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Summer Maxwell motioned to her cousin Autumn as she opened the letter in her computer. "Hey, it's from April."
Autumn hurried over to the teakwood desk by the window. The Manhattan skyline was etched in sundappled shades of steel and gray in front of them as together they read the latest email from their cousin and roommate, April Maxwell.
I'm at work, but I'll be leaving for the airport in a few minutes. I'm so nervous. I'm worried about Daddy, of course. And I'm worried about seeing Reed again. What if he hates me? Never mind, we all know he does hate me. Please say prayers for my sweet daddy, and for safe
travel. And that my BMW makes it there ahead of me in one piece.
"That's our April," Summer said, smiling, her blue eyes flashing. "Her prayer requests are always so practical."
"Especially when they come to that car of hers," Autumn said through the wisp of auburn bangs hanging in her eyes. "She's not so worried about the car, though, I think. She's got a lot more to deal with right now, and that's her way of dealing with it. She's not telling us the whole story."
Summer tapped out a reply.
We're here, sugar. And we will say lots of prayers for Uncle Stuart. Tell him we love him so much. Keep in touch. Oh, and let us know how things go with Reed, too. He doesn't hate you. He's just angry with you. Maybe it's time for him to get over it already.
Summer signed off, then spun around in her chair to send her cousin a concerned look. "Of course, he's been angry with her for about six years now."
Reed Garrison brought his prancing grayandblackspotted Appaloosa to a skidding stop as a
sleek black sports car zoomed up the long drive and shifted into Park.
"Steady, Jericho," Reed said as he patted the gelding's long neck. He held the reins tight as he walked the horse up to the sprawling stoneandwood ranch house. "I'm just as anxious as you, boy," he told the fidgeting animal. "Let's go find out who's visiting Mr. Maxwell on this fine spring day."
Reed watched from his vantage point at the fence as a woman stepped out of the expensive twoseater convertible. But not just any woman, oh, no. This one was very different.
And suddenly very familiar.
Reed squinted in the lateafternoon sun, then sat back to take a huff of breath as he took in the sight of her.
It had been six long years since he'd seen her. Six years of torment and determination. Torment because he couldn't forget her, determination because he had tried to do that very thing.
But April was, as ever, unforgettable.
And now she looked every bit the city girl she had become since she'd bolted and moved from the small town of Paris, Texas, to the big city of New York, New York, to take up residence with her two
cousins, Summer and Autumn. Those three Maxwell cousins had a tight bond, each having been named for the seasons they were born in, each having been raised by closeknit relatives scattered all over east Texas, and each having enough ambition to want to get out of Texas right after finishing college to head east and seek their fortunes. Not that they needed any fortunes. They were all three blueblooded Texas heiresses, born in the land of oil and cattle with silver spoons in their pretty little mouths. But that hadn't been enough for those three belles, no sir. They'd wanted to take on the Big Apple. And they had, each finding satisfying work in their respective career choices. They now roomed together in Manhattan, or so he'd been told.
He hadn't asked about April much, and Stuart Maxwell wasn't the type of man to offer up much information. Stuart was a private man, and Reed was a silent man. It worked great for both of them while they each pined away for April.
Reed walked his horse closer, his nostrils flaring right along with Jericho's, as he tested the wind for her perfume. He smelled it right away, and the memories assaulted him like soft magnolia petals on a warm summer night. April always smelled like a lily garden, all floral and sweet.
Only Reed knew she was anything but sweet.
Help me, Lord,he thought now as he watched her raise her head and glance around. She spotted him—he saw it in the way she held herself slightly at a distance—but she just stood there in her black shortsleeved dress and matching tallheeled black sandals, as if she were posing for a magazine spread. She wore black sunglasses and a blackandwhite floral scarf that wrapped like a slinky collar around her neck and head. It gave her the mysterious look of a foreign film star.
But then, she'd always been a bit foreign and mysterious to Reed. Even when they'd been so close, so in love, April had somehow managed to hold part of herself aloof. Away from him.
With one elegant tug, she removed the scarf and tossed it onto the red leather seat of the convertible, then ran a hand through her short, dark, tousled curls. With slow, deliberate steps he was sure she'd learned during her debutante years, she did a longlegged walk across the driveway, toward the horse and man.
