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Authors: Brenda Jackson

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Chapter Nine
 

“You okay?” Dane asked Sienna as he walked toward her with a smile.

She nodded and cleared her throat. “Yes, why do you ask?”

“Because you’re looking at me funny.”

“Oh.” She was vaguely aware of him walking past her to kneel in front of the fireplace. She turned and watched him, saw him move the wood around before taking a match and lighting it to start a fire. He was so good at kindling things, whether wood or the human body.

“If you like, I can make something for dinner,” she decided to say, otherwise she would continue to stand there and say nothing while staring at him. It was hard trying to be normal in a rather awkward situation.

“What are our options?” he asked without looking around.

She chuckled. “An egg sandwich and tea. I made both earlier before the power went off.”

He turned at that and his gaze caught hers. A smile crinkled his eyes. “Do I have a choice?”

“Not if you want to eat.”

“What about those Girl Scouts cookies I found in your car?”

Her eyes narrowed. “They’re off limits. You can have one of the candy bars, but the cookies are mine.”

His mouth broke into a wide grin. “You have enough cookies to share so stop being selfish.”

He turned back around and she made a face at him behind his back. He was back to stoking the fire and her gaze went to his hands. Those hands used to be the giver of so much pleasure and almost ran neck to neck with his mouth…but not quite. His mouth was in a class by itself. But still, she could recall those same hands, gentle, provoking, moving all over her body; touching her everywhere and doing things to her that mere hands weren’t suppose to do. However, she never had any complaints.

“Did you have any plans for tonight, Sienna?”

His words intruded into her heated thoughts. “No, why?”

“Just wondering. You thought I had a date tonight. What about you?”

She shrugged. “No. As far as I’m concerned, until we sign those final papers I’m still legally married and wouldn’t feel right going out with someone.”

He turned around and locked his eyes with hers. “I know what you mean,” he said. “I wouldn’t feel right going out with someone else.”

Heat seeped through her every pore with his words. “So you haven’t been dating, either?”

“No.”

There were a number of questions she wanted to ask him—how he spent his days, his nights, what his family thought of their pending divorce, what he thought of it, was he ready for it to be over for them to go their separate ways—but there was no way she could ask him any of those things. “I guess I’ll go put dinner on the table.”

He chuckled. “An egg sandwich and tea?”

“Yes.” She turned to leave.

“Sienna?”

She turned back around. “Yes?”

“I don’t like being stranded, but since I am, I’m glad it’s with you.”

For a moment she couldn’t say anything, then she cleared her throat while backing up a couple of steps. “Ah, yeah right, same here.” She backed up some more then said, “I’ll go set out the food now.” And then she turned and quickly left the room.

Chapter Ten
 

Sienna glanced up when she heard Dane walk into the kitchen and smiled. “Your feast awaits you.”

“Whoopee.”

She laughed. “Hey, I know the feeling. I’m glad I had a nice lunch today in celebration. I took on a new client.”

Dane came and joined her at the table. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

She took a bite of her scrambled egg sandwich and a sip of her tea and then said, “It’s been a long time since you seemed genuinely pleased with my accomplishments.”

He glanced up after taking a sip of his own tea and stared at her for a moment. “I know and I’m sorry about that. It was hard being replaced by your work, Sienna.”

She lifted her head and stared at him, met his gaze. She saw the tightness of his jaw and the firm set of his mouth. He actually believed that something could replace him with her and knowing that hit a raw and sensitive nerve. “My work never replaced you, Dane. Why did you begin feeling that way?”

Dane leaned back in his chair, tilted his head slightly. He was more than mildly surprised with her question. It was then he realized that she really didn’t know. Hadn’t a clue. This was the opportunity that he wanted; what he was hoping they would have. Now was the time to put aside anger, bitterness, foolish pride and whatever else was working at destroying their marriage. Now was the time for complete honesty. “You started missing dinner. Not once but twice, sometimes three times a week. Eventually, you stopped making excuses and didn’t show up.”

What he’d said was the truth. “But I was working and taking on new clients,” she defended. “You said you would understand.”

“And I did for a while and up to a point. But there is a thing as common courtesy and mutual respect, Sienna. In the end I felt like I’d been thrown by the wayside; that you didn’t care anymore about us, our love or our marriage.”

She narrowed her eyes. “And why didn’t you say something?”

“When? I was usually asleep when you got home and when I got up in the morning you were too sleepy to discuss anything. I invited you to lunch several times, but you couldn’t fit me into your schedule.”

“I had appointments.”

“Yes, and I always felt because of it that your clients were more important.”

“Still, I wished you would have let me know how you felt,” she said, after taking another sip of tea.

