Jenna Owens finds, love, happiness, family and sorrow.
The second semester of college began with all new classes. Noah had to return to campus and take Jenna to the garage because their schedules were completely different. Now more than ever Jenna wished for a car of her own. Noah swore he didn’t mind making the extra trip, but she couldn’t help feeling bad. With a surprise $500 gift of cash from Lambert over the holiday’s, her car fund was starting to grow.
Natalie Perkins stepped into Jenna’s world and changed her outlook. Natalie was vivacious and the complete opposite of Jenna. The dancer had short blonde hair with bright blue eyes. Dale, her boyfriend, doted on her constantly when they were together. Often when the threesome were in the student lounge, Dale and Natalie kissed, sat on each other’s laps, held hands, stared into each other’s faces, and made Jenna jealous of what they had.
Jenna pointed Noah out one day.
“What are you crazy? You let that go?” Natalie asked shaking her head.
That statement was enough to get Jenna to start looking at Noah from a new perspective. She never stopped caring for him, and suddenly she realized she wanted him back. She wanted the closeness again, wanted the excitement of first love to consume her, wanted to lose herself in Noah and be swept away by passion and desire, instead of letting everything that happened in the past be her guide.
Natalie and Jenna became fast friends and began to share everything, even Jenna’s identity wasn’t a secret any more. She needed someone to talk to, to understand and help her get through all the turmoil that seemed to creep up out of nowhere. January and February rushed past. By early March, Jenna and Noah began dating, but it wasn’t like before. Jenna wanted his love, and to give him hers, but things were strained. Trust was a major issue, and she had no one to blame but herself. Noah wasn’t as open as he used to be either, and since he wasn’t willing to share his deepest secrets, Jenna became secretive and guarded with her heart.
She loved him, was in love with Noah Prescott. Only she couldn’t say the words. She spent hours trying to figure out what she should do. She was afraid of not being enough for him. As much as she wanted to tell him that she loved him, the thought of those words not being said back kept her silent.
Jenna came into the student lounge to find Natalie surprisingly all alone. Seeing her without Dale was rare.
“Hey, Jenna, I’m going to Midland for the weekend to visit relatives. Wanna come? My parents already said it was fine.”
She shook her head. “I wish I could, but I have to work at Stoney’s tomorrow and the ranch on Saturday. Maybe I can do it next time”
She smiled. “I’ll hold you to it.”
“He’s not feeling well and stayed home today.” Her brow furrowed as she stared at Jenna. “Tell me all about Noah.”
“There’s nothing new to tell.”
She stood waiting, the expression on her face never changing. “Fine, you don’t have to volunteer information, I’ll just ask away. Have you had sex yet?”
Jenna shook her head. “That’s a big step for me. The way things stand; it’ll be a long time before it gets that serious.”
“You have to stop feeling guilty about the mess with Lance.”
Jenna sighed and sat down on the chair. “I can’t help remembering how I let Noah down. How do I know I won’t do it again?”
Natalie sat beside her. “You don’t, but if you open up to him, I’m sure your relationship would flourish.” She nudged Jenna. “I can tell he loves you.”
“Stop it, Natalie.”
“Why, Jenna! I do believe you’re blushing.”
Once she started, it was hard to get her to stop. “I have to get to class.” Jenna stood and looked down at her friend, waiting for the last comment.
“Say hello to your handsome friend.”
Pretending she hadn’t heard, Jenna headed over to the Liberal Arts building, her last class of the day. Thinking about what Natalie suggested seemed to fill her mind. She wanted to take a chance, to see if she and Noah were really going to see this relationship through, or if it was better to end things now. Today she would tell Noah how much she cared about him no matter what the outcome.
She stood outside waiting for him. Noah’s blue truck took the turn fast and her heart sank. Why would he be driving like that? What had happened now? “What’s going on?”
He smiled so warmly, leaning across the seat. “Have you forgotten what day it is?”
Jenna couldn’t come up with anything special and shrugged. She really hoped she hadn’t forgotten some sort of anniversary.
“Get in. There’s something waiting for you at home.” He opened the door and she got in, tossing her books on the seat between them.
“Noah, won’t you tell me why you’re so excited?”
He winked, “Just sit back and stop asking me questions.”
“Can’t you even give me a hint?” she asked. What was going on?
“We’ll be at your house in ten minutes. You can wait that long.”
