Copyright © Patricia Potter. All rights reserved.
4:04 p.m. Continued
What followed the afternoon Mary Beth tended his wound was a most proper courtship. For five and a half months, Jared made twice-weekly trips to town for the express purpose of visiting Mary Beth. They took walks. He played with Jonny, whom he came to love nearly as much as he did the boy’s mother. He even helped New Hope build a church for its new minister when he realized it was Mary Beth’s fondest wish that the town have one – though he felt like a hypocrite the entire time and wondered if God would want his blood-stained hands involved in the construction of HIS house.
The times he liked best, though, were when Mary Beth invited him to supper, and he got to sit at her perfectly set table with her and Jonny – the three of them together, like a family. Jared wanted them to be a real family. He wanted to help Mary Beth raise her little boy and he wanted a child or two more. He wanted to go to bed with her at night and make love to her until they were both too exhausted to do anything but sleep. And he wanted to wake up with her beside him every morning for the rest of his life.
He told himself it was impossible, but the thought that it might not be impossible wouldn’t go away. And, finally, one night five months and sixteen days after the horse’s hoof had sliced open his arm, he made up his mind.
Supper was over and Jonny was in bed, asleep, and it was time for him to leave. He always left early so folks wouldn’t have anything to gossip about. Instead of leaving, though, he tugged Mary Beth down to sit beside him on the sofa in her parlor. Then he took her hand in his and asked her to marry him.
Her eyes widened, and for a moment, she just looked at him, apparently stunned. He held his breath, heart pounding, waiting for her to say she couldn’t marry him because she didn’t know anything about him, didn’t know who he was or what he’d done before arriving in New Hope two years ago. He’d convinced himself that it was safe, at last, to take a wife, but he wasn’t planning to reveal his past to her. If she asked him to explain all his secrets, he didn’t know what he’d say.
She didn’t ask. She simply looked at him with her heart and soul shining in her blue eyes and said, “I love you Jared. Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Then he kissed her. Tenderly at first, then with a hard desperation. He had always been a gentleman with her, had made his caresses gentle, harnessing the fierce desire and the demanding need inside. But when her arms went around his neck, her breath coming in short gasps as she melted against him, he was lost.
He rejoiced in her response, in the way their bodies melded together, in the need that swept away convention and caution. Her husband had died five years earlier. He himself had never lingered long enough to have more than momentary release with a soiled dove. Both of them, for their own separate reasons, had been keeping their needs and desires in check for far too long. That kiss unleashed it all. Their passion rapidly reached the boiling point, then exploded into something else, something neither of them could stop. She gave herself to him completely, and they mated in a fury of love and desire and need.
He stayed in her arms all night long, and they talked of getting married in two weeks, time enough for her to sew a fine wedding dress. Then, before dawn, before Jonny – or the town, – awakened, he left her.
Jared rode home, smiling the entire way.
His smile stayed in place for nearly two weeks. Until the day Billy Joe Carter rode into New Hope . . .