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.
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 no where.
January and February rushed past. By early March Jenna and Noah were a couple, but it wasn’t like before. As much as Jenna wanted his love, and to give him hers, things were strained. Trust was a major issue, and she had no one to blame but her self. Noah wasn’t as forth coming 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 the words were never spoken. Fear of not being enough for him drove her spend hours trying to figure out what she should do, and no answer ever came. As much as she wanted to tell him that she loved, the thought of those words not being said back made her keep her silence.
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”
“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 they ended 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 so sort of anniversary.
“Get in. There’s something waiting for you at home.” He opened the door and she got in, tossing her book 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?” I asked. What the heck 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 a rusted nail out of a fresh piece of wood. Neither budged easily.
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 girl 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 were filled with happiness and a genuine smile enveloped her face. Why she approve of such an extravagant gift?
Jenna nodded and went over to the maroon pickup. It was beautiful, 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 into the ranch.” Mother held up a set of keys, and jingled them. The sound like bells on Christmas morning.
“Are you going to take me for a spin?” Noah asked, his eyes dancing as he looked at me.
“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.”
We reached the ranch. My father and Lambert stood next to the corral talking. As the truck slowly made it’s 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 an generous present.”
Lambert stepped closer, towering over her with the 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 arm, 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.”
Word 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.”
His eyes lit up at the suggestion. He reached out and grabbed my hand, tugging me 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 will we tell Stoney?”
“I talked to him earlier and told him we wouldn’t be in until tomorrow.”
“Too bad we didn’t bring any music,” Noah said as we arrived in the parking lot.
Jenna rolled her eyes as the corner of her mouth lifted. “At least we have a radio. It can’t be all Elvis all the time.” She placed the gear shift in park and turned toward him.
Noah laughed, a deep throaty laugh that made her heart swell and her blood warm. It was a sound that 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 on special occasions.”
“Have you talked to any contractors about this summer?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I like my job and Stoney’s and it means I can 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 be a famous novelist someday?” Noah asked.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else. It might take years to write or get published, but I can’t stop the flood of ideas that run through my mind. You have to admit that my life 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 eyes. Reaching up she locked her hands together behind his neck. Noah smiled because finally she had started something with him. That had to mean something significant for them. He’s waited so long for her to want only him, and now, he felt it. Jenna Owens wanted him, finally. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer as their eyes held one another. Slowly he bent his head as his lips pressed to hers.
Her breath caught as his thumbs rubbed against her bare skin at the waist band of her jeans. Nibbling on her bottom lip made her mouth part granting him access to the depths of her sweetness. As her breast 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 frenzy, an urgent need in Jenna he’d never felt before. His body wanted her in every way, now, but he had to stop before they were late.
He pulled back and smiled down at her swollen mouth. “We can finish this later.”
Disappointment clouded her eyes, and his heart soared from that 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 should and smiled. “I promise, right where we left off.”
We walked to the truck, and I let Noah drive it back to my house.
“Are you coming to dinner with us tonight?” I asked.
He glanced at me. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Afterward, I have a little surprise of my own for you.”
I looked at him curiously. “What is it?”
He shook his head. “You can’t wait for anything. This is one surprise I’m sure you’ll enjoy.”
We pulled into the driveway, got out, and walked to the front door.
“Why is it so quite in here?” I asked.
He shrugged as we walked into the living room.
People jumped out from behind furniture. My parents ran to me and asked, “Were you surprised?”
I nodded, shocked at the people who gathered for my birthday.
“Thank you for keeping it a secret, Noah.” Father shook his hand.
I spun around and saw him grinning. “You knew all along, Noah Prescott, and you kept it from me!”
“I didn’t want to ruin your party.” He took my hand.
Mrs. Wilcox, one of our neighbors, was there, along with the entire Larkin family except for Lauren, then I saw Natalie and Dale, and other families who worked with Father at the ranch. Noah’s parents were there, too. I was overwhelmed.
“Natalie, why didn’t you tell me?” I asked as we hugged.
“I’ve been dying to tell you for a week, and I couldn’t believe that you never mentioned your birthday was coming.”
“With everything that’s been going on in my life, I guess I forgot.”
“Happy birthday, Jenna.” Lance kissed my cheek quickly.
“Thank you, Lance. These are my friends, Natalie and Dale.” I waited to see Natalie’s reaction.
She smiled and extended her hand.
“Jenna, this will be a wonderful evening for you,” Lambert said, stepping up to me.
I nodded. “Where’s Lauren?”
“She had a previous engagement and couldn’t get out of it. She sends birthday greetings to you.”
I assumed she was wishing I would suffer for the next fifty years. I greeted the rest of the guests, then my parents directed everyone to the kitchen to eat. I gazed at the happy faces and saw Lance standing in a corner, watching me longingly.
I tried to ignore him for the rest of the evening, but no matter where I went, he was always nearby. I couldn’t understand why Lambert or Luke didn’t spend more time with him. Didn’t they notice he was following me around all night? Maybe they didn’t care enough to pay much attention.
Some of the guests went outside, where my parents had a radio playing loudly, attracting neighbors from the backyard to watch the festivities.
Father waved some over, making the party even bigger. Noah went to the man who was playing the music, then came to me. “Can I have this dance?”
I smiled as he led me to the middle of the crowd, then Its Now or Never by Elvis, began playing. Noah swung me around.
“Happy birthday, Jenna,” he whispered.
When he twirled me around again, I saw Lance watching from the shadows, looking as if he’d lost his best friend.
I couldn’t worry about him any longer. I had to put thoughts of him out of my mind and concentrate on the wonderful things I had. I definitely wanted Noah in my life. “I’m so happy, Noah. I feel like I’m floating on air.” I gazed into his soft eyes.
“The best is yet to come, Jenna.”
I tried to figure out what his surprise was, but he just laughed and made me wait even longer.
Lance left a small gift before he departed that night. I watched the Larkin family drive away then Noah took my hand and led me to his truck.
“Now, birthday girl, I can give you your gift and hopefully watch your eyes light up.”
I accepted the small box from him, took my time removing the red bow, and lifted the lid. When I saw the gold ring with my initials inside, I gasped.
“It’s beautiful!” I whispered.
He laughed. “I thought you’d like it.” He took the box from me and removed ring. “We have to make sure it’s the right size.” He slipped it on my finger. “Just what I thought. A perfect fit.”
I looked down at my finger with the highly polished gold ring on it, and asked, “How did you know my ring size? I never expected anything like this.”
“Do you always have to be so inquisitive?”
“I thought that was one of the things you loved about me.” I looked away quickly, cursing myself for saying that word.
How could I mention it right now? Neither of us used the word love in so long. I wished I could take back my last comment.
“You don’t have to be embarrassed. I told you many times that I love you, and I never stopped.” He kissed me long and hard, sending warm sensations down my spine and sending me to the top of the world. It was a magical moment, and I 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.”
I laughed and threw my arms around him. “I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” I whispered in his ear.
He kissed me again. “Count on it.”
I waited until he drove away, then went into the house.
“Did you enjoy yourself today?” Father asked.
“It was a wonderful evening. Thank you for giving me the party.”
I went to my room closing the door, and sat on my bed. Then I felt the present Lance gave me in my pocket. I pulled out the box and looked at it before tearing off the paper. Inside was a diamond bracelet and a note. I knew I 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,
I crumbled the note and threw it into the wastepaper basket. I’d send the gift back the following day and wouldn’t tell anyone. Somehow, I felt Lance would never stop torturing both of us. Nothing I could say would ever make him understand that his love for me was wrong.
A Rekindled Heart
With my first year of college drawing to a close, my relationship with Noah stronger than it had been, and my learning to accept the fact that I was Lambert’s daughter, I slowly reached a new outlook on life. I matured a great deal and found a way to keep things from bothering me so much. I slowly developed a tough outer skin, stopped dwelling on the past, and started looking ahead with my eyes open, ready to embrace life again.
I couldn’t wait for the semester to finish, freeing up more time to spend with Noah and explore the thicket I loved. As I walked toward my house one day, I heard a car speeding down the street and screech to a halt. I went in through the back door as someone pounded on the front.
I rushed to answer, expecting bad news, then was shocked to see Lance standing there, drunk.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“Jenna, I had to see you. I don’t understand why you returned my gift and continue to avoid me.”
“You’re drunk, Lance. I’d better call your father.” I turned to walk inside.
“He’s our father! Why won’t you say it?”
“At least I admit it. Maybe you should try it,” I said, walking to the phone
“I want you to come away with me, Jenna,” he begged.
“How many times do I have to say no for you to get it through your thick skull? You have to stop this insanity.”
He held my arm. “I can’t stop loving you. I’ve tried, but every day without you, my heart aches even more.” He put my hand over his chest, but I yanked it back.
“Don’t shut me out of your life. I need you. I want to be the one you kiss, to hold you in my arms, and to share your first sexual experience.
“What makes you so sure I’m still a virgin. You shouldn’t be surprised if I gave myself to Noah. After all, we’ve been together for a long time.” I stepped back, and he winced in pain.
“How can you be so cruel?” He lowered his head.
“You should leave.” I pointed toward the door.
“You don’t have to throw me out. I’m leaving.” He stumbled toward the door.
I watched him flounder to the car, and almost fall several times. I couldn’t let him drive in that condition, so I ran toward him.
“Let me call the ranch and have someone come get you.”
“I’m quite capable of making it on my own.”
“I don’t think so.” I reached for the keys in the ignition, and he pulled me on top of him.
“I can’t let you go. It’s not fair that you were taken from me.”
“Let go of me this instant!” I shouted, fighting to break free.
“I love how your nose scrunches up when you’re angry,” he drawled, smiling lasciviously.
“Lance if you don’t let me go I’ll scream loud enough to bring the entire neighborhood out here,” I threatened, gritting my teeth.
“Oh, Jenna.” He put his hand on the back of my neck and kissed me hard.
Just then I was grabbed by my waist and pulled from the car. I turned and saw Noah. “Thank God you’re here. He’s too drunk to drive home.”
Noah reached into the car and pulled out the keys. “You should call Lambert now,” he said with a smile.
