Melanie put a hand on one hip and said, “That’s not going to stop her from throwing something at your head if you don’t do this right.”
Remembering how beautiful his little blonde angel looked with her cheeks flushed and her breasts heaving with anger, Tony said, “I don’t mind a little temper in a woman.”
Melanie covered her eyes and groaned. “David, don’t let him ruin what could be his only chance to bring her back. I really like Sarah.”
David held up both hands and said, “What makes me the relationship expert?”
Forgotten during the postdinner meeting, Jace grabbed Tony’s hand and said, “You should listen to my mama. She knows everything.”
Melanie ruffled her son’s hair. “You tell ’em, Jace.”
David said, “My mother always said that God made kids cute when they were little so parents could cling to those memories when they turned into teenagers.”
“As long as he doesn’t turn out like the two of you, I’ll be happy,” Melanie quipped.
Tony looked down at his young adviser and said, “Jace, could you go check on the barn with David? I need a moment alone with your mother.”
Jace hesitated, not letting go of Tony’s hand until he clarified something. “You mad at her?”
Shaking his head, Tony said, “Not at all.” He smiled down at Jace. “Besides, in a scrap, I’m pretty sure she’d win.”
David said, “Come on, Jace. Let’s go see how our pregnant mare is doing. She’s looking ready to foal. Maybe tonight. You can name the new one if you’re there.” With one last look at Tony and Melanie, Jace agreed and followed David out the door.
When they were gone, Tony took out a folded piece of paper and handed it to Melanie. She opened it, gasped, and tried to hand it back to him. “I can’t accept this.”
“The property sits on the edge of mine. You can keep it or sell it, but I want you to have it. Jace deserves a place he can call his own and so do you. I spent a lot of time thinking over the past few weeks. This ranch has been my sanctuary and my curse—so well insulated from the world that I didn’t have to face what had driven me here. I think it’s been the same for you. It’s not going to be like that once we start dealing with the public again. There’ll be no place to hide. I’m hoping you see this as an opportunity, but if you don’t, you can take the money from that house and buy a place more private.”
Clasping her hands in front of her, Melanie said, “Are you firing me?”
“Damn, I’m not good at this, am I? I’m trying to tell you that you and Jace have a home, no matter what changes around here.”
Eyes glistening with emotion, Melanie hugged the paper to her stomach and said, “You’re a good man, Tony Carlton, and I was wrong. You don’t need my advice. You just go get Sarah. You’ll have no trouble talking her into forgiving you.”
“I was hoping to keep the actual talking to a minimum,” Tony said with a straight face, then winked.
Melanie laughed softly, then her expression turned serious and she said, “Just tell her how you feel, Tony, and you can’t go wrong.”
This time I will.
Sitting at a small wooden desk in the living room of her temporary apartment on Melanie’s parents’ ranch in Telson, Sarah wrote the two most satisfying words across an entire page of her notebook:
She’d written not only one but two short books. No, they weren’t perfect. They needed revisions, but she’d done it. She’d created a world of characters she felt others would enjoy.
They say write what you know, so I did.
Tempted (in Texas)
Torn (in Telson)
By Breshall Haas
Sure, Texas isn’t as specific as Telson, but it sounds a whole lot better than Mussed in Mavis. Or Fucked at Fort . . . See, that doesn’t even work.
Tempted was a powerful title that described the incredible journey she’d been on. A better version of it, anyway. No midnight nervous-fart-releasing laps around a cabin.
And Torn. Well, any writer will tell you that the worst of what you endure can inspire the best fiction.
Book three will have to wait until I find my own hero. Or at least until I think of another title that starts with a T besides Tragic.
She thought back to her first impression of Tony, and the title for the last book in her trilogy came to her: Taken. In the cabin and for a short time following their return from it, she’d glimpsed what it would be like to belong to Tony. In the end, he just wasn’t where she was—and knowing how painful it was to be held hostage by the past made Sarah feel more sympathetic than angry toward Tony. He would have loved her if he’d been capable of it.
This is not the end of my story. I will have a happy ending because I’m determined to.
Thank you, Tony.
I may never have found my voice if I hadn’t found you first. She smiled as she remembered how they’d met. Or you found me. Whatever.
You didn’t give me your heart, but you gave me confidence and courage. In some weird, twisted way, you even gave me back my family.
Hmm. Twisted. Also a possible title.
Sarah flipped her notebook open and jotted it down. The words on the page blurred, and she saw Tony with painful clarity in her mind. I wish I knew you were better off because of our time together. What did I give you? She blushed as vivid memories of their nights together returned in force. Well, besides that.
I chased you, cornered you, and then pushed you to be someone you’re not.
No wonder it didn’t work out.
You kept telling me you weren’t ready, but I heard only what I wanted to hear.
Sarah thought back to their time together at the cabin and what he’d shared when he’d opened up to her. He hadn’t always been incapable of love. He’d loved Missy, the mare he’d trained that his father had sold. How old did he say he’d been? Twelve? That would have been eighteen years ago. Can she still be alive? Depending on how old she was when he’d trained her, maybe. Some horses live into their thirties and beyond.
But how would I even begin to look for her?
Sarah contacted him through the Fort Mavis Sheriff’s Department. After all, this was sort of a community service request. It was for a member of his community.
Dean didn’t require much convincing. It was a long shot and he told her so, but he promised to look into it. Unbelievably, he called back the next morning and, after checking with Steve and Cindy to let them know she’d be gone for part of the day, Sarah hitched the empty trailer to her SUV. Missy was with a family a couple of hours away, and now that the children had all grown and gone, the aging parents kept her as a pasture pet. They weren’t looking to sell her, but that didn’t stop Sarah.