-in-law's side. Her professional training allowed her to hide the shock that rocked her. “Hello, Clara, it's nice to see you again.”

“Hello.” Clara's eyes showed no sign of recognition as she gazed at Robyn. “Have you come to tune my piano?”

Robyn glanced sharply at Edward. He shook his head and spoke in a firm voice. “Darling, you remember Colin's wife. We're here to visit her and little Chance.”

Her eyes brightened for a moment. “Colin's baby?”

“That's right, Colin's baby.”

She nodded and smiled as she began to hum softly. She pulled her hands away from his and began to pleat her dress once more.

Robyn motioned to Edward with a tilt of her head and they moved away. She laid a hand on his arm, wishing she could offer this brave man more comfort than a simple touch.

Colin's mother had doted on her only child, but she had never been a strong woman. A car accident had confined her to a wheelchair when Colin was ten. She'd suffered two mild heart attacks before he was out of high school. When his condition had worsened, he'd feared his death would kill his mother, as well. He'd desperately wanted to give her a reason to live, something to hang on to. He'd wanted to give her a grandchild.

Clara had survived her son's death, and Colin had been right. It was because of the baby. But now her mind had begun to slip away. For a brief moment, Robyn was glad Colin hadn't lived to see his mother come to this.

“She's worse, isn't she?” Robyn asked Edward softly.

Patting her hand where it rested on his arm, he nodded. “She has good days and bad days. She's a tad confused now, but she'll be right as rain after she's had a little rest.”

“I'm so sorry. Maybe this wasn't a good idea.”

“She's much better when Chance is around. I'm glad you invited us.”

Robyn scanned his face. “You look exhausted.”

His smile widened. “Still tactful as always, aren't you? I'm doing all right. I never thought having Clara in a wheelchair would be a blessing, but at least she can't wander off.”

“I'm sorry, Edward. I should help more.”

“Now, girl, as you so often pointed out to me when Clara and I wanted you to stay with us after Colin died, you have your own life to live.”

“That was different.”

“I don't see how.”

“Back then, I needed to prove I could stand on my own two feet.”

He grinned, shaking his head. “Is that why you spent two years in that god-awful basement apartment while you finished your training instead of letting us help by paying for a nice place to live? If I recall, you couldn't stand on your own two feet in that place without smacking your head on the ceiling.”

“It wasn't that bad. Besides, you know it was never about the money. Your emotional support and your love were what Chance and I needed, and you gave us plenty of that.”

“You should have let us help pay your way through school. We can still afford to help,” he said gruffly.

“Stop. You lost that argument many years ago.”

The sound of the screen door slamming pulled their attention to the front porch as a little blond streak flew down the steps and ran straight to Clara. At almost four, Chance was still small for his age, but he was agile, and he didn't hesitate as he flung himself at his grandmother.

Clara looked momentarily startled as the boy threw his arms around her knees, dropped his head onto her lap and hugged her. She patted his head. “Colin, are you home already?”

Chance lifted his head and smiled. She blinked several times, and then cupped his face with her hands. “Oh, how silly of me. I called you Colin, didn't I?” She helped him climb onto her lap. “Ooh! My goodness, you've grown. Edward, come and see how big our grandson has gotten.”

Robyn felt the tenseness drain out of her father-in-law's body. “I knew it would do her good to see him. After Colin died, I thought it would be the end of her, but when Chance was born, it was like the sun came back into her life.”

He dropped an arm around Robyn's shoulders and gave her a quick hug. “Thank you for giving us back part of our son.”

She saw the happiness shining in his eyes as he watched his wife and grandson, and she knew she could never do anything that would destroy it. A promise was a promise. Even if she regretted making it, she would keep it.

She laid a hand on Edward's arm. “I'm so glad you could come. Now I'll have some help getting this place in shape.”

“I don't know what I can do. I don't know the first thing about ranching. I doubt you have a need for a retired science professor. We'll only be in the way.”

“No, you won't. Besides, Chance needs to spend time with both of you.”

