He looked at me and smiled weakly. “Must be the Shaw family. I opened up to your father this morning as well.”
I grinned, then looked back out over the ranch. “Sir, please forgive me if you think I’m interfering in your life with what I’m about to say.”
When he didn’t say anything, I went on.
“I think maybe you and Timberlynn are long overdue for a heart-to-heart. And, I think you could do with speaking with someone. My brother Ty went through a rough patch a few years ago, and he sees a therapist. It might do you some good being away from familiar grounds, talking to someone neutral. Heck, just talking to someone at all.”
I looked over and saw him nod.
When he didn’t say anything, I let out a slow breath, then said, “Should we catch up with my father and Brock?”
He stared straight ahead and smiled. “Yes, I think we should. And Tanner?”
We faced each other and he looked directly at me. “I didn’t mean to come off as not liking you when we were coming back from the airport. You seem like a fine young man and I trust my daughter to know what she’s doing. But if you ever hurt her, I’m honestly not sure I could keep myself from hurting you.”
I tipped my hat at him. “Noted. And for the record, I’d lay down my life to protect her, sir. Everything I do, I do it for her.”
He clapped me on the shoulder and grinned. “Thank you for taking care of our girl. Let’s go catch up with your daddy and brother, shall we?”
I paced the kitchen and rubbed my hands together as Stella and Kaylee sat at the small table and drank coffee.
“Timberlynn, you’re starting to make me tired with the walking back and forth. Will you please sit down?” Kaylee said.
“Where do you think they are? You said Ty Senior and Brock went as well?”
Stella nodded. “Ty and Frank actually went out a bit earlier for a ride together before they met up with Tanner and Brock, I believe.”
I was positive my eyes nearly jumped out of my head. “What? Why did they go out earlier, just the two of them?”
Stella laughed. “They seemed to have hit it off.”
“Right. The cigars and all,” I said as I went back to pacing. “This isn’t my father. He doesn’t do sitting on back porches, bullshitting, or riding. I didn’t even know my father rode horses!”
Kaylee gave me a sympathetic smile. “Why don’t you grab a few blueberry muffins, slather some butter all over them, sit down, and eat your emotions.”
“I can’t eat, my stomach is upset. Do you think he likes Tanner?” I asked as my gaze bounced between the two of them.
“Why wouldn’t he?” Kaylee asked.
“Of course, he does. What’s not to like?” Stella countered.
At that, I smiled. Then I saw Kaylee pick up a stick of butter and take a bite out of it. I blinked a few times to make sure I was seeing correctly. Another bite and I gagged.
“Oh my gawd!” I cried. “You just ate butter, Kaylee!”
She glanced down, and then looked back up at me. “Can you hand me a blueberry muffin if you’re not going to eat one?”
I shot a look at Stella who simply gave me a sweet smile. After getting a muffin for Kaylee, I handed it to her.
“Thanks!” she said as she took a bite of the muffin, then another bite of the butter. “Hmm, so good.”
I slapped my hand over my mouth as I gagged again. Stella jumped up and started to guide me out of the kitchen.
I went to glance back, and she said, “Don’t look back, it’s for the best.”
“But…she…the butter…she ate it!”
Stella nodded. “Yes, I know. Don’t even get me started on what she ate that made poor Blayze throw up.”
“What?” I cried out as Stella walked us into her sewing room and shut the door. “She made Blayze throw up?!”
“Yes, and Lincoln wasn’t too far behind. But luckily Brock got her out of the kitchen while I tended to Blayze. Morgan sat in her highchair oblivious to all of it. The joys of being a baby.”
I opened my mouth to ask what it was she ate, then quickly shut it.
“Smart move, sweetheart. You don’t want to know.”
“Ugh. Why does pregnancy make women eat such weird things?”
She shrugged and motioned for us to sit down on the small sofa. “I’m not sure, but when I was pregnant with Ty and Brock, I had the urge to eat dirt.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Dirt?”
“Yes,” she replied with a slight chuckle. “Ty Senior swears I snuck off and ate some, and that’s why the boys love to bull ride so much.”
Stella rolled her eyes while I shook my head in disbelief. Then she took my hands in hers. “Timberlynn, stop worrying so much about your daddy. He’s fine. Tanner is fine, all is going to be fine.”
“Stella, I don’t have a relationship with my father like you and Ty Senior do with the boys. I feel like I hardly even know him. He’s never been there for me in all the years I’ve grown up, and honestly, I’m afraid to start counting on him now. Look what he did with the Covey place.”
“Timberlynn, I never had a little girl, but you, Lincoln, and crazy-eating Kaylee out there are my daughters. I know you’re not married to Tanner, but I think of you as family. And I know that what you and Kaylee grew up with is completely different than how my boys grew up. But I saw something in your daddy last night and this morning that tells me there’s going to be some healing between the two of you. Just take a deep breath, and let it be.”
I closed my eyes and blew out a breath. “Let it be.”
“Yes. Let it be. There’s something in the Montana air, just trust it.”
my eyes. “I want him in my life, Stella. I truly do. But I know the moment I let myself believe he’ll be there, he’ll be gone again.”
She squeezed my hand. “I know how to cheer you up. Put your coat on—we’re going to visit the Pocket Kings.”
“Is that a horse?”
She stared at me with a dumbfounded look on her face and then laughed. “No, sweetheart. We’ve got some work to do. Let’s go.”
Two hours later and I was laughing alongside Stella as she taught me how to play Texas Hold’em. I heard my father’s voice behind me and turned to see him standing there, a smile on his face and a gleam in his eyes. I don’t think I had ever seen him look so at ease.
“You two look like you’re having fun,” he said as he glanced down at the cards in our hands.
“I’m teaching your daughter how to play Texas Hold’em. Once every few months we all get together for a fun—and profiting—game of family poker. The women are on a winning streak the last few months, and I’d like to keep it that way. Game night is next week.”
I laughed and placed my cards on the table as I looked at Stella. “Full house.”
She pretended to wipe a tear away as she smiled and nodded. “Yes, indeed. You will make a fine addition to the women’s team, especially with Kaylee and her pregnancy eating. She might eat a can of Crisco and be out for the entire game.”
We all laughed as my father came and sat down at the small table that was in the main barn’s office.
“How was your ride?” I asked as my heart sped up a bit.
“It was great. This ranch is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, Stella.”
Pride showed on her face as she grinned. “I won’t argue with you on that. Well, look at the time. Do you know how to play, Frank?”
“It’s been a while, but yes.”
Stella handed me the cards and stood. “Enjoy, then. I’m off to start a late lunch.”
“Thank you, Stella, I had fun.”
She winked and replied, “So did I, sweetheart. Work up a good appetite, Frank, I’m making burgers with homemade fries.”