Something Old, Something New (Chapter One, page 1 of 2)

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The Reynolds home was the perfect place for Carmen’s bridal shower. With the exception of Lori, a childhood playmate; Katie, the groom’s sister; and Saundra, the receptionist at the groom’s veterinary clinic – and of course, Carmen, the bride; everyone in attendance was a member of the Reynolds family. Still, in addition to family ties, the Reynolds farmhouse was centrally located and large enough to accommodate all the guests.
Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds had three girls, Joan, Mary and Alice – in that order and each born two years after the other, more or less. Their only boy came along unexpectedly nine years later. All the girls were now married and had children. Josh had only been married to Lori a few months. Oh yes, that would make Lori a member of the Reynolds family too – technically. In actually, she was accepted because she was Josh’s wife. Lori’s past was a little too liberal for such a conservative family. Since they all expected Josh to marry Carmen, what they considered an infatuation with Lori came as a disappointment.
Ma Reynolds - Mums, was the undisputed matriarch of the Reynolds family, and she made it clear that Lori would be treated with respect. With the exception of an occasional remark or look, her daughters obeyed.
Carmen was only two years younger than Josh, so it was no surprise that they had become inseparable playmates. In fact, Carmen had spent so much time in the Reynolds kitchen growing up that neighbors began to think she belonged there. As they matured, so did their relationship. Carmen and Josh had never discussed marriage. Everyone simply assumed they would marry. Their unplanned, unannounced engagement had stretched on indistinctly until Carmen began to silently question her lack of enthusiasm. What Josh represented to her at that time was security and family. Maybe that was why having children had been such a non-negotiable part of her plan for the future. After meeting Alex, she discovered there could be much more to a relationship – something she didn’t want to live without.
These things were on Carmen’s mind as she settled into one of the chairs set up in the family room. Katie came in behind her and sat in a nearby chair.
“You look so serious,” Katie said, her large blue eyes searching Carmen’s face. “What are you thinking about – second thoughts?”
Carmen focused her gaze on Katie. “No, I was just thinking about how all this came to be. I’m still a little stunned.”
Katie chuckled softly. “I know. So much has happened in the last three months.” She ran a hand across her expanding stomach. “I can’t believe I’m going to be a mommy in December. That’s less than five months away.”
Katie and Bill were going to have a baby. Before Alex came along, Carmen had never given much thought to a father – only that she wanted children. Now, more than anything else, she wanted a baby with Alex. It was strange how a person got to thinking that way after they learned to love someone.
Katie’s musings interrupted her thoughts.
“Just think, it was the goat dairy that brought Alex to you, and I was the one who came up with the idea.”
Carmen frowned. “The goat dairy or bringing him to me?”
Katie laughed. “The goat dairy. I didn’t think your dad willed you that 80-acre farm so it could become your private Arkansas jungle.” She shrugged one shoulder, her eyes sparkling with humor. “Of course, that’s what it will be when Alex is done with it.”
Carmen eyed her silently. Alex planned to make it a safari of North American wildlife. Combined with his 120 adjoining acreage, it was a good start. It would take a lot of money to complete, but Alex had money. How much was a mystery even to her, but that didn’t matter. She would have married him if he had been penniless. Still, his pay-as-you-go philosophy implied he didn’t take money for granted. His new log home was nice, but not extravagant. Even so, Alex was a blend of excitement and security for her. For the first time she was looking forward to winter. It would be her first winter in a house that wasn’t cold and drafty. The first winter she would be able to do chores without freezing her buns off. And, of course the first winter she would have a warm body to sleep with.
A warm deep voice drifted in from the kitchen and Carmen’s gaze riveted on the kitchen doorway. Alex was talking to someone. When he entered the living room where the women were gathering, his gaze immediately found Carmen. He ran a hand through short curly black hair that didn’t need straightening. His chocolate gaze scanned the room full of women uncomfortably as he walked toward her, his square-toed boots clicking briskly on the hardwood floor. The large western belt buckle at his lean waist moved with the graceful rhythm of his stride. Indigo jeans outlined the long lean muscles in his thighs, and the sleeves of his western shirt were rolled up to reveal tanned muscular forearms.
