Release Date:October 6, 2009
Book Preview: "Courting Abby"
Clint Travers and Abby Martins had been best friends all their lives, until one night when it went too far.
Now four years later Abby had come home to her father's funeral and to spend Christmas with her mother. But she had a big surprise for Clint.
Clint couldn't believe Abby had kept their son a secret from him for all those years. He wanted his son, he wanted Abby, he had no idea how to get them.
His sister-in-law, Emma told him there was only one way, he'd have to Court Abby back into his life. It wouldn't be easy since she already had a boy-friend, but he was determined to have his family.
Clint Travers is a Rodeo Cowboy. He’d joined the Junior Rodeo Association and had been elected Chairman of the Board for the past three years. He had been gored by a bull named Bulldozer and left the Rodeo after having two surgeries that his family does not know about. Clint is one of 4 sons of Cal Travers of the 4 Bar None Ranch. Deke, the oldest is the strong stable one, Jake the silent one studying to be a lawyer, and Rusty is wet behind the ears.
The ranch used to be all male, but now, there is Emma for Deke and her daughter, Sammie Jo, age four. Clint loves Emma just like a sister. Deke was at one point jealous of their relationship. Abigail Martin came home from Dallas after her father, Ross died of a heart attack. Clint realized that he still loves her, not just as his best friend, but also as a woman. Abby tells Clint she is “practically engaged to John”. Clint discovers that Abby has a secret that she did not want him to know. Clint makes up his mind, with the help of Emma, that he is going to “court” Abby. Clint has not been out with a woman in three years. Because Clint is so rusty in the dating field, Emma has to show Clint all the ins and outs of courting Abby.
Bud, the foreman at the Martin Ranch quit the day of the funeral so Judy Martin, Abby’s mother, hires Clint as foreman until they can hire another one. This does not make Abby too happy. Clint moves into the bunkhouse. It definitely bothers Abby that Clint is so close. Will Abby break her engagement to John for Clint? Will she forgive him for the past? Will Judy, interfere once too often? Will Clint allow Abby to continue the farce?
This book, is as, if not, more entertaining than CHIEF COOK AND BOTTLE WASHER "Travers Brother Book 1. I love a good family story and this had all the elements that make you laugh and cry, and thank your lucky stars that you have a family. Ms. Hestand again goes all the way with your emotions. I have to give this one a 5. I definitely look forward to reading and reviewing anything that Rita Hestand writes.
by PHYLLIS....OF ROMANCE JUNKIES P
Reviewed by: Phyllis at Romance Junkies
"What's wrong, Clint? You look like you've just seen a ghost," Sal Mathews said, slapping Clint Travers on the back, and jolting his attention to the people in the restaurant once more.
Clint glanced from the crowded mall to his friend.
Shaking himself, he defied the uneasy anticipation that ran up his spine as he smiled at his friends. "She was probably just a hallucination."
Sal nodded with a big grin on his ruggedly handsome face. "Clint, you better quit chasin' those skirts, and find you a steady gal. It's high time you were married, boy."
Without another word, Clint handed the baby in his arms back to Sal's wife. Little Freddie, all of three months old didn't seem to want to leave the warmth of Clint's chest. Funny, but Clint didn't like giving him back, either. He was fond of children. Especially since his older brother Deke had married and had begun a family of his own. Fatherhood looked tempting. If only marriage didn't go with it. There was only one woman that could ever hold his heart, and she was strictly off limits. He'd decided many years ago that marriage was completely out of the question.
Little Freddie fussed as his mother reached to take him. For just a second, Clint imagined what it might be like, coming home to a little woman, and children, lots of children. He shrugged it off. It would never happen. Not now. Not after he'd messed up the one good thing in his life.
"Not me. Although I wouldn't mind having a little critter or two, myself."
Sal's wife Wendy shook her head, her large brown eyes narrowing on Clint with a serious frown. "It's a shame. You'd make a dandy father, Clint. Why, just look at you. You calmed little Freddie down just by picking him up. He likes you, and quite frankly, Little Freddie doesn't cater to many men. I swear, Clint, you are a living, breathing waste."
Clint gave Wendy a quick, sharp glance. That wasn't the first time he'd heard that, but it still stuck in his craw to hear it. "A waste. Just because I don't want to be saddled with a wife and white picket fence. Marriage is fine for some, but not me. I'm a rodeo bum, remember?"