I ran into the house and called. “Lance is here drunk. It’s time you deal with this situation before he hurts himself!” I snapped.
“I’m on my way.”
I went outside to wait with Noah. I found them sitting on the porch. “Lambert’s on his way.”
Lance looked ready to pass out. “I could make it on my own.”
Noah stood and came toward me. “He’s been babbling about how he loves you. I thought we resolved this a long time ago.”
I hadn’t told him about the bracelet, and I wasn’t about to at that moment. “I don’t know what to do.”
Twenty minutes later, Lambert and my father arrived to retrieve Lance.
“What happened?” Father asked.
“It’s a long story. He’s in no condition to drive back to the ranch.” I stared and Lance who refused to look at me.
Lambert carried Lance to the truck and almost threw him in. Noah handed the keys to my father, and Lambert returned.
“I’m truly sorry about this,” he said.
“You can’t continue to ignore his behavior,” I said. “He needs your help and your support. It’s the least you can do, since you’re responsible for this situation.”
“Jenna, will you ever forgive me?”
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with it. He’s suffering, and you’ve ignored his pain. He’s the one who needs to forgive you.”
Lambert nodded and backed away.
Once they were gone, Noah put his arms around me. “I have pretty good timing.”
“That you do.”
“It’s a beautiful day. Why don’t we do something to get our minds off this?”
“What do you have in mind?”
Noah led me to his truck. “A day of leisure.”
I had the feeling we were going to the beach again, but I welcomed any distraction.
We arrived at the beach in silence. Lance’s words remained in my mind. I contemplated every detail of his actions and words of undying love. When would he finally comprehend that it wasn’t possible? When would he stop sending me letters, calling the house, and confronting me all the time? It was hard not to condemn Lambert for what happened. He could have stopped the relationship before it began.
“Jenna? Where are you?”
I smiled over at him.
“I’m sorry, I guess I was deep in thought.”
“I brought you here to put that out of your mind.” He opened the door and jumped out. “Are you coming?”
I followed him to the water and sat beside him. There were times when I wondered why he bothered with me.
We talked for hours. Mostly, I listened to his plans for the future and desperately tried to appear happy for him. I didn’t like the thought of him leaving for even a short amount of time. He wanted to attend a special school that concentrated on architectural design, but he chose to stay in town because of me. It was selfish not to tell him to go, but I needed him.
“I’ll work full-time for Stoney to make some extra money,” Noah said.
This saddened me, because I thought we’d be spending more time together once school was out for the summer.
“Don’t look that way,” he said, putting his arm around me. “I’ll have plenty of time to see you.”
I smiled when he looked into my eyes and warmed my heart. “I was hoping we’d be together all day.”
“You know what you need?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“You need a song.” He ran back to the truck, and I followed, sitting on the hood.
“What are you be performing today?” I asked.
“One moment, my lady.” He took a position a few feet in front of me.
Then the music began, and I recognized Surrender by Elvis. Noah sang to me, reaching toward me. The very last words were be mine tonight. Noah went to his knees, raising his hands into the air before falling face down in the sand.
I jumped to the ground and applauded. “Bravo! Bravo!”
Noah stood and bowed, and I launched myself into his arms. I kissed his face and whispered, “You’re so wonderful.”
Noah carried me to the back of the truck, and we lay beside each other, kissing, caressing, and holding each other tightly. I wanted him to make love to me, and I had no intention of stopping anything he started. It would be my first time. I longed for Noah to be the one to ignite my body, sending me into the depths of passion, making me a woman, and whispering words of everlasting love and devotion.
I slowly lifted his shirt over his head as he gazed into my eyes. The only thing on my mind was him and what I hoped would be a wonderful experience for both of us. Our kisses became longer, our breathing intense and erratic, as his hands moved under my shirt, removing my bra and exposing my breasts. I gasped, then smiled into his loving face. In seconds, my body responded to his every touch—my nipples became hard, and my mind spun out of control.
I hungered for more, clinging to his body and waiting for the moment when he entered me, changing our relationship and my life forever. Noah gazed down at me for a moment, then stopped and moved away, sitting up against the side of the truck.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, Jenna, but we can’t do this.”
Tears filled my eyes. “You still hate me.” I dressed and got into the truck, waiting for him to drive me home.
Noah got in beside me, his hands tight on the steering wheel, his gaze straight ahead. “I want you more than ever, but not like this.” He stared at the water.
“What’s wrong with this?” I spat.
“Come on, Jenna. Do you really want your first time to be in the back of my truck? I want it to be special, and this isn’t.”
Folding my arms on my chest, I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I couldn’t look at him, because I felt humiliated.
Noah started the truck and drove slowly to my house. I couldn’t wait to run inside and hide in my room. How could I look at him again? Every time I wanted something, the situation blew up in my face, leaving me feeling more exposed than ever. When it seemed like circumstances were finally going in the right direction for me, something always shattered my dreams.
Noah pulled into the driveway. “Jenna, I don’t want you to be upset about this. You know how much I love you, and I’m only thinking of your feelings.”
If that’s true, then why do I feel so worthless? Why is it so difficult to figure men out? Why couldn’t I be as patient and understanding as he was with me?
As I opened the door I turned to him. “My parents are probably wondering what happened to me today.”
“I love you, Jenna.”
“I love you, too.” I forced a smile.
As I walked into the house, my father flew out of his chair. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Noah took me to the beach to clear my head,” I uttered staring at the floor.
“We called Stoney’s, and they said you never came in to work today. We thought something terrible happened to you.” Mother walked up to me.
“I’m sorry you worried about me, but I’m fine.” I embraced her, wishing I could talk privately about my situation with Noah, but I felt too awkward about it to mention it.
“I’m very tired,” I said, pulling away.
“Is everything all right?”
I nodded and went to my room, wondering if I’d kept Lance out of my life, would Noah have made loved to me. I hated the questions that ran through my mind. They drove me crazy.
Ten minutes later there was a knock on my door.
“Come in,” I uttered.
“Noah’s on the phone for you,” mother said.
I went into the kitchen to talk to him, feeling my parents staring at me, wondering what was going on. I hoped I’d be able to whisper so they couldn’t understand what I said.
“Hello, Noah,” I said.
“I feel really bad about tonight. I had to make sure you’re all right.”
“I’m fine. You didn’t need to call.” I turned my back on my parents.
He was silent for a moment. “I just want the first time to be someplace comfortable and more private.”
I sighed. “I understand.”
“Please say this won’t change anything between us. I can’t stand the thought of losing you again.”
“You won’t. I love you,” I whispered, hanging up and returning to my room.
A few minutes later, my mother came back to talk. “I can tell something’s going on, and I hope you know that you can come to me.” She sat on the bed beside me.
“Noah and I are having a hard time right now.”
“Does this have to do with Lance? Your father told me what happened.”
“If it concerned Lance, it would be much easier to deal with.” I stood and looked at her as she frowned.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about it.
She stood and came to me. “Is Noah pressuring you to have sex?”
I shook my head vigorously. “No. He doesn’t want me at all!” I ran to my bed and began crying.
“Jenna, honey, I’m sure you’re blowing this out of proportion.” She placed her hand on my shoulder.
I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling.
“Anyone can see that he adores you. Maybe he was putting your needs ahead of his own and didn’t realize you might think of that as rejection. I’m sure that whatever the reason, he loves you and wouldn’t do anything to hurt you.” She smiled at me warmly.
How did she know so much about him? Did he talk with her about me? I couldn’t bring myself to ask. “I wish I were as confidante as you.”
“The situation will look better in the morning,” she said, kissed my cheek, smiled and walked out the room.
I speculated for a while, then dressed for bed. I didn’t want to think about anything for the rest of the night so I forced my eyes shut and prayed for sleep.
Over the following weeks, Noah and I were so busy studying for finals, we didn’t have time to dwell on that day at the beach. I still felt mortified that he cast me aside that day, but I began to realize he was right. I wanted to make love to him in perfect surroundings, with candles, in a place that was warm and private. I would’ve been horrified if someone saw us naked in the back of his truck.
After my last exam, I drove to Noah’s house. He finished his test three hours before I did, and we planned to have lunch together before heading off to work. His mother was walking out to her car when I arrived.
“Hello, Jenna. I’m sorry I can’t stay and talk, but I promised to meet some friends today. Noah’s waiting for you inside.” She got into her car.
I waved and walked to the door.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Noah said from the doorway.
I stepped in, and he kissed me.
“How was your test?”
“I made some mistakes, but overall, I think I did okay.”
“Do you still want to go to the diner for lunch?”
“It doesn’t matter. Just the thought of being alone with you makes me happy,” I said, smiling.
“All right. I can make something for us whenever you’re hungry.” He sat in a chair at the table.
“What do you want to do?”
He shrugged and smiled. “I could always perform for you.” His eyes twinkled as I laughed.
“That’s not necessary.”
As we sat there, our eyes met and locked. Finally, I moved over to him and sat on his lap. “I missed you today,” I whispered kissing him hard.
“Maybe I should stay away more often if it means that kind of greeting.”
I slapped his arm playfully.
“What was that for?”
“Because you’re always being mean to me,” I said, pouting.
“How can I make it up to you?”
I thought a moment. “Kiss me again before I walk out of here.”
He smiled and pulled me closer, kissing me until my heart raced, and I moaned with pleasure. He pulled back and looked at me.
“Don’t stop, Noah,” I pleaded.
He pushed me off his lap, and I thought he just wanted to stop again, but he led me to his room. My heart pounded in my chest when he closed the door behind us. We stood there, holding hands, gazing at each other and wondering what would happen next.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” he asked.
I nodded, waiting for him to begin, because I couldn’t. Noah slowly removed his shirt, then I did the same. He took my hand and led me to the bed.
The moment I’d been yearning for had arrived, and I felt a little uneasy. I lay back and closed my eyes as Noah explored my body with fingers, lips, and tongue. He stood, sliding off his pants then he reached for me to do the same. I kept my eyes on his as I let my jeans drop to the floor.
He wrapped his arms around me, kissing me hard again as we moved back to the bed and lay beside each other in our undergarments.
I gazed into his handsome face, his soft eyes drinking me in and felt warm tingles run throughout my body.
