Gentling the Cowboy (Page 51)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(51)
Author: Ruth Cardello

He didn’t, and that was when she knew it was really over.

Chapter Twenty-one

Tony stepped out of the barn to watch Sarah’s vehicle pull onto the main road. Her brother’s limo pulled out directly after. Tony felt, but didn’t acknowledge, the presence of David at his side until they were both gone. Then, without looking away from the path they’d driven, Tony said, “Say it. Tell me I’m a fool to let her go.”

In a surprising twist, David didn’t. Instead he said, “She couldn’t stay. You’re not ready for her. Staying wouldn’t change that.”

In that moment outside of time, Tony admitted, “I hurt her and I never meant to.”

David took his time answering. “You’ve hurt a lot of people since I met you, Tony, and I’ve never seen you look sorry about it.”

“I never felt sorry,” he said. “I stopped feeling anything a long time ago.”

“Until Sarah,” David diagnosed.

Softly Tony agreed. “Yeah.”

The two men continued looking out over the empty driveway in silence. Finally, David said, “Five years ago I came here thinking I’d find a man celebrating his court victory. I was ready to cut you down a peg or two and shove a bit of reality in your face. But you taught me something instead.”

They both knew the condition David had found him in, so Tony didn’t bother to ask. He’d rather not know.

David continued, “I learned that in a tragedy there are no winners, only people struggling to survive the aftermath.”

Tony nodded slowly and said, “You sure I was worth saving? I am one miserable bastard.”

“And you always will be until you face your past.”

“I face it every day, every night. It never leaves me,” Tony said in frustration.

“I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that when something pesters you that much you haven’t dealt with it the way it needed to be.”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Tony would have asked, but David had walked away.

A week later, Dean came by around dinner time. Tony was sitting at the small table in the kitchen not touching the plate of food that Melanie had placed in front of him. He hadn’t eaten in days. Nor had he left the house. He’d tried to go back to the way things were before Sarah, but instead of feeling nothing, he felt an overwhelming sadness.

“You look like hell, Tony.”

Tony rubbed a hand over the week’s growth of beard on his face. He felt like hell. “Isn’t there sheriff business somewhere that you’re late for?”

“You drinking again?”

Tony shook his head, pushed himself off the table with two hands, and stood. “No, but if I were I wouldn’t need you here butting into what has always been none of your business.”

“You’re my brother. You are my business.”

“Half brother. Consider that your ticket to freedom from any responsibility.”

Dean sat back against the kitchen counter, not appearing bothered by Tony’s foul mood. “I’ve been making excuses for you since the first time I met you. David said you haven’t been feeling well.”

“Is there a point to this conversation? If so, make it and get out.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Dean said, “I should. I was never happier than the day I found out I had a little brother. I know you blamed my mother for yours leaving and maybe I always felt a bit guilty about that. I never stopped hoping you’d get over it. When you bought this place, I moved here because you were self-destructing. Everyone figured it was only time before someone found you dead. I came here for you, Tony. And I stayed, smoothing over every mess you made. Keeping your ass out of jail every time you threw someone off your property with enough force to have warranted an assault charge. Now you’re self-destructing again, and I can’t sit back and watch it happen. I don’t expect you to be grateful.”

“Good, because I never asked you to get involved in any part of my life.”

Dean’s face whitened a bit in anger. “You’re right, you never did, and you never thanked me. You’re an ungrateful ass.”

“Then why are you still here when you know I don’t want you to be?” Tony goaded.

Dean pushed off the counter, his hands clenching at his sides. “I give up. You want to be as miserable as our father was.”

“I’m nothing like him.”

“Are you kidding? You’re exactly like him. He was one cold, unfeeling bastard. Do you even know if he’s still alive? I don’t, and I don’t care. He’s going to die alone, just like you will if you don’t wake up.” Dean turned to leave.

“Dean,” Tony said, his tone free of all of its earlier sarcasm.

Dean turned back.

As close to an apology as he could voice, Tony said, “I don’t know how to be anyone but who I am.”

Releasing a long sigh, Dean said, “Yes, you do.”

Dean had always seen good where there was none. Still, Tony felt driven to tell him what he’d been considering. “I’ve been thinking about going to see Kimberly Staten’s father.”

Dean’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Is that wise?”

“I never told him that I was sorry about his daughter. It’s time I do.”

Walking over, Dean stood in front of Tony in a move of support. “You want me to go with you?”

Tony shook his head. “No.”

“Then why tell me?”

I don’t know.

There was a past between them that he’d never spoken of, and maybe it needed acknowledging. “I may never be a good brother to you, but I don’t blame you for my mother leaving. I can’t imagine any woman being able to stay with him for very long.” The past was there, vivid between them. “I always resented how happy you were, how easy life looked for you. You and your mother would visit for a day, laughing and talking about where you’d been or what you’d done together, giving me a glimpse of what a family could look like, and then you’d leave again. I used to wonder what it would be like if I left with you. I doubt our father would have cared if I had.”

“You could have come with us. My mother would have taken you in.”

Tony didn’t doubt the truth of that. Dean had gotten his giving side from his mother. “That was your life, not mine.”

“It could be yours now. You don’t have to be our father. Whatever path you take today is one of your choosing, not anyone else’s.”