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"I'm going to marry Sam Longstreet, and there s nothing you can do to stop me," Callen said to her father in a calm, brittle voice. Her brown eyes flashed with defiance. "What's wrong with Sam? He's a rancher, a close neighbor. Longstreet land has bordered Whitelaw land in northwest Texas for generations!"
Garth Whitelaw eyed his daughter, the youngest of his three grown children, with trepidation. She had been engaged twice, but never married. Both times, he had warned her she was making a mistake. Both times, she had disregarded his advice, only to break the engagements later when she learned the truth of what he had said. Now she was proposing a third prospective husband, this one as bad—maybe even worse—than the other two. Garth had learned that telling Callen no was like waving a red flag in front of a bull, but he felt so strongly that Sam was the wrong man for his daughter that he made his arguments anyway.
"Sam Longstreet will never amount to anything," he said. "He's a down-at-the-heels rogue with nothing to his name but a ramshackle ranch. At a guess, I'd say he's only interested in your money."
"That's despicable!" Callen retorted. "How can you even suggest such a thing?"
"Because it's true," Garth replied in a steely voice. "You're an heiress, Sam's a dirt-poor rancher. He was lucky to get through high school, and he hasn't done anything since to educate himself. He's a loner, and he's lazy. The Double L is falling down around him. What can the two of you possibly have in common?"
"Sam's a wonderful man," Callen argued. "He's just had a lot of hard luck lately. His father made some bad investments that took all their savings. I'll agree Sam has been reclusive in the months since his dad died, but that sort of blow would be hard on anyone who loved his father as much as Sam loved E.J."
Garth probably missed E. J. Longstreet as much or more than Sam did. The two older men had been good friends. It was a shame what had happened to E.J., and Garth sympathized with Sam's loss. But that didn't mean he wanted Sam for a son-in-law. He couldn't imagine what his daughter found attractive about the rancher. He asked again, "What do you see in him?"
Callen hesitated a moment before she replied. "Sam needs me, Daddy. And I need him. He makes me feel…special."
Garth snorted. "I'm not saying what happens between a man and woman between the sheets isn't important. But you're going to find it mighty tough sitting across from a lazy good-for-nothing at the breakfast table for the rest of your life."
Callen's lips flattened and her eyes narrowed. "I didn't mean Sam makes me feel special in bed. I meant— Oh, what's the use! I'm not going to change your mind, and you're not going to change mine. I wasn't asking your permission to marry Sam, I just wanted to let you know we're going to be married and invite you to the wedding."
"I won't be there," Garth said flatly.
Callen's chin quivered. She gritted her teeth to steady it before replying, "That's up to you, of course." She started for the front door of the antebellum-style mansion that had been built more than a century before as the main ranch house at Hawk's Way. She paused at the front door, waiting, hoping her father would change his mind. Her heart sank as she heard his parting words.
"If you marry Sam, you won't have a job here anymore." Garth knew the threat was a mistake the moment the words were out of his mouth, but it was too late to take them back. Callen was the best cutting horse trainer he had. She wouldn't have any trouble finding another job. And he didn't want to lose all contact with his only daughter. Though it had been years since he had said the words to her, he loved her dearly.
Callen's shoulders stiffened, then squared, before she turned to face her father. "I hope you'll change your mind, Daddy. Because come Friday, I'm going to be Mrs. Sam Longstreet."