Something Old, Something New (Chapter Four, page 1 of 1)

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The next time Carmen woke, it was daylight. Her head lay on a pillow and a blanket covered her body. Alex must have put it there before leaving for work. She snuggled under the blanket and listened to the rain. As soon as it stopped, she’d go home.
Rolling over on her back, she looked out the window. Alex was standing on the porch, leaning on the rail and nursing a cup of coffee. She looked at her watch. He should be at work now.
Throwing back the covers, she slid off the window seat and headed for the door, using her fingers as a comb to put her hair in some kind of order.
His attention turned to her as she approached him on the porch. The coffee cup paused short of his lips as he met her gaze. He must have decided she was in a better mood, because he smiled. That delicious chocolate gaze followed her all the way to his side. If he thought she looked a morning mess, it certainly didn’t show in his expression. For some reason that thought was comforting.
He took a sip of the coffee as he turned back to watch the rain. He leaned against the porch rail.
“Good morning.”
“Good morning,” she replied.
Turning her attention to the rain-soaked landscape in front of them, she gasped.
“Oh my gosh! I’ve never seen the creek so high!”
It sprawled out half way across the pasture toward her house.
He nodded. “I wonder if there is debris blocking it in the back pasture.”
“Did you decide not to go to work?” she asked.
“I couldn’t - the water is over the bridge.”
One thing came to mind instantly. If she couldn’t get out, how was she going to take care of her feminine needs?
“I need to get some things out of the house.”
“Do you have insurance on the house?” he asked.
“Yes, but I don’t know if it covers floods.”
His gaze left the field and found hers.
“Will it pay if a tree falls on the house?”
Her attention jerked back to the house and she threw both hands over her mouth. How could she have missed it? The huge sycamore tree behind the house was now on the house. It looked as though it had fallen on the roof over her bedroom.
She looked up at his face. “I don’t know.”
He took another sip of his coffee, unruffled.
“Well, if the insurance doesn’t pay, I’ll fix it.”
She stared at him. It was bad enough when he referred to all his things as ‘ours’, or offered to buy her a car. This was carrying his generosity a step too far.
“I’m not marrying your wallet,” she said.
He lowered the cup and lifted his brows.
“I’m not marrying your farm either. Do you want me to keep my buffalo off of it?”
He smiled. “It’s always different when someone else is doing the taking, isn’t it, Heidi? You’re all heart when it comes to giving and all pride when it comes to taking.”
The smile, the nickname – both made her feel better. Maybe he wasn’t so upset with her after all.
His attention shifted back to the house and he sobered.
“We’ll get a bed out of your house and put it in one of the rooms here so you’ll have a dry place to sleep.”
It took a moment before his words sank in. She caught her breath.
“I can’t move into your house. What would people think?”
He swished the remaining coffee around in his cup and didn’t answer immediately. Finally he set the cup on the railing and turned to her, his gaze stern.
“What do you suppose they will think about you sleeping here last night? It isn’t as if we can hide it, you know. We’re trapped here.”
One look around confirmed he was right – again. People would wonder how often she had slept here.
“You know,” Alex continued, “it’s a good thing you were here last night. But all you can think of is what other people will think.” He shook his head and picked up his cup. “If you don’t want to stay, that’s up to you. It seems like the easiest thing for you, though. You can get in out of the heat and you don’t have to walk so far to do the chores. But, if you want to stay somewhere else, I can do the chores.”
He turned and walked into the house.
Watching his retreating back, it occurred to her once again that she might lose him over moral issues. It was one thing to stand firm on the issue of casual sex, but this was the man she would be married to in less than two weeks. He had braved the storm last night to get her. This morning all he could think about was her safety and comfort. And she had rubbed her morals in his face again – only this time she had used other people’s opinion as a hammer to drive her morals home. No wonder he thought she was a prude.
She shoved her hands in her pockets and walked inside. He was in the kitchen, rinsing his cup when she walked in. He turned it upside down in the sink and turned to face her, his expression typically unreadable.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You were right about the Midol thing.”
Humor put a telltale twinkle in his eyes long before the lopsided smile began.
She sank into a chair at the table. “I want to stay here. You know me well enough to know that what other people think doesn’t influence how I behave. I know it’s a cliché, but I feel safe when I’m with you. I want to wait until after we’re married to . . . but maybe there’s no point in waiting – not if it’s going to bother you this much.”
His brows arched high. “Well, Heidi, I guess I’ve been listening to you too long, because now I want to wait.”
He pulled out a chair and straddled it, folding his arms across the back of it.
