Denim and diamonds, p.10
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       Denim and Diamonds, p.10

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  “Listen to me, Letty,” he whispered.

  He held her head between his hands and gently lifted her face upward, his breath warm and moist against her own.

  “I want you more than I’ve ever wanted a woman in my life. You want me, too, don’t you?”

  For a moment she was tempted to deny everything, but she couldn’t.

  “Don’t you?” he demanded. His hands, which were holding her face, were now possessive. His eyes, which had so recently been clouded with passion, were now sharp and insistent.

  Letty opened her mouth to reply, but some part of her refused to acknowledge the truth. Her fear was that Chase would find a way to use it against her. He didn’t trust her; he’d told her that himself. Desire couldn’t be confused with love—at least not between them.

  “Don’t you?” he questioned a second time. Knowing he wouldn’t free her until she gave him an answer, Letty nodded once.

  The instant she did, he released her. “That’s all I wanted to know.” With that he turned and walked away.

  —

  For the three days after her confrontation with Chase, Letty managed to avoid him. When she knew he’d be over at the house, she made a point of being elsewhere. Her thoughts were in chaos, her emotions so muddled and confused that she didn’t know what to think or feel toward him anymore.

  Apparently Chase was just as perplexed as she was, because he seemed to be avoiding her with the same fervor. Normally, he stopped by the house several mornings a week. Not once since they’d met in the cemetery had he shown up for breakfast. Letty was grateful.

  She cracked three eggs in a bowl and started whipping them. Lonny was due back in the house any minute and she wanted to have his meal ready when he arrived. Since her argument with her brother, he’d gone out of his way to let her know he appreciated her presence. He appeared to regret their angry exchange as much as Letty did.

  The back door opened, and Lonny stepped inside and hung his hat on the peg next to the door. “Looks like we’re in for some rain.”

  “My garden could use it,” Letty said absently as she poured the eggs into the heated frying pan, stirring them while they cooked. “Do you want one piece of toast or two?”

  “Two.”

  She put the bread in the toaster. Her back was to her brother when she spoke. “Do you have any plans for today?”

  “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

  She nodded. “I thought you were supposed to see the insurance adjuster about having the fender on your truck repaired.”

  “It isn’t worth the bother,” Lonny said, walking to the stove to refill his coffee cup.

  “But I thought—”

  Lonny had made such a fuss over that minuscule dent in his truck that Letty had assumed he’d want to have it fixed, if for no other reason than to irritate Joy.

  “I decided against it,” he answered shortly.

  “I see.” Letty didn’t, but that was neither here nor there. She’d given up trying to figure him out when it came to his relationship with Joy Fuller.

  “I hate it when you say that,” he muttered.

  “Say what?” Letty asked, puzzled.

  “ ‘I see’ in that prim voice, as if you know exactly what I’m thinking.”

  “Oh.”

  “There,” he cried, slamming down his coffee cup. “You did it again.”

  “I’m sorry, Lonny. I didn’t mean anything by it.” She dished up his eggs, buttered the toast and brought his plate to the table.

  He glanced at her apologetically when she set his breakfast in front of him, picked up his fork, then hesitated. “If I turn in a claim against Joy, her insurance rates will go up. Right?”

  Letty would have thought that would be the least of her brother’s concerns. “That’s true. She’d probably be willing to pay you something instead. Come to think of it, didn’t she offer you fifty dollars to forget the whole thing?”

  Lonny’s eyes flared briefly. “Yes, she did.”

  “I’m sure Joy would be happy to give you the money if you’d prefer to handle the situation that way. She wants to be as fair as she can. After all, she admitted from the first that the accident was her fault.”

  “What else could she do?”

  Letty didn’t respond.

  “I don’t dare contact her, though,” Lonny said, his voice low.

  As she sat down across from him, Letty saw that he hadn’t taken a single bite of his eggs. “Why not?”

  He sighed and looked away, clearly uncomfortable. “The last time I tried to call her she hung up.”