Carmen suppressed a smile. All the women in the room had laughed when she confided that he was the handsomest man she had ever seen, but every eye in the room was on him right now.
Reaching her side, he squatted close to her, his head almost level with hers. Had anyone else been that close, she would have felt her space was being invaded, but in this case the smell of his cologne and his close proximity increased her pulse. He spoke quietly, but his voice carried well.
“We’re all going over to work on the buffalo shed now. Do you have your cell phone?”
She gazed at those smooth bronzed features and nodded.
“Is it turned on?” Humor put a twinkle in his eyes.
She smiled. “Yes.”
He stood in one fluid movement. “Well, call me when you’re ready to go home and I’ll come get you.” His hand rested on her shoulder for a moment, warm and reassuring. He wouldn’t kiss her goodbye in front of all of the women. Then he turned and strode from the room.
Katie rolled her eyes. “I swear. That would drive me insane.”
“Yeah,” Alice said with a long dreamy sigh. “Me too.” Then, molding her expression into mock comprehension, she added: “Oh, you meant the way he was telling her what to do?”
They all laughed and Joan shook her head. “He’s a cutie all right, but I have to agree with Katie. It would drive me nuts to have someone instructing me through every move.”
Carmen shrugged. “He’s a little over protective at times, but he means well.”
“Have you ever left your telephone behind – or off when he needed to reach you?” The voice belonged to Mums. She must have entered the room when Alex came in. With crochet needles in her lap, Mums eyed Carmen over the rim of her reading glasses.
Carmen squirmed in her chair. “A few times. I’m not used to having a phone in the house, much less carrying a cell phone. That was his idea, not mine.”
Mums nodded. “Alex is a good boy.”
“Boy?” Alice said. “He’ll turn thirty in a couple months. He’s a mature male.”
Mums rocked in her chair and finished counting stitches before she responded.
“He’s book smart and business savvy, but he’s still a boy in some ways.” Her gentle gaze came back to Carmen. “Besides, Carmen likes being looked after, don’t you honey?”
Carmen nodded. “I haven’t felt so safe since before Dad died. I guess I do like being protected. He did save me from the wild dogs, you know.”
“So did Josh,” Mary said without looking up from the magazine she was flipping through.
It was true. Josh had saved her life on more than one occasion. So why did she feel safer with Alex? Of course, with Alex it went deeper than safety. Alex was chivalrous. Was that it – pretty words and gentlemanly deeds?
Lori picked up a magazine, obviously trying to forget the history between Carmen and her husband.
“Ahem!” Joan interrupted, waving a tablet over her head. “I’m ready to start the questions.” Her friendly gaze fell on Carmen. “There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. They’re just for fun. Are you ready?”
“Ready,” Carmen said, grateful for the distraction.
“One . . . what do you consider your fiancé’s best feature to be?”
Carmen thought about the question a moment. There were so many choices. “Do you mean facial feature?”
“Woooo . . . “ went around the room.
Joan produced an exaggerated sigh. “Yes Carmen, let’s limit it to his face. We only have two hours.”
Everyone giggled.
“I guess I should have asked whether you meant a physical feature or personality,” Carmen clarified and then paused, thinking. “I’ll say his eyes.”
“Hmm, the window to the soul,” Mums mused.
“Those eyes,” Alice sighed. “Why do men always have the long dark eyelashes?”
Katie groaned. Alice, you do remember you’re already married, right?”
“Next question,” Joan interrupted again. “Two . . . what is your greatest fear about getting married?”
Seven pair of eyes landed on Carmen as she considered the question. Finally she shrugged.
“I guess my greatest fear is that he will be disappointed in me.”
Joan used the tablet as a shield, as if hiding her comment from Carmen while informing the entire room.
“He hasn’t sampled her . . . wares . . . yet.”
Mary’s tone was sarcastic as she glanced up from the magazine in her lap.
“If you can lie on your back for five minutes, he won’t be disappointed.”
Carmen felt the flush start up her face again. “Actually, I was referring to the fact that he’s so sophisticated and I’m such a hick.”