“I didn’t intend to make you feel guilty.” His brows came down. “I get frustrated sometimes, but . . . who was it that said anticipation was half the fun – or something like that?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “But who ever said it must not have been waiting for their wedding day.”
He laughed as he pulled out his cellular phone.
“Let’s see if we can get some help.”
It was like having a heavy load lifted from her shoulders. Maybe laying the decision in his lap made him feel better about it. It was hard to believe he wanted to wait – not after all he had said. Then again, maybe he had given a lot of thought to her argument. It was so frustrating. Every time she decided to give a little, he did too.
After Alex finished talking to Bill, she sat down beside him and placed her elbows on the table, resting her chin in her hands. His brows lifted.
“I just wondered,” she said, and hesitated a moment. The last thing she wanted to do was renew their argument of the night before, but they needed to clear the air about something.
“What did you mean when you said that we wouldn’t be having that conversation if you could get me pregnant?”
His gaze wandered over her face. If he was angry, he gave no indication. Finally his gaze came to rest on hers.
“It put a hold on our relationship when you found out I couldn’t . . .” He looked away. “It doesn’t matter. We eventually worked it out.”
“Are you trying to say that we would have been married by now if it hadn’t been for that?”
His gaze came back to her face. “It doesn’t matter what might have been. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
There was a deep sensitive side to Alex that he was always trying to hide. It was strange how a man could feel comfortable blowing kisses, but paranoid about revealing his vulnerable side. There were still so many things to learn about him – and for him to learn about her.
Josh and Lori were almost a holler away, but help came in the form of Katie and Bill first. At the old house Katie retrieved some supplies for Carmen while Bill assessed the damage. Carmen and Alex met them at the washed out bridge. It had finally stopped raining, but the water had not receded yet. Bill tossed Carmen’s supply package to Alex, who deftly caught it. Bill said one of the limbs of the tree had gone through the roof over Carmen’s bedroom – all the way down and punctured her mattress. Alex could have said ‘I told you so’, but he said nothing – didn’t even look like he wanted to.
Alex decided to ride down on his side of the creek and see if he could find a tree across the creek. When Carmen asked to go along, he instantly agreed, saying he might need Princess too.
Within an hour, they were riding side-by-side down the south bank of the creek, searching for the blocked area. In spite of the situation, it was peaceful riding with him. They hadn’t been riding in weeks. Maybe this was what they needed to do instead of thinking torrid thoughts about each other. The hugging and kissing was wonderful, but that was why they were getting so frustrated. What they needed was quality time together. Maybe she should take him up on the mountain. A good brisk walk up a steep rugged trail would leave him too exhausted to make advances. Of course, the trail would be twice as dangerous now, with slippery wet rocks and washed out places.
They found the problem about a mile down the creek. A large Oak tree had fallen across the creek in a narrow deep area, trapping debris in front of it to form a natural dam. A thick limb jutted up sharply, as if throwing an arm out for help.
Alex examined the tree for a few minutes. In fluid movements, he shook out a noose, swung it a few times to get momentum and then threw it at the limb. The noose fell directly over the limb and he pulled it tight. Wrapping the rope around the saddle horn, he nudged Ed into motion, tugging the fallen tree downstream. Had it not been for the fact that the tree was almost completely severed from its trunk and had so much pressure on it from the opposite side, it would probably have been an impossible feat. As it was, he had to enlist the help of Princess in order to move it a short distance. But, it was enough.
“Unwrap it!” Alex directed Carmen as he quickly detached the rope from his saddle horn.
Carmen barely had the rope unwrapped from the horn before water and debris shoved the tree further. With the obstruction removed, water plunged down the creek bed, dragging debris with it. Carmen stared at the raging torrent. What was downstream that it might hit? Alex must have had the same thought as he watched it anxiously.
By the time they got back to the house, the creek was substantially lower – enough so that the bridge was emerging. Within two hours, the bridge was passable. Of course, it helped that the rain had stopped, but the main problem had been the obstruction.
When Alex told Bill that Carmen was going to move to his house, Katie was shocked.
“Alex, you can’t do that. You’ll trash her reputation. People are already wondering. They know Carmen, though, and – well, if she moves in with you, they’ll think she . . .”
“They’ll think what they want no mater what she does.” Alex interrupted. “If they know her as well as they think they do, they’ll know nothing is going on. Carmen and I have talked it over and decided this is the best solution. She can put a bed in one of the other bedrooms and I’ll sleep in mine.”
Actually, staying with Katie and Bill was probably a better choice, but she had already told Alex she would stay at his house. He thought she was bending a little. She couldn’t back up now. Besides, it did make more sense to stay at his house. Otherwise she would have to bug someone to take her over to do the chores. Maybe Alex could feed his animals, but the chickens, Princess, and Casper were still her responsibility.
