Denim and diamonds, p.6
Denim and Diamonds, p.6Debbie Macomber
“Not exactly. I managed to avoid a collision, but in the process I hit the pole.”
“The one holding up the stop sign, of course.”
“Oh.” Letty didn’t mean to appear dense, but Lonny was so angry, he wasn’t explaining himself clearly.
He groaned in frustration. “Then, ever so sweetly, she climbs out of her car, tells me how sorry she is and asks if there’s any damage.”
Letty rolled her eyes. She didn’t know what her brother expected, but as far as Letty could see, Lonny was being completely unreasonable.
“Right away I could see what she’d done, and I pointed it out to her. But that’s not the worst of it,” he insisted. “She took one look at my truck and said there were so many dents in it, she couldn’t possibly know which one our minor accident had caused.”
In Letty’s opinion the other driver was absolutely right about that, but saying as much could prove dangerous. “Then what?” she asked cautiously.
“We exchanged a few words,” he admitted, kicking the dirt and avoiding Letty’s gaze. “She said my truck was a pile of junk.” Lonny walked all the way around it before he continued, his eyes flashing. “There’s no way I’m going to let some teacher insult me like that.”
“I’m sure her insurance will take care of it,” Letty said calmly.
“Damn straight it will.” He slapped his hat back on his head. “You know what else she did? She tried to buy me off!” he declared righteously. “Right there in the middle of the street, in broad daylight, in front of God and man. Now I ask you, do I look like the kind of guy who can be bribed?”
At Letty’s questioning look, her irate brother continued. “She offered me fifty bucks.”
“I take it you refused.”
“You bet I refused!” he shouted. “There’s two or three hundred dollars’ damage here. Probably a lot more.”
Letty bent to examine the bumper again. It looked like a fifty-dollar dent to her, but she wasn’t about to say so. It did seem, however, that Lonny was protesting much too long and loud over a silly dent. Whoever this woman was, she’d certainly gained his attention. A teacher, he’d said.
“I’ve got her license number right here.” Lonny yanked a small piece of paper from his shirt pocket and carefully unfolded it. “Joy Fuller’s lucky I’m not going to report her to the police.”
“Joy Fuller!” Letty cried, taking the paper away from him. “I know who she is.”
That stopped Lonny short. “How?” he asked suspiciously.
“She plays the organ at church on Sundays, and as you obviously know, she teaches at the elementary school. Second grade, I think.”
Lonny shot a look toward the cloudless sky. “Do the good people of Red Springs realize the kind of woman they’re exposing their children to? Someone should tell the school board.”
“You’ve been standing in the sun too long. Come inside and have some lunch,” Letty offered.
“I’m too mad to think about eating. You go ahead without me.” With that he strode toward the barn.
Letty went into the house, and after pouring herself a glass of iced tea, she reached for the church directory and dialed Joy Fuller’s number.
Joy answered brusquely on the first ring. “Yes,” she snapped.
“Joy, it’s Letty Ellison.”
“Letty, I’m sorry, but your brother is the rudest…most arrogant, unreasonable man I’ve ever encountered.”
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am about this,” Letty said, but she had the feeling Joy hadn’t even heard her.
“I made a simple mistake and he wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than blood.”
“Can you tell me what happened?” She was hoping Joy would be a little more composed than Lonny, but she was beginning to have her doubts.
“I’m sure my version is nothing like your brother’s,” Joy said, her voice raised. “It’s simple, really. I ran the stop sign between Oak and Spruce. Frankly, I don’t go that way often and I simply forgot it was there.”
Letty knew the intersection. A huge weeping willow partially obscured the sign. There’d been a piece in the weekly paper about how the tree should be trimmed before a collision occurred.
“I was more than willing to admit the entire incident was my fault,” Joy went on. “But I couldn’t even tell which dent I’d caused, and when I said as much, your brother started acting like a crazy man.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with Lonny,” Letty confessed. “I’ve never seen him like this.”