Trying to get information out of him was like trying to pull teeth with a pair of tweezers.
When they reached her street, Noah pulled over. “Now close your eyes.”
“Noah, I can’t stand this anymore! Just tell me what’s going on.”
“If you cooperate and close your eyes, you’ll know in thirty seconds.”
Releasing a deep breath, she reluctantly gave in. A slight breeze blew her hair from the open window as the sun shone bright and warm. Jenna heard the engine churn and the crackling of the gravel as they moved close to their destination. She was ready to crack an eye for a quick peek.
“Not yet,” he warned instinctively. “Okay, you can open them now.”
Jenna snapped her eyes open and instantly lost her breath at the sight of a new truck in the driveway.
“My parents bought a truck!”
“Nope. Guess again.”
Jenna turned to Noah, knowing that her parents couldn’t afford to buy her a truck.
“This is your birthday present from Lambert.”
Jenna didn’t forget that today was her birthday; rather, she decided that she didn’t want the reminder. When she thought of this day nineteen years ago, she pictured a sad woman forced to give up her child to make a married man happy. “I can’t believe he did this.”
Mother stood on the porch waiting. Jenna flung the door open and tried to squelch the excitement of owning her first car. “Happy birthday, honey. Lambert and your father chose it. Isn’t it beautiful?” Her eyes filled with happiness and a genuine smile enveloped her face. Why did they approve of such an extravagant gift?
Jenna nodded and went over to the maroon pickup. It was magnificent; there was no doubt about it. Her stomach began to bubble as she stared at the truck, excitement slowly flooding her mind and body. She had her own transportation. Did it really matter where it came from?
“I’m sure they’re waiting to see you pull onto the ranch.” Mother held up a set of keys, and jingled them. They sounded like bells on Christmas morning.
“Are you going to take me for a spin?” Noah asked his eyes dancing as he looked at her.
“Why not?” They got into the truck, and Mother waved as they drove off.
“I don’t believe my father allowed this.” The fact that he and Lambert picked it out together was stunning. Jenna didn’t know that they had patched things up also.
“How many times do I have to tell you to stop worrying?” Noah asked.
“I guess I have a tendency to go overboard.”
They reached the ranch and easily spotted Lambert and Terry talking at the corral. As the truck slowly made its way forward, her heart began to hammer deep in her chest. She honked the horn to get their attention.
“Be polite,” Noah whispered.
She rushed over to her father and threw her arms around his neck. He lifted her clear off the ground, her feet dangling as he laughed with delight. Setting her back on her feet, he gazed lovingly down at her. “Surprised, huh? It’s written all over your face. Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
“Shocked is more like it.”
Lambert smiled. “Happy birthday, Jenna. I hope you like the truck.”
“It’s very nice, but I don’t think I can accept such a generous present.”
Lambert stepped closer, towering over her with his massive size. “I’ve missed a lot of your life. This is my way of starting to make that up to you. Please take it.”
Her world was changing daily being Lambert’s daughter. She looked to her Father, somehow needing his approval to accept it, and he nodded.
Lambert opened his arms, and when she didn’t respond, he took a step forward and hugged her. Being in those arms felt so strange, so foreign, as if it were a new experience all together.
“I hope if there’s anything else you need, you’ll feel comfortable enough to come to me.”
Words lodged in her throat as he released her. Jenna nodded; knowing that going to Lambert for anything would probably be the most difficult thing in her life.
“Where are you taking me now?” Noah asked.
“Well, we haven’t been to the beach in months.”
That sparkle in his eyes that she loved so much returned. He reached out and grabbed her hand, tugging Jenna toward the new truck.
“Your mother and I are taking you out for dinner,” Father called. “Be sure you’re home by six.”
They drove to the beach, to their favorite spot. Time was slowly ticking by, and suddenly Jenna realized that she was supposed to be at work. “What are we going to tell, Stoney?”
“I talked to him earlier and told him we wouldn’t be in until tomorrow. Our shifts are covered.” Noah sighed, “Too bad we didn’t bring any music.”
Jenna rolled her eyes as the corner of her mouth lifted. “At least we have the radio. It can’t be all Elvis all the time.” She placed the gearshift in park and turned towards him.
Noah laughed a deep throaty laugh that made her heart swell and her blood warm. That sound filled her ears and comforted as much as being his arms. They got out of the truck and walked along the shoreline hand in hand, making plans for the summer.
