Husbands on Horseback (Long Tall Texans #15)(10)

By: Diana Palmer & Margaret Way


Hank stepped in between her and the policeman. “I think she’ll need some rest after today’s excitement, but I’m sure she appreciates the offer, Matt.”

The words didn’t match the dark threat in his eyes. Matt had only been teasing, although if he’d really wanted to take Dana out, all the threats in the world wouldn’t have stopped him.

“You’re probably right,” Matt agreed. He winked at Dana. “But the offer stands, just the same.”

She smiled at him. He really was nice. “Thanks, Matt.”

The law enforcement people said their farewells and went off to bigger tasks, leaving Dana and Joe and Hank standing aimlessly in the front yard.

“I’ll get home now, Miss Mobry. So glad you’re all right,” Joe said again.

“Thanks, Joe,” she replied. “I’m sorry for all the trouble you had.”

“Not to worry.”

He ambled off. Dana folded her arms over her breasts and glared furiously at Hank.

He had his hands deep in his pockets. He looked more uncomfortable than she’d ever seen him.

“Well, how was I to know you hadn’t done something desperate?” he wanted to know. “I said some harsh things to you.” He averted his eyes, because it disturbed him to remember what he’d said. In the few days Dana had been missing, he’d done a lot of remembering, mostly about how big a part of his life Dana was, and the long friendship he’d shared with her. He’d had no right to belittle the feelings she had for him. In fact, it had rocked his world when he realized how long he’d been deliberately ignoring them. He was torn between his lingering love for Betty and his confused feelings for Dana. It was an emotional crisis that he’d never had to face before. He knew he wasn’t handling it very well.

Dana didn’t budge an inch. “I’ve already decided what I’m going to do, in case you had any lingering worries,” she told him coolly. “If you can find a loophole, a way for us to break the will, I’m going to sell the place and go back to school. I have catalogs coming from three colleges.”

His face went rigid. “I thought you liked ranching.”

She made an amused, bitter sound. “Hank, I can’t even use a fence tool. I can’t pull a calf without help from Joe or Ernie. I

can feed livestock and treat wounds and check for diseases, but I can’t do heavy lifting and fix machinery. I don’t have the physical strength, and I’m running out of the financial means to hire it done.” She threw up her hands. “If I even tried to get a job at someone else’s ranch, with my lack of skills, they’d laugh at me. How in the world can I run a ranch?”

“You can sell it to me and I’ll run it for you,” he said curtly. “You can rent the house and stay here.”

“As what?” she persisted. “Caretaker? I want more than that from life.”

“Such as?” he asked.

“Never you mind,” she said evasively, because a ready answer didn’t present itself. “Did you talk to my lawyer?”

“No.”

“Then would you, please?”

He stuck his hands into his pockets. “Listen, Dana, no court in Jacobsville is going to throw out that will on the grounds that your father was incompetent. His mind was as sound as mine, and he knew business inside out.”

Her heart fell. “He might have been temporarily upset when he inserted that clause.”

“Maybe he was,” he agreed. “Maybe he’d had some chest pain or a premonition. I’m sure he meant it as a way to make sure you weren’t left alone, with no support, after he was gone. But his reasons don’t matter. Either you marry me or we both stand to lose a hell of a lot of money.”

“You don’t want to marry me,” she reminded him with painful pleasure. “You said so.”

He drew in a long, weary breath and searched her wan little face. “God, I’m tired,” he said unexpectedly. “My life is upside down. I don’t know where I’m going, or why. No, Dana, I don’t want to marry you. That’s honest. But there’s a lot riding on that will.” He moved his shoulders, as if to ease their stiffness. “I’d rather wait a few weeks, at least until Betty’s visit is over. But there’s a time limit as well. A month after your father’s death, I believe, all the conditions of the will have to be fulfilled.”

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