"You don't have to be, you know. You chose to be." Wendy reminded.
While he was talking, his mind was on the apparition that he had probably imagined by the window of the restaurant. Through the throngs of Christmas shoppers, he had spotted her. Or, at least, he thought he had. Yeah, like a dozen times before.
He had to get out of here. He had to know if that was Abby or not!
Abigail Martin had been his neighbor. His best friend--until he ruined it. He wasn't prepared to run into her, and yet, he had to know for sure. But one glance from those see-all blue eyes of hers, and his groin reacted with a jolt. It had to be her. No woman had ever affected him the way Abby had.
He suddenly stood and grabbed his black Stetson from the back of his chair. He grabbed his black leather jacket, and straightened his bolero tie. "Say, do you mind if I take a raincheck on that drink at your place later?"
Sal reared back in his chair, and shot him a quizzical look. "Sure, Clint, any time. Only next time you're in town, don't wait so long to call us."
"I won't. It's been wonderful, but I need to tie a few loose ends up before I head home, if you don't mind," Clint said, running a gentle hand over little Freddie's red fuzzy hair. He'd only been with Sal a couple of hours, and already he was wondering what it might be like to have a few little cowpokes of his own. He had to quit thinking along those lines; it would do no good. He didn't deserve that kind of happiness.
Apprehension shot through him as his mind continued to narrow on Abby.
"Congratulations, he looks like he's going to grow up to be one fine little cowboy."
"Cowboy?" Wendy frowned up at him, her familiarity with Clint allowing that frown to linger. "Not on your life, Clint. He's going to be a doctor."
Clint tried not to let that remark rankle, but for some reason, it bothered him when women frowned on one of the oldest western professions. What was so darned wrong with being a cowboy? Why did all women think so poorly of cowboys these days? He shrugged off the hurt and pecked Wendy on the cheek and tipped his hat to Sal. "Good seein' you, partner."
"Same here. Don't be a stranger."
Clint didn't understand his own urgency. Or did he? A couple of more rounds with Wendy about cowboys, and he'd be out of there, anyway. He was too much of a gentleman to argue with her, but the lady needed setting straight. Cowboys had been the good guys once; what had happened to that image? If he couldn't convince his own family, how did he expect to convince friends? Not that every one of the Travers men weren't some kind of cowboy, but a rodeo cowboy had a stigma attached.
He should feel guilty leaving his friends he'd purposely looked up after suffering extreme boredom at the Cattleman's Association meeting. He wasn't a speechmaker; he was a cowboy. A rodeo cowboy, at that. Why Deke had sent him instead of Jake, he wasn't sure. And if Deke hadn't been so tied up at the ranch, he wouldn't be here.
Maybe he hadn't seen Abby, after all. Maybe he just needed an excuse to get away from those tied down feelings that Wendy kept talking about. He already felt the tension leaving his body, being replaced by a new urgency.
Marriage! He didn't need it. Some women took your heart and broke it, and the other kind of women he didn't deserve. Other women, like Abby. So, he'd learned a lesson the hard way, never again. One night with Abby proved that heaven really did exist. And made him ache to claim it. But there was an obstacle between his and Abby's happiness, and that obstacle was not one Clint thought he could fight and win. Her father!
He quickened his steps.
Something deep down told him he had seen Abby, and he had to follow that hunch. It was time for some sort of apology, because the one thing he knew for sure was that he'd missed her. He missed her laughter, her understanding nature, her gentle ways.
He rushed out into the Christmas shopping delirium. Seeing Abby renewed his sharp sense of guilt. He owed the woman, big-time. He'd be lucky if she'd speak to him. He deserved whatever he got, but he hoped she'd speak. He secretly hoped he could rekindle the friendship they had once shared.
He'd missed sharing things with Abby; all the times they'd sat all night in the barn, nursing some sick cow or the like, spilling their guts to each other. But then, no, that wasn't right, either. He'd spilled his. Abby rarely laid any of her troubles on him. No, it was mostly one-sided.
It didn't matter; they were friends. Good friends. They knew everything about each other. He could talk to her like no other woman. At times, he nearly forgot she was a woman. And he hadn't been with a woman since that night; the night he'd realized he'd lost the best thing in his entire life--Abby.
