Taming Rafe | Chapter 28 of 39

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1350 Views | Add a Review

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dingbatCHAPTER 19

“I CAN’T BELIEVE he punched me!” Bradley sat in Kat’s bathroom, holding a washcloth to his nose, which thankfully hadn’t been broken.

“Just pinch it. . . . No, don’t lean back.” Kat knelt before him, lifting his shirt. “You said he hit your back?”

“Yeah. A couple times. I can’t believe you were with that jerk for two weeks.”

“Twelve days, and he wasn’t like that.” She probed his skin, watching for a wince or broken blood vessels. “I think you’re going to be okay.”

“I want charges filed.”

Kat leaned back into a sitting position. “I don’t need any more negative press for the Breckenridge Foundation.”

Bradley looked at her, and she raised her hands in surrender. “Okay, so . . . maybe you were right. I should just give up.” She felt it all then, his words and how suddenly everything made sense. The reality of it rushed at her, and she put her hands over her mouth. “My mom really didn’t want to be here, did she? Not with me.”

Bradley shook his head. “But you still have your trust fund.”

“I don’t care about the money. I wanted . . . I thought she . . . well, that her noble causes were so great they were worth the sacrifice. That God wanted her to do it. And I felt like He wanted me to do it too.”

Bradley looked at the washcloth. “I don’t know about God, but I’m tired of this thing running your life. Please let your grandfather take over the charity. He’ll run it the way it should be, and I promise that you’ll still be involved.”

Kat drew up her knees, then lowered her head onto them. She was tired. So very tired. Of everything. Of watching her hard work turn to a fiasco. Of trying too hard to be and do something that she’d never get right.

“Katherine, Lolly Stuart is here for you.” Angelina appeared in the room holding a bowl of ice and a clean washcloth.

Lolly. She’d left her and Piper and Stefanie in the hallway. “Let her in. Thank you.”

Kat got to her feet. “Will you be okay?”

Bradley nodded, checking his nose in the mirror. “I’m going to get cleaned up, then go back downstairs.”

“Are you sure?”

“I promise not to let Noble jump me. Again. I’ll see you there.” He grabbed her hand as she made to leave, smiled up at her. “Tomorrow night, okay?”

Kat nodded, dredging up a smile. Tomorrow this would all be over.

Lolly stood on Kat’s balcony, staring at Central Park. “This is a view I never thought I’d see,” she said.

“It’s a beautiful evening.” Kat stepped out onto the balcony and sat in a rattan chair, leaning her head back.

Lolly turned. “Headache?”

She nodded. “It’s just stress. After tomorrow, things will be better.” It was smart to turn the charity over to her grandfather. He could probably double their money in a year. Or he’d simply absorb it into the empire of his company. She rubbed her temples.

“Are you sure?” Lolly knelt in front of her. “You don’t look well.”

“I could use a piece of pie.”

“I wish I could give you one.”

Kat closed her eyes, seeing Lolly’s Diner, hearing the laughter, the easy conversation. “Who’s minding the restaurant?”

“Missy Pike. She and her kid sister Libby waitress for me, and Missy has wanted to buy it for years, so we worked out a deal. Kat . . . well, I’m not going back.”

Kat opened her eyes. “Why?”

“I have another offer.”

Something in her tone made Kat sit up and study the way Lolly stood up, so solemn, and began tracing the railing with her finger. “Did John propose?”

Lolly’s face drained of color. “Uh, yeah, he did, about twenty years ago. But I wasn’t ready to say yes, and . . . John left town right about the time you did.”

“Oh. I thought you two . . .”

Lolly shrugged. “It’s too late for us.” Even Kat could tell the smile she produced came from a place of resignation. “I’ve decided to be Lincoln Cash’s personal chef.”

“That’s a pretty big move. Why did you decide—?”

“Because I’m tired of waiting for my happy ending! Because this is the way it’s going to be.”

Kat raised her hands in surrender. “Lincoln is a lucky guy, getting all that pie. I was just saying, I thought you and John had something.”

“Well, we don’t. We have nothing. I thought we did, or maybe I didn’t see it and let it die. But it’s over, and I have to get used to that. If John ever loved me, there’s nothing left now.” Lolly lifted a shoulder. “This is best for everyone.”

“I invited Lincoln to tonight’s event. He’s in town getting ready to promote a new movie. He might stop by later, according to his press agent. He didn’t make it to my last event . . . although Rafe did a great job of totaling that one also.” She pushed the memory of watching him hit Bradley from her mind. Why had she expected anything different?

