Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In (13 page)

BOOK: Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In
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“Yes, a long time ago he did something bad.”

“Did he say he was sorry?”

“Yes, he did, but that isn't always enough.”

Chance's hands moved slowly, as if he wasn't quite sure what he wanted to say. “When I do something bad, I say I'm sorry. Then you kiss me, and you aren't mad anymore.”

“I guess that's true.”

“Kiss Neal and don't be mad at him anymore.”

“Oh, honey, I wish it were that easy,” she whispered, knowing he couldn't understand.

CHAPTER TWELVE

R
OBYN
FINISHED
HER
son's bath, dried him off, dressed him and left him in front of the TV with Clara before taking a pair of her father's pants and a shirt into the guest bedroom. The jeans would be short on Neal and big at the waist, but it would have to do until his own clothes could be washed and dried.

She heard the shower still running. The mere thought of Neal standing naked just beyond the closed door caused the heat to pool in her feminine core. She left the clothes on the foot of the bed and beat a hasty retreat.

The kitchen was spotless and smelled of pine cleaner. She heard the washing machine running in the utility room, and she realized he'd already put his clothes in to wash. Sometime in the past few years, he'd learned to clean up after himself.

She set about fixing a pot of coffee and thought about what Chance had said. If it was obvious to a child she was upset with Neal, then it would be obvious to everyone else. Did they wonder what caused her animosity? Were they the objects of speculation by Edward and Martha? The thought was an uncomfortable one.

Perhaps her son was simply more perceptive than she gave him credit for, and she was worrying about nothing. She poured herself a cup of black coffee and sipped it slowly.

If Neal said he was sorry, then she should kiss him and not be mad at him anymore. How simple Chance made it sound. She had used her anger with Neal like a shield to block out the loneliness of the nights without him. Her anger had carried her through the worst days of her life, letting her face tough choices. Maybe she'd let it drive her into making the wrong choices.

No, she wouldn't accept that. She had made the right decision and helped some wonderful people. She had to be satisfied with that knowledge. She had to be.

She didn't hear his barefoot tread, and she didn't know he was behind her until he spoke. “That smells good. Mind if I fix myself a cup?”

She jumped and sloshed hot coffee on her hand.

“Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Get some cold water on that.” He took her hand. She tried to pull away. He held on and drew her to the sink.

He turned on the faucet and held her hand under it. The sting of the hot coffee didn't begin to compare to the burn of her flesh where his hand was wrapped around her wrist. She could only hope he didn't notice how quickly her pulse began to pound.

As he concentrated on her hand, Robyn found herself studying him. His hair curled in tight, wet ringlets from his shower. A few traces of gray were beginning to appear at his temples. It was a sure sign that this man was older than the boy she had first fallen in love with. Crow's feet fanned out from the corner of his eyes, and laugh lines cut deep creases in his lean cheeks. A faint frown puckered his brow where the black band of his eye patch crossed it. She wanted to reach out and smooth those lines away. Quickly, she looked out the window and tried to regain some self-control.

“I can manage now.” She wished her voice didn't sound so weak and breathless. She tried to pull her hand away, but he wouldn't let go.

“I know you can. Why is it that I seem to hurt you without even trying?”

“It's nothing.” She pulled her hand free and turned away to blot it dry with a towel. “No harm done.”

“I wish I could believe that.”

She chose to ignore his comment. “Where did Mom and Edward have to go in such a hurry?”

“Edward got cut with an ax.”

She whirled to face him. “What?”

“He said it wasn't serious, but it was bleeding quite a bit. Your mom thought it needed stitches. She took him to the hospital.”

“Why didn't you tell me?” she demanded.

“I just did.” He seemed amazed at her anger.

“You should have told me right away.”

“I didn't want to say anything in front of Clara.”

“I hope Adam is on duty.” She pulled out her cell phone and dialed the hospital's number.

* * *

N
EAL
WATCHED
HER
worried face as she spoke into the phone and realized he had done it again. It didn't matter that he felt the injury wasn't serious or that he thought not frightening Clara was the best move. Robyn wouldn't give him a break. He was always the one in the wrong. He turned and left the room.

