Authors: Judy Christenberry
“What kind of job did you have?”
“It was nice, but not exciting. They had to let me go because of the economy. I was a P.R. assistant.”
“An insurance company.” She laughed
when he rolled his eyes. “I told you it wasn’t exciting, but…I liked it.”
“Let’s see, as housekeeper, you get to handle the kids, cook, do laundry and clean house. Are you all right with those duties?”
“Yes, I was doing most of them anyway, in addition to my job.”
“Didn’t your mom help out?”
“She used to. But after she had Davy, she started drinking with my stepdad. She didn’t do much around the house then.”
“That must’ve made it tough for you.”
“That’s why the housekeeping job is perfect. I know how to do all of those things.”
“Yeah. But if it gets too much for you, you need to let us know.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Brad chewed some more meat. “I think they might need you more than three months. Would that be all right?”
“Yes. I want the kids to stay in school as long as I can manage it.”
“That would be good. I think Abby is going to need help for a bit longer.
Recovery from having twins is hard, according to Mom.”
“Did your mother have twins?”
“No, but she had six kids. I think that might be as hard as twins.”
She laughed again. “Maybe harder.” After a moment she continued. “Tell me about your family.”
“Well, there’s Julie—she’s the only girl—in Cheyenne. Charlie is in college. Matt and Jason live at home with Mom and Mike. They’re still in school.” He shook his head and grinned. “I can’t believe Mom still has two teenagers to deal with. And a new husband.”
“How long have she and Mike been married?”
“About a year. Mom moved out and she and Mike built a place on the ranch land so they could be close. She wanted to give Nick and Abby their privacy, and let us get on with the ranch. She took the younger boys with her. And,” he said, cracking a smile, “I suspect she wanted her own privacy.”
“Kate is amazing. And so willing to pitch in.”
“Yeah, she’s pretty good. When Abby came back with Robbie, it was Mom who insisted she stay at the house. Nick was engaged to a terrible woman. I don’t know what he was thinking!”
“What was wrong with her?”
“For starters, she was rude and thought she was better than us. She was a home economics teacher but never cooked and refused to clean. The one time she did cook, she used every pot in the kitchen. And there still wasn’t enough to eat.”
“So who cleaned?”
Brad grinned. “Nick. He got real good at that!”
Sarah couldn’t stifle a laugh at Nick’s expense. “That must have been difficult.”
“Yeah. But he broke off his engagement and married Abby. He got a good cook, a great mother and a wonderful wife.”
“That’s a nice story, Brad. Are—are you planning on marrying, too?”
“I think I’ll skip the part about bringing home a crazy woman who’s a terrible cook. But yeah, I want to marry and have kids. Especially if they’re like Robbie.”
He couldn’t ignore the image that flitted through his mind. Him bringing a certain brown-haired, brown-eyed woman home to meet his mother.
Now where did that thought come from?
her drilling by the prosecutors, Sarah was exhausted. When she stepped out of the room with the attorney, she had a crazy urge to run right to Brad’s arms.
He was waiting for her, of course. He’d sat in the room at the back while she went over her testimony. Over and over again.
As if he read her thoughts, he came up behind her and put his arms around her. “Good job.”
“I’m so ready to be out of here,” she whispered.
“Right this way. I know what you mean.”
She wasn’t sure he did, but she followed him.
In the car he headed for a suburb named
Golden. When he started up a mountain, she thought maybe he did know what she needed. He finally came to a halt on a bluff that overlooked the city.
“Why are we here?”
“I thought you might need to see Denver from a distance. Get some perspective on the city.”
“It’s a beautiful view.”
“It’s also Buffalo Bill’s grave site.”
“Yeah. Come on. I’ll show you.”
They got out of the car and walked to the grave site.
“There’s also a museum if you want to look in it,” Brad explained. “But the view is what I thought was most important.”
“Oh, yes, it is. Can we just sit for a few minutes?”
“Sure.” He led her to a park bench and sat down beside her.
“How did you know I needed this?” she asked after a few minutes.
“I thought they were crowding you a little, back there. It made me think of this place. We
came here on vacation one summer. Dad didn’t want to be gone long from the ranch, so this was perfect. It’s so peaceful and serene.”
“Yes, it is.” In fact, Sarah could feel the tension of the day easing.
They sat silently for another few minutes.
“What shall we do tomorrow?” she finally asked.
“Well, I thought we might go take the tour at the government building where they print money.”
“Really? Is it interesting?”
“I think so. I spend so much money, I want to be sure they’re printing enough of it.”
She burst out laughing. “Oh, yes, definitely!”
“Seeing that much money will take your mind off Thursday.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Then we can go to lunch. After that, we might come back up here, or I’ll find somewhere else to go.”
She drew a deep breath. “That sounds lovely.”
“Did they bother you, the prosecutors?”
“No, not really. But they wanted me to repeat my testimony so many times. I got tired of all the repetitions.”
“I think you surprised them, being so strong and—and fierce in your testimony.”
