Husbands on Horseback (Long Tall Texans #15)(8)

By: Diana Palmer & Margaret Way


He made a sound through his nose. “Then what was that this morning out in the pasture?” he chided.

“Lust!” she threw at him.

He picked up his hat and studied her with cold contempt. “I’ll see what I can do about the will. You could contact your mother,” he added pointedly. “She’s wealthy. I’m sure she won’t let you starve.”

She folded her arms across her breasts. “I wouldn’t ask my mother for a tissue if I was bleeding to death, and you know it.”

“These are desperate circumstances,” he said pointedly, a little calmer now.

“My circumstances are no longer any of your business,” she said in a voice that was disturbingly calm. “Goodbye, Hank.”

He slammed his hat over his eyes and went to the front door, but he hesitated with the doorknob in his hand and looked over his shoulder. She was pale and her eyes were shimmering. He knew she was grieving for her father. It must be scary, too, to have her inheritance wrapped around an impossible demand. If he didn’t marry her, she was going to lose everything, even her home. He winced.

“Goodbye,” she repeated firmly. Her eyes startled him with their cold blue darkness. She looked as if she hated him.

He drew in a short breath. “Look, we’ll work something out.”

“I’m twenty-two years old,” she said proudly. “It’s past time I started taking care of myself. If I lose the ranch, I’ll get a grant and go back to college. I’ve already completed the basic courses, anyway.”

He hadn’t thought that she might go away. Suddenly his life was even more topsy-turvy than before. Betty was on her way back to town, Dana’s father had tried to force him into a marriage he didn’t want and now Dana was going away. He felt deserted.

He let out a word that she’d never heard him use. “Then go, if you want to, and be damned,” he said furiously. “It will be a pleasure not to have to rescue you from half a dozen disasters a day.”

He slammed the door on his way out and she sank into a chair, feeling the sudden warm wetness of the tears she’d been too proud to let him see. At least now she knew how he felt about her. She guessed that she’d be well-advised to learn to live with it.

The rest of the day was a nightmare. By the end of it, she was sick of the memories in the house. Grief and humiliation drove her to the telephone. She called Joe, the oldest of her two part-time workers on the ranch.

“I’m going away for a couple of days,” she told him. “I want you and Ernie to watch the cattle for me. Okay?”

“Sure, boss lady. Where you going?”

“Away.”

She hung up.

It only took her a few minutes to make a reservation at a moderately priced Houston hotel downtown, and to pack the ancient gray Bronco she drove with enough clothes for the weekend. She was on her way in no time, having locked up the house. Joe had a key if he needed to get in.

She spent the weekend watching movies on cable and experimenting with new hairstyles. She drifted around the shops downtown, although she didn’t buy anything. She had to conserve her money now, until she could apply for a grant and get into college. On an impulse she phoned a couple of colleges around the area and requested catalogs be sent to her home address in Jacobsville.

The runaway weekend had been something of an extravagance, but she’d needed to get away. She felt like a tourist as she wandered around all the interesting spots, including the famed San Jacinto monument and the canal where ships came and went into the port city. Heavy rain came on the second day, with flash flooding, and she was forced to stay an extra day or use her Bronco as a barge, because the streets near the hotel were too flooded to allow safe travel.

It was late Monday before she turned into the long driveway of her ranch. And the first thing she noticed as she approached the farmhouse was the proliferation of law enforcement vehicles.

Shocked, she pulled up and turned off the ignition. “What’s happened? Has someone broken into my home?” she asked the first uniformed man she met, a deputy sheriff.

His eyebrows went up. “You live here?” he asked.

“Yes. I’m Dana Mobry.”

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