Authors: Sheri WhiteFeather
“This is really nice,” she said.
“It has more space than I'll need.” A home, he thought, that should belong to a familyâa father, a mother, a brood of happy, healthy kids.
“Will you give me the grand tour?”
“Sure.” He knew this was awkward, uncomfortable for both of them. She looked like a city girl who'd lost her way, and he felt like a cowboy who'd just gotten thrown from his horse. “This is the living room, of course.”
“Beamed ceilings and a custom fireplace. You've got good taste, Ethan.”
“Thanks.” They continued walking, then stopped in the dining room.
She glanced up at the chandelier, and he noticed how pretty she looked. Her blouse was soft and feminine, reminding him of the nightgown she'd worn the first time they'd slept in each other's arms.
They entered the kitchen, where Mexican tiles and oak cabinets prevailed. She commented on the shelf in the windowsill, a sunlit spot to grow herbs and flowers.
A moment later she turned around and caught him watching her. He didn't know what to say, how to explain how mixed-up he was. Just telling her that he loved her wouldn't be enough. He would have to go deeper. He would have to cut a vein and bleed.
“Do you want to see the rest of the house now?” he asked.
She nodded, and they backtracked, crossing rooms they'd already been through to get to the hall. He pointed out the den, the guest bathroom and the extra
bedrooms. When they entered the master bedroom, he envisioned her living with him, sharing his life, bearing his children.
She walked over to a sliding-glass door. “You have a beautiful yard.” She examined a brick path that led to a redwood gazebo.
He moved closer to her. “Do you want to go outside? There's a little bench out there. We could sit for a while.”
“That sounds nice.”
A few minutes later they occupied the gazebo. In the distance were the horse amenities, the barn and pastures.
“So this is a gentleman's ranch,” she said.
“Yes.” But at the moment, he didn't feel like a gentleman. He wished he'd thought to bring some take-out coffee, the flavored kind, with mocha and whipped creamâsomething sweet and frothy, something to take the edge off an overcast day.
She shifted on the bench. “Your dogs are going to love this place.”
“I'm sure they are.” Ethan turned to look at her. “Chocolate is going to miss you.”
Her breath hitched. “I'm going to miss him, too. And you,” she added quietly.
“So will I. You, I mean.” He refrained from touching her, from making them both ache. “I miss you already.”
“You confuse me, Ethan.”
“I confuse myself.” He frowned at the acreage that gave him no peace, the land that failed to soothe his soul.
She didn't press him for more information, so he knew he would have to continue on his own. “Do you still want to know about my mom?”
“If you're willing to talk about her.”
He kept frowning, the furrow between his eyebrows a burden he couldn't seem to erase. “This will be the first time I've told anyone about her. But I need to do this.” He needed to explain why he'd pulled away from Susan. “You were right when you said that I was comparing you to her. I was, but not deliberately. It's just what's inside me. The fear that we'll end up like my parents.”
“We're not them. We're us. We're you and me.”
“I know. But she screwed with my head when she left. I pretended that she didn't. That she'd hurt my dad worse than she'd hurt me, but I think our pain was equal.”
“Did he ever stop loving her?”
“No. And all those years I saw what it did to him.”
“How did they meet?” she asked. “How did a girl from New York marry a ranch hand from Texas?”
Ethan glanced at the Valentine heart around Susan's neck. The diamonds glittered like magic. Like fairy dust, he thought. A gift he'd been compelled to buy her.
“My mom was a photography student,” he finally said, answering her question. “She was attending a private school. She was raised with money. Not millions, but enough to make her spoiled.” He paused to take a breath. “She was working on some sort of thesis project, something to do with the American West. I think she was fascinated with that culture because of her Native ancestry. She went through stages, and that was her cowboys-and-Indians period. So she traveled to Texas for research.”
“And became enthralled with your dad?”
“Exactly.” Ethan still hadn't quit frowning. “They had this whirlwind affair, and when she returned to New York, they kept in touch, writing letters, making midnight phone calls.”
“I can see how she fell for him. Your father was a handsome man.”
“And she was a beautiful woman. On the outside, anyway.” He glanced at Susan's necklace again. “After she graduated, she got restless, eager for my dad, so she came back to Texas. Her parents were furious, but I think that was part of the thrill. She was rebellious by nature. A live-for-the-moment artist.”
“So different from your dad.”
“And me. After I was born, her cowboys-and-Indians stage lost its appeal. She couldn't handle being a ranch hand's wife, a stay-at-home mom. She missed New York. She missed not having a career. So she started picking fault with my dad, with me, and the older I got, the more aware I became of it.”
Susan met his gaze. “I'm sorry, Ethan.”
“Me, too.” Sorry he'd let his mom mess with his head. “Dad tried to get her to take pictures of me, to create her art that way, but she wasn't interested in snapping black-and-whites of her kid. I didn't inspire her.”
She put her hand on his knee, a gentle touch, a soft comfort. “Your mom didn't deserve you. Or your dad.”
“I closed myself off from her, and when she left, I watched my old man fall apart.” He covered her hand with his. “And now I'm falling apart.”
“You have that right. We all do. Human beings aren't invincible.” She locked her fingers through his. “But
we're resilient. We bounce back. We heal. We get stronger from the pain.”
His eyes burned, but he wasn't about to embarrass himself, to let them water. “I never wanted to be your patient, Susan. To be some whacked-out guy you had to fix.”
