Denim and diamonds, p.13
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       Denim and Diamonds, p.13

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  “You’re talking in riddles,” she said.

  Once more he started pacing, running his fingers through his hair. “Tell me what’s wrong. Please. I want to know—I need to know.”

  “It’s my heart,” she whispered.

  He nodded slowly. “I figured that’s what it had to be. Dr. Faraday’s specialty was the first thing I noticed when I saw you walk into his office.”

  “You saw me walk into his office?”

  His gaze skirted away from hers. “I followed you to Rock Springs.” He continued before she could react. “I’m not proud of that, Letty. Lonny convinced me that you and I needed to talk. After last night, we were both hurting so badly…and I guess I wasn’t the best company this morning. Lonny and I went back to the ranch and found your note. From there, we went to Joy’s place and she said you’d just left and were heading into town. I drove there and couldn’t find you anywhere. That was when I realized you’d probably driven to Rock Springs. If you were meeting a man, I wanted to find out who it was. I had no idea what I’d do—probably nothing—but I had to know.”

  “So…so you followed me.”

  He nodded. “And after you walked back to the truck, I went into the office—where I caught sight of the good doctor…and his mustache.”

  She sighed, shaking her head.

  “Letty, you have every reason in the world to be angry. All I can do is apologize.”

  “No.” She met his eyes. “I wanted to tell you. I’ve kept this secret to myself for so long and there was no one…no one I could tell, and I needed—”

  “Letty…please, what’s wrong with your heart?”

  “The doctors discovered a small hole when I was pregnant with Cricket.”

  “What are they going to do?”

  “Surgery.”

  His face tightened. “When?”

  “Dr. Faraday’s already scheduled it. I couldn’t afford it….When you saw my first welfare check I wanted to die. I knew what you thought and there wasn’t any way to tell you how much I hate being a recipient of…charity.”

  Chase shut his eyes. “Letty, I failed you—you needed me and I failed you.”

  “Chase, I’m not going to blame you for that. I’ve failed you, too.”

  “I’ve been so blind, so stupid.”

  “I’ve suffered my share of the same afflictions,” she said wryly.

  “This time I can change things,” he said, taking her by the shoulders.

  “How?”

  “Letty.” His fingers were gentle, his eyes tender. “We’re getting married.”

  Chapter 10

  “Married,” Letty said, repeating the word for the twentieth time in the past hour. Chase sat her down, poured her a cup of coffee and brought it to the kitchen table. Only a few days earlier, he’d thought nothing of watching her do a multitude of chores. Now he was treating her as if she were an invalid. If Letty hadn’t been so amused by his change in attitude, she would have found his behavior annoying.

  “I’m not arguing with you, Letty Ellison. We’re getting married.”

  “Honestly, Chase, you’re being just a little dramatic, don’t you think?” She loved him for it, but that didn’t alter the facts.

  “No!” His face was tormented with guilt. “Why didn’t I listen to you? You tried to tell me, and I was so pigheaded, so blind.” He knelt in front of her and took both her hands in his, eyes dark and filled with emotion. “You aren’t in any condition to fight me on this, Letty, so just do as I ask and don’t argue.”

  “I’m in excellent shape.” Chase could be so stubborn, there were times she found it impossible to reason with him. Despite all that, she felt a deep, abiding love for this man. Yet there were a multitude of doubts they hadn’t faced or answered.

  Chase hadn’t said he loved her or even that he cared. But then, Chase always had been a man of few words. When he’d proposed the first time, he’d told her, simply and profoundly, how much he loved her and wanted to build a life with her. That had been the sweetest, most romantic thing she’d ever heard. Letty had supposed that what he’d said that night was going to be all the poetry Chase would ever give her.

  “You’re scheduled for heart surgery!”

  “I’m not on my deathbed yet!”

  He went pale at her joke. “Letty, don’t even say that.”