“Well, I’d say it has something to do with the fact that I turned him down the last time he asked me out.”
“What? This is the first I’ve heard of it. You and my brother had a…relationship?”
Joy gave an unladylike snort. “I wouldn’t dignify it with that name. He and I…He—Oh, Letty, never mind. It’s all history. Back to this so-called accident…” She drew in an audible breath. “I told him I’d contact my insurance company, but to hear him tell it, he figures it’ll take at least two thousand dollars to repair all the damage I caused.”
That was ridiculous. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it—”
“Oh, he meant it, all right,” Joy interrupted. “Personally, I’d rather have the insurance people deal with him, anyway. I never want to see your arrogant, ill-tempered, bronc-busting brother again.”
Letty didn’t blame her, but she had the feeling that in Joy Fuller, her brother had met his match.
At four o’clock, Lonny came into the house, and his mood had apparently improved, because he sent Letty a shy smile and said, “Don’t worry about making me dinner tonight. I’m going into town.”
“Oh?” Letty said, looking up from folding laundry.
“Chase and I are going out to eat.”
She smiled. “Have a good time. You deserve a break.”
“I just hope that Fuller woman isn’t on the streets.”
Letty raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yeah, really,” he snapped. “She’s a menace.”
“Honestly, Lonny, are you still mad about that…silly incident?”
“I sure am. It isn’t safe for man or beast with someone like her behind the wheel.”
“I do believe you protest too much. Could it be that you’re attracted to Joy? Still attracted?”
Eyes narrowed, he stalked off, then turned back around and muttered, “I was never attracted to her. We might’ve seen each other a few times, but it didn’t work out. How could it? She’s humorless, full of herself and…and she’s a city slicker. From the West Coast, the big metropolis of Seattle, no less.”
“I’ve heard it’s a nice place,” Letty said mildly.
Lonny did not consider that worthy of comment, and Letty couldn’t help smiling.
His bathwater was running when he returned several minutes later, his shirt unbuttoned. “What about you, Letty?”
“What do you mean?” she asked absently, lifting the laundry basket onto the table. The fresh, clean scent of sun-dried towels made the extra effort of hanging them on the line worth it.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Nothing much.” She planned to do what she did every Saturday night. Watch a little television, polish her nails and read.
Her brother pulled out a chair, turned it around and straddled it. “From the minute you got home, you’ve been talking about marrying me off. That’s the reason you invited that Brandon woman over for dinner. You admitted it yourself.”
“A mistake that won’t be repeated,” she assured him, fluffing a thick towel.
“But you said I need a woman.”
“A wife, Lonny. There’s a difference.”
“I’ve been thinking about what you said, and you might be right. But what about you?”
Letty found the task of folding bath towels vitally important. “I don’t understand.”
“When are you going to get married?”
Never, her mind flashed spontaneously.
She shrugged, preferring to avoid the issue and knowing it was impossible. “Someday…maybe.”
“You’re not getting any younger.”
Letty supposed she had that coming. Lonny’s words were an echo of her own earlier ones to him. Now she was paying the penalty for her miserable attempt at matchmaking. However, giving Lonny a few pat answers wasn’t going to work, anymore than it had worked with her. “Frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever marry,” she murmured, keeping her gaze lowered.
“Did…Cricket’s father hurt you that much?”
Purposely she glanced behind her and asked stiffly, “Isn’t your bathwater going to run over?”
“I doubt it. Answer me, Letty.”
“I have no intention of discussing what happened with Jason. It’s in the past and best forgotten.”
Lonny was silent for a moment. “You’re so different now. I’m your brother—I care about you—and it bothers me to see you like this. No man is worth this kind of pain.”
“Lonny, please.” She held the towels against her stomach. “If I’m different it isn’t because of what happened between me and Jason. It’s…other things.”
“What other things?” Lonny asked, his eyes filled with concern.
