"Maybe it's nothing."
Susie Carrigan glared at the man she had chosen to save her from a fate worse than a hard frost on the first buds of spring.
Thirty-year-old Tyler McCabe was more than her best friend and an accomplished large animal vet. He was an astute fellow observer of human nature who could predict a person's next move with startling accuracy, a fact that made his refusal to see the gravity of her current situation all the more frustrating.
"It's not 'nothing,'" she argued.
They were in the hospital barn of Tyler's Healing Meadow Ranch, located just north of Laramie, Texas. He gave her a sexy, half smile that warmed her from the inside out.
"You can't know that," he said, hunkering down to finish his task.
Susie watched Tyler stitch up the flank of a longhorn calf who'd gotten tangled up in barbed wire. As always, his touch was gentle and sure, his sutures precise.
Trying not to think how these same hands would feel on her, if the two of them ever got together again--a fact she knew darn well was as unlikely as it was secretly appealing--Susie leaned back against the stall wall. She folded her arms in front of her. "Believe me, I know this. My parents are through waiting for me and my sibs to settle down and have families of our own. The holidays will be here in a few weeks. They've got plans for me, I'm telling you."
Tyler swabbed antibiotic on the sealed wound, then covered it with a waterproof bandage. "I'd think that the heat would be off the rest of you now that Rebecca and Trevor are married."
"Precisely the problem," Susie lamented, her aggravation increasing. She looked at Tyler, studying his six-foot-four frame. Although he had an independent aura that could be a little off-putting at times--and a desire never to marry that matched her own--there wasn't a finer-looking rancher around, in her opinion. He was strong and solidly muscled, with shoulders that were broad enough to lean on. She knew, because she'd done so, every now and again. He wore his thick reddish-brown hair on the longish side, so it brushed his collar and the tops of his ears; the no-fuss style suited him perfectly. His eyes were a distinct sage green with flecks of gray, his gaze both assessing and intent. he had a habit of shaving only every couple of days. The stubble of red-brown beard that surrounded his lips only served to remind her how passionately and skillfully he could kiss. Add to that a ruggedly handsome face, a McCabe-stubborn jaw that defied anyone to try and mess with him and a smile that was reckless, and intuitive enough to make her heart flutter. And best of all, when she found herself in a potentially difficult situation, he always knew what to do or say to make her feel better.
Which was, of course, why she had come to him now.
Susie scuffed the toe of her sturdy engineer's boots on the cement barn floor. "My parents think their plan to find suitable people for us to date, and hopefully marry, is what spurred Rebecca into going out and finding her perfect mate on her own. Basically, their plans worked! Now they aren't going to rest until they match up me and Amy and Jeremy, too."
"Meg and Luke can't force you to do anything you don't want to do, Suze."
Susie flushed at Tyler's use of the nickname he had given her when they were kids. "That will not stop them from trying."
Tyler shrugged. "So tell them to back off. You'll find your own man when you're good and ready."
Susie knew what she wanted. In theory, anyway. Whoever he was, the man of her dreams wouldn't be much different from the man she saw standing in front of her.
Like Tyler, she would want her ideal someone to be taller than she was--not so easy to find for someone of her five-foot-ten inches height--and physically fit. She'd like him to be as comfortable working with his hands as she was with hers, and to enjoy being outdoors. She'd want someone, like Tyler, who had a wealth of experience in his expression, and a twinkle of humor that cropped up in his smile at the least expected times. She'd want him to call her on her bull, and let her call him on his. To make her feel that she could tell him anything. And most importantly, she'd want him to make her feel as if everything would turn out okay.
In a perfect world, that was the man she wanted. Unfortunately, her future wasn't without potentially daunting liabilities, and in her heart of hearts, she knew it wasn't fair to any man to ask him to share in those risks. It was hard enough that she had to deal with them, without dragging anyone else into that uncertainty.
"I want you to run interference for me," Susie told Tyler.
He strode over to wash his hands in one of the sinks located at either end of the aisles between stalls. "By..."
"Going to my parents' home with me."
Susie's mouth dropped into an O of surprise. Their eyes met and held.
"I'm not going to help you put off until tomorrow what you should be taking care of today," he told her firmly.
"Thanks a bunch," Susie replied sarcastically.
Susie was used to Tyler being right there when she needed him. She wasn't used to him refusing her anything.
He shrugged and, to her increasing dissatisfaction, held his ground. "You know your parents aren't going to rest until they say whatever is on their mind. Therefore, you may as well just go on and get it done without me."