Authors: Lynda Chance
An hour later, the bell tingled when Becky opened the door and walked into the dry goods store. Mrs. Foster and Mrs. Tyler were inside shopping and browsing through patterns and buttons. Becky smiled and nodded at them on her way through to the back.
"Miranda. Miranda, are you back there?" Her voice was happy and excited as Miranda came through the curtain at the back of the store.
"Yes, Becky. My goodness, what's all the commotion about?" She hurried around the counter.
Becky looked around and lowered her voice as much as she could with all the euphoria bubbling through her. "He did it! He finally did it! He asked me to marry him!"
Miranda squealed and threw her arms around her friend as they both started jumping up and down. Becky didn't even have to tell Miranda who
was. They had been best friends for a long time. The ladies in the front of the store watched them and smiled.
"Oh Becky! You're so lucky! The sheriff is
to die for
! I tell you, if I wasn't a married woman!"
The bell chimed again and the girls looked up to see the customers leaving. "Oh, poo. You know you love Johnny. You've been so happy, I've been positively green with envy, you know." The girls shared a look of happiness, and then started jumping up and down again.
Miranda leaned back from her friend to ask, "When's the big day? What month would be good for a wedding?" There was a speculative look in her eye.
Becky grinned. "It's not going to be a long engagement. We're getting married Saturday."
Miranda shrieked. "Saturday!"
A satisfied smile crossed Becky's face. "Saturday. I guess Jake doesn't want to wait, and I'm not about to try to get him to. He could drag me in front of the preacher today and I would go with my apron on!"
Later that day, Becky stood next to Jake's kitchen table and quietly made the first cut in the cloth her aunt had given her. The bright blue gingham would be perfect against the white windowsills. Jake's mother's china was blue and white and visions of the cheerful splash of added color the curtains would make in the room brought a smile to her face. The moment she and her aunt had come across the large remnant of fabric, Becky knew it was the exact same color.
A pot of soup bubbled on the stove behind her, scenting the house and adding to the delight of the domestic project before her.
Becky loved sewing, and making the window coverings was a pleasure, not a chore.
She looked up when the door clicked shut. Jake leaned against the door, watching her. Before she even had time to form a smile for him, she saw the look on his face. It was a pained expression and was confusing to her. She had never seen it before on him.
"What are you doing here?" His features were etched with strain as he asked the question.
"I-I'm m-making your supper." Her mouth shook and she tried to smile.
"You can't be here 'til Saturday. We're engaged now, sweetheart. Remember?" His voice was low and monotone.
She put the scissors down and smoothed her suddenly damp hands down her skirt. Her heart pounded in agitation. Maybe he was right. Maybe she shouldn't be here now that they were getting married. But she didn't think that was what was bothering him. "What's wrong, J-Jake?"
He ignored the question. "What's that you're working on, sweetheart?"
"C-curtains." Her voice trembled.
His eyes moved around the small, stark room and desolation gripped his features.
He stood to his full height and took his Stetson off. His hand went through his hair and the muscles in his back clenched. He tossed the hat down, and went to the water pump. He washed his hands and ran cold water over his face. Grabbing a towel, he dried the excess water as he turned. He leaned against the sink and crossed his arms over his chest.
She tried again. "What's wrong, Jake? Are you mad at me?"
"No baby, I'm not mad at you." His voice was gentle as he hesitated. "I ran into Sam Bolton today. He already knew about the wedding on Saturday." His words trailed off. He wanted to share his fears with her, but didn't quite know how to go about it. He had always been a man of few words.
Becky stood listening to him, a myriad of feelings running through her. The irresistible way he called her
was tingling down her spine, while the content of his words confused her. She prompted him. "And? Are you upset that I told Miranda?"
"No. That's not it. Sam told me about the house he built for you and Kyle." He pushed his fingers through his hair in agitation. He reiterated his words. "He told me about the damn house, Becky."
She could see he was upset, but didn't quite know why. Everybody in the county knew how rich the Bolton's were. It shouldn’t be news to Jake. She tried to explain it to him. "It wasn't supposed to be a secret, Jake. I thought you knew about the house. You know the Bolton's are rich, and that Kyle is their only child."
Her words pierced his heart. He knew she was only trying to explain things to him and make him understand, but somehow, that didn't make it any better. When Sam had told him about the huge house on the riverfront, everything Becky was giving up became clear to him. It made him see that Kyle Bolton's pursuit of her had been real. It had been carefully orchestrated, and the only thing standing in Kyle's way was Jake's own selfish desires for Becky.
He felt so damn guilty and selfish for wanting her for his own. He didn't have anything to offer her in comparison. Nothing at all. Only himself.
Graphic images of Becky living in that brick house by the river ripped through him. Denial tore through him.
Jealousy and frustration raged through him. Kyle Bolton was everything he was not. Young and whole, not a man broken down and burdened with nightmares from the war. He had a nice, respectable job in his Daddy's bank. He had a close knit family, a mother that doted on him. And more family wealth than the rest of the county combined. He could give Becky everything that Jake couldn't. A snarl of rage and frustration rose up in his blood.
Still, his conscience made him spell it out for her, one last time.
"I'll never be able to give you what the Bolton's can, Becky. I'll never be able to have a house like that built for you."
"I don't want what they have, Jake. That house means nothing to me. I don't want to marry Kyle. I want you."
Relief washed through him. That was the last chance she was getting. That damn kid had everything going for him. He damn sure wasn't getting Becky. Nobody was getting Becky. Nobody but him.
