Jenna Owens finds, love, happiness, family and sorrow.
Jenna threw herself onto a pile of hay to bury the sound of the sobs that racked her body. Lance was her brother! The man she’d just been kissing was her brother. She felt like throwing up, the bile rising in her throat burned and made her cough. Hot tears poured from her eyes. The connection she felt was because they were related by blood.
Why hadn’t Lambert been honest the first time he called her in to this office? What possible reason could he have had to continue the secret? It made no sense. Lance liked her, wanted to have sex with her. The revolting thought sent dry heaves through her body.
“Jenna, what did he say?” Lance demanded, staring down at her.
Jenna sucked in a deep breath, willing her tears to stop so she could tell him the reason they could never be. She stood up ready to be the bearer of bad news. This had to stop, and since Lambert was a coward, not telling either of them sooner, she’d be the one to do it. Lance reached for her, but she stepped away.
“There can never be anything between us again.”
Lance shook his head smiling. She knew that making him believe wouldn’t be so easy. “Please, he makes up stories all the time to scare people away. I’m sure whatever he said to you was a lie.”
“No. He told me the truth. That’s why you and I can never be,” she said, the resentment of being given away at birth hitting her like a time bomb.
Lance stepped closer. “Jenna, we can run away together. He’ll never bother us again.”
What a mess. Jenna covered her ears as tears rolled down her face.
Lance pulled them away, holding onto her wrists. “Jenna, we can be together.”
“Lance, stop! We can never do this again! I’m your sister!”
Lance winced as if she’d slapped him across the face, then the color drained from his face as he released her arms. “How could he say such a thing? It’s not possible.” He stared in disbelief, his green eyes wide. “Let’s run away together right now. We don’t have to pack. We can just get into my car and go wherever you want.”
What was he thinking? Hadn’t he heard a word she just said? Did he think that she would actually go away with him, knowing the truth about her identity? “Lance, it’s true. I’m your sister, and nothing can change that.”
“I don’t believe it!” He ran from the stables toward the house.
Jenna went to her father’s truck. When he saw the look on her face, he rushed toward her. “Jenna, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
“Please take me home, Daddy.”
He jumped into the truck, and they sped to the house. The more she thought about Lance, the more the tears fell from her eyes. If Lambert hid the truth from Jenna, would he have told Terry and Tess all those years ago? No, he wouldn’t. The man was a coward. Now Jenna would be forced to shatter their world too. Life was so unfair. How could she tell them she was a Larkin? It would break their hearts.
When they reached the house, she ran into her bedroom and collapsed onto the bed. Stinging tears fell like sheets of rain as she burrowed into the pillow.
The mattress dipped slightly. “Jenna?” Mother rested her hand in the middle of Jenna’s back.
Jenna rolled onto her back and then sat up, wiping tears from her eyes and sucking in a deep breath.
“Honey, does this have something to do with Lance?”
She nodded. She wanted to tell her what happened, what Lambert had confessed, but he words seemed to be lodged deep in her throat.
Mother waited patiently for her to speak, her hand stroking Jenna’s back, that slight action so comforting. Her tears started to subside, and she was ready to get this off her chest. She had to tell someone what happened today. “Lance and I can’t see each anymore.”
“If he means that much to you, I’m sure your father can talk to Lambert on your behalf.”
Jenna sighed, “You don’t understand. The reason we can’t see each other….” The truth hurt so badly, that she began to tremble. What was this news going to do to all of them? Would they be able to survive it?
“Jenna, it might be hard to talk to me, but I can’t help if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
She took a deep breath searching for the right words. “Lambert called me into his office and said he’s my…” Again, those words, the truth, sat in her throat like a tumor, growing and ready to burst. “He said he’s my father.” Her tongue burned and her mind whirled as she prayed it was a mistake. Deep down she knew it to be true, but she just didn’t want it to be.
Mother stood and shook her head. “There must be some mistake. Your records are sealed.”
Jenna looked at the doorway and saw her father there dumfounded. The rug had been pulled out from underneath him, and now he too would find his perfect world crashing down around him.
“There’s no mistake. He even arranged it so I went to you and Dad.”
“He should’ve come to us with this!” Mother shouted, her fists balling tightly at her side.
Father slammed his hand into the wall, turned and stormed out of the house. Mother whirled around and chased after him. Jenna sat on her bed, numb. She didn’t want to feel the pain, or anguish or the heartbreak. It was too much. She wanted to go back to that day when Lance took her on horseback and refuse to go.
“Your father went to confront Lambert,” mother said from the doorway. “I’ll be right back.”
