Denim and diamonds, p.17
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       Denim and Diamonds, p.17

           Debbie Macomber
 
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  Some nights he came directly to bed; others he’d sit in front of the TV, delaying the time before he joined her. In the mornings he’d be gone before she woke. Letty didn’t know any man who worked as physically hard as Chase did on so little rest.

  “You’re later than usual tonight,” she said, standing barefoot in the kitchen doorway.

  He didn’t turn around when he spoke. “There’s lots to do this time of year.”

  “Yes, I know,” she answered, willing to accept his lame excuse. “I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to you this afternoon.”

  “What did Lonny want?”

  So he was going to change the subject. Fine, she’d let him. “Joy problems,” she told him.

  Chase nodded, opened the refrigerator and took out a carton of milk. He poured himself a glass, then drank it down in one long swallow.

  “Would you like me to run you a bath?”

  “I’d rather take a shower.” Reluctantly he turned to face her.

  This was the moment Letty had been waiting for. She’d planned it all night. The kitchen remained dark; the only source of light was the moon, which cast flickering shadows over the wall. Letty was leaning against the doorjamb, her hands behind her back. Her nightgown had been selected with care, a frothy see-through piece of chiffon that covered her from head to foot, yet revealed everything.

  Letty knew she’d achieved the desired effect when the glass Chase was holding slipped from his hand and dropped to the floor. By some miracle it didn’t shatter. Chase bent over to retrieve it, and even standing several yards away, Letty could see that his fingers were trembling.

  “I saw Dr. Faraday this morning,” she told him, keeping her voice low and seductive. “He gave me a clean bill of health.”

  “Congratulations.”

  “I think this calls for a little celebration, don’t you?”

  “Celebration?”

  “I’m your wife, Chase, but you seem to have conveniently forgotten that fact. There’s no reason we should wait any longer.”

  “Wait?” He was beginning to sound like an echo.

  Letty prayed for calm.

  Before she could say anything else, he added abruptly, “I’ve been out on the range for the past twelve hours. I’m dirty and tired and badly in need of some hot water.”

  “I’ve been patient all this time. A few more minutes won’t kill me.” She’d never thought it would come to this, but she was going to have to seduce her own husband. So be it. She was hardly an expert in the techniques of seduction, but instinct was directing her behavior—instinct and love.

  “Letty, I’m not in the mood. As I said, I’m tired and—”

  “You were in the mood this afternoon,” she whispered, deliberately moistening her lips with the tip of her tongue.

  He ground out her name, his hands clenched at his sides. “Perhaps you should go back to bed.”

  “Back to bed?” She straightened, hands on her hips. “You were supposed to take one look at me and be overcome with passion!”

  “I was?”

  He was silently laughing at her, proving she’d done an excellent job of making a fool of herself. Tears sprang to her eyes. Before the surgery and directly afterward, Chase had been the model husband—loving, gentle, concerned. He couldn’t seem to spend enough time with her. Lately just the opposite was true. The man who stood across from her now wasn’t the same man she’d married, and she didn’t understand what had changed him.

  Chase stood where he was, feet planted apart, as if he expected her to defy him.

  Without another word, Letty turned and left. Tears blurred her vision as she walked into their room and sank down on the edge of the bed. Covering her face with both hands, she sat there, her thoughts whirling, gathering momentum, until she lost track of time.

  “Letty.”

  She vaulted to her feet and wiped her face. “Don’t you Letty me, you…you arrogant cowboy.” That was the worst thing she could come up with on short notice.

  He was fresh from the shower, wearing nothing more than a towel around his waist.

  “I had all these romantic plans for seducing you—and…and you made me feel I’m about as appealing as an old steer. So you want to live like brother and sister? Fine. Two can play this game, fellow.” She pulled the chiffon nightie over her head and yanked open a drawer, grabbing an old flannel gown and donning that. When she’d finished, she whirled around to face him.

  To her chagrin, Chase took one look at her and burst out laughing.

  Chapter 13

  “Don’t you dare laugh at me,” Letty cried, her voice trembling.

  “I’m not,” he told her. The humor had evaporated as if it had never been there. What he’d told her earlier about being tired was true; he’d worked himself to the point of exhaustion. But he’d have to be a crazy man to reject the very thing he wanted most. Letty had come to him, demolished every excuse not to hold and kiss her, and like an idiot he’d told her to go back to bed. Who did he think he was? A man of steel? He wasn’t kidding anyone, least of all himself.

  Silently he walked around the end of the bed toward her.

  For every step Chase advanced, Letty took one away from him, until the backs of her knees were pressed against the mattress and there was nowhere else to go. Chase met her gaze, needing her love and her warmth so badly he was shaking with it.

  Ever so gently, he brought his hands up to frame her face. He stroked away the moisture on her cheeks, wanting to erase each tear and beg her forgiveness for having hurt her. Slowly, he slid his hands down the sides of her neck until they settled on her shoulders.

  “Nothing in my life has been as good as these past months with you and Cricket,” he told her, although the admission cost him dearly. He hadn’t wanted to tie her to him with words and emotional bonds. If she stayed, he wanted it to be of her own free will, not because she felt trapped or obliged.

  “I can’t alter the past,” he whispered. “I don’t have any control of the future. But we have now…tonight.”

  “Then why did you…laugh at me?”

  “Because I’m a fool. I need you, Letty, so much it frightens me.” He heard the husky emotion in his voice but didn’t regret exposing his longing to her. “If I can only have you for a little while, I think we should take advantage of this time, don’t you?”

  He didn’t give her an opportunity to respond but urged her toward him and placed his mouth on hers, kissing her over and over until her sweet, responsive body was molded against him. He’d dreamed of holding Letty like this, pliable and soft in his arms, but once again the reality exceeded his imagination.

  “I was beginning to believe you hated me,” she whimpered against his mouth. Then, clinging to him, she resumed their kiss.

  “Let’s take this off,” he said a moment later, tugging at the flannel gown. With a reluctance that excited him all the more, Letty stepped out of his arms just far enough to let him pull the gown over her head and discard it.

  “Oh, Letty,” he groaned, looking at her, heaving a sigh of appreciation. “You’re so beautiful.” He felt humble seeing her like this. Her beauty, so striking, was revealed only to him, and his knees went weak.

  “The scar?” Her eyes were lowered.

  The red line that ran the length of her sternum would fade in the years to come. But Chase viewed it as a badge of courage. He leaned forward and kissed it, gently, lovingly, breathing her name.

  “Oh, Chase, I thought…maybe you found me ugly and that’s why…you wouldn’t touch me.”

  “No,” he said. “Never.”

  “But you didn’t touch me. For weeks and weeks you stayed on your side of the bed, until…until I thought I’d go crazy.”

  “I couldn’t be near you and not want you,” he admitted hoarsely. “I had to wait until Dr. Faraday said it was okay.” If those weeks had been difficult for Letty, they’d been doubly so for him.

  “Do you want to touch me now?”

  He no
dded. From the moment they’d discarded her gown, Chase hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her.

  “Yes. I want to hold you for the rest of my life.”

  “Please love me, Chase.” Her low, seductive voice was all the encouragement he needed. He eased her onto the bed, securing her there with his body. He had to taste her, had to experience all the pleasure she’d so unselfishly offered him earlier.

  Their lovemaking was everything he could have hoped for—everything he had hoped for. She welcomed him readily and he was awed by her generosity, lost in her love.

  Afterward, Chase lay beside Letty and gathered her in his arms. As he felt the softness of her skin against his, felt the heavy exhaustion that claimed his limbs, he wondered how he’d been able to resist her for so long.

