Authors: Rebecca Winters
Trace had asked her about a name. She didn't know yet, but the fact that he'd asked told her he was a caring, sensitive man. Cassie was thinking too much about him. What on earth was wrong with her?
While she was pouring the hot paraffin wax over the filled jars to seal them, she heard him come in the back door. He didn't pause to talk so she didn't say anything.
Forget he's here, Cassie.
Trace walked down the hall. The meeting with the therapist in Billings earlier today had gone as he'd imagined. He didn't need a doctor to realize he'd been in a morose state since his eye injury. It was all part of his PTSD. But Dr. Holbrook had emphasized that there was one thing he needed to do before all else. Deal with Nicci. No other decision should be made until he knew if he was going to live in Colorado or Italy.
The therapist made a lot of sense. It was time for a heart-to-heart.
Now that Trace was on the ranch and had spent two full days with his father, it was time to pay Nicci some attention. A month had passed since he'd last seen her. They'd spoken several times since, but nothing had been resolved. His call to her yesterday had gone downhill. They needed to talk when her father wasn't around.
She picked up on the fifth ring.
she answered in a sleepy voice.
“Nicci? Sorry for calling you in the middle of the night, but this can't wait. Our conversation yesterday wasn't good.”
“That's because I'm miserable,” she said in heavily accented English. “Papa wants to know if you have come to your senses yet. Please say yes. Is that why you're phoning while I was dreaming about the two of us in our own villa overlooking the water?”
Clearly nothing in her mind had changed since he'd left Italy. His eyes closed tightly. “I can't say yes. All I know is that I miss you.”
“I think not enough, or you would take the job my father has offered you. I never knew anyone so obstinate.” That was her temper talking because she was in pain. So was he.
Trace paced the floor. “Listen to me, Nicci. I have to use my expertise. As I told you, the Air Force Academy has offered me a position as a flight instructor. Colorado Springs is a beautiful city. You'll love it there. We'll buy a house and start a family. You'll be able to visit your family often. They'll visit us. We'll visit my father and his wife. They'll come to us. We can have the life we wanted.”
The silence on the other end was tangible. “But it's
the life we planned.”
“Only the location and the kind of work I do have changed.
“I don't know. What would I do all day while you're at work?”
“We talked about that yesterday. You can find a job here you like. I have contacts.”
“But it won't be like helping Papa.”
“Of course nothing would be like that, Nicci.” She was his social princess and did things for him only a daughter could do, but you could never call it a job. Even Nicci was honest enough to admit that. He turned on his other side. Naturally he couldn't blame her for her fears, but the conversation was unraveling fast.
“You won't know how you feel until you try. When can you fly over?”
“I'm not sure.”
He was used to her pouts, but since he'd been to the therapist he was more immune to them now. “This is hard on me, too, Nicci. Plan a time and I'll meet your plane in Denver. We'll drive to Colorado Springs so you can get a feel for it. We'll look at houses and plan. Then we'll fly to Montana so you can meet my father and his wife. What do you say?”
“I say I miss you so much, I feel like I'm going mad.”
He could just picture her stomping the floor in one of her spiky high heels. Trace wouldn't be getting a definitive answer out of her yet. Maybe never. “I love you, too. Phone me when you've picked the date to fly over.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Eat dinner and go to bed. It's been a long day and I'm exhausted.” But that exhaustion was of the mental kind.
“That's where I wish we were right now.”
He inhaled sharply. They'd always communicated well in bed. “Then hurry and make arrangements. I'll pay for your ticket.”
will do it!”
“You know how I feel about that. I plan to take care of you.”
“We're not married yet. He can afford it.”
Yes he could. Benito Tornielli, who owned a company that constructed some of the largest cruise ships on the Adriatic, was a multimillionaire who spoiled his children. Trace almost said she would need to get used to living on his salary, but he caught himself in time.
She was so headstrong in favor of spending her father's money, this was one fight he couldn't win over the phone so there was no point in trying.
“Good night, Nicci. Come to me soon.”
After they hung up, he lay back staring at the ceiling. Nicci still wasn't ready to fly over, which made their conversation more troubling to him than ever. She was a fiery, exciting woman who'd been pampered all her life and felt perfectly safe in her sheltered environment.
The accident that had changed his life had shaken her to the core. To live with him in Colorado away from her family was so frightening to her, she couldn't face it.
He understood. This would ask a lot of any woman from another country. But Nicci wasn't just any woman. The more he thought about it, the more he feared that marriage to her wouldn't work unless it was on her terms, which meant living in Italy.
For her sake he'd been wrestling with the idea of being a flight navigator since his injury. But enough time had passed during his recuperation that he knew in his heart it wasn't what he wanted. He'd expressed that sentiment to Cassie on Tuesday, and to the therapist today. He couldn't do that job, not even for love. Trace had to be true to himself. His father had taught him that much.
To work for Nicci's fatherâto be under his thumb for the rest of their livesâwas out of the question. So until she came to the United States to see if they could make a new life here work, then a marriage between them wasn't possible. She needed to be true to herself, too. Knowing his own mind helped him to deal with matters closer to home.
Trace left the bedroom and walked out to the kitchen to wash his hands. Cassie eyed him. “I was just going to call you to dinner.”
His gaze darted to the table. She'd fixed him a plate of meatloaf and potatoes, but it looked like she was ready to disappear. “Since you've gone to so much trouble, why don't you eat with me?” It upset him that she felt she had to stay away when he was home for the evening.
“I can't. I have plans. Just leave everything when you've finished and I'll be back to do the dishes.”
An unaccountable feeling of disappointment passed through him as she walked out the front door. He'd looked forward to talking to her. More important however, there was something he needed to discuss with her tonight. After his therapy session he realized it couldn't be put off.
