Taken, Not Spurred (Page 52)

Taken, Not Spurred (Lone Star Burn #1)(52)
Author: Ruth Cardello

“Then why are you still here when you know I don’t want you to be?” Tony goaded.

Dean pushed off the counter, his hands clenching at his sides. “I give up. You want to be as miserable as our father was.”

“I’m nothing like him.”

“Are you kidding? You’re exactly like him. He was one cold, unfeeling bastard. Do you even know if he’s still alive? I don’t, and I don’t care. He’s going to die alone, just like you will if you don’t wake up.” Dean turned to leave.

“Dean,” Tony said, his tone free of all its earlier sarcasm.

Dean turned back.

As close to an apology as he could voice, Tony said, “I don’t know how to be anyone but who I am.”

Releasing a long sigh, Dean said, “Yes, you do.”

Dean had always seen good where there was none. Still, Tony felt driven to tell him what he’d been considering. “I’ve been thinking about going to see Kimberly Staten’s father.”

Dean’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Is that wise?”

“I never told him that I was sorry about his daughter. It’s time I do.”

Dean approached Tony, then stood in front of him in a show of support. “You want me to go with you?”

Tony shook his head. “No.”

“Then why tell me?”

I don’t know.

There was a past between them that he’d never spoken of, and maybe it needed acknowledging. “I may never be a good brother to you, but I don’t blame you for my mother leaving. I can’t imagine any woman being able to stay with him for very long.” The past was there, vivid between them. “I always resented how happy you were, how easy your life looked. You and your mother would visit for a day, laughing and talking about where you’d been or what you’d done together, giving me a glimpse of what a family could look like, and then you’d leave again. I used to wonder what it would be like if I left with you. I doubt our father would have cared if I had.”

“You could have come with us. My mother would have taken you in.”

Tony didn’t doubt the truth of that. Dean had gotten his giving side from his mother. “That was your life, not mine.”

“It could be yours now. You don’t have to be our father. Whatever path you take today is one of your choosing, not anyone else’s.”

Tony put his hand on his brother’s shoulder, the first time he’d ever voluntarily touched him. “I want to be the man Sarah believed I was.”

Dean nodded in understanding, then stepped back and said, “Then clean the fuck up, because you smelled an awful lot better when she was here.”

Tony smiled, lowering his hand and releasing some tension in a short laugh. “That might explain why Melanie has been leaving my food and running away.”

Dean smiled back and joked, “Probably had nothing to do with your foul mood, either.”

“Me? Moody?” Tony looked across at his brother in feigned surprise.

Dean’s smile widened. “Come to dinner at my mom’s house this Sunday. She’d like to see you.”

The automatic refusal died, unspoken, on Tony’s lips. The past only had the power he gave it, and Margery, Dean’s mother, was another part of it that he’d denied for too long. “I’d like that.”

Dean left smiling, probably the only time Tony had ever seen him leave happier than when he’d arrived.

Two weeks after leaving Tony’s ranch, Sarah had just returned from a long, cathartic ride in the fields surrounding Melanie’s parents’ home. Her cheeks were still flushed from the rush of Scooter’s ground-covering gallop. She’d smiled through untacking and brushing him down and was cooling him off by hand, walking him on the dirt road in front of the horse barn.

She missed Tony, but she refused to let herself wallow in the feelings that swamped her when she thought of him. She couldn’t hate him. He’d never been anything but honest with her. She was the one who had invaded his home, practically thrown herself at him, ignored all the warnings he gave her, and then left when she’d discovered that he was the man he’d always claimed to be.

Melanie’s parents, Steve and Cindy, could not have been nicer. They set her up in the attached apartment that they said they’d made for Melanie when she was pregnant. Why she hadn’t stayed there and why they had kept it empty weren’t questions anyone offered to answer, so Sarah didn’t ask. She understood family taboo topics.

For now, she helped their three daughters, all in their late teens and early twenties, do the barn chores and clean up after meals. It never ceased to amaze Sarah that the women in Mel’s family were so friendly, happy, and feminine. The way they did their nails, carefully styled their hair, and pored over fashion magazines gave Sarah an instant rapport with them. Vogue was a language Sarah was fluent in.

Things were comfortable at Steve and Cindy’s home, except when Melanie and Jace visited. The first time had that awkward it’s-been-a-long-time feeling to it. But Melanie kept coming to see Sarah once a week and, although the atmosphere felt strained, at least everyone was civil. Sarah wanted to ask what had happened that made them all so uncomfortable around each other, but she didn’t. I haven’t spoken to my brother since I left Tony’s house, so who am I to judge?

Sarah spun at the sound of gravel crunching beneath tires. Can it be? Has he finally come?

A slap of disappointment was quickly followed by confusion. Her brother, dressed like he was going to attend a board meeting in the city, stepped out of a stretch limo with a cardboard box so large it required both of his arms to carry. Sarah rushed to put Scooter in his paddock and returned to the driveway.

Charlie stopped, still holding the box in front him, his sunglasses too dark for Sarah to be able to predict his mood. “I brought you something,” he said gruffly.

Not the warm greeting some might have offered, but considering how they’d left things, it was a promising start. Sarah pointed to the side door of the house. “Come on in out of the heat. I’ll get you a drink and you can show it to me.”

Inside the small apartment that she was temporarily calling home, Charlie set the box down on the table in the small living room and looked around. The furnishings were mismatched leftovers she’d thought were quaint until he stood appraising them.

“How are you?” he asked, surprising her.

“Busy. I’m writing more than I ever thought I could.” But that’s not what you were asking about, is it? She added, “Sad, but I’m okay. At least, I’m determined to be.”