Tony put his hand on his brother’s shoulder, the first time he’d ever voluntarily touched him. “I want to be the man Sarah believed I was.”
Dean nodded in understanding, then stepped back and said, “Then clean the f**k up, because you smelled an awful lot better when she was here.”
Tony smiled, dropping his hand, releasing some of his tension in a short laugh. “That might explain why Melanie has been leaving my food and running away.”
Dean smiled back and joked, “Probably had nothing to do with your foul mood, either.”
“Me? Moody?” Tony looked across at his brother in feigned surprise.
Dean’s smile widened. “Come to dinner at my mom’s house this Sunday. She’d like to see you.”
The automatic refusal died, unspoken, on Tony’s lips. The past only had the power he gave it, and Margery, Dean’s mother, was another part of it that he’d denied for too long. “I’d like that.”
Dean left smiling, probably the only time Tony had ever seen him leave happier than he’d arrived.
Two weeks after leaving Tony’s ranch, Sarah had just returned from a long, cathartic ride in the fields surrounding Melanie’s parents’ home. Her cheeks were still flushed from the rush of Scooter’s ground-covering gallop. She’d smiled through untacking and brushing him down and was cooling him off by hand, walking him on the dirt road in front of the horse barn.
She missed Tony, but she refused to let herself wallow in the feelings that swamped her when she thought of him. She couldn’t hate him. He’d never been anything but honest with her. She was the one who had invaded his home, practically thrown herself at him, ignored all the warnings he gave her, and then left when she’d discovered that he was the man he’d always claimed to be.
Melanie’s parents could not have been nicer. They set her up in the attached in-law apartment that they said they’d made for Melanie. Why she hadn’t stayed there and why they had kept it empty weren’t questions anyone offered to answer, so Sarah didn’t ask. She understood family taboo topics.
For now, she helped their three daughters, all in their late teens and early twenties, do the barn chores and clean up after meals. It never ceased to amaze Sarah that the women in Mel’s family were so friendly, happy, and feminine. The way they did their nails, carefully styled their hair, and pored over fashion magazines gave Sarah an instant commonality with them. Vogue was a language Sarah was fluent in.
Things were comfortable at Steve and Cindy’s home, except when Melanie and Jace visited. The first time had that awkward it’s-been-a-long-time feeling to it. However, Melanie kept coming to see Sarah once a week and, although the atmosphere felt strained, at least everyone was civil. Sarah wanted to ask what had happened that made them all so uncomfortable around each other, but she didn’t. I haven’t spoken to my brother since I left Tony’s house, so who am I to judge?
Sarah spun at the sound of stone crunching beneath tires. Could it be? Had he finally come?
A slap of disappointment was quickly followed by confusion. Her brother, dressed like he was going to attend a board meeting in the city, stepped out of a stretch limo with a cardboard box so large it required both of his arms to carry. Sarah rushed to put Scooter in his paddock and returned to the driveway.
Charlie stopped, still holding the box in front him, his sunglasses too dark for Sarah to be able to predict his mood. “I brought you something,” he said gruffly.
Not the warm greeting some might have exchanged, but considering how they’d left things, it was a promising start. Sarah pointed to the side door of the house. “Come on in out of the heat. I’ll get you a drink and you can show it to me.”
Inside the small apartment that she was temporarily calling home, Charlie set the box down on the table and looked around. The furnishings were mismatched leftovers she’d thought were quaint until he stood appraising them.
“How are you?” he asked, surprising her.
“Busy. I’m writing more than I ever thought I could.” But that’s not what you were asking about, was it? She added, “Sad, but I’m okay. At least, I’m determined to be.”
“Have you heard from him?”
Tears pricked Sarah’s eyes, but she forced a brave smile. “No, but I didn’t expect to.”
Charlie sat down heavily on one of the couch’s thick cushions. “He wasn’t the right man for you.”
Sarah went to the refrigerator and poured two glasses of water. She handed one to her brother and sat in a chair across from him. “Maybe not, but it was my decision to make, not yours.”
“I know,” he said, removing his sunglasses and pinching the ridge of his nose as if fighting a headache. “I’m sorry.”
Had Sarah not been sitting, she would have sunk to the floor in shock. Her brother never apologized—ever. She was pretty sure he’d been genetically shortchanged on the ability to. Her voice thick with emotion, Sarah said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that.”
Pocketing his glasses, Charlie turned to face Sarah directly and said, “And I needed to hear what you said to me at that ranch. I didn’t want to hear it, but I needed to.”
Sarah raised a hand and covered her trembling lips. Silent tears poured down her cheeks as she watched her proud brother reach across all that had divided them. “I went home to see Mom and Dad when I flew back. I asked them for pictures of Phil and any albums they had of us all together. It’s all there in that box. They saved everything.”
Vision blurred with tears, Sarah rushed to the box and opened it reverently. Just as Charlie had said, it was full of photo albums and loose photos in clear plastic bags. She flipped one album open and smiled through her tears at the first photo. Charlie at nine years old, her at five, sitting on a hospital bed posing with their newborn brother. They looked happy and nervous at the same time, like they were afraid they’d break him.
Sarah wiped one of her wet cheeks and said, “Would you look at them with me, Charlie?”
He crossed the room and put an arm around her shaking shoulders. “For as long as you want me to.”
She and Charlie moved to sit side by side on the couch with the box of photos. She showed him the first photo and said, “We really were so young.”
Faced with the evidence of his own youth, Charlie said, “Do you remember how everything made him laugh? It didn’t matter how many times we showed him the same puppet, he was just as amazed by it.”