Of course, it might not have been Abby he'd seen, he reasoned. Wishful thinking again. Maybe his damn imagination was overplaying again. It wouldn't be the first time. The chances of her being here at this particular time of evening were not very good. He really hadn't gotten that good of a look at the woman hightailing it through the crowd. Maybe it was his conscience playing tricks on him. But deep down, Clint didn't think so. No one had such an angelic face, with beautiful long, straight, blonde hair and flashing blue eyes as Abby. And although he couldn't have seen the color of her eyes, he certainly had seen the flash of them. Not that she could see him. The restaurant window was tinted, and he doubted she could have gotten as good a look at him.
He had to know for sure. He only hoped he could find her in the mall of Christmas shoppers. Of all the times to spot her, in a throng of shoppers that was impossible to muddle through.
Christmas songs echoed in his ears as he watched kids scream with delight as they darted from one decorated window to another, and people bumped into him with their presents as he tried despairingly to track the one woman he knew didn't want anything to do with him.
He'd already kicked himself a dozen times for what he had done to her that night. He'd already planned what he'd say to her if he saw her again. And he suddenly realized, with stunning clarity, that he didn't know what to say to her anymore. How could a man apologize to woman for something like that?
That night had changed things, and not for the better, even though he knew with such clarity that he wouldn't change a moment of it. Before that night, he had only known he loved her, but after that night, he knew no other woman could take her place. Nothing would be the same again, and that realization hurt him more than he cared to admit. Dammit, he'd been such a fool. The story of his life. Any time anything good in life came along, he managed to screw it up.
Although no one said it, he considered himself the black sheep of the family; the one that didn't make anything of himself. Deke was the strong one, the one that everyone depended on in the family. Jake was the silent warrior always willing to defend, and then his younger brother Rusty was still a little wet behind the ears. Deke had stability, Jake an education, and Rusty the perseverance it took in life. Clint had nothing, as far as he could see. He was the one that didn't succeed in life. What did a broken down rodeo bull rider do when his bones got too busted up to let him ride?
Sure, he'd joined the Junior Rodeo Association, and had become a teacher. They'd elected him Chairman of the Board three years in a row. But what was he teaching? Young boys to learn how to break their necks? That held no future, he could tell them. And yet, Clint knew for a fact that if it was in your blood, there just wasn't anything you could do but rodeo. He only wished his brothers understood that a little better.
Unconsciously he gripped the back of his left leg where Bulldozer had gored him during that last ride. It ached in the winter. It ached in the summer. Hell, it ached all the time, but he'd learned to live with it. After two surgeries that his family knew nothing about, he was able to walk again without limping, and he had come home, for good. But it had taken that injury to wake him up and to realize that his life was going nowhere.
He followed what he thought was Abby into a store. A Christmas store, filled with the scent of holidays. Yeah, he sighed, Abby would be in here, if it really was her. She loved Christmas stores. Maybe she was Christmas shopping. Maybe he'd catch her, yet.
What was he going to say to her, if he found her? That made him almost stop and catch his breath. What could he say? "I'm sorry I made love to you and then ran out." God, he'd been nine kinds of a fool. Abby was the best friend he'd ever had. Man or woman.
Not that he had any notion of him and Abby ever getting together again. No, she was meant for someone better. She was special, in every way. He only hoped he could convince her how sorry he was. He hoped they could regain that friendship, a friendship that meant everything to him.
Scents of pine and cinnamon pierced his nose. Christmas music played in the background. Flashes of red and green were everywhere, red tinsel, red santa hats, green lights. How was he going to find her in all this?
He waded through the throngs of people, knocking over stacks of this and that, bumping into people with packages, and helping them pick them up as best he could, nearly knocking down displays over trying to catch up to the ever moving mirage. And just about the time he gave up, he spotted her.
Abby! His Abby!
She wore a long, thin, cashmere coat; her hair hung in one long silk tress down her back; her long bangs nearly hid her eyes. Abby wore it pinned at the sides and straight down her back. Thick and lustrous, he longed to touch it. His hand itched. His heart pounded. And a light sweat broke over his forehead. Damn, facing Abby was worse than facing Bulldozer! She was standing near the outside doorway, staring at a tree, decorated in all its Christmas finery.
That was his Abby. She loved Christmas more than anyone he knew.
"It's a beautiful tree, but how you gonna get it home with all that finery on it?" Clint asked, leaning against a display counter, a little away from her, and crossing his arms over his chest.
She turned around slowly, the tears in her eyes shimmering.
