Denim and diamonds, p.14
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       Denim and Diamonds, p.14

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  Chase made the question more of a statement. “Yes,” she murmured, loving him so much. “But you’re taking such a risk…”

  His eyes narrowed. “Why?”

  “Well, because—” She stopped when Cricket came running through the door and held out her arms to her daughter, who flew into them.

  “I’m home.” Cricket hugged Letty, then rushed over to Chase and threw her arms around his neck with such enthusiasm it nearly knocked him to the floor.

  Letty watched them and realized, above anything else, how right Chase was to be concerned about Cricket’s welfare in the unlikely event that something went wrong. She drew in a shaky breath and held it until her lungs ached. She loved Chase, and although he hadn’t spelled out his feelings for her, she knew he cared deeply for her and for Cricket.

  —

  Joy stood sheepishly near the kitchen door, scanning the area for any sign of Lonny. Letty didn’t doubt that if her brother were to make an appearance, Joy would quickly turn a designer shade of red.

  “Joy, come in,” Letty said, welcoming her friend.

  She did, edging a few more feet into the kitchen. “I just wanted to make sure Cricket was safely inside.”

  “Thanks so much for watching her for me this afternoon,” Letty said, smiling broadly. “I appreciate it more than you know.”

  “It wasn’t any problem.”

  A soft snicker was heard from the direction of the hallway. Lonny stood there, obviously having just gotten out of the shower. His dark hair glistened and his shirt was unbuttoned over his blue jeans. His feet were bare.

  Joy stiffened. “The only difficulty was when unexpected company arrived and—”

  “Uncle Lonny was yelling at Joy,” Cricket whispered to her mother.

  “Don’t forget to mention the part where she was yelling at me,” Lonny said.

  “I’d better go.” Joy stepped back and gripped the doorknob.

  “I’m not stopping you,” Lonny said sweetly, swaggering into the room.

  “I’m on my way out, Mr. Ellison. The less I see of you, the better.”

  “My feelings exactly.”

  “Lonny. Joy.” Letty gestured at each of them. They were both so stubborn. Every time they were within range of each other, sparks ignited—and, in Letty’s opinion, they weren’t just sparks of anger.

  “I’m sorry, Letty, but I cannot tolerate your brother.”

  Lonny moved closer to Joy and Letty realized why his walk was so unusual. He was doing his utmost not to limp, what with all his blisters. Lonny stopped directly in front of Joy, his arms folded over his bare chest. “The same goes for you—only double.”

  “Goodbye, Letty, Chase. Goodbye, Cricket.” Joy completely ignored Lonny and walked out of the house.

  The instant she did, Lonny sat down and started to rub his feet. “Fool woman.”

  “I won’t comment on who’s acting like a fool here, brother dearest, but the odds are high that you’re in the competition.”

  —

  Chase sat in the hospital waiting room and picked up a Time magazine. He didn’t even notice the date until he’d finished three news articles and realized everything he’d read about had happened months ago.

  Like the stories in the out-of-date magazine, Chase’s life had changed, but the transformation had taken place within a few days, not months.

  A week after following Letty into Rock Springs and discovering her secret, he was both a husband and a father. He and Letty had a small wedding at which Pastor Downey had been kind enough to officiate. And now they were facing what could be the most difficult trial of their lives together—her heart surgery.

  Setting the magazine aside, Chase wandered outside to the balcony, leaning over the railing as he surveyed the foliage below.

  Worry entangled his thoughts and dominated his emotions. And yet a faint smile hovered on his lips. Even when they’d wheeled Letty into the operating room, she’d been joking with the doctors.

  A vision of the nurses, clad in surgical green from head to foot, who’d wheeled Letty through the double doors and into the operating room came back to haunt him. They’d taken Letty from his side, although he’d held her hand as long as possible. Only Chase had seen the momentary look of stark fear, of panic, in her eyes. But her gaze had found his and her expression became one of reassurance.

  She was facing a traumatic experience and she’d wanted to encourage him to remain calm.