  “What? That I could die? It’s been known to happen. But I hope it won’t with me. I’m otherwise healthy, and besides, I’m too stubborn to die in a hospital. I’d prefer to do it in my own bed with my grandchildren gathered around me, fighting over who’ll get my many jewels.” She said this with a hint of dark drama, loving the way Chase’s eyes flared with outrage.

  In response, he shook his head. “It’s not a joking matter.”

  “I’m going to get excellent care, so don’t worry, okay?”

  “I’ll feel better once I talk to Dr. Faraday myself. But when I do, I’m telling you right now, Letty Ellison, it’ll be as your husband.”

  Letty rolled her eyes. She couldn’t believe they were having this discussion. Yet Chase seemed so adamant, so certain that marrying now was the right thing to do. Letty loved him more than ever, but she wasn’t nearly as convinced of the need to link their lives through marriage while the surgery still loomed before her. Afterward would be soon enough.

  Her reaction seemed to frustrate Chase. “All right, if my words can’t persuade you, then perhaps this will.” With that he wove his fingers into her hair and brought his lips to hers. The kiss was filled with such tenderness that Letty was left trembling in its aftermath.

  Chase appeared equally shaken. His eyes held hers for the longest moment, then he kissed her again. And again—

  “Well, isn’t this peachy?”

  Lonny’s harsh tone broke them apart.

  “Lonny.” Chase’s voice sounded odd. He cast a glance at the kitchen clock.

  “ ‘I won’t be long,’ ” Lonny mimicked, clearly agitated. “It’s been four hours, man! Four minutes with that…that woman is more than any guy could endure.”

  “Where’s Cricket?” Letty asked, instantly alarmed.

  “With her.” He turned to Chase, frowning. “Did you know all women stick together, even the little ones? I told Cricket to come with me, and she ran behind Joy and hid. I couldn’t believe my eyes—my own niece!”

  Letty sprang to her feet. “I’m going to call Joy and find out where Cricket is.”

  “How’d you get back here?” Chase asked his friend.

  “Walked.”

  Letty paused in the doorway, anxious to hear more of her brother’s reply.

  “But it’s almost twenty miles into town,” she said.

  “You’re telling me?” Lonny moaned and slumped into a chair. The first thing he did was remove his left boot, getting it off his swollen foot with some difficulty. He released a long sigh as it fell to the floor. Next he flexed his toes.

  “What happened?”

  “She kicked me out! What do you think happened? Do I look like I’d stroll home for the exercise?” His narrowed eyes accused both Letty and Chase. “I don’t suppose you gave me another thought after you dropped me off, did you? Oh, no. You two were so interested in playing kissy face that you conveniently forgot about me.”

  “We’re sorry, Lonny,” Letty said contritely.

  Lonny’s gaze shifted from Letty to Chase and back again. “I guess there’s no need to ask if you patched things up—that much is obvious.” By this time, the second dust-caked boot had hit the floor. Lonny peeled off his socks. “Darn it, I’ve got blisters on my blisters, thanks to the two of you.”

  “We’re getting married,” Chase announced without preamble, his look challenging Letty to defy him.

  Lonny’s head shot up. “What?”

  “Letty and I are getting married,” Chase repeated. “And the sooner the better.”

  Lonny’s eyes grew suspicious, and when he spoke his voice was almost a whisper. “You’re pregnant ag
ain, aren’t you?”

  Letty burst out laughing. “I wish it were that simple.”

  “She’s got a defective heart,” Chase said, omitting the details and not giving Letty the opportunity to explain more fully. “She has to have an operation—major surgery from the sound of it.”

  “Your heart?” Shocked, Lonny stared at her. “Is that why you fainted that day?”

  “Partially.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “I couldn’t. Not until I had everything sorted out with the government, and the surgery was scheduled. You would’ve worried yourself into a tizzy, and I didn’t want to dump my problems on top of all your other responsibilities.”

  “But…” He frowned, apparently displeased with her response. “I could’ve helped…or at least been more sympathetic. When I think about the way you’ve cleaned up around here…You had no business working so hard, planting a garden and doing everything else you have. I wish you’d said something, Letty. I feel like a jerk.”