God, he hadn't expected this, the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, his friend, his Abby, and she was crying?
"Clint!" His name was like a whispered prayer on her lips. Even her soft, voice made his heart trip. All the shadows of his heart lifted in pure joy at seeing her.
"Abby?" God, what should he do now? He wanted to run and take her in his arms, but he knew better.
The sweet whiff of perfume floated about his nose, like an enticement meant to stir his senses. He smiled.
She came into his arms willingly. And he felt as though he'd come home after a long hard ride. He'd done it so many times over the years. But this time was different. This time, it wasn't a pony that hurt its leg, or a puppy that didn't make it into the world. This time, Abby cried aloud.
And she was sobbing her heart out.
Who'd hurt her? He'd kill them!
He scolded himself silently for thinking that way. Frightening anticipation shook him as he held her so close. It felt like old times. Yet, it didn't. He wasn't prepared for the shocking reaction of his body when full breasts pillowed against his chest, even through her thin coat and his heavier one, he felt over-stimulated. It was the last thing he wanted to feel around Abby. Awareness warned him to be careful, but he ignored it all, and pulled her closer.
She needed him right now, and he was there. That was the important thing
Her arms flew around his neck, and her lips barely grazed his cheek. Her light scent of flowers intoxicated him. He had never realized how he'd committed every detail about this woman to memory.
She felt different against him now, though, all grown up and filled out, so perfectly, shocking him into a reality that would later prove painful.
Just as suddenly as she had gone into his arms, she pulled away, as though having second thoughts of her actions. Her blue eyes surveyed him through ultra dark lashes that seemed to go on forever. He always had the sensation of heaven when looking into those eyes.
"I--I guess you've heard?" She almost whispered in a small choked voice.
"Heard?" He knew from the sound of her voice he probably should have, but he honestly didn't know what she was talking about.
"About dad . . .dying."
Clint's smile faded, and the blood drained from his face. He could feel it leaving; he didn't have to look in a mirror. A cold chill ran up his spine. Dear God, he'd never have guessed; Ross Martin had always seemed so healthy. He saw the pain in Abby's eyes, and wished with regret he could hold her again. Conflicting emotions choked him. His own personal feelings for Ross seemed unimportant.
"I didn't know, Abby. I've been gone." He whispered somewhere near her ear.
Abby swiped a tear from her cheek and pulled out of his arms, moving deliberately away from him. He moved away, too, to lean against the counter. She'd never know how weak-kneed a cowboy could get. Straightening herself, she looked back at the tree. "Yes, so have I."
"I'm so sorry, Abby," he muttered in a half strangled voice, not knowing how to comfort her any longer. Not knowing if he should try.
As though gathering her strength, she stiffened her back, and looked into his face. Her expression was soft and alluring all at once. "It was a heat attack. He didn't suffer long. Thank goodness."
"Damn, Abby." Clint shuffled his feet, feeling a little dizzy from holding her, and hearing such news all at once. "How's your Mom taking it?"
"Better than I expected," Abby said, looking at him strangely. "I mean, at first she crumpled, but by the time I arrived, she had regained most of her composure, and is facing this better than I'd ever believed possible."
"When's the funeral?" Clint asked, when a silence sliced the air between them.
"Tomorrow. You'll come, won't you?"
"Sure, of course I will. We'll all be there for you. Is there anything I can do, in the meantime? I mean, have all the arrangements been made. Do you know what he wanted?"
"Yes, he had a pre-paid funeral arrangement. Everything has been squared away." Abby glanced back at the tree. "There is one thing, though."
She paused staring at him for a full minute, then a shy smile broke across her face.
"Help me get this darn tree home, Clint."
It sounded just like the friend he knew. His Abby.
Clint came closer, trying to read her face. "The tree. This tree?" He pointed, then glanced at her for confirmation.
"Yes, you know how Mom loves big Christmas trees. And this one is so beautiful. I thought it might take her mind off it. I just asked, and it's the last one they have this size."
Clint glanced at the tree. Obviously Abby was over-wrought with grief. She couldn't buy a tree with decorations on it and take it home like one big Christmas present. But it didn't matter. If Abby wanted the tree, he'd get it home for her; he'd even help her decorate it.
"Sure, Abby, we'll get the tree."
Clint patted her hand, and went to find a salesman.