"April." He tipped his hat, then set it back on his head, ignoring the way her silky, cultured voice moved like rich honey down his nerve endings. "I heard you might be coming home."
Heard, and lost more sleep than he wanted to think about right now.
"Yes," she said, her hand reaching out to pat Jericho's muzzle. "I drove from the Dallas airport."
"Nice rental car."
"It's not a rental. It's mine. I had it shipped ahead so I'd have a way to get around while I'm here."
Reed didn't bother to remind her that they had several available modes of transportation on the Big M Ranch, from horses to trucks and fourwheelers to Stuart Maxwell's welltuned Cadillac. "Of course. You always did demand the best." And I wasn't good enough, he reminded himself.
"I like driving my own car," she said, unapologetic and unrepentant as she flipped a wrist full of blackandwhite shiny bangle bracelets. They matched to perfection the looped blackandwhite earrings she wore. "I hope that won't be a problem for you."
"Not my problem at all," Reed retorted, his gaze moving over her, a longing gnawing his heart in spite of the tight set of his jaw. "Looks like city life agrees with you."
"I love New York and I enjoy my work at Satire," she said with a wide smile that only illuminated her big, pouty red lips. Then she glanced
around. "But I have to admit I've missed this ranch.''
"Your daddy's missed you," Reed said, his tone going low, all hostility leaving his mind now. "He's real sick, April."
She lifted her sunglasses. "I know. I've talked to the doctors on a daily basis for the last two weeks."
In spite of her defensive tone, he saw the worry coloring her chocolatebrown eyes and instantly regretted the reason she'd had to come home. But then, he had a lot of regrets. "Seeing you will perk him up, I'm sure."
She nodded, looked around at the house. "Nothing has changed, and yet, everything is changing."
"You've been gone a long time."
"I've been back for holidays and vacations. Never saw you around much." The questioning look in her eyes was full of dare and accusation.
But he wouldn't give her the satisfaction of knowing he'd deliberately made himself scarce whenever he'd heard she was coming home to visit. Until now. Now he didn't have a choice. He couldn't run. Her daddy needed him here.
He shrugged, looking out over the roping arena across the pasture. "I like to go skiing for the
winter holidays, fishing and camping during the spring and summer."
"Still the outdoorsman." She shot him a long, cool look. "That explains your constant absences."
"That and the fact that I bought up some of the land around here and I stay pretty busy with my own farming and ranching."
"You bought up Maxwell land," she said, her chin lifting in that stubborn way he remembered so well.
"Your daddy was selling, and I was in the market to buy."
She looked down at the ground, her fancy sandal toeing a clog of dirt just off the driveway. "He wouldn't want anybody else on this land. I'm glad you bought it."
For a minute, she looked like the young girl Reed had fallen in love with. From kindergarten on, he'd loved her—at first from a distance, and then, up close. For a minute, she looked as vulnerable and lonely as he felt right now.
But that passed. Like a light cloud full of hope and sunlight, the look was gone as fast as it had come. When she looked up at him, the coolness was back in her dark eyes. "I expect you to take care of this land, Reed. I know I can count on you to do that, at least."
"Thanks," he said, and meant it, in spite of the accusing tone in her last words. "You know I'd never do anything to hurt your daddy. He taught me a lot and he's given me a lot—me and my entire family, for that matter."
"Y'all have been a part of this land for as long as I can remember," she responded, her eyes wide and dark as she stared up at him.
Reed wondered if she was remembering their times together. He wondered if she remembered the way he remembered, with regret and longing and a bitterness that never went away, no matter how sweet the memories.
"I'll be right here, as long as Stu needs me," he told her. He would honor that promise, in spite of having to be near her again. He owed her father that much.
"I guess I'd better go on inside then," she said, her tone husky and quiet. "I dread this."
"Want me to go in with you?" Reed asked, then silently reprimanded himself for offering. He wouldn't fall back into his old ways. Not this time.
"No. I have to do this. I mean, he called me home for a reason, and I have to accept that reason."
Posted January 12, 2013
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Posted December 29, 2012
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