Brock laughed again. “That was a long time ago and only a one-time thing.” He frowned, though, and looked around once more. “Last I saw him, he had taken Merit to look at the ranch survey.”
Lincoln, Kaylee, and Timberlynn all exchanged a look. “That’s funny. Dirk is missing. Merit is missing. Interesting,” Kaylee mused.
“Don’t go starting anything with that, Kaylee,” Ty warned. “That happened a long time ago, and I doubt Merit wants anything to do with Dirk’s whorish ways.”
Kaylee shrugged. “Stranger things have happened.” I laughed as she pointed to each of the Shaw brothers.
“A toast, before the New Year rolls in!” my mother shouted. “To love, happiness, family, and health!”
“Well said!” Brock called out as everyone took a drink of champagne. Well, everyone but Lincoln and Kaylee. They both held up glasses of water.
“One minute!” Dad yelled out.
Timberlynn pulled out her phone from the small purse she had tucked under her arm. She stared at it, and I instantly saw the tears forming in her eyes.
“Hey,” I asked, tipping her chin up so our eyes met. “Is everything okay?”
“Twenty seconds!” Ty cried out.
She nodded. “My dad sent me a text. He said Happy New Year and that he loved me.”
I smiled. “That’s a good thing, right?”
Timberlynn chewed on her lip. “Yes.”
“Come here,” I said as I drew her closer to me.
I used my thumb to wipe away the tear that had started to fall down her beautiful face.
“I’ll fix it all, Timber. I swear to you.”
Happy New Year was shouted as I leaned down and kissed her lips gently, fireworks exploding above us.
The whole world faded away as Timberlynn wrapped her arms around my neck, and I laughed as she kissed me.
I loved this woman; I felt it in the depths of my heart and soul. And I knew exactly how to make good on the promise I had just made her.
My father and two brothers stared at me like I had lost my mind.
“Tanner, you can’t be serious,” Brock said, his arms folded across his chest and a serious expression on his face.
“I’ve seen that look before,” Ty stated. “He’s dead serious.”
“What do you expect to gain from flying to Georgia and talking to Timberlynn’s father?” Dad asked.
“Well, for one thing, I’m going to tell him I’m in love with his daughter and to ask him to come to Montana.”
“You’re going to do what?!” Ty said, his eyes wide. “Do you think it’s wise to tell her father you’re in love with her when you’ve only been dating for a month or so?”
It had been exactly a month and some change since Timberlynn and I had officially started dating. After the New Year, my folks and I quickly worked on me buying the lake house, and I had moved in a few days ago. My folks sold me the house fully furnished, but there were still a few things I wanted to do to update things and make it my own. Timberlynn decided she would move in with me, but she was still keeping an eye out for her own place to buy. And she had made arrangements to speak with the Peterson’s about buying some of their land that backed up to the parcel of the ranch that I now owned.
I followed my father’s advice and hadn’t pressed the issue of Timberlynn starting her business on the ranch. She had also insisted on paying me rent, which had caused our first fight. It didn’t last long, and we both agreed she would pay the utilities. Then we had make-up sex on the kitchen island.
My father sighed, took off his hat, and ran his fingers through his hair before he carefully placed it on top of his head again. “Tanner, a lot has happened in your world in the last month. You’ve retired from ropin’, you bought a house, and you entered into your first real relationship.”
“I dated in high school, Dad. I’m not a relationship virgin.”
“Son, high school doesn’t count. You are living with Timberlynn. This is a relationship, not sex in the back of your truck and a trip to Sonic afterwards for dinner and a chocolate shake.”
Ty and Brock both laughed, and I shot them each a dirty look.
“You yourself said that this is the first time Timberlynn has been free to do what she wants. Now you’re asking her to set up shop in a place that isn’t hers.”
I rubbed the back of my neck and sighed. I knew he was right. Hell, Timberlynn and I were moving faster than fast, but it felt right.
“Fast is something we do in this family, Dad,” Brock said. “Look at how fast Lincoln and I went.”