“Kat, I came here because I have to talk to you about something.” Lolly paused. “You can’t marry Bradley.”

“What?”

“He’s trouble—”

“Stop. Rafe’s the one downstairs beating people up. He’s the troublemaker—”

“Rafe loves you.”

“Rafe loves Rafe. And I can’t compete with him or his profession. I don’t even think I want to.”

“He’s changed. He’s not the same guy—”

“I’m marrying Bradley. Tomorrow. Rafe is out of my life.”

Lolly shook her head.

“What?”

She sighed. “You’re just . . . so much like your mother.”

Suddenly, something inside Kat simply snapped. “I am not like my mother. I don’t even look like her. And I’m not beautiful or smart or fashion savvy. Most of all, I’m not going to make the same bad choice she made.”

“Yes, I think you are.”

Something in the way Lolly said it, her voice low and even shaky, made Kat pause.

“You’re going to marry a man who is going to hurt you.”

“That’s Rafe, not Bradley.”

“No, not break your heart—I mean hurt you. Piper thinks that Bradley might be poisoning you—”

“What?”

“Listen to me, Kat. Bradley had a first wife who died.”

“I know all about his first wife. She had a heart attack. He didn’t poison . . .” A chill went through Kat, and her heart thumped hard against her sternum. “Bradley wouldn’t hurt me. Besides, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Bobby Russell didn’t hurt my mother. He loved her.”

“I’m not talking about Bobby.”

Kat wrapped her hands around the arms of her chair. “Who are you talking about?”

Lolly didn’t answer. The wind had picked up, a cool breeze for September, curling her blonde hair around her face.

Kat stayed silent, tucking her hands between her knees. The sounds of traffic lifted from the street. As the sun had begun to set, drizzling Central Park in shadow, the city came alive, neon signs lighting up Fifth Avenue all the way down to Times Square.

“I knew your aunt Laura.”

Kat stared at her.

“In fact, I am your aunt Laura. I know I said I didn’t know her, that she didn’t live around Phillips. And that’s sort of the truth because when I moved to Phillips, I changed my name from Laura Russell to Lolly Stuart. I couldn’t have my past following me.”

Headlines flashed through her mind, and Kat saw again the news file. “You didn’t want him—your husband—following you.”

“How did you know?”

“He broke your jaw and killed your child. Piper found the news article. I’m sorry, Lolly. We weren’t trying to invade your privacy. If I’d known, I never would have asked Piper for help. But I was just so desperate to find you. I wanted to hear the story, to know what happened.”

Lolly sank into a chair. “It’s okay. I should have known Piper had found it. She seemed like she knew, anyway.”

“Bradley already told me what happened. I know why my mother didn’t want me.”

“Oh no, Kat, that’s not true.” Lolly reached out to touch her but pulled back. “That’s just not true.”

“No, you’re probably right. Maybe my mother did want me. But she’d had enough pain in her life, so—”

“Listen to me. Felicia loved you the best way she knew how. She didn’t want you growing up poor or getting sick in one of the countries she worked in. Bradley was right—she didn’t have a choice. But not because of why you think.”

“I . . . don’t understand.” Kat stood up, rubbed her forehead.

Lolly took her hand. It was so warm, so firm that Kat found herself sitting back down, caught in the pain in Lolly’s eyes. “You need to know that Felicia and Bobby were deliriously happy. They adored each other, and Felicia never regretted a minute of loving Bobby. No, he wasn’t exactly the man Walter Breckenridge would have chosen for Felicia, but she saw something in Bobby that not many got close enough to see—a goodness, a desire to be a better man. They started supporting charities while Bobby was riding, because of all the needy kids they saw during their travels. They loved children, Kat. And they adored you. Bobby always said that your smile was his reward for coming home. I remember the day I snapped that picture of the two of you; he’d just purchased those red boots and that cowgirl outfit. Although you probably don’t remember, you adored him back.”

Kat’s eyes began to fill at Lolly’s words. “I thought I did. I have those remnant feelings every time I see that picture.”

Lolly’s voice grew soft. “Your world ended when he died—as did Felicia’s. It was horrible. He got bucked off—not a big deal, but the animal went after him, kicking him in the head. He never wore a helmet, and his hat offered little protection. He went into a coma and never woke up. Felicia kept him on life support as long as the insurance covered it, but that topped out and they were going to move him to a convalescent home, give up on him. Finally, Walter flew in, and he made her a terrible deal. He told her that he would fund Bobby’s medical care . . . if . . .” Lolly licked her lips and blew out a breath. “. . . if she’d let him raise you.”

