As Mr. McGregor riffed on about how much America had changed under Trump, Leah stole a glance at Garrett and her heart skipped a beat when she found him watching her. They hadn’t said much to each other since they arrived yesterday. They were staying at his father’s ranch for the Christmas holidays. It was the second year in a row that she had been invited and she had looked forward to it because it meant she would get to see Garrett.
Last year when she was here, he took her to the stables and showed her the horses. He offered to teach her how to ride but at the time she was terrified. They went for walks over the grassy fields, pausing so that she could admire the picturesque surroundings. He took her bird-watching and hikes along the trails and hills. Sometimes, they had picnics by the lake or the creek. They had so much fun together but then, it all changed when his younger brother, Austin showed up.
Austin was outgoing, funny and good-looking but he didn’t make her heart skip a beat every time she saw him or wish for him to hold her hand or kiss her. She liked him but wasn’t attracted to him. She only had eyes for Garrett. She remembered one night after dinner, she was outside on the porch to enjoy the night air when Austin joined her.
“Lovely night, isn’t it?” he commented. “One of the reasons why I like to get away from the city and come out here, is I can look up and see the stars.”
“I know what you mean. I lived in New York before moving to Texas and I couldn’t see the stars or the moon in the nights. The city lights took care of that.”
“When I came outside just now, you looked disappointed when you saw me,” he said, startling her. “Were you expecting someone else—Garrett, maybe?”
“Well, yes. He and I would usually come out here after dinner for a while.”
“I don’t think he’ll be joining you tonight. I thought I saw him heading out. Maybe he’s gone to see Madison.”
“Who’s Madison?” she asked calmly.
“She’s a former Texas beauty queen whom Garrett has been dating.”
Her legs seemed to give way and she sank heavily down in one of the chairs. “He never mentioned…”
Austin sat down beside her. “Are you all right?” he asked.
“Didn’t Garrett tell you about Madison?”
She shook her head. She shivered although it was very warm outside and she felt him put his arm around her shoulder. Just then, Garrett walked out on to the porch. He froze when he saw them and before she knew what was happening, Austin was yanked to his feet and sent flying across the floor. Garrett stood over him, his fists clenched, breathing heavily and his expression thunderous.
After recovering from her shock, she went over to Austin who was nursing his jaw. “Are you badly hurt?” she asked, kneeling beside him.
He sat up. “I’m fine,” he said, sitting up.
She helped him up and he leaned against the wooden structure for a moment. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
He nodded. “I’m fine except for my jaw. I’ll go and put an icepack on it. Excuse me.” He walked slowly into the house.
As soon as he was gone, Leah rounded angrily on Garrett. “Why did you hit him?” she demanded.
“He had his hands on you,” he muttered tightly. “Or hadn’t you noticed?”
“I was upset and he was just trying to help.”
“I know my brother and I can see that he was making moves on you so I thought I would put a stop to it.”
“Well, I can take care of myself,” she retorted. “I don’t need you to go around beating up guys for me.”
“Why didn’t you push his arm away?”
“You didn’t give me a chance to do anything.”
“What were you so upset about that he felt he had to comfort you?”
“He told me about Madison.”
“Madison? What did he say about her?”
“He told me that she was a former beauty queen and that you’re dating her—”
“It’s true. She and I used to date.”
“Austin told me that you had probably gone to see her tonight.”
“And you believed him?” He raked his fingers through his hair, his face glowering. “When it comes to my brother, I’m always dubious of his intentions. He may seem charming but that could prove to be very detrimental for the gullible.”
She glared at him. “Are you saying that I’m gullible?” she retorted.
“I didn’t say that you were but you should be on your guard with Austin is concerned.”
“I hope he’s all right. You shouldn’t have hit him. What got into you?”
His mouth tightened. “If you’re so concerned about him, why don’t you go and see how he’s doing.” He started to walk away.
Alarmed, she called out, “Where’re you going?”
“Out,” was the terse reply before he left the porch and disappeared around the corner. Moments later, she heard his car.
Tears of frustration sprang to her eyes. What a disaster this evening had turned out to be.
The sound of laughter brought her back to the present. She started when she saw that Garrett wasn’t there. Getting up, she quickly left the room. On her way to the porch, she run into Consuela, the housekeeper. “Hi Consuela, do you know where Garrett went?”
“Yes, he said that he was going for a ride. He’s in the stables.”
“Thank you, Consuela.”
She left the house and headed for the stables, her heart pounding with excitement and trepidation because she didn’t know what kind of reception she would get. He was leading the horse out of the stables when he saw her. He stiffened and his expression was wary. Hands shoved deep in the back pockets of her jeans, she approached him. “Hi Garrett,” she greeted him huskily. How she longed to throw herself in his arms.
“Hi,” he said. “Why aren’t you in there with the others?”
“I wanted to see you.”
“I’m going for a ride. It’s too beautiful a day to stay cooped up inside.”
“Take me with you.”
He looked surprised. “I thought you were afraid of horses.”
“I’m not afraid of horses,” she denied and as if to prove her point, she reached out and gingerly rubbed the horse’s side. “You once offered to teach me how to ride. Is that offer still open?” She was willing to do whatever it took just to be with him.
“Yes,” he said. His expression was still guarded but at least he was thawing toward her. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“I’ll go and saddle Sadie for you. She’s a gentle one. You’ll be safe with her.” He was about to turn and head back into the stables when Austin walked up to them.
