Gentling the Cowboy (Page 45)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(45)
Author: Ruth Cardello

Dean said, “Sad or entertaining? It’s a tough call.”

Tony stood. “I’ll entertain you with my fist in a minute if you don’t shut up.”

Dean also stood and took off his badge and gun, laying them on the table beside the steak he’d barely eaten. “It might be time for you to try it, Tony. Instead of pretending you want me here, why don’t you give throwing me out your best shot?”

Oh, no you don’t, Sarah thought. She couldn’t take it anymore. It was all going wrong. They weren’t supposed to be laughing at Tony. The dinner was supposed to bring them all together. If she couldn’t make the dinner work, how could she ever make things between Tony and her work? Sarah jumped to her feet and threw her napkin down beside her plate. The whole evening was a huge disappointment. “Stop it right now!” Everyone froze at her harsh tone. “No wonder Tony doesn’t eat with you people. They say Northerners are rude, but you have us beat. I don’t know how you think you should behave toward your host, but you should all be ashamed of yourselves.” She spun and focused her irritation on Tony. “And you. Did you really just threaten to punch someone over a stupid remark? You knew how much I wanted tonight to be nice. Melanie won’t have to poison me to get rid of me. I can’t imagine staying here another day. So, go ahead, kill each other or spend another five years not talking. I don’t care. I’m done.”

She walked back to the house, head held high, and slammed the front door behind her.

Melanie was the first to speak after Sarah left. “Well, I feel like an ass.”

Her son said, “Isn’t that a bad word, Mama?”

She ruffled his hair and smiled. “Yes, it is. Don’t say it when you go to school or your teachers will give you the same lecture Sarah just gave us.”

Tony watched the light in his room go on, followed by the light in the spare bedroom, and knew his plans for that night had just changed. He wasn’t going to chase her, but that didn’t mean he didn’t feel badly about how it’d turned out.

In the quiet late-evening air, no one spoke. Then Melanie interrupted the silence, saying, “Just for the record, I never actually threatened to poison her. I only implied I might.”

Dean said, “You sure picked a high-strung one, Tony.”

David leaned back in his chair, noting the upstairs activity. “We may have driven her to it a bit.”

In the face of the truth, Dean’s stance softened. He looked at Tony and said, “I didn’t mean to ruin the evening.”

Tony let out a slow sigh. “I don’t actually want to punch you.”

Dean crossed the short distance between them and stood shoulder to shoulder with his brother. “Don’t let her leave.”

Across the table, David chimed in. “She did bring us together. We may need a woman around here.”

Melanie punched him in the arm. “And what I am?”

David rubbed his arm and said, “You know what I mean.”

Temper rising, Melanie snarled, “No, I don’t know what you mean.”

Tony practically jumped when he felt a small hand touch his. He looked down and found Jace, Melanie’s son, at his side. “Just tell her you’re sorry. That’s what Mama tells me to do when I do something wrong.”

Shaking his head, Tony looped a thumb in his jean pocket. “It’s not always that easy, son.”

Jace mimicked Tony’s stance, right down to watching Sarah’s shadow go from room to room as she moved her things down the hall. “Yes, it is. You say you’re sorry and she says okay. That’s how it works.”

Dean added his opinion from Tony’s other side. “I’m with Jace on this one.”

Jace puffed up with pride at the endorsement from his other idol.

Squaring his shoulders, Tony said, “I’m not real good with words, but I owe her that much, I suppose.” More gruffly he added, “She’s right about our behavior. We’re out of practice when it comes to being civil. We might need to eat together once a week so y’all don’t embarrass yourselves like this again.” After a moment, he added, “You, too, Dean. You’re the worst of the bunch.”

He didn’t wait for their response to his announcement as he had much more pressing matters on his mind. Like how to get his little blonde angel’s pink-and-green checkered luggage out of the guest room and back where it belonged.

Sarah was still fuming ten minutes later when she heard the sound of Tony’s heavy boots on the main stairs. She peered out the small window in the guest bedroom and saw Melanie and the men gathering up the plates and clearing the table.

The door behind her opened and shut.

Without looking away from the window, Sarah said quietly, “If you’re here to say anything except you’re sorry, do yourself a favor and leave now.”

After a pause, Tony replied, “And if I am?”

Sarah turned slowly toward him, clasping her hands in front of her to stop them from shaking. She was angry, hopeful, scared. Maybe this was one day that should end the same way it started, with them not talking to each other. She looked up at him and waited.

He stood there, frowning at her for a painfully long time.

When she couldn’t take it anymore some of her frustration burst out. “Do you know what the worst part about the whole thing was? You didn’t even introduce me.”

Tony looked a bit cornered when he admitted, “I didn’t know all of their names.”

Sarah’s mouth fell open. “Are you joking?”

“No.”

She shook her head in wonder. “You honestly didn’t know their names? So, David was serious when he said you didn’t notice he rehired men you’d fired?”

Tony’s steady look was as much of an affirmative as she was going get.

“How does that happen?”

Tony shrugged. “I don’t want to know them. David deals with them. All I do is train the horses.”

Sarah sat on the edge of the bed, absorbing the enormity of what he’d shared. “I knew you distanced yourself from everyone, but I didn’t realize the extent of it.”

He leaned on the doorjamb without responding.

In a near whisper, Sarah asked, “What are you afraid of?”

Tony straightened from the door. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

Sarah stood and moved to stand directly in front of him, searching his face for signs of what she suspected. “Are you sure? You can’t be happy with your life the way it is.”