He didn't want to think about what the sight of her did to him again. He'd washed that away three years ago. But there was an ache inside him that even he couldn't ignore.
It took an hour to get the tree free of decorations, and another hour to get it tied down on top of his Suburban, but he did it, and Abby helped.
After securing it, Abby moved closer to him. He sensed her apprehension. However, a slight smile curled her lips. "Since when do you drive a Suburban?"
"Since I started working for the Junior Rodeo Association. Can't haul all those kids around in an open pickup. It's against the law, now."
"You're working for the Junior Rodeo Association?" She sounded surprised.
"Have been for a year or so."
"But aren't you competing any longer?"
"Nope." He really didn't want to talk about it, but she persisted.
"But I thought you'd never tire of it. You've always loved the rodeo."
"Let's just say I'm a little partial to my bones, and leave it at that, okay?" Clint didn't want to sound harsh, but sliding back into the best friend routine wasn't as easy he thought. Even if she could forgive him, he wasn't sure he wanted the same relationship they had. No, he was damn sure he didn't. But he knew he wouldn't get what he really wanted.
He followed her home, which was a good hour and half drive, and pulled into her graveled driveway. He backed the truck up to the door, and proceeded to untie the tree, while Abby went inside, turned all the lights on and opened the door for him.
Mrs. Martin came to the door in her robe. "Clint Travers, is that you?"
"Yes ma'am," Clint answered, puffing as he dragged the big tree off the top of his truck. He backed straight into Abby, and she almost jumped backwards. Well, what had he expected? It wasn't like she welcomed his touches.
"Why, Clint, that's the biggest tree I've seen in my life!" Mrs. Martin gasped.
"Yes, ma'am, Abby picked it out."
Mrs. Martin wrung her hands, grabbed her chest, and Clint saw tears slipping down her cheek as he and Abby took the tree inside. She pushed back a strand of greying hair, and swiped her eyes. "Land sakes, that's the prettiest tree I've seen in years."
Abby laughed, "I know, and I wouldn't have gotten it home if it hadn't been for bumping into Clint at the mall."
"Clint in a mall. I don't believe it."
"I was having dinner with some friends when I spotted Abby."
Judy and Ross Martin had been married nearly thirty years. You didn't see one without the other. The old house didn't look the same without that bear-voiced man coming to hold his wife close and watch Clint's every move toward his daughter.
The minute Clint entered the old farmhouse, he had felt guilt stab him. Damn, there were so many things he felt bad about, where did he start? And how would he ever make amends to this family, to Abby? He hadn't been over here in ages. Hadn't checked on them, hadn't helped them. God, they must think he was a cad.
After all the times Ross Martin had come to his aid, he hadn't so much as bothered to ask if he might need help in the past couple of years. No, of course he hadn't. He'd been too busy playing Rodeo Cowboy. Even though he'd finally given up the circuit, he had to admit, teaching at the Junior Rodeo Association had given him quite a big head. To the kids, he was a hero. He had needed that boost to his ego when he had felt so low in losing Abby.
Clint and Abby moved the tree toward the big picture window in the living room, and Mrs. Martin fetched a tree stand from out of one of her closets.
"My," the older woman said, clutching her robe together from the cold breeze of the open door, "that really is some tree."
"Yes ma'am, it is," Clint agreed. "Sorry about Ross, ma'am."
"Now you stop ma'aming me, Clint Travers, we been friends too long for that kind of talk. You always called me by my name before. There's no need to start doing differently now. And yes, my Ross is gone, but at least he didn't lie around suffering. He would have wanted it that way."
"Yes ma'am. I mean, yes, Judy, he would."
"Abby, why don't you and Clint come in the kitchen, and have some cake and coffee. Bertha's been over, brought a whole table full of food from the church. I swear I don't know what this community would do without that woman."
"That Bertha is such a sweetie. I can't wait to see her again. How is she these days?"
'Better ask Clint; I think they see her more than anyone else. Any sign of Bertha and Cal making things official?" Mrs. Martin asked with a smile.
Clint chuckled as he secured the tree in the stand, then dusted his hands off. "I think the subject has come up a time or two. Especially since Deke got married. You know Dad's a changed man since Sammie Jo came into the picture."
"Kids have a way do changing things, don't they? I've heard he's quit smoking. I never though I'd see the day," Judy added. "Old habits die hard on a man his age, you know. He deserves some credit for that. Ross never did quit. Although I sure nagged him often enough."
