Authors: Myrna Mackenzie
And then he found himself searching out Rachel. As if she knew he'd been looking for her, she came to him. The band was tuning up their fiddles and mandolins and banjos. And then they began to play.
She grinned and mimed dancing with him.
He took her hand, even though what he really wanted was just to walk with her, talk with her, be with her.
Rachel walked right into his arms. “I'm not the best dancer,” she confessed.
It didn't matter. He would have her in his arms.
“I'll muffle my screams of pain if you step on my toes,” he promised.
She hit him, lightly, and that was good. Because while he was teasing her, and she was reacting, he couldn't do what he really wanted to. Which was to kiss her crazy.
Dancing with Rachel was torture. Exquisite torture. And over too soon.
Everything with Rachel would be over too soon. And he would have to smile through his pain. Because she was following her dreams.
Rachel couldn't stop humming even after the last guest had gone home. The evening had been magical, and she didn't want it to end. Even though she knew it was already over. And tomorrowâ¦tomorrowâ¦
“One more,” Shane whispered, coming up behind her and taking her in his arms as he swung her into a dance, just as if the party was still going on.
Except it wasn't. They were at the ranch, they were alone and she was so in love with him that she couldn't think straight. She was in deepest danger of doing some thing stupid, showing her hand. She had to lighten things up.
“Soâ¦what do you think? Ruby and Len? Maybe an item?” she asked.
Shane tilted back his head and laughed. “She was beating him over the head when he stepped on her foot. He was hopping around like a bunny that had lost its sense of direction. And the dogâ¦the dogâ¦”
They stopped dancing. They laughed, holding each other. “The dogâ¦” Shane said. “I thought the dog was going to be trampled between them. I don't know if Otter was trying to save Len from Ruby's blows or if he just wanted to dance with them. Good thing you got in there and saved him. You're as good with animals as you are with children, Rachel.”
“He looked as if he needed a friend,” she said.
And that was when the laughter stopped.
“You've been just what I needed, what everyone in Moraine needed. You made this happen,” Shane said. “This whole wonderful evening was your doing.”
“No,” she said quietly. “No, it wasn't. You made them happy, Shane.”
“They made me happy. And this nightâ¦it was time. You were right. All along. Maine doesn't know just
how lucky a state it is,” he whispered fiercely. While he was talking, he was slowly walking her up against a wall. He took her hands in his.
“I'm not sure a state can be considered lucky,” she said, a trifle breathlessly.
He lifted her hands and placed them against the wall on either side of her head, his palms holding her there gently as he nudged her head to one side with his nose and kissed right beneath her earlobe.
“Lucky. Like me. I feel lucky to have you with me tonight,” he said.
His lips slid down to the curve of her neck. To her shoulder.
She shivered and his eyes turned molten. He released her as his lips met hers. He gathered her to him and slid his hands over her shoulders, just beneath the curve of her breastâ¦
The sound of Hank closing a gate somewhere in the distance registered. He wasn't close. He wouldn't come to the house. But Shane backed away. “I promised I wouldn't do this,” he told her. “I shouldn't have started it.”
“Not smart of either of us,” she agreed. “Butâ¦you didn't want it?”
He looked at her with astonishment. “Do I look like I'm insane and unaware of how desirable you are?”
“No one's ever told me that before, that I'm desirable.”
Shane growled. “Then the men you've known must have been wearing their heads on backward, because you are the most desirable woman I know,” he said as his hand snaked around her waist. He slammed her up against him. He kissed her hard, his body molded to
hers. Every inch of her body was curved against his. “Bodies don't lie, so don't lie to yourself. If it weren't for Hank reminding me that it would be a major mistake for us to sleep together, I would be begging you to come to my bed.”
She looped an arm around his neck. “All right. You win. I'm what you wanted tonight.” Then she smiled up at him sadly. She kissed him, just once. Somehowâshe didn't know howâshe managed to back away, because backing away was the only choice when so much was at risk.
In only a second she would be far enough away to break the spell of being near him. She hoped.
But then she made the mistake of looking directly into his eyes, and that always messed with her common sense. “You wouldn't have had to beg me to come to your bed. I was already there in my mind,” she confessed. “Thank goodness one of us thought things through, or we would have been naked together and regretting it ever afterward.”