Much about Alex was shrouded in the past. When they met he was still a high ranking salesman for a large corporation. He was accustomed to being around sophisticated people - and she was anything but that. Any fears about sex were mostly restricted to the first time. At twenty-five, that kind of thing wouldn’t be an issue for most women. Maybe if she hadn’t been such a hermit – but no. Being ultra conservative and religious didn’t make her parents wrong. Sometimes it was difficult to know which virtues they taught her were worthy and which were simply out-dated. Everyone seemed to have a different perspective on what was morally acceptable – especially when it came to sex. That was one reason why they never had a television when she was growing up.
“Well,” Saundra said, uncrossing her long skinny legs. “I don’t think Alex is too impressed with sophistication.”
Katie snorted. “I can guarantee that.”
”Number three,” Joan interrupted again. “If he were a tree,” she started to giggle and lowered the tablet. “What kind would he be?”
Carmen crossed her eyes and then laughed. “A tree? Let’s see. She gave it some thought and then answered. “How about a hickory?”
“Why a hickory tree?” Alice asked.
Carmen turned her palms up. “He’s well formed, slender, not too tall, and strong - but bends with the wind.”
Alice clapped her hands. “Very good! But I’d think a petite woman like you would consider him tall. He’s about 6 inches taller than you, isn’t he?”
Carmen nodded. “Yeah, but he’s still only five-nine.”
“And he’s slight of build,” Mary added. “The two of you together wouldn’t weigh 150 pounds soaking wet.”
Actually, 250 combined pounds would be a fairly accurate figure. Carmen made a face. “He weighs that by himself. Anyway, he’s not slight of build. He’s perfect. Not too thin and not too heavy. I like the fact that he’s not all muscled up like a wrestler.”
“Don’t get her going,” Alice said with a grin. “To listen to her talk, you’d think he was six feet tall and bullet proof.”
“Oh, I love number four,” Joan broke in. “What is he . . . Rich man, poor man, beggerman, thief, doctor, lawyer or Indian chief?” She looked up from the tablet. “Remember when we used to chant that?”
Mums laughed. “I do, but I bet Carmen doesn’t.”
Carmen raised her brows. “Well, I know what you’re talking about, but I don’t remember pondering it as a child. I guess I’ll do that now.” She recited it in her mind. “Of course, we all know he’s a doctor, but I have to say Indian Chief isn’t too far off, either.” She giggled.
“Neither is rich man,” Mary supplied, her lips twisting into a wry smile.
“Number five,” Joan said. She laughed. “His pet nickname for you.”
A chorus of “Heidi” filled the room before Carmen could speak.
“OK,” Joan said, shifting in her chair as she read the tablet. “On the next five questions, you’re supposed to tell us how Alex would respond.”
“This should be good,” Carmen remarked in a dry tone that sent another bout of laughter around the room.
“Number six. What physical feature does he like best about you?”
Warmth ran up Carmen’s neck again, invading her cheeks. Considering the number of times she had pushed his hands away, it must be her breasts.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Her eyes,” Katie supplied. “He’s always talking about her amethyst eyes.” She laughed. “I keep telling him they’re violet, but you know how men are. He says blond hair and amethyst eyes are a killer combination.”
Joan laughed and her response was sarcastic. “Yeah, that’s what I’ve observed him looking at the most – her eyes.”
A ripple of smothered laughter circled the room.
Actually, Alex did look into her eyes a lot – and his gaze wandered over her face sometimes in a way that left her wondering what was on his mind.
“Number seven. What does he fantasize doing with you?” Joan dropped the tablet to her lap. “Well, duh!”
Carmen laughed nervously. “Riding horses on the beach all day.” Of course, Alex had added: and making love all night. Joan was right. That was an obvious question.
“Number eight. What is his favorite thing to do?”
Carmen laughed. “Where did you get all these questions?”
Alice found them on the Internet.” Joan said, giggling. “So what is his favorite thing to do?”
Carmen sighed. “I guess taking care of animals.”
Katie smirked. “Well, for a veterinarian, that’s bound to be in the top ten.”
