Copyright © Patricia Potter. All rights reserved.
4:04 p.m. Continued
Jared remembered every moment of that day. They were engraved in his heart.
He remembered Jonny’s eager face, the boy’s grin when Jared smiled and said, “You may have a sale.”
“They’re free,” the boy said breathlessly.
“That’s about the right price,” Jared had replied, his gaze going back to the boy’s mother. He wondered where her husband was.
“The only thing that really matters to either Jonny or me is that the puppies get good homes,” the woman explained. “Would your wife want a puppy?”
“No wife,” he said shortly. “There’s no one but me.”
She hesitated for a moment, searching his face, and he understood he was being weighed.
“I like animals,” he said, surprised by his self-defense. He’d never felt the need to defend himself, or to gain anyone’s approval. At least, he hadn’t felt either need until that moment.
She nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Mary Beth Reynolds. I own the store. If you need credit, just say so.”
“Your husband?” The question popped out, startling him as much – maybe more – as it clearly startled her.
“My pa died three years ago,” the boy said. “Horse threw him.”
Jared looked back at Mary Beth, saw a brief shadow cross her face. He stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to say.
Jonny broke the silence. “Let’s go now. You can pick out your puppy.”
“I think Mr. Walker needs a few supplies first,” his mother said, her wide smile back in place. “Then you can show him Queenies’s puppies.”
She winked at him. “Don’t let the name intimidate you. Queenie is anything but royalty. She’s not very pretty, either, nor are her pups. But she is smart, and I expect her pups are, too.”
An hour later, Jared headed toward his new ranch, a homely, yellow puppy – the runt of the litter – in his lap and a sack full of supplies tied to his saddle. He was whistling as he rode.
Harry grew fast – and big – and he accompanied Jared wherever he went. The dog filled one of the empty places in his heart. Mary Beth and Jonny filled another.
Yet, as much as he was attracted to Mary Beth, and as much as he tended to linger at her store on his trips to town, he refrained from asking permission to court her. Although he sensed she would welcome his attention, he kept himself firmly in check. He had little to offer a woman. Especially a woman like her. And he knew his past would repel her, would, in fact, repel the entire town.
For nearly eighteen months he lived on dreams of what might be someday. Someday when his cattle herd was profitable. Someday, when the house was fit. Someday, when he felt it was safe, that his past was well and truly buried and wouldn’t come back to haunt him. Then . . . maybe then . . . he’d ask Mary Beth if he could court her.
Someday came a little sooner than Jared expected.
He was in town, walking from the bank to the general store when he saw Jonny running along the side of the street with his dog Queenie chasing after him. The boy was laughing, glancing over his shoulder and calling to the dog, not watching where he was going. He darted into the street, straight into the path of a galloping horse.
Jared’s years of acting instantly surfaced in a flash. He made a running dive for Jonny, shoving him out of the way. Jonny was unhurt, but the horse’s hoof struck Jared’s left arm, ripping it open.,
Mary Beth insisted on tending the wound. After all there was no doctor in town – and as she stitched the gash closed, Jared knew she was having a hard time not noticing the other scars on his upper torso. She said nothing, just raised a questioning brow that disappeared when he offered only a shrug in explanation. He had never known a woman who could resist asking a lot of questions that he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer.
He fell in love with her then. He’d seen it coming, of course, but he’d done his best to keep it from happening. He’d told himself that a man with his past shouldn’t get involved with any woman. And yet . . .
He was a different man, now, wasn’t he? A more worthy one. God, he hoped he was, because despite his best intentions, he couldn’t resist the gentleness in Mary Beth’s hands, the warmth in her voice . . . couldn’t resist her. She was like water to a man lost in the desert.