And then she turned and ran for her car.
“Idiot. Fool. What's wrong with you?” she whispered as she began to drive home, just a bit too fast. But that answer was already obvious. She was in love with Shane.
And her heart was already preparing itself for the pain to come. Because, no matter what milestones he had passed tonight, he was still going. Mending fences didn't negate the fact that he loved his work. He loved moving around. He didn't want a relationship.
If she were very smartâand she had once thought that she wasâshe would start putting on the emotional brakes. She could pull away right now, just get on a bus and ride away. She had enough money now, and
not going was going to land her in major hurt territory. There would be broken pieces of her that might not go back together again. There would be substantial scarring of her heart, the kind that never disappeared.
Stillâ¦not staying would leave Shane alone to face that open house and the auction, selling off the house where his mother and brother had lived and died.
“So suck it up, Everly. You know you're not leaving him until it's all done and he's back on his way to happy.” Still, she had to be very careful. Who knew what foolish things she might do between now and then?
and Shane sat on the porch beneath a star-filled sky.
Last time to do this,
she thought. The house was finished. Tomorrow was the sale. But she didn't want to think about that.
“They're so beautiful. There are so many of them,” she said.
“I meant for you to have a chance to enjoy them that night we camped out. I'm sorry you didn't get the chance.”
“I'm seeing them now. I suppose some people would find this mundane, but I've never really spent much time looking at stars. Most of the places I've lived have too much light pollution to see more than a few of the brightest ones.”
“My mother used to tell Eric and me that stars were a giant's dandruff. Mostly, I think, because Eric had this amazingly contagious laughter. We used to think up things to make him laugh just to hear it.”
She smiled. “What a nice memory.”
“I'd almost forgotten it.”
“I'm glad you didn't. Remembering your brother's laughter is a good thing, isn't it?”
“It was one of the best things about him. Are you sure you're not cold? It's a bit chilly tonight.”
She sighed and leaned back against the porch support. “I'mâ¦just right. In fact, I could fall asleep right here in this very spot. Did you ever do that?”
“Sleep on the porch? Lots of times. Lots of mosquito bites in the morning.” He flicked an imaginary one away from her nose.
She leaned toward him, following his touch. “Shane, do you think we've done enough? I want tomorrow to be perfect,” she said. “Lots of people coming to look at your house. I want it to shine like silver. Nothing left undone.”
He laughed. “You've checked and double checked every thing.”
“As if you didn't,” she teased.
“Yeah, but that's what I do. I'm a numbers man, a checklist kind of guy.”
“And I'm a âtry to make everything right' woman.”
“Do you seriously want to look one more time?”
No. She seriously wanted him to lean closer and kiss her. She wanted them to slide to the porch wrapped in each other's arms. She wanted to plunge her fingers into Shane's thick, dark hair. And because she wanted those things so badlyâ¦
“I think one more look around wouldn't hurt.” She got to her feet.
He groaned, but then he laughed. “The royal tour, then?”
“Nothing but the best for us.”
So they opened the door and stared at the wonders they had created. The living room was perfect. “I still love that green vase, even in lamplight,” she said. “Maybe especially in lamplight. I hope someone gives you bundles of money for it.”
They moved to the kitchen, redone in sunshine
yellow and turquoise, with black and white tile on the floor. “If anyone makes one remark about tearing this place down, don't tell me. This room is perfect as it is.”
The tour continued. The dining room, the enclosed porch. Finally they came to Eric's room. Rachel had come in early and she and Shane had worked as long as they could.
“You were right about the very subtle cowboy theme, the hat on the shelf, the boots in the corner,” he said. “I thought it might be tacky, but done up in rust and brown and gold this place is Eric through and through. And I'm glad. It feels warm. It feels complete.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I tried not to change too much. And nowâ¦I guess there's nowhere else to go, no more rooms to inspect. Everything is in its place.”
“Tomorrow we let the masses give it a yes vote or a no vote, I suppose.”
“They wouldn't dare give it a no vote,” she said, making him laugh. She laughed, too, but there were tears in her heart. Because when tomorrow was over Shane would turn over anything that hadn't sold to a company that would continue the sale online. And then she would leave him.