"Would you like me to fix you a plate, Clint?" Abby gestured toward the food on the table.
"Sounds good to me. But I can help myself. You just lead me to the plates and forks."
Not one word about the past. Not one word. It made Clint feel twice as guilty for not being here. He should have been over regularly. He should have stayed in contact with Abby, too.
As they moved into the kitchen, Abby took her coat off and laid it on the couch. She waited for Clint to take his leather jacket off. Clint slid out of it, after recovering from seeing Abby without her coat. What a helluva woman she turned out to be. Better than most of the rodeo bunnies he'd dated. Abby was one helluva woman now. There was no sign of the young skinny kid he had grown up with.
That damned pitiful night when he'd let his emotions carry over to Abby and he'd taken what she so freely offered haunted him again, reminding him--hands off, from what he'd secretly wanted so very long--Abby. Oh, he'd wanted her from the beginning, when she was still braiding her hair and wearing braces, but there was no chance of that happening as long as Ross Martin was alive. Ross had warned him he'd kill him if he so much as looked crossed-eyed at Abby. "Abby," he'd said, "deserved better". Clint agreed. So Clint contented himself with being the only thing he could be, a friend.
As they moved into the kitchen, Clint couldn't keep his eyes off Abby's backside. She was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, but she certainly did fill the jeans out nicely. And when she turned around to offer him coffee, he couldn't stop noticing that her breasts filled her sweatshirt, too. His body reacted on its own.
What had happened to his skinny little Abby? And why was there suddenly a fire in his loins for the one woman he could never have? He'd harnessed his affection for so long; why now, when there was no hope, was he acting like a rutting stag?
"Judy, you should have called me," Clint scolded mildly as he began helping himself to the food, and trying desperately to distract himself from Abby. "I'd have been over here more if you had," Clint said, as he sat down at the big farm table in the middle of the kitchen. There was a formal dining room, but no one used it except at Christmas. He remembered so many times sitting here at this old table, drinking coffee at four or five in the morning, and talking to Mr. Martin and his family about the drought, the cattle, the plans for the day.
Ross and Clint got along just fine, as long as Clint kept his place. And Ross had made sure that Clint knew his place. Ross had told him flat out, "She's not going to get herself fouled up with some rodeo bum, Clint. She's a good girl, and she's gonna stay that way."
"Ross wasn't ill, Clint. Never was sick a day in his life. It just happened. He was out mending fences, and just keeled over. No problems, no pain. Just keeled over dead," Judy said without choking. "I miss him already, but if he had to go, I'm glad it was quick."
"You're right, Mama, it was a blessing the way he died," Abby said, as she placed a cup in front of Clint and her mother, and brought each of them a piece of chocolate cake. Still, his absence left a void in the old farmhouse that both women seemed aware of.
For lack of what to say, Clint stuffed his face with food, and listened to Judy relate the story of her and Ross and how they built their small empire. He envied her, envied what Ross and Judy had. And the way Judy was taking it made him proud he knew her.
"Is Matt coming home?" He shot Abby a quick glance.
"No, Matt's in Turkey right now."
"Turkey?" Clint nearly spewed his coffee.
"Yeah, he went after the earthquake. Said he thought he would be needed there," Judy said with a long sigh. "I can't tell you how proud I am of that boy."
"I guess looking at it from a doctor's point of view, he's right, but aren't you gonna need him now?"
"For what? I still have a foreman, as far as I know. Bud runs things around here."
Yeah, Bud Taylor was a good wrangler, but there was something shifty about the man. Clint hadn't liked him, and he had tried numerous times to tell Ross that, but Ross wouldn't listen, and even became hostile about it when approaching the subject.
"Nothing is going to change, Clint. I got Abby, too. At least for a while."
Clint wouldn't argue with Judy right now; it wasn't the right time. But surely she wouldn't keep Bud on now. A man no one in the county liked or respected, and a daughter who hadn't had saddle sores in at least three years; that wasn't going to be much help to Judy.
Damn, he wished Ross would have listened to him years ago, and gotten rid of that foreman. He had driven every friend Ross Martin had away. He was trouble, and Clint knew it. The man had made insinuating remarks to Abby when Abby was just a young girl. Bud gave Clint the creeps. Now Clint remembered why he stayed away. Ross Martin liked Bud. That's where they parted ways. Yet, instead of telling Ross his suspicions, he'd dropped it and stayed away. Now Ross was dead.
