Denim and diamonds, p.7
Denim and Diamonds, p.7Debbie Macomber
She’d been back in Red Springs for several weeks, but she wasn’t truly home until Chase had taken her in his arms and kissed her. Now that she was with him, a peace settled over her. Whatever lay before her, life or death, she was ready, suffused with the serenity his embrace offered. Returning to this small town and the Bar E were only a tiny part of what made it so important to come home for her surgery. Her love for Chase had been the real draw; it was what had pulled her back, and for the first time she was willing to acknowledge it.
Letty burrowed her fingers into his hair, her eyes shut, her head thrown back. Neither she nor Chase spoke. They held on to each other as though they were afraid to let go.
A sigh eased from Letty as Chase lifted his head and tenderly kissed her lips. He brought her even closer and deepened his probing kiss until Letty was sure her knees were about to buckle. Then his mouth abandoned hers to explore the hollow of her throat.
Tears welled in her eyes, then ran unheeded down her cheeks. Chase pressed endless kisses over her face until she forgot everything but the love she’d stored in her heart for him.
When she was certain nothing could bring her any more pleasure than his kiss, he lowered his hand to her breast—
Cricket’s voice, coming from the top of the stairs, penetrated the fog of Letty’s desire. Chase apparently hadn’t heard her, and Letty had to murmur a protest and gently push him aside.
“Yes, darling, what’s wrong?” Her voice sounded weak even to her own ears as she responded to her daughter.
Chase stumbled back and raised a hand to his face, as if he’d been suddenly awakened from a dream. Letty longed to go to him, but she couldn’t.
“Uncle Lonny keeps singing and he woke me up!” Cricket cried.
“I’ll be right there.” Letty prayed Chase understood that she couldn’t ignore her daughter.
“Mommy!” Cricket called more loudly. “Please hurry. Uncle Lonny sings terrible!”
“Just a minute.” She retied her robe, her hands shaking. “Chase—”
“This isn’t the time to do any talking,” he said gruffly.
“But there’s so much we need to discuss.” She whisked the curls away from her face. “Don’t you think so?”
“Go take care of Cricket,” he said and turned away.
Letty’s heart was heavy as she started for the stairs. A dim light illuminated the top where Cricket was standing, fingers plugging her ears.
In the background, Letty heard her brother’s drunken rendition of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Another noise blended with the first as Chase opened the kitchen door and walked out of the house.
The next morning, Letty moved around downstairs as quietly as possible in an effort not to wake her brother. From everything she’d seen of him the night before, Lonny was going to have one heck of a hangover.
The coffee was perking merrily in the kitchen as Letty brushed Cricket’s long hair while the child stood patiently in the bathroom.
“Was Uncle Lonny sick last night?” Cricket asked.
“I don’t think so.” Letty couldn’t remember hearing him get out of bed during the night.
“He sounded sick when he was singing.”
“I suppose he did at that,” Letty murmured. “Or sickly, anyway.” She finished tying the bright red ribbons in Cricket’s hair and returned to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. To her astonishment, Lonny was sitting at the table, neatly dressed in a suit and tie.
“Morning,” he greeted her.
Although his eyes were somewhat bloodshot, Lonny didn’t look bad. In fact, he acted as though he’d gone sedately to bed at nine or ten o’clock.
Letty eyed him warily, unsure what to make of him. Only a few hours earlier he’d been decidedly drunk—but maybe not as drunk as she’d assumed. And Chase hadn’t seemed inebriated at all.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, studying him carefully.
Obviously his escapades of the night before hadn’t done him any harm. Unexpectedly he stood, then reached for his Bible, wiping the dust off the leather binding.
“Well, are you two coming to church with me or not?” he asked.
Letty was so shocked it took her a moment to respond. “Yes,…of course.”
It wasn’t until they’d pulled into the church parking lot that Letty understood her brother’s newly formed desire for religion. He was attending the morning service not because of any real longing to worship. He’d come hoping to see Joy Fuller again. The thought surprised Letty as much as it pleased her. Red Springs’ second-grade teacher had managed to reignite her brother’s interest. That made Letty smile. From the little Letty knew of the church organist, Joy would never fit Lonny’s definition of the dutiful wife.
The congregation had begun to file through the wide doors. “I want to sit near the front,” Lonny told Letty, looking around.
“If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to sit near the back,” Letty said. “In case Cricket gets restless.”
“She’ll be good today, won’t you, cupcake?”
The child nodded, clearly eager for her uncle’s approval. Lonny took her small hand in his and, disregarding Letty’s wishes, marched up the center aisle.
Groaning inwardly, Letty followed her brother. At least his choice of seats gave Letty the opportunity to scan the church for any sign of Chase. Her quick survey told her he’d decided against attending services this morning, which was a relief.
Letty had been dreading their next encounter, yet at the same time she was eager to talk to him again. She felt both frightened and excited by their rekindled desire for each other. But he’d left her so brusquely the night before that she wasn’t sure what to expect. So much would depend on his reaction to her. Then she’d know what he was feeling—if he regretted kissing her or if he felt the same excitement she did.