Kat wasn’t quite sure she was breathing, because everything had turned deadly quiet around her.

“He wanted to raise his granddaughter the way he thought she should be raised—as a Breckenridge, not a Russell. Felicia was distraught and broke and at the end of her rope, so she agreed.”

Kat took a shaky breath.

Lolly seemed to match it. But her gaze never let Kat’s go. “Bobby hung on another five months, and then his heart gave out and he died. Felicia shattered. That’s when she found salvation and became a Christian. She took her inheritance and the life insurance money and donated it to the Breckenridge Foundation. I think she did it because she couldn’t forgive herself for the choice she’d made—choosing Bobby over you.”

In that moment, Kat wasn’t sure she could forgive her either.

Lolly reached out and this time touched Kat’s knee. “Felicia spent her life making that organization work. The fact is, she loved what she did. She told me that in a way it was like Bobby was there with her. She said that every day she spent with Bobby was a day of grace from God. And she figured she could extend that grace to just one more child, just one more day. But I don’t think she ever recovered from losing Bobby . . . or you.”

“Bradley said they had to hospitalize her.”

Lolly nodded. “Not for long, but yes, right after Bobby died. She was under suicide watch. That’s when Walter filed for your name change.”

“I always thought that I had done something wrong—that she blamed me for my father’s death.”

Lolly touched her face. “No, Kat. She never blamed you. She may have blamed herself over and over, but she loved you.”

“Then why didn’t she fight for me? If I had a daughter, I’d never give her up.”

A fragile pain crossed Lolly’s face. “Kat, the reason your mother didn’t fight your grandfather is because if she did, he would have uncovered the truth.”

“What truth?”

“Felicia wasn’t your biological mother.” Lolly took Kat’s hand. “And Bobby wasn’t your biological father.”

Kat slid her hand out of Lolly’s, her chest tight. She leaned back in her chair, both hands on the arms. “Oh . . . oh . . .”

“You were adopted, only not legally. We had a fake birth certificate drawn up by a lawyer in Phillips who Bobby paid off.”

“Oh . . . I . . .” Kat put a hand to her throat, hoping it didn’t close off. “That baby . . .”

“Yeah.”

“Your baby.”

Lolly nodded.

“It didn’t die, did it?”

Lolly shook her head slowly. Then her face crumpled and broke, and she held her hand again to her mouth, her breath catching. “Oh, Kat, I’m so sorry. I was young and scared of what Randy might do to me—or to you—if he got out of jail. So I pretended the child died and gave her—you—to Bobby. I promised that I’d keep that secret. That I’d never interfere in your life.”

Kat could barely see, what with her eyes burning and the terrible clenching in her chest.

Lolly hiccuped a breath. “That’s why I moved to Phillips. It was after Bobby died, and I needed to be near you, near where Bobby is buried. I pledged that even though I promised not to interfere, I’d still watch over you from afar. Your uncle Richard Breckenridge would occasionally drop morsels about you now and again, never realizing I lapped them up like a starving dog.”

Kat closed her eyes. And that’s when she felt Lolly’s hand on hers, warm against ice-cold.

“I’m so, so sorry. I should have told you years ago but definitely when you came to Phillips. I just didn’t want . . . I didn’t want you to hate me.”

Kat opened her eyes. Hate her? A tear dripped off her chin as she saw for the first time Lolly’s hazel eyes, the full lips, the face shaped so much like her own. Except for the blonde hair, she felt as if she might be looking into a mirror. A reflection that made her feel whole and perfect and . . . found.

“You . . . you’re my . . . my mother.”

Lolly put a hand over her heart. “I’m your mother, Kat.”

dingbat

That woman could destroy everything he’d worked for. Bradley stood beside the French doors, listening to Katherine and Lolly’s conversation, feeling his world shake.

Did Walter Breckenridge know that Katherine wasn’t a blood heir but the daughter of a convict and a line cook? What would the old man do if he found out?

He rubbed his eyes, thinking fast as he crept out of the penthouse. He’d have to accelerate his plans even more. Their marriage. Katherine’s devastating suicide.

Smoothing his shirt, Bradley surveyed his appearance in the elevator mirror, confident he’d obliterated all traces of the fight with Noble. And a profitable fight it had been, just as he’d hoped. He nodded to the bellboy who greeted him as he exited, remembering the look on Noble’s face when Katherine turned on him. Perfect.

Now he needed to finish what he’d started.

