The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 8)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(8)
Author: Cora Seton

Now those paying guests had left. Would Fila want to move back to Autumn’s? He had to launch this new venture with her before that happened, or he was sure he’d lose her for good. All of Autumn’s coddling wasn’t helping Fila. She couldn’t hide forever because of what had happened in the past. She needed to strike out on her own, try new things, get out of the house. His restaurant idea was the perfect vehicle. Once she’d found her footing and gained some confidence, she’d realize she really was safe here in Chance Creek. Her old fears would fall away and she’d be ready to look to the future.

She’d be ready to throw in her lot with him.

He was determined the night wouldn’t be a failure. Out on their own on the quiet street, he touched her arm.

“I have something to show you. Do you mind a short walk? It will only take a minute.”

Fila’s eyes nearly begged him to take pity on her and take her straight home, but she nodded after a moment, hunching her shoulders into her thick winter coat. “Okay.”

Her reaction added to his uneasiness, but he soldiered on and led her along the deserted sidewalk down a block and around the corner. “I know this isn’t on the main drag, but it’s still a good location,” he said, stopping in front of the small storefront. A door was tucked into an indent between its large plate-glass windows which allowed them to stand out of the wind while Ned unlocked it.

“Where are we going?” Fila asked as she followed him inside. He flicked a light switch on and a crowd of people leaped up from their hiding places—all those who’d worked on the restaurant and the rest of their friends from the Cruz ranch and Double-Bar-K, too.

“Surprise!”

Fila gasped and fell back against him. Ned gripped her biceps to hold her upright.

“Well? What do you think?” He gestured to the warm, inviting interior as the others looked on expectantly. The four couples who partnered on the Cruz ranch stood among the tables and chairs in the restaurant’s seating section. Autumn and Ethan Cruz were the closest, Autumn’s hands folded over her enormous pregnant belly, a slightly anxious expression on her face. Claire and Jamie Lassiter stood behind them, both of them grinning. Morgan and Rob perched on one of the booths and Rose and Cab Johnson leaned against another one.

Jake had positioned himself behind the counter with Hannah tucked under his arm. Luke and his housemate, Mia, were by the cash register. Ned knew for a fact Mia hoped Fila would hire her to run the front end of the restaurant.

Fila seemed dazed. “I don’t know,” she said finally, turning around in a circle. “What is it?”

“It’s your restaurant.” Ned took her hands in his. This was his moment. This was when Fila would realize how he felt about her—what he’d do to make her happy. “I paid the first six months’ rent out of my savings and I have more to use for your startup costs. Everyone helped out. Ethan made the sign out front—I’ll turn on the floodlights and you’ll see it when we go out again. Jake made the tables and booths. The ladies painted and decorated. Everyone pitched in one way or the other.”

She stood stock-still as he listed the names of everyone who’d lent a hand. He hoped Fila understood that she was surrounded by people that cared for her and they all wanted to help her succeed. “We called it Fila’s.” He squeezed her small hands in his. “You know there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you, don’t you? I want for you to feel like Chance Creek is your home—like you have a place here. Everyone wants you to feel that way. What do you think?”

Fila still didn’t move, and the unease that had been growing within him since they’d arrived at DelMonaco’s surged up a notch. Fila stood as still as a statue—

Except for the tear that slid down her cheek.

Ned’s stomach sank. “Fila?”

She drew in a shaky breath. In fact she was trembling all over.

“Fila? Sweetheart?” He dropped his voice so the others wouldn’t hear.

Her gaze flashed to his at the endearment. Her eyes were wide, her lips parted. Tears snaked down her cheeks silently. Was that fear in her eyes? As Autumn and Rose raced to comfort her, the truth of it hit him like a cold, hard slap to his face.

He’d blown it. He’d blown everything.

Fila wasn’t ready to start a restaurant—she could barely venture out his front door. She wasn’t ready to supervise other workers—she could barely speak to anyone.

She wasn’t in love with him, either.

Why would she be? He was a rough and tumble cowboy. A fighter.

An idiot.

Ned dropped her hands and backed away until he felt the handle of the door at his back. He was always blowing it. He was good for nothing. Hell, he’d scared the woman he loved. Filled with self-loathing, he yanked the door open, rushed through it and slammed it behind him. Outside, he paced in circles on the sidewalk, his anger only spiraling higher. He was such an idiot—a goddamned idiot. How could he make such a mistake?

The door opened behind him and Jake strode out. “It isn’t your fault and it’s not over,” he said.

“The hell it isn’t. You saw her!”

“I saw a girl who’s trying to put her life back together. I saw someone who’s overwhelmed in the moment, but like you always say, she’s a fighter. She’ll pull through. Give her time to get used to the idea and she’ll come to love it.”

“I wanted her to love it now.” I wanted her to love me now. He kept that last thought to himself. Jake wouldn’t understand.

“She’ll never love it if you don’t get back in there and show her why she should.”

Ned came to a halt. What the hell did that mean?

“Get back inside,” Jake told him, pulling the door open again. “Get yourself under control and give her the grand tour.”

Fila used every trick she’d ever learned to stop her tears and bring her emotions back under control. She imagined herself a pillar of stone. Impassive. Enduring. Untouched by even the winds that scoured the mountains in the worst of storms.

Stones don’t cry.

How often had she told herself that during the years she was away? Stones don’t cry. They can’t be hurt. They can be weathered, but never changed. She had become stone during those years. She had remained standing no matter what they’d thrown at her.

She could do it again today.

She had to do it again today; she couldn’t let these people who loved her down.