Taken, Not Spurred (Page 23)

Taken, Not Spurred (Lone Star Burn #1)(23)
Author: Ruth Cardello

Does he still blame me? Is that why he doesn’t believe I’m capable of making the simplest decisions on my own?

Maybe I don’t deserve this second chance, but I’m going for it, anyway. In Texas, I don’t have to be who I’ve always been. I don’t have to apologize for what I failed to be. Here, I’m simply me. Just a woman on a journey.

How do I make my brother see that?

“Charlie, I need this. I know you don’t understand it, but can you give me time?”

If you do, I may even find the courage to tell you the truth.

“I should fly down there . . .”

Sarah held her breath.

“But I won’t.”

“Thank you.”

A flash of movement behind Sarah made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

“I sure hope you know what you’re doing,” Charlie said.

Me, too, Sarah thought as she hung up and looked around. The living room and foyer were empty. For a moment there she’d been convinced that someone had been watching her.

First sex-starved, now paranoid.

Just remember, Texas, I’m writing a romance novel, not a thriller.

I’ll be fine with just a few weeks of memorable sex.

No need to scare the shit out of me.

This was a mistake.

When he’d chosen Fort Mavis, he’d done so for the acreage of the ranch he’d found and not much else. He’d considered the small population of Fort Mavis, even in the town’s center, a perk. The fewer people around, the less there are to avoid. In his years of traveling to train horses all over the world, he’d forgotten the problem with small communities: Everyone knows everything. Instantly.

Bad enough that the afternoon’s madness had been witnessed, but the amused looks from ranch hands who normally feared him were enough to set his temper boiling. David had ordered some parts for one of the tractors from the local mechanic. Tony’d hoped that going into town would give him a chance to clear his head. But he could tell by the way people watched him park his truck that the story had already spread to town.

He wasn’t two steps out of his vehicle when a group of three young men, all appearing to be in their late teens, approached him.

Shit.

One of them leaned against his truck while the other two flanked him.

There’s a reason I hate people.

“What kind of trainer loses horses?” one of the boys sneered.

Without turning to look at the boy, Tony growled, “Get off my truck.”

One of the boy’s sidekicks scowled and said, “You think we’re afraid of you. We aren’t.”

He recognized two of the boys as the sons of Russell White, a man he’d fired the season before when he’d heard that he’d sold photos taken from Tony’s barn to the tabloids. The man hadn’t left without a fuss. What was it about successfully silencing one man with a punch that made others want to test if you could silence them, too?

“I won’t warn you again.” When none of the boys moved, Tony half turned and grabbed the one who was leaning on his truck by the neck, pinning him to the vehicle and lifting the boy onto his toes. He looked the other two squarely in the eyes and both took a step back.

“Let Keith go, Tony,” Dean said from a few feet away.

Tony let the kid slide down the side of the truck and released him.

Gasping for air, Keith said, “Did you see that, Sheriff? He tried to kill me.”

Another of the boys jeered, “He won’t do nothing about it. They’re brothers.”

Pointing at Tony, Keith said, “When I tell my father that you tried to strangle me, he’ll kill you.”

Tony shrugged.

Dean said, “We’ll have no talk of killing in my town, Keith. The only thing you’ll get from your dad if you tell him this story is a butt whupping. Funny thing about trouble is that if you go looking for it, you’ll always find it. Shouldn’t you and your friends be painting Mary Karen’s house? I heard that’s what you told your father you needed time off the farm to get done.”

Despite the scowl the tallest boy gave Dean, he said, “Yes, sir.”

“Then y’all get along now.”

Shooting a final glare at Tony, Keith said, “Come on, guys, he’s not worth the trouble.”

Tony let out a sigh as his adrenaline ebbed. He shook his head and started walking away as if nothing had happened.

Dean fell into step beside him. “That temper of yours will get you killed one day.”

Without looking at his brother, Tony said, “You warning or hoping?”

“If I wanted you dead, why would I keep saving your hide?”

Tony narrowed his eyes at Dean. “No one asked you to.”

“You are the hardest son of a bitch to like, do you know that?”

“Then stay the hell away from me.”

Dean put a hand on Tony’s shoulder to stop him. “When are you going to look around and realize that everyone is not against you? Your worst enemy is yourself. This is a nice town. You’d see that if you let yourself.”

Tony brushed his brother’s hand away and kept walking. “Yeah, they prove how nice they are every time I visit. That right there was a fucking lovefest.”

Dean stopped and called after him, “You can’t be an asshole every day of the week and expect people to open their arms to you. Those boys have been working odd jobs ever since you fired their dad. Russell’s wife is sick. No one agreed with him selling photos of your place, but he’s struggling financially what with trying to pay for his wife’s doctor bills.”

Tony stopped midstep and turned to face his brother. He said quietly, “I didn’t know that.”

“You wouldn’t because you don’t talk to anyone.”

Uncomfortable with the information he’d just received, Tony grated, “Are we done now?”

Dean folded his arms across his chest. “Almost. You know that girl you have out at your place?”

Tony gave a curt nod.

“The whole town knows what you’re doing with her up there. She doesn’t appear to be the kind of woman who would welcome that reputation.”

A wave of anger swept through Tony. “What happens on my ranch is no one’s business.”

Dean shook his head. “In a town like this, it’s everyone’s business. It just seems to me like she’s the type of woman you might want to treat with a bit more respect.”

“She’s nothing to me.”

Dean lowered his arms, stepped back, tipped his hat, and smiled a bit sarcastically. “My mistake. Then I guess it doesn’t matter to you what people think of her.”