“Because I negotiated a good salary, and if I keep at it a few more years, I’ll have enough saved to get a small place of my own.”
“Then why not focus on that instead of worrying about me?”
“Because then I wouldn’t be the person I want to be. I wouldn’t be the foreman I want to be. Anyone who gets into this business just for the money is crazy. You’ve got to like what you do. You’ve got to like hard work. If you don’t care about the animals or the people or the land, it’s just drudgery, heat, muck, and stubborn animals.”
His expression softened. “You’re one of the most caring people I’ve ever met, Blake.”
“I’m no saint. I get frustrated. I get—”
“But you don’t hold grudges, and you run this place like a family or like I imagine a family should be.”
“Then can you understand why it matters to me to help you? It’s not just about checking off a list and getting the job done. It’s about creating a place that feels like home, and if this is going to be home for my employees, then I want everyone here to be as happy and comfortable as they can.”
“My dad never made me feel comfortable anywhere, but you…” Riley looked away and wiped his eyes again.
I laid a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t leave, Riley. Give yourself a chance.”
“What if all this work doesn’t matter because my dad won’t agree that I can do it?”
“Then we figure out another way for you to be happy.”
His eyes widened. “We?”
“I told you I was here to take care of you and to help you learn how to help yourself. I’ll always be here for you.”
My hands shook as I took hold of his biceps. I wanted to cup his face, but that would look too intimate if anyone noticed us out here. “Always, even after you’ve left, even after we’re not… I’m your friend, whether you want me as your Daddy or not.”
“I do want you. I want you as my Daddy for as long as you’ll have me.”
I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t want this vulnerable boy who needed to be praised and shown he could succeed. “If that’s how you feel, then you know what has to happen tonight, right?”
“Um… I…” He chewed his lower lip.
“You told me you weren’t capable, that you couldn’t learn how to run the ranch.”
“And you’re going to discipline me for that, to remind me I am capable.”
“That’s right. I wish I could do it right now, but we have to finish the day’s chores.”
He exhaled a shaky breath. “Okay.”
“I’m going to send you out to check the fence line where we adjoin the KC, but tonight you’re going to come to me, and I’m going to remind you how important it is to obey my rules.”
Riley nodded. “And then?”
“Then, I’m going to remind you just how good I can make you feel.”
“Thank you, Daddy.”
He chewed on his lower lip. “I wish you could kiss me now.”
“I wish I could too, but at least I can do this.” I pulled him into my arms and hugged him tightly. When I pulled back, I held his gaze. “Do you need some time, or can you go back to work now?”
“I’m ready to work. I’ve got shit to learn so I can show my father he can’t treat me like he did today.”
I gave him a huge smile. “That’s the boy I want to see. Head on to the barn and saddle Ginger. I’ll call Casey to come meet you.”
“Okay.” He looked up at me through his damp lashes. “I’m looking forward to tonight.”
“I don’t intend to go easy on you.”
“That’s why I’m looking forward to it.”
I laughed as I watched him scurry down the hill and head toward the barn. Somehow, we were going to be okay.
Casey was surprised by how happy I seemed when I joined him. I told him Blake had cheered me up, and he raised his brows.
“By talking to me,” I told him.
“Uh-huh. You’re blushing.”
I clapped my hands to my cheeks. “Seriously. We just talked.”
Casey grinned. “Will you just be talking tonight?”
“I hope not, but promise me you won’t say anything when there’s anyone else around.”
He lifted a hand. “I swear. I didn’t mean to upset you. You can tell me to shut up.”
“No. It’s good to have someone I can talk to, but if my dad finds out, I’ll lose my chance to prove I can run this place, and worse, Blake will lose his job.”
“Blake losing his job is worse than you getting cut off?”
I thought about that for a second. Yeah, it was. “Blake works so hard, and my dad made him do this for me.”
“He doesn’t seem unhappy about it.”
“I don’t know why.” I’d been a huge pain in the ass, especially at first.