With: Kim Redford
Eden Rafferty has lost it all: big time career, high-profile marriage, and just about everything she owns. Coming back to Wildcat Bluff with her tail between her legs, the only person who can help her heal is cowboy firefighter Shane Taggart. But nothing is simple, and their high-octane past is just the beginning of their current problems…
Shane didn’t dare touch Eden. He hardly dared speak. Everything that meant anything to him hung on his next few words. He was better with animals than he was with people. Still, he’d do his best. He knelt in front of her and drew her hands away from her face. “Look at me, Eden.”
“No.” She shook her head, causing her hair to fly out then back down. “I want to go home.”
“You are home. The Rocky T has always been your home.”
“No. It’s your home.”
She finally glanced up at him, but only to give him a baleful glare.
“It’s our home.”
“I told you I’d renew it.” He abruptly stood up. “But that won’t do now, will it?”
“You can’t imagine how badly I wanted to get home, where nobody could take away what was mine and where I could feel secure again.”
“So you wouldn’t be vulnerable to the likes of Tanner.”
“I guess I’ve been running so hard since I got here, trying so hard to get back what I’d lost, that I didn’t stop to think about the reality of my situation. Maybe I should thank Graham for making me see the light of day.”
Shane felt sick at heart. He was losing her before his very eyes. And he didn’t know how to stop his loss or her pain.
She glanced around the room. “I adore this room, this house. It’s been a wonderful visit to happier days. Thank you.”
If he didn’t do something drastic, she was going to leave and she wouldn’t be coming back. She’d talk herself not only out of his life but out of Wildcat Bluff, too. He couldn’t let her do it. He knew her heart. He’d always known it. He’d just grown up too much to remember—or maybe, when she’d left, it’d been too painful to hang on to all the details of that night up on Lovers Leap.
“It’s not just a visit. You’ve come to stay.”
“I told you—”
“Do you remember the last thing you promised me on Lovers Leap?”
She abruptly stood up, eyes wide in wonder.
“Do you remember your promise?”
She turned away, paced across the room, and stood with her back to him.
“I waited.” He walked closer to her.
“We were young. We didn’t mean—”
“I promised I’d wait.”
“That’s why you didn’t marry?” She whirled around, searching every feature of his face with her wide blue eyes.
“I’ve had your ring for years.”
“You showed me one you liked in a magazine.”
She put a hand over her mouth, blinking back tears.
He didn’t let her emotions stop or slow him. He had to be ruthless—for both of them. “We could go to Vegas, but I bet Wildcat Bluff would like to see a big, fancy wedding. Summer ought to be about right.”
“Wedding?” She stepped back, keeping her hand over her mouth as if to retain words or emotions.
“That’s what you promised me.”
“When I got back?”
“You told me you loved me and you’d be back to marry me.”
“I’m not comfortable with the L word or marriage anymore.”
“I love you. I’ve always loved you. I will always love you.” He reached up and gently brushed a tear from her cheek. “I know you love me, too.”
She closed her eyes, bowed her head, and then looked back at him. “I tried not to love you. It hurt too much being separated from you. I figured you’d moved on with life. I’ve tried not to love you since I got back.”
“Didn’t work, did it?” He felt a small frisson of hope, but he knew he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
“No.” She straightened her shoulders and stood taller. “But it doesn’t matter.”
“How can it not matter?” He felt his hope plummet again.
“If I married you, we’d both always wonder if I did it just so I’d have a home on the Rocky T, someplace where I’d feel safe and secure, someplace where I could build KWCB without worrying about losing it.”
“Stop right there. We’ve always loved each other. Marriage has nothing to do with what happened to you in LA. Once you get back on your feet, you won’t feel vulnerable anymore.”
She reached up and stroked his face with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I love you, but I’m leaving you.”
He simply pulled her against his chest, cradling her like he’d done when they were young and she’d stubbed her toe or fallen out of a tree. If she was hurting, he was hurting. Right now, they were both hurting.
She eased back from him and brushed her tears away. “I need to go home.”
“You can’t go back to Clem’s place. It’s not safe.”
“But I want—”
“You know it’s not safe.” He put his arm around her shoulders and tugged her against him. “You’ll stay here and get a good night’s sleep. Everything will look better after you’re rested in the morning.”
“I guess you’re right. It’s not safe. But I’ll sleep here in my room.”
“That bed’s too small for me.”
“I’ll sleep alone.”
“We’ll sleep in my room.” He guided her in that direction. “If I can’t watch over you to make sure you’re safe, I won’t sleep a wink.”
She gave a little huff, frowning. “But I’m not sure—”
“And if we both can’t get to sleep, we can make wedding plans,” he said with a chuckle to ease the tension, but he meant every word of it.
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