“I love you, Jenna,” he whispered, placing small kisses on my neck and down my throat.
I closed my eyes, feeling like I was drifting. Before I knew it, he removed my bra and slid my panties down my legs. I took a deep breath as he lay on me.
I opened my eyes and smiled at him, wrapping my arms around him as he leaned down to kiss me. I pushed all scary thoughts from my mind, wanting to concentrate on the two of us, showing him how much I loved him. Our bodies moved together as if to an unheard melody, making me cry out at times, and Noah stopped to make sure I was all right. I realized he did care about me and was showing me how much.
He gave me the thing I’d never experienced before, sending me soaring above the clouds the way it was supposed to be. We were destined to be together, and my heart filled with joy as we approached orgasm totally out of breath.
Finally, he collapsed on top of me, kissing the tip of my nose softly.
“I love you, Noah,” I said, gazing into his eyes.
“Nothing will keep us apart again,” he whispered. “I love you too much to let anything happen.”
We drove to Stoney’s in the glow of the afternoon, constantly smiling at each other and holding hands. Noah kissed me before we went inside.
“I can’t wait to be alone with you again,” he said, winking at me.
The four hours at work flew past, and we ran to my truck, laughing, full of life, planning the future we’d share.
“Let’s go to the diner,” Noah suggested.
I nodded, tossing him the keys.
We arrived and took our favorite booth, smiling constantly at each other and refusing to release each other’s hand unless necessary. I glanced at an elderly couple who looked like they were still in love. For some reason, I was drawn to them, watching the way the woman helped her husband when he spilled coffee on himself. She pulled out a napkin and dabbed lightly at his shirt while smiling.
“Jenna? I’m losing you again.”
“I keep doing that.”
Then he saw the couple I’d been looking at and squeezed my hand. “That’ll be us someday.”
After we finished our meal, Lance sauntered in with a blonde on his arm.
I sank into the booth, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. Somehow, Noah missed the couple’s grand entrance.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
I remained in a slouch and shook my head. Lance didn’t notice us, making me thankful. I prayed we could leave without being seen, but that was impossible.
“Can we get out of here?” I asked.
“Your wish is my command.” He stood, then froze for a second. “You could’ve said something.”
“I didn’t know what to say. Let’s leave before he notices us.”
“Jenna! Noah!” Lance called.
I cringed then Noah put his arm around me and led me toward their table.
“How are you, Lance?” I asked.
“Fine. Sit down for a moment.”
I looked at Noah, then we sat.
“This is my girlfriend, Amy. Amy, this is Jenna and Noah.”
Amy was really plain with straight blonde hair and blue eyes. “Hi y’all,” she drawled.
What could he possible see in someone like her?
We talked for a few minutes then Noah and I stood to go.
“Are you sure you can’t stay?” Lance asked.
“I must get home,” I replied. “It was nice meeting you, Amy.”
We walked out to the truck and got in. “I can’t believe he brought her all the way out here,” I muttered.
“Did you ever stop to think that she might live here?” Noah asked.
I glanced at him.
“Lance is standing outside your door,” Noah said.
I opened the door and got out. “What do you want?”
“I thought you wouldn’t be angry with me anymore. I just wanted to apologize again. I was hoping we could start acting like siblings.”
I didn’t trust him. “I don’t know, Lance.”
“Please consider it. I know Dad would be happy if we could get along. Take care of yourself.” He walked back into the diner.
I returned to the truck.
“What did he say?” Noah asked.
“He apologized again and said he hoped we could be siblings.” I stared at the diner window where Lance was with Amy. They kissed, and I wondered if he staged that just for my benefit.
After driving to Noah’s house, we sat outside and talked for a while.
“Does it bother you that he found someone?” Noah inquired.
I was astonished that he could ask me that. “Of course not. I’m glad he’s finally moving on.”
“We had a pretty special day,” Noah said, sliding closer to me with a smile. “I don’t want it to be ruined by talk of your brother.”
He was right. I couldn’t let Lance wreck the wonderful afternoon we had. “I’m sorry. Let’s talk about us.” I kissed his cheek.
“Is that the best you can do?”
I smiled and kissed him hard on the lips, wishing we were back inside without any distractions.
“I’m glad you were the one I chose, Noah.”
He grinned. “I would’ve waited forever for you. I could never turn off my feelings for you. Every time we’re together, my heart races, and I have to concentrate on my breathing. I keep praying you won’t notice how much you get to me.”
I threw my arms around his shoulders in excitement. “I love you, Noah Prescott! There won’t be anyone who can make me come alive like you do.”
Laughing, he kissed me again. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Who knows? Maybe I can talk Stoney into giving us the day off.” He kissed my cheek and got out of the truck.
I drove home with the radio blaring to Elvis, tapping my finger against the wheel like Noah did, then laughed at myself for picking up his habits.
My heart sang again, keeping a smile on my face. I planned my future with a man I loved. I would do everything in my power to make sure he and I stayed together. I believed that destiny took a hand that day the previous summer, when I was searching for something I couldn’t imagine. I found a job, love, and someone who cared about my feelings more than his own. I would never return to my old shell.
My work schedule changed, giving me three eight-hour days, which gave me more time to spend with Noah and my mother. We shopped together and became closer after our conversation about Noah. I never actually admitted I’d had sex with him, but the way she looked at me told me she knew.
Noah and I were together only once, trying to take things slow for a while, but I knew that if the chance rose again, we wouldn’t hesitate. I dreamt of that day often, knowing it would be a cherished memory for the rest of my life. I was lucky to have someone like Noah in my life to share my hopes and dreams—for the rest of my life, I hoped.
As I drove to the ranch on the last Saturday in June, it was as if my senses were more attuned to my surroundings. Birds chirped louder, warm wind blew on my face; and, as I slowed, I caught the scent of flowers in a nearby field. Euphoria replenished me, bestowing a sense of tranquillity and giving me the strength to continue my path of destiny no matter what it was.
I rushed to the stables, because I was late from enjoying the gorgeous summer morning. “Morning, Lance.” I pulled on my gloves.
He smiled. “Something sure put you into a good mood. I swear you’re glowing.”
I laughed and began work.
“Why are you in such a hurry?”
I hadn’t realized how fast I was working, because thoughts were filled with Noah. “I guess that I’m deep in thought today,” I said smiling.
“You’re thinking about Noah. I can see it in your eyes. I never realized how much you love that guy.”
“Are you in love with Amy?”
He laughed. “I’m not ready to make a commitment to anyone right now. We’re just having fun together.”
I shook my head. Lance would never find just one person to fulfill him. He was too much of a playboy to settle down. “One of these days, someone will come along and sweep you off your feet. Then you’ll be on your way to the chapel,” I pointed out.
“You’re talking about yourself,” her surmised, then looked at me strangely.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Did you and Noah rush off to a chapel?” He asked, his eyes enormous.
“We’re waiting for a few years. We don’t want to do anything rash.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Thirty minutes later the stables were in order. “My work’s finished. I’m outta here.”
“Say hello to Noah for me.”
I ran to my truck, anxious to meet Noah at the garage.
I stopped and turned, seeing Lambert walk toward me.
“You’re in quite a hurry today. I was hoping we could talk for a minute.”
“I’m on my way to see Noah.” I wondered what he wanted to talk about.
“Would you like to come inside?”
I shook my head. “It’s too beautiful to be holed up inside.”
He chuckled, his broad shoulders moving. “What are your plans for the rest of the summer?”
“Nothing in particular. I’ll work at Stoney’s and return to school at the end of August.”
“I was hoping you’d spend more time at the ranch. I’m not saying I expect you to work, but I’d like to spend some time with you.”
“I work three full days at the garage, but I might be able to come here on Tuesdays.” I wondered if that was the right decision, but he was my biological father, and I felt the need to give him a chance.
“I’ll look forward to that.” He hugged me briefly.
I dashed to my truck and waved as I drove off. Then I sped to the garage, hoping to catch Noah before he went home for the day.
When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw Noah’s truck was still there. I parked behind it and went to the garage. Tiffany was working the cash register, and I waved to her, then I saw Noah standing under a car that was up on the hoist.
I crept up behind him, hoping no one gave me away, then I covered his eyes with my hands. “Excuse me, Sir,” I said in a husky voice, “but I have a mechanical problem with my vehicle.”
“I’d love to help you out, but we’re swamped today. Can you return on Monday?”
He spun, laughing, and hugged me. “Jenna, did you really think I wouldn’t know it was you?”
I smiled up at him. “When can you get out of here?”
He searched my eyes, then glanced at the clock. “Can you wait twenty minutes?”
Nodding eagerly, I went inside to talk to Tiffany.
“Hey, Jenna, I see you’re a woman in love,” she said.
I smiled and nodded. “Noah’s the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. Sometimes, I dream of marrying him.”
She laughed. “I’m sure he thinks about it as much as you do.”
I sat on the chair beside her, watching customers come and go.
“Are you married?” I asked.
“Not me. I haven’t met my Mr. Wonderful yet.” She grinned then she looked at the garage and back to me. “Here comes yours.”
Noah came through the door with a big grin. “Are you ladies talking about me?” he asked already knowing the answer.
“Of course we are.” Tiffany laughed.
I walked over to him. “Are you ready to leave?”
He nodded. “Let’s drop my truck off at home, then we’ll do something spectacular.”
I kissed his cheek, and we headed to our trucks.
Once we arrived at his house, we went inside so he could take a fast shower. That was the first time I was alone with his parents. I hoped they wouldn’t ask me too many questions, because it wouldn’t be easy lying to them.
“Noah, your father and I are going out for the evening,” Pamela said. “Do you and Jenna want to come with us?”
Noah gave me a coy smile. “We already have plans. Maybe next time.”
I watched him walk to his bedroom then I sat in the living room.
“Jenna, I feel bad that we can’t stay and talk again,” Pamela said. “I promise we’ll have a nice chat soon.”
“I understand. You don’t have to worry about me.” I smiled at her.
Noah’s father walked into the room wearing a suit and tie. “Hello, Jenna. How are your folks?”
“They’re doing well. You look very nice.”
He smiled and winked at Pamela like Noah did to me. I grinned, seeing where Noah had inherited his charm.