His voice turned feral. "Well, you don't have to worry about marrying him. You're marrying me. On Saturday." He threw down the towel and started towards her. "Luckily for me, the whole town knows we're getting married. Those two busybodies from the quilting circle have been spreading it all over. You're stuck. There's no way out for you now."
Her eyes caressed his face and held him captivated. She sent a soft smile his way. His anger and aggression didn't seem to have an effect on her. She only tempered it and returned it with softness. His guts clenched with need.
"I don't want a way out. You don't know how long I've wanted you, Jake," she whispered.
He reached one strong arm completely over the table to where she stood and swiped her wrist with one large hand. "Show me, Becky." He pulled her around to him and slammed her body full length into his. Their eyes clashed. Desire crashed through her. He reached up and took the pins from her hair. "Shake it for me," he demanded.
The blood was pounding through her veins and her body began to tremble. His masculinity was enough to leave her short of breath, his virility made her stomach knot up and her thighs clenched together. His blatant sexuality was potent. She had no defense against it.
Her body was pliant in his arms and her breath was coming in ragged gulps. She reached up and pulled her hair down from the half knot and gently shook it as he had demanded until it fell around her shoulders. His grasp tightened on her and turned even more possessive. He pulled her head back and lowered his mouth to her neck. He breathed in deeply of her scent and began to suck.
Pleasure seared her.
His head raised and his eyes blazed into hers as her scent and her softness intoxicated him. "How long, Becky?" he bit the words out, his voice gravelly, lust making speech more difficult.
She moaned in his arms, her body trembling.
His question pierced the haze of desire circling her. She shook her head back and forth. "What?"
He reluctantly eased his hold, fighting the primal instinct to take her now and make her his. If he didn't let her go now, they would both end up naked. He was just about to reclaim her and make it so when she wiggled away from him and moved to stand close to the door.
He looked at her as another pang of need rose up within him. "Tell me, sweetheart. I really want to know."
His tone mesmerized her. "What d-do you want to know?" Confusion filled her. She couldn't keep her mind on the conversation.
He watched her as he tried to restrain his physical pursuit. It would have to be enough for now just to get inside her head. "Tell me how long you've wanted me."
Her face flushed with embarrassment. She shouldn't have told him that secret. Now she was faced with lying or telling him the embarrassing truth. She hadn't been raised to lie. "I don't want to tell you." She tried to evade the question. She backed up until her hand fell on the doorknob behind her.
The need in his eyes was her undoing. Her hand twisted the knob behind her. "Don't you know already, Jake?" She softly whispered.
"Tell me," he demanded.
She sucked in a stabilizing breath. "Since I was fourteen. Since the first time I laid eyes on you."
She turned and fled.
Thursday evening Becky was buttering rolls in the kitchen at her aunt's boardinghouse. She heard the front door open and close and the murmur of voices at the front desk. She hadn't seen or heard from the sheriff all day. She'd heeded his warning, and stayed away from his house. The truth of the matter was she was afraid to face him after her confession last night. She had left his house so quickly, she didn't know how he had reacted. Did he think she was a young girl with a crush on him? Or did he realize she had been in love with him all along?
Her body quivered and her breasts tightened when she remembered the night before. He had actually marked her! There was a red bruise on her neck where he had put his mouth the night before. When she washed this morning and saw it in the mirror, she felt faint. At first she didn't know what it was, and when it dawned on her, liquid heat slammed into her. All day long, she would catch herself, absently touching the spot. She couldn't help but wonder if he knew it, and what it would feel like if she could leave a similar mark on him. Just the thought of that intimate mark on her neck had her insides quivering every time she remembered that it was there.
"Becky, Becky come in here, sweetie." The sound of her aunt's voice broke her away from her reverie. She wiped her hands and went into the front parlor. "The sheriff has come to see you." Her aunt beamed a smile at them.
Jake leaned against the front desk, watching her. His eyes were hooded, his expression unreadable. Muscles bulged against his shirt, his forearms tanned and sinewy.
Her aunt continued, "He says everything's set for Saturday. Now, I'll watch the front while you take him back to the kitchen and ya'll get some supper."
Jake followed her around to the kitchen as her aunt herded them through the door.
"Smells good. Did you make it?" he asked as she ladled out chicken and dumplings into a bowl. She nodded confirmation. He pulled out a chair and sat down. She placed the bowl in front of him and turned to get the basket of rolls. He reached out and grabbed her wrist. He pushed the chair out next to him with his boot. It scraped against the floor. "Sit down and eat with me, Becky." She nodded her head again and he released her. She fixed a small helping for herself and sat.
His eyes never left hers as he picked up the fork and started eating. He swallowed several large bites, then said, "I love your cooking."
She pushed the rolls in his direction and waited while he picked one up. She hesitated, then began taking small bites. In all the years she had cooked for him, she had never sat down to eat with him. It felt very intimate.
Jake noticed she hadn't spoken a word since he walked into the boardinghouse. She was back to being her quiet, serene self. The peace he felt for three years when she was with him washed through him. Her hand fluttered toward her neck and smoothed down her hair. She glanced at him, and then away again.
"What's wrong?" he demanded. The question had her pressing her hand up and against her neck again.
"N-nothing." She wouldn't meet his eyes. He lifted her hand away from her neck with a firmness she couldn't hope to fight against and moved her hair back. The impact of seeing his mark on her neck jarred him. Blood surged and hardened him. His hand gripped hers.