Authors: Lynda Chance
"Why can't you forget?
if I can let it go, why can't you?"
"You're confusing me so much. You're telling me you can forget about everything, but two seconds before that you said you want me for what? Restitution?" Katie couldn't stop the tremble in her voice. "You can s-see that you're confusing me, right?"
"Yeah, and I'm sorry. I realize that I'm not being very eloquent. I just want a chance with you."
"I can't, Zach. I can't have a relationship with you. Please don't ask me again."
"How can you not give me a chance? Do you think I'm not human? Do you think after what happened to me that I didn't have a right to react the way I did? I'm sorry, it was painful for me, and I took it out on you, but that was a long time ago." He scowled as his fingers clenched around her scalp. At her silence, his voice dropped. "Don't make this difficult. I know you're attracted to me,
I can feel it. And I want you."
"Zach, please don't . . . It's not . . . it's not what you're thinking."
"Do you think I don't know that you want me too? Do you think I can't feel your body tremble?" His hand dropped to her neck where he softly caressed the pulse point there. "Do you honestly think that I don't know that your eyes have always found me, every single time we've been within fifty feet of each other? For years?"
Oh, God, it was true.
As his gaze held hers and his question bled through, Katie was horrified that her body's reaction to his touch probably gave her away. Her head fell forward and her mouth tilted to the side in pained agreement, pained commiseration, before she could stop herself.
He interrupted her through gritted teeth. "You
want me. And I want you."
Her spine stiffened and she tightened her body, her tears drying up as deadly seriousness glittered from her eyes. "Well, you can't have me."
His eyes narrowed and his mouth clenched. "Yes."
She shook her head back and forth, her eyes glued to his.
"Stop being so damn stubborn."
"No, I won't. You can't have me. I don't want to be with . . . anybody."
At her uncompromising answer, bitterness highlighted his features and his smile became menacing. "I can't have you
. It will happen. I'm not going to just give up. But sweetheart, I'm warning you, the longer it takes, the longer you remain stubborn for no damn reason . . ." He clenched his teeth and whatever he was thinking in that moment remained unsaid before he expelled a breath and continued, "Don't do this. Don't refuse me. I've waited for you a long time. Let the past go and let me show you how good it could be between us." His eyes searched hers. "I'm not asking you for everything. Just some time to get to know each other better. I promise that I won't try to rush you into anything. Forget what I said earlier. Forget what I said about the money. You've got me so fucked up that I can't think straight. All I want is a chance with you. We'll start with dinner . . . nothing more."
Her head shook back and forth even though pain pierced her heart, even though she desperately wanted to agree. "No."
His eyes began pleading once again. "Baby, please."
She jerked her head from his grasp and pulled away from him before he screwed with her brain even more. "No, I can't. Not now. Not ever."
Katie slammed out of the apartment and Zach let his forehead drop to the door. A barrage of emotions inundated him all at once. Resentment, disappointment, fury. He was mad at himself; he was mad at Katie. She acted as if she had something against
, when he'd never done anything to her. His gut tightened as he admitted that wasn't true. He'd shown her animosity in the past. After the accident that had snuffed out his child's life, he'd been bitter. Bitter and furious, and Katie had been right there, where he had had easy access to her, and he'd taken out his frustration and anger on her. How many times would he have to apologize for that before she'd forgive him? Would she ever forgive him?
Redwood Falls, Texas
A few weeks later, Zach's hands were still tied and his frustration level was even higher. When he was in Redwood Falls, like today, the anger simmered to an even hotter degree, because everything he saw reminded him of Katie.
But he continued to come to town, and not only to see his family. Even though he spent the majority of his time in Dallas, he continued to do most of his banking in Redwood Falls, wanting to give as much of his business as he could to the small town.
As he walked up the steps of the bank he almost ran directly into Diana Turner, Katie's mother, who was leaving the premises.
The older woman had her head down, and when he reached out and steadied her, she looked up and he could see the tears gleaming in her eyes. At over forty, she was still very pretty, and she had a bit of Katie's look around the eyes, but studying her closely now, it was obvious that Katie had inherited her dark, sultry looks from her father's side of the family.
"Mrs. Turner, are you all right?" Zach had never felt any ill will toward the older woman, if anything, he had always felt a sliver of respect for her.
Her narrow shoulders trembled under his hands, and as she nodded her head, he realized that although she didn't resemble her daughter very much, their mannerisms were so impossibly alike that the relationship between them couldn't be denied.
"I'm fine, thanks."
Even as she answered him, she looked up, tears beginning to fall from her eyes, and it suddenly hit him that this was
mother and someone had upset her. "You're not okay." Zach twisted around and began leading her down the steps until they reached a bench in the shade, not far from the building. He gently pushed her down until she was seated. "It might help to talk about it."
"That's sweet, Zach, but I'm afraid nothing can help this situation."
"You never know, why don't you give it a shot? I've got time to burn."
Time to burn?
That was a joke. If she were anyone other than Katie's mom, he was afraid he'd have blown right past her on his way up the steps and never looked back.
She took a shuddering breath and hesitantly, began telling her story. As her words unfolded, Zach tried to listen with only compassion. But he couldn't. His cutthroat instincts were too sharp, and as he realized that his proverbial chess pieces were falling perfectly into place, he schooled his features carefully and tried like hell not to show the satisfaction that had his guts screaming with victory.