But first he had to shut up that waitress.

dingbat

John stepped out of his Cessna, where he’d landed it at his deserted ranch. The new owners hadn’t taken possession yet, but it looked as if it had been abandoned for centuries. Tumbleweeds filled the yard; a fence hung open; a windmill squeaked in the wind. His ranch hand Crockett had left a month ago after loading the last of the cattle to market, and Cole St. John had purchased his stock horses.

John walked to the house, opened the door. It swung wide and bumped against the wall where the coatrack used to be. The sound echoed in the empty kitchen, through the family room with the overstuffed cattleman print sofa he’d left behind, down the worn carpeted hallway to the vacant bedrooms, and back to his soul.

The movers had forgotten to grab the aerial shot of the Big K off the family room wall. A legacy abandoned.

Only, not abandoned. Purged. If John listened hard enough, he could hear the old voices. But why do that? This land, this life was a part of him. However, he no longer felt bound by it. No longer bound by the fear or his father’s prophecies. This land no longer belonged to the man who had to confine his heart to the written page.

“I am leaving. I am gone.” His voice sounded bold, filling the room, and he smiled. “I am free.” It sounded silly for him to say it like that, but he felt this unshackling of himself from the past and from the memories that had told him who he’d been.

And this unshackled Big John Kincaid would go after the woman he loved. He would simply tell her, “Lolly, I love you and I want to marry you. Still.” Just like that. After all, nothing else had worked. Not years of waiting patiently, his listening ear, the friendship, the way he supported her dreams. Nothing.

Please, God, give me the right words.

He closed the door behind him when he left and didn’t look back as he uncovered his truck and backed it out of the barn. Even his hired man hadn’t wanted the beater, so John planned to drop it off at Egger’s junkyard. He drove past his empty fields, smelling the arid prairie grasses, the scent of animal on the breeze. Feeling the dust and wind on his face. Funny, he’d already forgotten the scent of the ocean.

He pulled up to Lolly’s. Her trailer door was locked tight, the geraniums on the porch needing water. Going around the front, he entered the diner.

Quint and Egger sat at the counter. Libby stood behind it, a coffeepot in hand.

The smells of french fries and burgers greeted him like an embrace. He tipped his hat to Libby and slid onto a stool beside Quint.

Quint nodded to him.

John smiled.

Libby plunked down a cup in front of him. “Loved the book.” She waggled her eyebrows at him. “Especially the ending.”

Heat rushed into his face.

“Order up!” Cody’s voice from the kitchen accompanied a bell.

Libby turned away and retrieved a plate of meat loaf and potatoes.

“So, when we have lady problems, I guess we should give you a jingle?” Egger stuffed a bite of pie into his mouth. He glanced at John with a small smile. “Reckon we should call you the King of Love.”

“Hey—”

“Just messing with ya.” Egger forked another piece of pie. “Hey, Libby, this ain’t Lolly’s, but it’s close.”

Libby refilled the coffee cups. “Thanks. She gave my sister her recipes before she left. Missy’s planning on overhauling the entire menu, with the exception of the pies.”

“Where’s Lolly?” John barely kept the panic from his voice. When Cash said she’d be joining him soon, he didn’t expect—

“She went to New York. Some fancy event Kat was hosting.”

John sipped his coffee, trying to wrap his brain around the news. Did Kat know about Lolly? Why would Lolly give up her secret now? Unless she too was breaking free of the shackles in her life. Finally. “When did she leave?”

“Yesterday. Took a flight outta Sheridan,” Libby said.

“When’s she coming back?” John asked, pointing to the meat loaf special on the board.

Libby wrote down the order. “She’s not. She’s selling Missy her place and her trailer. I’m not sure where she’s going.”

John stared at his coffee, then looked at Libby. “Hold that order. I’m not staying.”

dingbat

The house echoed with silence when Mary closed the door. Shadows darkened the room as the last flickering of sunlight disappeared beyond the hills. Loss swept through her.

Closing the door with her heel, she walked into the kitchen, filled a vase with water, and put the bouquet in it, hoping it wouldn’t die before Rosie returned.

“Thank you, Mama,” Rosie had said today as she hugged her good-bye outside the church, climbing into a Hudson Hornet with her new husband.

Mary had searched Franklin’s eyes, watched him over the weeks he worked on their ranch, and finally given her blessing. Having seen love, she could now recognize it on the face of others.

Perhaps that was why she’d stared at Erland years ago on that awful day and said no. No, she couldn’t marry him. She wouldn’t give away her heart for second best, because she had known what it was to love someone, and Erland deserved better.

She set her hat on the table and climbed the stairs to her room.

Now, better than anyone, Mary knew the different sides of love.