Organ music resounded through the church, and once they were settled in their pew, Letty picked up a hymnal. Lonny sang in his loudest voice, staring intently at Joy as she played the organ. Letty resisted the urge to remind him that his behavior bordered on rude.
When Joy faltered over a couple of notes, Lonny smiled with smug satisfaction. Letty moaned inwardly. So this was her brother’s game!
“Mommy,” Cricket whispered, standing backward on the pew and looking at the crowd. “Chase is here.”
Letty’s grip on the hymnal tightened. “That’s nice, sweetheart.”
“Can I go sit with him?”
“Cricket,” Letty pleaded. “Sit down and be quiet.”
“But I like Chase and I want to sit with him.”
“Maybe next week,” she said in a low voice.
“Can I ask him after the pastor’s done talking at everybody?”
Letty nodded, willing to agree to just about anything by then. The next time her brother insisted on sitting in the front pew, he would do so alone.
No worship service had ever seemed to take longer. Cricket fidgeted during the entire hour, eager to run and talk to Chase. Lonny wasn’t much better. He continued to stare at Joy and did everything but make faces at her to distract the poor woman. Before the service was half over, Letty felt like giving him a good, hard shake. Even as a young girl, she’d never seen her older brother behave more childishly. The only reason he’d come to church was to make poor Joy as uncomfortable as he possibly could.
By the time Letty was outside the church, Cricket had already found Chase. From his stiff posture, Letty knew he’d planned on escaping without talking to her, and the last thing he’d wanted was to be confronted by Cricket. Letty’s heart swelled with fresh pain. So this was how he felt.
He regretted everything.
Letty hastened to her daughter’s side a
“But I haven’t asked Chase if I can sit with him next week.”
“I’m sure he has other friends he’d prefer to sit with,” Letty answered, hiding her impatience.
“I can answer for myself.” Chase’s voice was clipped and unfriendly. “As it happens, Cricket, I think your mother’s right. It would be best if you sat with her in church.”
“Can’t you sit in the same row as us?”
Chase didn’t say anything for an awkward moment, but when he did, he looked past Letty. “Because I’d rather not.”
“Okay,” Cricket said, apparently accepting that without a problem.
“It’s time to go,” Letty said tersely. Only a few hours earlier, Chase had held her in his arms, kissed her and loved her with a gentleness that had fired her senses back to life. And in the light of a new day, he’d told her as plainly as if he’d shouted it from the church steps that it had all been a mistake, that nothing had changed and he didn’t want anything to do with her.
After all the hurt she’d suffered in California, Letty thought she was immune to this kind of pain. In the span of a few minutes, Chase had taught her otherwise.
Cricket raced ahead of Letty to Lonny’s truck and climbed inside. For his part, her brother seemed to be taking his time about getting back to the ranch. He talked to a couple of men, then finally joined Cricket and Letty.
“We’re ready anytime you are,” Letty said from inside the truck.
“In a minute,” he returned absently, glancing around before he got in.
Letty realized Lonny was waiting for Joy to make an appearance. The parking lot was nearly deserted now. There were only three other cars left, and Lonny had parked next to one of them, a PT Cruiser. Letty had no trouble figuring out that it belonged to Joy.
Lonny was sitting in the truck with the window down, his elbow resting on the frame, apparently content to laze away in the sunshine while he waited.
“Lonny?” Letty pressed. “Can we please go?” After the way he’d behaved in church, Letty had every intention of having a serious discussion with her brother, but she preferred to do it when Cricket wasn’t around to listen. She’d also prefer not to witness another embarrassing skirmish between him and Joy Fuller.
“It’ll only be another minute.”
He was right; the church door opened and Joy came out. She hesitated when she saw Lonny’s pickup beside her car.
“What are you going to say to her?” Letty whispered angrily.
“Oh, nothing much,” Lonny murmured back, clearly distracted. When Joy approached her car, Lonny got out of the pickup and leaned indolently against the side, bracing one foot on the fender.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Joy said scathingly.
She was nearly as tall as Lonny, her dark hair styled so it fell in waves around her face. Her cheeks were a rosy hue, and Letty couldn’t help wondering if confronting Lonny again was why they were so flushed.
“Do what?” Lonny demanded.
“Put your foot on that truck. You might damage your priceless antique.”
“I’ll have you know this truck isn’t even ten years old!”
Joy feigned shock, opening her eyes wide while she held her hand against her chest. “Is that so? I could’ve sworn you claimed otherwise only yesterday. But, then, it seems you have a problem keeping your facts straight.”
“You were impossible to talk to yesterday, and I can see today isn’t going to be any better.”
“Impossible?” Joy echoed. “Me? You were the one jumping up and down and acting like an idiot.”
“Me?” Lonny tilted back his head and forced a loud laugh. “That’s a good one.”
Joy ignored him and continued to her car.
Lonny dropped his foot and yanked open the truck door. “I thought we might be able to settle our differences, but you’re being completely unreasonable.”
“Perhaps I am, but at least I don’t throw temper tantrums in the middle of the street.”