“Lincoln was also pregnant and…”
Three sets of blue eyes looked at me. Ty and Brock suddenly seemed amused, and my father had a stern expression on his face. “Good Lord, tell me you haven’t gone and gotten the girl pregnant.”
I laughed. Only because now I could laugh. For a few weeks I did my fair share of silently freaking the fuck out until Timberlynn went to the doctor and got the all clear she wasn’t pregnant. She was now on birth control, though the doctor advised her to continue the condoms for at least a month. I even had the damn day marked in my phone when I could make love to her bareback again.
“Timberlynn is not pregnant.”
“Thank goodness,” my father said.
“Would that be a bad thing, Dad?” I asked.
“Yes, in a way. I want the girl to pursue her dreams, Tanner, and so should you.”
“I do want that. I’m not ready to have kids, but if it happened, I wouldn’t be upset either.”
“Christ Almighty, is there something in the water you boys are drinking? You all have lost your damn minds.”
All heads swung around to see Dirk walking up. Brock pushed off the wall and made his way over to him. “What are you doing here? I thought you were riding this weekend.”
“I am. I flew back in to help my folks with some repairs they needed done on the well.”
“I could have helped them,” I said.
Dirk gave me a smile and nodded his head. “I know, but it sounded like they were itching for me to come home for a few days. What’s this about kids?”
“Nothing,” I stated as I looked back at my father quickly. “I was trying to tell my dad and brothers that I think I need to go to Atlanta to talk to Lincoln’s father. I can’t stand to see the sadness in her eyes every time she mentions him. He sends her exactly one text a week now, and he ends it by asking her when she’s coming home.”
My father shook his head. “So strange.”
“I think there’s more to it,” Ty said.
“Like PTSD from the mother dying?” Dirk added.
I looked between the two of them. “What?”
Ty took in a deep breath and then exhaled. “From what Kaylee has told me, Timberlynn’s parents were the classic love story. Met in college, got married right after. She said she can remember her parents making comments about how the two were inseparable. The fact that the man has never remarried also says something.”
“From what Timberlynn says, he’s played the field. Maybe he likes the freedom of all the women,” I said.
“Or, he doesn’t want anyone in the same way that he wanted his wife. Didn’t you mention that Timberlynn said that if anyone her father dated got to close to her, he would break up with them?” my father asked.
I thought about it for a moment. “Yes. She did mention that. So, the dad doesn’t get married again because he was madly in love with his wife. I get that. But that doesn’t explain why he’s kept Timberlynn at arm’s length all these years. Why treat her like she isn’t even there?”
This time Brock spoke. “To guard his own heart. Maybe he was so heartbroken about his wife’s death, he figured he’d be safe if he kept Timberlynn at a distance. Out of fear of losing her too.”
I nodded. “That makes sense. But shouldn’t that be all the more reason for me to go and talk to him? He needs to know how much his daughter has needed him. I love her, and I don’t want to see her hurting like this. Plus, if he comes to Montana and sees how happy she is, he’ll back off the bullshit of blocking her from purchasing anything here.”
The four of them exchanged looks, and my father finally nodded. “Do you want me to fly out with you?” he asked.
“No, I don’t want him to think we’re double-teaming him,” I replied.
“True,” Brock stated.
Dirk cleared his throat and smirked. “My question is, are you going to tell Timberlynn you’re going to Atlanta to talk to her dad?”
My father, Ty, and Brock all looked my way, waiting for my answer.
I sat on the kitchen counter of the lake house and stared at Tanner. “You want to go to Atlanta? What on Earth for?”
Tanner tossed the kitchen towel over his shoulder and turned to face me. I licked my lips and tried not to ogle his body but failed. There was something incredibly sexy about this man cooking. He wore his signature jeans, a black T-shirt that showcased his broad chest and shoulders, and his hair was rumpled from his fingers raking through it all day. He had gotten into the habit of taking his cowboy hat off at the door, like at his folks’ house, and I loved it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing a hat on him too. But that brown hair, rumpled and sexy looking—Lord, it was one of my favorite things.