On the way, he thought about David and what it meant if he’d been fired by the Statens and then come to the Double C after Kimberly’s death. What had he said? He’d come to slap me with reality and had expected to find me celebrating my not-guilty verdict. Instead, he found me drunk and sinking fast. It wasn’t easy for Tony to look back at that dark time and how close he’d come to ending his own life.
I wouldn’t be alive today if David hadn’t come to find me.
He tried to save Kimberly and failed.
So he saved me.
A random thought followed and almost made Tony smile. I hope I pay him.
A few hours later, Tony avoided David and his ranch hands and took off for a long ride on the horse he’d ridden the day he and Sarah had raced. He remembered what Sarah had said about feeling free when she galloped on Scooter. Tony urged his palomino on until he felt the same exhilaration. For just a moment, he was far away from his past and somehow closer to the woman he’d let walk away.
He stopped his horse on the highest point of his land and admitted a truth that he could no longer deny.
I miss her.
The next few days dragged by uneventfully. Tony returned to working with the horses, and his ranch hands went back to pretty much avoiding him. On the surface, things had returned to how they were before Sarah, but Tony was beginning to understand they never really could.
He didn’t want to eat alone anymore. He didn’t want people to look away when he approached and rush off to return to work. He knew their names now and for the first time he watched them work the horses. They were good at what they did, really good. So was David. It was humbling to realize how little credit he’d given any of them for the quality of the final product they sold.
Tony was in his kitchen drinking a glass of water when Melanie walked in and said, “There’s a man on the phone for you, Tony. I know you say you don’t want to be bothered with calls, but David told me to get you for this one.”
Who would David think I’d want to talk to?
Evan? Does he even know I met with him?
Charles? That’s a conversation with a low likelihood of being pleasant.
Tony took the phone from Melanie and raised an eyebrow at her. She took the hint and left the kitchen, giving him his privacy.
“Tony Carlton,” Tony said abruptly and waited.
“Mr. Carlton.” An enthusiastic male voice echoed his name. “You don’t know what an honor it is to finally get to speak with you. Normally, I don’t get past your ranch manager.”
Leaning back against his kitchen counter, Tony asked impatiently, “Who is this?”
In a rush, the man said, “Sorry, my name is Gerry Hamilton. I represent the Dolan Children’s Fund.”
“David handles donations,” Tony said dismissively, and prepared to hang up.
“We’re not looking for a donation. Well, not exactly. We’d like you to host a horse expo we’ve been putting together. A big name like you would bring the crowds. All you’d have to do is a couple demonstrations. We’d handle the rest. The proceeds go to our nonprofit foundation . . .”
“I don’t do public appearances anymore.”
“Yes, but you’re still a celebrity. People remember you.”
Unfortunately. “I’m sorry, I wish I could help you, but—”
“Mr. Carlton, we need you. The Dolan Fund was created by a local widow who wanted to help families with sick children. We work with hospitals throughout Texas to make sure families who need to travel with their children for treatments can afford to. We’ve been doing this for twenty-eight years, but in this economy it’s harder and harder to find donors.”
Rubbing a hand over his forehead in frustration, Tony said, “How much do you need?”
“Of course we’d take a cash donation, but this event has the potential of bringing in a significant amount, especially if you agree to host it. Please reconsider the host spot,” the man said urgently.
Sarah’s voice echoed in his head. “Just being sorry isn’t enough.”
“Call back and give David all the details and we’ll make this happen.”
“Thank you so much. You won’t be sorry. This is going to be—”
Tony hung up the phone on the man.
On impulse, he dialed Evan Staten’s secretary and asked to speak to him. He was put through, which he took as a sign that what he was about to ask might be well received.
“Mr. Staten, I’d like to talk to you about an idea I’ve had.” Tony told Evan about the phone call he’d received and how he’d agreed to host the expo for charity. He paused, then added, “I’m considering some demonstrations on how to gentle a horse without violence and possibly give some riding safety tips. With your permission, I’d like to dedicate those demonstrations to Kimberly.”
At first Evan said nothing, then in an angry voice he demanded, “What makes you think I’d agree to something like this?”
After inhaling deeply, Tony said quietly, “It’s a good cause and her name will be spoken there regardless of who says it first, me or the press. I think she’d rather be mentioned boldly and have her death help others than be whispered about.”
After a long pause, Evan said, “That’s exactly what she’d want.” In a much more robust tone, he said, “I’d like to be a part of this expo. If my little girl is going to be there, I want it to be the best goddamn expo the state of Texas has ever seen.”
“My wife will be happy when she hears about this. I told her that you came to see me and she cried, but she said it was a good kind of cry. She’ll like this,” Evan said, his voice sounding suddenly certain, like a part of him was coming back to life. “It’ll be good for all of us.”
I hope so.
Tony told Evan he’d send him the information, and then he hung up and placed the phone on the counter beside him.
You did good, Kimberly.
You did good.
It was as if a weight had lifted from Tony. I can do this. I may not be able to ever bring Kimberly back, but I can do something in her name that will bring comfort to others. I can be a better man.
A man who is not afraid to love.
A man worthy of a woman like Sarah.
With a smile on his face, Tony went into the barn to look for David, who must have heard him, because he was walking through the barn to meet him. Tony didn’t stop. He walked straight up to him and hugged him. David shoved him away.