My father raised his brows. “A woman who knows how to ride, knows how to rope, and has a mind of her own. You will certainly make some lucky cowboy a very happy man someday.”
Timberlynn blushed again a
nd stole a quick peek in my direction.
“Don’t you think, Tanner?” my father asked.
Without taking my eyes off of Timberlynn, I gave her a smile that I hoped like hell screamed how much I wanted her. “I do believe you’re right, Dad. A lucky man, indeed.”
Blayze came running out and up to Timberlynn. “Miss Timberlynn, I was wondering if I might be able to sit next to you at dinner tonight.”
I stared down at my nephew in utter disbelief. “Dude, you’re putting the moves on my girl?”
Timberlynn’s gaze shot back over to me, and I ignored the surprised look on her face.
Blayze nodded and looked thoughtful for a moment. “Uncle Tanner, I called dibs on dinner, you got a date with her the other day. Miss Timberlynn, dinner tonight?”
Timberlynn was clearly trying not to laugh and doing a pretty good job of holding it in.
“Damn, son, what are you doing?” Brock said as he walked over and picked up Blayze, making him laugh as he tossed him over his shoulder. “You just got home from school, and you’re already putting the moves on someone? And what did we talk about with the whole calling of dibs?”
“Dad!” Blayze protested.
“She’s too old for you.”
“Aw, Dad, you’re embarrassin’ me in front of Miss Timberlynn!”
Timberlynn covered her mouth with her hand to hold back her laughter—at least until Brock took Blayze far enough away that he wouldn’t hear it.
“What is it with you Shaw men?” she asked, watching my brother and nephew walk away.
I shrugged. “I guess once we know when we want something—or someone—we fight for it.”
Timberlynn dropped her hand to her side and gave me a serious look. It was her eyes, though, that threw me. They were filled with sadness. “What if that something or someone isn’t…worth it?”
She nearly had me pulling her onto my horse, taking her away from everyone, and demanding why in the hell she felt like she wasn’t worth it.
“You are worth it, Timber.”
With a noncommittal shrug, she forced a smile. Before I could say anything else, my mother called out. “Enough playtime! It’s time to bake. Let’s go!”
“This year my sugar cookies will be better than yours, Tanner!” Ty called out as he helped a few of the ranch hands herd up the steers to put back out in the pasture.
Timberlynn’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “Wait, y’all are going to be baking with us girls?”
I feigned a look of shock as I moved my horse back toward the barn. “Are you trying to say baking isn’t something men can do? Did I have that reaction to you when you said you wanted to rope? Not only women can be in the kitchen, ya know.”
Another beautiful laugh slipped free from her soft pink lips. Lips that I longed to kiss again. “I would never say that.”
“Come on, help me with the horses, and then we’ll go show Ty and Kaylee how to decorate the shit out of some sugar cookies.”
She rode Rosie next to me, and as we slipped off the horses and started to take the saddles off, Timberlynn ducked her head under Trigger’s neck and looked at me with a worried expression.
“I should probably disclose to you that I’ve never made sugar cookies, let alone decorated them.”
She nodded. “You might want to pick a different partner.”
I slipped under Trigger and stood in front of her. I placed my finger on her chin and tilted that beautiful face up so I could look directly into her eyes.
“You are the only partner I want.”
“What if I’m not good enough at the decorating part?”
I slowly shook my head as I leaned down and kissed her gently on the lips. “Trust me, I know a good thing when I see it, darlin’.”
Her breath caught for a moment as our eyes locked.
I was going to listen to Brock’s advice. I’d be patient, because it was obvious there was something behind the sadness in her eyes. A reason for those walls. But I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to fight for this woman, because I knew deep in my heart, I was truly starting to fall in love with her.
After Tanner and I took care of our horses, blanketed them, and turned them out, we headed toward the house. I wasn’t surprised when he took my hand in his, and I fought the urge to pull it away, while at the same time holding on as tightly as I could.
I was confused. Lord, I was so confused. I wasn’t sure I could open my heart, even though I desperately wanted to. I needed things to go slow, and the way things were going between the two of us, slow didn’t seem to be in the cards.
It had taken everything out of me not to burst out with the news about the property Kaylee had showed me earlier. It had been perfect, and the moment I laid eyes on the darling, completely restored farmhouse, I knew it was the place I belonged. It was two-hundred acres of land tucked up against the Bitterroot Mountains, and the barn was perfect for all my needs. There was a large indoor arena, as well as one outside. Even in the winter months I could keep training horses.
