Gentling the Cowboy (Page 49)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(49)
Author: Ruth Cardello

One corner of Tony’s mouth curled sarcastically. “I’m beginning to understand why she had to leave Rhode Island.”

His face red with fury, Charles snarled, “You’re a violent drunk who should be rotting in jail instead of making a fool out of my sister in all the gossip rags.”

A deadly calm swept through Tony. His past had found a voice at last. He went toe to toe with Charles, striking out at him with words in a way he knew would wipe that superior look off his face. “I haven’t had a drink in four years. My guilt or innocence is my own business. But your sister, she’s a good f**k.” He regretted the words even as they came out of his mouth.

Charles hauled back to punch Tony, but Tony caught his fist in his hand, his strength buoyed by a rage that had simmered inside him for years. He dropped it in disgust and prepared for another strike.

Melanie’s voice was heard clearly in the charged quiet moment that followed. “Sarah, he didn’t mean that.”

Tony’s head spun in time to see the two glasses of lemonade in Sarah’s hands fall and shatter on the wooden floor at her feet. Shaking her head slowly back and forth, she turned and ran out the front door.

Tony looked back at Charles just in time to receive a brain-rattling punch that set him back a step. The world beneath Tony tilted and he shook his head to clear it, preparing to deliver a crushing rebuttal.

Melanie was between them before he raised his fist. She was spitting angry. She threw her glasses of lemonade in their faces, which brought them both to a shocked, temporary cease-fire. “You two just broke that girl’s heart. If one of you doesn’t chase after her to apologize, I’m coming back with a frying pan.”

The real concern in Melanie’s voice focused Tony’s attention on Sarah’s vulnerability. This wasn’t about what her brother thought of him. He’d let the mention of his past cause him to say something he would always regret.

Melanie didn’t look like she needed any help defending her honor. She wasn’t joking about the frying pan. Tony set off in long strides to find Sarah.

She was holding onto the railing in the corner of the porch, her pale cheeks wet with tears. He went to stand beside her, searching for what to say to erase the hurt he’d caused.

She turned to him, folded her arms protectively across her chest, and said, “Is that what you think of me? What I am to you?”

He shook his head. “Of course not.”

Her tear-filled eyes searched his. “I want to believe you. I really do, but I need you to give me a reason to.”

“What do you want me to say?” he asked, his gut clenching painfully.

She wiped her cheeks with her hands and implored, “Tell me you love me. Tell me this is real and that this summer has meant as much to you as it has to me.”

He reached for her, but she pulled back, waiting.

He wanted to say what he knew she needed to hear. He wanted to so badly that he almost did, but he chose honesty at the last second. “I care about you.”

She released an audible, shaky breath and demanded. “But you don’t love me. Say it. Stop pretending to be someone I could spend the rest of my life with, and just say it.”

He rubbed his chin and shook his head sadly. “I want to love you.”

Her eyes filled with tears, but she straightened her shoulders and said, “Okay.”

He hadn’t wanted to hurt her. He’d never wanted to hurt her. He grabbed her arm. “I didn’t mean what I said back there to your brother. I let my temper choose my words and I’m sorry.”

She pulled her arm out of his grasp and said, “It’s fine. I understand. I shouldn’t have left the two of you alone. I knew my brother was being a bastard. I guess I hoped you’d put him in his place.” A lone tear ran down her face. “I just didn’t know you’d use me to do it.”

“Sarah, don’t . . .”

She met his eyes and he knew that no matter what he said, he’d already lost her. She held up a hand in request for him to stop talking. “Please. Stop. I know you said it to hurt my brother and not me, but maybe I needed to hear it. I was imagining us living happily ever after, but you can’t do that, can you? Because you can’t let yourself be happy.”

He didn’t have to say anything. She knew him too well.

“I’m going to hook up my trailer and load Scooter. If you can ask Melanie to come see me, I’d appreciate it.”

She’s leaving. She’s really leaving.

“I can ready your trailer for you.”

Sarah shook her head sadly. “No, I’ll do it myself. Just get Melanie.”

Tony turned and walked back into the house. Charles was headed toward the front door when they met up. The two men stopped and glared at each other.

Tony said, “She’s packing up.”

“Good,” Charles said curtly. They both knew he’d gotten what he came for. There was nothing left for him to say.

The same couldn’t be said for Tony. He took a step closer and said, “Get your head out of your pin-striped ass and say something nice to her.”

“I don’t need someone like you to tell me how to deal with my sister,” Charles countered coldly.

Tony leaned closer and said, “From where I’m standing, it looks like you do—before you lose her, too.” Having spoken his mind, Tony walked away to find Melanie.

Sarah was loading the rest of Scooter’s tack into the front compartment of her horse trailer when Melanie joined her.

“The boys could have done all that for you,” she said.

Sarah closed the door of the trailer, leaning against it with one hand. “I wanted to. I needed to do something while I calmed down.”

“Did you talk to your brother yet?”

Glancing over at the limo she knew Charlie had returned to, Sarah shook her head. “No, I’m surprised he didn’t storm over here and gloat, but I’m grateful he didn’t. I don’t think I could handle him right now.”

“Where are you going?”

“I was hoping you’d have an idea of someplace that boards horses.”

“You heading back to Rhode Island?”

Sarah leaned her back against the trailer and closed her eyes. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I have some money saved so I have options.”

“What about that friend who owns a cattle ranch? You made up.”

Sarah opened her eyes and shook her head. “Lucy? She has her own problems. I need a peaceful place where I can finish my book. That’s the important thing to me now, that I finish what I came down here to do.”