“I have one year of college left,” Noah said, “Then I can start living my dream.”
Jenna smiled. “I can already picture you, unrolling a set of plans at a construction site, giving orders, and wearing a tie.”
“Everything but the tie I think. That I’ll only wear one on special occasions.”
“Have you talked to any contractors about summer work?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I like my job at Stoney’s and it means I get to see you more.”
She blushed and looked away. The last thing in the world she wanted was to interfere in his career. No way would she hold him back and make him regret being with her. He needed to get his foot in the door, needed a start so that he could make a good living for himself.
“Are you still determined to write the next great novel?” Noah asked.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else. It might take years to write a book worth selling. Being published is almost next to impossible, but I can’t stop the flood of ideas that run through my mind. You have to admit that the things that have happened to me over the last six months would make a good story.”
He looked at his watch. “We better head back. I don’t want you being late for dinner.” Keeping this secret from her was pure torture. He didn’t know how she hadn’t suspected that a surprise party was in the works.
“I’m sure my parents will understand if I’m a bit late.”
She turned and gazed up into his sepal eyes. Reaching up she locked her hands together behind his neck, inching closer to him. Noah smiled, it was impossible not to. Finally, she had started something with him. That had to be significant. He’d waited so long for her to want only him, and now, he felt it. Jenna Owens wanted him, at last. He grabbed her hips and pulled her closer as their eyes locked. Slowly he bent his head as his lips pressed to hers.
Her breath caught suddenly and his thumbs rubbed against her bare skin at the waistband of her jeans. Nibbling her bottom lip made her jaw drop granting him access to the depths of her sweetness. As her breasts pressed into his chest, his tongue dove into her mouth and his body instantly hardened. A fire began to build in his groin, and spread to every part of him. Her tongue circled his in a heated frenzy, an urgent need in Jenna he’d never experienced before. He wanted her, now, but he had to stop before they were late.
Noah pulled back and smiled down at her swollen mouth. “We can finish this later.”
Disappointment darkened her brown eyes, and his heart soared from the knowledge. Yes, Jenna Owens was his, in every sense of the word. He dropped his hands from her waist and grabbed one hand, leading her to the truck.
“Promise?” she asked huskily.
Noah looked over his shoulder and smiled. “I promise, right where we left off.”
Jenna pulled the keys from her pocket and slipped them in his hand. “Are you coming to dinner with us tonight?”
He opened the passenger door and held it for her. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Afterward, I have a little surprise of my own for you.”
Her brows knitted together. “What is it?”
He shook his head. “You can’t wait for anything. This is one surprise I’m sure you’ll enjoy.”
Noah got behind the wheel and headed to Jenna’s house. He couldn’t wait to see her face when all those people jumped out. He was instrumental in hunting down her college friends and getting them to come tonight, as well as a few of their co-workers from the station.
Cars lined the street and Jenna knew that her drunken neighbor was having another one of his wild parties. She doubted she’d get any sleep at all tonight from the noise that would be pouring out into the street. She opened the door and headed to the house.
“Why is it so quite?” she asked.
He shrugged, opened the door and let her go in first. They headed through the kitchen and reached the threshold of the living room.
The once seemingly empty room filled with people, the faces almost a blur and Jenna whipped her head around taking it all in. Her parents rushed forward and pulled her into their embrace. “Were you surprised?”
“Thank you for keeping it a secret, Noah,” Terry said and shook Noah’s hand.
Jenna spun around and saw a devious grin plastered on his face. “You knew all along, Noah Prescott, and you kept it from me!”
“I didn’t want to ruin your party.”
As she gazed around the crowded room, she was stunned to see just who came to celebrate. Mrs. Wilcox, Mr. and Mrs. Pearson, and Mr. Jones their neighbors sat in a corner talking and laughing. The entire Larkin clan had showed. Sally, Tim and Daniel from Stoney’s garage even made it. Natalie and Dale were talking to some families who worked at the ranch. Even Noah’s parents were there. Seeing all the happy faces was overwhelming.
Natalie and Dale made their way over to Jenna. “Natalie, why didn’t you tell me?”
She threw her arms around Jenna’s neck and hugged her tight. “I’ve been dying to tell you for a week, and I couldn’t believe that you never mentioned your birthday was coming.”
“Yeah, I was having a hard time with it, and really wasn’t looking forward to it.”
