Home > Cowboy SEAL Homecoming (Navy SEAL Cowboys #1)(5)

Cowboy SEAL Homecoming (Navy SEAL Cowboys #1)(5)
Author: Nicole Helm

   Or so she’d tell herself anyway.

   Giving the horse one last pet, Becca stepped away. She had to face the music of her own making and inhabit the same house as three strange men. It would be like…college, if she’d gone. A dorm experience. Whatever rationalizations worked.

   She closed up the stables and trudged through a cold spring evening toward the warm glow of the ranch. She wasn’t sure what Alex and his men had spent the afternoon doing. She’d kept herself scarce and out of their way, but it appeared they’d all gathered back at home base for the evening.

   Which was fine and as it should be—and temporary, she reminded herself. They just had to get the bunkhouse livable and then Alex said they’d live out there.

   She tried not to worry too much about if that was fair or not. Alex had grown up in the ranch house, but then again, so had she. It was more a home than anything that had come before. Her first home, her first sense of freedom after years of hospital rooms and doctors’ offices.

   She deserved to be here as much as Alex did. Half this ranch was hers. Legally. Rightfully. Centering herself on that knowledge was important.

   She walked up the wooden porch steps, avoiding the loose floorboard she kept forgetting to fix. She wiped the caked-on mud off her boots with the scraper next to the door as she looked out at the ranch.

   A half-snow, half-brown landscape stretched before her until it reached the mountains in the distance. Dark, dusky peaks against a quickly graying sky. It was a salve to all the insecurities of the day, this beautiful eyeful. She’d never in her life seen anything near as beautiful as the Maguire ranch.

   On a deep breath and fortified by the beauty in front of her, Becca turned and stepped into the house. She closed and locked the door behind her out of pure habit.

   The entryway was as it had always been: the first line of defense against the mud and muck of ranch existence. She tugged off her boots and hung up all her muddy outerwear on the appropriate pegs.

   Pegs that had been empty save her own things and Mom’s minimal ranch gear, for a full year. Now they were lined with coats she didn’t recognize. Masculine coats. It was difficult in a lot of ways—not just new people being in her space, but the reminder that Burt was gone.

   For good. It wasn’t the same as her mother moving into town. It wasn’t even the same as Alex being deployed overseas. Burt was dead. Gone forever.

   She swallowed the lump in her throat and wondered if any amount of time would ever make the grief disappear. She supposed it had lessened to an extent. She could get through hours without thinking of how much she missed her stepfather.

   But when she thought of him, it still hurt with surprising force. He was the first person she’d loved and lost, and even a year later, all she could think was she had not been ready.

   But life didn’t wait until you were ready for things. It never had, and it likely never would.

   Her outerwear having been shed, Becca stepped into the living room. The rest of the lower floor was a fairly open living space. Cozy living room with soft furniture and a stone hearth, a large kitchen that had enough room for cooking and a table to eat at.

   Burt’s office was off to the left, along with another mudroom for the particularly bad winter days. She hadn’t been back there much the past year, and she didn’t plan to start.

   Luckily, her attention was drawn to the men in the kitchen. All three were gathered around the small table she had eaten almost all of her meals at for the past decade. They were chatting easily, as she supposed old friends did.

   She wouldn’t know. She didn’t have old friends. She had Mom and Burt and the animals.

   Now she had…them.

   “We fixed supper,” Alex offered, standing. He gestured toward a casserole dish at the center of the table. “We dug into the freezer stash. Hope that’s all right.”

   “It’s your house too. Food comes out of the collective ranch funds.” She’d thought about all of this before they’d arrived, how to divvy up money and chores and all manner of things.

   She wished that made it easy.

   “Did you make all those casseroles in the freezer?” Alex asked, and Becca knew an attempt at conversation when she saw one, even if she usually killed any and all attempts accidentally.

   “No, that was my mother. She was worried I wouldn’t feed myself without her living here.” It was one of the many concessions she’d had to make in order to convince her mother she could do this alone. Happily, safely.

   “She’s a fantastic cook. You’ll have to give her our compliments.”

   Finally Alex sat down and Becca hesitantly made her way into the kitchen. While she’d overthought every part of what working with Alex and his Navy SEAL brothers might entail, she had never thought to envision this—Alex and his friends eating with her. Sharing a table and meals. She figured she’d still take hers alone. Be alone.

   That had probably been a foolish thought, but she could do this. In fact, dinner was a great idea. She could sit down and talk to them and figure out what animals they were.

   Such a normal way of dealing with people, Becca, she chided herself. But as long as she didn’t share it with them, she supposed it didn’t matter. Especially if it put her at ease.

   Alex was the strong, certain leader. The quarter horse. Gabe… She had to think for a few seconds to remember who was who. Gabe was the dark-haired one, a darker complexion compared to Alex and Jack. Jack was fair. Blond hair and blue eyes. Gabe tended to smile reassuringly. Jack seemed to have a perpetual scowl on his face.

   So perhaps Jack was a cat. Always unhappy and not afraid to let you know it. Gabe was easygoing, cheerful. Happy to see you, happy to go with the flow, a good ranch dog. All animals were protective of their home turf and their own. She imagined men who had been Navy SEALs would be the protective type. Courageous. Each of the three animals could demonstrate those characteristics.

   There. She’d figured that out. Of course, even then, ease and comfort didn’t magically settle into her. She wanted to go to her room and hide. But Alex gestured her toward the empty seat and she felt like she had to take it. She had to eat with them. She had to make an effort to be friendly.

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