Authors: Sherri Thomas
“Not because you feel sorry for me?”
He grinned. “There are a lot of reasons to feel sorry for your ass, but no.”
Fighting a smile, Trent started the four-wheeler. “Meet me there,” he yelled over the roar of the engine and drove to the cabin, feeling the weight of the last few weeks tighten his neck muscles.
Between the conversations with Darcy, the concern on his mother’s face, and now Nick, he grew ashamed of the way he’d treated them. Today may be as good a time as any to set things right. In all honesty, he grew tired of driving the people who loved him away and thanked his lucky stars the clan still spoke to him after the way he treated everyone. Since the surgeries, he made a job out of refusing their help. A fact his future sister-in-law pointed out a couple of days ago, and she didn’t mince words.
Hauling bundles of shingles on his uninjured shoulder up the ladder to the roof consisted of no small feat, and he almost wished someone would stop him. The family wasn’t to blame for his lack of better judgment now or earlier. Dating April on and off during high school, he ignored the warnings, the nagging voice telling him something was off, and jumped to the next logical step—asking her to marry him. And when his parents asked him to pitch in more with the ranch, to do a bit of traveling to pick up new horses and such, she became irate. The fight they got into after he returned with the ranch’s newest bull was the worse night of his life. An evening that almost ended it all.
The rattling of the ladder broke into his thoughts as Nick’s face popped up from the side of the roof.
“Took me a little longer than I expected to get back here. Throw me those nails, and we’ll get this done in no time.”
Together, they worked side by side for hours, tearing off the old, damaged portion and replacing with new; the pounding of the hammer filled the silence.
Sweat dripping from his forehead into his eyes, Trent stripped off his shirt to wipe his face. Catching sight of a dark blue Tacoma parking at Darcy’s old place, he stared as long, tan legs swung out of the vehicle. From his location, he observed the top of the tan cowboy hat followed by the familiar yellow sundress from this morning.
Jordan glanced up and stared back before reaching into the truck and pulling out a couple of bags.
“Don’t let your past ruin chances in your future,” Nick’s voice came from beside him.
“April didn’t cripple me.”
“I’ve seen you pull back when a female shows interest.” His brother’s feet shifted.
Swaying hips disappeared inside, and he faced his wannabe therapist. “Not that it’s your business, but I’ve been with women since.”
“I don’t want you to miss out because of
“Darcy’s made you soft.”
A chuckled filled the air. “At one time, I would’ve knocked you on your ass for that comment, but you’re right…to a degree. I’d give her the moon, if I could. She’s worth that, and a whole lot more.”
Trent reflected on the conversation while cleaning up and checking on Sierra.
“I’d give her the moon, if I could.”
He never experienced such a strong sensation. Not even with April.
Too bad he figured that out
she shot him…twice.
Jordan glanced in the mirror for the hundredth time later the following day. She swiveled one way then the other, checking the fit of the new jeans. The material felt foreign against her skin. She hadn’t worn denim in years. Not since her parents’ deaths. The basic clothing had represented a careless, ungrateful, partying teenager from the past.
The idea of purchasing the clothes hovered on the bottom of her list, but as Darcy stated in a text message, wearing slacks and dresses around the ranch would never work. The designer outfits were impractical and sure to get ruined. Not to mention the sandals and flip flops that would in no way protect her feet from the elements.
Not wanting to draw attention, or go into a personal explanation, Jordan gave in and also bought a pair of boots.
The ringing of her cell phone ended the modeling in the mirror, and she snatched the device off the dresser. “Hello.”
“Wanna have supper with me?” Darcy’s voice filtered over the line. “Give me a chance to redeem myself for leaving you on your own last night and today.”
Jordan glanced at her watch. Six already? “Where?”
“At the main house. We can talk about your meeting with Dr. Sheffield.”
“I…” Would Trent be there? She wasn’t ready to see him. Not yet. Not until she figured out the best way to handle
situation. But she moved back home to be closer to Darcy, not avoid her. “Give me a couple of minutes.”
“Okay. See ya in a few.”