Chance got off the sofa and came to take Neal's hand when he paused in the doorway of the living room. At least someone wanted his company. Neal followed the boy to the sofa and sat beside him. Chance handed him a book and Neal frowned. A poignant stab of regret filled him. Shaking his head sadly, he said, “I'm sorry, I can't even read to you.”

How many hours had his mother spent reading stories and making up tall tales to the delight of Neal and Jake when they were young? Their father had featured heavily in the stories their mother had created. On their father's rare visits home, he'd never measured up to the hero their mother made him out to be.

Had his dad regretted those lost opportunities? The pursuit of a world-championship title was lonely work, no matter how many people watched from the stands.

Chance opened his book to a page with a picture of a horse. He cupped one hand by his forehead and tipped it down twice.

Neal stared at him with a puzzled frown for a moment, and then he smiled. Repeating the sign, he pointed to the picture in the book.

Chance's face broke into a wide grin as he nodded. Turning to the next page, he pointed to a picture of a woman holding a small boy by the hand. Beneath the picture was the word
mother.
Chance held his hand upright with his fingers splayed and touched his thumb to his chin.

Neal repeated the gesture and pointed to the picture and then to a photograph of Robyn holding Chance that sat on the mantel. Chance nodded quickly.

Neal pointed to Clara dozing in her chair in front of the TV. Chance used the same gesture only he lowered his hand slightly twice. Neal repeated it, and Chance patted his cheek. Neal knew the sign meant grandmother. This wasn't so hard. And Chance was a good teacher.

Soon they had covered all the pictures in the small book and all the furniture in the room. Pulling Neal by the hand, Chance led him out the back door.

Neal hesitated. Should he let the boy go outside without telling Robyn? He could still hear her talking on the phone in the kitchen. She was probably making another date with her doctor friend. A burst of resentment hit Neal hard. Chance tugged at his hand again.

Neal gave in and allowed the boy to lead him outside. With Robyn in a mood today, it might be better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

It was amazing how many of the signs made perfect sense once he understood what Chance was doing. Neal didn't expect to remember all the ones the boy showed him, but it was a start. They made their way around the ranch building with Neal pointing at something and Chance showing him the sign. Sometimes Neal got it wrong and Chance laughed. He opened his mouth wide, and his eyes crinkled like he was laughing, but he didn't make a sound. It was strange but cute.

They were lying side by side on the soft hay in the barn, peering under an old wooden crate and watching a gray tabby cat nurse her four black-and-white kittens when Robyn found them.

“What do you think you are doing?” she demanded.

Neal looked up at her scowling face. “Learning sign language.”

Raising his hand, he touched his thumb and forefinger together at his upper lip and pulled on imaginary whiskers. “This means cat.”

“I know what it means.” She knelt and touched Chance to get his attention. “I have been looking everywhere for you,” she scolded. “You know you are never, never to leave the house without telling me.”

He signed in return.

Shaking her head, she answered, “I don't care if you are teaching Neal to sign. This is our most important rule, and you broke it. You go to your room. Now.”

His bottom lip trembled as he stood up. He gave Neal a small wave and walked toward the house with lagging steps.

“Look, I didn't mean to get the kid in trouble. He just wanted to show me the kittens. We didn't hear you calling.”

“I wasn't calling. My son is deaf, remember? He isn't like other children who can go out to play and then come running when their mother calls. He can't hear the tractor backing up or a car coming into the yard or a horse galloping toward him. I have to know where he is every minute.”

“You knew he was with me.”

She stood and brushed her hands together. “Truthfully, that didn't make me feel better.” She stalked out of the barn and left him lying on the floor.

“So, wrong again, cowboy,” Neal muttered, watching her walk away. At this rate, she'd learn to trust him about when hell froze over. Damn, she made him mad.

He jumped to his feet and yelled, “Your son may be deaf, but I'm not. All you had to do was call for me. Why is that so hard for you to do?”