“She should stay with us,” Katie insisted. “It would look better that way.”
“I can’t protect her while she’s at your house,” Alex said.
“Protect her from what, Alex?” Katie said. “You don’t mean protect. You mean control.”
Alex was watching Carmen intently. He was probably looking for some concrete sign that she was in agreement with him.
“I feel safe when I’m with Alex,” Carmen said.
Katie sighed. “It’s only for a week, Carmen. The longer you stay here, the more likely it is that something will happen that you’ll regret.”
That might be true, but for some reason Alex felt he needed to protect her. Maybe it was from herself. Whatever the case, it was important to him that she stay with him. As for regret, she would feel worse about hurting Alex. His confidence was worth the risk. Maybe he needed to prove that she could trust him. After last night, she didn’t need any proof. Still, the thought of living in the house with him was more comforting than alarming.
“You’re welcome at the house,” Bill said gently, “But it’s your decision, Carmen. Don’t let either of them make it for you.”
“That’s right,” Katie and Alex said in unison.
Carmen sucked in a deep breath. “I appreciate your offer, but I think I’ll stay here with Alex. As you said, it’s only a week. I can get a lot of stuff done here at the house, and I need to do some shopping. Besides, they’re almost done with the chicken house and then we’ll be transferring the chickens to it. I’ll need to be here then. We had planned to do it next Monday, but with this latest problem . . .” She shrugged. “I trust Alex and I trust myself. If people are going to think bad things about me, it won’t matter whether I’m staying here at night or simply going out with him.”
When her gaze shifted to Alex, his eyes were warm and a smile played at the corners of his mouth. In that moment she was sure she had made the right decision – said the right words.
“Let’s go get that car tomorrow,” Alex said. I don’t want you to be stuck here while I’m gone.”
She nodded. “That way you don’t have to keep fitting me into your schedule and I’ll be able to get some shopping done.”
Whether it was right or wrong, it certainly felt good to step into his stride. At least they were going in the same direction now. One more thing she would concede to when they were alone, was selecting some furniture. He had one recliner in the living room, plus the window seat. If she was going to be there all day and night, they needed more than that. The idea of sitting her chair beside his brought warmth to her cheeks. It was strange, but the idea felt intimate. It was a comfortable intimacy, though – and the first of his money she would spend on herself.
Alex took off work the next day and they moved one of the beds to the bedroom of her choice in his house. Later he took her to town to purchase a car. Other than aesthetics and economics, she had little idea what kind of vehicle she wanted. He listened attentively to her requests – something easy to see on the road, lots of room inside, easy to drive and with good gas mileage. She was relieved when he started looking at pre-owned cars. Using his own parameters about mileage and age of the vehicle, he found several cars that fit her criteria. After that he let her decide which one she wanted. The most expensive one was her favorite, but she selected the least expensive. Alex eyed her reflectively.
“I would have sworn you liked the Buick best,” he said.
“It isn’t important.”
“Well, I think it is. Personally, I like it best too, and I think it’s the best bargain. Besides, it will offer better protection than the others.”
The salesman heartily agreed. Of course, he would.
“I like it best, but it’s so expensive,” she said.
Alex nodded. “Yeah, well maybe we can do a little bargaining.”
The salesman looked uncertain until Alex lifted a brow.
“It’s a cash sale – just as soon as we come to an agreement on the price.”
The salesman nodded vigorously. “Let’s go in and iron out the details.”
It was amazing how little paperwork was required with a cash sale. Alex wrote a check, pocketed the bill of sale and title, and then they all walked out of the office. Alex drove his white Dodge truck home and she followed him in her new white Buick Le Sabre feeling equal amounts of joy and guilt. In less than a week they would be married, but somehow it seemed a violation of his bank account. Still, if he liked it . . . She sighed. Was she rationalizing, or was it merely sound judgment? Well, the title was in his name right now anyway. His reasoning was that by the time they were required to get it licensed, they would be married. At that point he intended to put it in both their names.
An hour after they returned home, a trailer brought the two buffalo. Carmen watched from the porch as they unloaded them, one at a time. They looked a little thin to her, and their fur looked shaggy. Alex would get them in good condition.
Brutus ran down from the barn, barking at the new arrivals and Alex hushed him. It was nice to see the way Brutus had taken to him. Of course, Alex had helped him after the wild dog attack. The truth was, though, that Brutus had taken to Alex almost the first day – as soon as Carmen assured him Alex was a friend, not a foe.