“Number nine. This is a good one. Even I know the answer. What would he say was your greatest character trait?”
It was a good one alright - a good one to stump her. Carmen lifted her palms again. “I still don’t know what attracted him to me.”
Katie’s tone was dry. “It must be modesty.”
Lori glanced at Carmen. “Beauty is obvious, but beyond that, I’d say innocence.”
“Her kindness,” Alice said. “That and her beauty – but that’s not a character trait, is it?”
“Hardly,” Mums said. “My guess would be her integrity.”
“Geez you guys.” Joan said with an exasperated sigh. “It’s staring you right in the face. She wants the man to make all the decisions. What man wouldn’t like that?”
Carmen frowned, her face growing warm. “I don’t want him to make all the decisions. I just want him to have the final say.
Mary rolled her eyes. “Splitting hairs again.”
“OK, last question.” Joan broke in. “Number ten. As your husband, what will he consider his most important function?”
“Protecting me,” Carmen said instantly.
“Well, that’s probably not what most men would say,” Joan said with a shrug, “But I think we all agree that Alex isn’t the average male.”
Lori lifted her brows. “He’s not that different.”
Carmen looked down, pushing an indecent thought away. If Lori and Alex had been intimate in the past, it was none of her business. She had accepted the idea that she wouldn’t be his first. Maybe his experience would come in handy on their wedding night.
“Well, I don’t know,” Alice said. “I sure can’t picture him bungee jumping.” When Carmen glanced at her, she quickly amended: “Not that he isn’t brave enough. He’s just so conservative – like you. He’s so serious.”
“Hmmm,” Joan mused. “I don’t know. I could picture him bronc-busting.
Saundra nodded. “Me too. He really relates to horses, and I hear his riding skills are very good.” She glanced at Alice. “He’s not all that serious, either. You should see him at work. He has a quiet humor that goes unnoticed if you’re not paying close attention. Everyone adores him.”
Mums put aside her yarn. “It would be hard not to.” She groaned as she pushed her large frame from the chair. “I’ll get the cake ready. You girls put the presents over here close to Carmen.”
Lori stood and followed her. “I’ll help you with the cake.”
Joan tossed the tablet on a table behind her and turned her attention on Carmen.
“Aren’t they building that buffalo shed on your land?”
“Yes.” Carmen said. “We’re going to run the buffalo in the north pasture with the goats.”
Alice laughed. “I hear he plans to get two of everything. Has he started the ark yet?”
Carmen laughed softly. “I guess he figures if he starts with a male and a female, they’ll reproduce. Later he wants to fix the old house up and rent it to tourists. Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do.”
Katie laughed. “What’s this about a new car he’s buying for you?”
Carmen made a face. “He insists on that. I don’t know.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, for starters, we’re not married yet. Considering what happened to him before – with his fiancé leaving him after he spent all that money . . .”
Katie raised a dark brow, her eyes twinkling with the very devil. “Are you planning on running - or do you think he is?”
Mums walked into the room with two pieces of cake. Handing one to Carmen, she spoke gently. “You would do well to leave such things in the past.” She leaned down and handed the other piece of cake to Katie. “You think he dominates her, but here he is trying to give her the means to be independent and what does she do?”
Katie accepted the cake. “I don’t mean to sound so negative about him. I know he’ll be a good provider, and I know he’s loyal. After Mom and Dad died, he made sacrifices to take care of me. But he was domineering.”
Alice sighed. “I don’t know why you don’t just move in with him now. It’s only two weeks until your wedding. It seems kind of silly for you to get up every morning and walk over there to clean his house and do his chores – then go back to your house. I mean, you’re going to be back there again to fix his supper. What’s the big deal?”
Mary’s laugh was more a snort. “I’m sure she’s the only one who cares whether she’s a virgin on her wedding day.”
Carmen shrugged. “If you don’t draw the line at the wedding date, then when do you draw it?”
“Back in the early 1900’s,” Mary said sarcastically. “If you keep leaving him sexually frustrated, he’s likely to start looking for a substitute.”
Carmen sighed. “As Alice said, it’s only two more weeks. A man either cheats or he doesn’t. If he’s going to cheat, I’d rather find out now.”
