Brothers of Cooper Ranch

By: Leslie North

No, he thought venomously back at reason. It's only the important parts she's forgotten.

He had been away from the ranch for a long time, but the staff still knew enough to avoid him when he got like this. At least, Sawyer assumed they did. He forgot that despite his brother Maxwell's fairhandedness with his employees, turnover did still tend to happen.

"How is the little lady, Mr. Cooper?" A redheaded hand leaned up against the stall beside him and took a long chug from his water bottle. Sawyer switched the hose off, wiped his brow, and squinted as he groped for a name. Tick, he thought. Tick was one of Cooper Ranch's newer hires, but he had years of experience handling horses all over Montana. Sawyer wondered if the other man was just overfamiliar because he assumed all the Mr. Coopers who came and went from the ranch were of the same temperament.

If Tick was in for a rude awakening, Sawyer didn't want to be the brother to give it to him. He reined in his temper now as best he could. "Doctor still needs to run some tests," he responded through gritted teeth. What he had intended as casual conversation came out as more of a snarl.

Tick didn't appear to take offense. "She got knocked pretty hard when she fell off Adelaide. She got a concussion?''

"Yeah. And worse." Sawyer gathered the hose up and yanked it along to the next stall. "She'll need time to recover."

In truth, Sawyer was still having a hard time wrapping his head around Bella's memory loss. He had fallen off plenty of horses growing up. How could a bump on the head result in a person forgetting such a profound life event? What if their marriage hadn't made an emotional impact on her at all? The thought troubled him, but deep down he knew he was being unfair. Worse, he was being insecure, and he cursed himself for it now. Anyway, their union     had hardly been the only significant event to occur in the past month.

Whether Bella remembered the events leading up to his proposal remained to be seen.

"Well, at least she ain’t got no broken bones. You can keep on teaching her to ride," Tick remarked. “That's something."

"Glass half full, right?" Sawyer muttered sarcastically, but again, Tick didn't appear to take offense. "We were so close to closing this deal. We were about to become a branded member of Marketspace, for God's sake! I need her at the top of her game!" And I told myself all along not to rely on a partner.

He cursed himself again. He knew his words and thoughts were completely insensitive, that Bella hadn't struck her head on purpose, but he couldn't help it. Now that he knew she was all right, his relief kept souring to frustration. Waking up with no memories was the worst thing that could have happened to them at a time like this…and focusing on their resulting business trouble was a lot easier than thinking about how cold his wedding band suddenly felt around his finger.

"Now hold up a minute," Tick said. Sawyer realized he was yanking uselessly on the hose to get more leeway, when there was a knot in its coils nearly the size of the one that had come to exist permanently in his stomach. Tick stooped to work out the kink for him. "Don't tell me you married her just as a means to a business end."

"We all know better than that," another voice interrupted. Sawyer glanced up, brow furrowing, to find Dennis, possibly the Coop's oldest hand, lugging a feed bag from his truck. "You never knew Sawyer before he was married, Tick, but I sure as shit did. Bella rounds you out, Sawyer. She blunts your angles. She softens your edges."

"Yes, I get it already!" Sawyer exclaimed. He didn't mean to be rude, especially not to someone who had been around so long he may as well be family, but he wasn't in the mood for a geometry lesson right now.

Dennis shook his head, as if to say no, son, you don't get it. "The two of you were made for each other. You're already set up to succeed in life just by virtue of finding each other. You don't see that sort of perfect partnership often."

Perfect? Sawyer didn't know whether he wanted to shout or laugh uproariously in the man's face. The old hand had no idea how lousy with hurdles the long road to getting Bella to say “yes” had been. And just when he thought he had jumped them all successfully, the finish line got moved to different continent.

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