Read an Excerpt
The Way Home
By N.J. Walters
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.Copyright © 2006 NJ Walters
All right reserved.
Chapter One"So, will you marry me?"
Rebecca Gentry sat at her pine kitchen table and blinked at the man she loved, not quite certain she had heard him correctly. In all her twenty-five years when she had dared to imagine such a proposal, it had come nowhere close to this. She had envisioned wildflowers, a declaration of love, and a man down on one knee, holding her hand tight in his. Never had she imagined a plainspoken business proposition.
She knew she was sitting there with her mouth open. She also knew he expected her to say something. But the plain fact was, she couldn't think of anything to say.
"You want me to marry you?" Rebecca questioned slowly, still not certain she had heard him right.
Jake Tanner was a good-looking man, she thought as she continued to stare at him. Not classically good-looking, but handsome in a rugged way. She never tired of looking at his weatherworn face.
His green eyes looked hard as emeralds and the deep creases radiating from their corners only added to the image of strength. His black hair was swept away from his face in a careless manner and hung down to his shoulders in the back. It always looked as if he'd just pushed it out of his way. She always wanted to run her hands through his hair and she found herself clasping her hands in her lap, as she frequently did around him, to keep herself from reaching out to touch it.
He stood a shade under six feet tall, which was head and shoulders over her, as she was half an inch over five feet. His shoulders were broad and solid from years of hard physical labor on his farm and that made him look even larger than he actually was.
Rebecca stared straight into his eyes, hoping to gain a clue into what had prompted this strange proposal. "Why?"
Jake leaned forward in his chair and laid both hands flat on the table. "I need a wife, Rebecca, not some silly woman who thinks she's in love one day and gone the next. I respect you. Heck, I really like you. We've been friends for seven years. I know you're a hard worker, you're loyal, and you don't run away when things get tough. You've lived here all your life and you seem happy here. I think we could make a go of a marriage."
Rebecca instantly picked up on the one point that mattered. "What do you mean, you need a wife?"
Jake sighed deeply and sat back in his chair, making it creak slightly as it adjusted to his weight. Absently, he thrust a hand through his hair, tilting back his head as his eyes searched the ceiling as if somehow the right words were written there. "You know I just got back today from my brother's and sister-in-law's funeral."
She instantly leaned across the table and laid her hand on his strong, denim-clad forearm, squeezing it gently. She wished there was some way she could help alleviate his sorrow. "I know, and I'm sorry about Hank and his wife. I know you weren't close, but it's still got to be hard, maybe even harder because of that."
"You got that right." He gave her a mocking little smile as he pulled his gaze away from the ceiling and back to her. "Hank couldn't wait to scrape the dirt from his boots and get away from the farm as soon as he was old enough. All he wanted was the city life and I don't blame him for that. Farming isn't for everyone. But no, we were never close."
Reaching into his shirt pocket, he withdrew a small white envelope, and held it out to her. She accepted it tentatively, peered inside, and withdrew a picture of a small family. A dark-haired man stood behind a lovely looking blond woman who held a wide-eyed little girl on her lap. Rebecca found herself captivated by the child, a green-eyed imp with black hair, who looked enough like Jake to be his own daughter.
"That was taken a few months ago." He reached over and plucked the picture from her fingers. "I got it in my Christmas card this year. That's Hank, his wife Celine, and their daughter Casey."
"They were a beautiful family." Her heart went out to Jake. She handed him the envelope and watched as he carefully replaced the picture and tucked it back in his pocket.
"Casey was at home with a babysitter when Hank and Celine were in the car accident. From what I could gather, they went away a lot of weekends without her." He shook his head in disgust. "Anyhow, Hank named me her legal guardian, but I would have taken her anyway because family is family."
He took a deep breath and voiced his fears. "It doesn't matter that I've never seen her in person until a few days ago. I'm going to bring her home with me. But, Rebecca, I don't think I can raise a four-year-old girl on my own."
Rebecca nodded her head, as she finally understood. "That's why you suddenly need a wife." It was more of a statement than a question, but Jake confirmed it anyway.
He nodded and his normally hard eyes softened. "She's quiet and withdrawn, and she seems confused by everything. She cried and slept almost all the time I was with her. Her babysitter agreed to stay with her for a week while I tried to arrange things here." He ran his hand through his hair again, his agitation plain.
"I could hire a housekeeper, but I think she needs stability right now more than anything else. Besides, I'm not getting any younger myself, and I'd like to have some kids of my own." He glanced at her, giving her a quick smile. "Besides, I don't think anyone else would have me, I'm stubborn and set in my ways."
"But this is very sudden, Jake. You never seemed interested in me, romantically that is."
He sat quietly for a minute, as if picking and choosing his words carefully. "I like you more than I do any other woman. You're a good friend and companion. Physically, I find you very attractive, but I admit if this hadn't come up I probably wouldn't be asking you to marry me."
"I see," she answered in a soft voice as she looked quickly into her lap, knowing he was watching her, and hoping to hide the pain that his words caused her.
Excerpted from The Way Home by N.J. Walters Copyright © 2006 by NJ Walters. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.