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Authors: Fran Baker

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When Last We Loved

BOOK: When Last We Loved
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When Last We Loved

by Fran Baker

Contemporary Romance

 

 

Copyright © 1982 by Judith Baker

ISBN

NOTICE: This ebook is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Duplication of this ebook by beaming, email, network, disk, paper, or any other method is a violation of international copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines and/or imprisonment.

 

 

Whispering wings in the night

A haunting song

The whippoorwill glides

In her solitude.

 

 

Chapter 1

Cassie Creighton's navy slingbacks tapped out a sassy rhythm on the weed-cracked sidewalks she'd traveled nearly every day of her twenty years. An eastbound 747 wedged a quick, welcome shadow between the hot sun and the main-street gravel of Coyote Bend.

That perpetual west Texas wind sifted prairie dust over the weathered gray buildings that defined the town's business district A square tin sign swung cockeyed on a rusting chain. Its corroding blue letters proclaimed that Fensom's Pharmacy was the place to purchase those miracle cure-alls, to have photos of the family reunion developed, and to make funeral arrangements in times of bereavement.

“Hey, Cassie, wait up a minute!” Widow Evans shifted a bulging grocery bag and hailed her young friend with a plump hand.

Hoyt Temple's Jeep whipped up a tornado of dirt as it screeched to a stop in front of the feedstore, and Cassie's heart dove into a tailspin. She was trapped now between the handsome cowboy she'd hoped to avoid and the lonely old woman hurrying to catch up with her.

“It's gonna be mighty lonesome around here when you're gone,” Widow puffed. Her gingery-hued face resembled poorly grained hide, and a tenant farmer's worries had etched crow's-feet around her soft brown eyes. “You know, I can't rightly recall when a Creighton wasn't plowing up that old place of yours.”

“I'm not producing enough by myself to pay the rent, much less turn a decent profit” Cassie was anxious to wind up her business affairs and put the past to rest, but no rush in the world justified being rude to the Widow. “Besides, Hoyt has already hired the new tenants. They're supposed to move in the day after tomorrow.”

“Those Temples never did waste much time when their pocketbook was involved,” Widow noted wryly.

“I'm the one who gave notice.” Cassie's answer was sharper than she'd intended. She bit her tongue before she revealed something she might regret. It wouldn't serve any purpose on her last day in town to arouse suspicion about the nature of her relationship with the notorious Hoyt Temple.

“Well, good for you.” Widow chuckled. “Turnabout's fair play every once in a while.” Her eyes probed for the root of Cassie's agitation, but politeness dictated the direction of the conversation. “I just hope those slickers in Nashville realize how much talent you've got. My hands are still stinging like fire from clapping along with you at that barn dance last weekend.”

“It's a crazy business I'm going to try to break into.” Cassie sighed. “Promise you'll keep your fingers crossed for me.”

“If it counts for anything, darling, you've already won over the toughest audiences you'll ever play to,” Widow said. “When poor farmers quit stewing about the bills and the drought to kick up their heels the way they do for you, that's a pretty powerful compliment.”

“We'll find out, won't we?” Cassie smiled. “It's too bad that I can't just pack everybody around here in a suitcase and take them to Nashville with me. Those producers would have to sit up and take notice then.”

“I wish I'd had an ounce of your courage while I was still young and pretty,” Widow mused. “I'd have hightailed it to the city so fast, they wouldn't know what hit them.” She smiled coyly. “You couldn't judge it by my appearance today, but I was something of a looker in my prime. I've beat off my share of men with broomsticks, believe it or not.”

Cassie didn't doubt it one bit.

“It's a crying shame that your ma and pa aren't here to see you on your way.” Widow shook her head in condolence as she shuffled toward her dirt-caked sedan. “God rest ‘em, they never had two extra pennies to rub together, but they were as proud as the day is long. Remember your roots, Cassie, and serve them well.”