That night as they sat at the table eating the supper she had cooked, it seemed cozy – as if they were already married. He had only kissed her once, a peck on the cheek. She felt comfortable enough now to approach that intimate conversation.
Thinking about approaching the conversation and actually starting the conversation were two entirely different things. Taking a deep breath, she studied her iced tea as she spoke.
“Are you nervous about getting married?”
When he didn’t answer, she looked up to see why. A smile touched the corners of his mouth, but his eyes didn’t mock her.
“Is it that hard to discuss intimacy with me, Carmen?”
Her face felt warm. He always seemed to know what was on her mind.
“Am I that transparent?”
He laughed softly. “Usually.” Leaning back in his chair, he watched her, his expression sober.
“Since it’s your first time, I assume you want to know if it will be painful.”
The warmth in her face turned to a burning.
“I guess.”
Actually, all she wanted to do was alert him that she was nervous about it, but if it made him feel better to know she was willing to discuss intimacy with him now, then she would listen.
His gaze wandered over her face.
“It’s hard to say. I understand it depends on the individual. Some find it painful and some don’t. More than likely it will at least be uncomfortable.”
“I don’t know why I’m so concerned about it,” she said, her face still flaming. She wrote her name in the condensation on the side of her tea glass.
“Probably the same reason I am,” he said in a conversational tone.
Her gaze shot up to his face. “You’re concerned about it too?”
He nodded. “Although I don’t know why I should be. It will be the first time in the history of our relationship that I’ll know you can’t compare me to Josh.”
“Alex!” The blood left her face. “I don’t compare you to Josh.” Well, at least not unfavorably.
He shrugged. “Did you ever find out why he came over the other day?”
“No.” It was the truth. She couldn’t be sure he wanted to go for a walk. “He called back, but I let the phone ring.”
He stood and stretched. “Well, I’d better get to bed. If you need anything, let me know.”
With that, he went to his room. Carmen cleaned off the table and loaded the dishes in the dishwasher before retiring to her new bedroom. In her room, she undressed and put her nightgown on. Crawling into bed, she glanced at the closed door. Would he come into her room while she was asleep? That was ridiculous. Alex wouldn’t violate her privacy that way.
Exhaustion took over as soon as her head hit the pillow. She slept soundly, not waking until morning. Alex was gone when she woke. He hadn’t even said goodbye. Maybe he thought she needed the rest.
After chores and a shower, she headed for town to shop for some furniture and get some groceries. She made arrangements for a glide rocker to be delivered to the house the following day. Hopefully Alex would like her choice. He said it didn’t matter as long as it was quality and new. His reasoning was that they could afford the new furniture and it supported local businesses. Whatever he wanted – he had given her the money for it.
She was unlocking the door, a sack of groceries in her arm, when a gray truck pulled into the drive. What did Josh want this time? She glanced at her watch. It was almost time for Alex to get home. Maybe he wanted to talk to Alex about something.
Josh slid out of his truck and glanced down at the old house. “It’s a mess, isn’t it?” His solemn gaze swung back to her.
Carmen nodded. “It can be fixed.”
He climbed the stairs to the porch and leaned against a porch rail, watching her. He looked perturbed.
“Alex should be home shortly,” she said.
“Yeah, well . . . actually I wanted to talk to you.”
She frowned. “About what - the house?”
“No. I figured since your father wasn’t around, he might want me to give you the pre-marriage speech.” His tone was light, but his expression remained solemn.
“And what is that?”
If her father had been alive, he would have heartily agreed with her marriage to Alex. He would have liked Alex. In fact, he never liked Josh too well - but what man does like a boy who is going to take his little girl away? No, it was more than that. For some reason, Dad simply didn’t care for Josh . . . never did. Personality differences, maybe. Or maybe he knew his little girl wasn’t really in love with Josh.
Josh shifted from one foot to another. “What about family, Carmen? Are you going to be happy a few years from now, knowing what you gave up?”
“I didn’t give up anything, Josh. I made a choice – children or Alex. I think a few years from now or twenty years from now I’ll wish I had children, but I don’t think I’ll ever regret marrying Alex.”
Those cool gray eyes studied her face reflectively. “Where did I go wrong, Carmen?”
Carmen caught her breath and took a step back. “I don’t love you, Josh. I never did - in the right way. You know that. You’re married to Lori now. Isn’t it different than it was with us?”
His expression hardened. “Yeah, she doesn’t want to bother with kids.”
“Well, didn’t you know that when you married her?”
Of course he did. Lori had said it so many times when they were younger.
“I figured she’d change her mind.”
“Maybe she will, eventually. You’ve only been married a few months. Give her time to adjust.”