Her heart sank and she watched him warily. He cast a sidelong glance at Garrett who was watching him then he turned to her. “So this is where you wandered off to. You promised me a game of pool, remember?”
Blast. She had forgotten all about the darn pool game. She opened her mouth to say that she had changed her mind when, Garrett grabbed the reins of his horse and led it away. “Go and play your game of pool,” he muttered before he mounted the horse and galloped off.
Austin gazed after him. “Just as I suspected,” he said, turning to look at her. “You know he’s in love with you, don’t you?”
She stared at him. How she wanted to throttle him for ruining things between Garrett and her again. “What are you talking about?” she snapped.
“Why do you think he punched me the last time we saw us together? He was fit to be tied.”
“He thought you were coming on to me and just now, he was going to teach me how to ride but you came along then and now. Why did you have to follow me out here just to remind me about a stupid pool game which could have waited until later? Do you enjoy ruining things for your brother and me? Does it give you some sick thrill?”
“Whoa, whoa, calm down,” he said raising his hands. “I had a theory and just wanted to prove it.”
“And what theory is that?” she really was in a foul mood now and wanted him to go away. She was wondering if she should wait for Garrett out here or in the stables. Would he be gone long?
“I suspected that Garrett was in love with you. His behavior has that I’m right. Granted he didn’t swing for me just now but the expression on his face was a dead giveaway.”
“He practically threw us together,” she said, feeling dejected now. “He doesn’t care what I do or whom I do it with.”
“You really check for him, don’t you? I’m sorry that I made a mess of things. What can I do to make up for it?”
“Nothing. I think I’ll go up to my room and lie down.”
“Leah, I know my brother and I’ve never seen him fly into a jealous rage over a woman before—not even over Madison. Garrett is in love with you. I’m sure of it. Don’t give up on him. Chances are he’s not sure how you feel about him and he doesn’t want to get hurt. I’ll stay out of your way.”
She looked at him and saw that he was serious and sincere. “Thanks, Austin.”
“You should probably wait until tonight to talk to him. Give him time to cool down. I’ll make sure Consuela lets him know that you went straight up to your room when you got back to the house. That way he’ll know that you and I didn’t play pool. Then, I’ll head into town for a while and be back before dinner.”
She smiled at him and then turned and walked away. In her room, she lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about what Austin had said. Could it really be true? She wondered. Was Garrett in love with her? Oh, I hope so, she sighed, closing her eyes. I love him so much.
She sat up with a start. She must have dozed off. A quick glance at her watch told her that she had less than twenty-five minutes to get ready for dinner. Scrambling out of the bed, she rushed into the bathroom after quickly straightening the bedspread. As she showered, she thought again about what Austin had said. Tonight, she was going to straighten things out with Garrett. She had to let him know how she felt about him. Her heart began to thud heavily against her chest at the thought of facing him again. She hoped he had had time to cool off.
When she went downstairs to the drawing-room, everyone was there except Austin. Her eyes immediately went to Garrett who was standing by the fireplace looking handsome as usual in a black suit, black shirt and tie. They eyes met and held for several minutes and then he looked away, his body and demeanor rigid. Her heart sank and her resolve to settle things with him began to weaken.
Austin walked in just as it was time to go into the dining-room. He kept his word and stayed clear of Leah. All through dinner, she kept glancing over at Garrett who seemed to be avoiding looking in her direction. Although the food was scrumptious as usual, she couldn’t enjoy it and longed for dinner to be over so that she could be alone with Garrett. Finally, it was and as the others filed out of the room, she made her way over to Garrett.
She stood next him and when he turned to look down at her, his expression impenetrable, she said, “I’d like to speak to you. We can go to the study.” She knew that the study would be empty as everyone else would be in the drawing room or on the porch. Besides, she had a very good reason for wanting to talk to him there.
He didn’t say anything but aside so that she could precede him out of the dining room. Her legs were trembling as they walked down the hallway, her heart accelerating with each step. When they got to the study, she closed the door and turned to face him. “We’re standing under mistletoe.”
He glanced up and saw it hanging from the ceiling right above their heads. His gaze returned to her face, his eyes darkening. “You want me to kiss you?” he asked thickly.
She moved closer, her heart was pounding wildly. “Yes.”
“What about Austin?”
“Do you want me to kiss him instead?” She didn’t know why she said that. Perhaps, she wanted to see how he would react or maybe she was feeling reckless now. Her mouth went dry when she saw the expression on his face.
“No,” he groaned before he reached for her and pulled her roughly against him. Her eyes closed just as his mouth closed hungrily over hers. She put her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly as she responded to his kisses. They exchanged wild, passionate kisses as the feelings that they had harbored for so long came gushing out, threatening to sweep them away.
Finally when he raised his head to catch his breath, she asked, “Are you in love with me?”
He nodded. “Yes. I have been since we met.”
“So, Austin was right. He said you were and that’s the reason why you punched him.”
“When I saw the two of you together, I saw red. And when you made such a fuss over him, I was mad with jealousy. I thought you had feelings for him.”
“How could I when I was madly in love with you? You had no reason to be jealous of Austin then and now.”
“And you have no reason to be jealous of Madison. She and I are not even in touch with each other. Austin said that we were just to stir up trouble between you and me. Unfortunately, it worked.”
“Let’s put all that behind us.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Let’s forget about Austin and Madison and just concentrate on each other.” He bent his head and kissed her.
Source: Brushy Top