“Yes. I believe this is what I owe my mother. I couldn’t save her from him, but I can make sure he’s punished.”
“Were you pleased that they’re going to have the custody hearing Thursday afternoon?”
“Yes. I want to be able to tell Anna and Davy that they’ll remain with me. I think that will reassure them more than anything.”
“I’m sure you’re right. I can’t imagine them thinking about going back to their father’s control. It would even frighten me.”
“Poor Anna would go crazy. Davy…well, not much bothers Davy right now. But I think it would later.”
She only hoped she didn’t have to find out. She sighed. “I guess we can go now, if you want.”
“I’m not in a hurry. It’s cooler up here, too.”
“Yes, it is, and it’s very refreshing. I think I like cold better than heat.”
“Then Wyoming is the place for you, since we have so much cold.”
“Doesn’t it make your work difficult?”
He grinned. “Maybe a little.”
“Do you have many blizzards?”
“Sometimes. Everything shuts down until it ends. Then we go on as usual.”
“How do you deal with that?”
“I’ve learned how. But you…well, you’ll have to work harder, because we’ll be there for every meal.”
She smiled. “I think that might be fun,” she said softly.
“You’re my kind of girl, Sarah,” he said with a grin.
Was she really?
Brad insisted they go out for a steak dinner that night.
“Are you sure we’re not going over our budget?” Sarah asked.
“We have a budget?” he joked.
She wasn’t amused. “Brad, we have to be responsible. They may not pay for steak dinners.”
“I think they will. You’re going to make their case for them, Sarah. Without you, your stepfather would’ve skated on this, and they didn’t want that.”
“Neither do I.”
“I know. Do you want an appetizer?”
“No, I think the steak dinner will be quite enough.”
He grinned at her. “I bet you have a budget for each month.”
“If I don’t, we end up with no money at the end of the month.”
“But you don’t need a budget for the next few months.”
“Why not? What if I spend too much money and you can’t afford me? That wouldn’t be smart.”
“Nick is going to love having you as our housekeeper.”
“Doesn’t Abby have a budget?”
“Not much of one. She doesn’t like budgets. When she was a single mother, she hated having a budget. She kept to it, but she hated it.”
With a sigh, Sarah agreed. “I understand how she feels, but I’m afraid they’re necessary.”
When the waiter brought their steaks, they ate silently for several minutes.
Then, with a frown, Sarah asked, “Do I really have a budget?”
“Yeah, but it’s a generous one. Nick didn’t want Abby to worry. And I don’t want you to worry, either. Relax. You’ll do fine.”
Sarah turned a bright pink.
Brad acted as if he hadn’t noticed her embarrassment. “You know, I was thinking today.”
“Does your stepfather know you’re going to testify?”
“I would think the prosecutors will have sent my name to the defense team.”
“I guess they’d have to do that. But if
that’s true, why hasn’t he pleaded? I mean, how can he expect to win if you’re testifying against him?”
“I don’t know.”
“You wouldn’t think he’d get a sympathy vote.”
“I certainly wouldn’t give it to him.”
Brad smiled at Sarah. “Maybe they’ve seen a picture of you and thought you wouldn’t be able to testify in front of him.”
“Maybe they think I’m not coming back for the trial.”
“Guess you’ll prove them wrong, won’t you?”
“Yes.” After a moment, she said, “I have to do this for my mother,” and then added, “And for Anna and Davy.”
When they finished eating, they walked out to the car and he held her hand. Strangely enough, she liked the feel of her tiny one in his larger grip. With a sigh, she said, “I feel like going back up the mountain.”
“We can do that,” he assured her.
“No, I didn’t mean—
We don’t have to do that.”
Bringing her hand to his lips, he kissed her palm and smiled. “I think I feel like mountain climbing, too.”
“Brad, really, I was just teasing.”
“Liar,” he said, smiling at her.
She didn’t respond. He opened the car door for her. Then he came around and got behind the wheel.
“I think we should just go to the motel so we can get a good night’s sleep.”
“You’re going to sleep at eight o’clock?”
“Well, I—I have to get ready for bed.”
“Nice try. But we don’t have to go tomorrow until about nine-thirty. The tour doesn’t start till ten.”
They drove in silence for about ten minutes. “Really, Brad, we should just go back to the motel.”
“You got a favorite television program you want to watch tonight?”
“Oh, I thought maybe you wanted to watch
“That doesn’t come on tonight.”
“Aha! That is one of your favorite shows!”
“Then how did you know it’s not on tonight?”
“My mother used to watch it.”
He seemed to retract physically. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Really. I can’t pretend she didn’t exist. And I’d much rather remember the good things.”
Brad said he understood.
It wasn’t long before he took the exit for Golden.
“Brad, you’re making me feel guilty.”
“Because you’re taking me up to the mountain.”
“Yeah, but it’s what I want, too.”
She didn’t complain again.
