Jenna Owens finds, love, happiness, family and sorrow.
“Where are you going?” Lance called from behind.
He caught up and grabbed her by the arm. “I’ll take you home.”
Jenna jerked free, his touch giving her the chills. Visions of him kissing her, holding her began to flood her mind. She’d worked so hard to push them out, but they never really left. Would they? Could she really trust him? “I don’t know.”
Lance jammed his hands into his front pockets. “I promise to take you directly home. I won’t even speak if that’s what you want.”
She did want out of there. Maybe she should give him a chance, after all, he was her brother. The needed to get used to that fact. “All right, but I’m warning you.”
Lance took his forefinger and crossed his heart. “Not a problem.”
Most of the drive home was silent. Jenna had time to think about what Lambert had said. Suddenly, the man who made her feel like dirt wanted to be there for her. She wondered if it was out of duty and obligation, or something he truly wanted.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m still trying to make sense of it all.”
Lance glanced at her. “Jenna.”
“I love you. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but I think I can make you happy.”
She should’ve known, she should’ve been smart and kept her distance. This was turning into a sick obsession, something that was becoming out of control. “God, what is wrong with you? I’m your sister,” she spat. Fury burned deep in the pit of her stomach as her blood began to boil and flow through her veins like molten lava. “The sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.”
Lance pulled the car off to the side of the road, his green eyes intense, almost pleading as he stared at her. “I can’t help the way I feel. I know you think it’s wrong, but if you listen to your heart, you’ll see that you really do love me.” He reached out a hand and placed it softly on her cheek.
Jenna slapped his hand away, her heated gaze made him winch. “I can’t even imagine spending one hour with you, let alone the rest of my life. The thought of us…together…makes me sick.”
She flung the car door open and jumped out, then began to run, her booted feet pounding on the asphalt. She prayed he didn’t follow, but she refused to stop, no matter what. She had to stay away from her brother. Her mind whirled as she continued. He would never let it go. He would continue to chase after her until something bad happened. She had to shake that feeling of dread out of her mind, she had enough of her own heartbreak to deal with, and she didn’t have to time to try to figure out how to help Lance. He needed to do that on his own.
Arriving at the house out of breath, she sat on the porch, staring at the pink truck that belonged to Peggy Jo. This day just wasn’t going to get any better. Once her breathing slowed, she stood up and went inside. She refused to play nice with the town busy bodies.
“Jenna, why are you home so early?” Mother asked, jumping out of her chair.
“I couldn’t stay there.” She glanced at Peggy Jo and Suzie, saw the pity in their faces, turned and headed to her room. After this, the entire town would know that she was Lambert Larkin’s daughter. There was no escape.
Mother followed to the room and closed the door softly behind them. “Did something happen?”
“Lambert found me at the stables.”
Mother sat down on the bed and put her arm around Jenna’s shoulder. “I know you’re having a hard time with this, but it will get better.”
“One can only hope.”
She squeezed her gently. “You just found out that Lambert is your father. That will take some getting used to. There’s no rush. When the time is right, everything will work itself out.”
Noah arrived within an hour, and she had no doubt that her mother had called him.
“Let’s go to the beach,” he suggested.
“Noah, it’s almost winter, there’s nothing to do there.”
A devilish handsome smile crossed his red lips and made Jenna smile back at him. “I promise that you’ll smile and maybe even laugh.”
Who could argue with that? Heading to the familiar spot that they’d spent hours at had a relaxing effect on her. Elvis blared from the CD player, and Noah tapped along to the beat.
They sat together on the hood of the truck, a slight breeze blowing Jenna’s auburn hair around her shoulders making her shiver. Noah jumped down, went into the truck, and returned with a blanket, draping it over her shoulders. He pulled it snug around her and sat back down, his hip against hers. Jenna closed her eyes, remembering what it was like to be alone with him, to feel like he cared about her.
“I never stopped coming here,” he said, staring at the water. Jenna cocked her head and looked up at him. “Sometimes I’d stare at the sand and imagine you running around, laughing at the silliest things.”
Those words should’ve brought a smile to her face, but instead, sadness took over. Everything bad that happened between them was her fault. She was the one who pushed him away and messed up the relationship. Guilt swept over her, bringing another chill down her spine. How could she have been so ignorant? Noah came into her life and asked for nothing but honesty, and her love. Instead, he got betrayal and a broken heart.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.” He put his arm around her, pulling her into his chest. Jenna rested her head over his heart and listened to the constant rhythm.
“It’s all right, Noah. I deserve worse after what I put you through.”
“Come on, Jenna. You have to stop blaming yourself for everything that went wrong. If you spend time dwelling on things you can’t change you’ll never get over this. You’ll sit around for the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself. I never thought you were that kind of person.”
