Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In (7 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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“A sheet? Why would you bring a sheet?”

“In case I needed to cover your dead body.”

He arched one eyebrow. “There's a fun thought.”

“A sheet can be torn into strips for bandages or splints.”

“You're quite the little Girl Scout, aren't you?” Always prepared. That was Robyn.

“Disaster nurse, actually.” She anchored the corners of the sheet with stones, then stood and brushed off her hands. She surveyed him for a long moment. “I'd say you qualify as a disaster.”

“Ha-ha! I don't suppose you packed anything really useful, like a hamper filled with fried chicken and potato salad?”

He hated to let on that her ingenuity impressed him as he moved onto the smooth cotton material. The thick grass underneath made a comfortable bed. He stretched out and folded his arms behind his head.

She went back to the saddlebag, then tossed a small red foil packet onto his stomach. “Sorry, all I have are a couple of granola bars. I didn't have time to go grocery shopping before I rode to your rescue.”

She dropped cross-legged onto the sheet beside him and began to unwrap hers. He rolled onto his side and propped his head on his hand. For a long moment, he studied her face. “I don't believe I've thanked you for that.”

She looked away. “No need.”

He touched his eye patch. “Thanks, Tweety. Not just for today, but for that night, too. It helped knowing you were there.”

She continued to stare at the wrapper in her hand.

“Does it bother you?” he asked.

She shot him a puzzled look. “What?”

“You know—my face.” He lay back, crossed his arms behind his head again and waited tensely for her reply.

“Yes and no.”

“Oh, that was helpful,” he scoffed.

She stretched out beside him. “You didn't let me finish. Do you remember when my hair was really long?”

He glanced at her. How could he forget? “It was down to your waist, and you wore it pulled back in a ponytail or a braid most of the time, but you looked stunning when you wore it loose.”

“Thanks. Do you remember the first time I had it cut?”

He smiled. “You looked like a French poodle. I never knew it was so curly.”

She nodded and turned to face him. “I swear, for the first two weeks, every time I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, I didn't recognize me. It was like looking at a stranger.”

Neal sobered as he gazed into her green eyes. They were filled with sympathy and understanding. Or maybe it was pity.

He lay back and stared at the branches overhead.
Please, don't let it be pity.

“You look different, Neal, but I'm getting used to it.”

“This ain't exactly a bad haircut.” He tried to control the bitterness in his voice.

“No, it's not,” she said quietly. “But underneath that bad haircut, I was the same girl, and underneath that eye patch, you are the same man.”

He was silent for a long time as he stared at the green canopy overhead. The branches swayed and dipped in the hot, dry breeze. A single leaf fluttered down, and his gaze followed it as it landed like a tiny boat on the surface of the pond. “I wonder if that's true,” he said at last.

She cupped his cheek with her hand and turned his face toward her. “I know it's true,” she insisted gently.

She was so close. He could feel the warmth of her beside him. The wind lifted the ends of her drying hair and let it curl softly at the edge of her face. God, he had missed her. Only she could make him feel whole again.

He captured the hand on his cheek and pressed a kiss against her soft palm. She didn't pull away. He saw her eyes widen and her lips part with surprise. He pulled her toward him until those lips touched his.

* * *

R
OBYN
FELT
THE
world spin out of focus as Neal's mouth closed over hers. All the pent-up emotions of the day—worry, fear, the memory of the closeness they'd once shared—they all tumbled through her mind, leaving her incredibly vulnerable. Did she still love him? How was that possible?

She couldn't seem to draw away. His arms encircled her and pulled her closer. It felt so right to lie against him. She remembered this: the taste of him and the feel of him. It had been so long.

His mouth left hers to nuzzle her neck. He nipped her earlobe gently and soothed the tiny bite with his tongue. She shuddered with pleasure.

“Oh, girl, I've missed you. Why did I ever let you go?” His voice, husky and deep, sent shivers down her spine as his hold on her tightened. His mouth closed over hers once more in a hard kiss that silenced any reply she could have uttered.

