The door behind her opened and shut.
Without looking away from the window, Sarah said quietly, “If you’re here to say anything except you’re sorry, do yourself a favor and leave now.”
After a pause, Tony replied, “And if I am?”
Sarah turned slowly toward him, clasping her hands in front of her to stop them from shaking. She was angry, hopeful, scared. Maybe this was one day that should end the same way it started, with them not talking to each other. She looked up at him and waited.
He stood there, frowning at her for a painfully long time.
When she couldn’t take it anymore some of her frustration burst out. “Do you know what the worst part about the whole thing was? You didn’t even introduce me.”
Tony looked a bit cornered when he admitted, “I didn’t know all of their names.”
Sarah’s mouth fell open. “Are you joking?”
She shook her head in wonder. “You honestly didn’t know their names? So, David was serious when he said you didn’t notice he rehired men you’d fired?”
Tony’s steady look was as much of an affirmative as she was going get.
“How does that happen?”
Tony shrugged. “I don’t want to know them. David deals with them. All I do is train the horses.”
Sarah sat on the edge of the bed, absorbing the enormity of what he’d shared. “I knew you distanced yourself from everyone, but I didn’t realize the extent of it.”
He leaned on the doorjamb without responding.
In a near whisper, Sarah asked, “What are you afraid of?”
Tony straightened from the door. “I’m not afraid of anything.”
Sarah stood and moved to stand directly in front of him, searching his face for signs of what she suspected. “Are you sure? You can’t be happy with your life the way it is.”
He glared down at her. “I was happy before you came.”
His comment hit Sarah like a punch, knocking her momentarily off balance. Then a thought occurred to her, and she set her mouth determinedly. He wants me angry. That’s how he keeps everyone at a distance. She countered his jab with a smack of reality. “No, you weren’t.” You were hiding, numb. Too afraid to even get to know the names of the people who work here.
He pushed a hand through the back of her hair and dragged her closer to him, tipping her head up toward him. “You’re not the first woman to think she can change me.” When she gasped and struggled to pull away, he held her there, with her chest heaving against his own. He ran the finger of his free hand down the exposed arch of her neck and traced the round neckline of her dress. “But I do enjoy letting you try.”
Despite how her body pulsed and yearned, Sarah stood rigid in his hold. Strangle him or kiss him? Both sounded equally pleasurable. “Do you want me to hate you?”
His hands dropped away, his face tight with torment as he glared down at her. “No.”
There it is, just the slightest ray of hope—the reason I can’t give up on him.
Sarah took in a steadying breath and said, “Then stop pushing me away.”
He dragged a hand through his hair, leaving it mussed in a sexy way that Sarah cautioned her libido to ignore. He met her eyes with an openness she hadn’t seen since the cabin and said, “I’m sorry about dinner.”
Sarah touched his tense jaw with one soft hand. “It’s okay. Part of it was my fault. I knew you didn’t want it, but I thought that once we were all together, you would see how it could be. I didn’t mean to make things worse.”
Really? Then why do you look so miserable? What is holding you back from being happy? “When we were at the cabin you laughed. You smiled and joked. Why can’t you do that here?”
At first, she didn’t think Tony would answer, but then he took her hand from his cheek and held it in his. “The cabin was different. It wasn’t real, so I didn’t care.” Sarah tensed and pulled at her hand, but he gripped it and said, “That came out wrong.”
It better have.
Tony tipped her face up again with a finger beneath her chin. “When I start thinking I know what I’m doing, really know—that’s when things fall apart. It’s never as good as you think it is, and if you let yourself believe it is, you’re setting yourself up for a bad fall.”
Sarah looked up into his beautiful green eyes and prompted, “Please tell me. Let me in.”
Tony pulled her to his chest, unwilling or unable to look her in the eye as he opened up to her. “My mother left when I was real young. I don’t remember her, but I do remember wanting to find her. I used to ask about her all the time. Didn’t matter who I met, I interrogated them. I was sure that if I asked enough people, I’d find her. You know what I found? Dean. Seems my mother left soon after I was born because she found out my father had been married before and never told her. Neither woman wanted anything to do with my father until Dean’s mother decided it was important for brothers to know each other.”
“So, Dean’s really your half brother?”
“Half, whole, it never mattered. We’re not close.”
“Did he want to be?”
“I don’t know what the hell he wanted, but after I found him I couldn’t shake him. He was always visiting, sometimes with the mother he got along so well with. All it ever did was set my father and me to fighting until we couldn’t be in the same room anymore. My father always told me that the fewer questions a man asked, the happier he tended to be. He was right about that. I moved out at sixteen because my father and I couldn’t talk without coming to blows.”
Sarah hugged him as he went on. “I used to believe in what I was doing with horses. I had all the answers. I lost that and more when Kimberly died.” He shuddered against her, betraying how much it had cost him to relive both heartaches.
Gazing up at him, Sarah said, “I wish I could guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to either one of us again. If they ever do invent a time machine, I’ll be the first one in line to go back and try to do most of it better. But until then, this is the only life I’m going to have and I don’t want to waste any more of it. You helped me see that. It took coming here to see that I was only half alive up North. I could blame my parents. I could blame my brother. I could even blame Doug. But no one did that to me. I did it. I let my life become so much less than it was meant to be. I won’t make that mistake twice.”