Gentling the Cowboy (Page 38)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(38)
Author: Ruth Cardello

Tony shook his head, his remorse deepening, and although he strove to distance himself from it, he couldn’t muster anger or indifference. All he felt was a deep regret that she had lived so long in a state of desperation that he’d never even noticed. Why didn’t she have savings? She didn’t pay rent. Where was her money going? He felt worse when he realized how very little he knew about a woman who had worked for him for the last four years.

He turned to walk away. The screen door slammed behind him and he figured Melanie had gone back inside until he heard her call his name. “Tony.”

He looked back over his shoulder.

“Send Sarah over. I have an extra room just sitting here and it might be nice to have another woman to talk to.”

“You don’t have to do that,” he said gruffly.

She squared her shoulders and put on a bright smile. “I know I don’t, but I want to do this for you. Send her. It’ll be fine.”

He settled his hat deep on his head and nodded without returning her smile. “I appreciate it,” he said and realized that he sincerely did. Those two women were like oil and water, and Melanie’s instincts were probably right that mixing the two wasn’t wise, but he wasn’t ready for the alternative.

He wasn’t ready for Sarah to leave.

Chapter Fourteen

In her wildest imagination of how her first day back on Tony’s ranch would go, Sarah had never dreamed it would include an invitation from Melanie to stay at her house for a couple of days. Sarah searched her face for a sign of sarcasm but found none. What did Tony threaten her with that made her willing to stand there and pretend she doesn’t hate me?

Instead of feeling triumphant in the face of her rival’s humility, Sarah felt profoundly sorry for Melanie, and before addressing her housing offer she knew there was something that needed to be said. “I am so sorry for what I said to you last week. I was wrong and I was rude. I felt awful about asking for my notebook back from your son. If it wasn’t full of personal information, I would have let him keep it.”

Melanie’s eyes locked with hers in surprise. “He knows better than to take what’s not his.”

“Could I buy him a few coloring books before I go?”

Melanie stiffened with pride. “We don’t need anything.”

Sarah suppressed a grimace. No matter how hard she tried, she and Melanie just didn’t work. “I know, but it would make me feel better about how I behaved.”

Lips tight, Melanie said, “I’m not going to poison you. You don’t have to be nice to me.”

Sarah smiled nervously. “That’s a relief.” Crap, I can’t believe I forgot about that. “Listen, your offer is nice, but we both know it’s not a good idea. The sooner I leave the better.”

Melanie took a piece of paper out of her pocket. “A friend of yours has been calling all week. Maybe you should call her back. She might be the solution you’re looking for.”

Sarah took the paper and her lip curled slightly in distaste. Lucy? Seriously? She crumpled the paper in her hand.

Melanie said, “She called almost every day.”

She can call until the end of eternity and I won’t call her back.

“I have to go make lunch. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.”

Still feeling badly about the last time she’d seen Melanie, Sarah couldn’t help but ask, “Is your son with you today?”

Melanie shook her head and looked away. “He was tired today, so he stayed back at the house with David.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Is he okay?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Melanie answered shortly and walked away, disappearing into the hallway that led to the kitchen.

That seemed to be a theme around here.

Sarah went to her purse and found the list of places where she’d stayed on the way down—all horse-friendly bed and breakfasts. She called the closest one. No availability for at least a month. Crap. The same answer from the second place she called. Full up.

I could call Charlie. He’d know what to do. No, I need more time before I face him, before I even begin to try to regain what we’ve lost.

And I can’t stay here and pretend last week didn’t happen.

Melanie walked into the living room again, this time with a cordless phone. She handed it to Sarah. “It’s your friend again.”

Shocked into silence, Sarah took the phone and held it to her ear.

Lucy gushed a greeting. “Oh, my God. I can’t believe I finally reached you.”

Before this goes any further it’s time for a bit of honesty. “I don’t want to talk to you.”

In a much more subdued tone, Lucy said, “I deserve that, I know, but please don’t hang up.”

Sarah sighed and didn’t.

Lucy continued, this time sounding a bit desperate. “You don’t know what it has been like here. I had no idea how badly we were doing until right before you arrived. We could lose everything, Sarah. My brother missed five months of mortgage payments. The bank is threatening foreclosure. We’ve been scrambling to sell whatever we can to hold them off.”

Sarah sat down in the chair behind her. She didn’t want to feel anything but anger for her old friend. “You should have told me. I could have helped you figure it out.”

After a quiet moment, Lucy said, “I didn’t want you to see me like this. I was embarrassed.”

Rubbing a pounding temple, Sarah said, “So the better option was to leave me stranded in a part of the country I’ve never been in before?”

“Stranded?” Lucy’s voice sharpened. “You said you were staying with friends.”

I lied, Sarah wanted to scream. Pride makes people say stupid things, apparently. It can even kill what I thought was a solid friendship. Maybe it’s time to just pack up, admit this adventure is a complete disaster, and call Charlie.

“I had no idea you knew Tony Carlton.” Lucy said his name like he was famous or something. “Do you know what most people would do to visit his ranch just once? He’s a big deal around here.” After another awkward pause, Lucy said, “I know you’re still angry with me, but I need your help. My brother and I both do. Maybe the bank wouldn’t care, but could you ask Tony to call and ask them to give us just one more month? I’m working a deal with someone to buy our herd. It would be enough to bring us up to date. I just need one more month.”