Something within her snapped. She put a flat hand to the middle of his chest and pushed him back a step. “Calm down? Calm down? I trusted you. Even if you have no interest in me at all, that doesn’t give you the right to treat this like a joke. If you don’t hand it over, I’ll . . . I will . . .” What do you threaten a huge cowboy with? Nothing sufficient came to mind, so she pushed him again. “Just give it back so I can get the hell out of here.”
He grabbed her hand as it left his chest and held it, pulling her closer until she had to tip her head back to look up at him. His eyes burned with what she had labeled as desire for her, but maybe it had been nothing more than the enjoyment of making her look like a fool in front of the men who’d stopped working to watch their exchange. “Let go of me,” she snarled.
“Not until you tell me what has you all wound up.”
“Really? You need me to say it? Fine.” She lowered her voice and glared at him. “I left you a message in my notebook last night. I put it right on your bed. Are you telling me that you didn’t see it?”
A glimmer of a smile stretched his lips. “A message? In your notebook? The notebook?”
He’s not pretending. He really doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Sarah took a few deep, calming breaths. How could he not have seen it? I put it right in the middle of his pillows. Notebooks don’t walk away on their own, and we’re the only two in the house.
Sarah angrily stomped a foot. Score two for the angry housekeeper. Sarah’s blood pressure skyrocketed when she peeked past Tony and saw Melanie standing in front of the porch’s screen door.
Pulling out of Tony’s grasp, Sarah stormed up the steps to confront her nemesis. “What did I ever do to you?”
Melanie looked past her and drawled, “Tony, call off your girlfriend. She looks rabid.”
The snide comment fed Sarah’s fury. “I’ll show you rabid. If you don’t hand over what you have of mine, you’ll discover why the North won the Civil War.”
In the background, she heard David say, “It’s better to let them sort it out, Tony.”
Melanie went nose to nose with Sarah. “I don’t have anything of yours, but if you think your scrawny Yankee ass can take me, try it.”
After a lifetime of peacemaking, Sarah readied herself for her first real fight. Embarrassment about the night before combined with the anger she’d cultivated this morning and swirled through her, making it impossible for Sarah to see past her own fury.
The screen door opened and shut behind them, and a small male voice asked, “Mama, what are you yelling about?”
Not taking her eyes off Sarah, Melanie said, “Go back in the house, Jace.”
Oh sure, bring out a kid so I can’t slap you.
Wait, Melanie has a kid?
Sarah looked down at the brown-haired, tanned four-or-so-year-old boy. Beneath one of his arms he held the very thing she was looking for. With a mouth suddenly as dry as the Texas desert, Sarah asked, “Where’d you find that notebook?”
Jace clutched it to his stomach and asked, “My new coloring book? I found it while we were cleaning yesterday.”
“You help your mom clean?” Sarah asked as wave after wave of new embarrassment threatened to drown out his answer.
“Sure,” he said, then he looked up at his mother guiltily. “Tony doesn’t mind if I use his stuff as long as I don’t talk to him. I can keep it, right, Mama?”
Sarah turned away from Melanie and covered her face. Oh my God. Please tell me he can’t read.
All aggression gone, Melanie dropped to her knees beside her son and touched his cheek with one hand. “It’s not yours, baby. You have to give it back.”
Jace hugged his new possession close. “I already drawed in it.”
Feeling about as low as a person could, Sarah turned back and said, “Normally, I’d let him keep it, but I can’t.” She went about three shades of red as her eyes met Tony’s.
This is not funny. She glared at him.
His lips twitched with amusement, but he was smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself.
Melanie eased the notebook out of her son’s grasp as she promised, “I’ll buy you a nice new one next time we go to town.”
Unhappy, her son spun and stormed into the house. Melanie handed the spiral notebook to Sarah, all the warmth she’d shown a moment ago gone along with her son. She said, “He won’t touch your things again.”
Add being an asshole to my list of failings.
What do you say when everything you’ve said so far has been wrong?
“Melanie . . .”
Without a word, Melanie turned away and entered the house. It didn’t help that Sarah noticed she still had a full male audience.
If I wasn’t sure what they all thought of me before, there isn’t much need to guess now. Sarah tucked her notebook beneath one arm, picked up her smaller pieces of luggage, and walked down the porch steps.
Tony said something to David, who nodded in agreement and headed toward the barn. With a flick of his head, Tony sent the ranch hands scattering.
“Stay,” Tony said softly as she walked past him to her vehicle.
Sarah stopped in her tracks and closed her eyes. “Since I can’t think of another way to embarrass myself here, I thought I should try a new location.”
In a suggestive tone, Tony said, “I have a cabin a couple of hours from here. It’s nothing fancy, but no one goes there except me.”
His offer sucked the air from her lungs. Sarah opened one eye cautiously. “Are you asking me to go with you?”
Standing before her, he tucked a loose tendril of hair behind one of her ears, and a hint of a smile softened his features. “You could go alone, but you’re not real good at finding places on your own.”
Sarah dropped both of her bags at her feet and searched his face for answers to the myriad of questions rushing through her. “I’m not ready to laugh about this yet.”
He pulled her to him and whispered in her ear, “That’s good, because there is nothing funny about what I want to do with you at my cabin.”
Sarah sagged against him, reveling in the strength of him as he held her. “You still want me after seeing me like this? I don’t normally run around and threaten everyone I come across.”
He smiled for the first time that day, and it transformed him from attractive to knee-meltingly gorgeous. “Give me five minutes to gather a few things, and I’ll take you where we both want to be.” With one parting kiss, he added, “And I’ll read your message.”