Was he right? Would it be something she carried around on her shoulders like a sack of feed? It was time to stop letting the events of the past predict the future. “You’re right.” Jenna slapped her hand against his thigh, got off the truck, and started running.
She raced through the sand, ran down to the water’s edge, and back again. Her heart pounded, and then she screamed…loud. She did it again, then again. Jenna fell to the sand laughing. It was a thin laugh at first, but it suddenly took over her body, and became a wholehearted, deep throaty laugh. Tears threatened to fall, but she didn’t care. She gazed up at the sky wishing the answers she sought were close enough to reach out and grab.
Noah loomed over her with his hands on his hips, staring down at her, blocking the warm sunlight. “Do you plan to stay there all day?”
Jenna propped herself up on her elbows and smiled. “No, but I’m not ready to go back yet.”
“Ok, what do you have in mind?”
“Hmm, why don’t you sing something for me?” It had been a long time since she heard Noah singing Elvis and it was something she longed to hear again.
He nodded. “One song.“ Noah headed to the truck and Jenna followed. Everything was silent as Noah made his selection, and then the blaring rhythm of a familiar song filled her ears. Jenna took a seat on the hood of the truck again and watched his performance of Stuck on You. He sang into an invisible microphone, danced and gyrated, fell to his knees, and then to his face.
He was motionless for a few seconds, then jumped up and rushed toward her. “Did that make you smile?”
“I’ll remember that performance forever.” And she would. It was as if the last few weeks hadn’t happened at all and they were together.
He narrowed his gaze and stared at her. “I’m not sure how I should take that.”
She smiled. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way. Let’s just say I was impressed by your moves.”
“Since my job here is done, may I escort you home?”
Laughing felt good and took her mind off everything. “Certainly.”
“I’m glad you took me away for a while,” Jenna said as they pulled into the driveway.
He smiled. “You know I can’t resist helping a damsel in distress.”
She laughed, leaned forward, and softly kissed his cheek. “Good night, Noah.” Sliding across the seat, she got out and felt refreshed. Jenna stood in the driveway watching until he turned off her street.
Walking closer to the house, she was stunned to hear the shouting of her parents coming from the house. She had never known them to yell at one another, and she had no doubt that the fight was about her. Jenna stood in the doorway and listened.
“I can’t stand looking at that man every day, knowing he’s Jenna’s father. I’m losing her, and I don’t know what I can do to bring her back.” Terry sat down in the living room chair in defeat.
Tess crouched down in front of him. “You’ll never lose Jenna. She loves you. You're her father. She is struggling to figure out where she fits in. If you don’t stop pushing her away, ignoring her, and talking around her, she might end up taking comfort in Lambert.”
She didn’t want to hear any more, and she didn’t want them to know she had overheard them, so she tiptoed inside and to her room.
The next morning, she sat at the table, gazing at her father, anxiously waiting for him to speak and hoping mother was able to get through to him.
“Is Noah coming over today?” he asked, he eyes on the coffee mug that he held onto.
“I think so.” Was that it?
The silence quickly took over again, and Jenna struggled to come up with something to say, something that would get him to talk to her. They used to talk about the ranch, constantly, and now that topic seemed to be something they’d never discuss again.
Father pushed the chair back and stood. “I have a few things to do today.”
She couldn’t take the distance any more. It was time to confront him and end the insanity. “Why do you hate me?”
He froze and looked down at her, his jaw dropping open. “I could never hate you.” He shook his head and closed his mouth.
Fighting tears and a heavy heart, she continued. “You haven’t looked at me in days, and you don’t talk to me anymore.”
His eyes focused on the floor, but he failed to say another word.
“I’m sorry that the truth came out,” she said, her voice a mere whisper. “You have to know I’m hurt by it just as much as you are.”
“Jenna, I love you more than anything in this world.” Finally, he took a step forward, reached out and hauled her into his safe, warm embrace. Jenna clung to him, feeling like they were back on track as the tears slipped out of her eyes.
He looked after her, taught her how to ride at the age of five, and thought she was a flower waiting to blossom.
“I love you, Daddy.”
He kissed her cheek. “We’ll talk more tonight.” After smiling at Mother, he walked out of the house.
Exploring the thicket became harder to do this year. Jenna was busy with school, her job and the weather was just plain unpredictable. She stopped going to the ranch on weekends, hoping that if she stayed away, Lance would get over his obsession. Just before Thanksgiving, Jenna received an invitation to the Larkin ranch, by Lambert himself, who called to speak with her.
“It’s time you met the rest of the family properly,” he said.
“I have to speak with my parents first. When do you want us there?”
“Tomorrow evening. Call me later and let me know.”
The thought of being in the same room with them sent panic through her veins and her stomach on a roller coaster ride. She didn’t know how her parents were going to react to the invitation, especially father. They agreed that it was time for all of us to sit down.