Abby smiled and patted her mother's arm as she sat down beside Clint. "Have you gotten any sleep?"
"Sleep. You know I never sleep during the day. No, I'll go lie down shortly. Don't fret over me, honey, I'm okay," Judy insisted, even though it was apparent from the shadows under her eyes that she'd been crying most of the day.
"You need any help, you just call me. Deke can spare me," Clint offered. But the way Judy had bragged on her son put a dent in his heart a mile wide. He shouldn't have been jealous. Matt had amounted to something. Matt, and Deke, and Jake and Rusty, but not him. He couldn't claim anything but a few rodeo titles. And rodeo bunnies.
And he'd trade all of them right now for Abby's friendship again.
"That Deke, he done himself proud getting a wife like Emma. I was glad to see the day," Judy remarked, glancing at her daughter and Clint.
"I haven't met Emma, yet," Abby said, coloring from her mother's glance.
"She's great. You'll like her. So, I guess this means you're gonna be staying, huh Abby?" Clint glanced at her, noticing the way her cheeks colored, and liking it.
"I haven't quite decided yet, Clint," Abby answered, not looking at him any longer.
"Abby's engaged now, Clint." Judy offered the information, and watched Clint closely.
Lord, he hadn't wanted to hear that. Anything but that. Still, she hadn't married yet. And that thought gave him comfort. Not that Abby was his business, but he sure didn't want to hear about her love life just yet. Just getting used to the changes in her was hard enough, but this! He knew this would be a long hard winter, having to stay close and yet keep his hands off Abby, too. Now, to learn that she was engaged hit him below the belt. Well, maybe it was best. Maybe now, he truly would keep his hands off her.
"Oh, is he going to be at the funeral?" Clint had to know. Had to prepare.
"No, John couldn't make it. His own mother is ill, and he takes care of her. He couldn't leave her right now."
Clint soaked the information up like a sponge. But it didn't sit well. Abby with a boyfriend. A good boyfriend. A man that took care of his mother. God, how could he ever compete with this family or his own? He was a castaway, and everyone around him knew it. He sank down into the chair.
Abby's father dead. Abby living practically next door again. So many things were happening all at once that it was hard to take in.
Clint didn't taste the chocolate cake. It went down like mud.
He certainly had no one to blame but himself. Abby had a right to happiness. Just because he hadn't found it didn't mean she couldn't have it. So why did all this news add up to nothing short of heartburn?
He was still berating himself for all he should have done, when a small tyke of about three years came barrelling into the kitchen in pyjamas.
"Mamaw, would you read me a story?" the little boy asked, sidling up to Judy and hugging her.
Judy grabbed the boy protectively to her, and smiled.
"Clay, honey, you're supposed to be in bed," Abby protested, her skin turning beet red.
Clint assessed the situation with nothing short of shock. Abby had a kid? A kid. A boy kid. A three year old boy. Couldn't be Judy. But Abby?
He sat very quietly, sipping his coffee, and looking at the little fella that clung to Judy. So, who was the father?
God in heaven, what had Abby been up to?
"This your boy, Abby?" He managed to ask when he found his voice.
"Y--yes," Abby stalled. Then pulling the little boy into her lap, she sat him close, and barely glanced at Clint. "This is my son, Clay."
"Hi, are you a real cowboy?" the little fella asked, looking straight at Clint with his big round dark blue eyes.
Clint stuck his hand out to the little boy. "Hi there, Clay. My name is Clint. And to answer your question, yes, I'm a cowboy."
The little boy took his hand, and gave him a big shake and a lopsided grin.
Clint nearly fell out of his chair when he suddenly realized he was looking in the mirror. His hair was black and straight and pulled to the side. His eyes were a bright deep blue. He could have been Clint twenty-five years ago.
Questions, time periods danced in Clint's head. A little over three and a half years ago, Clint had made love to Abby. If a brick had hit him, he couldn't have been more stunned.
Clint sat paralyzed in the chair as Abby and Judy went to put the boy to bed. Clay was his kid; he just knew it. He had to be. Abby didn't sleep around. Abby hadn't even had a boyfriend during that time.
Why hadn't she called him? Why hadn't she told him? How long would she have gone, not letting him know he had a son? A million questions danced in his head. And he wasn't leaving until he got some answers.