Jordan checked her mirrored image once more and frowned. Making a snap decision, she scurried out of the denim, donned a pair of gray capris, a burnt orange blouse, and a pair of sandals before heading out. The outfit may be impractical around the barns, but deemed appropriate for supper.
Walking in the warm air, she breathed deep until a calmness washed over her. A cow mooed in the distance, drawing her attention. Other than a herd or two of animals in the pasture, the land appeared vacant from the human standpoint.
An edginess clawed at her insides as she reached the porch, and her heart rate accelerated as she climbed the stairs. “Please don’t let him be in here,” she whispered.
Seeing only her friend through the screen, her pulse slowed a bit, and she tapped on the side of the door.
Her hostess crossed the kitchen and opened the barrier. “You don’t have to knock.”
Letting the wood shut behind her, she smoothed a palm over her thigh. “I’ll try to remember that.”
“The guys are going to be late. One of the mares is in labor and having trouble.” Her perky friend grabbed plates and silverware. “So, we’re going to start without them.”
“If you’d rather go down there and help, I can find something on my own.” She relaxed with the knowledge of not having to face Trent.
“No way. I feel bad enough for deserting you already. Besides, I’d only be in the way.” She strolled over to the table and uncovered the rectangular dish in the center.
A spicy aroma filled the air, and Jordan’s stomach growled as a reminder she’d gone the entire day without eating.
“Ms. Liz has tonight off, but she fixed a killer Mexican casserole. Come on, dig in.”
“I even bought your favorite wine on my way home today.” Darcy opened the refrigerator and produced a bottle. “To celebrate your return to Amarillo.”
“You know I don’t drink very often.” She’d given that up before she was even of legal age.
“Oh, come on. I recall you enjoying a glass or two when I lived with you, and this is to celebrate your homecoming. One glass won’t hurt.” Her eyebrows dipped in the center. “You aren’t an alcoholic are you? Oh, God, I’m sorry. You never said anything. Forget I even asked.”
How easy it would be to go along with that story. But unable to lie, and feeling like a heel, Jordan shook her head. “I’m not an alcoholic. And you’re right, one glass would be fine,” Jordan said so as to not hurt her friend’s feelings. She recalled the two occasions her friend referred to. In order to avoid an explanation, she had poured the alcohol down the drain periodically when Darcy wasn’t looking to make it appear as if she’d been drinking. Being a respectable, proper woman wasn’t easy, but she held close the promise she made to her deceased parents.
Changing the subject, she asked, “Where are Mr. and Mrs. Matthews?” She’d had the pleasure of meeting Nick’s parents once during her employment at the hospital when his dad came in for scheduled tests.
“Sailed out a couple of nights ago to explore the ends of the earth.” Darcy grabbed two goblets from the cupboard and poured a generous amount of wine in each.
“You mean she’s still dragging that poor man around the globe?”
“He’s convinced her to calm down on the traveling, even managed to stay here for the past three months before she whisked him away again.” The plates were set on the table. “If not for Trent’s surgery, I doubt he’d have succeeded. I think she uses her husband’s health as an excuse to tour the world.”
“Trent had surgery? For what?” The questions exploded out of her mouth before she reined in her thoughts.
“The screws needed replacing in his shoulder,” she answered, handing over one of the glasses. “He had problems with a torn rotator cuff in the past, and the dang injury doesn’t want to heal.”
Jordan’s mind absorbed this information and kicked into nursing mode. She wondered if he listened to the doctors or went to therapy. Perhaps Sam drove him there yesterday.
Her friend pulled out a chair and sat. “I’m sorry about last night and today. The last thing I wanted was to leave you by yourself the minute you arrived.”
“It’s not like I haven’t been by myself before,” she stated.
Darcy placed a spoonful of casserole on each plate. “Still, I feel horrible. Mr. White has a big case out of town in a couple of days, and I was elected to get everything together before he left.” She rolled her eyes. “The good news is, with the exception of running in to check phone messages, I’m off until he returns.” She smiled. “I do have to work around here, but that’s more fun than anything.”
“Speaking of fun, have you and Nick set a wedding date yet?” she asked, scooping up a bite of food. Her eyes watered as the hot spices swarmed her taste buds. She blinked several times to hold the tears back, and tried to focus on Darcy’s answer.