As long as Edward and Clara were there, Robyn knew she could find the strength she needed to avoid Neal. Once his doctor gave him the okay, he would be off to the rodeo circuit again and out of their lives. And the memory of his kisses would fade in time. Wouldn't they?


if this is such a good idea, Martha. Wait a minute.” Ellie Bryant pulled the phone away from her ear and leaned around the kitchen counter to check the stairwell. It was empty.

She raised the receiver again. “I thought I heard Neal coming down, but he's not up yet. He's been trying to do too much. He's been out riding every day. He sure inherited his stubborn streak from his father.”

“Ellie, you know our children are never going to get together without a push,” Martha insisted.

“Maybe.” Ellie hesitated to agree with her longtime friend even if she believed Martha was right. There was more to Robyn and Neal's split than either of them let on.

“Robyn is acting like a dog that's lost the last bone on earth. She hasn't moped this much since he went away to college and she was still in high school.”

“She's not in high school anymore. Your daughter is old enough to make up her own mind. She's a mother. She has more to think about than who she wants to date. Leave her be. She won't thank you for meddling.”

“She still loves Neal—I know it. Tell me you think Neal doesn't feel the same way.”

Ellie couldn't lie. She saw the sadness in Neal, and she knew his feelings for Robyn were the cause. “Even if he does, I don't like to interfere in the lives of my children.”

“Oh, phooey! Save that rubbish for someone who will buy it. I won't. I know you, Ellie, and you love to interfere as much as I do. Maybe more.”

Ellie grinned as she gripped the phone. “Not quite as much as you do. And only when it's in their best interest. Which is always my top priority.”

“Our kids don't realize that their mothers still know best. Besides, it's not like we are doing anything illegal. All we're trying to do is to get them to spend some time together. Nature will take its course if we can get them alone.”

“And you think this scheme of yours will do that?” Ellie asked in disbelief.

“It's not a scheme. I do need the help.” Martha's voice quivered.

“Why haven't you said something? You know I would do anything for you.”

“I didn't say anything because I've got some pride. Or I did have. Ever since I lost Frank, this ranch has been going downhill. We were never as well-off as you were, and I'm not ashamed of it. We made do. But now I need to get a good price for this place. It's all I've got left. Please, Ellie, I'm asking for your help now.”

Sympathy for Martha forced Ellie to reconsider. They had been friends since their grade-school days, but the loss of the men they loved within a year of each other had pushed them into a special closeness. If Jacob's death had been as lingering and as costly as Frank's, Ellie might have found herself in the same position Martha was in now.

She loved Robyn like a daughter, and she adored little Chance as much as her own grandchildren, with good reason if her suspicions were correct, but meddling in their lives didn't seem right. This wasn't a case of a simple lovers' quarrel. She could see that much for herself.

“I honestly don't know if I can get Neal to agree to work for you,” Ellie said at last.

“You can do it. Tell him you know I desperately need the help, but I can't afford to pay the kind of wage a top hand would get. That's true. Tell him you want him out from under your feet. Tell him I'll feed him as part of his pay. Oh, tell him anything. Just get him to spend the next few weeks here. All he and Robyn need is a little time together. They love each other. They'll see that. Wouldn't you like them to get back together?”

“I'm just not sure.” Ellie knew Neal needed something to focus on besides his injury, but was Robyn the answer?

“What's the worst thing that could happen?” Martha demanded.

“They could find out what we're up to and hate us for it.”

“No,” Martha answered with a sad sigh. “The worst thing that could happen is that they would go on just like they are. Miserable without each other.”

“I need to think this over.”

“You know, Ellie, Robyn will never take Chance on the rodeo circuit. I think she would insist that Neal quit the rodeo for good.”

Ellie glanced up the stairwell once more. It was something she hadn't considered. Her grip tightened on the phone. She dreaded the thought of Neal returning to his deadly sport. Was she foolish to hope Robyn might convince him to give it up and settle down?

Well, it wouldn't be the first foolish thing she'd wished for in her life. She took a deep breath and thrust her misgivings aside. “All right, Martha, I'll do it. What's the plan? When do we start?”