When he parked, he came around to open her door. As she got out, he took her hand
and shut the door after her. Then he led her to the bench they’d occupied earlier.
When they were seated, she tried to withdraw her hand. But Brad held on to it. After a few minutes, he brought her hand to his lips again.
“What are you doing?” she whispered. Somehow, sitting in this place made one speak softly.
“Kissing your hand.”
“Because I like to. Because I like the feel of your hand.” He kissed it again. “Because I think you’re very sweet and thoughtful. And because I believe you’re strong for your brother and sister and because I want to be strong for you.”
He kissed her palm this time, then up to her wrist.
If a gentle, harmless kiss like this could make her heart race and her mouth dry, what would a real kiss from Brad Logan do to her?
* * *
Brad didn’t know how much longer he could wait to kiss her. Really kiss her.
He’d been on his best behavior the whole trip, gentlemanly and respectful. He even made sure he had her back to the motel by ten o’clock. He would’ve liked to stay out later, but he wanted her to get enough rest.
But when he took her to her room, he couldn’t hold off any longer. He bent down and tasted her lips.
It was a little longer than a peck, but not enough to worry her. He hoped.
He remembered when he’d first seen Sarah. He’d thought she was a careless mother, risking her children for no reason. But as her true story had come out that night, he’d found himself more on her side.
By the time they’d left home on Monday morning, he knew he was attracted to her. But Mike and Nick had warned him against flirting with her.
So he hadn’t flirted. He’d been honest. And supportive.
He hoped that was helping.
It was killing him.
It was eight-thirty when he knocked on her door the next morning. She opened it at once.
“Yes, I’m starved,” she said before he spoke.
“Good morning. Are you hungry?”
“Smart-aleck,” she said with a grin.
“Yes, ma’am. Right this way.” He smiled to himself. Each morning she seemed a little more relaxed. This morning, she obviously thought he’d waited too late to go eat. Tomorrow, he figured she’d be knocking on his door.
They ordered bacon and eggs, and when he finished, he sat there watching her eat. She looked up and raised her eyebrows. “Is something wrong?”
“Nope. I was just enjoying watching you eat.”
“I eat the same way you do.”
“Nope. You’re a delicate eater.”
“You’re making me nervous.”
“Sorry. I just like to look at you.”
“Brad! You’re not behaving yourself.”
“Are you going to tell Nick?”
She blinked several times. “Why would I tell Nick?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Though she gave him a suspicious look, she finished her breakfast silently.
“Ready to go, or do you need to go back to the room?” he asked.
“I’m ready to go.”
“Will we see you two tomorrow?” the waitress asked as she took Brad’s money. “It’s not often that we get honeymooners!”
Sarah turned bright pink.
“Yeah, we’ll be in tomorrow, too.” Brad took Sarah’s hand and pulled her out after him.
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“Because the lady didn’t mean anything by it. She was just being friendly.”
“But we don’t have rings on.”
“Don’t worry about it, Sarah. They don’t know anyone in Sydney Creek.”
She didn’t say anything.
He opened the car door for her. “Come on. We don’t want to miss the tour.”
She sat quietly as he drove. When he parked the car, they both got out and walked to the entrance for the tour.
When they came out two hours later, Brad joked about the amount of money they’d seen.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s hard to believe how difficult it is to get money when you see so much of it in there.”
Brad smiled at Sarah. “It’s us who put so much value on the paper money. After all, it’s just paper.”
With a big sigh, Sarah nodded.
“Now what do you want to do?”
She grinned at him. “Want to guess?”
“Yes, it makes my problems seem small.”
“One mountain coming up.”
All the benefits the mountain afforded Sarah the night before were washed away in a flood of tension the next morning. Brad could see it on her face and in the set of her
shoulders as they made their way to the courthouse.
Knowing she had to testify against her stepfather with him in the courtroom ate at his gut. Sarah had already been through enough; he hated to see her endure more. But with any luck, she’d only have to lay eyes on the animal two more times. At the custody hearing later that day and at the trial, where her testimony would put him away for life.
As they walked into the courtroom, he reached for her hand. “Just relax, Sarah. You’ll do fine.”
She took a deep breath and let it out as she pushed open the door and entered.
The hearing seemed to take forever, probably because he wasn’t permitted entrance. Pacing outside the door made him feel like a caged animal. When he finally saw Sarah emerge, he ran toward her.
Her smile through the tears told him she’d been successful.
“They’ve charged him and we’re going to trial.”
That was all he needed to hear. “Let’s get out of here.”
He took her hand and led her out into the sunshine. He knew exactly where to take her to celebrate.
They were back in the courthouse at one o’clock. The custody hearing started promptly, presided over by a venerable old judge. Luckily Brad was allowed in.
When Sarah was asked to testify, she could barely speak. Her voice quavered and broke. At one point she finally looked up at Ellis Ashton, seated at the table with his attorney, and stopped. Brad could almost see her demeanor change, strengthen, and when she resumed her testimony, she spoke with courage and conviction. He was so proud of her.