Jenna Owens finds, love, happiness, family and sorrow.
Noah noticed it, that mark on her neck that he was sure wasn’t there ten minutes ago. His heart seemed to stop, and he stared at her neck in disbelief. His fists clenched at his side as anger shot through him. What had he been thinking coming back here? She would never see the potential they had. She was just too immature.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” She looked down at the ground, rather than him.
“Where is he?”
Her eyes grew wide with fear. “I don’t understand.”
He lifted his hand and touched the dark spot on her neck. “I suppose you’re going to say that isn’t a hickey?”
Jenna gasped, and then covered her neck with her hand. “All right, Lance was waiting for me and saw you leave.”
He shook his head, turned and walked away. “Keep in touch, Jenna.”
He stopped, but kept his back to her. She’d been with another man. Nothing she could say that would soften that blow of knowledge. When her hand rested on his shoulder, he flinched. Her touch was something he longed for, and loved, but now it made him sick.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“I bet you are. I’m sorry, too,” he uttered, then walked away.
As he pulled onto the main road, he saw Lance Larkin’s hot rod parked at the corner. That wasn’t surprising. The man wanted Jenna, and everyone knew that when a Larkin wanted something, nothing stood in their way. He had to stop wasting his time. He didn’t know if he’d be able to keep a casual friendship with her, but he already gave his word. He'd never go back on his word.
If nothing else, Noah Prescott had his pride, and his word.
She stood in the driveway watching him drive away. She had to make a decision. A lasting decision that she would never regret. She stormed into the house and went to her room to look in a mirror. A large, purple hickey adorned her neck that was too big to hide. She was furious at Lance for doing it. She had no doubt that he had done it on purpose.
“Jenna,” Mother said, walking into the room. “Lance Larkin’s here to see you.”
Jenna walked passed her to the front door. Father was there, talking to Lance, and he glared at Jenna when she walked up beside him.
“It’s late, Jenna,” he muttered. “You have things to do tomorrow.” He stared at her for one, long, lingering moment and then left.
Jenna went out the door and Lance followed her off the porch. When she thought she was far enough away from the house that her parents couldn’t over hear, she spun toward him. “How could you do this to me?”
He laughed, “Calm down, Jenna. I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
“Don’t be flippant, Lance. You put a hickey on my neck hoping that would push Noah out of my life for good!”
He rested both his hands on her shoulders and looked down into her face with a smirk. “I did it because I couldn’t help myself. I go crazy whenever I’m near you, and I’m not ashamed to admit that to anyone.”
She shook her head, not believing a word. “I would appreciate it if you went home, Lance.” She looked at him one last time and stormed into the house.
“Aw, come on, Jenna. Don’t go away angry.”
She turned and glared. “Maybe you should’ve thought about that before you tried to ruin my relationship with Noah!” She slammed the door closed and marched to her room.
The only thing she knew was that she couldn’t trust Lance. If there were no trust, they didn’t stand half a chance.
Over the following weeks, Noah kept his distance from Jenna again, hardly uttering a sound on the drive to school and work. Whenever she glanced through the door into the garage at Stoney’s Noah looked away quickly, leaving her feeling more perplexed and desolate than before. Jenna refused to see Lance when he showed up on her doorstep, and she wasn't taking his calls. She threw all of his letters into the garbage without even reading them. She couldn’t forget that he deliberately set out to torment Noah.
Sometimes, she wanted to retreat into her old little world, bound with chains and scared to show anyone who and what she was. Back then, she had peace, exploring nature and all its gifts, thinking she was a small, insignificant creature who roamed the planet searching for the meaning of life. She had more than she knew back then, but it wasn’t realistic to go back in time and change her mistakes.
She walked in the woods until the sun set and darkness fell, wandering for hours, trying to figure out how to improve her life. When she stepped into the clearing, she saw Lance waiting at the back of the house.
She knew he wouldn’t just go away. “What do you want now?” she demanded, marching passed him toward the house.
“Jenna, you’ve been avoiding me for weeks, and we really need to talk.”
She swung toward him. “Say what’s on your mind and then leave.”
He reached out and took her hand. “I know what I did was wrong. All I want is another chance. I swear I won’t do anything that immature again.”
Jenna studied his eyes, wondering if he meant it. Could she believe anything he said?
“Please say something.”
“I don’t know what to say to you right now. I need more time.”
He moved closer, wrapping his arms around her body, pulling her to his chest, his lips crushing down on her. Jenna couldn’t fight the attraction. Something about him made her body quiver and shake with excitement, sending her heart racing.
Lance took her hand and led her to his sports car parked in front of the house. “Do you know that I sit out here every night, hoping to see you outside? I was afraid you’d never kiss me like that again.”
Again, that feeling of Lance wanting her when Noah didn’t entered her mind. Could her heart truly belong to two different men? Maybe it was supposed to turn out this way. Maybe Lance was the one she was supposed to ride off into the sunset with.
“What will you do when your father finds out?”
“I told you before, he can’t stop me from being with you,” he said, softly stroking her cheek.