“We start tomorrow. Get him to come and apply for a job with me.”

“And if he says no?”

“You're his mother. You know how to turn up the guilt as well as I do. You'll think of something.”

* * *

horse to a stop beside the white picket fence surrounding the O'Connor ranch house and scanned the yard. It was a hive of activity in the late afternoon. A white-haired man he didn't recognize was using a pressure washer to clean the rows of farm machinery beside the barn. A tractor with a bale fork drove past and pushed the long steel spear into the first of three large round hay bales on a flatbed truck.

Martha O'Connor was adding a fresh coat of paint to the pickets at the far corner of the fence. A small boy with curly blond hair was busy bouncing a large red, white and blue ball on the sidewalk that led from the front gate to the wide porch steps.

Neal studied the child and frowned slightly. Was this his son? Somehow, he'd pictured a small, dark-haired version of Robyn. This boy took after Neal's dad's side of the family, that was for sure. Most of the Bryants were Nordic types, tall with curly blond hair and sky blue eyes. Neal, with dark hair and dark eyes like his mother, was an exception.

What had Colin Morgan looked like, Neal wondered. A sudden feeling of resentment caught him by surprise. Robyn had left him and married a man he'd never even met. The fact that the man was dead didn't lessen the feeling of jealousy that crawled over Neal. Everyone believed this boy belonged to her husband. Would he ever be able to reveal the truth?

It was hard to picture Robyn as a mother. In Neal's mind, she had stayed the same since the day she'd left him. The reality of just how much her life had changed was playing in front of him. He wasn't at all sure of how he felt about that. Or about pretending this child wasn't his son.

The boy gave the ball a high toss, but his small hands missed when it came down. It bounced over the gate and out into the yard. He pushed open the gate. The bell on it jangled, and a sudden loud beeping that signaled the tractor backing up swallowed the sound.

The child caught sight of Neal and stopped. He glanced at his ball a dozen feet away and then stared at Neal with wary eyes. The sight of the golden-haired boy standing in front of the picket fence triggered a vague memory in Neal's mind. Had he seen the kid before? It didn't seem likely.

He forced a smile to his lips. “Hi, there. You must be Chance. Is your mother home?”

The boy didn't answer. He kept his eyes on Neal as he edged toward his ball. He was moving right into the path of the backing tractor.

Neal's smile vanished. “Hey, watch out.”

The large red machine with wide dual tires continued backing up as the driver lifted the huge round bale of hay away from the truck. The driver in the cab glanced back once, but Neal realized he didn't see the child moving into his path. Robyn's son seemed unaware of his danger as he kept his gaze glued to Neal. He took one more step backward, then turned and darted after his toy.

“Look out!” Neal shouted.

The boy froze when he saw the tractor looming over him.

Neal dug his spurs into his horse. The startled animal leaped forward. Neal reached down and snatched the child up a second before the huge tires flattened the brightly colored ball.

The kid began screaming and kicking almost at once. Neal struggled to hold on to the boy and bring the frightened horse under control. “Hold still. You're going to get us both thrown,” he snapped.

People began running toward them. Neal caught a glimpse of Robyn's white face as she raced down the porch steps and flew out the gate. She reached Neal's side first. After pulling her son from his arm, she dropped to her knees, clutching him close.

“Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” she muttered in a trembling voice, her face the color of chalk.

The boy stopped screaming the moment his mother grabbed him. He stared up at Neal with wide eyes. He never said a word.

“You could have been killed,” Neal bit out as he swung down and held on to the still-skittish horse. “Didn't you hear me yell? Are you deaf?”

He knew he sounded harsh, but his own heart was just beginning to beat again. The kid has scared him witless.

Robyn looked up. “Yes, he is.”

“What?” Neal stared, dumbfounded.

“He is deaf.” She watched him with a strange look in her eyes, waiting for him to say something.

His mind reeled as her words sank in. Why hadn't someone told him Robyn's child was handicapped? Why hadn't she told him?