“Nice to see you outside of school. Happy b-day,” Dale said and smiled.
“Thanks. Glad you both could make it.”
“Happy birthday, Jenna,” Lance interrupted, moving directly in front of her, then leaned in and kissed her cheek.
The touch of those lips on her face sent a cold chill rushing down her spine and she shivered. “Thank you, Lance,” she said, struggling to get the words out. “These are my friends, Natalie and Dale.”
Lance only nodded, and then rammed his hands in his front pockets. He refused to make eye contact with any of them.
“Jenna, this will be a wonderful evening for you,” Lambert said, stepping up to the circle.
She looked around at all the Larkin’s and noticed one was missing. “Where’s Lauren?”
“She had a previous engagement and couldn’t get out of it. She sends birthday greetings to you.”
Jenna smiled, but knew it was a lie. No way in hell would Lauren show up here, and happily rub elbows with the lower class of the town. The food tables lined the kitchen, as people ate, and then headed to the backyard to listen to music and dance.
After eating, Noah headed out back, and Jenna slowly followed, taking in the scene of the happy, smiling faces that were here to celebrate her birthday. Jenna noticed Noah over by the radio, talking with one of the neighbors. He spotted her watching and headed in her direction.
“May I have this dance?” he asked, his sepal eyes dancing.
Noah led her to the middle of the crowd as It’s Now or Never, by Elvis, began playing. Noah pulled her into his frame and laughed when she gaped up at him, excitement softening the hard lines of his face.
“Happy birthday, Jenna,” he whispered in her ear, his warm breath floating over her cheek and neck.
When he twirled her around, she saw Lance watching from the shadows, looking as if he’d lost his best friend.
Jenna pushed him out of her mind, concentrating on being in the arms of the man she was falling in love with. “I’m so happy, Noah. I feel like I’m floating on air.” She gazed up into his soft eyes.
Noah lowered his head, planted a light kiss on her lips, and then rested his forehead to hers. “The best is yet to come, Jenna.”
A few hours later the party wound down, and the guests left. The excitement of finally seeing Noah’s surprise rushed over her and her heart began to pound steadily in her chest.
“Now, birthday girl, I can give you your gift and hopefully watch your eyes light up.” Noah produced a box from his pocket and held it out before her.
Jenna took it, her fingers trembling as they worked on untying the red ribbon and bow and then lifted the lid. When she saw the platinum ring with a round amethyst in the middle she gasped.
“It’s beautiful!” she whispered, her eyes glued to the gorgeous gem as it sparkled in the light.
Noah laughed. “I thought you’d like it.” He gently removed the ring for the box and held it in his fingers. “We have to make sure it’s the right size.” As he slipped the ring onto her finger, tingling sensations began to travel from her hand, then arm and spread rapidly throughout her body. “Just what I thought. A perfect fit.”
“How did you know my ring size?”
Noah sighed and shook his head. “So inquisitive.”
“I thought that was one of the things you loved about me.” Jenna snapped her eyes to the ground as her heart fell. What was she thinking? Neither had used the “L” word since they got back together. It was out there now, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.
“You don’t have to be embarrassed. I told you many times that I love you, and I never stopped.” He kissed her long and hard, sending warm sensations down her spine. It was a magical moment, and she would always cherish it.
“I’d better be going,” Noah said.
“Since I have my own wheels, you don’t have to pick me up all the time anymore.”
“That doesn’t mean I’ll see you less. I’ll make you pick me up from now on.”
Jenna laughed and threw her arms around him. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” she whispered in his ear.
He kissed her again. “Count on it.”
Jenna waited until he drove away, and then went into the house.
“Did you enjoy yourself today?” Father asked.
“It was a wonderful evening. Thank you for giving me the party.”
She went to the bedroom closing the door, and sat on the bed. She felt something in the jacket pocket and reached inside. She pulled out a box and looked at it before tearing off the paper. Inside was a diamond bracelet and a note. She couldn’t accept such an expensive gift.
I know we’re related, but I can’t stop loving you. I see you everywhere I go and
think of you constantly. If I said I didn’t love you, it would be a lie. I will always
hold you in my heart.
Forever thinking of you,
She crumbled the note and threw it into the wastepaper basket. She’d send the gift back the following day and wouldn’t tell anyone. Somehow, she felt Lance would never stop torturing both of them. Nothing Jenna could say would ever make him understand that his love for her was wrong.