  “I didn’t tell anyone, Lonny. Please understand.”

  He wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “I hope you never keep anything like this from me again.”

  “Believe me, there were a thousand times I wanted to tell you and couldn’t.”

  “I’m going to arrange for the wedding as soon as possible,” Chase cut in. “You don’t have any objections, do you, Lonny?” His voice was demanding and inflexible.

  “Objections? Me? No,…not in the least.”

  “Honestly, Chase,” Letty said, patting her brother’s shoulder. “This whole conversation is becoming monotonous, don’t you think? I haven’t agreed to this yet.”

  “Call Joy and find out where Cricket is,” he told her.

  Letty moved to the phone and quickly dialed Joy’s number. Her friend answered on the second ring. “Joy, it’s Letty. Cricket’s with you, right?”

  “Yes, of course. I wouldn’t let that brother of yours take her, and frankly, she wouldn’t have gone with him, anyway. I’m sorry, Letty. I really am. You’re my friend and I adore Cricket, but your brother is one of the most—” She stopped abruptly. “I…I don’t think it’s necessary to say anything else. Lonny’s your brother—you know him better than anyone.”

  In some ways Letty felt she didn’t know Lonny at all. “Joy, whatever happened, I’m sorry.”

  “It’s not your fault. By the way, did Chase ever catch up with you? I didn’t think to mention until after he’d gone that you’d said something about a doctor’s appointment.”

  “Yes, he found me. That’s the reason it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I’m home now, but Chase and I have been talking for the past hour or so. I didn’t mean to leave Cricket with you all this time.”

  “Cricket’s been great, so don’t worry about that. We had a great time—at least, we did until your brother decided to visit.” She paused, and Letty heard regret in her voice when she spoke again. “I don’t know what it is with the two of us. I seem to bring out the worst in Lonny—I know he does in me.”

  Letty wished she knew what it was, too. Discussing this situation over the phone made her a little uncomfortable. She needed to see Joy, read her expression and her body language. “I’ll leave now to pick up Cricket.”

  “Don’t bother,” Joy said. “I was going out on an errand and I’ll be happy to drop her off.”

  “You’re sure that isn’t a problem?”

  “Positive.” Joy hesitated again. “Lonny got home all right, didn’t he? I mean it is a long walk. When I told him to leave, I didn’t mean for him to hike the whole way back. I forgot he didn’t have the truck. By the time I realized it, he’d already started down the sidewalk and he ignored me when I called him.”

  “Yes, he’s home, no worse for wear.”

  “I’ll see you in a little while, then,” Joy murmured. She sounded guilty, and Letty suspected she was bringing Cricket home hoping she’d get a chance to apologize. Unfortunately, in Lonny’s mood, that would be nearly impossible.

  Letty replaced the phone, but not before Lonny shouted from the kitchen, “What do you mean, ‘no worse for wear’? I’ve got blisters that would’ve brought a lesser man to his knees.”

  “What did you want me to tell her? That you’d dragged yourself in here barely able to move?”

  “Letty, I don’t think you should raise your voice. It can’t be good for your heart.” Chase draped his arm around Letty’s shoulders, led her back to the table and eased her onto a chair.

  “I’m not an invalid!” she shouted, immediately sorry for her outburst. Chase flinched as if she’d attacked him, and in a way she had.

  “Please, Letty, we have a lot to discuss. I want the details for this wedding ironed out before I leave.” He knelt in front of her again, and she wondered if he expected her to keel over at any moment.

  She sighed. Nothing she’d said seemed to have reached Chase.

  “I’m taking a bath,” Lonny announced. He stuffed his socks inside his boots and picked them up as he limped out of the kitchen.

  “Chase, listen to me,” Letty pleaded, her hands framing his worried face. “There’s no reason for us to marry now. Once the surgery’s over and I’m back on my feet, we can discuss it, if you still feel the same.”

  “Are you turning me down a second time, Letty?”

  “Oh, Chase, you know that isn’t it. I told you the other night how much I love you. If my feelings for you didn’t change in all the years we were apart, they won’t in the next few months.”