Why didn’t Lambert confess all this to Tess and Terry years ago? Did he honestly believe that they were all better off not knowing? Lambert Larkin was a coward. He kept the truth, probably from his precious family too, thinking he could manipulate all of their lives, and no one would ever be the wiser. He never anticipated what was to come from keeping this secret.
For the first time Jenna didn’t feel anything for Lambert Larkin. He put them all in this place; it was his mess, and time for him to clean it up. She refused to take the blame for something she had no control over. If Lambert had told someone in the beginning, Jenna and Lance would’ve never crossed the line.
“Jenna, I’m so sorry this happened,” Mother said returning.
“Will you tell me the story again?” Jenna begged, remembering how she used to sit on Mother’s lap while she spoke about the first time she saw Jenna at the orphanage.
She nodded, a faint smile on her lips, as she crossed the small room and sat on the twin bed. Jenna laid her head in Mother’s lap, as she’d done so many times over the years. Mother stroked Jenna’s hair, her fingers gliding through her hair slowly, the gentle touch soothing.
“Terry and I couldn’t have children, and the adoption agencies told us we had a three-year wait for a baby. Your father came home one day and said he’d just heard about another orphanage a friend told him about. I didn’t have to plead too hard for him to drop everything and take us there.”
Jenna began to relax, to feel comforted as her mother’s soft voice continued.
“I remember wandering around, watching the children, but none seemed interested in Terry or me, and so we continued looking.” She paused, her voice distant as she remembered.
“Finally, we came to your room, and the woman told me that you were small and sickly for your age. Terry was very apprehensive about my entering that room, but I insisted. The second I laid eyes on you, with your auburn hair and soft, brown eyes, I knew you were the one for us.”
Jenna closed her eyes, drifting off, wishing she could go back in time.
“When I peeked over the rail of your crib, you smiled brightly at me. It was a sign, like you knew that we were meant to be a family that we’d take care of you and love you. I reached down to scoop you into my arms, and you grabbed my finger, squeezing with all your might. You didn’t want me to go, and I couldn’t leave you there. You needed us, and we needed you. I sent Terry to sign the papers because I wanted to take you home immediately.”
She sighed. Jenna loved hearing that story, could listen to it for hours. Her parents chose her, wanted her, and loved her. They had become a family, and no matter who her biological father was, Terry and Tess Owens were her parents.
A soft knock at the door pulled Jenna off her mother’s lap. Mother stood, leaving Jenna on the bed.
Jenna heard the creak of the screen door, and footsteps. Her father had probably returned.
“You have a visitor.”
She didn’t want to see anyone, especially Lance. Who would come to see her now of all times anyway? Jenna got up from the bed, intending to get rid of whoever was at the house. To her amazement, Noah Prescott waited in the hall with sympathy in his eyes.
Jenna led him into the living room and they sat down across from one another. She was having trouble looking at him, especially when she remembered all the terrible things she’d done over the past few months. How could he forgive her?
“Your mother said you might need a friend right now,” he said. His eyes focused on her, but he was silent, as if he were waiting for her to say something.
“You didn’t need to come, Noah. I’ll live through this.”
He bowed and shook his head. “Why do you keep pushing me from your life?”
“Why do you keep coming back?” The bitterness in that statement made her cringe. She didn’t mean it, and wished she could take the words back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.” She couldn’t look at him. She was ashamed.
Noah moved off the chair and knelt in front of her. “Jenna, I know you’re going through a difficult time right now, but I still care for you. I want you to know I’m here if you need me.”
He was the strong, handsome man who came into her life and showed her the world. He was the only person who stood by her no matter what. How could she have been so blind not to see that he was the one for her? Why had she treated him so badly without considering his feelings?
She wanted to cry, but the tears refused to fall. “I hope my father’s all right.” Fear of what was happening between her fathers' rushed over her and she shivered. She would stand against Lambert to protect her father.
“I’m sure he can handle himself.”
They waited nervously for three hours before her father returned home. Mother ran out the door they second she heard the loud rumble of the truck engine. Noah and Jenna followed. The truck was parked on the grass, and he was lying on the lawn with an empty whiskey bottle beside him.
Noah rushed over and helped him stand, half dragging him into the house. Jenna stood back and watched in shock. Noah and Mother took him into the bedroom and gently laid him down on the bed.
“Terry, how could you do this?” Mother wailed.
Jenna watched as mother carefully removed his boots, put a pillow under his head, and covered him with a blanket.
“They love you very much,” Noah whispered from behind.
His hands gently gripped her shoulders. Jenna sighed and rested her head against his chest. They stood in the doorway for a moment, and then slowly backed away. Jenna walked to the kitchen and snatched the phone off the cradle. She needed to know what happened when her father went to confront Lambert.
