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       Ryan's Hand, p.21

           Leila Meacham
 
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  “Of course I am. I told you last night after I brought you your cocoa.”

  “But you were speaking of your fiancée!”

  “I was speaking of you, querida, though you obviously didn’t realize it. Of the woman I am going to marry.”

  “What about Sonya Jeffers?” she cried. Querida! He called her querida, sweetheart!

  “I haven’t been engaged to Sonya Jeffers since I left you in your sickbed to go to Dallas to break our engagement. At the time, I still hadn’t figured out all the puzzle, but I wasn’t going to marry any other woman feeling the way I did about you.”

  “Jeth…” Cara’s arms flew around his neck. Tears shone in her eyes. “That’s what you meant that night in the car when we were on our way back from the hospital. I asked you what you thought of a man who tried to seduce one woman when he was engaged to another, and you said…you said…”

  “I remember what I said,” Jeth said with a wry smile. “And naturally you took the opposite of my meaning.”

  “But you had just told me I’d been a prisoner at La Tierra!”

  “That was a desperate move to keep you there. You’d just said that you were homesick for Boston, and I was scared that you’d leave before I could undo all the harm I’d done. By then I was head over heels in love with you, and I had to keep you there to somehow salvage the damage. I should have known I couldn’t scare you into staying.”

  “It wasn’t Boston I was homesick for. I was sick about having to leave La Tierra, which by then was home to me. But you became so cold to me after that, Jeth. I thought…I thought…you’d just been kind to me during a time when there was no one else to help you. When I was no longer of use to you, I thought you had rejected me.”

  “Oh, honey—” Jeth pulled her tightly to him as if he were afraid she might disappear into thin air. “That was sheer self-preservation. You told me that night you hated me. I believed you. I couldn’t imagine how you could even like me after all I’d done to you, much less love me. Then I began seeing some signs, and remembering others, that told me otherwise.”

  Cara said in a muffled voice against his chest, “Probably one of them was that time you heard me crying my heart out in the cemetery. I knew you had heard me.”

  “There was a message in your torment, Cara. You left me messages all year, had I chosen to read them—like that discarded calender of yours that I found a few months after you’d been at La Tierra. You had marked the days very black at first, with heavy crisscrosses that reflected your anger and desire for the year to be over. Then gradually the marks had become fainter, almost reluctant. After a while, you hadn’t marked the days at all. Then you threw away the calendar.

  “But the final proof I had of your feelings was the despair I heard in the way you played ‘MacArthur Park.’ I’d just brought Devil’s Own down from the mountains. That’s why I was in the study at that time of day. And then this morning when you set Devil’s Own free after giving me that little speech about him, when you got so hopping mad at me for capturing him, I knew then, lovely lady, that I had you, that you were mine. You identified with that horse. You wanted him to be free, unbranded, as you never would be again. I intended telling you all of this tonight when I proposed—”

  Wide-eyed, Cara looked up to interrupt him. “Do you still plan to?”

  “Try to stop me. Try to say no.”

  “You kissed me while I was sleeping last night, didn’t you?” And cried, too, thought Cara. Imagine: Jeth Langston crying!

  “Yes, just like I’m looking forward to doing when you are sleeping, and I want to wake you to—” His arms tightened. “I have loved you, Cara Martin, since the day I first saw you in my attorney’s office. You were exactly—the very image of the woman I had always dreamed of—the woman I wanted to marry. I thought I was dreaming. After I’d held you, kissed you, touched you, you were like a fever in my blood. It nearly destroyed me to think that, as much as I loved Ryan, he had gotten to you first.”

  “But he didn’t!” Cara protested.

  “Shh, I know that now, sweetheart, though it took me longer than it should have to realize it. Once I did, everything else fell into place. Even as late as the evening we were driving back from the hospital, I still couldn’t believe you hadn’t been Ryan’s mistress. By then, I didn’t care anymore. I just knew that I loved you and that after you there would never be anyone else for me.”

  “When,” Cara asked, “did you believe the truth about me?”

  “I’m ashamed to say, honey, that it was only yesterday when you were playing ‘MacArthur Park.’ I was sitting in the study thinking how everything I felt about you was in that song. Then it hit me like the kick of a mule that you were playing it to express how you felt about me! In that moment, I think, I saw the whole picture clearly. All along there had been two conflicting points that I could never reconcile: Ryan, I knew, would never have loved a tramp—not enough to leave her half of La Tierra. But Ryan, I also knew, could never have kept his hands off you. Being a man myself, I just couldn’t let go of that idea. But then when I looked at that part of the equation from the viewpoint of a brother, then I knew what Ryan had done…”

  Cara lifted her head to look at him inquiringly. “What exactly had he done?” she asked softly.

  “Shortly after he found out he was dying, he met you, Cara—”

  “In the library,” she offered, “a little over two years ago.”

  “He saw in you the woman he knew I’d always wanted, needed, would especially need after he was gone. He decided you would be his gift to me, his final gift of love, to ease the pain of his death.”

  “Of course…” Cara whispered sadly, thinking of all those times she had wondered at their relationship, all the conversations in which Ryan had tried to defend and explain his older brother to her.