“Have a good time tonight,” Pamela said, walking toward the door.
“We will. I hope you enjoy your evening, too.”
“Thanks.” They went to their car.
I stood and went to the door, making sure they were gone, then I closed and locked it. I was risking being caught, but I didn’t care. I rushed to Noah’s bedroom, hoping to be on the bed before he came out of the shower.
I opened a few of his drawers looking for a T-shirt to wear, then I quickly undressed and put it on. Hiding behind the door, I heard the water shut off. My breath caught in my throat, and I prayed he wouldn’t be angry with me for doing this.
Noah walked into the room without seeing me or noticing the clothes I tossed into a corner of the room. He stood next to his dresser, searching for something to wear, when I stepped out.
I cleared my throat, and he turned and stared.
“Your parents wished us a nice evening,” I said, smiling and staring at the beads of water on his chest. I wanted to throw myself into his arms.
“Nice shirt.” He walked toward me, the towel clinging low on his waist.
“Thanks, my boyfriend gave it to me.” He stood before me, making my heart to race.
“I promised you a spectacular evening, but what I planned couldn’t compare to this.” He leaned forward to kiss me.
As we made love for the second time, I concentrated more on every detail of his handsome face, broad shoulders, and muscular arms. “Noah, I love you so much,” I whispered, kissing him long and hard.
My body responded, sending me soaring into the sky, filling my mind with sweet memories of the love we shared. I would treasure those tender moments, knowing I would always have them.
“Jenna, you’re amazingly beautiful,” Noah said, wrapping his strong arms around me.
“How late do you think your parents will be?” I wondered if we needed to dress soon.
“Not for a while. Are you nervous?”
“I guess. We wouldn’t be able to talk our way out of this.”
“Let’s stay close for a few more minutes, then we’ll get up.” He pulled me to him.
I laid my head on his chest and listened to his heartbeat.
“Wake up, sleepy head.” Noah kissed the tip of my nose.
I sat up in bed and remembered where I was. “Oh, my God. I have to get out of here!” I ran toward my clothes.
“We have time, Jenna. Calm down.” He laughed.
“What if your parents came home and I was still in here?” I was annoyed, because he thought it was funny.
“It’s only eight o’clock. They never come home this early.” He finally got out of bed.
“I never called my parents to tell them where I’d be.”
“Call them now and say you lost track of time. It’s the truth. ”
I threw his shirt at him and rushed to the phone in the living room. After telling my parents where I was, I added I wouldn’t be too late. They weren’t bothered that I hadn’t checked in until then, and I was glad they didn’t ask any questions.
Noah came to me. “I told you it would be all right.”
“I can’t believe we slept for two hours. We’re lucky no one discovered us.” I was shocked that I’d fallen asleep in his bed.
“You worry too much, Jenna. Besides, I loved sleeping beside you. One day, I hope we’ll wake up every morning together.” He put his arms around me again.
I gazed into his eyes. That was the first time we ever mentioned that topic.
“What are you saying?” I asked.
He laughed and shook his head. “When I get that diploma in my hand, I’ll come straight to your door and ask for your hand. I love you, Jenna. Having you for my wife would make me the happiest man on earth. You know we belong together. Destiny kept us that way even when we didn’t know if we’d ever find each other again.”
My heart wanted to burst with joy. I kissed him repeatedly. “I love you, Noah Prescott! I’d wait forever to be your wife.”
He picked me up and swung me around the room. “Next year, we’ll be officially engaged, and I’ll shout it to the world!” He set me down.
“Oh, Noah, maybe we shouldn’t plan so far ahead.”
His smile disappeared. “Do you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“Then there’s no reason not to think of building our lives together.”
“But every time I plan something in my life, it backfires. It blows up in my face. I don’t want that to happen to us.”
He took my hands. “It won’t. You have a gentleman’s promise.”
I hated letting my fears ruin such a wonderful moment, but I couldn’t help feeling something would come between us.
“Jenna, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ll always be here for you.” He kissed me.
When he pulled back I smiled at him, wanting to believe in his words. “I won’t think about anything but us.”
I knew I could keep that promise when we were together, but when we parted it would be more difficult.
“Hungry?” he asked.
“Let’s go to the diner.”
We dropped my truck off at my house and drove to the diner. Noah and I were silent, thinking over what transpired. Was I really considering a life with him? I wanted nothing more, but apprehension clouded my vision, making me torment myself with endless what ifs.
That night, I fell asleep, tossing and turning, questioning the doubts I felt. Awakening in a cold sweat, I saw Noah’s face, remembering how his eyes lit up when he looked at me and talked about marrying me. I had to find the same enthusiasm, deal with my trepidation, and set it aside for both of us.
The sweltering heat sweeping across the state in mid-July wasn’t as extreme for us, because there was a constant wind. Sometimes, it was so strong it was difficult walking outside. I loved standing in the middle of the yard feeling the wind whip around me and blowing through my hair, almost strong enough to knock me down. Mother thought I was crazy, but I continued testing my strength against Mother Nature.
“Jenna!” she called. “Noah’s on the phone!”
I rushed to the house, hoping he was on his way to pick me up. “Where are you?”
“Hello to you, too. I’m leaving the garage now. I’ll be there within the hour.”
“I take it you’re stopping at home first.”
“I wouldn’t want to get grease all over your beautiful face.”
I laughed. “Don’t keep me waiting too long, or I might go out alone.”
“I’ll be there.”
After I hung up I realized my mother was staring at me. “Jenna, are you going out again tonight?”
“Noah’s taking me to a movie. Is there something you need me here for?”
“Your father and I don’t see much of you these days,” she said sadly. “I was hoping we could have a family dinner tonight.”
I felt bad that I was away from the house too much. “I promise to stay home tomorrow night.”
“How serious is your relationship with Noah?”
I felt myself blushing and turned away. “Serious I suppose.”
“There’s something you aren’t telling me, Jenna.” She tried to catch my gaze.
“If you have a specific question, why don’t you ask it?” I asked defensively.
“I heard through the grapevine that you two are talking marriage.”
My eyes widened, and I wondered who told my parents such a thing.
“We’ve discussed the possibilities of becoming engaged next year when he graduates, but nothing’s set in stone.” I hoped that would make her feel better.
“Why haven’t you told me or your father about this? I thought that you would’ve come to us with this kind of news,” she said disappointed in me.
“Mother, we’re just talking about it. If our relationship gets to that point, I assure you we’ll come directly to you.”
She sat on the couch, her eyes on me. “Are you pregnant?”
I was shocked by the question. Why would she ask me such a thing? Didn’t she know I’d never hide anything that important from her?
“No, I’m not pregnant,” I said with some irritation. “I don’t plan to be for the next five years, either.”
“Jenna, people talk. I started wondering if you were hiding something from us because you’re never around. Don’t be upset. I’m just concerned about your well being.”
“Who’s talking about us?” I demanded.
“Jenna, that’s not the point. Just promise to be careful.”
“I have a right to know who’s spreading gossip about me!” I shouted.
“What’s going on here?” Father yelled coming in the door.
I spun and looked at him, knowing the conversation was just about to become even more complex now. “Nothing.”
He looked at Tess, who shook her head.
“I have to get ready,” I said, walking from the room.
I closed the door behind me, wondering who would tell my mother such things. Noah would never talk about our relationship with anyone. The only person who might was Peggy Jo, but I was certain she didn’t know anything.
Changing clothes, I waited for Noah to arrive. Not wanting to face my parents right now, I stayed in my room until someone knocked at the front door.
“Won’t you come in, Noah?” Mother asked, as I entered the room.
“I’m ready,” I said.
“Jenna, we’d like a word with you and Noah,” my father stated, pointing to a chair.
I marched over and plopped into it, crossing my arms. My father stood and looked at me, then he turned his focus to Noah.
“I usually don’t interfere in Jenna’s life,” he started, “but, since you two are together constantly, I figured it was time for a talk.”
Noah glanced at me, then looked away.
“What are your intentions toward my daughter?”
I was blown away by my father’s forwardness, I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure if I should interfere.
“Mr. Owens, I love Jenna and hope to marry her someday. As for right now, I’m working on my diploma. Then, if we’re still together, I’ll come to you and ask for her hand.”
I smiled at his self-confidence.
“I appreciate your honesty, Noah,” he said extending his hand. “If you decide to ask for Jenna’s hand in marriage, we won’t stand in your way.”
I was overwhelmed that he wasn’t upset like I thought he’d be. I stood to hug him and kiss his cheek. “Thank you, Daddy.”
“Have a good time tonight,” he said.
Noah and I rushed outside, laughing.
“I thought he was going to forbid me to see you,” Noah admitted.
“My mother and I were arguing and he walked into the middle of it. Someone’s been spreading rumors about us.”
“Let them talk. Your father gave us his blessing, and that’s all I want to think about right now.” He pulled me close for a kiss.
“Where to?” I asked, getting into the truck.
“I want to be alone with you.” He pulled out of the driveway.
I assumed we were going to the beach again, but Noah took me to his house instead.
“What are we doing here?” I asked.
“My parents went out again. After the talk with your father, I want to feel close to you.”
We hurried into the house and into Noah’s bedroom.
“We can’t fall asleep this time,” I warned, waggling my finger at him.
He kissed it. “Don’t worry.”
“Why, Noah Prescott! Are you getting fresh with me?”
“I’m getting a lot more than fresh.” He pushed me down on the bed, and I laughed. “You think this is funny?” He jumped on the bed and began tickling me.
He shook his head and continued.
“Noah, if you don’t stop, I’ll leave.”
He grabbed my wrists pinning them down and smiled at me. “I don’t want you to ever leave.”
We started kissing. Before I knew it, we were making love again. I wondered if it would always be that passionate between us. I loved Noah with all my heart, and I wanted to give him everything I had to offer. I wanted to marry him, bear his children, grow old together, and watch our grandchildren playing in the front yard as we reminisced over our younger days. I would pray for that every night before I slept.
After we lay in each other’s arms for a few minutes I became nervous about being caught. “We’d better get dressed,” I muttered.
“If you say so.” He pouted, which made me laugh.
