Ranch Daddy - Page 17

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I held out my hand again. “I accept your terms.”

My father and I shook on the deal, then he turned to Blake. “I’ll expect him to know enough to take over if you had to be gone.”

“I understand, sir.”

“You’re a damn good foreman, but I’m not sure even you are up for this task. I’ll be interested to see what you can do with him.”

I clenched my fists, but I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t even sure why I cared what he thought anymore. My father wasn’t ever going to see me for who I was. He looked back down at the paperwork in front of him. I turned to leave, and Blake followed me out. Neither of us spoke until we were several yards from the house.

“You actually suggested this to him? That you teach me how to run the ranch?”

“I did. There’s no way in hell you’d be happy working in one of his offices. This way, you have a chance to get away from him and still have means to live on.”

“While you’re stuck here working your ass off. God, you must think I’m such a privileged little shit.”

Blake chuckled. “Sometimes. But it’s not like he gave you the skills to be much else. Maybe if you’d been allowed to pick your own major you’d still be in school right now.”

“Or maybe I still would have failed out and been a drunken loser.”

Blake raised his brows. “Do you really think that?”

“I… I don’t know.”

He laid a hand on my shoulder, and the heat seared into my skin. “You’re not a loser, Riley.”

“Did you really suggest this because you wanted me to be happy? It’s so much work for you.”

Blake nodded. “It is, but I don’t like seeing Lawson treat you the way he does. You’re not who he thinks you are.”

Why had Blake believed me when I’d told him that? No one ever believed me. Did he actually want me here as much as I wanted to stay? Would he miss me if my dad sent me away? “You really think I can do this?”

His hand tightened on my shoulder, and I bit back a moan. “If you want to, then you can. You’re capable of learning whatever you set your mind to. If I didn’t think that, I would never have made the suggestion.” Blake reached into his pocket and pulled something out. When I looked down at his open palm, I saw the horse Celeste had given me.

“I found it on the ground by your car.”

I’d tried to throw it the night before, but I’d been so drunk it had just fallen to the ground. I remembered thinking I could run it over instead. “Th-thank you.”

“I expect you to keep it safe. Let it remind you that your friend believed in you, and I do too. You’re going to learn everything about this ranch so you can gain your freedom. You only have to put up with this for two months. That will fly by with all the work you’ll be doing.”

I should be thrilled by that, shouldn’t I? But when I thought about walking away from Blake, I felt heavy and sad. What was I going to do about that, though? I couldn’t stay here, and asking him to come with me would be ridiculous. He wanted me, but it wasn’t like we were actually together or anything. He belonged here on the ranch, and he’d told me he needed this job if he was going to save for land of his own. At least I’d have a few months with him, but I needed to make the most of them. “Blake, you said we could talk about—”

“There you are, boss.”

It was Casey. Blake blew out a long breath. “Sorry. Lawson called me in for a meeting unexpectedly.”

“That’s all right. I was wondering if we should head on out and finish up the fence we were working on yesterday?”

“Yes. Go on and take the truck. Riley and I will follow on horseback. There are a few things I want to check out.”

“Sure thing, boss.”

Blake looked to me when Casey had gone. “I did tell you we’d talk today, but things started off differently than I imagined. Training starts now. We’ll save talking for tonight.”

I started to protest, but he tucked the horse trinket into my pocket. “Keep that with you, and let it remind you why you’re doing this.”

“Yes, sir.”

He grinned. “Better.”

Blake showed me several of the different pastures and explained how cows and calves were rounded up to be sorted every spring by moving them into smaller pastures, then into the small corral. We headed to where Casey was working on the fence. “You can trust Casey. He’s impulsive sometimes, but he’s a good guy. If you need something and I’m not around, he’ll help you out.”

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