That was one question Letty couldn’t answer. At least not yet. So she sidestepped it. “Jason taught me an extremely valuable lesson. Oh, it was painful at the time, don’t misunderstand me, but he gave me Cricket, and she’s my joy. I can only be grateful to Jason for my daughter.”
“But don’t you hate him for the way he deceived you and then deserted you?”
“No,” she admitted reluctantly, uncertain her brother would understand. “Not anymore. What possible good would that do?”
Apparently absorbed in thought, Lonny rubbed his hand along the back of his neck. Finally he said, “I don’t know; I suppose I want him to suffer for what he put you through. Some guy I’ve never even seen got you pregnant and walked away from you when you needed him most. It disgusts me to see him get off scot-free after the way he treated you.”
Unexpected tears pooled in Letty’s eyes at the protectiveness she saw in her brother. She blinked them away, and when she could speak evenly again, she murmured, “If there’s anything I learned in all those years away from home, it’s that there’s an order to life. Eventually everything rights itself. I don’t need revenge, because sooner or later, as the old adage says, what goes around comes around.”
“How can you be so calm about it, though?”
“Take your bath, Lonny,” she said with a quick laugh. She shoved a freshly folded towel at him. “You’re driving me crazy. And you say Cricket asks a lot of questions.”
Chase arrived a couple of hours later, stepping gingerly into the kitchen. He completely avoided looking at or speaking to Letty, who was busy preparing her and Cricket’s dinner. He walked past Letty but was waylaid by Cricket, who was coloring in her book at the dining room table.
Chase seemed somewhat short with the child, Letty noted, but Cricket had a minimum of ten important questions Chase needed to answer regarding Firepower. The five-year-old didn’t seem to mind that Chase was a little abrupt. Apparently her hero could do no wrong.
Soon enough Lonny appeared. He opened a can of beer, and Letty listened to her brother relate his hair-raising encounter with “the Fuller woman” at the stop sign in town as if he were lucky to have escaped with his life.
The two men were in the living room while Letty stayed in the kitchen. Chase obviously wanted to keep his distance, and that was just as well. He’d gone out of his way to irritate her lately, and she’d tolerated about all she could. Doing battle with Chase now would only deplete her energy. She’d tried to square things with him once, and he’d made his feelings abundantly clear. For now, Letty could do nothing but accept the situation.
“Where do you think we should eat?” Lonny asked, coming into the kitchen to deposit his empty beer can.
“Billy’s Steak House?” Chase called out from the living room. “I’m in the mood for a thick sirloin.”
Letty remembered that Chase had always liked his meat rare.
“How about going to the tavern afterward?” Lonny suggested. “Let’s see if there’s any action to be had.”
Letty didn’t hear the response, but whatever it was caused the two men to laugh like a couple of rambunctious teenagers. Amused, Letty smiled faintly and placed the cookie sheet with frozen fish sticks in the oven.
It wasn’t until later, while Letty was clearing away the dinner dishes, that the impact of their conversation really hit her. The “action” they were looking for at the Roundup Tavern involved women….Although she wouldn’t admit it to Lonny—and he’d never admit it himself—she suspected he might be hoping Joy Fuller would show up.
But Chase—what woman was he looking for? Would anyone do, so long as she wasn’t Letty? Would their encounter go beyond a few dances and a few drinks?
Her lips pursed, Letty marched into the living room and threw herself down on the overstuffed chair. Cricket was playing with her dolls on the carpet and Letty pushed the buttons on the remote control with a vengeance. Unable to watch the sitcom she usually enjoyed, she turned off the set and placed a hand over her face. Closing her eyes was a mistake.
Instantly she imagined Chase in the arms of a beautiful woman, a sexy one, moving suggestively against him.
“Oh, no,” Letty cried, bolting upright.
Letty’s pulse started to roar in her ears, drowning out reason. She looked at Cricket, playing so contentedly, and announced curtly, “It’s time for bed.”