  “So he spent his remaining time setting the scene, so to speak. He bought you beautiful clothes to make you even more appealing to me. He arranged a will that would force us to be together and keep us together in spite of the obstacles. And then he extracted that promise from you that would finish setting us up—”

  “He told me I’d need courage,” Cara murmured.

  “Which you had, honey, plenty of it. God, when I think of what I did to you—how I made you suffer! But if you hadn’t, Cara, I would have been without some other pieces to the puzzle. Why, I kept asking myself, would a girl like you take such abuse to simply stay at La Tierra for room and board? Why didn’t you ever throw your weight around as half owner? Why didn’t you ever ask to see the land, the oil, the water rights you’d inherited? Why, I asked, if you hadn’t been Ryan’s mistress, did he leave you half of La Tierra?

  “By the time the roundup was over, I had just about decided that Ryan and you had made some sort of contract. I was willing to believe that you were telling me the truth about your never having been lovers. You were so damned innocent looking, and I was already so gone over you, and I wanted so desperately to believe you. Then you threw me that curve that day in the garden—”

  “I had to, Jeth,” Cara interrupted. “I had to make you not want me; otherwise, you’d have made love to me. According to the newspaper article, you were just waiting for the estate to be settled to be married. I thought you only wanted to make love to me so that you could get me to sign the papers so you could marry Sonya. I knew that I’d sign those papers. And then I couldn’t have stayed at La Tierra. I couldn’t have fulfilled my promise to Ryan.”

  Jeth let out a short, incredulous whistle through his teeth. “We called an awful lot of the shots wrong, didn’t we? Still, I should have figured out the whole puzzle at Christmas when you told me that during the summer you’d read of my engagement to Sonya. I spent most of the holidays searching through the summer editions of the Dallas Morning News trying to find that damned article. When I did, I pinpointed its release to the day that you put on that very convincing performance for me in your garden. I hoped, of course, that it had been more than hurt
pride that had made you behave that way—confess to being Ryan’s mistress. But by that time, I’d abused you so…I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in hell of ever winning you again.”

  Cara reached up to stroke his hard cheek. “Sonya was one of the casualties you were referring to when you told me that Jim had been a minor one, wasn’t she?”

  Jeth nodded. “I’m afraid so. She’s a fine woman. I’ve known her family all of my life, and I’ve always known how Sonya felt about me, how she was hoping someday to become mistress of La Tierra. When Ryan died, I was suddenly so—so alone. She was there. Someone I could trust, someone I could take for granted…If you hadn’t come along, I would have married her. Ryan knew that, too, of course. He knew I would have turned to her for solace.”

  Cara buried her face in Jeth’s shoulder, feeling a surge of sympathy for the girl who had come so close to marrying the man of her dreams only to lose him in the eleventh hour. “You know now,” she said gently after a while, “why Ryan didn’t tell you he was dying, why he didn’t go home to be with you in his last days…”

  “Yes, honey, I know,” Jeth said against her hair. “I would have found out about the will and taken steps to contest it. And then I would never have met you, never known you, never loved you. Ryan was so convinced of your integrity that he knew I’d get the land back anyhow.” His voice broke suddenly. “But, Cara, he fell in love with you himself along the way. What that must have been like for him, knowing that he could never have you, never touch you—”

  “Let’s read his letter,” Cara suggested, her eyes growing moist, and reached for the long envelope in Jeth’s jacket pocket. She also slipped out another of the white monogrammed handkerchiefs.

  “I come with a lifetime supply of those.” Jeth grinned. “Not, I hope, that you’ll have many occasions to use them.”

  Ryan spoke to them, Cara decided as Jeth read, not from the grave, but from wherever it was that he watched over them, had watched over them from the beginning. As Jeth had suspected, the letter was addressed to both of them. Tears spilled down her cheeks when Jeth’s voice broke, and she stole her hand into his to comfort him. In the ironical, lighthearted banter that she remembered, Ryan explained how he had set in motion the events, when he knew he was dying, that would lead the two of them to love. “Sonya’s a good girl,” Ryan wrote, “but marriage with her would never fulfill you, Jeth. The girl beside you is the only one for you.” The letter closed with declarations of love for both of them and the dry wish that someday there might be a noisy assortment of little Langstons to make the rooms of the big house “less like those of a mausoleum.”

  “Quite a man, wasn’t he?” Jeth said when he had finished the letter.

  “Quite a man,” Cara agreed. “One to name our first son after.”

  “Cara—” Jeth’s eyes were shining. “I love you with all my heart. The losses are over now. The tears are done. Ryan can rest in peace.” And he lowered his head to claim the lips of the woman he loved.

  About the Author

  Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the bestselling author of the novels Roses, Tumbleweeds, Somerset, and Titans. For more information, you can visit LeilaMeacham.com.

  Also by Leila Meacham

  Roses

  Tumbleweeds

  Somerset

  Titans

  ACCLAIM FOR THE NOVELS OF

  LEILA MEACHAM

  TITANS

  “The novel has it all: a wide cast of characters, pitch-perfect period detail, romance, plenty of drama, and skeletons in the closet (literally). Saga fans will be swooning.”