  —

  Letty woke at dawn, still in Chase’s arms. She felt utterly content—and excited. Plan B hadn’t worked out exactly the way she’d thought it would, but it had certainly produced the desired effect. She felt like sitting up and throwing her arms in the air and shouting for sheer joy. She was a wife!

  “Morning,” Chase whispered.

  He didn’t look at her, as if he half expected her to be embarrassed by the intimacies they’d shared the night before. Letty’s exhilarated thoughts came to an abrupt halt. Had she said or done something a married woman shouldn’t?

  She was about to voice her fears when her husband turned to her, bracing his arms on either side of her head. She met his eyes, unsure of what he was asking. Slowly he lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her with a hungry need that surprised as much as delighted her.

  “How long do we have before Cricket wakes up?” he whispered.

  “Long enough,” she whispered back.

  —

  In the days that followed, Letty found that Chase was insatiable. Not that she minded. In fact, she was thrilled that his need to make love to her was so great. Chase touched and held her often, and each caress made her long for sundown. The nights were theirs.

  Cricket usually went to bed early, tired out from the long day’s activities. As always, Chase was endlessly patient with her, reading her bedtime stories and making up a few of his own, which he dutifully repeated for Letty.

  Cricket taught him the game of blowing out the light that Letty had played with her from the time she was a toddler. Whenever she watched Chase with her daughter, Letty was quietly grateful. He was so good with Cricket, and the little girl adored him.

  Letty had never been happier. Chase had never told her he loved her in so many words, but she was reassured of his devotion in a hundred different ways. He’d never communicated his feelings freely, and the years hadn’t changed that. But the looks he gave her, the reverent way he touched her, his exuberant lovemaking, told her everything she needed to know.

  The first week of September, Cricket started kindergarten. On the opening day of school, Letty drove her into town and lingered after class had begun, talking to the other mothers for a few minutes. Then, feeling a little melancholy, she returned to the ranch. A new world was opening up for Cricket, and Letty’s role in her daughter’s life would change.

  Letty parked the truck in the yard and walked into the kitchen. Chase wasn’t due back at the house until eleven thirty for lunch; Cricket would be coming home on the school bus, but that wasn’t until early afternoon, so Letty’s morning was free. She did some housework, but without much enthusiasm. After throwing a load of clothes in the washer, she decided to vacuum.

  Once in the living room, she found herself drawn to the old upright piano. She stood over the keys and with one finger plinked out a couple of the songs she’d taught Cricket.

  Before she knew it, she was sitting on the bench, running her fingers up and down the yellowing keys, playing a few familiar chords. Soon she was singing, and it felt wonderful, truly wonderful, to release some of the emotion she was experiencing in song.

  She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting there when she looked up and saw Chase watching her. His eyes were sad.

  “Your voice is still as beautiful as it always was,” he murmured.

  “Thank you,” she said, feeling shy. It had been months since she’d sat at the piano like this and sung. “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard you,” he told her, his voice flat.

  She slipped off the piano bench and closed the keyboard. She considered telling him she didn’t do this often; she knew that, for some reason, her playing made him uncomfortable. That saddened Letty—even more so because she didn’t understand his feelings.

  An awkward silence passed.

  “Chase,” she said, realizing why he must be in the house. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was time for lunch already.”

  “It isn’t,” he said.

  “Is something wrong?” she asked, feeling unnerved and not knowing why.

  “No.” The look in his eyes was one of tenderness…and fear? Pain? Either way, it made no sense to her.

  Without a word, she slipped into his arms, hugging him close. He was tense and held himself stiffly, but she couldn’t fathom why.

  Tilting her head, Letty studied him. He glided his thumb over her lips and she captured it between her teeth. “Kiss me,” she said. That was one sure way of comforting him.

  He did, kissing her ravenously. Urgently. As if this were the last opportunity they’d have. When he ended the kiss, Letty finally felt him relax, and sighed in relief.

  “I need you, Letty,” he murmured.

  Chase’s mouth was buried in the hollow of her throat. She burrowed her fingers in his hair, needing to continue touching him.

