Ranch Daddy - Page 34

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“It was, but Riley couldn’t have handled it better.”

I hoped she’d drop the subject then, but she kept studying me. “There’s more, isn’t there?”

“Maryellen, I…”

She rolled a circle of pie crust around her rolling pin and transferred it to a pie pan. “Be careful with that boy and with yourself. If Lawson finds out…”

“I know he didn’t mean for me to take Riley out to wrangle bulls, but he said Riley had to—”

She raised her brows. “You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I don’t—”

“Lawson can’t find out that his son disappears for several hours most evenings and comes home all rumpled, clothes askew, and looking happier than I’ve ever seen him.”

“Look, I know what you—”

“Don’t lie to me, Blake. You don’t have to give me any details. In fact, I’d rather you not, but if I noticed, Lawson could too.” She started rolling another crust and seemed to be taking her annoyance at me out on the pastry.

“He’s never paid attention to Riley before, why would he start now?”

“If it’s right in his face, he might not be able to help himself. And he will fire you if he finds out.”

I sighed. “I know, but Riley… He needs someone.”

Her expression softened. “I know.”

“This isn’t just… I care about him.”

Maryellen placed the crust in the last of the pie pans she’d set out. “Lawson might well blame Riley and kick him out.”

“Then I’ll quit and make sure he’s taken care of.” The words were out before I even thought about them, but they were true.

“Blake—”

“I won’t let Riley suffer because of this.”

She tilted her head and studied me. “You know, you don’t have to stay here forever, and Riley might decide ranching isn’t so bad after all.”

Was she serious? “I thought you said this was a bad idea.”

“In your current situation, it is, but I know you Blake. You wouldn’t be taking a risk like this for yourself or for Riley if this was nothing more than you getting your needs met.”

Dear God, why was this happening to me? “Maryellen—”

“Don’t act like I don’t understand how this works. I’m just saying, as much as we would all miss you if you left, there might be a way to work this out.”

I wanted to believe that, but I just didn’t see it. “I’m not going to ask him to give up what he wants. He deserves a chance to choose his own future.”

“Have you asked him what he wants?” Maryellen asked as she turned to the sink to wash the flour off her hands.

“He wants to go back to Atlanta, and then…”

She glanced over her shoulder. “And then what?”

“He’s not sure.”

“Then maybe”—she grabbed a towel from the island to dry her hands—“he could find something he likes doing here.”

I shook my head. “I’m not asking him to stay here for me.”

“How’s he doing with the lessons you’ve been giving him?”

I was thrown by the change of subject, and it took me a moment to answer. “He’s come a long way, but I’m not sure his father recognizes that.”

“Hmpf. Just keep working with him. He’s lucky to have you.”

“I’m doing everything I can.”

“I know. Just be careful. And think about what I said. All of it.”

“I don’t—”

“Hush up and eat your cookies.”

14

Riley

The next morning, Blake brought a cow into the corral because he needed to check to see if she was pregnant.

“I thought you’d already checked the whole herd.”

“We did. This girl wasn’t pregnant then, but she escaped and got mixed in with Dalia’s herd when her bulls were loose.” Dalia owned the ranch on the other side of us from the KC. “It’s finally been long enough for me to check her.”

“Oh.” I frowned, remembering how he’d told me he checked for pregnancy.

“Or rather it’s time for you to check her.”

“Wait, what?” Fisting a cow was so not on my bucket list.

Blake clapped a hand on my shoulder. “You can do this, Riley.”

I knew better than to contradict him. “I can, but do I really have to? Are you telling me my father has done this?”

“Not that I’ve seen, but he didn’t say you needed to be able to do what he did. He said you needed to be able to do my job. This is part of my job.”

“Um… I just…”

“You’ve got this.” Blake drove the cow down the narrow lane that led to the head chute where she could be held safely in place while we did the exam. He shut the gate behind her, and I brought down the latch to secure her just like he’d shown me.

Then he pulled out an arm-length sheath and handed it to me. “Put this on.”

I shuddered as I took it, and he ignored me, moving to stand by the cow’s head.

“Tell me again what I’m feeling for.”

“If she’s pregnant, you’ll feel a strong pulse from the thickened vein running along her uterus.”


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