Charlie had been the love of her youth, passionate, hopeful. A love that had taken her by the hand and set her dreams afire.

Rosie had been unconditional love. Love that depended without shame. Love that hoped without reserve. Love that shared her pain without condemnation.

Even Erland’s love—the kind of love that made her look at herself with new eyes. Eyes of compassion.

But perhaps the love that had changed her the most had been the love unspoken. The love she’d had for Jonas. The love that had set her free one day at a time. Loving Jonas, even unrequited, had allowed her to dream. To survive. To build. It was only the power of hope that kept her love alive, the places in her heart still left untended, yearning for more. But that power made her believe that even after all these years, despite the fact that she’d never written, Jonas would keep his word and appear on her doorstep at the right time.

She picked up her Bible from the bedside table and flipped it open to the letter inside. The one that began “Dear Jonas, . . .” Slipping the letter inside her dress pocket, she put the Bible back on the table.

The moon had begun to rise as she hiked out onto the prairie, across her land, into Charlie’s land. Oddly, it bathed the mound she’d tended with care, as if illuminating her destination.

She knelt before the grave. Put her hand on the mound. The grass wove through her fingers, light and cool, and she dug her fingers into the dirt.

“She’s married, Charlie. Our little girl got married today. I wish you could have seen her—she was so beautiful.” Mary drew up her knees under her dress. “I saw Erland there with his new wife, Esther. They look happy.”

She sat there in silence, listening to her memories. “I miss you,” she said finally. “I know you always wanted me to be happy, Charlie. And . . . I am.”

She got up and moved away from the grave, taking out the letter.

Dear Jonas,

I know I should have written years ago, probably a week after you left, begging you to return to me. But I simply couldn’t, and I think you know why. I said I was afraid for you and what would happen, but in the end, I was afraid for me. Afraid to lose myself yet again in hopes of finding a life. Afraid that for all you would be to me, there would always be the fear inside, that wounded place that someday I’d end up exactly where I was when Charlie died. Alone and without hope.

Somehow, just holding on to your promise, I began to live again. To break free of my mistakes. To live each day just a little more free than the day before. Your love gave me the courage to learn to live, to dream, because I believed that you’d return. And now I am hoping you will. I am ready.

Yours,

Mary

Folding the letter, Mary ripped it slowly. Then she cupped the pieces in her hands and let the wind take them.

A knock at her hotel room door yanked Lolly from the book. Lincoln. He’d left a voice mail for her, asking her to meet him in her room, but he had yet to show up, and it was getting late. She much rather wanted to be with Piper and Stefanie, convincing Kat not to marry Bradley. But she supposed this was how her new life would look.

She yanked open the door to find a room service cart topped with a dozen red roses in a crystal vase. A card tucked inside had her name scrawled on the front. Strange. “Lincoln?” Or maybe it should be “Mr. Cash?”

Lolly took out the card to read it. To my best gal. She looked out into the hall again, puzzled. To her recollection, she was nobody’s best gal. Or at least, not of the man she hoped to be. She brought the roses inside and set them on the table, then touched one of the velvet petals, Mary’s actions still heavy in her mind.

Lolly understood, probably better than anyone, why Mary had torn up the letter. How the friendship and gentle presence of a constant love might set someone free even from afar. She pulled out one of the roses and smelled it.

Oh, she might as well admit it—she harbored the crazy hope that John had sent these. That he missed her as desperately as she missed him.

If only she, like Mary, hadn’t been too afraid, too broken to accept John’s proposal. But like Mary, she’d needed to find her footing and learn to live again.

Yet John had never left. In fact, if she were to take a good look at their friendship, he’d been all the faces of love to her—the one that believed in her dreams, the unconditional love that hoped despite her coldness to him. He made her see herself through his eyes. Capable. Even beautiful. Deep inside, she wanted to believe he’d always be there, waiting.

The flower slipped from her hand. Unshackled wasn’t Mary’s story. It was hers.

Set in a different time, with different players, John had written her story from her point of view. A story of a woman with dreams, of tragedy and mistakes. A story of a woman shackled in shame and a man whose love gave her the strength to break free and create a new life. And to allow herself to believe she could be happy.

John knew. All this time, he knew about her past and loved her anyway. When he couldn’t tell her he loved her . . . he wrote it. But he’d left town just like Jonas.

“Please, Jonas, don’t give up on her!” Lolly snatched up her book. She flopped down on the bed, tears hot in her eyes.

She didn’t even sense the presence behind her until it was on top of her, pressing her down into the bed, pushing the air from her body.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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