She’d spent the past eight years studying and then teaching, trying to earn her family’s approval in spite of her decision to attend college and teach. Trying to make her parents proud by doing something other than marrying a cheating scoundrel.
She’d never gained that approval.
But maybe, just maybe, she’d been searching for her family in the wrong place. Her family had betrayed her and destroyed itself, but God had given her these students and her fellow teachers. A different family that loved her despite her shortcomings and supported her when no one else did.
Her eyes moved to Luke standing beside her, so close the warmth from his strong body radiated into her, and her fingers rubbed the spot where her engagement ring would fit. God had given her that honest rancher, as well.
“You’re thinking about me,” the half-rusted voice whispered in her ear.
She raised her eyebrows. “You believe you’ve acquired the ability to read my thoughts now?”
“Not hardly, but when a woman looks at a man a certain way, all soft and moonstrucklike, he can tell what’s going on inside that pretty head of hers.”
“Do tell, then. I’m most anxious to hear what I’m thinking.”
He glanced down at the finger she toyed with. “That you’re ready to put my ring there.”
All teasing fled as she looked at the finger and nodded.
He slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out the gold circle set with an emerald. “You know, it’s terribly unfair of you to accept my proposal here.” He slid the cool metal onto her finger and bent low so his lips brushed her ear. “I can hardly kiss you with a hundred students looking on. Wouldn’t be proper, I’m told.”
“Luke Hayes, whispering such a thing in my ear is hardly proper, either.” Their eyes met and held, still and peaceful despite the chaos of the dining hall.
“You’re getting married!” a student squealed, likely MaryAnne, as the noise overtook the sound of the fading clapping.
MaryAnne flung herself forward, and Elizabeth nearly stumbled as the girl’s slender body plowed into hers. Before she could right herself, Luke stepped back, and Elaine hugged her from behind, Meredith slammed into her side, and Katherine encircled the three of them. Then the whole room descended into a torrent of squeals and giggles and hugs.
Elizabeth pushed to her toes and tried to find Luke through the melee. He stood watching the scuffle, his arms crossed, his hip and shoulder propped against the wall. His eyelid slid down into a wink, and her face heated anew. Then when someone bumped her from behind, she smiled. Not a forced curve of the lips, but the kind of smile that started deep inside and spread until warmth and joy coursed through every inch of her body.
With her students surrounding her and her eyes locked on the man she loved, she could hardly do otherwise.
Teton Valley, Wyoming
“This is it?”
“This is it.” Luke kept his eyes riveted on Elizabeth, his wife of seven months, as she looked around the deserted cabin where Blake and Cynthia had once lived, a building he hadn’t stepped foot in since Blake’s death.
“I’m glad we’re staying in the ranch house.”
He crossed his arms and leaned a shoulder against the wall. “Why’s that? You don’t like the layer of dust coating everything?”
“It feels eerie, unsettling.” She eyed the sagging mattress against the far wall. “And look at that bed. It’s only big enough for one person. Cynthia and Blake couldn’t have slept in it.”
He grinned slowly and ran his eyes over the small mound on his wife’s ever-growing stomach. “That wasn’t the bed they shared. Some of the ranch hands have used this place a time or two, so we moved a couple old mattresses out here. But we could both fit on it.”
She shook her head. “We definitely could not. And I can prove it. That bed looks to be about 6 feet by 3 feet, giving it a surface area of 18 square feet. You’re about 6.2 feet tall and perhaps 2.5 feet wide through your shoulders. So let’s say you take up 15.5 square feet. I’m approximately 5.3 feet tall with a width of—”
She squeaked as he swooped her up in his arms and deposited her on the bed, then fell beside her, squashing her against the wall. “See, we fit.”
“Not comfortably,” she growled. “Which is what I was about to point out before you interrupted me.”
“Oh, it’s very comfortable for me.” He looped a hand around her back and drew her nearer. “But then, I like being close to my wife. Tell me.” He ran his hand over the swell of her stomach. “How do you figure this extra lump here into your equation? That’s not exactly a straight line.”