“Because my mother missed having it from the day she walked through the door. She’d been born rich and she didn’t know how to be poor, although she tried her best for my sake. And because there’s a part of me that’s driven by money. I like to make it work for me. I figured I’d take it and I’d use it to do something good—sort of an in-your-face to the Jackal and everything he stood for. A judge I used to know drew up agreements that tied it up so the bulk of it could only be spent for philanthropic purposes. He didn’t think I should be tempted.” He smiled thinly. “That’s where Dan and Dallie come in. They make sure the money gets spent where it’s supposed to go. The ranch provides the bulk of our personal incomes—and believe me, there isn’t much profit coming out of a ranch.”
She touched the sleeve of his coat. “For what it’s worth, I don’t see a thing wrong with you taking the money and making it work for you. And your mother must have been an amazing woman. Giaco Cienetti’s daughter, knowing what he was capable of, turned her back on him and did what was best for her son.”
“If I’d grown up under my grandfather’s influence, I’d be sitting exactly where he was, right now.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. You don’t know that for sure. All I know is that I fell in love with the man you are, not some hypothetical person you might have become.”
He closed his eyes for a second. His tension level visibly dropped, leaving him looking about a thousand times more vulnerable than she’d ever seen him.
He opened his eyes. “I love you, Elizabeth. I knew you’d turn my whole life upside down the moment you showed up for your job interview, and you did. But I never intended to ruin yours. This past week has been hell.” A wry smile twisted his mouth. “Dan and Dallas begged me to come get you—right after Dallas gave me a lecture on a woman’s right to autonomy over her body.” The smile disappeared. “I love you so much I’ll do anything for you, if you’ll only come back to Grand with me—as long as you understand I can’t love this baby. I’ll be a terrible father. I’m sorry.”
She didn’t believe for one second that a man who cared as much about troubled teens as he did was incapable of loving his own child, but she also didn’t expect miracles to happen overnight, and there was no reason to push him. He’d figure it out on his own, in his own time and his own way.
She did understand that the coming months were going to be hard on them both. They had a lot to work through. He wouldn’t want to feel the baby’s movements or go to prenatal checkups with her, so she’d pretty much have to go it alone, but the end result would be worth it. He hadn’t wanted to love her any more than he’d wanted a baby—and yet he did love her.
He’d come for her.
Her heart broke into song. “Why don’t you work on winning over my parents first—since you’ve made such a stellar first impression on them—and worry about what kind of father you’ll be when it happens?”
“Win over your parents? What other impossible tasks do I have to complete? This might turn into a kidnapping, after all.” He took one last, long look at the house, then started the car. “I can do one thing right for this baby, at least. I’ll make sure it’s born in Montana, not here.” He turned to her. She read the raw plea on his face. Heard it in the rasp of his voice. “Can you forgive me?”
“I can forgive you anything, Heathcliff.”
She itched to be in his arms. The confined space meant it was one more thing she’d have to wait for. Instead, she cupped his cheeks and drew his face closer to hers so that she could kiss him and wipe away any remaining doubts he might have. Happiness wiped away any lingering doubts of her own.
Ryan always did what was right—when he was ready.
“Let’s go talk to my parents,” she said. “Then, take me home to Montana.”