  “You shouldn’t have blamed her for our argument. That was a ridiculous thing to do. Ridiculous and unfair.”

  A lengthy pause followed. “I know,” Lonny admitted. “I was lashing out at her because I was furious with myself. I was feeling bad enough about saying the things I did to you. Then I found out you fainted soon afterward and I felt like a real jerk. The truth is, I had every intention of apologizing when I got back to the house. But you were upstairs sleeping and Chase was sitting here, madder than anything. He nearly flayed me alive. I guess I was looking for a scapegoat, and since Joy was indirectly involved, I called her.”

  “Joy wasn’t involved at all! Directly or indirectly. You just wanted an excuse to call her.”

  He didn’t acknowledge Letty’s last comment, but said, “I wish I hadn’t done it.”

  “Not only that,” she went on as though he hadn’t spoken, “Chase had no right to be angry with you.”

  “Well, he thought he did.” Lonny paused. “Sometimes I wonder about you and Chase. You two have been avoiding each other all week. I mention your name and he gets defensive. I mention him to you and you change the subject. The fact is, I thought that once you got home and settled down, you and Chase might get married.”

  At those words, Letty did exactly what Lonny said she would. She changed the subject. “Since you won’t be taking the truck in for body work, someone needs to tell Joy. Would you like me to talk to her for you?”

  Lonny shrugged. “I suppose.”

  “What do you want me to say?”

  Lonny shrugged again. “I don’t know. I guess you can say I’m willing to drop the whole insurance thing. She doesn’t need to worry about giving me that fifty dollars, either—I don’t want her money.”

  Letty ran one finger along the rim of her coffee cup. “Anything else?”

  Her brother hesitated. “I guess it wouldn’t do any harm to tell her I said I might’ve overreacted just a bit the day of the accident, and being the sensitive kind of guy I am, I regret how I behaved….This, of course, all depends on how receptive she is to my apology.”

  “Naturally,” Letty said, feigning a sympathetic look. “But I’m sure Joy will accept your apology.” Letty wasn’t at all certain that was true, but she wanted to reassure her brother, who was making great leaps in improving his attitude toward her friend.

  Digging his fork into his scrambled eggs, Lonny snorted softly. “Now that’s something I doubt. Knowing that woman the way I do, I’ll bet Joy Fuller demands an apology written in blood. But this is the best she’s going to get. You tell her that for me, will you?”

  “Be glad to,” Letty said.

  Lonny took a huge bite of his breakfast, as if he’d suddenly realized how hungry he was. He picked up a piece of toast with one hand and waved it at Letty. “You might even tell her I think she does a good job at church with the organ. But play that part by ear, if you know what I mean. Don’t make it sound like I’m buttering her up for anything.”

  “Right.”

  “Do you want the truck today?”

  “Please.” Letty had another doctor’s appointment and was leading up to that request herself.

  Lonny stood up and carried his plate to the sink. “I’ll talk to you this afternoon, then.” He put on his hat, adjusted it a couple of times, then turned to Letty and smiled. “You might follow your own advice, you know.”

  “What are y
ou talking about?”

  “You and Chase. I don’t know what’s going on, but I have a feeling that a word or two from you would patch everything up. Since I’m doing the honorable thing with Joy, I’d think you could do the same with Chase.”

  With that announcement he was gone.

  Letty sat at the table, both hands around the warm coffee mug, while she mulled over Lonny’s suggestion. She didn’t know what to say to Chase, or how to talk to him anymore.

  —

  More than a week had passed since Chase had seen Letty. Each day his mood worsened. Each day he grew more irritable and short-tempered. Even Firepower, who had always sensed his mood and adjusted his own temperament, seemed to be losing patience with him. Chase didn’t blame the gelding; he was getting to the point where he hated himself.

  Something had to be done.

  The day Chase had found Letty wandering through the cemetery, he’d been driving around looking for her. She’d promised him on Sunday that she’d see Doc Hanley. Somehow, he hadn’t believed she’d do it. Chase had been furious when he discovered she hadn’t seen the doctor. It had taken him close to an hour to locate Letty. When he did, he’d had to exercise considerable restraint not to blast her for her lack of common sense. She’d fainted, for crying out loud! A healthy person didn’t just up and faint. Something was wrong.