“I can’t help fearing we’ll be caught one of these days.” I began dressing.
“I’m twenty-one years old, and I don’t think my parents expect me to be innocent for the rest of my life. They’ll understand.”
He walked toward me. “Let me put on my clothes, Noah. I suggest you do the same.”
“I love it when you try to act stern with me.”
There was a knock on his door, and I panicked. Noah was naked, and all I had on were my shirt and undergarments.
“You have to get dressed!” I hissed, struggling with my pants.
“Noah?” his mother called. “Are you in there?”
“Yes, Mom. I’ll be right out.” He dressed quickly, but not quickly enough.
She opened the door and saw me first, and a look of shock crossed her face. Although I was fully clothed, I lowered my head in embarrassment, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what we’d been doing.
She turned to Noah. “How could you do this in my house?”
She marched out of the room.
“Don’t worry, Jenna. I’ll speak to her.”
I fixed the covers on the bed and sat to wait for his return. I didn’t know how I’d be able to walk out and face his parents—or return to the house. I’d been feeling it was just a matter of time before someone caught us, but I was hoping it wouldn’t happen so soon.
Twenty excruciating minutes later, Noah reappeared.
I stood. “What happened?”
“I’ll take you home now.”
I grabbed my purse and followed him out grateful his parents weren’t sitting in the living room. We got into the truck, and Noah drove off faster than usual.
“How much trouble are we in?” I asked.
“They want us to take a break from each other. I told them I intended to marry you when I graduated, but they insisted it was too soon to consider that,” he said angrily.
Tears burned in my eyes, and I tried not to cry, but I couldn’t stop them from pouring down my cheeks.
Noah arrived at my house and turned to me. “I won’t let them stop us from seeing each other. Please don’t cry, Jenna. I won’t be able to sleep if I know you’re this sad.”
I threw my arms around him and clung to him as if my life depended on it. “I’m afraid I’ll never see you again.”
He pulled away and cupped my face in his hands. “Listen to me, Jenna. We work together three days a week. We’ll continue seeing each other even if I have to hide it from my parents for a while.”
That didn’t make me feel any better. “Will they will tell my parents?”
He shook his head. “I convinced them not to do that for now, but I don’t want to give them any reason to tell them. I have to go. I’ll see you at work tomorrow. We’ll figure something out together.”
I nodded and wiped away my tears. “I love you, Noah, and I’m really sorry I got you into trouble.”
“You tried to warn me. I wouldn’t listen.” He held me tight.
After one last kiss, I left the truck.
He started to pull away, then backed up. “Jenna?”
I ran to the driver’s door.
“I love you, and nothing will ever change that.” He smiled, gave me another kiss, and drove off.
I took a walk to give myself time to hide my tears. I didn’t want to explain anything to them. I looked into the night sky, praying for a shooting star to wish upon, but there weren’t any that night. I chose a small, distant star and wished Noah and I would be together like we planned.
After work the following day, Noah and I sat in my truck to talk.
“My father’s on my side,” he said. “Mother’s the one who’s making a big deal of this. She called my brothers and told them while I drove you home last night.” He was very angry.
I didn’t know what to say.
“Anyway, I figured out a way to get around the situation for a while.”
“We can start meeting at the diner. If you need me for some reason, call the house and let the phone ring only once. I’ll do the same to reach you. I’ll wait for ten minutes after that and then I’ll go directly to the diner. That way, my mother won’t know.” He smiled.
“I don’t know. What if someone notices us together and tells your parents?” I was frightened that they might make a serious attempt at keeping us apart.
“I don’t think that’ll happen.”
“Why don’t we meet here? There’s less chance of being seen. Since we both work here, they won’t think anything of it.”
He laughed. “That’s brilliant. See? This won’t be so difficult.”
I wished that I could share his optimism.
“I told my parents I’d stay home with them tonight,” he continued. “I won’t be able to go another day without holding you, though.”
I wanted to cry at the thought of having to sneak around to see each other because that didn’t solve our problem.
“No matter what happens, I’ll wait for you,” I promised, “even if it means days of separation.”
He squeezed me harder. “I have to go. Tomorrow, when your phone rings once, you’ll know it’s me, and I’m on my way here to see you.” He pulled away.
I watched him get into his truck then I followed him until I turned onto my street, waving at him out the window. How could I explain staying home tonight to my parents? They’d be skeptical if I came up with an excuse.
I went into the house softly, hoping to sneak into my room without being noticed, but they were waiting for me.
“Jenna, we’d like to speak with you,” my father said.
I trudged into the living room and plopped into a chair without looking at either of them.
“We’re going to Dalhart in a few weeks for the Rodeo. Would you like to come with us?” he asked.
I realized that would give Noah and me the chance to be alone in the house for two days. “I don’t think I can make it. Tiffany’s taking a few days off, and Stoney needs me to fill in,” I lied.
“That’s too bad,” mother said. “We were hoping that you and Noah could both come.”
I wished I could tell them about the other night, but that wasn’t possible. “That sounds like fun. I’m sorry we can’t go.” I stood to leave the room.
“What time is Noah picking you up tonight?” father asked.
“I won’t see him until tomorrow evening. He had family things to do tonight.” I hated how easy it was getting to lie to them.
“Well,” father stood, too. “Maybe I should take my two favorite women out to dinner.”
Mother smiled and nodded. Even though I didn’t want to go, I’d do it for them. It might even take my mind off my troubles.
I moped around the house and yard the next day, waiting diligently for the phone to ring once. We were in the middle of dinner when it finally happened. I froze, waiting for the second ring, but it never came. My heart started pounding.
I glanced up at the clock. “I forgot the time. I’m suppose to meet Noah at the diner.” I stood and walked toward my room.
“Jenna, is something wrong?” Mother asked.
I stopped and turned. “No. He had to work late, and we decided to meet in town tonight.” I smiled and left the room.
After checking my makeup, I grabbed my purse and walked to the door. “I won’t be too late,” I called as I left.
I rushed to my truck and hurried to Stoney’s. Noah said he’d leave ten minutes after the call, but I couldn’t wait to see him. I parked behind the building, waiting for him impatiently.
After ten minutes, I got out and started pacing, constantly checking my watch and staring at each approaching vehicle. Ten more minutes passed, and I went inside the station, hoping Greg, the night cashier, might know something.
“Hello, Greg.” I walked to the counter.
“What you doin’ here, Jenna?”
“Noah was supposed to meet me here. Has he called for me?”
He shook his head.
“Thanks.” I walked out to my truck with my head down, wondering if I should go home.
“Why are you so sad?” Noah asked.
I ran to him and jumped into his arms. “I thought you weren’t coming.”
He laughed and kissed me. “I told you I’d be here, didn’t I? My mother wanted to talk to me before I left.”
I kissed him several times, elated that we were together again.
“Are we going to stand here all night and make a spectacle of ourselves?” he asked.
“What do you have in mind?”
“I told my parents I’d be home in a few hours. That doesn’t give us much time to go anywhere, but as long as I’m with you, I don’t care where we are.”
We sat in his truck for two hours, talking, kissing, and holding each other, not wanting time to pass too quickly.
“How long can we sneak around like this?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Jenna. I promise I’ll figure out something soon.”
“I just remembered! My parents are going to Dalhart in a few weeks, and I’ll be home alone for the weekend.”
His eyes lit up. “You won’t be alone.”
“Promises, promises.” I smiled.
“I have to get going, Jenna,” he said, pulling me close again.
“I hate doing this. I don’t know when I’ll see you again.”
“You’ll see me at work tomorrow, then we’ll figure out something.”
I didn’t want to let him go.
“Jenna, I don’t like doing this, but, if I’m not home soon, my mother will be suspicious,” he whispered.
I pulled away slowly. “I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. Give me one last kiss that’ll get me through the night.”
I kissed him enthusiastically, wanting it to be something we both thought about until we saw each other again.
“I love you, Jenna. I have faith that we’ll get through this.”
“I love you, too. Sweet dreams.” I got out of his truck.
I walked to his door. “You called?” I smiled.
He touched my face then leaned out the window to kiss me. “I hate watching you walk away.”
“Then don’t watch.”
He shook his head. “Oh, Jenna, I’ll never let you go.”
I kissed him again. “Nor will I let you go, Noah Prescott. As far as I’m concerned, we’re already engaged. I’ll hold you to that proposal next summer!
He laughed. “You have my word. Now get in your truck so I can make sure you get home safely.”
I drove slowly on purpose, wanting to have every second with him I could. Noah surprised me by following me all the way home.
I parked and ran to his truck. “I expected you to head home.”
He smiled. “I couldn’t until I kissed you good night.”
I laughed, then kissed him.
“Now you may return to your abode,” I said.
“Yes, ma’am.” He winked.
I stood in the driveway as he pulled away.
“I love you, Jenna Owens, and I don’t care who knows it!” he shouted.
The following weeks were difficult. Noah and I stole as many moments together as we could, waited for my parents to take their trip, and hoped that would give us some quality time together. Noah planned to take two days off work while telling his parents he was working extra hours.
I disliked being so deceitful, but we had little choice. My parents knew something was going on, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell them what occurred at Noah’s house. They’d be disturbed to know his mother walked in on us, and I couldn’t hurt them like that.
On Friday morning I helped carry suitcases to my parents’ truck.
“Jenna, if you need anything, call Mrs. Wilcox or Lambert,” mother said.
“I’ll be fine. I get paid today, besides Noah’s taking me out to dinner tonight.”
“We’ll be back late Sunday,” father said, embracing me. “Don’t burn the house down.”
I laughed. “Get going before you’re stuck in traffic. I’ll be fine.”
“I love you,” mother said, hugging me tightly.
“I love you, too. Have a good time, and bring me a souvenir.”
I watched them get into the truck.
“Jenna!” My father waved me to him.
He handed me fifty dollars. “You might need this.” He winked.
“I told you I’m getting paid today. You don’t need to give me money.” I handed it back.
“Just take it. If you don’t need it, put it in your bank account.” He gave it back to me.
I kissed his cheek. “Thank you. Now get out of here and show mom the time of her life.”
They laughed as the drove away. I waved to them and rushed inside.