Jenna brought Noah along for comfort and reassurance, knowing Lance would keep his distance. Jenna took a deep breath as her father rang the doorbell. She would rather be anywhere than here.
Lambert opened the door with a large grin on his chubby face. “I’m so glad to see all of you.” His smile quickly faded when his eyes landed on Noah.
“This is my friend Noah,” Jenna said.
Noah and Lambert shook hands as everyone entered the house. Lambert led the way to the enormous living room. The room was dark, dark woods, brown leather furniture, tan curtains, and even a bar. It was like being inside of a cave. Even the wooden floor was mahogany.
The entire Larkin family stood next to the bar and not one of them looked happy. Her legs began to wobble and her pulse raced. She’d heard all about Lauren, Lambert’s wife, but seeing the ex-beauty pageant queen was an entirely different story. She stood almost 6’ and was very slender. Her hair was blonde, and certainly not natural because her brown roots were beginning to show. Her pale-blue eyes appeared gray as she looked at Jenna, no warmth at all. A cold chill raced down Jenna’s spine.
“I don’t believe you’ve ever met my wife before. Jenna this is Lauren.” Lauren nodded, and reached forward with her delicate looking hand. Jenna was afraid to hold it for fear of hurting the woman.
“This is our oldest son, Luke, and his fiancée, Tara,” Lambert said.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Jenna.” Luke smiled.
She nodded, noticing the resemblances between father and son. Luke had light-brown hair and eyes, as did Tara. They looked more like siblings than Jenna and Luke did.
Lambert led her over to Lara, who wore a skin-tight red dress.
“I believe you’ve met Lara before,” he said.
“Yes. It’s nice to see you again, Lara.”
“I still can’t believe I’m related to the likes of you!” Lara glared at her mother, but Lauren didn’t say a word.
Jenna gasped, surprised at how blunt Lara was. “I was surprised.”
Lara rolled her eyes, sauntered over to a chair, and plopped down into it.
Lance stood in a corner staring at Noah as if he wanted to kill him. How Noah was able to ignore that heated stare, she hadn’t a clue. After Lambert made the introductions, everyone sat and the maid appeared as if on cue bringing in refreshments. Bringing Noah along was a smart idea, just having him by her side seemed to squelch the uneasiness that she felt. Lance finally moved from the wall and sat directly across from Jenna, his piercing stare on her face.
Noah reached for her hand squeezing it gently. “You’re shaking,” he whispered.
“I can’t help it.” Disappointment rushed over her as she realized that Lance had yet to accept the truth.
“So, Jenna, Father tells me you’re in your first year of college,” Luke said. “How’s that going for you?”
“I have good instructors and have been studying hard to keep my grades up.”
“College is another word for boring,” Lara said.
“Please,” Lauren chided. “This isn’t the time to discuss your situation.”
The conversation started between the adults as Jenna sat watching the clock tick ever so slowly. As long as she continued to avoid Lance’s eyes, she’d be able to get through this awkward night. Looking at Lauren was intimidating since she glared at Jenna, making sure no one else saw this. If Lauren despised Jenna this much, then why go to the trouble of inviting her here?
Not being able to take it any longer, she stood. “I have an early class tomorrow. Noah was gracious enough to offer me a ride home.”
“Do you want us to take you?” Mother asked.
“Please stay. I’ll see you at home.” Jenna turned her attention to her instant family and forced a smile. “Thank you for inviting us.”
Lambert and Lance stood, following Jenna and Noah to the door.
“I want you to come back as often as you like,” Lambert said.
“Thank you,” Jenna said, opening the door. Stepping outside she was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. She’d survived her first meeting with a family she didn’t want to know, and with that out of the way, maybe things wouldn’t be so uncomfortable in the future.
“Jenna, can I talk to you for a moment?” Lance asked.
Her feet froze to the ground at the sound of his voice.
“I’ll wait for you in the truck,” Noah said.
Watching Noah walk away sent apprehension racing through her body. She waited, refusing to look at him, afraid of what she would see if she looked into his eyes.
“I’d really like the chance to start over with you.”
Jenna spun around, stunned that suddenly he was ready to deal with this. “What happened to make you change your mind? The way you were glaring at Noah and staring at me, I assumed nothing had changed.”
He jammed his hands into his front pockets and looked to the ground. “I’m sorry. It hasn’t been easy for me, but I’m trying.”
She sighed, knowing that that was all she could ask for now. “Okay.”
He nodded, “Maybe the next time you come, we can go for a ride.”
“We’ll see. I really have to go now.” She turned and rushed to Noah’s awaiting truck.
“Is everything okay?” Noah asked as she closed the door.
“Can we please get out of here?”
Noah drove straight to her house and they went inside, neither had yet to utter a word.