He’s not pretending. He really doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Sarah took a few deep, calming breaths. How could he not have seen it? I put it right in the middle of his pillows. Notebooks don’t walk away on their own, and we’re the only two in the house.
Sarah stomped an angry foot. Score two for the angry housekeeper. Sarah’s blood pressure skyrocketed when she peeked past Tony and saw Melanie standing in front of the porch’s screen door.
Pulling out of Tony’s grasp, Sarah stormed up the steps to confront her nemesis. “What did I ever do to you?”
Melanie looked past her and drawled, “Tony, call off your girlfriend. She looks rabid.”
The snide comment did nothing to lessen Sarah’s fury. “I’ll show you rabid. If you don’t hand over what you have of mine, you’ll discover why the North won the Civil War.”
In the background she heard David say, “It’s better to let them sort it out, Tony.”
Melanie went nose to nose with Sarah. “I don’t have anything of yours, but if you think your scrawny Yankee ass can take me, try it.”
After a lifetime of peacemaking, Sarah readied herself for her first real fight. Embarrassment about the night before combined to the anger she’d cultivated this morning and swirled through her, making it impossible for Sarah to see past her own fury.
The screen door opened and shut behind them and a small male voice asked, “Mama, what are you yelling about?”
Not taking her eyes off Sarah, Melanie said, “Go back in the house, Jace.”
Oh, sure, bring out a kid so I can’t slap you.
Wait, Melanie has a kid?
Sarah looked down at the brown-haired, tanned four-or-so-year-old boy. Beneath one of his arms he held the very thing she was looking for. With a mouth suddenly as dry as the Texas desert, Sarah asked, “Where’d you find that notebook?”
Jace clutched it to his stomach and asked, “My new coloring book? I found it while we were cleaning yesterday.”
“You help your mom clean?” Sarah asked as wave after wave of new embarrassment threatened to drown out his answer.
“Sure,” he said, then he looked up at his mother guiltily. “Tony doesn’t mind if I use his stuff as long as I don’t talk to him. I can keep it, right, Mama?”
Sarah turned away from Melanie and covered her face. Oh, my God. Please tell me he can’t read.
All aggression gone, Melanie dropped to her knees beside her son and touched his cheek with one hand. “It’s not yours, baby. You have to give it back.”
Jace hugged his new possession closer to him. “I already drawed in it.”
Feeling about as low as a person could, Sarah turned back and said, “Normally I’d let him keep it, but I can’t.” She went about three shades of red as her eyes met Tony’s.
This is not funny. She glared at him.
His lips twitched with amusement, but he was smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself.
Melanie eased the notebook out of her son’s grasp as she promised, “I’ll buy you a nice new one next time we go to town.”
Unhappy, her son spun and stormed into the house. Melanie handed the spiral book to Sarah, all of the warmth she’d shown a moment ago gone along with her son. She said, “He won’t touch your things again.”
Add ass**le to my list of failings.
What do you say when everything you’ve said so far has been wrong?
“Melanie . . .”
Without a word, Melanie turned away and entered the house. It didn’t help that Sarah noticed she still had a full male audience.
If I wasn’t sure what they all thought of me before, there isn’t much need to guess now. Sarah tucked her notebook beneath one arm, picked up her smaller pieces of luggage and walked down the porch steps.
Tony said something to David, who nodded in agreement and headed back toward the barn. With a flick of his head, Tony sent the ranch hands scattering.
“Stay,” Tony said softly as she walked past him to her vehicle.
Sarah stopped in her tracks and closed her eyes. “Since I can’t think of another way to embarrass myself here, I thought I should try a new location.”
In a suggestive tone, Tony said, “I have a cabin a couple of hours from here. It’s nothing fancy, but no one goes there except me.”
His offer sucked the air from her lungs. Sarah opened one eye cautiously. “Are you asking me to go with you?”
Standing before her, he tucked a loose tendril behind one of her ears, and a hint of a smile softened his features. “You could go alone, but you’re not real good at finding places on your own.”
Sarah dropped both of her bags at her feet and searched his face for answers to the myriad of questions rushing through her. “I’m not ready to laugh about this yet.”
He pulled her to him and whispered in her ear, “That’s good, because there is nothing funny about what I want to do with you at my cabin.”
Sarah sagged against him, reveling in the strength of him as he held her. “You still want me after seeing me like this? I don’t normally run around and threaten everyone I come across.”
He smiled for the first time that day, and it transformed him from attractive to knee-melting gorgeous. “Give me five minutes to gather a few things and I’ll take you where we both want to be.” With one parting kiss he added, “And I’ll read your message.”
She would have answered him, but his kiss emptied what was left of her coherent thoughts. She was lost in the heat of his lips on hers, the feel of his tongue in her mouth. Every place their bodies touched was burning with anticipation.
He left her standing there against her SUV as he sprinted back into the house. Sarah touched her throbbing lips with a hand that shook.
Now that’s what I’m talking about, Texas.
I forgive you for last night.
Sarah was pretty sure she didn’t start breathing again until she and Tony were driving down the dirt road that led away from his ranch. It surprised her when he took the passenger seat. Yes, they’d decided to take her SUV since she’d already packed her luggage into it, but she’d expected him to demand the car keys like every other man she knew—including her brother.
The mundane act of driving was soothing to her frayed nerves. Emotionally she’d been all over the place that morning. Her thoughts still hadn’t settled in the aftermath of what now ranked in the top three most embarrassing moments of her life. She wished she could claim it stood out as her worst one, but it didn’t.