The long kiss ended at last, leaving them both breathless and panting. He pressed his lips to her temple and whispered, “I don't know what went wrong between us, but give me another chance, honey. We can work it out—I know we can.”

Another chance?
The words doused her passion like a bucket of ice water.

What was she doing? Had she completely lost her mind?

“Stop,” she muttered weakly. She began to struggle in his embrace.

CHAPTER SIX

“L
ET
GO
OF
ME
!
” Robyn shoved against Neal's chest.

“Honey, what's wrong?” His hold slackened, but he didn't release her.

“I can't do this.”

“I don't understand.”

She heard the confusion in his voice, and she knew it was her fault. How could she have let things get so far out of hand?

“Tell me what's the matter,” he pleaded.

For an instant, she was tempted, so tempted, but she couldn't. She called up every ounce of anger she once felt toward him and struggled harder. “I said, let go of me!”

“Not until you tell me what I did that upset you. Talk to me.”

“You don't want to talk,” she spat. “You just want to get laid.”

He let go of her, and she tumbled backward. “Well, excuse me for the misunderstanding. Two seconds ago, you were climbing on top of me and sticking your tongue down my throat. What was I supposed to think you wanted?”

She clasped trembling arms across her middle as she rose to her feet and backed away from him. “I'm sorry. It was a mistake.”

He raked his hands through his hair, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don't believe what's happening here is a mistake,” he said calmly. “There's still something good between us. You feel it, too.”

She turned away without answering.

He rose and caught her by the shoulders. “I know what a mistake is, Robyn. I've made plenty of them. The biggest one was letting you go after you walked out on me years ago. Why did you leave me?”

Jerking free of his hold, she spun to face him. Her anger surged to a boil. “Don't pretend you don't know.”

“I don't. Tell me.”

“Do I have to spell it out?”

“Yes, I think it's time you did.”

“I left because you were sleeping with Meredith Owens.”

The bitter truth came out in a rush. She held her breath as she waited for him to deny it. Somewhere, inside her heart, she still carried the faint hope that it hadn't been true. She had loved him so much.

He stepped back. His arms fell to his sides. “Who told you that?”

He didn't deny it. She closed her eyes against the pain. How could it still hurt so much?

“Meredith did,” she answered at last. She opened her eyes and faced him. “How could you? I thought you loved me.”

“You knew? All this time you knew and you never said anything?”

“What was there to say? You made your choice, and so did I. If you had given me the least inkling that you loved me, maybe we could have worked it out. Who knows? But I never heard a word from you. Not one word. What was I supposed to think? Was I supposed to crawl back to you?”

“I'm sorry.” He looked so stunned.

Even now, she wanted to reach out and ease his pain. Why couldn't she get over him?

She hardened her heart. “Sorry you cheated on me or sorry I found out?”

He stiffened. “Does it matter?”

“Not really. I never thought much of women who went back to men who betrayed them.”

His expression turned hard. “Really? I always thought you were one who believed to err is human, to forgive is divine.”

“And I thought you were an honorable guy. Guess we were both wrong. I had to make some tough decisions on my own after I left.”

“Tough as in whether or not to marry the first guy you met? It didn't take you long to find someone else. Two months?”

Her fury came back in full force. “And that was as bad as what you did? You jerk. You don't get another chance. You don't deserve the one you have. The best thing I ever did was keep him away from you.”

Robyn slapped a hand to her mouth as she realized what she'd said.
Oh, God.
What had she done?

A strange look came over Neal's face. “What are you saying?”

“That I'm through talking to you.” She started to turn away, but he grabbed her arm.

“We're not through. What did you mean? What are you trying to hide?”

Her anger evaporated. Maybe she had blurted it out because she was so very tired of hiding the truth. “You have a son. His name is Chance.”

The color drained from Neal's face. He took a step back. “Are you serious? We took precautions.”

“No birth control is one hundred percent effective except abstinence. We didn't use that method. I knew you didn't want kids. You knew I did.”