  Her sweet smile hadn’t fooled him, though. Letty was as frightened as he was, perhaps even more so; she just wouldn’t let anyone know it.

  She could die in there, and he was powerless to do anything to stop it. The thought of her death made him ache with an agony that was beyond description. Letty had been back in Wyoming for less than two months and already Chase couldn’t imagine his life without her. The air on the balcony became stifling. Chase fled, finding himself back in the waiting room.

  “Chase!” Lonny came running after him. “What’s happened? Where’s Letty?”

  Chase’s eyes were wild as he stared at his brother-in-law. “They took her away twenty minutes ago.”

  “Hey, are you all right?”

  The question buzzed around him like a cloud of mosquitoes, and he shook his head.

  “Chase.” Lonny clasped his shoulders. “I think you should sit down.”

  “Cricket?”

  “She’s fine. Joy’s watching her.”

  Chase nodded, sitting on the edge of the seat, his elbows on his knees, his hands covering his face. Letty had come into his life when he’d least expected her back. She’d offered him love when he’d never thought he’d discover it a second time. Long before, he’d given up the dream of her ever being his wife.

  They’d been married less than a day. Only a few hours earlier, Letty had stood before Pastor Downey and vowed to love him—Chase Brown. Her husband. And here she was, her life on the line, and they had yet to have their wedding night.

  Chase prayed fate wouldn’t be so cruel as to rip her from his arms. He wanted the joy of loving her and being loved by her. The joy of fulfilling his dreams and building happiness with her and Cricket and whatever other children they had. A picture began to form in his mind. Two little boys around the ages of five and six. They stood side by side, the best of friends, each with deep blue eyes like Letty’s. Their hair was the same shade as his own when he was about their age.

  “She’s going to make it,” Lonny said. “Do you think my sister’s going to give up on life without a fight? You know Letty better than that. Relax, would you? Everything’s going to work out.”

  His friend’s words dispelled the vision. Chase wished he shared Lonny’s confidence regarding Letty’s health. He felt so helpless—all he could do was pray.

  Chase stood up abruptly. “I’m going to the chapel,” he announced, appreciating it when Lonny chose to stay behind.

  The chapel was empty, and Chase was grateful for the privacy. He sat in the back pew and stared straight ahead, not knowing what to say or do that would convince the Almighty to keep Letty safe.

  He rotated the brim of his hat between his fingers while his mind fumbled for the words to plead for her life. He wanted so much more than that, more than Letty simply surviving the surgery, and then felt selfish for being so greedy. As the minutes ticked past, he sat and silently poured out his heart, talking as he would to a friend.

  Chase had never been a man who could speak eloquently—to God or, for that matter, to Letty or anyone else. He knew she’d been looking for words of love the day he’d proposed to her. He regretted now that he hadn’t said them. He’d felt them deep in his heart, but something had kept them buried inside. Fear, he suspected. He’d spoken them once and they hadn’t meant enough to keep her in Red Springs. He didn’t know if they’d mean enough this time, either.

  An eternity passed and he stayed where he was, afraid to face whatever would greet him upon his return. Several people came and went, but he barely notice
d them.

  The chapel door opened once more and Chase didn’t have to turn around to know it was Lonny. Cold fear dampened his brow and he sat immobilized. The longest seconds of his life dragged past before Lonny joined him in the pew.

  “The surgery went without a hitch—Letty’s going to be just fine,” he whispered. “You can see her, but only for a minute.”

  Chase closed his eyes as the tension drained out of him.

  “Did you hear me?”

  Chase nodded and turned to his lifelong friend. “Thank God.”

  The two men embraced and Chase was filled with overwhelming gratitude.

  “Be warned, though,” Lonny said on their way back to the surgical floor. “Letty’s connected to a bunch of tubes and stuff, so don’t let it throw you.”

  Chase nodded.

  One of the nurses who’d wheeled his wife into surgery was waiting when Chase returned. She had him dress in sterile surgical garb and instructed him to follow her.