His plans to sell the ranch had made her circumstances more precarious because she was pregnant. He hated the idea of bringing her added distress, but she needed to know his plans so she could think about making other work and living arrangements.
When he'd finished eating, he cleaned up the kitchen. Still at a loose end, he went to the bedroom for his laptop. After going to the living room, he looked up some real estate websites for Billings. From the long list, one name stood out he recognized. Over the years he'd seen Hawksworth Realty signs around the White Lodge area and figured they must be a reputable company.
While he jotted down the phone number, he heard the front door open and turned his head. The sight of Cassie brought him more pleasure than it should have. “Home so soon? You weren't gone long.”
“No. I went to Avery's to show her the new baby clothes, but she and Zane weren't there so I came home.”
“I'm glad you're back early. Since it's Friday night and not time for bed, would you like to drive into White Lodge and see a movie with me? I haven't done it in years. It might be fun.” He'd broach the serious subject later.
She gave him a speculative glance. “This must be hard for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Being back here twiddling your thumbs after the life you spent overseas. Don't tell me there isn't a woman you left behind. Some time ago your father mentioned a particular woman you were crazy about. Do you still feel the same way about her?”
“You don't miss much, do you, Cassie.”
Her eyes smiled. “It's not hard to pick up on the news when your dad talks about you all the time.” At this point Trace's guilt weighed heavily on him. “What's her name?”
“Nicoletta Tornielli. I call her Nicci.”
“I love that name. Italian and gorgeous?”
“As a matter of fact she is. Before my injury we were planning to get married and live in Italy. Now I'm afraid everything is on hold.”
“Because I'll be working in Colorado.”
“If she loves you, she'll go where you go.”
“You don't know Nicci. She comes from a privileged background.”
“Logan accused me of being privileged. He didn't believe I would leave my family to marry him and work here with him, but I did.”
“But your family lives on the ranch next door.”
Her features closed up. “As you know, they might as well be in Italy since my marriage to Logan.”
“I forgot. That was insensitive of me.”
She smiled. “Then we're even. What kind of work does she do?”
“Nicci waits on her father, but she doesn't work in the sense you mean by drawing a paycheck.”
“What does he do?”
“His company builds ships that travel the Adriatic. He owns a huge villa and estate in Monfalcone overlooking the water.”
“Um, that sounds fabulous.”
“It is. I'm afraid Colorado Springs won't be able to compete.”
“Has she been here before?”
“Only New York. I'm expecting her to fly over next week so I can show her around. But I'm not holding my breath. My instincts tell me she knows she won't transplant well.”
“Give her a little more time.”
He shook his head. “In her case I don't think time is going to make a difference.”
Cassie's eyes filled with concern. “When you're in love, even a week sounds more like an eternity.” After a pause, “If you want to see a movie tonight, I'd be happy to go.”
Her comment pleased him no end. “So you're taking pity on me?”
“Why not? I could do with some diversion myself.”
“You deserve it. We'll celebrate the news that you're expecting a daughter.”
That brought a radiant smile to her face. She really was a beautiful woman. “I am! I can hardly believe it.”
“You're not too tired?”
“We'll go in my new car. You'll be the first person to ride in it.”
“That sounds exciting. Do you know what's playing? All the years you've been away there are still only two movie theaters in our little hamlet.”
He chuckled. “I remember, and I checked earlier.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
“I've heard about the second option. I like a good football story. Let's go with that one.”
So far there wasn't anything about Cassie Dorney he didn't like. “You're on.”
“I'll meet you outside in a minute.”
He waited for her on the porch steps to help her to his car. On the way to town she said, “You didn't need to do the dishes. I would have done them.”
“I think I can handle putting a plate and glass in the dishwasher.” A chuckle came out of her. “The meatloaf was so good I'm afraid I ate all that you cooked.”
“You must have been starving.”
“Since coming home I've noticed my normal appetite is back.”
“That's good to hear. Your father was so worried while you were in the hospital.”
“Sounds like you and Dad have gotten close.”
“He's been a wonderful friend to Logan and me. Iâ” She stopped talking.
“I know what you were going to say, Cassie. How could I have chosen a career that kept me away from him all these years?”
“No. I was just going to say that you were lucky to have been raised by a father who loves you so completely.”
The situation with Cassie and her father was tragic. “I wish my anger over the divorce hadn't carried me down a path of separation for as long as it did.” The laser injury dictated more separation, but not as far away from home as before.
They drove into White Lodge. Summer tourists had invaded the place. When he'd parked and they'd walked to the theater, he discovered it was packed. They were lucky to get seats on the next to the last row. Cassie refused the popcorn Trace bought them. “I'd love some, but the doctor told me to watch my salt intake and put my feet up every day for a while.”
“I'll remember that and we'll bring our own unsalted version next time.”
* * *
a next time, but Cassie didn't say anything. The woman he planned to marry would be here before long. Cassie couldn't imagine his girlfriend letting him get away from her. It was just his depression talking.
After he'd helped her down from his elegant new Explorer, he'd cupped her elbow as they'd walked to the movie theatre. Because she was pregnant and wearing maternity clothes that showed her bump, people no doubt thought they were a married couple. If anyone recognized her, word would get back to her family, but it had to happen sometime. She couldn't worry about it now.
This was the first time Cassie had been anywhere with another man since Logan. Oddly enough she didn't feel uncomfortable, probably because Trace wasn't just another man. He was Sam Rafferty's son. Cassie had known them since she was a young girl.
She and Trace had already confided in each other over the traumas in their lives. The unconventional situation of them being thrown together had forced secrets to be divulged, putting them on a more intimate footing.