He held up both hands. “Wait. Are you telling me that your kid is my biological son?”

“Yes.”

He stood silent for the longest time. What was he thinking? Finally, he asked, “Does he know?”

“He's three years old. Of course he doesn't know.”

“Did your husband know?” He was getting angry. She expected that.

She stared at the ground. “Colin and I didn't have any secrets from each other.”

Neal came to stand directly in front of her. His eyes blazed with fury. “Why tell me now?”

Because I want to hurt you the way you hurt me. Because I want to kill these feelings I still have for you.

She couldn't, wouldn't admit those things to him.

“I don't know. You made me angry acting like nothing had changed. A quick romp in the grass has consequences, but you didn't even think of that, did you?”

He stepped closer. His face was only inches away. “I don't buy that. You never were a good liar.”

“Okay.” She spun away from him. “Maybe I told you because when I thought you were going to die, I knew what I did was wrong.”

“No kidding! And now you want me to tell you it was okay. You want me to say that I don't care that you kept this from me. I'm supposed to be fine with the idea that people believe some other man is my son's father!” His voice rose until he was shouting.

She shouted back. “Yes! You are going to be okay with all of it.”

“The hell I am!”

“My son and I have a life that does not—
and never has—
included you. Until five minutes ago, you didn't know and didn't care that he existed. You never wanted kids, so don't pretend that you've suddenly developed a parental streak.”

His anger faded before her eyes. She was right and he knew it. “You should have told me, Robyn.”

“We can stand here all day and argue about who should have and shouldn't have done this or that. It won't change anything.”

“I didn't love her. I want you to know that.”

“Frankly, that doesn't help.”

“It's not like we were married.”

She opened her mouth in shock, then snapped it shut. “We were together!”

He took a step back and held up both hands. “I know. That was a really stupid thing to say. I didn't mean it. I'm sorry. The whole thing was my fault. My mistake. There's no excuse for what I did.”

She heard the sincerity in his voice and she believed him. “Very few men can put their foot in their mouth as well as you can, Neal.”

He managed a wry smile and shoved both hands in his front pockets. “It's a gift.”

He looked so much like Chance did when he was being scolded that she had to turn away. She pushed her hair back with one hand. “We've both made mistakes that can't be undone. We were great friends when we were young. When we grew up, we grew apart. Let's leave it at that.”

“Do you want child support? I can do that much for you, can't I?”

She closed her eyes.
Don't start being nice, Neal. I can't stay angry with you if you're going to be nice.

“I don't want child support. That would hardly be fair since I don't want you in his life at all.”

“What about my family? Doesn't my mother have the right to know her grandson?”

“Your mother and my mother are best friends. She sees Chance all the time. She spends almost as much time with him as she does with Jake's kids. I can't make it right for everyone. If I say he's your son, then Colin's parents will have to know he isn't their grandchild. Colin was their only son. They cherish Chance. I won't do that to them. They have lost so much already.”

The pinto gave a loud whinny and they both turned, startled by the sound. An answering whinny came from beyond the canyon entrance. A moment later, a rider came into view. Robyn recognized Neal's brother, Jake. He rode a stocky bay and led an Appaloosa behind him.

Robyn poked her finger into Neal's chest. “If you tell anyone about this, I'll deny it and make your life a living hell.”

She turned away from him, scooped up her boots and jeans and snatched her still-damp shirt from the branch as she headed for the willow clump. Thank God Jake was here. At least she didn't have to spend one more minute alone with Neal.

She stopped behind the willows and yanked his shirt off over her head without undoing the buttons, but she paused for an instant and held the sun-warmed cotton against her cheek. It held his scent. Tears stung her eyes. Why did he still have the power to hurt her?

Why had she told him the truth? Was she nuts?

Dropping his shirt, she began to pull on her own as she chided herself for her stupidity. How could she have fallen back into his arms so easily? She struggled to tug down the damp pink material. What an idiot she was!