Cassie turned away, stung by the unwitting irony in Widow's farewell. She swiped at the orange dirt and greasy fingerprints which smudged the vacant window of yet another deserted store, and a year's grime transferred itself onto the crumpled tissue that she used. Everyone in Coyote Bend had marveled at her stamina as she'd juggled farm chores and Saturday night singing jobs while caring for her terminally ill mother. What no one had ever suspected, though, was that the source of her strength was the same man they cussed so readily when the bills came due.

The wind rustled the jersey folds molding her porcelain-doll figure. Midnight-black waves framed the lovely, pensive face reflected in the temporary mirror, but Cassie's violet eyes could only see as far as her memories.

“Those tattletale eyes give you away every time.” Hoyt Temple's whispering kisses had danced across her magnolia-cream skin like ripples on a pond. “When I want to know what you're thinking, I only have to search as far as... this.” His lips had brushed her eyelids closed. She'd lifted her head, hungry for the feel of his mouth on hers. Desire raged through her veins like wildfire on the open prairie, and she was consumed again by the flames of passion.

Hoyt Temple had played a shadow role in Cassie's life for as long as she could remember. He was the owner's son, the breakaway black sheep who'd chosen the rodeo circuit over the family business, the bad example held over every errant child's head. He was temptation in a handsome package, and Cassie had always obeyed her parents’ strictly worded order to keep the maximum amount of distance between herself and the irresponsible cowboy.

When his father suffered a crippling stroke, Hoyt abandoned his bronc-busting days and heartbreaking nights to assume control of the Diamond T empire. To the surprise of his Dallas contemporaries, the virile vagabond had proved to possess a shrewd eye for turning a profit. To the dismay of his Coyote Bend employees, he'd immediately demanded increased production and started spending weeks at a time overseeing the tenant farms.

“The most valuable commodity today is land. It's an irreplaceable resource, Cassie. You know that as well as I do.” Hoyt had sprawled in her shabby but immaculate living room the night he'd confronted her with the unpleasant facts. “If there were any way we could afford to let your account ride a while longer, we would. But this place has lost so damned much money this past year, I'm not sure it's even salvageable with good management.”

Cassie had steeled herself for his visit when the crops withered in the fields for the second time in a row. The idea that this magnetic man would one day be her reason for living was the furthest thing from her mind that awful night.

“The sooner you face the fact that you're not cut out to be a farmer, the sooner we can tackle this mess and get the account back in order.”

Hoyt was as sleekly muscled as a quarter horse. His wide shoulders tapered to a reed-slim waist, and a dusty pair of cords encased long legs used to kneeing rogue stallions into submission. The scuffed toes of his Luchesse boots said he didn't worry about replacing the expensive items that Cassie only dreamed of owning someday.

“Why don't you take your mother to town and put her in Doc's clinic?”

He seemed so preoccupied with his ledgers that Cassie didn't respond. She sat with her hands clenched in her lap. A sudden, overpowering attraction to this forbidden, blue-eyed threat warred with her angry embarrassment about the circumstances that had forced his call.

“She'd be more comfortable, and we're certainly willing to pick up part of the tab.” His coaxing tone urged her to accept these unusually generous terms. “Look at it this way, we'll be able to turn this place over to someone who knows how to run it And if your mother is in good hands, you'll be free to accept more of those singing jobs I hear you enjoy.”

“How dare you sit there and plan my life to suit your bank account!” Cassie's vehemence startled her, but she'd listened to his dreary list of her failures as long as she could stand it.

“I've damned near killed myself working this pitiful excuse for a farm, and your only concern is money.” Her voice underscored her contempt for the root of her problems. She wasn't really aiming her fury at Hoyt, but the bottled-up frustration spilled over like lava erupting from a volcano.

“My mother was born here, and she's going to die here. It's the only home she's ever known, and nobody is going to take it away from her.” Cassie hated the cat-and-mouse turn their meeting had taken, but she had no intention of backing down. “If you've come to evict us, then you'd better get busy recruiting the army it's going to take to complete the job.”