“You're not my patient. You're the boy who always mattered. The man I fell in love with.”
His heartbeat jumped, skittered and skipped. This was his opportunity to start healing, to let the pain go, to trust Susan. “I love you, too,” he said, his voice not quite steady. “I'm not sure when it happened. Maybe it was when we were teenagers. Or maybe it happened that night in the rain. I've never been that close to anyone before. Making love, making memories.” He snared her gaze, capturing her, holding her captive. “Did you mean what you said? About staying in Texas?”
“Yes.” Her eyes misted, and she blinked, a bit furiously, fluttering her lashes, trying to will away the tears.
“Then will you stay? Will you be with me?”
She nodded, and her tears fell. Happy tears, emotional tears.
“I'm so sorry I hurt you.” Unable to resist, he caressed her cheek, his fingers grazing her skin. “I shouldn't have let my mom come between us. But I kept seeing myself in my dad.”
“Maybe we can visit his grave,” she said. “Talk to him, tell him that we found each other.”
“I'd like that. And I'm sure he would, too.” He took
Susan in his arms, and she fell into his embrace, hugging him, holding him.
Creating another memory.
Another moment he would never forget.
usan loved the atmosphere. The feminine voices, the girlish chatter, the scent of perfume mingling with the allure of jewels, gems and glitter.
The matron of honor, the bridesmaids and the flower girl were getting ready in the master bedroom in Susan's new home.
And so was she.
She gazed in a full-length mirror, anticipating her walk down the aisle. She'd decided to adhere to tradition, not allowing the groom to see her before the ceremony.
Ethan had proposed to her on February eighteenth, and within ten days they'd planned their wedding, working out every detail. They didn't want to wait; they'd waited long enough to be together. But more than that,
they'd forgone a long engagement because they wanted Ryan to have the opportunity to attend their wedding, to give Susan away.
She studied her dress, an elegant white gown with a beaded bodice, delicate embroidery and sweep train.
Lily walked up behind her, and both of their images were reflected in the mirror. “You look beautiful,” she said. “A radiant bride.”
“Thank you. You look beautiful, too.” As the matron of honor, Lily wore a sophisticated ensemble with scattered sequins. The wedding colors suited her well.
Susan had chosen desert blue and Victorian lilac. Accents of yellow were included, as well, adding marigolds and sweet clover to floral arrangements.
“Do you want me to attach your veil?” Lily asked.
She nodded, wondering if this was how Cinderella felt when she'd finally married her prince.
Lily put the veil in place. The sheer fabric shimmered in the light. “Are you nervous?”
“Yes, but in a good way.” Susan turned around to face her, and they smiled at each other.
“The rose came off my dress,” Cathy said from another mirror. “Will someone help me pin it back on?”
Kyra, Susan's sister, went to the girl's rescue, reattaching the satin flower. The fourteen-year-old, along with Kyra, was a bridesmaid, and the teenager was thrilled to be part of the ceremony.
In the past ten days Susan had gotten to know Cathy's parents, and she thought they were warm and caring, a loving couple with family values. As for Cathy, she'd become a regular visitor at the Double Crown foaling
paddocks. So far she'd attended two births, welcoming adorable little foals into the world.
“It's time,” Kyra said suddenly, creating a flurry of satin and lace.
Susan's pulse jumped to her throat. The wedding procession was about to begin. She glanced at her sister, and they exchanged a sibling smile. Kyra looked breathtaking, but she always did.
The bridesmaids exited the sliding-glass door, heading for the gazebo. Susan and Ethan had chosen that as their wedding site. Although the bench had been removed, flowers and plants and a makeshift altar had been added.
Lily fanned Susan's veil one last time, then followed the bridesmaids. Susan noticed that her cousin was already getting teary eyed.
The flower girl went next, carrying a silk basket and taking careful steps in her pretty white shoes.
Finally Susan slipped outside, knowing Ryan was there, eager to do his part. He reached for her arm, and they waited for the organist to play her song.
“My baby girl,” he said to her.
She studied his face, the lines near his eyes, the aging texture of his skin. She knew this was one of the happiest moments of his life. He'd predicted her wedding all along. “You helped make this dream come true.”
“I did, didn't I?” He gave her a matchmaker's wink.
“The Wedding March” began, announcing the bride, and they moved forward, walking down the aisle.
They passed a sea of guests, and a moment later she glanced up and saw Ethan, waiting at the altar, his expression filled with awe.
A symphony of butterflies took flight, swirling in her stomach. He looked tall and handsome in a Western tuxedo, with a full satin yoke and bolo tie. On his lapel he sported a lavender rose.
Ryan offered her to the groom, and she took her place beside him. When he smiled at her, the butterflies disappeared. She returned his smile, then handed her bouquet to Lily, preparing for the rest of the ceremony.
To marry the man she loved.
Soon they exchanged vows. Traditional verses. A lifelong commitment. Susan meant every word, and she knew Ethan did, too.
The rings came next. His was a wide white-gold band, and hers glittered with diamonds, complementing the Valentine necklace she wore.
When he leaned in to kiss her, he touched her veil, and the fabric fluttered between them.
They separated, and he looked into her eyes. Captivated, she saw their future: erotic nights, early morning coffee, brand-new babies, the dogs and horses that would always be part of their lives.
Together, they turned to face their guests, presenting themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge.
Best friends, she thought. Thriving lovers.
Husband and wife.
Everything you love about romanceâ¦
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