“Yeah, but I know how to drive.”
“Based on what? Taking that…that unsafe rattletrap on a public road should be an indictable offense!”
“Rattletrap? Unsafe?” Lonny slapped his hat against his thigh. “Just who do you think you are, talking to me like that?”
“If you don’t like the way I talk, Mr. Rodeo Star, then stay away from me.”
“It’ll be my pleasure.”
Suddenly, Lonny couldn’t seem to get out of the parking lot fast enough. He gripped the steering wheel as if he were driving in the Indy 500.
“Lonny,” Letty ordered, “slow down.”
When he reached the end of the street, he drove off as if the very fires of hell were licking at his heels.
“Lonny!” Letty cried a second time. If he continued to drive in this manner, she’d walk home. “You’re driving like a maniac. Stop the truck this minute!”
“Didn’t I tell you that woman’s a living, breathing menace?” he snapped, but he reduced his speed. To his credit, he looked surprised by how fast he’d been traveling. “I swear she drives me over the edge.”
“Then do as she says and stay away from her,” Letty advised, shaking her head in wonder. But she doubted he would.
He ignored her comment. “Did you see the way she laid into me?”
“Lonny, you provoked her.”
“Then you didn’t see things the way they happened,” he muttered, shooting Letty a look of indignation. “I was only trying to be friendly.”
Her brother was as unreasonable as he’d claimed Joy was. “I like Joy and I think you were rude to her this morning,” Letty returned primly.
“Oh, honestly! The only reason you came to church was to intimidate her into making a mistake while she was playing the organ. When you succeeded, I thought you were going to stand up and cheer.”
Lonny cast her a frown that said Letty should consider counseling. “You’re totally wrong, little sister.”
Letty rolled her eyes. “Have you figured out why you feel so strongly?”
“Because she needs to be put in her place, that’s why!”
“And you think you’re the one to do it?”
“Damn right! I’m not about to let any woman get away with the things she said to me.”
“Calling this truck an antique or”— she grinned—“a rattletrap…well, they don’t exactly sound like fighting words to me.”
Lonny turned into the long, dusty drive leading to the house. “You women really stick together, don’t you?” he asked bitterly. “No matter how stupid you act.”
He pulled the truck into his usual spot. “Yeah. Like the fact that Joy Fuller doesn’t know how to drive and then blames me. And what about you? You’re the perfect example, taking off on some fool dream. Chase should never have let you go.”
“It wasn’t up to Chase to stop me or not. He couldn’t have, anyway—no one could. I wasn’t going to end up like Mom, stuck out here in no-man’s-land, working so hard….Why, she was little more than a slave.”
Lonny’s eyes widened as he turned to her. “That’s the way you see Mom?”
“You mean you don’t?” How could her brother be so blind? Their mother had worked herself into an early grave, sacrificing her talent and her dreams for a few head of cattle and an unforgiving land.
“Of course I don’t! Mom had a good life here. She loved the ranch and everything about it.”
“You’re so oblivious you can’t see the truth, can you? Mom hated it here, only she wasn’t honest enough to admit it, not even to herself.”
“And you hate it, too?” he asked, his voice dangerously quiet.
Lonny climbed out of the pickup and slammed the door. “No one asked you to come back, Letty. Y
Fueled by her anger, Letty stayed in the truck, tears streaming down her face. She and Lonny had both been furious and the conversation had quickly gotten out of control. She should never have said the things she did. And Lonny shouldn’t have, either. Now wasn’t the time to deal with the past.
“Mommy?” Cricket leaned against her mother, obviously confused and a little frightened. “Why was Uncle Lonny shouting at you?”
“He was angry, honey.”
“You were shouting at him, too.”
“I know.” She climbed out of the cab and helped Cricket clamber down. They walked into the house, and Lonny glared at her. She glared right back, surprised by how heated her response to him remained. In an effort to avoid continuing their argument, Letty went upstairs and changed her clothes. She settled Cricket with her activity book and crayons, then went outside and grabbed the hoe. Venting her frustration in the garden was bound to help. Once they’d both cooled down, they could discuss the matter rationally.
Lonny left soon afterward, barreling down the driveway as if he couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
She was happy to see him go.
Chase felt as though his world had been knocked off its axis and he was struggling with some unknown force to right it again.
Letty was to blame for this. A part of him yearned to take Letty in his arms, love her, care for her and make up to her for the pain and disappointment she’d suffered. Yet something powerful within him wouldn’t allow him to do it. He found himself saying and doing things he’d never intended.
Telling her he preferred not to sit beside her daughter in church was a prime example. The only reason he even attended was to be close to Letty. He rarely listened to the sermons. Instead, he sat and pretended Letty was the one sitting next to him. He thought about what it would be like to hear her lovely voice again as she sang. He imagined how it would feel to hold her hand while the pastor spoke.
Cricket had provided him with the perfect excuse to do those things. His pride wouldn’t have suffered, and he’d be doing something to appease the kid. No one needed to know that being with Letty was what he’d wanted all along.
Denim and Diamonds by Debbie Macomber / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes