Authors: Mary Eason
Kate's heart went out to him.
“What happened?” she whispered. Tears pricked her eyes. She blinked hard but they wouldn't go away.
“Caroline was leaving Matt the night of the accident and she
had their son with her. Oh, no one ever said as much right out, but she left in the middle of the night with all of their clothes. Doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out the rest of the story. Poor man. Matt didn’t have any idea what Caroline was up to. They were half way down Silver Mountain when her car skidded on the icy road and went off the mountainside. They were both killed instantly.”
Kate stood silent, her hands holding the forgotten deposit. Tears spilled from her eyes. “That’s horrible. It must have been so hard for him.”
Amy shook her head then patted Kate’s hand when she spotted the tears. “Yes, it was, child. Like I said, he shut himself up in that house and didn’t talk to anyone except Rachel and Denny. Denny wouldn’t let Matt push him out of his life. I have to applaud his loyalty. Not too many people would stick by a friend, even one as close as those two, in the face of such bitterness.
“I was so afraid we’d never get him back again. That he was going to be angry with God forever for what happened that night. Maybe he’s finally beginning to make his peace with God over Sam
my’s death. And you know, I can’t help but believe that you had something to do with that, child.”
Kate tore her gaze away from the open speculation. “Oh
, Amy, no. You’re wrong. He hardly knows me, so there’s no way I could be responsible for the difference in him. Whatever happened to change Matt has absolutely nothing to do with me!”
Yet, all at once
, Kate wasn’t so sure. She still remembered what he’d said to her earlier. She caught Amy smiling gently and she suspected the older woman wasn’t buying it, either.
“Now, don’t you even think about picking
up those pies, child.” Kate stopped what she was doing, startled at the sound of Amy’s voice.
The woman was standing
with her hands on her hips, scowling. “Herman and I’ll make sure everything gets to the community center in one piece. All you need to worry about is sitting behind the booth and taking the nice folks’ money.”
set the two pecan pies gently back on the table and grinned.
Tonight was the town’s annual Fall Festival
, and all of Silver Mountain, as well as several of the surrounding communities had turned out for the celebration.
Kate wanted to do was go back to her little apartment, crawl into bed and sleep, even though it was barely six. Lately, even the slightest exertion left her drained, and she’d been fighting a cold for days. But she’d promised Amy she would help.
Okay, but if it’s all right with you guys I’m going to take my car. That way I can leave if I need to and I won’t have to bother you or Herman.”
, no you don’t, young lady. I’m not letting you drive with the roads being as nasty as they are. No, you just climb up front next to Herman. We’ll be happy to bring you home whenever you feel like it.”
Kate did as Amy said because she realized it would be pointless to argue once the woman's mind was set.
The entire community center was outlined in tiny white Christmas lights. Kate had never seen the place so busy before. But the outside decorations were nothing compared to the dozens of colorful booths set up inside.
There were homemade crafts, quilts, jams, food and, of course, Amy’s famous desserts.
A raised platform had been constructed at one end of the building where a local country band was setting up for their performance later that night.
The Reynolds’ booth was sandwiched between an elderly
woman who had an array of handmade dolls and the kitchen area.
Herman hurried off to work on the potluck dinner with a group of other volunteers, Amy and Kate did their best to arrange the pies for maximum exposure.
With the deserts on display, Amy an
d Kate settled into a couple of chairs. Everyone knew Amy and her booth was one of the more popular ones.
Kate recognized several of the people.
Still others came by to introduce themselves and welcome her to the community. Just about everyone knew her grandmother.
“Oh, before I forget I promised Matt I’d keep back one of the chocolate pies for him. It’s his favorite, you know.” Amy winked and
set it behind the display.
At the mention of Matt’s name Kate began working on her excuse to leave the festival as soon as possible.
almost all of Amy’s pies sold.
The cakes and cookies were quickly disappearing, as well.
Kate was beginning to feel the effects of being pregnant. The room was stuffy and hot. The thought of having to work her way across the crowded room was exhausting in itself.
Instead, she watched the couples on the dance floor laughing and enjoying the music. How very different life was here compared to the terrifying fear that had become part of her daily life with Josh.
“So you did come. I was afraid Amy wouldn’t be able to talk you into it.”
She’d been so lost in the music and her own thoughts that she hadn’t even realized she was alone with Matt.
“I wanted to help Herman and Amy with the sale since they’ve both been so good to me.”
“You like the band?” he asked.
, they're very good. Amy should be back soon.”
Matt actually smiled at her.
“That’s good, but I didn’t come here to see Amy. I came to see you. Come dance with me.” He reached for her hand.
I mean I can’t.”
“Come on, Kate. I’ve asked Denny and he’s given his approval, so please don’t say no.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m not very good at it and--”
He pulled her gently to her feet and into his arms, holding her loosely against his body as they
left the booth. “There’s nothing to it. Just listen to the music and follow me.”
They stood at the edge of the crowded dance floor.
Kate’s gaze locked with his, and she was conscious of more than a few curious glances.
I promise you it won’t hurt.”
The band started to play another song tailor-made for slow dancing
and she gave in.
Kate seemed to have developed two left feet as she stumbled and stepped on Matt’s foot.
He was trying very hard not to laugh.
Kate didn’t dare
look at him.
Matt pulled her still closer.
Her gaze lifted to his and her carefully placed resistance shattered into a thousand pieces.
There was no condemnation in the blue eyes that swept over her face. The man who held her close
, carefully guiding her around the floor, and watching her in a way she couldn’t understand.
“Don’t tell me they don’t have country music in
Austin? I thought you guys practically invented it?” He was actually teasing her. “Or is it that young people these days just don’t listen to anything you can actually dance to?”
It was hard to keep from smiling.
She’d almost forgotten how good listening to a favorite song could feel.
Kate’s heart soar
ed just as her right foot made hard contact once again with his.
here wasn’t any humor in his expression anymore. Something unnamed made her catch her breath, and all at once she became shy. She looked away as his fingers threaded through her hair, and the gentle pressure against her head left her no choice but to lean against him.
“Relax,” Matt whispered close to her ear.
Kate felt the weight of the past few weeks lift and then disappear for the length of the song. She didn’t want this peace to ever end.
For the first time in a long time, she was letting go of all her fears, all her uncertainties, simply listening to a song, and to the soft steady beat of Matt’s heart beneath her ear.
It was a long time before she realized that the music had ended. She stood perfectly still. She didn’t want to move away, she didn’t want to let go of this small amount of peace. He was the one to pull away. The questions in his eyes matched hers in the inches of electric space that separated them.
okay?” he asked her softly. The meaning in his gentle question went beyond the words. He was asking her permission to move forward.
shook her head then pulled away, murmuring something about needing air.
That small line had been crossed that held the reservations they still had for each other.
Kate picked her way across floor, pushing open the door, to be greeted by a crisp, clean rush of mountain air that sucked her breath away. In the shadows, Kate closed her eyes and took several deep, steadying breaths.
“Kate? Are you all right? Do you want me to get Denny?” She hadn’t realized he’d followed her.
She drew in another steadying breath, thankful when the nausea subsided. “No, I’m fine. I just needed to catch my breath. It was too hot in there. I’m okay now. You don’t have to stick around. I’ll be fine.”
“Come sit down.” Matt ignored her attempt to get rid of him. He
reached for her hand and led her to one of the wooden benches.
Kate turned to him, trying to make out his expression in the darkness.
he asked her softly. “I’m sorry. I should have realized it was too crowded in there. Are you sure you’re okay?”
She was overwhelmed by the gentle concern in his voice. As she tried to find the words to reassure him, Matt reached out to touch her cheek. Everything disappeared with his fingers against her skin.
“Why don’t you let me take you home? I know you came with Amy and Herman, but they’ll be hours yet. I’ll drive you back to the apartment. Stay here where it’s quiet and I’ll let them know we’re leaving.”
.” Kate found her voice at last. “No, I’m fine, really. I should stay and help them out.”
The warmth of his fingers against her cheek lingered there for a moment longer. “Kate, it’s
okay to give in a little, you know? No one expects you to be strong all the time, especially not Amy or Herman. Stay here. I’ll let them know we’re leaving and then I’ll be right back for you. Okay?”
Kate didn’t have the will to argue with him. She wanted to be alone with her feelings and try to understand her reaction to him. She was only grateful for the shadows that surrounded them so that he couldn’t see just how much his nearness was affecting her.
glanced back over his should just to make sure he hadn’t imagined her there. He wondered if she would still be waiting when he returned. He stood just inside the entryway trying to appear calm enough to face Amy’s all-seeing eyes. What on earth was the matter with him tonight?
He’d known Kate would be here
even though he’d been trying to shove her out of his thoughts ever since his visit to the diner. He tried to convince himself that he wanted to help her, to simply be her friend. The truth was more disturbing than that.
he felt for her from that very first day had only grown stronger.
Kate made him aware of all the years he’d been alone. She made him wish for things he’d given up on.
Matt picked Amy out of a group of ladies and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to explain what he was doing in front of them. He caught her eye and motioned her away from the rest of the women.
“I’m going to take Kate home. She’s tired.”
Right away Amy was concern. “Is she all right? Do you think we need to tell that doctor friend of yours?”
chuckled at the way Amy's spoke of Denny. “No, I don’t think it’s as serious as that. She’s just tired. But I’ll talk to Denny before I leave just to make sure.”
Amy thrust a light wool blazer at him. “Don’t forget Kate’s jacket.
Call me later tonight. I want to know she’s okay, otherwise I’ll never be able to sleep.”
“My truck is just over here.” Matt helped her to her feet and they started in the direction he'd parked the truck.
He had to remind himself to breathe as they walked, his hand lightly touching her back.
He unlocked the passenger door and waited while Kate got in. She seemed a bit surprised by his old-fashioned chivalry.
The silence lengthened
between them as he drove the short distance and he searched for something to fill the void.
“Do you like working at the diner?”