Jasper: Meet me on the driveway.
Sloane: Yes, sir.
Jasper: Pocket that sentence for later when I strip you down and make you crawl.
Sloane: YES, SIR.
“Are you nervous?” Harvey eyes me speculatively as I wait for Sloane to come out of the house.
The sun is shining and the snow is melting. It’s one of those perfect Chinook days in Chestnut Springs, warm enough to make you want to wear a T-shirt because the heat feels so damn good after a long winter.
It’s our wedding day but we aren’t going traditional. We spent last night together on the roof talking. The ceremony is in the field, and the reception is in the house.
Before we get married, there’s something I want to show her. So I guess I’m going to see her in her wedding dress too.
“No. Are you?”
He scoffs. “Why would I be nervous?”
“I don’t know. You’re getting old. Maybe you’re worried about tripping and falling while you walk Sloane down the aisle.”
To no one’s surprise, Robert refused to come, so Harvey stepped up for Sloane. So steady and constant in his support. He really is one of the best.
“I’m an exceptional physical specimen, son. No tripping for this old fella yet.”
It’s my turn to laugh now. “Please tell me less about your physical capabilities.”
“It’s hereditary. I mean, look at you.” He gestures at my wedding attire—brown corduroy blazer, bolo tie, hair only lightly styled, and boots rather than dress shoes.
“Harvey, I’m not so sure about your understanding of the word hereditary.”
“Been raising cattle my entire life. I know the meaning. I know there’s nature. And that there’s nurture.”
I roll my lips together and stare down at the gravel driveway beneath me for a beat before glancing back up at him as he continues. “Don’t much care if I had a role in making you. I know in my heart I had a role in making you who are today. And I’m damn proud of you, Jasper. Not sure I’ve told you that enough over the years.”
“Thanks, Harv.” My voice catches on his name.
“I’m not done,” he announces, moving his weight between his feet, like he’s a little awkward about this conversation as well. “I . . . Well, I know you’ve struggled. I know you’ve struggled with what’s in your heart. With feeling like you belong. And I’m just so dang happy that you found a place to belong with Sloane. But I also want you to know that you belong here. At the ranch with us.”
I sniff and wipe at my nose. “What the fuck, Harvey. Are you trying to make me cry? Is this part of your nurture?”
He laughs but coughs roughly, clearing the emotion in his throat. “Yeah. I guess it is. But I wanted to give you this.”
He yanks a white envelope out of his jacket pocket and hands it over to me. When I take it, he waves a hand in my direction and then wipes his nose. “Open it.”
My throat is thick as I peel the paper open and pull the single sheet of paper out. I read it, but the words are . . .
“It’s a deed,” he says.
“I can see that.”
“To your own quarter section. Over on the east side. Nice sunrises. I know you two like to sit on the roof talking until the sun comes up. Thought you’d build there eventually. Stay close. I don’t know. Give your tail-babies lots of space to roam.” He wipes at his eyes, clearly trying to cover his emotion with the most overused joke he has. “All my kids got a quarter. And I feel like a real shmuck for not giving you one until now.”
“Harvey, this is too much.”
He waves a hand again before propping them both on his hips and peering out over the horizon. “Nah. Got more land than I know what to do with. Plus, you’re my boy, Jasper.” He reaches out and grabs my shoulder now. “I want you here always.”
I stare at the piece of paper, feeling like the little broken boy who showed up on this ranch that day all those years ago. He had no idea how much love he’d have one day. No idea that the people who really loved him would never leave him.
They’re all right here.
And when I look up to see Sloane coming down the front steps of the big, sprawling ranch house, my heart stutters in my chest and the tears in my eyes clear instantly. Everything I see is so clear with her in view.
“See you out there. Love you, Jasper,” Harvey finishes, wrapping me in an aggressive hug.
“Love you too, Harvey,” I choke out, and the man just stares back at me with watery eyes and a brusque nod of approval before striding away and doing the same to Sloane.
She hugs him back but keeps her eyes on me as she walks across the driveway. The wishing well is on her left, the house is behind her, and my ring is on her finger. She has on a loose dress that flows around her delicate ankles. Her hair is down, all soft as it frames her face. Ballet slippers are on her feet, and the expression on her face is relaxed. Happy.
This is the day she deserves.
The day we deserve.
Back where it all began.
“You look perfect,” I murmur as she draws near.
“You look edible. Talk about teenage dream.” Her eyes rake over me and a smile touches her lips.
I hold the envelope up. “Did you know about this?”
She lifts a shoulder noncommittally. “A little birdie might have told me.”
Her hands reach for me as soon as she’s near enough, and I pocket the envelope before pulling her into me.
Into our hug. The one we’ve always done. Except now her hand reaches for her tattoo on my ribs every time.
“You ready?” My jacket muffles her voice.
“Not quite,” I say, spinning her toward the ranch house and squeezing her back against my front.
I hold my left hand up in front of her and wiggle my fingers. The fresh lines of ink on my ring finger catches her attention, and she instantly grabs for it. “Got another tattoo for you this morning.”
“Jasper . . .” her voice trails off as her fingers brush over the dark ink. “That’s . . .” Her hands tremble as she holds my hand with both of hers so reverently. “Permanent.”
“So are we. I’m never going to take this ring off.”
She nuzzles in closer against me, and I can feel her smile as her entire body presses back against mine. I fold my arm over her shoulder and link my fingers with hers.
Then I point to the window of the room that’s always been hers. Right next to mine.
“Eighteen years ago, a little blonde girl peeked at me out of that exact window. She stared at me that day, and I stared back. I didn’t realize what it meant because we were just kids.”
She hums softly, twining her fingers with my free hand. Wrapping herself up in me like I’m her favorite blanket. And I indulge her because wrapped around Sloane is my favorite place to be. “You saw me?”
I turn my head in, my lips dusting across her forehead. “Yeah. I saw you, Sloane. I noticed you too. Didn’t know what made me look up there that day. Had no clue what it all meant.”
“What did it mean?”
“That when it comes to you, I’m powerless.”