Home > Cowboy SEAL Homecoming (Navy SEAL Cowboys #1)(4)

Cowboy SEAL Homecoming (Navy SEAL Cowboys #1)(4)
Author: Nicole Helm

   “We’re only three.”

   She looked up at him through the fringe of bangs that hid her eyes enough for him to continue to have trouble reading her. “You don’t really know much about me, do you?”

   What the hell did that mean? Before he could find a gentle to way to ask, she powered on.

   “Anyway, when Mom and I moved here, it was just us and Burt. Your dad hired Hick back a few years ago,” she said, referencing the ranch foreman who’d worked for his dad throughout Alex’s childhood. “I’m used to having the run of the place. I’m used to being alone, or very close to it. Have been most of my life. So this is weird for me, and when things are weird for me, I’m a little weird. Looking at me like I’ve lost it doesn’t help matters.”

   “I’m not looking at you like that.”

   She shrugged, wrapping her arms around herself and squinting at the rear stable door. She still held the keys and her eyebrows drew together. Her profile was surprisingly strong for as clearly timid as she was. The midafternoon light from outside glowed against the elegant slope of her neck, the wisps of dark hair falling out of her braid. She had a strong, rounded jaw and a sharp nose. Dark, long eyelashes framed big eyes, and she had the lightest dusting of freckles on the apples of her cheeks.

   Why was he noticing shit like that?

   “I don’t want you here,” she said on something that was no more than a whisper.

   But it hit him hard, like a sharp slap. He even stepped back. She’d been the one to plant the seed of this whole foundation. She’d been the one to—

   “But you should be here, and we have something really important to build together.” She looked at him then, and it almost seemed like a forced movement, like she had to fight to meet his eyes. “Just don’t expect me to be Ms. Welcome Wagon or Chatty Cathy. Even if I wanted to be, I wouldn’t have a clue as to how.”

   “So you really did learn a thing or two from my father.”

   She laughed, a surprisingly potent smile lightening up her pinched expression, relaxing it. “He was not an effusive man, that’s true. Probably why I liked him so much.” The smile died, quick as it had come. “I loved him like a father.” She blew out a breath and looked away again. “He was a good man.”

   “Was.” Alex had spent a year getting used to the fact that his father was gone, but there was something about being here, using words like was, that fanned the spark of grief into something bigger. “Yes, he very much was.”

   He rubbed at the pain in his chest. Was. Yeah, he didn’t want to think about that. “I think you’ll find three former SEALs don’t need you to be chatty or welcoming. We’ll focus on the ranch, and we’ll try to stay out of your way. It was never my intention to come back here and make you uncomfortable.”

   Her lips moved, but he wouldn’t have classified it as a smile, not after seeing what a real one looked like. “Oh, I seem to do a good enough job of that all on my own,” she muttered. She looked down at her hands, seemed to realize she was still holding the key chain, and then thrust it toward him.

   He took it, and when their fingers brushed, she jerked away. She rubbed her palms on the sides of her pants as though she needed to wipe his touch off of her. Then she clenched her hands into fists.

   “Got work to do,” she muttered, turning on a heel and walking toward the back of the stables.

   He watched her march away, her words ringing in his head. You really don’t know much about me. No, he didn’t, and he’d never thought to find out. If he examined that too closely, he might have to admit he hadn’t wanted to find out.

   These were feelings he most definitely didn’t want to examine. So he turned and headed for the house, ready to settle his crew in.

   * * *

   Becca worked herself to the bone that afternoon. It soothed her the way it always did, working with the animals, accomplishing routine tasks and knowing everything she did was an important cog in the machinery of the ranch.

   But now she had to go in and rustle up some supper before she passed out from hunger. Except there were three men there. In her house.

   She’d known this was going to happen and prepared for it the best she could, but the reality of it shook her. An embarrassing amount.

   She couldn’t believe she’d told Alex she didn’t want him here. What on earth had possessed her? Not only was it mean, but it also wasn’t fair. Two things she hated to be.

   She had invited them to stay at the house until the bunkhouse was redone. She had suggested they meld their two dreams together. She had been the one to initiate this.

   Why couldn’t she be normal?

   She glanced at her horse and rubbed its muzzle. “I’m learning. Can’t be a drama queen about things being a little difficult, can I?” Pal nickered and stamped, and the calmness that came from working with the animals worked its way through her.

   It was why she was doing this in the first place. She believed in what they were doing. She believed in the healing that could be found in the life of working a ranch.

   Those men had faced far scarier situations than she could even dream of. It was time to find the courage she’d lost sometime in the walk from the airport parking lot to the line of three broad-shouldered soldiers waiting for her approach.

   She’d known it would take more courage and backbone than she’d displayed in her entire life put together. Which wasn’t saying much except that it would be incredibly challenging, and Becca was used to backing away from a challenge.

   Not anymore. Not anymore.

   Right. She was standing up and stepping out. She could do this. Stand on her own two feet, trust her own decisions, interact with people.

   She just needed to think of them like animals. It wouldn’t be hard. Alex already reminded her of the quarter horses kept on the ranch. Sturdy and solid, sure and calm. Once she spent a little more time with the other men, she’d figure out what kind of animals they were, and then she’d know how to deal with them.

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