Cowboy Daddy

Free Cowboy Daddy by Susan Mallery

Book: Cowboy Daddy by Susan Mallery Read Free Book Online
Authors: Susan Mallery
found—” She cleared her throat.
    Laurel squeezed her hands, then released her. “It’s okay.”
    The sofa cushions shifted. Anne risked a quick glance and saw Jake leaning forward to grab her soda, then he handed it to her. His brown eyes gave nothing away, but the set of his mouth was kind. He, too, was handsome. But where Bobby had still carried the soft lines of youth, Jake was a man. Hard muscles defined his broad chest and arms. Lines fanned out from his eyes. Scars marred the male beauty of his large hands, and five o’clock shadow darkened the unyielding line of his jaw.
    “Thank you,” she said, taking the can. They didn’t touch and she was grateful. The soft drink soothed her throat. “When Bobby left Paradise, he also left me. Us.” She touched Laurel’s leg. “I had a full scholarship to Vassar. I’d always promised my mother I’d make something of myself, use the opportunities that she’d never been given. I promised her I’d have the life she couldn’t provide. Nobody stole you, Laurel. I gave you up.”
    The girl seemed to fold in on herself. Her shoulders drooped and she rested her forearms on her legs. Jake surprised Anne by scooting forward on the sofa, picking up his daughter and pulling her onto his lap. Laurel snuggled against him, but didn’t cry.
    Now Anne fought the tears. The lines had been drawn and she’d been left on the outside. Still, there was more to the story Laurel deserved to know the entire truth.
    “My mother had a friend who was an attorney He told me I could choose a private adoption. That way I’d get the chance to know who was taking my baby, plus it would be easier to leave information so that if you wanted to get in touch with me when you were eighteen, you could.”
    Laurel raised her head and smiled hopefully. “Really? You wanted me to find you?”
    “Of course.”
    Jake kissed the top of Laurel’s head. “When you’re not being a brat, you’re an okay kid. Why wouldn’t she want to know you?”
    “Da-ad!” His daughter gave him a mock punch in the arm, then wiggled out of his embrace. “I understand now, Annie. Thanks for telling me.”
    She looked surprisingly calm, Anne thought, and wondered when the other shoe was going to fall. “What did you understand?”
    Laurel grinned. “I know my mom and dad didn’t steal me. You had to give me up. You didn’t want to, though.” She turned to her father. “See, Daddy, Annie needs me to stay with her. She’s been waiting all this time for me.”
    Anne stared helplessly at Jake. “I’m only making this worse. I’m sorry. You’re her father, you tell her.”
    “Tell me what?”
    Jake rose from the sofa and walked over to the wet bar. He opened the small refrigerator, but instead of soda, this time he pulled out a beer.
    “Laurel, you’re too young to understand this.”
    She spun to face him and planted her hands on her hips. “I am not. You just don’t want me to stay here with Annie.”
    She had him dead to rights with that one, he thought. He didn’t want her to stay. He didn’t want her out of his sight ever, but that wasn’t an option. He could try to keep her safe, but he couldn’t keep her from growing up.
    He took a long drink, then set the can on the counter of the bar. He had to be honest—it wasn’t her growing up that scared him, it was her growing away. These last two years. Damn.
    “I know the move has been hard for you, Laurel,” he said finally “It’s been hard for me, too. But staying with Anne Baker doesn’t solve any of that.”
    “Why do you have to say her name like that?” Laurel asked. “Anne Baker/” she said, her voice low and mocking. “Why don’t you like Annie?”
    Because she scares me, he answered silently. Anne Baker could finish what his two years of emotional withdrawal had started. She could steal away his child. His guilty conscience told him that Laurel’s actions were a punishment for not being there when she needed him. But it had been

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