I called Noah’s house and hung up after the first ring, then I went to the porch to wait. We would have the entire weekend without interruption. There would be no one to walk in on us or reprimand us for doing something they thought was reprehensible. It would be our time to fall in love again, discover new things about each other, and find the closeness that had been missing for the past few weeks.
Twenty minutes later, Noah pulled up, bringing me out of my daydreams.
“You rang?” he asked.
I laughed. Once we were in the house, I threw my arms around him. “This will be a fabulous weekend.” I smiled at him.
“What would you like to do first?”
“I don’t care. You’re with me now, and that’s all that matters.”
We walked into the living room and sat down.
“I have a wonderful dinner planned,” I said, gazing at him.
“I take it you’ve been preparing for this since you found out they were leaving.”
I nodded. “I wish you didn’t have to leave at all.”
“Let’s not think about that yet.” He came to me. “Let’s go to the diner for breakfast, then we’ll come here and catch up.”
We drove into town and sat in a booth at the back of the diner. The fewer people who noticed us together, the better off we’d be. We would play house for a few days, giving us a taste of married life.
After we returned to my house, we spent the day in bed, making love many times, sending me soaring into the sky, where I had no troubles, doubts or fears. That was the man I pledged myself to, the one I would marry and start my family with. He would share all my dreams. I longed for the day when we had our own home and could laze around all day.
I started preparing dinner for two, lighting candles on the table and setting out the best dishes. I wanted it to be perfect.
“Dinner is served,” I said, bringing in the chicken I prepared.
“It smells delicious.” He smiled at me. “I can’t believe you went to all this trouble.”
“I did this for us. I’d do just about anything to see you smile at me like that.” I sat down at the table.
As we ate, we discussed Noah’s last year in college. The more he talked, the more I believed the situation would work out for us. I imagined him coming home to me after a long day at a construction site, carrying a roll of blueprints under his arm. Such thoughts put a smile on my face.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked, breaking into my reverie.
“I’m thinking about us,” I whispered. “I’ll be right back.”
I went to the bathroom, knowing he had to leave soon, and I wanted to focus my thoughts. When I started thinking like that, I needed to recall a happy memory and bring it to the forefront of my mind.
When I came back out, Noah stood in the kitchen, smiling widely.
“What time do you have to leave?” I asked.
I glanced at the clock and saw it was seven. “It’s seven o’clock already!”
He nodded, waiting for me to figure it out. “I have to be home in time for dinner—tomorrow evening.”
I froze as the realization of what he just said hit me. “You mean you can stay the night?”
“Unless you want me to leave.”
I threw my arms around him again. “I never want you to leave.” Knowing he’d be with me all night set my heart on fire. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning in his strong, muscular arms. “How’d you manage this?”
“Why ask questions now? Just trust me, Jenna. I’ll make all your dreams come true.” He picked me up and carried me into the bedroom.
When it was time for him to leave the next day, I fought back tears. I didn’t want him to see how sad I felt; knowing he’d just spend the evening worrying about me. I kissed him at the front door and waved to him as his truck pulled away.
I sat up watching TV until I fell asleep on the couch. Hours later, the ringing phone woke me.
“Hello?” I asked, half-asleep.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Noah whispered.
“Noah! How are you able to call me?”
He laughed. “All you ever do is ask questions.”
“I’m sorry. I miss you so much.”
“Not as much as I miss you, Jenna. I don’t know how I’ll fall asleep tonight.”
“Just think about our future.” I smiled at the thought.
“Will you be all right being alone tonight?”
“I can take care of myself, you know. Sometimes, I just want you near me, so I pretend that I can’t handle anything on my own.”
“I get it. You want me to feel like I have to rescue you from time to time. You’re making a fool out of me.”
“Something like that, but I’d never refer to you as a fool.”
“I’ll see you bright and early in the morning.”
I hung up and went to bed, thinking of the previous night. I didn’t know how I’d focus on my schoolwork and not think of Noah and our future if we were still sneaking around. I was glad I had two weeks before classes resumed.
The following morning I awoke to the sound of someone pounding on the door. I grabbed my robe, thinking it was Noah, and threw open the door, ready to rush into his arms. Instead, I saw two policemen.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“Are you Jenna Owens?”
“Your parents are Tess and Terry Owens?”
“What’s this all about?” I demanded.
They stepped inside the house while I remained at the doorway, wondering what they wanted. “Aren’t you going to tell me what’s going on?”
“Your parents were involved in an accident on Route 287 just outside Dumas,” the short officer said.
“Where are they? Which hospital?” I begged.
They looked at each other.
“Where are my parents?” I shouted.
“We’re sorry to inform you that they were killed last night, ma’am,” the tall one said.
I shook my head. “There’s been a mistake. They’re in Dalhart at the rodeo this weekend.”
“I’m sorry we don’t have better news for you. The state trooper contacted us, and your parents didn’t survive the crash,” the short one replied.
“No!” I screamed. “You’re lying! No, no, no!”
The tall one put his arms around me and held me as I fought to break free.
“Can I contact someone for you?” he asked.
Tears poured from my eyes. My parents were gone. I had no one. I was an orphan again, left alone in a cruel world to fend for myself. Without my parents looking after me, how would I reach my goals?
Mrs. Wilcox, hearing the commotion, ran over from her house. I sat in the chair, crying, as the officers explained the situation. She looked at me with sympathy written all over her face. There was no denying it. I was alone again.
“Jenna, is there someone you’d like me to call?” she asked.
“Noah.” I began crying harder.
After she called Noah, she sat with me and held me the way mother did whenever I was upset. “Do you want me to call Lambert Larkin for you?”
I shook my head. I didn’t want to see him at the moment.
Noah rushed into the house and ran to hold me with his parents right behind him. “Jenna, I’m so sorry.”
I cried uncontrollably, not wanting him to leave me, too. Noah’s mother took pity on me. The hostility she once showed was gone. She accompanied me to my room to help me dress.
“Can I do anything for you, Jenna?” she asked.
Shaking my head, I dressed slowly.
“Your father’s on his way.”
I glared at her. “My father’s dead!” I shouted.
“I meant that Lambert’s on his way.” She walked from the room.
I couldn’t help snapping at her. Lambert would never replace Terry in my heart. He was the one who took time to raise me and never considered abandoning me. He was willing to make great sacrifices for my happiness. I walked into the living room and sat beside Noah in a daze.
Noah put his arms around me, and I rested my head on his shoulder. A minute later, Lambert, Lance and Luke ran into the house, making me jump to my feet in surprise.
“Jenna, I’m so sorry about all this,” Lambert said, hugging me.
I let him embrace me, but I couldn’t cry again. Luke and Lance stood to one side, talking with Noah’s parents and Mrs. Wilcox.
“I’ll make all the arrangements for you, Jenna,” Lambert said. “I want you to come home to the ranch.”
I pulled free of his arms. “You want me to live at the ranch?”
“Of course. You’re my daughter, and it’s time that I fulfilled my obligations.”
“I’m no ones obligation.”
“That’s not what I meant. Can’t you let me into your life?”
“I’m quite capable of taking care of myself. I’ll stay in this house for now.” I was determined to control my life.
“Won’t you at least consider moving to the ranch? You should be with family at a time like this.”
I couldn’t answer him, and Noah walked up to me. “Do you really want to stay here alone?”
“I don’t know what to do! Why did my parents have to be taken from me now?” I began crying again, and Noah led me to the couch.
Neighbors who heard the news started coming to the house. Seeing all the somber faces made me feel sorry for myself. I lost my entire world. I wouldn’t have father walk me down the aisle someday. I would have to tell my children why their grandparents weren’t there to watch them grow and succeed in life. I was angry at losing so much in an instant and saddened by the death of both my parents, not just one. I resented the world that took them from me so suddenly.
Finally, everyone but Noah left, and I felt a little better. I couldn’t stand all those mourning faces, filled with pity as they shook their heads.
“Mrs. Wilcox sent over some food, Jenna,” Noah said. “Can I make you a sandwich?”
I shook my head.
“You have to eat something.” He walked over to me.
“Maybe later,” I said, standing slowly.
I walked to my parents’ bedroom, fearing to enter because I might break something they cherished.
I looked at the knickknacks mother collected for years, lined up across two shelves and spilling over onto the dresser. She bought anything with a heart shape. Father said she was in love with love. I never understood what that meant as a child, but I knew now. She romanticized everything, and I did, too. She loved seeing people holding hands, showing affection in public, and wondered if they’d make it to the altar or stay married forever.
Throwing myself onto their bed, I cried for the parents who raised me. They chose me from a group of homeless children who’d been tossed aside by their biological parents. I never had the chance to say good-bye, to tell them how much I appreciated what they did for me and how much I loved them. I cried myself to sleep hoping that I’d awake and find it had all been a bad dream. I wanted to see them sitting in the living room, wondering why I overslept.
“Jenna?” Noah shook my shoulder.
I looked at him, seeing sadness in his eyes.
“Lambert’s here and needs to talk to you.”
I sat up in bed, rubbing sleep from my eyes and saw the bedside clock. I’d been sleeping for two hours. “Did he say what he wanted?”
Noah shook his head then he accompanied me into the living room. I sat in a chair, wondering why Lambert returned so soon.
“All the arrangements have been made,” Lambert said. “They’ll be at the funeral parlor tomorrow afternoon, then buried the following day. Is that all right?”
What could I say? I didn’t have the money to give them a proper burial. “Thank you for taking care of that for me.”
“There’s another matter we need to discuss.”
I looked at him, fearing what he had to say.
“I understand that you want to continue living here, but I’m afraid it’s not possible.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your parents didn’t own this house. They’ve been renting it since you were a child.”
I sank back in the chair, wondering what to do.
“Won’t you consider moving to the ranch? I’ve already had a room prepared, and the family wants you there.” He knelt in front of me.
I looked at Noah, hoping he had a better idea, but he looked away. “I…I guess I don’t have a choice,” I said sadly.
“You can stay here until the day after the funeral, then we’ll take your things to the ranch.” He moved to hug me.
I let him rock me for a few moments, but I couldn’t return the hug he expected. I didn’t know him at all. The only thing I knew about him was that he’d been forced into revealing my true identity. If I never gotten involved with Lance, Lambert would never had told me.