  “Letty, you’re not thinking clearly.”

  “It’s my heart that’s defective, not my brain.”

  “I’ll arrange for the license right away,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “If you want a church wedding with all the trimmings, we’ll arrange for that later.”

  “Why not bring Pastor Downey to the hospital, and he can administer the last rites while he’s there,” she returned flippantly.

  “Don’t say that!”

  “If I agree to this, I’ll be married in the church—the first time.”

  “You’re not thinking.”

  “Chase, you’re the one who’s diving into the deep end here—not me. Give me one solid reason why we should get married now.”

  “Concern for Cricket ought to be enough.”

  “What’s my daughter got to do with this?”

  “She loves me and I love her.” His mouth turned up in a smile. “I never guessed I could love her as much as I do. In the beginning, every time I saw her it was like someone had stuck a knife in my heart. One day,” he lowered his gaze to the floor, “I realized that nothing I did was going to keep me from loving that little girl. She’s so much a part of you, and I couldn’t care about you the way I do and not love her.”

  Hearing him talk about his feelings for Cricket lifted Letty’s sagging spirits. It was the closest he’d come to admitting he loved her.

  “More than that, Letty, if something did happen to you, I’d be a better parent than Lonny. Don’t you agree?”

  Chase was arguably more of a natural, and he had greater patience; to that extent she did agree. “But,” she began, “I don’t—”

  “I know,” he said, raising his hand. “You’re thinking that you don’t have to marry me to make me Cricket’s legal guardian, and you’re right. But I want you to consider Lonny’s pride in all this. If you give me responsibility for Cricket, what’s that going to say to your brother? He’s your only living relative, and he’d be hurt if he felt you didn’t trust him to properly raise your child.”

  “But nothing’s going to happen!” Letty blurted out, knowing she couldn’t be completely sure of that.

  “But what if the worst does happen? If you leave things as they are now, Lonny might have to deal with a grief-stricken five-year-old child. He’d never be able to cope, Letty.”

  She knew he was right; Lonny would be overwhelmed.

  “This situation is much too importan
t to leave everything to fate,” he said, closing his argument. “You’ve got Cricket’s future to consider.”

  “This surgery is a fairly standard procedure.” The doctor had told her so himself. Complicated, yes, but not uncommon.

  “Yes, but as you said before, things can always go wrong. No matter how slight that chance is, we need to be prepared,” Chase murmured.

  Letty didn’t know what to think. She’d asked Chase to come up with one good argument and he’d outdone himself. In fact, his preoccupation with morbid possibilities struck her as a bit much, considering that he wouldn’t let her make even a slight joke about it. However, she understood what he was doing—and why. There were other areas Chase hadn’t stopped to consider, though. If they were married, he’d become liable for the cost of her medical care.

  “Chase, this surgery isn’t cheap. Dr. Faraday said I could be in the hospital as long as two weeks. The hospital bill alone will run into five figures, and that doesn’t include the doctor’s fee, convalescent care or the pharmaceutical bills, which will add up to much, much more.”

  “As my wife, you’ll be covered by my health insurance policy.”

  He said this with such confidence that Letty almost believed him. She desperately wanted to, but she was pretty sure that wouldn’t be the case. “In all likelihood, your insurance company would deny the claim since my condition is preexisting.”

  “I can find that out easily enough. I’ll phone my broker and have him check my policy right now.” He left and returned five minutes later. “It’s just as I thought. As my wife, you’d automatically be included for all benefits, no matter when we found out about your heart condition.”

  It sounded too good to be true. “Chase,…I don’t know.”

  “I’m through with listening to all the reasons we can’t get married. The fact is, you’ve rejected one proposal from me, and we both suffered because of it. I won’t let you do it a second time. Now will or won’t you marry me?”

  “You’re sure about the insurance?”

  “Positive.” He crouched in front of her and took both her hands in his. “You’re going to marry me, Letty. No more arguments, no more ifs, ands or buts.” He grinned at her. “So we’re getting married?”

 
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