“If I continue to disobey him, my father will be upset, I won’t be allowed to work at the ranch, and you’ll be constantly fighting with Lambert. I don’t want that kind of responsibility.”
Lance rested his forehead on hers. “Let’s not worry about things until they happen.”
His lips pressed to hers, and she let the sensations he stirred in her continue, pushing Noah out of her mind.
“It’s getting late,” she murmured and pulled out of his embrace. “I have to go inside now.
“Promise to come to the ranch tomorrow.”
Jenna laughed. “I can do that.”
He smiled kissed her again before she got out of the car. She watched him speed off down the street, tires squealing, as he turned onto the main road.
Her father was in the doorway when she reached the porch. Looking him in the eyes was impossible because she knew how upset he would be when he found out that they were seeing one another.
“I thought you were finished with Lance Larkin?”
She stepped into the house without answering.
“It’s time we had a little talk,” he said grabbing her arm, preventing an escape.
“Can’t it wait until morning?”
He shook his head, “’Fraid not.” Jenna sighed and followed him into the living room.
“I don’t need to tell you that boy’s reputation, but I want to know exactly what’s going on between you.”
She stared at him, surprised by the tone he used when he spoke to her. “I’m not having sex with him, if that’s what you mean.”
He shook his head again. “You’re too young to become involved with someone as experienced as he is. I don’t want you to be hurt. Your mother and I care about you, and the only thing that boy will do is break your heart.”
Did he really know Lance that well, or was he trying to plant doubts in her mind? “Daddy, I don’t think Lance would intentionally hurt me. Besides, we’re just starting to get to know each other, and I’m not ready to make any commitment right now.” Jenna stood.
He stood up and planted himself directly in front of her. “If you ever need to talk, we’re here for you.” He pulled her into his arms and held her. He never held her so tightly before.
The next morning, as they drove to the Larkin ranch, father glanced at her without speaking.
“Is something wrong?”
Jenna couldn’t wait to spend time with Lance and focus her attention on him, hopefully without the guilt of hurting Noah. They were broken up and she was single, free to date whoever she wanted. Once they arrived, she almost jumped from the truck before the vehicle stopped.
“Jenna, calm down. Do you want everyone to know what’s going on with you and that boy?”
“Are you telling me to keep it a secret?”
He shook his head, and she took off running to the stables. When she burst through the door, she was stunned that Lance wasn’t waiting. Most of the work was finished, so she put on her gloves to do the last stall, hoping Lance would arrive by the time she was done.
“Hello, gorgeous,” Lance said coming up behind her.
“I thought maybe you weren’t coming.”
He laughed. “I was held up momentarily, but I’m here now.” He kissed her cheek. “Since you’ve finished here, why don’t we take a walk?”
She nodded and tossed the gloves onto a shelf. They walked toward the back of the ranch hand in hand, and then started running when they saw Luther watching.
“Lance!” she shouted, “he’ll tell your father he saw us leaving together.”
He turned back and pulled harder on her hand. “Will you stop being so distressed over this?”
They reached the pond and fell on their knees, laughing with delight. “Jenna, I wish you could be here with me like this every day. We could ride, swim in the indoor pool, have picnics, you name it.” His green eyes glistened.
“That sounds fun.”
He shook his head. “Fun? I was talking romance. This is our time to be alone together, and I don’t want to waste a minute.” He walked to the base of the large tree that provided shade and pulled out a basket from behind the tree.
“What have we here?” he asked, winking at her.
She walked over to him as he opened the basket and took out a blanket, plates of food, two glasses, and a bottle of wine.
“When did you do all this?”
“Just before you arrived. I’ve been up since before six planning our day.”
No one had ever done anything like that for her before.
“Since its still morning I decided to bring breakfast.” He removed the lid from one plate. Bagels, crackers, cheese, grapes, and fresh muffins where in a mound on the china.
“Have I forgotten anything?” he asked.
Jenna shook her head and grinned. “I can’t believe you went to all this trouble.”
As they ate, she watched him constantly, shifting her gaze away when his dreamy eyes caught hers. She didn’t know why she was so nervous around him. The butterflies that had been idle in her stomach were suddenly ready to take flight. Every time their eyes met, she smiled and looked down, trying to hide her face.
She helped him put everything back into the basket except the blanket. Lance put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “I hope you enjoyed everything.”
“Yes, but I’m still a little shocked that you did all that for me.”
“Don’t you realize I’m falling for you?”
What could she say? The situation was moving too fast. “I don’t know what to say.”
He tipped up her chin and kissed her hard. When they parted, he searched her eyes, waiting for to speak the words, but she couldn’t bring herself to say them to anyone at that time, and she didn’t know if he could understand that.
“I’m saying I love you.”
“Lance, I care a great deal about you, but I’m not ready for any kind of commitment right now.”
He stared at her for a moment. “It’s him. You still have feelings for Noah.”
“I’ve never denied that to you from the first time we spoke. If I’ve led you on, I’m sorry.”
His green eyes were vacant. “Maybe I was hoping for too much too soon.” He stood and walked a few steps away.
