Gentling the Cowboy (Page 37)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(37)
Author: Ruth Cardello

“I’m the same man you came here with, Sarah. I haven’t changed.” He met her gaze coolly.

She wanted to shake him, hit him, force him to admit he cared. Instead, she said, “Would it be so bad if you did? Can’t you give us a chance?”

You’re so close. I know how hard it is to face the past, but I’ve done it and you want to. And when you do, you’ll see how we were sent to help each other. I’ve never believed anything more strongly.

“I told you that I have nothing more than this to offer you.”

I don’t believe you mean that. “So, what now? Do you want me to leave as soon as we return?”

“You can do whatever the hell you want to. Most people do.” He turned away and gathered his clothing.

Sarah would have thrown something at his head if she’d had anything to throw. Instead, she pulled the sheet around herself and went to gather her own clothing. Wordlessly, they gathered the toiletries they’d brought into the cabin and took them back to her vehicle.

He chose the driver’s seat, and nothing about the tense set of his jaw and the way he refused to look her in the eye implied the ride home would at all mirror the ride there. They had driven about halfway back when Sarah could no longer keep her thoughts to herself.

Staring straight ahead, Sarah said quietly, “Sometimes I think you’re the man I’ve waited my whole life to meet. You’re gorgeous, you’re great in bed, and you have a tortured side that helps me feel less alone in my own hell. We could be more than lovers, we could be friends, too. I feel safe when I’m in your arms. But then, sometimes, like now, I wonder if I’m completely wrong and you’re nothing more than a coward.”

Red spread up his neck and across his face, but he didn’t snap back at her as she’d expected him to—half hoped he would. She was afraid of losing him, but his silence was proof that he was already gone.

She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “Shit happens, Tony. You can’t let guilt destroy your life. We both have to live with what we’ve done. No, we can’t bring them back, but there has to be something we can do—some way to heal. I’m going to find that something. When you stop feeling so sorry for yourself, maybe you should do the same.”

In my novel, this is where the hero will melt, take the heroine in his arms, and beg for forgiveness. He won’t stare at the road ahead pretending he didn’t hear her, once again demonstrating why fiction trumps reality any day.

When they pulled into the driveway, Sarah could no longer hold her tears back. She let out a sob as she fumbled for the door handle. He reached across her to open it, then kept his arm in front of her as he said, “I’m sorry, Sarah.”

She pushed at his arm, but he didn’t move it. She snapped, “Just being sorry isn’t enough. Get out of my car. I’ll hook my trailer, get Scooter, and you’ll never have to see either of us again.”

He held her captive by blocking what would otherwise have been her escape route. “You can’t leave in the middle of the day without setting up places to stop along the way, and you shouldn’t drive while you’re upset.”

She hated that he was right, but that didn’t stop her from spinning in her seat and snarling, “You don’t get to tell me to leave and then sound like you want me to stay.”

His jaw tightened, and his admission sounded as if she’d wrung it from him. “I didn’t tell you to leave.”

Sarah’s blood pressure rose and she shook her head angrily. “You think I’ll stay with you, knowing you have no feelings for me? Are you hoping for a bit more cheap sex before I go?”

He didn’t look pleased, but he said, “You can have the guest room again.”

Sarah’s breath caught in her throat. What is he saying? What does this mean? “And what? We act like nothing happened?” I can’t do that.

“Or you make the phone calls you need to and leave when you’re ready.”

I can’t do that either.

I can’t go back to where we were, like the last week didn’t change everything for me.

And I hate you for being able to.

How can you close me out like this?

“No.”

“I’ll ask Melanie if you can stay with her for a few nights.”

Brilliant idea, because that’s the only place I can imagine I’d be less comfortable.

I should peel out of here, letting the smell of burning rubber express my feelings.

Sarah searched Tony’s expression for any sign that he cared for her, but he had his walls firmly back in place. There are about a million reasons why I should tell you where you could shove that last suggestion.

And only one reason not to.

Because I’m not ready to give up on you yet, Tony.

“Fine, ask Melanie. I’m sure she’d love to have me.”

“You want Sarah to stay here with me and my son? Are you serious?” Melanie asked from the doorway of her house.

He looked her in the eye without answering her question. He didn’t need to. She knew he wasn’t the type to joke.

Melanie held the door handle with one tense hand. “Did you not see how she was with me the day you two left? We don’t get along.”

Tony wasn’t asking. He wasn’t budging until she agreed. “Sarah needs a place to stay while she sorts out how to get home.”

Melanie hedged, “How about a place in town?”

Tony shook his head, unwilling to even consider the option.

Pursing her lips in irritation, Melanie said, “I don’t see why she can’t stay with you. It’s not like the whole town doesn’t know how close you’ve gotten.”

He was about to tell her that the house she lived in was his, not hers. Anger swept through him and he’d barely opened his mouth when Melanie spoke before him in a rush. “I shouldn’t have said that. Whatever happened between the two of you is none of my business.” When he didn’t say anything, she said, “I need this job, Tony. Sarah can stay here.”

A wave of shame swept over him, rocking him back on his heels. When did I become the man that single mothers believe would throw them out in the streets with their children? He rubbed his forehead angrily. Her house was the only home her son had ever known. He removed his hat and said, “You’re not fired, Melanie.”

Melanie nodded, visibly relaxing in response to his quiet tone. He hated the tears that came to her eyes as she said, “Thank you. I don’t know where I’d go if I was.”