That smirk I could tell was her signature trademark and I loved it already. God! She was feisty!

“I didn’t say anything,” I teased.

“You didn’t need to. Your eyes said it for you.”

“I’m just not accustomed to this. I eat differently is all,” I explained.

She snorted. “Okay, sushi boy, take a seat,” she jabbed, heading off toward what I assumed was the kitchen.

I watched her walk away and thoroughly enjoyed the view.

“Spence, over here!” I heard Bridge call over.

I joined her at the head of the table and sat to her left, on the edge of the bench.

“Oh my God, I’m so hungry,” she said, eyeing everything before her like she hadn’t just eaten a box of crackers in our trailer.

“Chill out, kemosabe,” I laughed.

She glared at me. “This thing in me is like a freaking bottomless pit. It’s always hungry.”

I smiled at her and she smiled back but rolled her eyes.

“Happy?” I asked.

“I have a feeling I will be,” she answered with a smile. She looked down at her hands in her lap then over at me. “Cricket seems nice.”

“Shut it,” I demanded, trying to hide my smile.

“And my God were you smooth,” she teased, furrowing her brows. “I mean, I’ve never seen someone so charming before.”

I laughed. “Was it that obvious?”

“No, coolio, you convinced everyone. The bug eyes were a nice touch.” She clicked her tongue and formed an okay with her hand.

I ran a hand down my face. “How humiliating.”

“I have to admit, I’ve never seen you trip over yourself like that, not even with Sophie Price did you lose your cool. This is a nice side of you or whatever.”

“Maybe I’m tired,” I offered by way of explanation. I don’t know who I was trying to convince—me or Bridge.


More people kept pouring in. It felt like a scene from Bonanza. Men and women of all ages came in from the cold, sporting their horse gear. I couldn’t believe people still lived like this. It felt so foreign to me, so fascinating.

Cricket followed her grandma into the dining hall, with another large bowl of potatoes. She looked at me and rolled her eyes but laughed. I watched her set the bowl down. She was so tiny she had to reach a little for the center of the table and it exposed her stomach slightly, sending me reeling. Oh, please God, let her sit across from me.

She moved slowly, painfully slowly, too slowly for me toward our end of the table but chose the part of the bench directly across from me. I tried with much difficulty to settle my rapidly beating heart. I smiled at her and she smiled back. Eugie, who was on her heels the entire time, curled up at her feet.

Emmett and Ellie sat to my left, Cricket’s right, at the end of the table. Everyone sat chatting. I didn’t know what we were waiting for. Every spot was filled at the table except the spot directly next to Cricket. My brows furrowed in curiosity until the door banged open with a cold breeze and the Native American guy I saw on the horse earlier came in. He removed all his gear and threw it on one of the hooks.

No, I realized as he made his way toward Cricket.

He braced a solid arm on the table and leaned into her, kissing her on the mouth before sliding in beside her. She smiled at him, turning toward him as he sat, and threaded her fingers through the top of his hair. They were talking, but I had no idea what they were saying. I was too distracted by the stabbing pain in my gut and chest. Damn. She laughed while he kissed her once more. I wanted to rip him off of her. I was so damn disappointed. I’d never felt more disappointed. I felt Bridge’s eyes on me, but I refused to return the look, too obsessed with watching them.

They turned toward us.

“Spencer, Bridget, this is Ethan Moonsong,” Cricket said, cheerfully introducing the bastard.

“Nice to meet you,” Bridge said, a shiny smile on her face.

I nodded. “Hello.” It was all I could muster.

He returned the nod. “Spencer, Bridget, a pleasure,” his deep lulling voice responded.

Bridget leaned forward a bit and asked Ethan a question. He answered with vigor and my eyes shot to Cricket. She was watching me, gauging me, trying to decipher if my flirting earlier meant anything. I secretly smiled at her and shook my head, letting her know I was crestfallen in that moment but that it didn’t mean shit. I was cocking my metaphorical gun. Her eyes widened for the briefest of moments before cooling. She turned and feigned interest in what Ethan was talking about but she wasn’t fooling me. Click. My eyes never left her face. She periodically glanced my direction, and I knew from experience there was only one reason anyone would do this. She was trying to hide her own interest in me. Click. She turned to face me again and this time I winked, making her visibly squirm.

“Right, Cricket?” Ethan asked her.

Her gaze was riveted to mine. “Hmm?” she asked, shaking her head to focus.

“You okay?” he asked her.

She turned to face him. “What? Yes, sorry, what was the question?”


Chapter Fourteen

“Everyone! Everyone!” Emmett said, standing and clanking the side of his spoon against his tea, a canning glass I’d only seen people in movies drink from. He raised his hands to settle the rowdy table. “’Fore I say grace, I’d like to take this moment to receive the Blackwells.” He turned toward us and the others stared our direction, making Bridge blush. Jonah smirked at her, attempting to ease her, simultaneously making me very nervous. “We are all happy to have you both here and wish that you’ll be very comfortable. We welcome you into the fold.”