“I’ll be going now, unless you need something.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Noah walked him to the door. I thought about how awkward it would be to live at the ranch with Lance, someone I once thought I could love as a boyfriend, and Lauren, who wished I’d never been born. She would make my life extremely difficult, so I didn’t know how long we could coexist under the same roof.
“Jenna, do you want me to stay with you for a while?” Noah asked. I looked up into his handsome face.
I couldn’t leave mother’s precious mementos behind. I searched for a box to hold them but didn’t find one. I went through the clothes in the closet, the dresser drawers, and the nightstand drawers, browsing for things that would make me feel closer to them. Everything I wanted to take with me went into one corner of the room, then I curled up on their bed again and prayed for sleep.
Two days later, with Noah at my side, I buried my parents. As we drove to the cemetery, rain fell making me believe that heaven too, felt my sorrow.
I hadn’t heard one word the pastor spoke, because I was too deep in thought back in my childhood, remembering the first time Terry took me horseback riding. He constantly encouraged me, urging me to sit up straight, hold the reins, and take control of the horse.
Tears cascaded down my face as I thought of the time he could barely look at me. I hated the distance between us and was glad when mother talked to him and straightened out the situation. She was the only one who could get through to him at times like that.
I remembered her beautiful red hair. Even when I didn’t want to hear it, she always told me the truth. I heard her voice in my mind as she rocked me in the chair, telling me how she first saw me in the orphanage. For some reason, that story always made me happy and brought meaning to my life. I would never hear her soft, melodious voice drifting back in time, telling me how my eyes lit up when I looked up at her.
I laid one white rose on each casket, letting my hand linger for a moment as I said my final words. “Good-bye, father. I’ll miss your warm smile and the way your eyes twinkled when you looked at me. Good-bye, mother. I’ll do my best to make you proud of me and accomplish all the things we talked about. I’ll fulfill my dreams for both of us.
“I’ll miss hearing my story from you, as only you could tell it… ” I broke down and collapsed to the ground.
Lambert rushed over, carrying me to the car with Noah right behind him. I couldn’t control my weeping, because I finally understood that my parents were gone. I’d never hear them singing to the radio, laughing at father’s tales of the ranch, arguing over something trivial, only to make up again. They always encouraged me to accomplish whatever I wanted and reprimanded me when I was careless. They gave good advice for dealing with situations that arose in my life.
Who will do those things for me now? Who will take the time to make sure I’m all right?
We drove to the ranch, where Lauren was in her glory as hostess. I was the only one who didn’t have a good time. She paid top dollar for that catered food, and I had to listen to stupid stories of her life. I hated being there.
Now I would have to live under her roof, obey her rules, and sit across from her at the dining table. Every time she looked at me, I felt a cold chill run down my spine, making me wish Noah’s parents had taken me in instead.
“Noah, please take me home,” I pleaded. “I can’t stay here right now.”
“Let me tell my parents we’re leaving.”
I stood near the doorway, wanting to run away as quickly as I could, watching the people I thought should be mourning the loss of my parents like I was.
“Jenna, are you leaving?” Lance asked, coming toward me.
“I can’t stand listening to anymore laughter,” I said angrily.
“Do you want me to take you home?” he asked, his eyes drank me in.
“Noah’s taking me.”
“Does Father know you’re leaving?”
I shook my head.
“I’ll get him,” he said, his hand brushing my arm then he scurried away.
Noah returned with his parents.
“Jenna,” Pamela said, “you should stay awhile longer. These people came for you.”
“I don’t think they even cared about my parents. Look at all of them, running to the food tables as if they were troughs, laughing at stupid jokes. They’re only happy to be in the company of the Larkin’s.”
“Jenna, you don’t really believe that. I know your parents would be disappointed if you left now.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m leaving. I just wish I didn’t have to return here again.”
“Noah asked if you could stay at our home, but under the circumstances, living with your father is best for us all.” She spun on her heel and marched off.
“Take care, Jenna,” Tom, Noah’s father, said.
I nodded while waiting for Lambert to reach us.
“I can’t believe how my mother talked to you,” Noah whispered.
“It’s all right.” I tried to smile. She and I would never get along after she caught us in Noah’s bedroom.
“Can’t you stay awhile longer?” Lambert implored, standing in front of the door.
“I have more packing to do.”
“Very well. I’ll see you in the morning.” He kissed my cheek and moved aside.
Noah and I drove to my house for the last time. I half-expected to find my parents inside when we walked in, and I had to keep reminding myself they were gone. Noah brought in some empty boxes, and we packed my parent’s belongings, which I would treasure as they once had.
As night fell, I began crying.
“Jenna, how can I help you through this?” Noah asked, putting his arm around me.
“Stay with me tonight,” I whispered.
I cried on his shoulder for a while, then he made sandwiches. I nibbled at mine like the rabbits I once left carrots for as a child, not wanting anything but to grieve for my loss.
“You have to eat to build up your strength,” Noah said.
“I’m just not hungry right now.”
“Do you want to watch TV or listen to the radio?”
I shook my head. Nothing would make me feel better except to learn there had been a mistake, and my parents were still alive.
We went to the bedroom and lay on the bed together. Resting my head on his chest, I concentrated on the drumming of his heart, trying to push the sadness from my mind.
I looked into his sepal eyes. “Noah, make love to me tonight.”
“Are you sure?”
“I want to feel loved, to feel you beside me,” I whispered.
We undressed quickly, and I focused all my attention on the two of us. That was where I would take my solace. In the depths of passion, I’d find the love I wanted. As we made love, I clung to him, afraid to let go, afraid to climax and bring the tender moment to an end. I yearned to feel his body close to mine, to have his arms around me, to kiss every inch of him and to cement the moment in my memory and hold it in my heart forever.
“What the hell’s going on here?” Lambert bellowed from the doorway the next morning.
I sat up in bed and covered myself with the sheet “You have no right to barge in like that!”
He gaped at me for a moment, then slammed the door.
“I can’t believe he came over like that. He has no right to walk in this house and yell at me.”
Noah, shaking his head, dressed quickly.
After I dressed, I stormed into the living room. “You knew perfectly well I’d arrive late this morning. I don’t understand why you felt the need to come all this way!”
“Don’t you dare raise your voice to me, young lady! I’m your father whether you like it or not. From now on, you abide by my rules.”
I was determined to hold my ground. I wasn’t a child and deserved better. “Noah and I will bring my things over in a few hours.” I walked back into my room slamming the door and refusing to come out until he left.
I hated him for coming into the house like that, for wanting me to live with him, for telling me the painful truth, and for trying to be a father after nineteen years.
Noah was surprised when I returned so quickly. “What happened?” he asked, sitting on the bed.
“I told him we’d bring over my things later.” I went to my dresser to start packing.
Noah left me alone with my wrath. I packed two suitcases with clothes, makeup, jewelry, and shoes. Tears filled my eyes as I looked at the room for the last time. I wished Noah and I were married so I could remain in the place I called home, where I remembered my parents in every room. Everywhere I looked, I saw them, walking through the halls, passing each other with loving glances.
“Jenna, Lambert said there’s no hurry,” Noah said from behind me.
“He’s probably still in shock at seeing us naked.”
“I think he cares about you more than either of you are willing to admit. Will you ever give him a chance to get to know you?”
I turned and looked in his eyes. “Why should I? He was never there for me, he certainly never wanted me to know the truth and now because my real parents are dead, he wants to be my Father. I don’t think I ever would’ve had the relationship with him that I had with Terry.”
“No one expects that. I’m just saying he told you the truth. Since you’ll be living under his roof, you should consider giving him a chance.” Noah embraced me.
Why didn’t I have any choices? Could I let myself find out if Lambert was someone I could depend on? Should I open up to him and let him know the frightened little girl hiding deep down inside, the one who’s afraid of everything while I pretend to be strong?
We loaded the boxes into my truck then I took Noah’s hand and led him to the woods one last time.
“I had a feeling you’d want to come here,” he said smiling.
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to return and explore nature again,” I said, sighing.
We walked to my favorite tree, standing so tall with branches covered in leaves. Noah took out a knife and carved his initials under mine.
“Now everyone who sees this tree will know we’re destined to be together,” he said folding the knife and putting it back in his pocket.
I put my arm around his waist and stood there, wondering if my life would be better after I left.
Going to our trucks, we drove toward the ranch. Noah was behind me, and I went slower than usual, taking my time before reaching my new home. I used to love the ranch, but now it felt like a prison.
Living at the ranch for the first week wasn’t as bad as I expected, but Lambert insisted I quit working at Stoney’s, the one thing I really enjoyed. The thought of giving it up made me feel pretty bad.
I planned to continue working until classes started the following week, though Lambert was against it. I couldn’t understand why he wanted me to stop working there and assumed he wanted to spend time with me.
I walked around the grounds and waited for Noah to arrive. He called earlier in the day to say he had something important to tell me, and his voice sounded excited and a bit worried.
When I saw his truck approaching, I ran toward him. He jumped out and rushed into my arms as he swung me around.
“How much longer do I have to wait for your news?” I asked, smiling at him.
He set me down and took my hand. “Let’s go for a walk, then I’ll tell you everything.”
We walked away from the house until we had more privacy.
“Something wonderful has happened to me, but I don’t know how you’ll feel about it.” He turned me toward him.
My heart pounded with trepidation.
“Remember when I applied to that architectural school are few months back?”
I nodded, knowing he was leaving me.
“I’ve been accepted, but I have to leave in two days.” He tried to catch my gaze.
For the second time in two weeks, I was losing someone close to me. I didn’t know if I could handle another loss so soon after my parents’ deaths.
“Jenna, if you don’t want me to go, I can finish my last year here.” He pulled me into his arms.
How could I deny him his dream? I couldn’t tell him to stay because I needed him in my life. I pulled back and looked into his eyes. “You deserve this chance to accomplish your dreams. I won’t stand in your way.”
“I’ll call and write letters every day,” he promised.
I forced a smile as his eyes lit with excitement again. I had two days left with him, and I wanted to make them happy. The last thing I wanted was Noah feeling sorry for me and staying out of pity.
