“Please tell me what happened.”
Riley sighed. “It’s okay, really. It’s a good thing, but I can’t tell you about it until you get here.”
He was not acting like his normal self. He’d never been this cagey with me. “What will your father say if I show up at the ranch?”
“He knows you’re coming, and he’s okay with it—or okay enough at least. You won’t see him. He’s still at the rehab center.”
What would’ve happened that Riley couldn’t tell me over the phone? “What if I ordered you to tell me what’s going on, boy?”
“Please, don’t. I really want this to be a surprise.”
If it was something good, why did he sound so scared? “It’s a six-hour drive at the best of times, and I have to talk to my mom and find someone to take my classes at the stable, but I’ll leave as soon as I can.” There was never any question that I was going to go.
“Thank you, Daddy.”
His words warmed me, but his voice was still shaky. “I wish you’d tell me more.”
“I know, but just trust me, okay?”
I knew how much that trust meant to him. “All right.” I glanced at the time. It was already after four. It was going to be a long evening on the road. “It will be late when I get there.”
“I’ll be waiting for you.”
Just like I’d been waiting for him, waiting for his call, waiting to start the next phase of my life until I knew he was where he needed to be.
It was nearly one in the morning when I knocked on the ranch house door. Riley yanked it open and pulled me into his arms before I could even set my bag down.
“Riley, you’ve really had me worried. What’s going on?”
“I told you I was fine. See?” He stepped back to let me get a look at him. Dear God, he did look good, more tanned, arm muscles more defined, and something—the secret he was keeping— had made his eyes especially bright.
“You look amazing.”
“I feel amazing.”
“So then why did you need me?”
He took my bag, placed it by the door, and took both my hands in his. “I don’t only want to see you when there’s trouble.”
“You insisted I drive all this way. Tonight. That implies there’s something more than you just wanting to hang out with me.”
He grinned. “There is. Walk with me.”
I followed him through the kitchen and out the side door. “Where are we going?”
“Up there.” He pointed to the hill where I’d found him when he’d run away after his father had berated him with questions about the ranch.
I’d never seen Riley in the mood he was in tonight, an odd mix of happiness and apprehension. I couldn’t help feeling uneasy as I followed him up to the old oak tree. Once we were there looking out at the pastures and gentle hills, he turned to face me. “What if you didn’t have to get your own place?”
I hadn’t been sure what to expect from him, but that question hadn’t even crossed my mind. “What do you mean?”
“What if you could have this ranch?”
I didn’t want to think about that. It was too painful. I missed this place every day. “Even if your dad wanted to sell, I couldn’t come close to affording an operation this size.”
Riley smiled. “What if you had a partner?”
Where was he going with this? Did he know someone who wanted to buy this place? He’d speculated his dad might want to sell. “With a partner I trusted, I guess I’d consider it. But Riley, you said you needed me. What’s going on?”
“The last calf was born yesterday. I met with my dad this afternoon, and once he saw the numbers I’d worked up for him, he had to admit I’d done a damn good job running the place.”
“That’s fantastic. I’m so proud of you.” Was that it? Did he want to tell me that in person? I didn’t need to drive all this way to hear it, but I couldn’t be sorry I had. Riley was finally right here in front of me again. I could touch him and smell him. I wanted to kiss him so badly, but I had to let him finish his explanation.
“Thanks.” It was hard to tell in the moonlight, but I was fairly sure he was blushing. “Dad and Leanne aren’t coming back here. They’re going to buy a house in Houston.”
“I guess that’s not too surprising. I never really saw her living out here anyway.”
“Me either. I just figured he’d break up with her before she moved in.”
We both smiled. “My dad offered to give me half my inheritance like we’d agreed.”
“Offered? Don’t tell me you didn’t take it.” I really hoped he hadn’t done something foolish.
“I asked if I could have this place instead, and he said yes.”