Lambert answered on the first ring. “Jenna? Is everything all right?”
“What happened when my father came to see you?”
“Hasn’t he returned?”
“A few minutes ago.” Jenna wanted Lambert to suffer for all the hurt he’d cause her. “He’s drunk. What did you say to my father?”
“Jenna, yelling at me won’t get you the answers any faster.”
Silence took over the line while Jenna waited for answers. She was stubborn, and refused to be the one to speak. He needed to step up and answer the questions.
“He was out of control and I had to have him removed from the ranch.”
Jenna could just imagine all the gossip that would now plague her family. “I hope you understand he was deeply upset by the news. He loves his job, even if he won’t admit that right now.”
“Don’t worry, Jenna. I understand. Can I do anything for you now?”
What did he possibly think he could do after turning their world upside down? “You’ve done enough!” She slammed the phone down sharply; the crack of plastic against plastic ringing out in the quiet room.
Noah stayed for the rest of the day. He was extremely nice, saying all the right things to make her feel as if she didn’t just have a bomb dropped in her lap. How he was able to do that, after she broke his heart and betrayed him, she’d never know.
Her father did finally wake, and sat at the dinner table with them, but he wasn’t in a good mood. Jenna couldn’t tell if it was because he was hung over, or if he was having trouble dealing with news. His boss had manipulated him, sent him to adopt the daughter he abandoned. When he looked at Jenna now, that sparkle and laughter in his eyes was gone. Did he blame her for what happened?
Noah and Jenna cleaned up after dinner then headed to the back porch.
“I love watching the stars at night,” she whispered.
Noah laughed and then shook his head. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I know I’ve apologized before, but I want you to know I’m really sorry for the way I handled everything.” She took a deep breath and found some courage to turn and face him.
“Not tonight, Jenna.” He forced a half-hearted smile. “You have enough to deal with right now.”
She missed him, more than she realized until that moment. It felt good to be with him like this, like just maybe they could salvage a friendship if nothing more.
“Jenna?” Father said from the doorway. “There’s someone here to see you.”
Jenna stood and looked at Noah. Lance walked through the door, and she gasped loudly. The timing couldn’t be worse.
His eyes were bloodshot, and he smelled of alcohol. He didn’t even see Noah as he came through the door and made a beeline for her. “Jenna, I had to see you.”
“Lance, you remember Noah, don’t you?”
He turned to look over his shoulder at Noah, but didn’t say a word.
“Lance,” Noah said and nodded once. “I’ll leave you two alone.” Noah didn’t even glance in Jenna’s direction when he passed her and went into the house.
Lance waited until he was inside before speaking. “Jenna, I can’t believe this. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, but you shouldn’t have come.”
He grabbed her wrists and pulled Jenna up against him, then wrapped her in his arms. “Jenna, let’s really run away. I have enough money. We can go anywhere you want. I love you, and I don’t care what my father says.”
A chill raced down her spine as she struggled to pull away from him. Was he crazy? He couldn’t be serious. “Are you out of your mind? I’m your sister, and you can’t do anything to change that. I want you to leave.” She held one hand firmly on her hip and pointed to the door with the other.
“Don’t do this. We could be so good together.”
Suddenly she realized that it didn’t matter what she said, he wasn’t going to hear it. She stared at him for a moment. The desperation that took over his face frightened her. She walked around him, headed inside closing the door firmly behind her with a loud smack.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, Noah stood just inside the house. He’d heard every word. This entire situation was a nightmare, and she desperately wanted to wake up. With a heavy heart, Jenna’s knees buckled as the tears came down her cheeks.
Noah couldn’t believe what he’d heard. It was bad enough that Jenna had been dating her brother, even for a short time. Listening to Lance begging her to run away with him made Noah sick. The guy was obviously losing his mind. It was the only explanation.
Jenna came through the door, her face pale as her eyes filled with tears. He couldn’t even imagine what it must be like for her to find out that she was Lambert’s daughter. Before he could move, she collapsed to the floor in a heap. Noah rushed over to her. He scooped her up into his arms and held her close as she sobbed.
“Jenna, everything will be all right.”
He walked with her through the living room and into her bedroom. Her parents had disappeared, and he was grateful that they wouldn’t see their daughter like this. He always thought Jenna was a strong person, but having to go through something like this would take the wind out of anyone. Noah set her gently down on the bed, then reached for a Kleenex and handed it to her.
“Are you positive that Lambert is your biological father?”
Jenna took the tissue and wiped at her face. “From everything I’ve been told, it makes sense. Every time I saw him at the ranch, he turned and walked away from me. I thought he considered me lower class, but now I realize he was running from the truth.”
