Taken, Not Spurred (Page 51)

Taken, Not Spurred (Lone Star Burn #1)(51)
Author: Ruth Cardello

“We were kids.”

“Maybe you can tell yourself that, but I was twelve—old enough to know better.”

Suddenly, Sarah understood what had torn her family apart. She closed her eyes for a moment to gather her strength, opened them, and said, “I’ve told myself it was my fault every day since he died. Every single day. Guess what? It was my fault. And it was yours. And it was Mom and Dad’s. We can keep blaming ourselves and each other, but none of that is going to bring him back. None of it will make us back into the family we might have been.”

Charlie shook his head, refusing to hear what she was saying. Sarah thought about Tony and the pain he refused to let go of. In the saddest of ways, Tony and her brother had more in common than either would likely ever know. Maybe it was time to admit that both were beyond her reach. “I thought I could heal Tony, but I can’t. If you want to torture yourself for the rest of your life, I can’t stop you. But I’m not going to live like that anymore. I’m going to find a place where I can be happy. Good-bye, Charlie.”

Sarah opened the limo door before he could say anything and closed it behind her, raising her face to the cleansing brightness of the sun. She looked around and saw Tony standing in the barn doorway with Scooter. Melanie and Travis were putting her luggage in the back of her SUV. Melanie waved the notebook in the air, making sure Sarah knew it had made it to the vehicle, and gave her a thumbs-up regarding her parents. Sarah groaned. Only she and Tony knew the subject of her novel, and now she had to face him again to get her horse.

Tony walked Scooter to the trailer. Sarah took the lead line from him and stopped just in front of him, looking up into his eyes. She wanted to hate him. She wanted to storm away with some sophisticated cutting remark that would make him feel as badly as she did.

And she wanted to hug him and tell him that she understood.

Instead, she said softly, “Do you know how little it would take to make me stay? I love you.”

His face filled with a mixture of sadness and farewell. “I know.”

“I don’t regret any of it, Tony. Not one moment of it.”

His eyes glistened, then he turned and walked away, leaving her to numbly take directions from Melanie while one of the ranch hands finished loading Scooter. Sarah stopped at the turn in the driveway, waiting one last time, hoping to see Tony appear in her rear-view mirror.

He didn’t, and that was when she knew it was really over.

Chapter Twenty-One

Tony stepped out of the barn to watch Sarah’s SUV pull onto the main road. Her brother’s limo pulled out directly after. Tony felt the presence of David at his side, but didn’t acknowledge it until they were both gone. Then, without looking away from the path they’d driven, Tony said, “Say it. Tell me I’m a fool to let her go.”

In a surprising twist, David didn’t. Instead, he said, “She couldn’t stay. You’re not ready for her. Staying wouldn’t change that.”

In that moment outside of time, Tony admitted, “I hurt her and I never meant to.”

David took his time answering. “You’ve hurt a lot of people since I met you, Tony, and I’ve never seen you look sorry about it.”

“I never felt sorry,” he said. “I stopped feeling anything a long time ago.”

“Until Sarah,” David diagnosed.

Softly, Tony agreed, “Yeah.”

The two men continued looking out over the empty driveway in silence. Finally, David said, “Five years ago I came here thinking I’d find a man celebrating his court victory. I was ready to cut you down a peg or two and shove a bit of reality in your face. But you taught me something instead.”

They both knew the condition David had found him in, so Tony didn’t bother to ask. He’d rather not know.

David continued, “I learned that in a tragedy there are no winners, only people struggling to survive the aftermath.”

Tony nodded slowly and said, “You sure I was worth saving? I am one miserable bastard.”

“And you always will be until you face your past.”

“I face it every day, every night. It never leaves me,” Tony said in frustration.

“I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that when something pesters you that much you haven’t dealt with it the way it needs to be.”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? Tony would have asked, but David had walked away.

A week later, Dean came by around dinnertime. Tony was sitting at the small table in the kitchen, not touching the plate of food that Melanie had placed in front of him. He hadn’t eaten in days. Nor had he left the house. He’d tried to go back to the way things were before Sarah, but instead of feeling nothing, he felt an overwhelming sadness.

“You look like hell, Tony,” Dean said.

Tony rubbed a hand over the week’s growth of beard on his face. He felt like hell. “Isn’t there sheriff business somewhere that you’re late for?”

“You drinking again?”

Tony shook his head, pushed himself away from the table with two hands, and stood. “No, but if I were I wouldn’t need you here butting into what has always been none of your business.”

“You’re my brother. You are my business.”

“Half brother. Consider that your ticket to freedom from any responsibility.”

Dean sat back against the kitchen counter, not appearing bothered by Tony’s foul mood. “I’ve been making excuses for you since the first time I met you. David said you haven’t been feeling well.”

“Is there a point to this conversation? If so, make it and get out.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Dean said, “I should. I was never happier than the day I found out I had a little brother. I know you blamed my mother for yours leaving, and maybe I always felt a bit guilty about that. I never stopped hoping you’d get over it. When you bought this place, I moved here because you were self-destructing. Everyone figured it was only time before someone found you dead. I came here for you, Tony. And I stayed, smoothing over every mess you made. Keeping your ass out of jail every time you threw someone off your property with enough force to have warranted an assault charge. Now you’re self-destructing again, and I can’t sit back and watch it happen. I don’t expect you to be grateful.”

“Good, because I never asked you to get involved in any part of my life.”

Dean’s face whitened a bit in anger. “You’re right, you never did—and you never thanked me. You’re an ungrateful ass.”