“I did, several times. But you weren’t listening.”

She sighed deeply. “We used to know how to communicate.”

“Yes, at one time we did, didn’t we?” Dane said quietly. “But I’m also to blame for the failure of our marriage, our lack of communication. And then there were the problems you were having with my parents. When it came to you, I never hesitated letting my parents know when they were out of line and that I wouldn’t put up with their treatment of you. But then I felt that at some point you needed to start believing that what they thought didn’t matter and stand up to them.

“I honestly thought I was doing the right thing when I decided to just stay out of it and give you the chance to deal with them; to finally put them in their place. Instead, you let them erode away at your security and confidence to the point where you felt you had to prove you were worthy of them…and of me. That’s what drove you to be so successful, wasn’t it, Sienna? Feeling the need to prove something is what working all those long hours was all about, wasn’t it?”

Chapter Eleven
 

Sienna quickly got up from the table and walked to the window. It was turning dark but she could clearly see that things hadn’t let up. It was still snowing outside, worse than an hour before. She tried to concentrate on what was beyond that window and not on the question Dane had asked her.

“Sienna?”

Moments later she turned back around to face Dane, knowing he was waiting on her response. “What do you want me to say, Dane? Trust me, you don’t want to get me started since you’ve always known how your family felt about me.”

His brow furrowed sharply as he moved from the table to join her at the window, coming to stand directly in front of her. “And you’ve known it didn’t matter one damn iota. Why would you let it continue to matter to you?”

She shook her head, tempted to bare her soul but fighting not to. “But you don’t understand how important it was for your family to accept me, to love me.”

Dane stepped closer, looked into eyes that were fighting to keep tears at bay.

“Wasn’t my love enough, Sienna? I’d told you countless time that you didn’t marry my family, you married me. I’m not proud of the fact that my parents think too high of themselves and our family name at times, but I’ve constantly told you it didn’t matter. Why can’t you believe me?”

When she didn’t say anything, he sighed deeply. “You’ve been around people with money before. Do all of them act like my parents?”

She thought of her best friend’s family. The Steeles. “No.”

“Then what should that tell you? They’re my parents. I know that they aren’t close to being perfect but I love them.”

“And I never wanted to do anything to make you stop loving them.”

He reached up and touched her chin. “And that’s what this is about, isn’t it? Why you filed for a divorce. You thought that you could.”

Sienna angrily wiped at a tear she couldn’t contain any longer. “I didn’t ever want you to have to choose.”

Dane’s heart ached. Evidently she didn’t know just how much he loved her. “There wouldn’t have been a choice to make. You’re my wife. I love you. I will always love you. When we married, we became one.”

He leaned down and brushed a kiss on her cheek, then several. He wanted to devour her mouth, deepen the kiss and escalate it to a level he needed it to be, but he couldn’t. He wouldn’t. What they needed was to talk, to communicate to try and fix whatever was wrong with their marriage. He pulled back. It was hard when he heard her soft sigh, her heated moan.

He gave briefly into temptation and tipped her chin up and placed a kiss on her lips. “There’s plenty of hot water still left in the tank,” he said softly, stroking her chin. “Go ahead and take a shower before it gets completely dark, and then I’ll take one.”

He continued to stroke her chin when he added, “Then what I want is for us to do something we should have done months ago, Sienna. I want us to sit down and talk. And I mean to really talk; regain that level of communication we once had. And what I need to know more than anything is whether my love will ever be just enough for you.”

Chapter Twelve
 

“You’re my wife. I love you. I will always love you. When we married, we became one.”

Dane’s word flowed through Sienna’s mind as she stepped into the shower, causing a warm, fuzzy, glowing feeling to seep through her pores. Hope flared within her although she didn’t want it to. She hadn’t wanted to end her marriage, but when things had begun to get worse between her and Dane, she’d finally decided to take her in-laws suggestion and get out of their son’s life.

Even after three years of seeing how happy she and Dane were together, they still couldn’t look beyond her past. They saw her as a nobody; a person who had married their son for his money. She had offered to sign a prenuptial before the wedding and Dane had scoffed at the suggestion, refusing to even draw one up. But still, his parents had made it known each time they saw her just how much they resented the marriage.

And no matter how many times Dane had stood up to them and had put them in their place regarding her, it would only be a matter of time before they resorted to their old ways again, though never in the presence of their son. Maybe Dane was right, and all she’d had to do was tell his parents off once and for all and that would be the end of it, but she never could find the courage to do it.

And what was so hilarious with the entire situation was that she had basically become a workaholic to become successful in her own right so they could see her as their son’s equal in every way; and in trying to impress them she had alienated Dane to the point that eventually he would have gotten fed up and asked her for a divorce if she hadn’t done so first.