  But before Chase could say a word, Letty had started in with that macabre conversation about death and dying. His temper hadn’t improved with her choice of subject matter. The old Letty had been too full of life even to contemplate death. It was only afterward, when she was in his arms, that Chase discovered the vibrant woman he’d always known. Only when he was kissing her that she seemed to snap out of whatever trance she was in.

  It was as though Letty was half-alive these days. She met his taunts with a smile, refusing to argue with him even when he provoked her. Nothing had brought a response from her, with the exception of his kisses.

  Chase couldn’t take anymore of this. He was going to talk to her and find out what had happened to change her from the lively, spirited woman he used to know. And he didn’t plan to leave until he had an answer.

  When he pulled into the yard, Cricket was the only person he saw. The child was sitting on the porch steps, looking bored and unhappy. She brightened as soon as he came into view.

  “Chase!” she called and jumped to her feet.

  She ran toward him with an eagerness that grabbed his heart. He didn’t know why Cricket liked him so much. He’d done nothing to deserve her devotion. She was so pleased, so excited, whenever she saw him that her warm welcome couldn’t help but make him feel…good.

  “I’m glad you’re here,” she told him cheerfully.

  “Hello, Cricket. It’s nice to see you, too.”

  She slipped her small hand into his and smiled up at him. “It’s been ages and ages since you came over to see us. I missed you a whole bunch.”

  “I know.”

  “Where’ve you been all this time? Mommy said I wasn’t supposed to ask Uncle Lonny about you anymore, but I was afraid I wouldn’t see you again. You weren’t in church on Sunday.”

  “I’ve been…busy.”

  The child sighed. “That’s what Mommy said.” Then, as though suddenly remembering something important, Cricket tore into the house, returning a moment later with a picture that had been colored in with the utmost care. “This is from my book. I made it for you,” she announced proudly. “It’s a picture of a horsey.”

  “Thank you, sweetheart.” He examined the picture, then carefully folded it and put it in his shirt pocket.

  “I made it ’cause you’re my friend and you let me ride Firepower.”

  He patted her head. “Where’s your mother?”

  “She had to go to Rock Springs.”

  “Who’s watching you?”

  Cricket pouted. “Uncle Lonny, but he’s not very good at it. He fell asleep in front of the TV, and when I changed the channel, he got mad and told me to leave it ’cause he was watching it. But he had his eyes closed. How can you watch TV with your eyes closed?”

  She didn’t seem to expect an answer, but plopped herself down and braced her elbows on her knees, her small hands framing her face.

  Chase sat down next to her. “Is that why you’re sitting out here all by yourself?”

  Cricket nodded. “Mommy says I’ll have lots of friends to play with when I go to kindergarten, but that’s not for months and months.”

  “I’m sure she’s right.”

  “But you’re my friend and so is Firepower. I like Firepower, even if he’s a really big horse. Mommy said I could have a horsey someday. Like she did when she was little.”

  He smiled at the child, fighting down an emotion he couldn’t identify, one that kept bobbing to the surface of his mind. He remembered Letty when she was only a few years older than Cricket. They had the same color hair, the same eyes and that same stubborn streak, which Chase swore was a mile wide.

  “My pony’s going to be the best pony ever,” Cricket prattled on, clearly content to have him sitting beside her, satisfied that he was her friend.

  It hit Chase then, with an impact so powerful he could hardly breathe. His heart seemed to constrict, burning within his chest. The vague emotion he’d been feeling was unmistakable now. Strong and unmistakable. He loved this little girl. He didn’t want to love Cricket, didn’t want to experience this tenderness, but the child was Letty’s daughter. And he loved Letty. In the last few weeks, he’d been forced to admit that nine long years hadn’t altered his feelings toward her.

  “Chase—” Lonny stepped outside and joined them on the back porch. “When did you get here?”

