Taken, Not Spurred (Page 53)

Taken, Not Spurred (Lone Star Burn #1)(53)
Author: Ruth Cardello

“Have you heard from him?”

Tears pricked Sarah’s eyes, but she forced a brave smile. “No, but I didn’t expect to.”

Charlie sat down heavily on one of the couch’s thick cushions. “He wasn’t the right man for you.”

Sarah went to the refrigerator and poured two glasses of water. She handed one to her brother and sat in a chair across from him. “Maybe not, but it was my decision to make, not yours.”

“I know,” he said, removing his sunglasses and pinching the ridge of his nose as if fighting a headache. “I’m sorry.”

Had Sarah not been sitting, she would have sunk to the floor in shock. Her brother never apologized—ever. She was pretty sure he’d been genetically shortchanged on the ability to. Her voice thick with emotion, she said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that.”

Pocketing his glasses, Charlie turned to face Sarah directly and said, “And I needed to hear what you said to me at that ranch. I didn’t want to hear it, but I needed to.”

Sarah raised a hand and covered her trembling lips. Silent tears poured down her cheeks as she watched her proud brother reach across all that had divided them. “I went home to see Mom and Dad when I flew back. I asked them for pictures of Phil and any albums they had of us all together. It’s all there in that box. They saved everything.”

Vision blurred with tears, Sarah rushed to the box and opened it reverently. Just as Charlie had said, it was full of photo albums and loose photos in clear plastic bags. She flipped one album open and smiled through her tears at the first photo. Charlie at nine years old and she at five, sitting on a hospital bed posing with their newborn brother, Phil. They looked happy and nervous at the same time, like they were afraid they’d break him.

Sarah wiped one of her wet cheeks and said, “Would you look at them with me, Charlie?”

He crossed the room and put an arm around her shaking shoulders. “For as long as you want me to.”

She and Charlie moved to sit side by side on the couch with the box of photos wedged between them. She showed him the first photo and said, “We really were so young.”

Faced with the evidence of his own youth, Charlie said, “Do you remember how everything made him laugh? It didn’t matter how many times we showed him the same puppet, he was just as amazed by it.”

As they turned the pages of the album, Sarah said, “I remember how determined you were to teach him to walk. And then when he learned to, you were sorry because he followed you everywhere.”

Sarah stopped at one photo and smiled. She and Phil were in a wagon that Charlie had tied to the back of his bike and was pulling up and down the long paved driveway of their parents’ house. “I believe you had two shadows you couldn’t escape.”

Charlie looked at her sadly and said, “I did.”

“What happened to us, Charlie?” Sarah whispered.

His face tight with sadness and shame, Charlie said, “I don’t know. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to be as far away from all of this as I could get.”

“We all did. But running away from it never made me feel better. Pretending it hadn’t happened was slowly killing me.” Sarah hugged the album to her chest, her eyes filling with tears again. “Thank you for this. Ignore the tears. You’ve made me really happy by coming here.”

Charlie lightened the mood by referencing the mascara that was smeared across the lapel of his suit coat. “Does that mean this is the last suit Texas will ruin? My other one still smells like lemonade.”

Sarah gave him a playful swat. “You deserved that.”

A glimmer of a smile tugged at Charlie’s mouth. “That was one hotheaded housekeeper.”

Sarah sat back and slapped her leg as she realized something. “Oh my God. You like Melanie.”

“No.”

“She’ll be here for dinner tonight with her son, Jace.”

“I’m not staying.”

“You’re going to run away because you like her. You think she’s pretty.”

“She’s not my type,” Charlie growled defensively.

Sarah laughed. “I know, that’s what makes this perfect. The business tycoon and the cowgirl. Both convinced they don’t need the other. Both determined not to change. Then wham, they fall in love and nothing else matters.”

Eyebrows furrowed, Charlie asked, “Did you hit your head on something?”

“No.” Sarah clapped and laughed again. “Even worse. I started writing romances.”

With a groan, Charlie reached for another album. “Let’s go back to why I’m here.”

The mood had been lightened with jokes; Sarah relaxed back against her brother’s side and opened the second album. “I think you need a woman who is not afraid to threaten you with a frying pan.”

“I think you need to drop it.”

“Okay, but if I’m right, you have to learn to ride a horse.”

“And if you’re wrong?”

“I’ll make you that double-chocolate fudge cake you always used to ask for when we were little. I’m sure Mom still has the recipe.”

“I’d rather ride a horse. I’ve tasted your cooking.”

Sarah laughed. “That’s low, Charlie. Real low.”

He relaxed, too, and laughed next to her. It was the first time she’d seen this unguarded side of him. “You’re all about facing the truth. Hurts, doesn’t it?” he joked.

No. It actually feels pretty damn wonderful.

Chapter Twenty-Two

“Mr. Staten will see you now,” the secretary announced, leading the way to his office.

Tony adjusted the tie he’d worn for the occasion. He wasn’t one to dress up in a suit, but the older man deserved the respect that wearing one would pay him. This wasn’t a conversation Tony thought belonged in the workplace, but since it was the only place Evan Staten had offered, it would have to do.

Tall and white-haired, Evan was an imposing figure even in his late sixties. Tony stood in the doorway of the office, but his hesitation had more to do with the photos of Kimberly displayed throughout the room. Looking at those happy images reminded him of her joy the first time she’d successfully ridden the stallion that would later take her life. She’d been an intense young woman who lived 150 percent in the moment, and he had to admit that the day he’d handed the reins over to her had also been a good one for him. He’d been filled with his own sense of accomplishment, having done what many had said was impossible.