The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 9)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(9)
Author: Cora Seton

As Autumn and Morgan crowded around her, she rubbed her sleeve across her eyes and forced a smile to her lips. “It’s beautiful,” she said, pressing down against the swirl of terror that threatened to overwhelm her. “I can’t believe you did all this for me.” Her fake smiles elicited real smiles of relief as all her friends relaxed again.

The front door opened and Jake came back in, followed by a subdued Ned. As he approached, she made herself smile up at him too, knowing he had tried to help, no matter how far he’d gone astray.

This is a good man, she told herself. This is a man who cares. But she found herself wishing for her burka again, wanting to slip into a crowd of blue-clad bodies and disappear.

“I’m sorry if I pushed you. You don’t have to run a restaurant.” He stood with his fists shoved in his pockets.

Fila shook her head vehemently. “It’s wonderful.” Her voice was strained, but as clear as she could make it. “I am so grateful.”

“I don’t want your gratitude, I want—” He cut off. “I want you to be happy. I want you to feel like this is your home. Here in Chance Creek.”

Tears pricked her eyes again, but this time there was joy mixed in with her sorrow. Somehow this cowboy cared for her—a warped, battered woman who was so far from whole as to be barely functional. What could he possibly see in her to make her worth his while? Whatever it was, she had to live up to it.

“We’ll all keep helping you,” Mia said. “Everyone wants to help you be a success.”

Fila just nodded. What could she say?

“Grab a table, everyone.” Morgan took charge. “Let’s show her what it will look like when it’s up and running.”

“I’ll man the cash register,” Mia called out and nearly bounced to take her place at the till.

The rest of her friends found places at the tables and in the booths as Fila watched them, clutching her hands tightly together. When there was someone at almost every table they turned to her. Their expressions were hopeful—like children waiting for praise.

“Well? What do you think?” Jake said, grinning widely.

For one brief second Fila could picture it. The tables crowded with talking, laughing patrons, music filling the air, the aroma of Afghan cooking wafting from the kitchen, Mia chatting up a customer at the till.

The vision rang so real and so true that for one moment she thought she could do it. Her heart surged. She could be a part of this. She could feed these people. She could stir her love and thankfulness and gratitude into every bite she put on their plates. She took in Ned’s hopeful expression, the worry and hope warring in his eyes. She could do this, with his help. With everyone’s help.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

As the room erupted in cheers and whoops, Ned swooped her into his arms, lifted her off her feet and twirled her around. “I knew you’d love it!” He pulled her close and kissed her on the mouth.

The cheering cut off abruptly. Fila’s breath caught. Ned pulled back, seemed to realize what he’d done, and let go.

Fila staggered back until Hannah caught her. The room tilted under her feet, as the rest of their friends broke into an excited chatter.

“Fila?” Ned leaned toward her again. “Fila? Are you all right?”

She tried to nod, but her head spun too much to manage it. She saw him bend down, saw the floor come up to meet her.

Then everything went dark.

Chapter 6

“I’ve never seen a man knock a woman out cold with a kiss before,” Jake said to Ned. They were sitting in the living room of his cabin while Hannah tucked Fila into her bed. She’d revived quickly at the restaurant, but it was apparent to everyone the party was over for the night. He’d brought her straight home while the others had closed up the place. Jake, Hannah, Luke and Mia had followed right after him to help.

“I thought the kiss was supposed to wake the girl up,” Luke drawled. “Fila’s like a reverse Sleeping Beauty. Or maybe you’re just not the right prince.”

“Luke!” Mia elbowed him.

Ned surged to his feet and paced the cramped room. He wanted to be Fila’s prince, but Jake and Luke were right—it wasn’t going so well.

“She’ll be fine. We should have known that surprising her wasn’t very smart,” Jake said.

They all looked up as Hannah came down the stairs.

“She’s resting.” Hannah sat by Jake and leaned against him. He twined his fingers with hers and Ned squashed a rush of jealousy. Jake and Rob both had wives who loved them. Luke would win Mia over sooner or later by the looks of things. Why was he the one life never worked out for?

“Give her time,” Jake said.

Hannah smiled up at him. “That was some kiss.”

With an impatient sound, he strode to the kitchen, trying to shut out Hannah and Mia’s giggles. Why, oh why had he kissed Fila in front of everyone? Bad enough that she didn’t want him—now everyone knew all about it.

“We’ll keep gathering pots and pans and dishes for the restaurant,” Hannah called after him. “I still think it’s a great idea, Ned. You just have to be patient.”

Sure. He could be patient. Ned opened the refrigerator and grabbed a beer. Struggled with an urge to dash it onto the floor.

Maybe.

Fila was up before Ned the next morning. She slipped downstairs on silent feet, showered, dressed, checked her reflection in the mirror until she was sure all was right.

Ned had kissed her.

He’d kissed her.

Autumn was right; the tall, wonderful cowboy was sweet on her. And what had she done to show her appreciation for the fact that he took her to dinner, leased her a restaurant, renovated it—and kissed her?

She’d fainted dead on the floor.

Probably not the reaction he’d hoped for.

She’d tossed and turned all night thinking about that kiss, about the brush of his lips against hers, the heat and desire behind it. In that instant she’d gotten a flash of what it could be like with Ned—the passion he could show her, the spark that could kindle between them.

It scared her to death.

It set her on fire.

He had already grown to be special in her eyes. She knew he showed her a side of himself he showed to few others. That was fitting since he saw things about her no one else knew. Who else brought out her shy sense of humor? Who else knew how much she loved music?

Who else would look at her and see something worth caring for?