But they were independent.
Jacob was too young for that. He was just a child, and needing was part of his life.
Yet whenever she called him, which had been daily, he’d been distant, reserved. She understood.
Still, protective feelings welled up. So did frustration and, yes, a good amount of bitterness and humiliation, for her mother hadn’t left a will. She’d left no information about her other child-Delia.
She’d meant that little to her own mother.
As a result, she was last in line for Jacob now. And because of his sizable inheritance from his deceased father, the court was doubly leery of Delia’s request. It didn’t help that she didn’t have a penny to her name. She worked sixty hours a week trying to make a success of their guest ranch, but the fact remained-she was a poor nobody.
It was natural to think of Constance ’s inheritance, the one Delia hadn’t cared about until now. If she was owner of the Triple M…well, that would be different, right? She’d have collateral, a real job. Importance.
The court would have to consider her seriously then. As much as she hadn’t wanted to believe it, money did make the world go around.
The wind blew, making her shiver. Reminding her that she was all too mortal. Reminding her that she was nearly twenty-six years old and still wishing for her prince to save her. He’d sure come in handy now, because no one could laugh at her if she was married to royalty. He’d be mature and kind. He’d love her above all else.
He would not be big and broody and tough and rugged.
He would not be rowdy and mischievous.
He would not be anything like Cade McKnight.
“I’m done riding,” she said.
“You mean you’re done with me.”
“Nothing personal,” she muttered.
Which had him letting out a grim laugh. “Like hell.” But he turned his horse away without another word, almost as if he was just as eager as she to be alone.
They made it halfway back to the ranch in silence. She watched the landscape, and Cade watched her. She felt his gaze on her hair, her face. Her body.
She was used to men staring at her. Men had always stared at her since she’d hit maturity-it was a fact of life. She was five foot eight, willowy yet curvy, and blond. And yes, she supposed, beautiful.
To her, it was a curse.
But Cade’s gaze was different, she had to admit. It made her feel funny, rubbery in her limbs, liquidy in parts of her anatomy she didn’t usually pay attention to. And if a portion of her, a deep private portion, tingled with a strange anticipation, she could ignore it.
She was not attracted to him.
“I’m your friend, Delia,” Cade said into their awkward silence. “Or I could be.”
It was just a word-friends. There was no reason for her heart to tip on its side.
No reason at all.
“We’re not. You usually ignore me, and if you don’t, we can hardly stand in the same room without shooting sparks off each other.”
The expression on his face made her toes curl.
“You going to deny it?” she pressed.
He let out a short almost baffled laugh as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Hell, no. Maybe I used to be able to ignore you. But then I found you crying in the kitchen. It’s the funniest damn thing, but now I can’t get that out of my mind. And yeah, we shoot sparks off each other, enough to light up the city of Boise with electricity for a year, and it only seems to get worse.”
She nodded, satisfied.
Then he shattered that satisfaction. “But lust tends to do that.”
“Who said anything about…”
“Lust?” His crooked grin was appealing enough to coax one out of a saint. “Because you do realize that’s what those sparks are, right?”
“Dream on, McKnight.” She pulled back on the reins and was grateful when her horse actually stopped. “This isn’t about lust or even friendship.”
Cade stopped his horse, as well, again with no visible sign or word. “What, then?”
“Ego?” He looked shocked.
“Foolish male pride. Whatever you want to call it.”
He stared at her for a second, then threw back his head and laughed. The rich sound echoed around them while she gritted her teeth.
Eventually his amusement died and he sighed as he wiped away a tear of mirth. “I’m not certain what kind of jerks you were used to in L.A. But out here in the real world-” he snagged her reins and pulled her horse in close “-we do things different.”
With one hand in front of her holding the leather, his other behind her bracing himself on the seat of her saddle, he leaned close. So close she could see that his eyes weren’t just dark brown as she’d thought, but layered with golden specks that danced with the sunlight. So close she could smell the one-hundred-percent male scent of him.
So close she could do nothing but catch her breath and stare, feeling completely surrounded.
Good Lord, he just might be right about the lust part. “A man is a man,” she managed, proud of her steady voice.
“Wrong,” he whispered. “And any time you want me to show you how different some men can be…” His voice had gone husky. His gaze dipped to her mouth, made her tummy flutter again. “You just tell me.”
“Never going to happen.” Her voice wasn’t so steady now.
He noticed and, damn him, his lips quirked. “Never say never.”
She thought it would be safe to say it in this case, but she wisely kept her mouth shut.
And they rode the rest of the way back to the Triple M in complete silence.
The Triple M Guest Ranch was to be open from Thursday to Sunday every week. Originally they hadn’t planned to accept guests during the autumn and winter months at all, but financial problems had forced them to give it a try.
The reservations had started to trickle in, giving the sisters tentative hope of success.
The rumor was, autumn in Idaho was heaven on earth. At least that’s what their brochure claimed. And for those who enjoyed the unique-and drastic-weather, it was true.
Delia didn’t get it.
The spiders were huge, the air so cold it hurt to breathe and the water so soft she couldn’t do a thing with her hair.
But she absolutely loved being with her sisters, loved watching them get a kick out of life for a change, and there was no denying that they loved this existence.
She’d learn to love it, too, she decided. For them. So she carried bug spray, wore lots of warm layers and kept her hair pulled back so she couldn’t see it.
Now she walked through the large ranch house, which they’d worked so hard on to clean up. What a job that had been. Everything had been in a sorry state of repair when they’d first arrived last summer. With little more than the clothes on their backs, they’d been sorely challenged to make a go of it, but no one was better at surviving than Zoe, Maddie and Delia.
Delia’s boots clicked on the clean but scarred wood floors. Around her, the house creaked in the wind, a happy sort of sound. She stopped at the hall telephone, thinking she’d like to call Jacob, but it was too late. Besides, one more strained phone call between them and she might break. She had to remain strong. It gave her hope.
She moved to the sliding glass door in the living room, which led to the wraparound deck. They had one week until their grand opening, and aside from the sound of the wind in the eaves, the house was quiet and peaceful.
Normally Delia loved whatever time she could grab for herself, but now she had too much time to think.
It didn’t help that Cade was still on the ranch, driving her to distraction with his light teasing and hot eyes. He was nothing but a thorn in her side, but granted, he was the sexiest thorn she’d ever had. Thank God he wasn’t a man to stay in one place long enough for a post office to find him. He’d be off soon, she was sure of it. That was how he was made, with a powerful wanderlust she would never understand.