She turns to me with a raised eyebrow and a small, knowing smile on her lips.
“Yes, I’m going to marry her.” I sigh and close my eyes as calm settles over me. “If she’ll have me.”
“She’d be stupid to pass you up. You’re brilliant and funny, not to mention the handsomest man I’ve ever seen.”
“Zack will be happy to hear that,” I reply with a grin.
“He looks just like you, so it works for me.” She chuckles and then gets that gleam in her eye that says she has a great idea. “I’ll be right back.”
She leaves the kitchen just as the timer for the bacon dings, so I take it out and put it on paper towels to drain. Just as I set the pan aside, she’s back with a small black box.
“If you’d like, give this to her when you propose.” She hands me the box and I open it to find Gram’s diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring nestled inside.
“Mom, I can’t take this.”
“It’s an heirloom, of course you can.”
“Why didn’t you give it to Zack?” I ask, and take it from her.
“Because your grandmother might have had a problem with that, given that it was still on her finger when he married that woman. Besides,” she sniffs, and crosses her arms over her chest, “that little bitch was never going to get any of my jewelry.”
“Good girl.” I smile and kiss her on the forehead. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Who’s that?” Seth asks, and points out the window to the men and one woman standing in the back pasture. Josh is with them, and it’s like drinking water after being in the desert for months. I haven’t spoken to him since our angry phone call on Wednesday night.
I know he’s irritated about Ty being at my house, but is he punishing me for it? Because it sure feels like it.
“Have you seen them before?” I ask.
Seth twists his mouth in thought. “Yeah, they’ve been around off and on all week.”
“I bet they’re the Fish and Wildlife people,” I mutter, watching Josh wipe his forehead on the sleeve of his white T-shirt. His biceps flex with the motion, and my stomach clenches as I remember how it feels to have those arms tighten around me.
God, he’s gorgeous.
“Are we done?” Seth asks, interrupting my thoughts.
“Yeah, I’ll see you Monday. You get tomorrow off since I’ll be at the festival all day.”
“Yes!” He pumps his fist and grins.
“I’ll miss you too,” I mutter sarcastically, and he grins wider.
“I’ll miss you, but I won’t miss those worksheets.”
He waves as he leaves the house, and I’m disappointed to see that Josh and the others are gone when I look back outside.
I miss him so much.
I gather my things and head for my car, surprised to find Josh standing in his driveway with the others.
“Cara.” Josh’s head snaps around, his brown eyes wide, taking me in from head to toe as if he has missed me too.
He quickly walks to me and pulls me in for a long hug. I blink, keeping tears at bay, relieved that he’s holding me.
“We need to talk,” he whispers in my ear.
“I don’t have time now.” He backs away and brushes the backs of his fingers down my cheek and offers me a small smile, his dimple winking at me.
“Is everything okay?”
He sighs and shakes his head. “No. These guys”—he gestures and leads me over to where they’re standing—“are from the Fish and Wildlife department. The one wolf I thought I had killing my cattle is actually a pack of about eight.”
I gasp in surprise and take in everyone’s grim faces. “Eight?”
“Yeah,” Josh confirms as the others nod.
“We’re tracking them, but they’re sneaky bastards. We didn’t meet the last time I was here. I’m Erica.” She shakes my hand and smiles kindly.
“What will you do to them?” I ask.
“Kill them,” one of the other men replies matter-of-factly.
“Kill them?” I ask, surprised. “I thought they were endangered.”
“Not anymore.” Josh shakes his head and wipes his forehead on his sleeve again. “They’re overpopulated here now and can bankrupt a rancher or farmer if they’re not taken care of.”
“A small pack of wolves killed an entire flock of sheep east of the mountains last month,” the taller man agrees. “They don’t hunt to eat, they kill because they can. We’ve been tracking this particular pack. We didn’t realize they’d moved so close to the Lazy K.”
“I had no idea.” I slide my hands in my back pockets to keep from reaching out to Josh. “How many cattle have they killed?”
“Five calves since Monday,” Josh replies grimly.
“Oh my God, I’m sorry.”
“We’re pretty sure we know where they are. We’re heading out now to go track them.”
I stare longingly at Josh, wanting nothing more than a few minutes alone with him.
“Be safe,” I whisper instead.
“I’ll be fine, baby.” He kisses me quickly and turns to the others.
“I told you earlier, Josh,” Erica begins, “you don’t have to go with us.”
“My land, my problem.” His face is set in determined lines. “Let’s go.”
* * *
I lean my head back into the stream of hot water in my new and improved master bathroom and moan as it hits the tight muscles in my shoulders. I’m worried. I still haven’t heard from Josh, and now I don’t think I will today. It’s almost midnight.
I turn off the shower, twist my hair up in a towel, and when I begin drying off, I hear pounding. Loud, incessant pounding.
I secure the towel around me and hurry into the living room, toward the bam bam bam on my front door.
What the hell?
I fling the door wide, shocked to see Josh standing there, his jaw set and eyes intensely . . . fierce.
“I miss you,” he says, his voice strong, as his eyes roam over my face. “I miss you so damn much.”
I step back, allowing him to come inside, and once I shut the door, he gently cups my face in his palms and backs me against the wall.
“I’m so sorry about the other night, Cara.” He rests his lips on my forehead and takes a long, deep breath.