I’m not leaving without her.
I don’t care what she costs.
I’ll bring her home, clean her up, and call David. He’ll know the best way to deliver her to Tony.
It was late morning when Tony pulled into the driveway of Melanie’s parents’ house. Melanie had told him to park near the barn because Sarah was staying in the attached apartment at the back of the house.
Sarah’s car wasn’t parked where Melanie had said it would probably be, and she didn’t answer his knock on her door. So much for surprising her.
Tony walked to the main house and bypassed the doorbell for a more satisfying thundering knock on the door. A young brown-haired woman, who appeared to be in her early twenties, opened the door. Her eyes rounded at the sight of him. “Oh,” she said, “you’re not supposed to be here.”
“Where is Sarah?” Tony demanded. When he’d rehearsed his speech on the way over, it hadn’t occurred to him that she might not be there.
“She’s not here,” the young woman said.
“That much is obvious,” Tony replied, quickly losing his patience.
An older woman’s voiced called out from inside the house, “Who is it, Bunny?”
“It’s Tony Carlton,” the young woman called back.
“What’s he doing here?” the woman asked, not waiting for the answer before rushing to her daughter’s side to find out for herself. The elegantly dressed woman held out a hand in greeting. “Mr. Carlton, what a surprise.”
With a nod, Tony reluctantly shook her hand. “Ma’am, I came to see Sarah. Melanie told me she’s staying with you.”
“She is, but she went out to run an errand this morning. I’ll tell her you dropped by.”
“I’ll wait,” Tony stated with determination.
“Mom, he can’t. It’ll ruin everything.”
“Bunny, stop. Does it really matter how he finds out?”
Tony’s temper began to rise. What don’t they want me to know? Did I leave Sarah alone for too long? Did she find someone else? If so, I hope she’s not overly attached to a man I’m going to kill when I meet him. Between gritted teeth, Tony asked, “Find out what?”
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway caught Tony’s attention. He didn’t wait for an answer to his question; he strode down the steps and headed toward Sarah’s apartment. It was Sarah driving her SUV with the horse trailer in tow. She parked next to the barn and jumped out, rushing to the side of his truck and looking around.
Fortunately, she was alone.
“Sarah,” he said. He knew his tone had been harsh and was wishing he’d softened it when she spun toward him. He saw the joy she felt at seeing him, just before she reined her emotions in.
I’m an ass.
There isn’t anyone else.
He closed the distance between them, rehearsing exactly what he’d say to convince her to give him a second chance. He’d start with an apology. He’d tell her how much he’d missed her, how much he needed her. And then, he’d tell her what had taken him weeks to admit to himself.
I love you.
She took a step toward him, and he swung her up and held her slightly above him, kissing her with all the passion that had been building within him since he’d last seen her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and settled into his arms as he lowered her slowly against his chest. Her tears mixed with their kiss. He buried his face in her hair and held her to himself.
“I was a fool,” he said urgently, hugging her closer.
She pulled back so she could look into his eyes and said, “No, I was. I pushed you when I should have given you time.”
He cupped her face in his hands and said, “I didn’t need more time, I needed a swift kick in the pants, and you leaving me did that. I was trapped in the past. You set me free.”
Still crying even though she was smiling, Sarah said, “Are you really here?”
He kissed her lips lightly, tenderly. “Yes, and I hope you can pack fast, because you’re coming home with me.”
She cocked her head to one side. “Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?”
“I know what I want and that’s you, Sarah.”
Her beautiful brown eyes searched his face. “For how long?”
He ran a light thumb over her bottom lip. “Forever.”
She launched herself onto her tiptoes and kissed him, and the world around them receded. All that existed, all that mattered, was the two of them and their hunger for each other. They kissed until the desire to rip each other’s clothing off, right there in the driveway, almost won out.
Tony broke off the kiss and rested his forehead on hers, their mutual labored breathing blocking out all other sounds. “Do you have anything inside that you can’t get later? You already have Scooter loaded. Let’s go home. We’ll come back for my truck and your things tomorrow . . . or the next day. I want you in my bed, and once I have you there, I can’t imagine we’ll be leaving it anytime soon.”
Flushed and looking a bit bemused, Sarah said, “That’s not Scooter in the trailer.”
“You bought yourself another horse?”
Sarah touched his cheek softly. “No, I bought you one.”
He looked at the trailer but couldn’t see more than a shadow of what was inside. “You bought me a horse? Does that mean you’d decided to come back?”
“No,” she said, her eyes brimming with emotion. “I was going to have David deliver her to you.”
“I don’t understand,” Tony said.
“Go look at her,” Sarah suggested.
The last thing Tony cared about right then was a horse, but Sarah seemed to care an awful lot about her gift, so he went to the back of the trailer and opened it. To his surprise, it wasn’t a quarter horse or even a young horse.
Sarah opened the side door and unclipped the horse’s harness. An aged white mare backed off the trailer. Tony’s gut clenched painfully as he recognized her profile.
It can’t be.
He put out his hand for the mare to smell. She whinnied into his palm, then rubbed her head roughly against him. His voice came out in a whisper. “Missy?”
Emotion flooded him as he tried to make sense of what he’d never dared to think possible. Sarah had found the horse his father had sold when he was twelve. The only horse he’d ever let himself love.
Did she remember him? Before Sarah, Tony would have said she couldn’t. He would have dismissed her greeting and the way she was nuzzling against him as learned behavior—something she associated with any human contact. But as he looked into those wise equine eyes, he saw recognition and love.