“Aren’t you ever tempted to spend the night with him?” Alice persisted.
Carmen’s face flamed. Temptation had been pounding on the door with a sledge hammer lately. “I’ve been able to push temptation away.”
Lori came in and handed cake to Joan, Mary and Alice. “I thought Alex was always a gentleman,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Everyone laughed. Actually, Alex was a gentleman, but he was a man. Who was it that used the term ‘mature male’? Strange, but she had never thought of him that way. Usually, he was simply Alex – as exciting as that might be.
“Well,” Katie said. “This celibacy thing is fine as far as it goes, but everything will change after they exchange vows. Then he’ll turn into the big bad wolf. He’ll huff and puff and hoe her blouse down!”
Her transposed humor brought waves of laughter around the room.
“Yeah.” Alice giggled, her large gray eyes seeking out Carmen. “He’ll carry you over the threshold and pretend to fall to the floor. Then, oops. It will be all over.”
Joan laughed. “Is that what happened to you, Alice?”
They were all joking, of course, but how much would Alex change once they exchanged vows? Would he still be gentle and respectful, or would he suddenly demand husbandly rights? Would he continue to consider her input, or would he simply take control?
“Are you nervous about the first night?” Mary asked Carmen.
Carmen hesitated, her face growing warm as all eyes turned to her.
“It’s strange. I never gave a thought to the pain of childbirth, but here I am worried about pain the first time. I guess it’s because I’m afraid I’ll ruin everything with tears.”
“It’s nothing,” Alice said. “I was worried about it too, but I didn’t have any pain.”
“I did,” Lori said. “But then, I was so young.”
Mary gave her a scorching look, but said nothing. It was general knowledge that Lori had been promiscuous in her youth. Maybe that was why Josh had never shown much interest in her then.
Mums leaned forward. “The best advice I can give you is to try to relax. Getting tense will only make it worse. Talk to Alex about your concerns. He’s a doctor.”
Carmen laughed. “He’s veterinarian. Besides, I couldn’t talk to him about something like that. He already thinks I’m naïve. I don’t want him to think I’m a baby too.”
Katie rolled her eyes. “Oh Carmen, you’re 25, not 16. In a few weeks he’ll know your most intimate secrets.”
Lori’s expression was contemplative. “Well, he has told me on more than one occasion that he was fascinated with your innocence. Considering the fact that he makes such an effort at protecting you, I don’t think he’d take your concerns lightly or think any less of you because you had them. I agree with Mums. You should talk to him about it. And a veterinarian is a doctor.”
Lori had been with Alex so much when she was helping him with his real estate needs that everyone thought they were interested in each other. Apparently Alex had spent a good deal of that time talking to Lori about another woman. Still, even knowing that Lori was interested in Josh, it was hard to imagine that she wasn’t attracted to Alex. Neither Lori nor Alex would have considered it inappropriate to have relations – as long as they weren’t engaged to anyone at the time. Even Josh had said something to indicate a relationship between the two of them existed. But, it was all water under the bridge. Surely Alex had been intimate with other women. It was a tough thing to swallow, especially since she had remained chaste. But again, if that were the most important issue, she should have married Josh.
Putting the thought from her mind, she began opening presents. She was relieved to discover her request of nothing expensive had been honored. She relaxed and enjoyed the continuation of light banter. These people were as close to family as she would ever have.
Carmen was alone in the living room picking up wrapping paper when the men returned. One minute they were talking in the kitchen and then they were gone. When she looked up, Alex was leaning against the kitchen door frame watching her.
“Why didn’t you call?” He asked, furrows between lowered brows.
“I wasn’t ready yet,” she said, holding up a handful of wrapping paper. “Someone has to clean up this mess I made.”
The furrows disappeared and he chuckled as he moved away from the door jam.
“Then let’s work on it together.”
They cleaned the room, folded the chairs and carried the gifts out to his truck. When the gifts were all packed in the truck, Carmen left Alex at the truck and went back in to thank Mums and those who had remained at the house. As she walked through the screened porch, a tall figure stepped out of the evening shadows.

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