After spending time under the spray of water, she stepped out of the shower, intent on making sure there was enough hot water left for Dane. She tried to put out of her mind the last time she had taken a shower in this stall, and how Dane had joined her in it.

Toweling off, she was grateful she still had some of her belongings at the cabin to sleep in. The last thing she needed was to parade around Dane half naked. Then they would never get any talking done.

She slipped into a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants she found in one of the drawers. Dane wanted to talk. How could they have honest communication without getting into a discussion about his parents again? She crossed her arms trying to ignore the chill she was beginning to feel in the air. In order to stay warm they would both probably have to sleep in front of the fireplace tonight. She didn’t want to think about what the possibility of doing something like that meant.

While her cell phone still had life, she decided to let her best friend, Vanessa Steele, know that she wouldn’t be returning to Charlotte tonight. Dane was right. Not everyone with money acted like his parents. The Steeles, owner of a huge manufacturing company in Charlotte, were just as wealthy as the Bradfords. But they were as down-to-earth as people could get, which proved that not everyone with a lot of money are snobs.

“Hello?”

“Van, it’s Sienna.”

“Sienna, I was just thinking about you. Did you make it back before that snowstorm hit?”

“No, I’m in the mountains stranded.”

“What! Do you want me to send my cousins to rescue you?”

Sienna smiled. Vanessa was talking about her four single male cousins, Chance, Sebastian, Morgan and Donovan Steele. Sienna had to admit that besides being handsome as sin, they were dependable to a fault. And of all people, she, Vanessa and Vanessa’s two younger sisters, Taylor and Cheyenne, should know more than anyone since they had been notorious for getting into trouble while growing up and the brothers four had always been there to bail them out.

“No, I don’t need your cousins to come and rescue me.”

“What about Dane? You know how I feel about you divorcing him, Sienna. He’s still legally your husband and I think I should let him know where you are and let him decide if he should—”

“Vanessa,” Sienna interrupted. “You don’t have to let Dane know anything. He’s here, stranded with me.”

Chapter Thirteen
 

“How was your shower?” Dane asked Sienna when she returned to the living room a short while later.

“Great. Now it’s your turn to indulge.”

“Okay.” Dane tried not to notice how the candlelight was flickering over Sienna’s features, giving them an ethereal glow. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and for a long moment he stood there staring at her.

She lifted a brow. “What’s wrong?”

“I was just thinking how incredibly beautiful you are.”

Sienna breathed in deeply, trying to ignore the rush of sensations she felt from his words. “Thank you.” Dane had always been a man who’d been free with his compliments. Being apart from him made her realize that was one of the things she missed, among many others.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” he said before leaving the room.

When he was gone, Sienna remembered the conversation she’d had with Vanessa earlier. Her best friend saw her and Dane being stranded together on the mountain as a twist of fate that Sienna should use to her advantage. Vanessa further thought that for once, Sienna should stand up to the elder Bradfords and not struggle to prove herself to them. Dane had accepted her as she was and now it was time for her to be satisfied and happy with that; after all, she wasn’t married to his parents.

A part of Sienna knew that Vanessa was right, but she had been seeking love from others for so long that she hadn’t been able to accept that Dane’s love was all the love she needed. Before her shower he had asked if his love was enough and now she knew that it was. It was past time for her to acknowledge that fact and to let him know it.

 

Dane stepped out the shower and began toweling off. The bathroom carried Sienna’s scent and the honeysuckle fragrance of the shower gel she enjoyed using.

Given their situation, he really should be worried what they would be faced with if the weather didn’t let up in a couple of days with the little bit of food they had. But for now the thought of being stranded here with Sienna overrode all his concerns about that. In his heart he truly believed they would manage to get through any given situation. Now he had the task of convincing her of that.

He glanced down at his left hand and studied his wedding band. Two weeks ago when he had come here for his pity party, he had taken it off in anger and thrown it in a drawer. It was only when he had returned to Charlotte that he realized he’d left it here in the cabin. At first he had shrugged it off as having no significant meaning since he would be a divorced man in a month’s time anyway, but every day he’d felt that a part of him was missing.

In addition to reminding him of Sienna’s absence from his life, to Dane, his ring signified their love and the vows that they had made, and a part of him refused to give that up. That’s what had driven him back here this weekend—to reclaim the one element of his marriage that he refused to part with yet. Something he felt was rightfully his.

It seemed his ring wasn’t the only thing that was rightfully his that he would get the chance to reclaim. More than anything he wanted his wife back.

BOOK: Forged of Steele Bundle
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