Eventually, once more women were hired, she’d have to move back into the bunkhouse, so having her stay in the guest suite as planned would be best, and overall, less—messy, was the best word he could find to describe it. It didn’t mean he couldn’t spend the occasional night in the guest suite while she was there, too.
He hadn’t forgotten about that little shit, Jonas. Now that he had Elizabeth safe in his arms, and for the foreseeable future, he could think somewhat more coherently about what had happened. The punishment stood. Jonas would be pounding fence posts for the next month. Ryan planned to have a talk with his counselor and Handy right after breakfast and make the arrangements.
He dozed off for a bit, but as soon as light began to filter into the bunkhouse, casting streams of gold across the plain hardwood floor, he eased out from under Elizabeth’s limp weight, got dressed, and walked the path to the house. A quick phone call ensured one of the hands would take care of the newborns for her so she could sleep.
He let himself into the main house just as Dan was exiting his suite. He wore his sheriff’s uniform, which wasn’t a good sign before sunup on a Sunday morning.
“You’re getting home late,” Dan said, jiggling the keys in his hand.
“No—I’m getting up right on schedule,” Ryan replied. “This is a working ranch. Someone has to run it.”
Dan gave him a long look. “If you were on schedule, you’d be heading out the door, not in. You’d be wearing boots and a coverall, too. And your shirt wouldn’t be inside out.”
“Don’t you have somewhere important to be?” Ryan asked.
“Not especially. I’m taking the tail end of a shift for one of the deputies because his wife went into labor. Maybe I should ask you the same question. Don’t you have somewhere important to be?” Dan grinned. “Or maybe somewhere important you’ve been?”
“You’re an ass. You know that—right?”
“Just glad you’re finally getting some.” Dan’s grin widened. “You were starting to make Dallie and me twitchy, too. Now we don’t have to feel as sorry for you.”
“Nice. And yet oddly, I still feel sorry for Jazz and Hannah. You’re mistaken, however.” He filled Dan in on what had happened with Jonas and what the punishment would be. “I warned you about this, didn’t I?”
“You did,” Dan conceded. His dark blond brows pinched together. “But the responsibility for it’s on us. He shouldn’t have been able to get out of his bunk after hours without the counselor knowing about it. What was the level of intent?”
“Level of intent?” Ryan echoed.
“First, he left her a note. The note in itself was harmless enough. Juvenile, really. Why was he on her doorstep after the movie last night, though? What was his reason for seeking her out? What harm did he intend her, if any?” He held up a hand when he read Ryan’s expression. “I’m basing my questions on the law, in case this goes any further and we have to lawyer up, because believe me, that’s the first thing his family will do. Elizabeth might too, so bear with me. Did he touch her in any way? If so, did he commit a misdemeanor or a felony?”
Ryan hated it when Dan went all law-abiding and neutral. “He didn’t touch her.” That was why he was alive. A commitment to non-violence only stretched to a point. “He was leaving flowers on her doorstep.”
“And how do you know this?”
“I saw it.”
“From inside or outside the bunkhouse?”
“Jesus, Dan. Am I on trial?”
“I want you to put this in the proper perspective. You can get too one-sided when you believe someone you care about or feel responsible for has a problem.”
Ryan would like to argue, but the facts were against him. He’d once offered to buy off Jazz’s dodgy family to keep them away from Dan and his money. “From outside, okay? It was late. I walked her home.”
“You walked her home to a bunkhouse within sight of the house and the other bunkhouses on the ranch. That might suggest you were aware there was a danger.”
“It’s a ranch. The danger could be from bears, especially when we’ve got calves in the pens.”
“True.” Dan paused as if gathering more ammunition and loading his gun, then continued. “After you left her, you saw Jonas leave flowers on her doorstep. What did you do?”
“Nothing?” Dan blinked. “That’s so unlike you.”
“I didn’t get a chance to do anything. Elizabeth opened the door, so I waited to see what happened next.”
“You waited.” Dan rubbed his forehead with his thumb. “That will look good on the Endeavour in court… Okay. It was late. The kid was there to leave flowers. Why would she open the door?”
That right there was the one door Ryan had no intentions of opening when Dan was in inquisition mode like this. She’d opened it because she’d thought it was him, calling her bluff. “How should I know?”