  He kissed her one more time, then drew back. “I want to have you in my arms and in my bed as often as I can before you go,” he whispered, refusing to meet her gaze.

  “Before I go?” she repeated in confusion. “I’m not going anywhere—Cricket’s taking the bus home.”

  Chase shook his head. “When I married you, I accepted that sooner or later you’d leave,” he said, his voice filled with resignation.

  Letty was so stunned, so shocked, that for a second she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Let me see if I understand you,” she said slowly. “I married you, but you seem to think I had no intention of staying in the relationship and that sooner or later I’d fly the coop? Am I understanding you correctly?” It was an effort to disguise her sarcasm.

  “You were facing a life-or-death situation. I offered you an alternative because of Cricket.”

  Chase spoke as if that explained everything. “I love you, Chase Brown. I loved you when I left Wyoming. I loved you when I came back….I love you even more now.”

  He didn’t look at her. “I never said I felt the same way about you.”

  The world seemed to skid to a halt; everything went perfectly still except for her heart, which was ramming loudly against her chest.

  “True,” she began when she could find her voice. “You never said you did. But you show me every day how much you love me. I don’t need the words, Chase. You can’t hide what you feel for me.”

  He was making his way to the door when he turned back and snorted softly. “Don’t confuse great sex with love, Letty.”

  She felt unbelievably hurt and fiercely angry.

  “Do you want me to leave, Chase? Is that what you’re saying?”

  “I won’t ask you to stay.”

  “In…in other words, I’m free to walk out of here anytime?”

  He nodded. “You can go now, if that’s what you want.”

  “Generous of you,” she snapped.

  He didn’t respond.

  “I get it,” she cried sharply. “Everything’s falling into place now. Every time I sit down at the piano, I can feel your displeasure. Why did you bring it here if it bothered you so much?”

  “It wasn’t my bright idea,” he said curtly. “Joy thought it would help you recuperate. If I’d had my way, it would never have left Lonny’s place.”

  “Take it back,
then.”

  “I will once you’re gone.”

  Letty pressed her hand against her forehead. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation. I love you, Chase….I don’t ever want to leave you.”

  “Whatever you decide is fine, Letty,” he said, and again his voice was resigned. “That decision is yours.” He walked out of the house, letting the back door slam behind him.

  For several minutes, Letty did nothing but lean against the living room wall. Chase’s feigned indifference infuriated her. Had the past few weeks meant nothing to him? Obviously that was what he wanted her to think. He was pretending to be so damn smug…so condescending, that it demanded all her restraint not to haul out her suitcases that instant and walk away from him just to prove him right.

  His words made a lie of all the happiness she’d found in her marriage. Angry tears scalded her eyes. For some reason she didn’t grasp, Chase wanted her to think he was using her, and he’d paid a steep price for the privilege—he’d married her.

  Letty sank down onto the floor and covered her face with her hands, feeling wretched to the marrow of her bones.

  Like some romantic fool, she’d held on to the belief that everything between her and Chase was perfect now and would remain that way forever after. It was a blow to discover otherwise.

  When she’d first come back to Wyoming, Letty had been afraid her life was nearly over and the only things awaiting her were pain and regret. Instead, Chase had given her a glimpse of happiness. With him, she’d experienced an immeasurable sense of satisfaction and joy, an inner peace. She’d seen Chase as her future, seen the two of them as lifelong companions, a man and a woman in love, together for life.

  Nearly blinded by her tears, she got up and grabbed her purse from the kitchen table. She had to get away to think, put order to her raging thoughts.

  Chase was in the yard when she walked out the door. He paused, and out of the corner of her eye, Letty saw that he moved two steps toward her, then abruptly stopped. Apparently he’d changed his mind about whatever he was going to say or do. Which was just as well, since Letty wasn’t in the mood to talk to him.

  His gaze followed her as she walked toward the truck, as if he suspected she was leaving him right then and there.

 
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