  “A few minutes ago.” He had trouble finding his voice. “I came over to talk to Letty, but she’s not here.”

  “No, she left a couple of hours ago.” He checked his watch, frowning as he did. “I don’t know what time to expect her back.”

  “Did she say where she was going?”

  Lonny glanced away, his look uncomfortable. “I have no idea what’s going on with that woman. I wish I did.”

  “What do you mean?” Chase knew his friend well enough to realize Lonny was more than a little disturbed.

  “She’s been needing the truck all week. She’s always got some errand or another. I don’t need it that much myself, so I don’t mind. But then yesterday I noticed she’s been putting a lot of miles on it. I asked her why, but she got so defensive and closemouthed we nearly had another fight.”

  “So did you find out where she’s going?”

  “Rock Springs,” Lonny said shortly. “At least, that’s what she claims.”

  “Why? What’s in Rock Springs?”

  Lonny shrugged. “She never did say.”

  “Mommy goes to see a man,” Cricket interjected brightly. “He looks like the one on TV with the mustache.”

  “The one on TV with the mustache,” Lonny repeated, exchanging a blank stare with Chase. “Who knows what she means by that?”

  “He’s real nice, too,” Cricket went on to explain patiently. “But he doesn’t talk to me. He just talks to Mommy. Sometimes they go in a room together and I have to wait outside, but that’s all right ’cause I work in my book.”

  Lonny’s face tensed as he looked at Chase again. “I’m sure that isn’t the way it sounds,” he murmured.

  “Why should I care what she does,” Chase lied. “I don’t feel a thing for her. I haven’t in years.”

  “Right,” Lonny returned sarcastically. “The problem is, you never could lie worth a damn.”

  Chapter 8

  The arrival of Letty’s first welfare check had a curious effect on her. She brought in the mail, sat down at the kitchen table and carefully examined the plain beige envelope. Tears filled her eyes, then crept silently down her face. Once she’d been so proud, so independent, and now she was little more than a charity case, living off the generosity of taxpayers.

  Lonny c
ame in the back door and wiped his feet on the braided rug. “Mail here?” he asked impatiently.

  Her brother had been irritated with her for the past couple of weeks without ever letting her know exactly why. Letty realized his displeasure was connected to her trips into Rock Springs, and her secrecy about them, but he didn’t mention them again. Although he hadn’t said a word, she could feel his annoyance every time they were together. More than once over the past few days, Letty had toyed with the idea of telling Lonny about her heart condition, but whenever she thought of approaching him, he’d look at her with narrow, disapproving eyes.

  Without waiting for her to respond, Lonny walked over to the table and sorted through the bills, flyers and junk mail.

  Letty stood and turned away from him. She wiped her cheeks, praying that if he did notice her tears, he wouldn’t comment.

  “Mommy!” Cricket crashed through the back door, her voice high with excitement. “Chase is here on Firepower and he’s got another horsey with him. Come and look.” She was out the door again in an instant.

  Letty smiled, tucked the government check in her pocket and followed her daughter outside. Sure enough, Chase was riding down the hillside on his gelding, holding the reins of a second horse, a small brown-and-white pinto trotting obediently behind the bay.

  “Chase! Chase!” Cricket stood on the top step, jumping up and down and frantically waving both arms.

  Chase slowed his pace once he reached the yard. Lonny joined his sister, trying to hide a smile. Bemused, Letty stared at him. The last time she could remember seeing him with a silly grin like that, she’d been ten years old and he was suffering through his first teenage crush.

  Unable to wait a second longer, Cricket ran out to greet her friend. Smiling down at the child, Chase lowered his arms and hoisted her into the saddle beside him. Letty had lost count of the times Chase had “just happened” to stop by with Firepower in the past few weeks. Cricket got as excited as a game show winner whenever he was around. He’d taken her riding more than once. He was so patient with the five-year-old, so gentle. The only time Chase had truly laughed in Letty’s presence was when he was with her daughter—and Cricket treasured every moment with her hero.

 
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