Aknock onthe door to the guest suite interrupted Elizabeth’s review of her handwritten notes. Since it could only be one person, the guesswork wasn’t taxing.
She set the notebook aside.
She’d done her research on bear attacks before she came to Montana and she knew the statistics. The bear population here in the south-central part of the state wasn’t as large as that of the western mountainous regions around Missoula, either. She also knew that grizzlies were protected under the Endangered Species Act and avoiding them altogether was preferable to shooting one and then having to prove it was self-defense after. Black bears were more common, and the chance they’d attack a human much more remote—but not an impossibility.
However, stalking off from lunch like a child hadn’t been her most professional move and served to highlight that she had her own emotional issues. While logically, she understood her fear of Montana wildlife stemmed from a fear of the unknown—when she’d been eleven no one had discussed Marianne’s murder with her, so she’d been left to her own imagination—it didn’t make it any less real. The two personalities of this new Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde relationship with Ryan added another layer of confusion to her position at the ranch for her to sort out.
The door opened a crack.
“Mind if I come in?” Ryan asked.
“It’s your house.”
“This is your space. I won’t intrude if you don’t want me to.”
The happy fluttering in her chest was ridiculous, and all because he’d made a concession she hadn’t expected. She scooted over to create room for him on the settee. “I want you to.”
She assumed he’d begin with an apology for baiting Jonas, but it turned out she was wrong about that too.
“He threw a rock through your window?” That was an increasingly bold turn of events. “Are you sure it was him?” she asked, trying to imagine the nerve it would take. Ryan didn’t exactly come across as warm and understanding. He definitely wasn’t the type to overlook a transgression.
“Positive. I saw him.”
Which explained why Jonas had been sentenced to work in the fields for the entire summer and not the original month. It didn’t justify Ryan putting a troubled boy with no ranching experience in a dangerous situation.
“He’s not in any danger,” Ryan assured her when she voiced her concern. “Handy will take care of him. It’s not as if bears are scouring the range, looking for idiot teenagers to eat. They have other—some might argue better—menu options.”
“You still aren’t funny.”
“I’m still not trying to be. Cattle are more of a threat to the men when they’re fencing. Some of them get pretty wild, especially the bulls, and this is breeding season. That’s the real reason the hands carry rifles.”
She didn’t know if his clarification made her feel less concerned about Jonas’s safety or not. “Being either trampled or eaten doesn’t seem like much of a choice.”
Ryan tapped his fingers on her knee. “There’s a bigger problem to deal with. I have nowhere to sleep until the carpet is cleaned and the window is fixed.”
“I see where your problem is headed,” she said. “This house is enormous. You don’t have any other spare bedrooms?”
“I do, but none are furnished.”
He said it with a straight face, meeting her eyes all the while, and yet somehow, she suspected him of twisting a situation to his advantage—not that it mattered. They were both well aware, especially after this morning, that they’d be sleeping together while she was here. The only detail not predetermined was for how much of the night.
The entirety of it, as it turned out—at least until he got the window replaced.
She hadn’t planned to discuss her suspicions about Jonas with Ryan, but if Jonas was going to continue on in this manner, maybe she should. He might well end up fixing the Endeavour’s fences for the rest of his life if she didn’t.
“I believe,” she said carefully, “that Jonas might be struggling to come to terms with being gay, or maybe bisexual. He said Angel dared him to bring me the flowers. It’s possible that he’s trying to impress Angel, who has a reputation with regard to older women. I think Jonas might have a crush on him.”
She hadn’t missed the glances he’d sent Angel’s way during lunch, either. She suspected Angel wasn’t entirely oblivious. It might be the reason he’d egged Jonas on.
Ryan’s astonished expression was comical—in an overburdened-with-manliness kind of way.
“It’s not unusual for teens have difficulty coming to terms with their sexuality, especially if it’s not perceived as normal by their families and friends,” she said.