“No.” The bride-to-be sighed. “Well, kind of. I don’t know. If it was up to him, we would’ve eloped months ago, but I can’t do that to his parents. Tammy’d never forgive us.”
Grabbing a napkin from the center of the table, she dabbed her mouth and sucked in air. “Mind if I get some water?”
“Help yourself. Glasses are in the cupboard by the window.”
Jordan rose and proceeded to get herself a drink. After taking a swallow to douse the flames, she repeated, “So, when were you thinking?”
“Second or third week of September. The ranch has fewer guests after Labor Day, and we won’t feel guilty leaving the others shorthanded.”
“That’s not far away.” She placed her tumbler on the table in front of the wine, nudging the alcohol back an inch.
“I know, but this place picks up again in late October and…” A devilish glint sparkled in her eyes. “Nick won’t wait much longer. He wanted to be married months ago, but time got away from us, and the ranch was booked solid, and well…” She shrugged. “…here we are.”
“Have you decided on colors or flowers?”
Her friend nodded. “I want to keep everything simple. I’m thinking maybe roses or carnations or maybe some sunflowers. Okay, so I can’t make up my mind. Help me?” she pleaded with a smile.
Uncertainty flowed through Jordan, but wanting to be there for her best friend won out, and she chuckled to cover the hesitation. “I’m not sure how much help I’ll be, but I’d love to.” Biting into a spicy layer, she grabbed the cold liquid again. “Wow. Ms. Liz likes the spices.” Her mouth burned, yet she couldn’t stop eating the delectable food.
“That she does.” Darcy laughed not showing any signs from the excessive heat she shoveled into her mouth.
“How can you eat this stuff without guzzling a gallon of water?”
“I’m use to her cooking, I guess.”
Eyes tearing up again, Jordan dabbed at the corners with the cloth and added, “How about mums and sunflowers, keep with the fall season? I saw pictures in a magazine of a wedding up north, and the outcome was stunning.”
Darcy tapped her lip with the fork. “Ya know, I like that, and if the local greenhouses don’t have the right arrangements, I’m sure we can find something close or even fake ones. It’s worth a shot.” She lifted her wine. “Here’s to fall flowers and praying we find the perfect ones.”
Jordan raised her goblet and saluted before bringing the alcohol to her sealed lips, making it look as though she took a sip. She knew the deception was wrong, but things were just easier this way. Too many bad memories associated with drinking, too many bad decisions. All better left buried in the past.
“Okay, enough about me. How’d things go with Dr. Sheffield?”
Frowning as she set her drink down, she gave a deep sigh. “Of course, my position was filled, and right now, the hospital is overstaffed. Once the board shifts everyone and weeds out the workers from the slackers, there may be an opening. Doc promised to speak to the board on my behalf, but there’s no guarantees.” No way was she going to voice his concerns surrounding her bouncing from job to job and now living on a ranch.
Geez, she felt like a teenager again listening to his worries. She rubbed the crease of her brow with her index finger.
His first comments bordered on how her parents would be so proud, then he asked where she was staying and things went downhill. Watching her grow up, he knew how horse and cowboy crazy she’d been as a teen, recklessly crazy. The way he saw her track record, she already gave up an RN position to follow one man, what reassurance could he give his supervisor when he himself worried she’d fall back into old habits.
“He promised to call when a job comes about.” She cringed. “You might be stuck with me longer than intended. I mean, if it’s okay with you and the Matthews?”
“You can stay as long as you wish. I’m sure Nick will feel the same.”
“What about the others?”
“We spoke to everyone before offering the cabin. No one had any interest in using the place. In the meantime…” She smiled. “I have a proposition for you. Nick and I were talking and wondered if you’d consider working on the ranch? It’d be great to have an RN on site, especially if we start having kid groups stay.” A sheepish grin lit her face. “The idea really was Tammy’s. She’s thinking of hiring a nurse for the ‘just in case’ situations, and I told her you were moving back. There’s always a medical emergency of one kind or another.”
Jordan laughed. She couldn’t help it. The future Mrs. Matthews bulldozed right through the speech.
“What’s so funny?”