“Do you ride?” I asked.
“You want to take me riding?”
I grabbed his hand and ran to the stables.
“We don’t have to do this right now,” he said, trying to slow me down.
“I want to make magic before you leave so I have something to hold onto,” I said, running faster.
We saddled the horses and began our journey to the pond. I didn’t mention that Lance brought me there before, because I wanted to make wonderful memories for the two of us.
“How’d you ever find this place?” he asked.
I dismounted and smiled at him. “I stumbled across it one day. It’s peaceful and beautiful.”
Nodding, he came to the edge of the water with me.
“I’ll miss you terribly while you’re gone,” I said, laying my head on his shoulder.
“I’ll be home for Christmas break. The time will pass swiftly, because we’ll both be busy with classes.”
I wanted him to stay, but I put his needs ahead of mine. I knew if I asked he’d do whatever I wanted without caring if it would be best for him. I never met a more selfless person in my life.
“When you return next summer, can I expect you to ask something of me?” I implored, lifting my face toward his.
“Do you honestly think I’ve forgotten our plans?”
“That’s not the answer I was looking for.” I pouted.
“My beautiful, Jenna I’ll rush straight to the ranch after I receive my diploma, get down on my knee, and ask you to marry me in front of everyone.”
I threw my arms around him and kissed his handsome face. “I love you, Noah. By the time you return, we’ll finally be together the way we dreamed of for so long,” I promised, gazing into his eyes.
“Let’s not talk about anything right now,” he whispered, leaning forward to kiss me. “I want to show you how much I love you.”
We made love under the tree near the pond, shutting out the rest of the world and focusing on our desires. That would be our last intimate moment until he returned for his two-week break. I wanted it to be more special, but time was running out, and I had to savor every minute before I said good-bye to my first love.
I would concentrate on my studies while he was away, cherish the letters we exchanged, look forward to the phone ringing, and know that within a year, I’d be engaged, ready to start my life anew. I had to concentrate on our future, not dwell on our separation.
Two days later, I drove to the airport to say good-bye to Noah. His family was there, too, so I stood to one side and watched. Dallas and Ricky, his brothers, seemed nice enough, and they talked their parents into allowing us a few minutes to ourselves.
“I hate leaving you right now,” Noah whispered.
I fought back tears. I didn’t want to lose him, and I wasn’t sure if he’d keep his promise to call and write. There were so many things I wanted to tell him, but when the moment came, the words escaped me.
“Jenna, I’ll miss you so much,” he said. “I wish the school was in Texas. Then we could visit each other on weekends.”
“Everything will be fine. Besides, we’re both going to be busy with school. You’ll be back for vacation before you know it. Then it won’t be so long until school’s over.” I was talking more for my own benefit, not his. I was surprised I was able to speak at all.
He held me tightly, and I buried my face against his chest as the tears finally fell.
“I love you,” he said. “Always remember that.”
“I couldn’t forget it if I wanted to.”
He laughed and kissed my lips.
“You’d better check in,” Dallas said, walking toward us.
His parents returned, and I wiped away my tears before they noticed. Pamela started crying, and I had to look away before I began crying again. Letting Noah go was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask him to stay.
He kissed my cheek then he boarded his plan. I rushed out of the airport and to my truck, feeling tears cascade down my cheeks again. This time I was alone and I didn’t have to hide them from anyone.
I sat in the truck awhile before starting the engine. I took out the picture of Noah I kept in the glove compartment and stuck it in the visor so I could see it often.
I drove back to the ranch, mostly because I didn’t have any choice. The family knew Noah was leaving that day, and I was certain Lambert was glad. I desperately tried to push those thoughts from my mind and concentrate on driving. I turned on the radio, hoping a catchy tune would take my mind elsewhere.
As I changed stations, I suddenly laughed when I heard Elvis. I turned it up loudly, blasting it out and laughing as I remembered Noah dancing on the beach to cheer me up. He performed for me many times, trying to bring me out of my depression. I loved him for that. Now I finally had the chance to do something for him, even though I wished to God he hadn’t left.
I constantly told myself that he needed that chance, and it was the best way to ensure we’d live out our dreams together, making us stronger in the long run. He would’ve come to resent me if I forced him to stay—not something I was willing to risk.
I arrived at the ranch and walked to the stables, lying in a pile of hay. It was quite there, and I could grieve for all the things I’d lost—my parents, my childhood home, the thicket I loved, my job at Stoney’s, and the man I loved. The only thing I had left was college, and I planned to throw myself into my studies to help pass the time.
“Jenna?” Lance whispered, walking toward me. “I’m really sorry about Noah.”
I tried to smile but I couldn’t.
“Can I do anything for you?”
I shook my head and stood up. “I just need to be alone,” I said standing and began walking toward the house.
Lance was right behind me, but I had to get away. I had the feeling he might try to comfort me in a way that would make him believe we still had a chance.
One week later, I started my second year of college and was glad to see Natalie and Dale in the student lounge.
“I heard about your parents,” Natalie said, hugging me tightly, “but I wasn’t anywhere near here when it happened.”
“That’s all right. I’m living with Lambert now.” I tried to smile.
“So that’s why I haven’t been able to reach you.”
“It’s been pretty awkward being there. With Noah away for the year, I don’t know how I’ll make it.”
Her jaw dropped in shock.
“He went off to architectural school for his final year,” I explained. “I won’t see him until Christmas break.” I sighed.
“Then I have to start taking your mind off things,” she said, ginning.
“How was your summer?” I asked, changing the subject.
She told me stories of her travels, including New York City, a place she always wanted to go. I imagined that someday I’d see her name in lights, dancing onstage in front of hundreds of people, living out her dream.
I waited patiently for several weeks for a letter or phone call from Noah, but they never came. I wrote two letters and waited, thinking he was getting settled in his new surroundings.
Whenever the phone rang, my heart jumped in anticipation, but it was always for someone else, and I became sad, wondering if he was thinking of me at all. I considered calling his mother, but she didn’t think too highly of me, so I didn’t.
I spent most of my time walking around the ranch or studying in my room. Lance stayed away from me, mostly because he knew how I felt about him. I couldn’t hide my animosity for him and wondered if his apology was sincere. I felt it was a matter of time before he showed his true feeling again.
I walked out of my room and down the stairs to speak with Lambert before going to bed one night. His office door was slightly ajar, and I heard Lauren talking to someone on the phone. I paused, wondering if I should enter the room.
“Thank you so much for taking care of that little problem,” Lauren said. “Lambert and I are truly grateful for getting that boy into the school.”
Anger filled me as I stood in the hall. They sent Noah away! They want to keep me isolated from everyone. When will Lauren stop thinking of me as an enemy? Will she ever leave me alone?
I ran to the stables and cried. I wanted to confront her, but I didn’t know what she’d do if she learned I overheard her talking on the phone. In her eyes, I could do only wrong, and Lambert pretended not to notice her snide remarks regarding me and only did what his wife wanted. I was still surprised that Lauren agreed to let me live in the house. Maybe she believed that would give her control over my life.
“Jenna, why are you crying?” Lance asked walking up to me.
I wiped my eyes and stood to leave. It seemed not even the stables could give me any privacy.
“When will you forgive me and learn that you can trust me as a brother and nothing else?” he shouted.
I stopped. “Do your parents always do things behind your back and make all your decisions for you?” I asked bitterly.
He smiled. “What has Mother done now?”
His lack of surprise told me that was how Lauren usually operated.
“I overheard her talking on the phone, thanking someone for sending Noah off to school. I can’t believe she did that to me.”
His smile faded. “I should’ve suspected that. Maybe I should’ve warned you how controlling my parents are.” He came closer, but I wouldn’t let him comfort me.
“I haven’t received any phone calls or letters from Noah, either. I have the feeling your mother is taking care of that, too.
“Do you want me to speak to her on your behalf?”
I shook my head. “This is my problem. I have to figure out a way to deal with it on my own.” I refused to let them get the upper hand. Somehow, I had to stand up to them and let them know I wouldn’t be pushed around. I needed to control my own life.
“Maybe if you talk to Father, I mean, Lambert, he can talk to her for you.”
I considered that, then shook my head. He would abide by his wife’s wishes. “He isn’t someone I can count on right now.”
“You’re not giving him a chance. He’s been a good father to me. I know he cares a lot for you. He wants to get to know you, to find out your dreams and desires.”
“I can’t make any promises. I’ll talk to you later, Lance. Thanks for listening.” I walked away.
When I entered the house, Lauren and Lambert were in the living room. I walked toward the stairs without speaking.
“Jenna, could I have a word with you,” Lambert asked.
I turned and stood in the doorway. “Is something wrong?”
“Why don’t you sit down for a few minutes?”
I marched into the room and sat across from them, my eyes on the floor.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak with you over the past few days,” Lambert said. “How is school this semester?”
“It’s fine. Nothing too difficult.” I stared at him.
“Is there anything you need right now?”
I shook my head.
“I know you’re still adjusting. With Noah away, I thought I might be able to help.” He smiled.
I wanted to shout, “You’ve already done enough!” but I simply sat there and waited for him to speak again.
“I’m planning on going to the South Plains fair and thought you’d like to join me.”
“I’m not sure. That depends on my schoolwork. Can I let you know later?”
He nodded. As I stood to leave, I noticed Lauren’s disapproval. “Thank you for asking. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Father.” I deliberately emphasized the word that would hurt her the most.
I smiled sweetly at her as the shock set in, then sauntered from the room. For the first time in weeks, I was smiling.
Once in my room, I wrote another letter to Noah explaining my situation. I left out who had gotten him into the school, knowing he’d leave because of it. Since he was already there, I didn’t see any point in forcing him to give up his dream. He had a gift, and I wanted him to succeed. Someday, he’d be a huge success and not even Lambert and Lauren could interfere with us.
I believed in my heart that Noah and I would be together again no matter what obstacles were placed in our way. I had to hold onto the love we shared. By doing that, I would keep Noah close to me. Nothing else mattered.
That was how I planned to survive the coming year until I could become his wife and move into our own home. I vowed to do anything I could to make that happen—and it would happen!