Of course, he'd attempt like hell
to call checkmate on Katie. That's not the way he wanted her. He wanted her soft and warm and willing.
But just in case
. This would be just in case he couldn't get her that way. This was exactly the insurance he needed to calm the frustration that had been eating him alive. Now he'd be able to sleep and eat and function like a reasonable man as he went through the motions of his life for the next few months while he continued to try to woo Katie into his bed.
Yeah, this was his ace, if he ever needed it. He held victory in the palm of his hand.
yeah, he smelled the scent of victory. And it smelled a lot like Katie's naked body in his bed.
So why was that a stab of guilt he was feeling in his gut?
Katie opened her dorm room after a sharp knock and saw the student who usually manned both the entrance to the dormitory and the information desk. The girl had a big smile on her face as she pushed a vase of roses toward Katie. "These came for you about an hour ago, but this is the first chance I've had to bring them up."
With a confused expression on her face, Katie reached out and took the bouquet from the other girl. "Are you sure? For me?"
"Yeah. Lucky you." The girl turned to go. "I've never gotten flowers delivered to me, and I've had a boyfriend for three years."
"Thanks," Katie said as the girl rushed off. Turning and shutting the door again, Katie set the vase on her chest of drawers and found the envelope. She slid her finger underneath to pop the seal, and almost had a heart attack when she read what the note contained.
The cardstock was off-white and embossed with gold filigree and the words were written in crooked, masculine handwriting.
Have dinner with me.
It was signed simply,
, and had a phone number underneath.
Katie looked at the roses for a few seconds almost as if she expected them to jump up and move, as if they weren't an inanimate object. She leaned down and touched the petals of one flower, and put her nose to them, smelling their deep, luscious scent. Visions of Zachary McIntyre rushed through her mind, and without quite realizing she was doing it, her finger moved back and forth across the handwritten message. As she touched the card, she was bombarded with the memory of him pleading with her to forget the past and to give him a chance. It made her heart constrict.
For a moment she wished she were a normal girl, and that she could accept his dinner invitation without a qualm. But she couldn't. Although she believed he'd let go of the pain in his past, or most of it, at least, she couldn't let go of hers.
If only there was a way to tell him that it wasn't anything personal against him. It was obvious that he didn't know what had happened to her, and she felt bad for not being able to call him and tell him.
But she couldn't, and she wasn't going to make herself do it. What she'd gone through at seventeen had been bad, and she wasn't ready to make herself take the first step in getting over it . . . not with a physical relationship, anyway.
She knew she was being a coward. She hated
a coward. But not facing Zach with the truth was far less of a cowardly act than when it had taken her months to go to the police about the attack. When other young girls had been in danger and she had been too scared to face what had happened to her, that had been . . . horrible. And so cowardly that she still cringed about it.
At the time, she'd been too shaken from the attack and had only wanted to hide in her room. She hadn't wanted to upset her parents; she'd told herself she was trying to protect them from the pain of knowing what she had gone through. And that had certainly been true. But she also hadn't wanted to face her attacker in a courtroom and have to go through the ordeal of testifying. It was shameful remembering that it wasn't until she'd found out the evil bastard had almost hurt Mandy and Hannah that she'd agreed to testify. And even that had been because Josh had prodded her so much. And even though Jesse Whitaker was in prison now, it would be a long time before Katie forgave herself for being such a coward for so long.
So really, not telling Zach the truth right now wasn't nearly as bad as the ball of misery in the pit of Katie's stomach was telling her that it was.
She'd tell him one day.
She really would.
But today wasn't the day.
A month later Katie received another dozen roses. The card was exactly the same except for one addition. Underneath the request that she join him for dinner, Zach had written the word
That word, seeming so stark, so vulnerable when she saw it written in his handwriting, desperately made her want to go out with him. Tears blurred her eyes as she saw his roughly handsome face in her mind's eye. She wished she were brave enough. She really did. Maybe he'd send flowers again next month. Maybe then she'd be ready.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks with the palms of her hands and inhaled deeply.
Yeah, she'd be ready next month.
On the sixth month, Katie got angry when the roses arrived. Why wouldn't he leave her alone? Why did he have to send her stupid flowers every month? All they did was make her wish she could go with him. They made her feel utterly ridiculous for not being brave enough to step out of the narrow box her world had become over the past few years. The roses made her look at herself in the mirror, and she didn't like who she saw there. There was absolutely no reason she should be afraid. But she was. Every month, when the roses came, they made her realize the depth of her insecurities and they made her remember things that she desperately wanted to forget.
And unfortunately, she began to build up a deeper resentment toward Zach with the passing of time.
Two and a half years later-Present Day
Redwood Falls, Texas: The Turner Farm
Katie sat at the kitchen table and stared in horror at her mother. "What did you just say?"
Diana Turner took a shuddering breath. "Zachary McIntyre is calling in our loan. We have thirty days to come up with the money or he'll foreclose on the farm."
Katie's stomach turned slightly queasy as the ramifications of that statement sank in. "Mom, how did this happen? What loan?" Katie paused as tension coiled in her stomach, making it spasm in cramps. "How much money?"