Taken, Not Spurred (Page 43)

Taken, Not Spurred (Lone Star Burn #1)(43)
Author: Ruth Cardello

Putting on her brightest smile, Sarah said, “I don’t care what these people think of me, Tony. I’m done apologizing for who I am. It’s a beautiful sunny day, and I’m with you. There isn’t a thing anyone could say that could ruin this for me.”

Two teenage boys stopped when they saw Tony and set a course straight for him. Tony pulled Sarah closer to him and said, “I’m not so sure about that.”

One of the boys stopped several feet away; the other, who looked older, came much closer. He stood right in front of Tony and said, “Mr. Carlton.”

Sarah felt a defensive tension pulse through Tony’s arm even though his face remained expressionless.

The young man said, “My dad told me what you did. Thank you.”

Some of the tension left Tony and he gave a curt nod.

Sarah took advantage of the opportunity to introduce herself. “Hello, my name’s Sarah.”

The young man took off his hat and briefly shook her hand. “Keith. Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

When the awkward silence dragged on too long, Sarah said, “Well, we’re here to get some things, so we have to run, but hopefully, we’ll see you again soon.”

Walking away, hand in hand with Tony, Sarah said, “See, that wasn’t so bad.”

Tony made a noncommittal sound deep in his chest.

“What was he thanking you for?”

“Nothing,” Tony answered automatically.

Sarah tugged on his hand until he looked down at her. “The amazing thing about conversations is they help people get to know each other better.” Except in this town, she wanted to say, but took another tack instead. “I can keep asking you until I drive you so crazy you tell me to shut me up, or you can just tell me now. Your choice.”

He rubbed his chin in slow deliberation.

Losing patience, Sarah warned, “I am also not above a swift kick to the shin if warranted.”

Tony threw back his head and laughed out loud, the last of his tension falling away and real amusement filling his eyes. “You would do that, wouldn’t you?”

“In a heartbeat,” Sarah joked, and hugged him, laughing along with him. They passed more than one person whose mouth dropped open in shock at the sight of the two of them, which only set the two of them laughing more.

Sarah felt young, alive, and in love for the first time in her life.

Love. Her gut clenched at the word, and the laughter died on her lips.

I love him.

He stopped walking and turned her to face him, suddenly concerned. “What’s the matter?”

Even if I could say it, you’re not ready to hear it.

Instead, she said softly, “Tell me about Keith and what you did for his father.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

She laid a hand on his cheek and said, “Why? It sounds like you did something wonderful.”

He shook his head. “Only to make amends.”

Sarah bared her inner pain to him and asked, “Do you believe that I deserve to be happy after what I did?”

His jaw tensed beneath her hand. “You were young, innocent. It wasn’t your fault.”

“That wasn’t my question. A thousand people can tell me I was too young to know better, and it won’t change what happened or bring him back. It’ll never lessen the guilt I feel. But how should I spend the rest of my life? Hiding from it? Denying it? Or making amends for it and finding a way to go on?”

He hugged her to him, publicly, right in the middle of the sidewalk. “I don’t know,” he murmured against her hair. “I don’t know.”

Sarah found a comfort in his arms that she’d never found elsewhere. For a man who gave reluctantly, he gave her everything. He kissed her, not in the heated way they’d done so often in the past, but gently, reverently. Then he pulled her tighter into his arms and rested his chin on the top of her head. The deep breath he took was as shaky as Sarah’s knees felt.

Eventually, awareness of where they were seeped in and Sarah said, “Maybe we should talk about this later.”

Tony stepped back with a grim expression. “I don’t know if I can be the man you need me to be.”

Sarah wanted to tell him that he already was, but she couldn’t.

He wasn’t.

Not yet.

Instead, she lightly kissed him on the lips and said, “Let’s go shopping before your brother orders us off the sidewalk. We’re stopping traffic.”

Tony looked around, but this time he didn’t seem to resent the attention. “They’ll have to get used to it, because you’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”

It’d be nicer if you said . . . ever.

But we’ll work on that.

Chapter Eighteen

Tony took his place at the head of the somewhat makeshift long table his ranch hands had put together while he and Sarah were in town. He wasn’t much for decorating, but he had to admit Sarah had set a beautiful table: a light-blue linen tablecloth, nice plates he hadn’t known he owned, and floral centerpieces she’d insisted were necessary.

David and Melanie had quickly taken over the job of cooking after Sarah had asked if the grill required an extension cord. Had the question come from another woman, Tony might have thought she was joking, but he’d tasted Sarah’s cooking a few times during their week in the cabin. Sarah was an amazing woman, but a man might decide starving was a viable option if forced to live on what she whipped up in the kitchen.

Sarah took the seat to his right, and it was the first time he’d seen more than a blur of her since they’d returned from town. The way she’d fussed about the house and then retreated to the guest room to primp made him feel like an ass for wishing the meal were already over.

He took a moment to appreciate her effort. She’d piled her blonde curls in a loose knot and changed into a summer dress. A memory of their earlier conversation about the advantages of dresses sent his blood rushing southward.

She caught him looking at her and smiled—so beautifully he temporarily forgot to breathe.

She leaned in and whispered, “Nervous?”

Not exactly. He shifted, the crotch of his jeans suddenly uncomfortably tight. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts of visions of how she’d look later that night when he showed her how much fun dresses could be.

Sarah laid a reassuring hand on one of his, proving quite definitively that women cannot read a man’s mind. Still, the sweet look on her face reminded him why he’d agreed to the meal in the first place. She wanted this, and when it came to Sarah, he had a real problem saying no.