She glanced at his shirt lying on the ground, and she stomped on it. Crossing her arms, she willed the tears back and stared out at the quiet blue water. How could she have forgotten even for a minute what he had done to her?

At least now he knew what she had done in return. Would he keep her secret, or would he make trouble for her?

It was a little late to be thinking about that. Why hadn't she kept her mouth shut?

Why had she let him kiss her?

The leaves of the cottonwoods fluttered overhead and the willow's long strands swayed in the gentle breeze; their tips tapped circles on the calm surface of the pond. It was this place. Something here made it easy to slip back into the past, to pretend their lives had never changed, that she and Neal had never changed.

She grabbed a willow stem and stripped it to the end. Opening her hand, she let the dainty leaves fall onto the water, watching as they slowly drifted apart.

This place might seem unchanged, but it was only an illusion. She was not the same wide-eyed adolescent who used to play here, and Neal wasn't her perfect hero. She'd spent a lifetime adoring him, and he had turned that adoration into dust.

Spinning away from the water, she stepped into her jeans, then sat down and pulled on one boot. She had been so sure she was over him, but after one kiss, she had literally flung herself at him. She needed to get away, to put some distance between them, to get her head back on straight. Her anger swelled again.

This wasn't love. It was a simple case of lust. She jerked on her other boot. Maybe it had been a long time since she'd had sex, but she wasn't about to give Neal Bryant a quick tumble because he didn't have some adoring Buckle Bunny handy. She had more self-respect than that.

She stood, dusted her hands together and picked up his shirt. Okay, she didn't care for the picture of herself as a sex-starved widow, but it was better than being the kind of weak-willed woman who went back to the man who had cheated on her.

She wasn't that kind of woman. She didn't need a man. Certainly not some rodeo bum who was here today and gone tomorrow.

She had made a good life for herself and for Chance, a stable life, and she wasn't about to let Neal mess it up.

* * *

T
HE
BUSHES
SWAYED
where Robyn had disappeared behind them. She had known all along. He had a hard time absorbing that fact. It changed everything—and yet it changed nothing. No wonder she had stayed away.

God, how could he have been so stupid? If he'd gone after her and begged her to forgive him all those years ago, would things be different now?

That was a no-brainer. He'd be a father with a kid following him around.

As much as he hated to admit it, Robyn might have made the best decision for both of them. She was right. He'd never wanted kids. They tied a man down. He wasn't ready for that. He might never be.

He could mess up his own life, but he didn't want to be responsible for messing up another human being. He only had to look at his own relationship with his emotionally distant father to know how deep that kind of hurt could go.

How many times had he tried to win his dad's affection or at least get noticed? More times than he cared to think about. Now that his father was gone, he'd never have the chance to change that.

A hail from behind him drew his attention. He turned away and stepped out to meet his brother. Jake rode up, reined to a halt and leaned an arm on the saddle horn. His gaze slid from the wildly swaying willows to Neal's face. He arched one eyebrow. “Did I come at a bad time?”

“Yes. Go away.”

“Now that's gratitude for you.” He swung down from his mount and handed Neal the reins of the second horse. “I come all this way to save your butt a ride home behind a saddle and this is the thanks I get?”

“Sorry.” Neal combed his hair back with both hands and glanced toward the willows. He didn't like the way things had ended between him and Robyn. He might not have wanted the responsibility of children, but it didn't feel right to pretend the boy wasn't his now that he knew the truth.

This wasn't something they could discuss in front of Jake. Neal would have to find time alone with her. From the looks of things, that was going to be hard to do.

He turned to his brother. “Thanks for bringing me a horse.”

“Don't mention it,” Jake replied with a lopsided grin. “I love taking long, dusty rides on scorching-hot days.”

Robyn emerged from the willow clump. “Yes, thanks for coming, Jake.”

BOOK: Harlequin Superromance January 2014 - Bundle 2 of 2: A Ranch for His Family\Cowgirl in High Heels\A Man to Believe In
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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