“Yes….Remember, we have church in the morning,” she said.
“Will Chase be there?”
“I…I don’t know.” If he was, she’d…she’d ignore him, the way he’d ignored her.
Several hours later, Cricket was in bed asleep and Letty lay in her own bed, staring sightlessly into the dark. Her fury, irrational though it might be, multiplied with every passing minute. When she could stand it no longer, Letty hurried down the stairs and sat in the living room without turning on any lights.
She wasn’t there long before she heard a vehicle coming up the drive. The back door opened and the two men stumbled into the house.
“Shhhh,” she heard Chase whisper loudly, “you’ll wake Letty.”
“God forbid.” Lonny’s slurred words were followed by a husky laugh.
“You needn’t worry, I’m already awake,” Letty said righteously as she stood in the doorway from the dining room into the kitchen. She flipped on the light and took one look at her brother, who was leaning heavily against Chase, one arm draped across his neighbor’s neck, and snapped, “You’re drunk.”
Lonny stabbed a finger in her direction. “Nothing gets past you, does it?”
“I’ll get him upstairs for you,” Chase said, half dragging Lonny across the kitchen.
Lonny’s mood was jovial and he attempted to sing some ditty off-key, the words barely recognizable. Chase shushed him a second time, reminding him that Cricket was asleep even if Letty wasn’t, but his warning went unheeded.
Letty led the way, trudging up the stairs, arms folded. She threw open Lonny’s bedroom door and turned on the light.
Once inside, Lonny stumbled and fell across the bed, glaring up at the ceiling. Letty moved into the room and, with some effort, removed his boots.
Chase got a quilt from the closet and unfolded it across his friend. “He’ll probably sleep for the rest of the night.”
“I’m sure he will,” Letty said tightly. She left Lonny’s bedroom and hurried down the stairs. She was pacing the kitchen when Chase joined her.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked, frowning.
“How dare you bring my brother home in that condition!” she demanded, turning on him.
“You wanted me to leave him in town? Drunk?”
If he’d revealed the slightest amount of guilt or contrition, Letty might have been able to let him go without another word. But he stood in front of her, and all she could see was the imagined woman in that bar. The one he’d danced with…and kissed and—
Fury surged up inside her, blocking out sanity. All week he’d been baiting her, wanting to hurt her for the pain she’d caused him. Tonight he’d succeeded.
“I hate you,” she sobbed, lunging at him.
He grabbed her wrists and held them at her sides. “Letty, what’s gotten into you?”
She squirmed and twisted in his arms, frantically trying to free herself, but she was trapped.
She looked up at him, her face streaked with tears she didn’t care to explain, her shoulders heaving with emotion.
“You’re angry because Lonny’s drunk?” he whispered.
“No,” she cried, struggling again. “You went to that bar. You think I don’t know what you did, but—”
“What are you talking about?”
“You went to the Roundup to…to pick up some woman!”
Chase frowned, then shook his head. “Letty, no!”
“Don’t lie to me…don’t!”
“Oh, Letty,” he murmured. Then he leaned down to settle his mouth over hers.
The last thing Letty wanted at that moment was his touch or his kiss. She meant to brace her hands against his chest and use her strength to push him away. Instead, her hands inched upward until she was clasping his shoulders. The anger that had consumed her seconds before was dissolving in a firestorm of desire, bringing to life a part of her that had lain dormant from the moment she’d left Chase Brown’s arms nine years before.
Chase kissed her again and again while his hands roved up and down the curve of her spine as though he couldn’t get enough of her.
His touch began to soothe the pain and disappointment that had come into her life in their long years apart. She was completely vulnerable to him in that moment. She wanted him.
And Chase wanted her.
Whatever he’d intended to say was lost when his mouth covered hers with a hungry groan. Letty’s lips parted in eager response.
Denim and Diamonds by Debbie Macomber / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes