Return to Love
By: Denyse Bridger | Other books by Denyse Bridger
Published By: Eirelander Publishing
Published: Dec 12, 2012
ISBN # 9781937266240
Published By: Eirelander Publishing
Published: Dec 12, 2012
ISBN # 9781937266240
Word Count: 5,000
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
Return to Love by Denyse Bridger - Romance>Westerns/CowboysThought he is haunted by loss, and a war-torn past, love is about to return to Clay Butler...
Clay Butler is a man who rules the quiet town of Cedar Springs with an iron will and a code of honor that defines all he is. But the past haunts him, and the loss of a woman who was his second chance at happiness weighs heavily on his over-burdened mind... He has no way of knowing that his dreams are en route Cedar Springs, and love is about to return to his world.
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Excerpt:As the stagecoach drew closer to Cedar Springs, Amber’s thoughts drifted back to the previous year. Her future had been bright and filled with love then. She adored the man she was to marry, and never suspected their happiness would be shattered by an act of savage, jealousy-inspired violence.
The memory, once released, played out in her mind, bringing her last night in the town back to her with vivid clarity…
“What was it about?” Amber asked softly after he’d stormed into his sitting room and swallowed a shot of whiskey.
Clay Butler didn’t answer, merely sat on the couch and stared at his bruised and bloodied hands.
“You won’t answer me, so that means it was about me,” she surmised. When he glanced sharply at her, she smiled. “Tell me I’m wrong?”
Clay rose and went to fling open the door. He stood in profile, his face a shifting pattern of myriad emotions.
“Are you going to beat every man who saw me that day? Who heard what Willis said?”
“Amber, don’t.” It was a warning. Against every instinct she knew he possessed, he was genuinely warning her not to push him on this.
“Don’t what, Clay? Don’t face the truth? That the people of this town consider me a whore that you shouldn’t be bothered with?”
He turned, glared at her with the full force of his anger. “You are not a whore! And I’ll—”
“You’ll what?” she demanded ferociously. “Kill anyone who suggests otherwise? That’s preposterous, Clay.”
She watched the fear come into his face, and understood it for what it was. His hope was crumbling around him, and she was going to finish it with her words. Her truth.
“Marry me, Amber,” he said, quiet voice edged with desperation.
He met her steady gaze, saw the adamancy in her eyes. He started past her, before she could say things that would make him bleed inside as he hadn’t bled in years. Her next words stopped him cold.
“No!” His teeth clenched on the word, the denial.
Her stomach churned anew. The adrenaline was still pounding in her ears and it had just been joined by the furious thunder of her heartbeat.
“Not now.” He held up his hand to ward off the inevitable pain that was waiting to wound him. “Not now.”
She went to stand in front of him, and grabbed his arms, fingers digging into the heavy leather of his coat as she made him see her.
“I can’t marry you, Clay,” she said in a tone that was absurdly reasonable. “I can’t be a wife to you. We both know that’s true. This morning proved it. That’s why you’re so angry. If I agreed to marry you now, this whole town would laugh. Or, worse, they’d think you married me out of obligation, or pity.”
Another piece of his happiness turned to dust and blew away on the harsh winds of honesty and truth.
“We’ll leave Cedar Springs. Start over where no one knows either of us.”
She shook her head and he turned away from her, slammed his hands palm open onto the desktop. The sound echoed like a death-knell.
“This is your town, Clay. Do you really think I’d let you leave everything you’ve built here? Don’t you know I love you more than that?”
“No, Amber,” he faced her again, grey eyes smoldering with rage. “Don’t tell me you’re leaving me because you love me!”
“I have to, Clay,” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes as she accepted her own brutal truth. “I think we’ve both known that this was how it would end, we’ve just been pretending—”
Clay crossed the space that separated them, grabbed her arms and made her flinch with the steel in his grip.
“Damn it, Amber, what do you want from me?” he implored, his voice rising to a shout.
“Let me go.”
“I can’t do that,” he whispered in direct contrast to moments before, voice barely more than a gasp of air.
“You have to, Clay,” she replied with false calm. “If you don’t, you’ll end up hating me.”
He shook his head, the negation instantaneous.
“Yes, Clay, you will. Do you think I don’t see the hurt in your eyes when you touch me suddenly, and I flinch because of it? You couldn’t even look at me when you left earlier. You’ll resent that before long, and then you’ll start to hate me for it. For what I can’t give you anymore.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does, darling,” she murmured gently, suddenly stronger than she’d been in weeks. “It matters a lot. He raped me. And he shattered us both, all because I loved you, not him.”
Clay heard the quiet strength, knew he’d lost. She knew he wanted to plead, but wouldn’t. He was a proud man, and he would not beg any woman to love him. Her heart was breaking as he met her gaze and held it. There were a million things that needed to be said, that should have been said. No words seemed adequate to avert what was being destroyed between them.
She would never remember how long they stood in silence, eyes locked, struggling for dignity where there was none to be found. He finally nodded and walked away from her, left her to plan the future she needed, a future without him.
The following morning Amber walked to the waiting stagecoach without looking back. She could feel Jenny’s eyes following her, knew her friend was crying the tears she was trying herself to conceal. They’d said ‘good-bye’ that morning. Her other closest friend, Austin, was on his doorstep, sipping coffee, expression angry and brooding. Even Walker, perched on a chair outside the Lucky Star, Amber’s home for the past few nights, watched her with curiously disapproving eyes. Charlene Carpenter had walked as far as the hotel doorway, but Amber knew she was still there, looking at her as she left the man she adored.
Clay was at the stagecoach, dressed in elegant black, dazzlingly handsome. She wanted nothing more than to throw herself into his arms and ask him to help her find her soul again. It was a foolish, impossible wish, and she knew it. His slate-colored eyes were shuttered, an impenetrable grey shield that kept her at a distance. Noah tossed her bags on top of the stagecoach and climbed aboard.
“Let me know when you’re settled, and I’ll send the rest of your things,” Clay said with a cool detachment that made her cringe inside.
She opened her mouth to speak, saw the spark of hope light his eyes, then flicker out when she found no words and merely nodded acceptance of his offer. She turned away, unable to look at him any longer. She groped for the door and it opened to Clay’s grasp. Clay’s hand on her elbow balanced her and she climbed inside the shadowed carriage.
Clay slammed the door shut and walked away without another word. As Noah put the horses into motion, Amber looked back. Clay hadn’t glanced at the departing stage. He opened the doors to the Lucky Star, and disappeared from view. She closed her eyes and sank back into the cushioned seat. The tempest inside her created a vortex of misery so profound she was certain she’d never again be able to feel more than the ice that surrounded her heart.
And now, she was going back to face the mistake she’d made that fateful day. Terror coiled like a rattlesnake in the pit of her stomach, and she closed her eyes and prayed she’d have the courage to face him now.