His attention shifted pointedly to the house. “You seem to be adjusting well enough, and you’re not even married yet.”
Her face flamed instantly – a fact he noted when his gaze returned to her.
“I knew you’d wind up moving in with him. All that talk about waiting . . .”
“We are waiting, Josh. And it’s really none of your business anyway. I don’t expect you to believe me. You never believed anything I said even though I never lied to you. You always thought the worst.”
She stopped. Where did all that come from? It was all true, but certainly irrelevant now.
She sighed. “Go home, Josh. There’s nothing between us anymore but friendship and I don’t want to ruin that with this kind of talk.”
A white truck pulled into the yard but Josh didn’t look that way. He held his arms out to her, waiting for her to hug him. She couldn’t see Alex, but she felt him watching her. Did Josh plan this?
“Go home to Lori, Josh,” she said gently. “I’m going to marry Alex.”
Josh dropped his arms and turned away. He took the steps two at a time and strode to his truck without acknowledging Alex. Backing the truck around, he threw gravel from the rear tires as he took off.
Alex watched him leave and then turned to Carmen.
“What did he want?”
Carmen shrugged. “He said he figured since Dad wasn’t here, he’d give me the pre-marriage speech.”
Alex stepped up on the porch and looked down at her. His gaze traveled over her face and stopped on her eyes.
“Nothing.” She sighed and turned away. “I think he just wanted to know if we were sleeping together.”
“Did you tell him we weren’t?”
“I told him it wasn’t any of his business.”
“I wonder why he would care if we were sleeping together.”
She looked up at him, but his expression gave no indication what was going on in his mind.
“Would you care if your sister was sleeping with someone she wasn’t married to?”
A dark brow lifted. “But you’re not his sister.”
“Close enough. We were raised together.”
A wry smile twisted his lips. “I never thought about marrying my sister.” He gazed down at her, his expression still unreadable. “And no, I wouldn’t care if my sister was sleeping with someone she wasn’t married to. Not if she was twenty-five years old and in love with him.”
Did Alex suspect that Josh was still interested in her, or was he trying to say that she should be sleeping with Alex? She shrugged one shoulder and turned away, jabbing the key in the door.
“I don’t know.”
“Would you have hugged him if I hadn’t been watching?”
She turned her head and gazed up at him. There was no point in hiding the truth. He already had his mind made up.
“I don’t know . . . probably.”
“Then why didn’t you hug him while I was watching? He held his arms out to you. Didn’t it make you feel bad to refuse him a hug?”
“Yes, but I thought you might take it wrong.”
“You thought it might hurt my feelings.”
He smiled. “So you had to choose who you would hurt. I’m flattered, but next time; hug him if you want to. It looked so uncomfortable that it made me wonder anyway.”
He opened the door for her and took the sack of groceries.
She slipped an arm around his waist and smiled up at him. “You do know you’re the most wonderful person in the world, don’t you?”
His free arm circled her shoulders and his eyes twinkled with mischief.
“Yeah, but I never get tired of hearing it.”
“You little stinker,” she said with a grin.
“I’m not little,” he said as they walked through the door.
As he helped her put the groceries away, he paused and turned to her, a carton of eggs in one hand and a package of sliced cheese in the other.
“I guess we know what he came to your house for the other day.”
Carmen reached into the bag and pulled out a head of broccoli, avoiding his gaze. Did Josh tell him?
“To talk you out of marrying me.”
She opened the refrigerator door for him, releasing her breath in a measured dose.
“That’s ridiculous. Why would he want to do that?”
He leaned down and placed the eggs inside the refrigerator and straightened, gazing down at her.
“Did he talk to you about being faithful and what would be expected of you?”
Carmen pulled the crisper drawer out and tossed the broccoli in it.
“Of course not.”
He placed the cheese on the shelf and lifted his brows. “What is the pre-marriage speech about . . . the last chance to back out?”
Her face felt hot. “I don’t know. I’ve never heard one before.”
They were both standing between the refrigerator and its door. She gazed up at him, butterflies beginning in her stomach.
He reached out and traced her jaw with an index finger, his gaze becoming sultry. His finger left her jaw and softly followed the curve of her neck. As if testing her courage, it slowly slid down her chest to the swell of her breast. There he stopped, sighed deeply and then stepped away from her.
“I’ve got to get up early tomorrow and stop by Mr. Steadman’s place before I go to work.”

That night as she crawled into bed, it occurred to her that moving into his house was a good decision. They had a better relationship now than they ever had, and she was actually getting to know him better. Still, living in his home left little room for spontaneity. It wasn’t as though he could surprise her with a visit.

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