  Chase accompanied her into the intensive care unit. Letty was lying on a gurney, perfectly still, and Chase stood by her side. Slowly he bent toward her and saw that her eyes were closed.

  “Letty,” he whispered. “It’s Chase. You’re going to be fine.”

  Chase thought he saw her mouth move in a smile, but he couldn’t be sure.

  “I love you,” he murmured, his voice hoarse with emotion. “I didn’t say it before, but I love you—I never stopped. I’ve lived my life loving you, and nothing will ever change that.”

  She was pale, so deathly pale, that he felt a sudden sharp fear before he realized the worst of the ordeal was over. The surgery had etched its passing on her lovely face, yet he saw something else, something he hadn’t recognized in Letty before. There was a calm strength, a courage that lent him confidence. She was his wife and she’d stand by his side for the rest of their days.

  Chase kissed her forehead tenderly before turning to leave.

  “I’ll see you in the morning,” he told her. And every morning after that, he thought.

  Chapter 11

  “Here’s some tea,” Joy said, carrying a tray into the living room, where Letty was supposed to be resting.

  “I’m perfectly capable of getting my own tea, for heaven’s sake,” Letty mumbled, but when Joy approached, she offered her friend a bright smile. It didn’t do any good to complain—and she didn’t want to seem ungrateful—although having everyone wait on her was frustrating.

  She was reluctant to admit that the most difficult aspect of her recovery was this lengthy convalescence. She’d been released from the hospital two weeks earlier, still very weak; however, she was regaining her strength more and more every day. According to Dr. Faraday, this long period of debility was to be expected. He was pleased with her progress, but Letty found herself becoming increasingly impatient. She yearned to go back to the life she’d just begun with Chase. It was as if their marriage had been put on hold.

  They slept in the same bed, lived in the same house, ate the same meals, but they might as well have been brother and sister. Chase seemed to have forgotten that she was his wife.

  “You’re certainly looking good,” Joy said as she took the overstuffed chair across from Letty. She poured them each a cup of tea and handed the first one to Letty. Then she picked up her own and sat back.

  “I’m feeling good.” Her eyes ran lovingly over the room with its polished oak floors, thick braided rug and the old upright piano that had once been hers. The house at Spring Valley had been built years before the one on the Bar E, and Chase had done an excellent job on the upkeep. When she’d been released from the hospital, Chase had brought her to Spring Valley and dutifully carried her over the threshold. But that had been the only husbandly obligation he’d performed the entire time she’d been home.

  During her hospital stay, Lonny and Chase had packed her things and Cricket’s and moved them to the house at Spring Valley. Perhaps that had been a mistake, because Letty’s frustration mounted as she hungered to become Chase’s wife in every way.

  She took a sip of the lemon-scented tea, determined to exhibit more patience with herself and everyone else. “I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done.”

  Joy had made a point of coming over every afternoon and staying with Letty. Chase had hired an extra man to come over in the early mornings so he could be with her until it was nearly noon. By then she’d showered and dressed and been deposited on the living room couch, where Chase and Cricket made a game of serving her breakfast.

  “I’ve hardly done anything,” Joy said, discounting Letty’s appreciation. “It’s been great getting better acquainted. Cricket is a marvelous little girl, and now that I know you, I understand why. You’re a good mother, Letty, but even more important, you’re a wonderful person.”

  “Thank you.” Letty smiled softly, touched by Joy’s tribute. She’d worked hard to be the right kind of mother, but there were plenty of times when she had her doubts, as any single parent did. Only she wasn’t single anymore….

  “Speaking of Cricket, where is she?”

  “Out visiting her pony,” Letty said, and grinned. Cricket thought that Letty’s marrying Chase had been a brilliant idea. According to her, there wasn’t anyone in the whole world who’d make a better daddy. Chase had certainly lived up to her daughter’s expectations. He was patient and gentle and kind to a fault. The problem, if it could be termed that, was the way Chase treated her, which was no different from the way he treated Cricket. But Letty yearned to be a wife. A real wife.