“And then we'll both leave,” he said. “You'll go to Maine.”
“You'll go to Germany.”
“I'd like to know that you're all right,” he said.
Her heart stalled. She'd experienced so many endings, but this oneâ¦she couldn't drag out her goodbyes. Her heart was ripping in half already. “I'llâI'll send you a postcard,” she said.
He froze. “Damn you, Rachel. That's cold.”
“Said the boy who was born to break hearts.”
“Not yours. I don't want to break yours. Not that I could, butâ¦I don't wantâ¦”
want,” she said suddenly.
This whole situation, this polite farewell. Everything was so clean, so neat, so dry, so terrible. And she had always been a messy person.
“I want a souvenir,” she said. “Just one thing.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
He kissed her back. Fervently. And thenâ¦more fervently.
“I don't want to forget you,” she whispered.
“I want you to forget me,” he said. “I don't want to be a regret for you.”
“You won't. You'll be a memory. A great memory. The kind I couldn't possibly forget.”
“That's what I want, too,” he said. “Wait here.” And he took off as if the house was on fire.
In a few seconds she heard the sound of banging and clanging. She started toward the bedroom.
“Don't come in here,” he warned. “In fact, go into the living room and close the door.”
“I don't thinkâ”
“Good. I don't want you to think right now. Just feel.” And then he was gone again. Ten minutes later he came to get her. His hair was disheveled. His shirt was half untucked. “Come on, my little astronomer.”
“You wanted to sleep beneath the stars. Well, I can't promise you sleep, but I can promise you something better than the porch.” He led her out of the house into the yard, and there beside the garden, with the fragrance of night roses wafting over them, was a bed fully assembled.
“We're having a sleepover?” she asked, and her heart started pounding.
“I hadn't gotten that far yet. I just wanted you to finally have your wish, your souvenir. A night beneath Montana skies.”
He held a hand out toward the bed, and she saw that he had piled up pillows. A person could lie back and easily, comfortably look up at the heavens. If looking up was what they wanted to do.
“I can see now what all those women saw, why so many of them cried when you left. You're a master of the gallant gesture.”
He chuckled as he sat on the side of the bed, took her hand and drew her down beside him. “Believe me, this is a first for me. Beds aren't made to be dragged out into the night.”
“But you did it. Thank you. It was a heroic effort, and Iâ”
She looked up at him. He smiled down at her.
“Shh,” he said, and he slipped his hands into her hair and kissed her.
He drew her down so that they were lying on the bed. And he kissed her some more. Deeply. His mouth driving her slowly crazy, his hands wandering over her body, slipping beneath her blouse, leaving trails of fire burning within her.
She clutched at him, unbuttoned his shirt with more speed than skill, popping a button as she revealed his chest. She slid her palms up over his naked skin and loved the sound of his breath catching in his throat.
“Rachel,” he said on a groan.
“No. I shouldn't have started this. We're not doing
this.” He reached out and began to rearrange her clothing where he had left her skin exposed.
Her heart went cold, like a rock in winter. “We're not?”
“No. And not because I'm not dying to. I'm burning up for you. My hands are shaking with the need to touch you. But tomorrowâ¦”
“Tomorrow it ends.”
“I want it to end right for you. With no regrets. I don't want you to hate me afterward.”
She would never hate him. But the fact that he caredâ¦ She leaned forward and kissed him on the chest. He visibly swallowed. His breathing became more shallow.
“And I also don't want you to have to worry about falling asleep and having Hank find us this way,” he said in a raspy voice.
She shrieked. “Hank? I hadn't even thought of Hank.”
“Neither had I when I came up with the not so bright idea of dragging the bed out here. Still, Hank isn't the main reason we're just going to lie here and stare at the stars while I hold you. I wantâ¦I want you to be different. I don't want you to be the topic of gossip. You're so strong and beautiful and proud. I would hate to have anyone use that sympathetic, sorrowful tone when they talked about you.”
“Shane, that's soâ¦nice.” But she didn't think she could bear it if he didn't at least kiss her some more. She placed her palm low on his stomach and leaned closer.
