“That wasn’t much fun either, so now I don’t know what to do. I keep telling myself if I try school again, I’ll find something I enjoy, but what if I don’t?”
I wished I could fix all Riley’s problems, but all I could do was guide him. “Forget about narrowing it down to jobs or majors. Why don’t you just tell me what makes you happy?”
“You. You’re what makes me happy.” I shook my head, laughing at myself. “God, that sounds cheesy.”
Blake smiled. “Doesn’t mean I don’t like it.”
My heart sped up which made it damn hard to concentrate. “The animals make me happy. I don’t know what else. I think I’d forgotten what it even felt like to be happy until I found you.”
For a while we didn’t say anything else. We just walked. I loved being out in public with Blake, holding his hand, feeling like we were a real couple. We got some assessing looks and a few sneers. I wasn’t sure if it was our age difference or the fact that we were both men, but I didn’t care. With Blake there, nothing could ruin the day for me.
We circled back to the car. “I’ve got an idea to help you figure out what you want to do.”
“Okay.” I knew I needed to figure out what the hell I was going to do once my father kicked me off the ranch, but I didn’t want to think about being apart from Blake. I wasn’t sure anything would sound good if it didn’t involve having him in my life.
Tell him that.
No, he wants to teach me how to be on my own, how to trust myself. He’s not going to want me clinging to him.
Clinging to him and loving him aren’t the same thing.
But he wants to be at the ranch, and I can’t be.
You can’t find a solution if you don’t try.
He’d seen so much of me. I felt like he peeled layer after layer from me, seeing deeper than anyone else, which was scary as hell. Every day I waited for him to realize I wasn’t who he thought I was. I couldn’t go any further. If I told him how I felt and he didn’t feel the same way, I didn’t think I could stand it. He would try so hard not to hurt me. He’d tell me he wanted the best for me, but it would tear me apart. It was better not knowing.
Blake thought I was capable of anything, and maybe when it came to learning how to run the ranch or choosing a major and sticking with it, I was, but I wasn’t capable of surviving rejection from him. It would be easier to leave when I was forced to than to know it was what Blake wanted.
When we were seated in the truck, Blake frowned at me. “You seem to be thinking hard about something. Are you worried about how I plan to help you?”
“Oh, no. You can just surprise me.”
He reached for my hand across the console. “We can figure this out, Riley. Things are going to be so much better for you when you leave the ranch.”
“What if I…”
“What if you what?”
I shook my head. “Nothing.”
“I know there’s something you aren’t telling me, baby.”
My heart pounded. If he pushed me, I might just blurt out “I love you.”
“Don’t make me say it, Daddy.”
He let go of my hand and brushed my hair back from my face. “I won’t, but just know I’m here to listen.”
I did, but I couldn’t risk how he would respond.
As he drove, he pointed out a few more restaurants he enjoyed, and I pointed out the club I used to try to sneak into when I was home on breaks from boarding school. I’d only gotten in a few times, and I’d acted like an idiot, offering myself to basically anyone. I was lucky nothing worse happened than me waking up in a strange guy’s apartment, not sure how I got there and having to figure out how the hell I was going to get back to my car.
He growled. “Don’t even tell me about the stupid stuff you did back then.”
I grinned, loving that he was both jealous and annoyed that I’d been reckless with myself. I was sure he’d heard rumors about how wild I was or heard my dad yelling at me. “I won’t. I needed a Daddy to keep me on track back then.”
He patted my thigh. “Well, you have one now.”
But for how long?
“Did you at least take better care of yourself in college?”
“Yeah. I… I was safe. I got tested and everything if you’re worried.”
His warm hand squeezed me. “I wasn’t. You’d have told me if there was anything I needed to know.”
“How do you know that?”
I saw his lip quirk up, but he kept his gaze on the road. “I just do.”