“You jump to conclusions faster than a leapfrog,” he grumbled, but she noticed the way his eyes sparkled when he stood and blocked her path. “There's no need to show me the door. If you're that bent on staying here, it's fine with me. But the least you can do is help me work out a plan to keep this old place from sinking any deeper into debt.”

She'd slumped against his hard frame then, too proud to cry and so relieved that she couldn't reply.

His words weren't just another empty promise. Cassie worked harder and learned more about the land's potential in those next weeks than she'd ever dreamed possible. Hoyt's constant presence and encouragement were the shot in the arm she'd needed for months.

When Cassie opened her eyes at dawn, his Jeep was already parked in the yard. As she pulled on her work clothes and tied back her hair, she watched the lean six-footer strip to the waist and pick up where they'd left off the day before. Side by side, they dug the irrigation ditches and planted the fields. When the sun reached high noon and heat seethed over the plains, they retreated to the fan-cooled farmhouse and Hoyt would help her tend her mother. His gentle hands and patient manner belied his hard-bitten reputation. When the fireflies began their nightly ballet, Cassie and Hoyt shared laughter and their life stories over supper in her modest kitchen.

But when the weekends rolled around, Hoyt returned to Dallas and Cassie filled the long hours entertaining audiences, writing songs, and wrestling with her crazy wishes and jumbled emotions.

“Do you have to go back to Dallas tonight?” It was Friday and she hated the thought of those two lonely days stretching out before her. “My job for tomorrow night was canceled. If you'd stay, we could go on a picnic or do something fun for a change.” She pretended to concentrate on her plate so he wouldn't see the hope that filled her eyes.

“Look at me.” He broke the awkward silence with a terse command that she obeyed. “If I stay, it's not because I'm interested in going on a picnic.” He reached for her hand and she absorbed the sure, warm strength that had renewed her faith in life. “If I stay, Cassie, I'm going to make love to you.”

A shiver of desire raced through her. Hoyt's wild streak was supposed to run a mile wide, but he'd shown her another, more tender side of himself and she wasn't afraid. Cassie nodded her head, acknowledging his terms and her surrender to them. Even as she'd led him into her tiny bedroom, though, a doomsday sadness had crushed down upon her.

Their backgrounds were as different as night and day, and tenacious ambition drove them in opposite directions. Hoyt had made it perfectly clear all along that he was married to his business. Cassie envied his slide-trombone ability to ease in and out of her dreary world, but in her heart she knew these few months were all they'd ever have. She didn't— couldn't— share his passion for the land, and she harbored no illusions that she could ever measure up to the society standards of his Dallas life.

Their first intimate moments were treasured memories. Hoyt's deft fingers unbuttoned her thin cotton shirt and pulled it open. Cassie's breasts spilled free and his blue eyes devoured her.

“You're beautiful.” His warm breath was honey against her creamy flesh. Hoyt bent his head and kissed her slender neck. Cassie stroked the muscular cords of his shoulders; then she tentatively guided his head lower. Hoyt's sure hands unzipped her jeans and slipped them over her softly rounded hips. Cassie's heart pounded and her entire body was aflame with new feelings. Hoyt knelt with his arms around her, nuzzling her bare skin with his searching mouth.

“Come down here with me,” he murmured against the ivory smoothness of her stomach.

They knelt together on the brightly colored braided rug beside her narrow iron bed. His body burned against hers, arousing needs that were no less intense because they were new. The fires grew hotter, stoked by his caressing hands and sensuous mouth. Hoyt lifted his head and searched Cassie's desire-darkened eyes.

“Do you want me to stop?” His mouth moved against her trembling lips. She shook her head, feeling the black length of her hair brush against her naked back. His gentle kisses had stilled her fears.

BOOK: When Last We Loved
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