What else didn't he know? She was watching him closely as he digested the news.

Somehow, he sensed that what he said next would be very important to her. Only he didn't have a clue what it should be. Before he could frame a reply, the others surrounded them.

Martha reached them next. “Is he all right? I'm so sorry. I was watching him, and the next instant, when I looked up, he was gone.”

The elderly man beside her turned the boy's face toward his own. His hands flew in sign language as he scolded him. “You have got to be more careful, Chance. You could have been hurt.”

He let his hand rest for a moment on the child's head as he closed his eyes. Then he turned to Neal. “I can't thank you enough for your quick action, young man.”

“Yes, thank you, Neal.” Martha threw her arms around him. She was trembling with shock.

She released him and turned to the obviously shaken teenage boy who had stepped down from the tractor. “Danny, what were you thinking? You know you have to be careful when Chance is around.”

“I'm sorry, Mrs. O'Connor. I didn't see him—honest I didn't.” He twisted the brim of his hat between his hands. “Is he okay?”

Robyn stood with Chance in her arms. “He's just scared like the rest of us.”

“It wasn't Danny's fault. The boy ran right in his path.” Neal made an effort to defend the young driver. The kid wasn't to blame and everything had turned out okay.

“I'll take Chance up to the house.” Robyn walked away, still holding her son tightly in her arms.

“All right.” Martha nodded, laying a hand on Danny's shoulder. “Take Neal's horse to the barn. The rest of this hay can wait.”

“Sure.” He reached for the reins and Neal handed them over.

Martha propped her hands on her hips. “What possessed you to ride over here when you could have driven?”

He didn't like driving. It was difficult to judge distances and make turns. Cars coming at him from his blind side seemed to jump into his field of vision, but he wasn't ready to admit that to anyone.

“I need to get in shape for my return to the rodeo. Riding is good exercise. Don't unsaddle him, Danny. I can't stay long.”

“You'll stay long enough to have supper with us. I don't want to hear another word about it,” Martha declared. She turned and marched after her daughter.

“Sometimes she makes you want to salute and shout, ‘Sir! Yes, sir!' doesn't she?” the white-haired man beside him said with a twinkle in his gray eyes. He held out his hand. “I'm Edward Morgan.”

“Neal Bryant,” he replied as he shook the hand of the man who had to be Robyn's father-in-law.

Edward glanced toward the house. “Neal. I believe I've heard of you.”

“Nothing good, I'll bet,” Neal observed drily.

“I prefer to form my own opinions. So far, I'd be hard-pressed to believe anything bad about you. Thank you again for saving my grandson. He's all we have left. I don't know what I would do if anything happened to him,” he said quietly.

* * *

on the edge of Chance's bed and willed her arms to release her son. Slowly, the terror that had gripped her when she'd glanced out the kitchen window and seen her son almost under the wheels of the tractor began to fade. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Thank God Neal had been there. His quick action had saved Chance. She hadn't even thanked him.

Chance patted her cheek and she opened her eyes. He signed, “I'm sorry, Mom.” His face was the picture of remorse.

She nodded as she tried to smile and reassure him. “I know.”

She spoke aloud as she signed, “You scared me. You could have been hurt. You have to be more careful.”

“Who's that man? Why does he cover his eye? Is he a pirate? Pirates don't ride horses. Do you think he has a treasure chest and a sword?” The questions flew from his fingers. Robyn had to laugh as she caught hold of his hands and pressed a kiss on one grubby knuckle.

“No, he's not a pirate. He's a cowboy. His name is Neal Bryant.”

And he is your father.
Would she ever be able to say those words to him?

“He is Mrs. Bryant's son, and he's an old friend of mine,” she signed.

“He saved me,” Chance signed slowly.

“Yes, he did.” Pulling her son close, she pressed his head to her breast. She now owed Neal a debt of gratitude she didn't want and could never repay.

Why was he here? To meet Chance in spite of her objections? She should have known he'd come. Now that he'd met Chance, would he go away and stay away?

BOOK: Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In
3.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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