A shudder ripped through his body. He placed his hand over hers, stopping her. “Damn it, Rachel. For once I'm trying to do the right thing, and I'm not sure
I've ever done anything that tested me so much in my life. Nowâ¦the starsâ¦please.”
She gave a tight nod, kissed his arm and lay back in his arms. “Show me your stars, Shane.” He was trying to make her different from all his other women. Despite the pain in her heart, the knowledge that she would never spend a night in his arms, Rachel intended to help him doâor not doâthis thing.
So she lay beside him as they whispered about the constellations and he showed her the sky he'd grown up with. He showed her Sagittarius and Hercules and Corona Borealis. As he spoke, his deep voice echoed through her body. His left arm tightened around her as he pointed out the stars with his right. Gradually, she began to relax, to appreciate the beauty and the wonder of simply lying here with him, sharing this with him.
She feltâ¦specialâ¦and as his voice died away she looked up at him to tell him so.
He smiled down at her, and then a curse word left his lips. Rachel blinked, then learned the reason why as fast-moving clouds started blotting out some of the stars and a few drops of rain fell on her face.
Without even talking, they leaped from the bed. Rachel grabbed the bedding, Shane muscled the mattress up on the porch, then came back for the frame. By the time they were done the clouds had obliterated all of the stars and both of them were wearing wet clothes.
“I can't believe I did that to you,” he said, but he was laughing. “I can't believe I didn't know there was rain in the forecast.”
“Well, you're a numbers man, not a weatherman,” she told him, laughing up at him. “Shane?”
He looked at her.
“I'm really wet. I'm going inside to take my clothes off.”
“I'm going to follow you, and I hope you'll understand when I tell you that I think I used up my last drop of willpower back in that bed. If you take your clothes off, I'm going to want to look.”
“I'm so glad to hear that.” She didn't even wait to get inside. She shucked her boots, pulled her blouse over her head and tossed it aside, then removed her pants until all that remained was her candy-apple-red bra and panties.
Shane came at her like a madman, wrapping her in his arms, crushing her to him and kissing her crazy. “Tell me to stop,” he told her. “I'm not even close to being in control.”
“Don't stop,” she begged. “I love all your fancy constellation talk, butâ¦don't stop.” She rose on her toes. She kissed whatever parts of him she could reach.
Somewhere along the line his shirt and pants andâ¦everything came off. He removed the remaining scraps of red silk from her body and dropped with her onto the bare mattress lying on the porch.
They kissed, they clutched and finally they created some new constellations of their own as the rain came down and the darkness enfolded them. He loved her long and well throughout the night. And as the sun came up he kissed her throat.
He stared down at her, a worried look in his beautiful blue eyes. “I don't want you to ever be sorry for this, to regret this summer,” he told her.
She tried out a shaky smile. Because she knew that what he was asking her just wasn't completely possible.
She would love him forever. She would regret the pain that would follow her all her days. Still, thisâ¦
“This was wonderful,” she told him. “Thank you for everything.” And that was all she was going to say.
He didn't look happy.
didn't feel happy. Because the night was over. The auction was today. The words “the end” loomed large in her mind.
When she came out of the shower, where she had retreated, she knew that something was wrong. Different. Shane was staring at the phone.
She moved to his side.
“I've already had an offer on the ranch. On everything in it. A group of local investors saw it on the internet, pooled their funds and want the whole thing. Now. No auction.”
His voice soundedâ¦ She didn't know how it sounded. Her heart had fallen out of her body, or maybe it was simply being squeezed by a giant fist, because all she could think was,
It's over. Too soon. This is goodbye, the last conversation, the last anything.
She wasn't even sure she could speak without her voice catching. And if she didn't speak he would know just how much she was hurting. That would hurt
Again. It just wasn't happening. She wasn't letting it.
Rachel cleared her throat. “Are you accepting the offer?”
He looked at her, but she couldn't read his expression. “It's what I came to do.”
She nodded, even tried a smile. “All right. Good. That will save you a lot of trouble. Do you need me toâ¦?”
She looked around, trying to seem cheerful. Here
was where he'd kissed her. There was the vase she loved, Cynthia's curtains, the rooms Shane had walked in and grown up in and where she'd learned to love him heart and soul. It was going, going, goneâ¦and not even an auction in sight.