  “What’s that?” Joy asked, pointing at a huge box that sat on the floor next to the sofa.

  “Lonny brought it over last night. It’s some things that belonged to our mother. He thought I might want to sort through them. When Mom died, he packed up her belongings and stuck them in the back bedroom. They’ve been there ever since.”

  Joy’s eyes fluttered downward at the mention of Lonny’s name. Letty picked up on that immediately. “Are you two still not getting along?” she asked, taking a chance, since neither seemed willing to discuss the other.

  “Not exactly.” Quickly redirecting the conversation, she said, “Didn’t you ask me to write down the recipe for that meatless lasagna? Well, I brought it along and left it in the kitchen.”

  From little things Letty had heard Lonny, Chase and Joy drop, her brother had made some effort to fix his relationship with Joy while Letty was in the hospital. Evidently whatever he’d said or done had worked, because the minute she mentioned Joy’s name to Lonny he got flustered.

  For her part, Joy did everything but stand on her head to change the subject. Letty wished she knew what was going on, but after one miserable attempt to involve herself in her brother’s love life, she knew better than to try again.

  “Mommy,” Cricket cried as she came running into the living room, pigtails skipping. “Jennybird ate an apple out of my hand! Chase showed me how to hold it so she wouldn’t bite me.” She looped her small arms around Letty’s neck and squeezed tight. “When can you come and watch me feed Jennybird?”

  “Soon.” At least, Letty hoped it would be soon.

  “Take your time,” Joy said. “There’s no reason to push yourself, Letty.”

  “You’re beginning to sound like Chase,” Letty said with a grin.

  Joy shook her head. “I doubt that. I’ve never seen a man more worried about anyone. The first few days after the surgery, he slept at the hospital. Lonny finally dragged him home, fed him and insisted he get some rest.”

  Joy wasn’t telling Letty anything she didn’t already know. Chase had been wonderful, more than wonderful, from the moment he’d learned about her heart condition. Now, if he’d only start treating her like a wife instead of a roommate…

  “I want you to come and see my new bedroom,” Cricket said, reaching for Joy’s hand. “I’ve got a new bed with a canopy and a new bedspread and a new pillow and everything.”

  Joy turned to Letty. “Chase agai
n?”

  Letty nodded. “He really spoils her.”

  “He loves her.”

  “He loves me,” Cricket echoed, pointing a finger at her chest. “But that’s okay, because I like being spoiled.”

  Letty sighed. “I know you do, sweetheart, but enough is enough.”

  Chase had been blunt about the fact that Cricket was his main consideration when he asked Letty to marry him. His point had been a valid one, but Letty couldn’t doubt for an instant that Chase loved them both. Although he hadn’t said the words, they weren’t necessary; he’d shown his feelings for her in a hundred different ways.

  “I’d better go take a gander at Cricket’s room, and then I should head back into town,” Joy said as she stood. “There’s a casserole in the refrigerator for dinner.”

  “Joy!” Letty protested. “You’ve done enough.”

  “Shush,” Joy said, waving her index finger under Letty’s nose. “It was a new recipe, and two were as easy to make as one.”

  “You’re going to have to come up with a better excuse than that, Joy. You’ve been trying out new recipes all week.” Although she chided her friend, Letty was grateful for all the help Joy had given her over the past month. Her visits in the afternoons had brought Chase peace of mind so he could work outside without constantly worrying about Letty. The casseroles and salads Joy contributed for dinner were a help, too.

  Chase wouldn’t allow Letty to do any of the household chores yet and insisted on preparing their meals himself. Never in a thousand years would Letty have dreamed that she’d miss doing laundry or dishes, but there was an unexpected joy in performing menial tasks for the people she loved. In the past few weeks, she’d learned some valuable lessons about life. She’d experienced the nearly overwhelming need to do something for someone else instead of being the recipient of everyone else’s goodwill.

  The house was peaceful and still as Joy followed Cricket up the stairs. When they returned a few minutes later, Cricket was yawning and dragging her blanket behind her.

 
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