She stopped walking, and his hopes rose.

He took a step closer. “I will keep your secret. I respect your decision even if I don't agree with it.”

If she would just talk to him... But she didn't turn around. She marched on, leaving him fuming and sorry all at the same time.

* * *

R
OBYN
DID
HER
best to avoid Neal for the next several days, but every time she turned around, he was there. If she was cleaning out a stall, he grabbed a pitchfork and started on the one beside her. If she was painting the picket fence, he found a brush and started on the other side of the same picket. He rarely spoke. She had to admit he worked hard.

She soon ran out of excuses to disappear each time he began to help. She couldn't ignore the speculative glances that Edward and her mother cast whenever she stomped away from Neal. For some reason, she couldn't bring herself to tell them Neal had cheated on her when they were together. She could hold that against him, but it didn't seem fair to malign him to others. Her behavior afterward wasn't beyond reproach, either.

The real trouble was that every time she did manage to get away from Neal, he was all she could think about.

Her mother took her to task for her rude behavior the fourth day after Neal showed up. Planting her hands on her ample hips, Martha glared at Robyn.

“Young lady, what is the matter with you? You're acting like that boy has the plague or something.”

Sweeping the porch steps with quick, short strokes, Robyn said, “I don't know what you're talking about.”

Martha stepped on the bristles of the broom, halting Robyn's progress and forcing her to look up.

“Can you see the amount of work he's gotten done in just three days?” Martha demanded.

Robyn's chin came up. “It's nothing I couldn't have done by myself.”

Pointing toward the corral, Martha said, “He's been digging post holes all morning in the hot sun. Are you eager to do that?”

“No,” she admitted reluctantly.

“Neither am I, but it has to get done. You know we need a good price for this place. If we get what I'm hoping for at the auction, there'll be enough money to pay our debts and maybe, just maybe, enough to send you to that school in Colorado.”

Startled, Robyn stared at her mother in astonishment. “How did you know about that?”

“Dr. Cain told me.”

The application lay in Robyn's desk drawer. Sometimes she took it out and studied it, trying to figure out a way she could afford to go, but it was no use. Short of winning the lottery, they simply wouldn't have enough money to live on while she went to school, and the deadline for the scholarship application was only a month away. Adam had offered to loan her the money. While she knew he meant well, she simply couldn't accept the money from him.

“Don't you see, Robyn?” her mother went on. “To get top dollar for this place, it's going to have to be in top shape. We can't do that without Neal's help.”

Her mother was right. The place needed more fixing up than the two women could manage. She'd have to put up with Neal's presence. For a little while.

That evening her mother insisted Neal stay for supper again, and Robyn spent an uncomfortable hour seated across from him, feeling his eye on her the whole time.

Chance, on the other hand, couldn't get enough of Neal's company. Her son was turning into Neal's constant shadow. To her surprise, Neal made an effort to include the boy at every turn.

He never made the mistake of taking Chance without asking her permission again. He made sure she knew where they would be. She tried not to worry about Chance while he was out of her sight, but she couldn't help it.

Today, Neal and Chance were fixing some of the dozen broken boards on the corral fence. Instead of making an inventory of all the tack in the barn like she was supposed to be doing, she found herself watching the pair through the open barn door.

Neal pried the broken and rotted boards loose from the fence posts and showed Chance how to measure the length of boards they would need. He was more patient than she would have believed as he showed the boy how to mark and cut the wood. His large hand curled around her son's small one as they drew the saw back and forth.

The sight filled her with a painful longing. Was this the way things might have been if she had told him the truth?

Neal gave Chance the heavy wood to hold in place while he drove in the first nail. She had to force herself not to run out and help her son. His little arms strained to hold the board still, but his happy grin when Neal patted his head made her realize he wouldn't have appreciated her interference.

“He's really good with Chance, isn't he?”

Robyn turned to find her father-in-law behind her. His forehead sported a nasty bruise and a bandage over his stitches.

“I guess.” She began sorting the various bridles, bits and cinches into piles on the long workbench.

BOOK: Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In
8.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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