“Here! Here!” a few rang out over the clinking glasses.

He sat and leaned toward us. Quietly, he said, “We’ve all been made aware that your security is a priority. None of mine here will ever expose you, my dear.” Bridge’s face fell toward her lap, her eyes turned glassy, her cheeks flashed deep red. She was embarrassed. Emmett chucked her under the chin. “None of that, miss. You done good, girl. No one here thinks any less of you. Fact is, my Cricket’s the product of my middle girl, God rest her soul, in just the same way, and we wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world.” Cricket’s mom was dead? He glanced at Cricket and sighed deeply. “Yup, I’d give just about anything to keep her around forever. She’s my sweet angel.”

“Thank you,” Bridge said, raising her head and swiping quickly below her eyes.

Cricket winked at her, a silent declaration of camaraderie.

Out of respect, no one asked us a single question about leaving our parents. They asked many questions concerning us, but aside from asking when Bridge was due, which we weren’t aware yet, the conversation geared mostly toward what interested us.

“Ethan,” Bridge asked after everyone’s plates were cleared, “if you don’t mind me asking, what tribe are you from?”

“I don’t mind.” He smiled. “I’m from the Echo River tribe. We’ve been in the Bitterroot Mountains for more than three hundred years. We kept the mountains and the mountains kept us.”

“Fascinating,” she said. “I wonder how you survived the cold.”

“We are made for this weather. We were made for those mountains.”

Bridge smiled and nodded.

“What made you want to work here?” I asked Ethan, not able to help myself.

“My dad got me in. He works here,” he answered. Bridge and I looked around. “Him. Right there.” Ethan pointed to a large white man at the opposite end, a solitary-looking figure who didn’t join in much conversation but seemed agreeable enough, grinning occasionally at the others around him. Ethan shared his eyes and nose. “My mom is Echo River,” Ethan explained.

I nodded. “Where is she?” I asked.

Cricket shifted uncomfortably. Ethan’s face fell to his plate. “She, uh, died two years ago.”

“I’m so sorry,” Bridge said.

“It’s okay. She loved and was loved. I miss her, but I know where she is.” He lifted his face toward us once more.

“And who are your parents?” Bridge asked Jonah.

Jonah’s eyes widened as if in disbelief that she spoke to him. “My dad’s Charles or Chuck as everyone calls him. He lives in Butte with my mom.”

“Cool,” she responded. He grinned like a fool.

“My mom was Chuck’s younger sister by a year,” Cricket added, fiddling with her napkin. “I know no one asked, but I figured I’d tell you anyway. Her name was Sarah.” Ethan squeezed her shoulder and she winked at him, making my stomach churn.

“So how is August as a roommate?” Jonah asked.

Should I outright lie? “He’s cool,” I said truthfully but left it at that.

“Not chasing tail?” Jonah laughed.

“Maybe,” I eluded.

“I’d be willing to bet there’s no maybe about it,” Cricket said, laughing.

“He’s popular,” I gave in.

Both Jonah and Cricket laughed. Ethan shook his head.

“What about you?” Jonah asked me. “You gotta girl back home? At Brown?”

I looked straight at Cricket and grinned. “Nope. Free as a bird.” Cricket visibly swallowed. Click.

“We’ve gotta bunch of cute girls around here,” Jonah continued. “Every Saturday night except during calving season, we all go into Kalispell. You should join us then.”

“I bet the girls would be glad for a fresh face,” Ellie chimed in happily.

“I’d love that,” I said, sitting back a little, still watching Cricket, but she was ignoring me. Click.

“Are you good on a horse, son?” Emmett asked, changing the subject.

It took me awhile to turn my gaze away from Cricket. “Yes, sir,” I answered. “I used to play polo in prep school.” Our half of the table laughed. “What?” I asked, slightly offended.

“Not quite the same,” Ethan said.

I leaned a little toward him, not sure why I was letting him get to me, I was usually very schooled at playing the upper hand. “I bet I’m a little better than you think.”

He nodded as if he didn’t believe me. Let’s go, dude.

“Well, I guess we’ll just have to see then,” he added.

“You’ve got good arms and shoulders,” Ellie said, appraising me. “You’ll be handy come birthing season and that’s just around the corner.”

I exaggeratedly flexed my muscles, imitating a bodybuilder, making Ellie laugh. “Point me the direction of your nearest cow,” I joked.

She slapped the table and actually hooted. “Boy, you are cuter than a button!”

“Thanks,” I said, my cheeks feeling peculiarly warm.

Someone entered the room, another young ranch hand, but he appeared out of breath. “Emmett, we’ve got a heifer gone into labor and she’s having some trouble.”

“What in the Sam Hill!” Emmett exclaimed. “She’s two weeks early!” He stood and Cricket followed. Copyright 2016 - 2023