  —Booklist (starred review)

  “It has everything any reader could want in a book…epic storytelling that plunges the reader headfirst into the plot…[Meacham] is a titan herself.”

  —Huffington Post

  “Emotionally resounding…Texas has never seemed grander…Meacham’s easy-to-read prose helps to maintain a pace that you won’t be able to quit, pushing through from chapter to chapter to find the next important nugget of this dramatic family tale. It is best savored over a great steak with a glass of wine and evenings to yourself.”

  —BookReporter

  SOMERSET

  “Bestselling author Meacham is back with a prequel to Roses that stands on its own as a sweeping historical saga, spanning the nineteenth century…[Fans] and new readers alike will find themselves absorbed in the family saga that Meacham has proven—once again—talented in telling.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Entertaining…Meacham skillfully weaves colorful history into her lively tale…Somerset has its charms.”

  —Dallas Morning News

  “Slavery, westward expansion, abolition, the Civil War, love, marriage, friendship, tragedy, and triumph—all the ingredients (and much more) that made so many love Roses so much—are here in abundance.”

  —San Antonio Express-News

  “A story you do not want to miss…[Recommended] to readers of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Somerset has everything a compelling historical epic calls for: love and war, friendship and betrayal, opportunity and loss, and everything in between.”

  —BookPage

  “4½ stars! This prequel to Roses is as addictive as any soap opera…As sprawling and big as Texas itself, Meacham’s epic saga is perfect for readers who long for the ‘big books’ of the past. There are enough adventure, tears, and laughter alongside colorful history to keep readers engrossed and satisfied.”

  —RT Book Reviews

  TUMBLEWEEDS

  “[An] expansive generational saga…Fans of Friday Night Lights will enjoy a return to the land where high school football boys are kings.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Meacham scores a touchdown…You will laugh, cry, and cheer to a plot so thick and a conclusion so surprising, it will leave you wishing for more. Yes, Meacham is really that good. And Tumbleweeds is more than entertaining, it’s addictive.”

  —Examiner.com

  “If you’re going to a beach this summer, or better yet, a windswept prairie, this is definitely a book you’ll want to pack.”

  —Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA)

  “[A] sprawling novel as large as Texas itself.”

  —Library Journal

  “Once again, Meacham has proven to be a master storyteller…The pages fly by as the reader becomes engrossed in the tale.”

  —Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)

  ROSES

  “Like Gone with the Wind, as gloriously entertaining as it is vast…Roses transports.”

  —People

  “Meacham’s sweeping, century-encompassing, multigenerational epic is reminiscent of the film Giant, and as large, romantic, and American a tale as Texas itself.”

  —Booklist

  “Enthralling.”

  —Better Homes and Gardens

  “The story of East Texas families in the kind of dynastic gymnastics we all know and love.”

  —Liz Smith

  “Larger-than-life protagonists and a fast-paced, engaging plot…Meacham has succeeded in creating an indelible heroine.”

  —Dallas Morning News

  “[An] enthralling stunner, a good, old-fashioned read.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “A thrilling journey…a treasure…a must-read. Warning: Once you begin reading, you won’t be able to put the book down.”

  —Examiner.com

  “[A] sprawling novel of passion and revenge. Highly recommended…It’s been almost thirty years since the heyday of giant epics in the grand tradition of Edna Ferber and Barbara Taylor Bradford, but Meacham’s debut might bring them back.”

  —Library Journal (starred review)

  “A high-end Thorn Birds.”

  —TheDailyBeast.com

  “I ate this multigenerational tale of two families warring it up across Texas history
with the same alacrity with which I would gobble chocolate.”

  —Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of

  gods in Alabama and Backseat Saints

  “A Southern epic in the most cinematic sense—plot-heavy and historical, filled with archaic Southern dialect and formality, with love, marriage, war, and death over three generations.”

  —Caroline Dworin, “The Book Bench,” NewYorker.com

  “This sweeping epic of love, sacrifice, and struggle reads like Gone with the Wind with all the passions and family politics of the South.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “The kind of book you can lose yourself in, from beginning to end.”

  —Huffington Post

  “Fast-paced and full of passions…This panoramic drama proves evocative and lush. The plot is intricate and gives back as much as the reader can take…Stunning and original, Roses is a must-read.”

  —TheReviewBroads.com

  “May herald the overdue return of those delicious doorstop epics from such writers as Barbara Taylor Bradford and Colleen McCullough…a refreshingly nostalgic bouquet of family angst, undying love, and ‘if only’s.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Superbly written…a rating of ten out of ten. I simply loved this book.”

  —A Novel Menagerie

  In the sweeping tradition of the New York Times bestselling Roses, Leila Meacham delivers another grand yet intimate novel set against the rich backdrop of early twentieth-century Texas. In the midst of this transformative time in Southern history, two unforgettable characters emerge and find their fates irrevocably intertwined as they love, lose, and betray.

  Turn the page for a preview of

  TITANS

  On sale now.

 
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