Jenna went after him, putting her arms around him. “Lance, I care about you, but we have to take this slowly, so I won’t feel rushed.”
“Maybe we should head back to the stables,” he said, pulling away.
“Lance, please don’t be upset.” Jenna went over and helped him gather the blanket. “I had a wonderful time today.” She brushed a light kiss on his cheek.
“I knew you would.”
They walked back to the stables. Lance set the basket down in a corner. “Can I see you tonight?”
“Let’s see… It’s Saturday, and I do believe that my busy schedule is clear this evening.”
He laughed and kissed her again. This kiss was longer, sending a tingle down her spine and sweeping her off the ground.
“Excuse me,” Luther snapped, “but Lambert needs to see Jenna immediately.”
The kiss broke as they erupted in laughter.
“Let me come with you so I can talk to my father,” Lance offered.
“I don’t need you to defend my actions.” Jenna held her head high, and they walked to the house and down the long corridor leading to Lambert’s office.
She took a deep breath, then opened the door and stepped inside.
Lambert stood. His eyes focused on Lance and became cold sending a chill down Jenna’s spine. “You and I will talk later. Leave us alone!”
She glanced at Lance, not wanting to create any more trouble than there already was. “I’ll be fine.”
Backing out, he slammed the door behind him.
“Jenna, sit down,” Lambert ordered.
She hurried to the chair facing his desk and sat, staring out the window behind him.
“I had hoped that our last conversation would’ve put an end to your fling with my son.” He stared at her hard, his eyes very black.
“Mr. Larkin, I did as you asked for a while, but you must realize I care for Lance, and I know he has the same feelings for me.” She stared back equally hard.
“Did you honestly believe you could carry on behind my back? That I wouldn’t find out?” He slammed the desk with his fist.
“I’m sorry you don’t think I’m worthy of your precious son, but regardless of what you want, Lance will find a way to see me if he wants to.”
“I see you intend to make this more difficult than I anticipated. Jenna, it’s time you learned why my feelings against this relationship are so strong.” He stood and came to sit beside her.
She told herself to be strong and not let him interfere. He had no right to forbid their relationship. Jenna resolved to stand up for herself and let him know that no matter what he said, she intended to go on dating Lance.
Lambert sat down, looking suddenly uncomfortable. Jenna waited for a few minutes, but he didn’t speak. She considered walking out, but remained in the chair, hoping he’d explain his last comment.
“I had hoped to never tell you this, but now you’ve left me little choice.” He stood and began pacing.
She watched him walk back and forth. Finally, he turned toward her.
“A long time ago, I was very young and very foolish,” he began. “I took advantage of many people and didn’t care who I hurt in the process, thinking people were just stepping stones to what I wanted.”
“I don’t understand why you’re telling me your life’s story.” She stood to leave.
“Jenna, please sit down and let me finish.”
She plopped back into the chair and folded her arms, wishing she were somewhere else.
“I had an affair with a maid who worked at the ranch. After a few months, Lauren found out, and I promised her it would end. The woman became pregnant, and I had to make sure she was taken care of.” He stared at her with a slight smile.
Jenna closed her eyes, praying he wouldn’t elaborate. She didn’t want to hear it. Her head began to shake back and forth, as if out of control as her mind whirled. No, this can’t be happening to her.
Her throat was raw, and his dark eyes stayed on her face. She didn’t want it to be true. It couldn’t be. Nothing he could say would make her feel anything but hate for him.
“I paid for all her expenses. When she gave birth, I arranged it so the child was placed in an orphanage of my choosing. You must believe I had your best interests at heart.” He knelt in front of her.
Tears escaped her eyes. “It can’t be true. You’re just saying this so I won’t see Lance!”
“Jenna, I never meant for you to find out this way.”
She glared at him. “You never wanted me to find out all! All these years, I came here, and you gave me nasty looks, turning away and walking off as if I didn’t exist. Why are you doing this?”
“I was the one who made sure you went to a decent home. I met your father soon after, and he told me that Tess couldn’t have kids. I was the one who sent them to the orphanage with the hope that someone I knew would raise you.”
He acted as if that made the situation better. “You threw me away like a piece of garbage, because I’d be an embarrassment! All my life, I’ve struggled for things, and you could’ve changed that, but you chose not to. I wanted a job, but didn’t have transportation. I wanted to go to college, but Terry couldn’t afford it. All this time, you were right here, never bothering to help in any way. You didn’t even care enough to see if I needed anything!”
“Jenna, please, you have to understand that I did help in little ways. Terry told me how you wanted an education, and I was the one who paid the bills, letting you think your grant was approved. I was there for you, only you didn’t know it.”
Her stomach lurched and churned as bile raced up her throat, burning the entire way. “That doesn’t make it any better. My God, Lance told me he’s falling in love with me. How can I look at him again if I know he’s my brother?”
“You have to calm down and talk this out with me.”
Jenna got to her feet. “I have nothing left to say to you.” She ran to the door, down the corridor, and out to the stables.