Noah stood. “I’d better go. Try to get some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Noah stood in the doorway watching her for a moment. She looked so lost and alone. As much as he wanted to hold her until she drifted off to sleep, he couldn’t do it. She was an emotional mess, and he didn’t want to do anything that would hurt either of them later on. He still loved her, and he wanted one more chance with her, but not like this. She had to come to him.
Noah turned and left the house. He got behind the wheel of the truck, threw in an Elvis CD and cranked the engine. As he pulled away from the Owens house, he passed Lance. His car was parked at the end of the street, and he sat behind the wheel, his eyes focused on Jenna’s house.
For a fleeting moment, he felt for Larkin, but it past. He’d be devastated if he found out the woman he loved was related to him, and he was glad that that would never happen. He drove home, the beat of the music soothing him as his thoughts remained on Jenna.
Being her friend was something he could do. God knows she needed some. Tomorrow he’d try to come up with a distraction that would help Jenna move forward. He had witnessed firsthand the changes in her. All through school she kept to herself, was picked on by the other kids. He always thought there was something special about her, and he was able to see it. She was a caring, loving woman. He hoped that she wouldn’t revert to the shy, quiet girl she once had been. That would be a damn shame.
The next week, she was more confused than ever. Jenna tried to deal with what happened and her identity—an identity she never wanted. Mother was patient, loving, understanding, and always gave her a shoulder to cry on. Father kept his distance, glancing at her occasionally, and then looking away when their eyes met. She didn’t know how to approach him. Every time she asked him a question, he gave a one-word answer. As much as she tried, he pulled away. Maybe he did blame her for everything that happened.
Saturday morning as they sat at the table eating breakfast in silence her father finally spoke to her.
“Are you coming to the ranch with me this morning?” He looked at her mother, avoiding all eye contact with Jenna.
“I’m not sure.”
“I’m leaving in ten minutes.” He pushed his chair back, the scraping of the legs against the wooden floor as irritating as chalk scratched on a chalkboard. He stood up and left the room.
The distance was starting to take its toll on Jenna. She missed her father, missed talking and laughing with him. Why did it all have to change? She wanted it back, to do something to make him remember their happier days. Did he honestly think that Jenna wasn’t his daughter because Lambert claimed her?
“Why does he hate me now?” Jenna moaned, resting her head in her hands on the tabletop. “I was happy with my life; I didn’t want to know Lambert was my father.”
“He doesn’t hate you. You must never think that. He’s having a hard time right now, but I know he loves you very much.” Mother’s fingers gently massaged her head, and then stroked the hair away from her eyes.
Jenna decided to go to the ranch with him and try to get him to talk to her. As they neared the ranch, though, the words she sought lodged deep in her throat and refused to come. Jenna hoped that Hadley would be working in the stables and things would go back to the way they used to be and was grateful to see her there.
Hadley spun around and opened her mouth, then suddenly closed it, as if she thought better of what she was about to say. “I heard. I can’t believe that you’re a Larkin.”
“You and me both. I’m glad we’re working together again.”
She shook her head. “I’m just getting a few things to take to the corral. That’s my new job.”
She watched Hadley gather up some brushes and a bucket, and then she left. Jenna pulled on the gloves and went to work. If she were smart, she would’ve stayed at home. After an hour, she sat on a mound of hay. The one place she always found solace had now become a place she resented. This place was nothing but one big lie. The only good thing was that she hadn’t run into Lance. She wasn’t sure if he’d finally started dealing with everything, or if he was still in denial.
“How are you doing?”
Jenna jumped out of her skin and glanced at Lambert. “Fine.”
“Is there anything I can get for you?”
Jenna shrugged, wishing this conversation wasn’t going to happen. She didn’t have anything to say, and seeing Lambert right now brought all her anger to the forefront.
Lambert headed over toward her, his eyes focused on her face. “The last time we spoke you were very upset with me. I hope you can accept me as your father.”
He threw that word around as if it weren’t a big deal. Didn’t he understand what he’d done? Jenna stood, wasn’t ready to deal with all this now. All she wanted was to get the hell off Larkin’s Ranch. “I have a father.”
Lambert sighed, his big shoulders slumping slightly. “I know Terry has been good to you, but I’d like a chance to make up for the lost time.”
Lost time? Was he joking? How many times had she come to this ranch to be outright ignored by her own flesh and blood? “I’m not ready, and honestly, I don’t know if I ever will be.” Jenna walked passed him and hurried to get out of there.
“If you ever need anything. I’m here.”
She kept going, breaking records for speed walking. She had to get out of there, and the sooner the better.