Before we walked into the house, I pulled Tanner to a stop. “Tanner, I need to tell you something.”
He faced me, his expression serious. “Okay. Out here or would you rather go inside?”
I shook my head, still not exactly sure what I was going to say. I glanced down as my hands twisted together nervously. Was it about the property? My decision to move to Montana? The truth about my trust issues with men? How utterly terrified I was of letting anyone in?
I’d only given my heart fully to two people. And they had ended up leaving me in some form or fashion. For years I struggled with why my mother had been taken from me when I was little. With my father’s refusal to ever talk about her, it was like I lost her over and over again. Then my father’s lack of interest in me seemed to be the ultimate betrayal. I always came back to the same conclusion: I wasn’t good enough to have a mother in my life. I hadn’t been good enough to help my father heal from my mother’s death.
When I looked back up at Tanner, his brows were pulled down slightly, and those pale blue eyes stared directly into mine. “We can go into my father’s office—it’s too cold to stand out here and talk.”
“That sounds good,” I agreed as I followed him through the back door and into the large mud room. After I took off my coat and gloves, Tanner took them from me and hung them up. He truly was such a gentleman. I’d never had a man treat me like I was the only thing they thought about in the moment. I liked how that made me feel, and I felt myself smile.
“Follow me,” he said with a grin that made my heartbeat race faster.
As we walked into the kitchen, I noticed everyone was already here. Lincoln glanced over and noticed us first. She had Morgan in her arms and gave me a wink when I met her gaze. How in the world was she going to bake while holding a baby? Tanner walked over to his dad. “Can we use your office for a second, Dad?”
Ty Senior looked up from the dough he was already mixing. “Of course.”
Tanner gave him a quick nod of thanks, and then started walking out of the kitchen. I envied the relationship this family had with one another. How many times had I longed for a family like this? Too many to even count anymore.
Hardly anyone even noticed we had left. You could feel the excitement in the room, but even that couldn’t lift my suddenly darkened mood. After being so happy with the find earlier, I was quickly falling into a depression, and I had no idea why.
Damn it all to hell! Why did I have to be so afraid to open up my heart?
We walked through the living room and to an area of the house I hadn’t been in yet. Tanner opened a door at the very end of the long hallway and stepped inside. I scanned the room when I walked in. It screamed Ty Senior.
Pictures and paintings of cattle, horses, and what looked like places on the ranch were placed on every single wall. On one was a col
lection of paintings and drawings that looked to be from all the boys, Blayze included. I walked up to them and grinned as I read the names.
Brock Shaw, age nine. Beck S, age six. TJ, age eleven. Then I came to a painting of a horse. It was done amazingly well, even though you could tell small hands painted it. My heart tumbled as I read the name. Tanner Michael Shaw. Twelve.
I slowly shook my head. “You painted this at twelve years of age?”
The painting was of a buckskin running in an open green pasture. It was dotted with what looked like flowers. I recognized the view. It was looking down from the ridge he had taken me up to on my second day here. The sky in the back was a beautiful mixture of pinks, oranges, and yellows as the sun sank low on the horizon.
Tanner walked up and stood next to me. “I did. I was bored out of my mind one spring day, and my mother challenged me to go paint something on the ranch. It was when I discovered the ridge. I mean, I’d been up there before plenty of times, but that was the day I saw its true beauty. I started to paint it, and then waited for the sun to start setting so I could see what the sky looked like. I quickly painted what I saw, and then got my butt home. I don’t even want to tell you the trouble I got into with my mama for getting back to the barn near dark.”
I chuckled as I glanced from the picture to him. He was staring at it with a smile on his face.
With a spin around the office, I took the rest of it in. A large leather sofa sat at one end of the room. A giant picture window was behind it, and I gasped as I saw the view. A rolling pasture made way to a mountain range that was fairly close to the house. The way the sun reflected off the snow made it sparkle like a million diamonds. It was truly stunning. On the other side of the room was a large fireplace with two oversize leather chairs on either side. I imagined the boys playing in this room when they were younger.
“My goodness. Every single room in this house I swear has a different view.”
Tanner chuckled. “You should see the view from my bedroom.”
I turned and slightly raised a brow. “I’m sure it’s equally impressive.”
He laughed. “I like to think so.”