The texas renegade reurns(4)

By: Charlene Sands

 “Now, please close your eyes.”


 A few strands of his black hair danced across his forehead as he smiled—a dashing-marauder kind of smile. “Because I asked you nicely.”

 She didn’t want to do him any favors, but she’d agreed to this. One hour was all the time she would give him, and twenty of those minutes were already up. She closed her eyes.

 “Thank you,” he said.

 Those two softly spoken words squeezed tight inside her heart.

 Not long after, he parked the car. “Keep them closed,” he said.

 The swooshing of quiet waters drifted into her ears. Distant music played and her nostrils were hit with crisp fresh air. “For how long?”

 “Until I tell you to open them.”

 The driver’s-side door clicked closed and his footfalls grew louder as he approached her side. The door opened and his scent of woods and musk invaded her senses. His subtle cologne meant only for her, he would say, stirred her into restlessness. He brushed her body to help with the seat belt and snap, her heart, as well as her seat belt, were undone. She shifted in her seat.

 “Won’t be long now,” he assured her, his melodic voice reaching her ears. It was the same tone he’d used when he told her he loved her. He was so near. So close. Her breath hitched in her throat and she swallowed.

 He reached for her hand and helped her out of the car. “Careful, Cara.”

 Darn it, she was trying to be. With him.

 Under her heels, small stones and uneven ground kept her unsteady, but Alex’s firm grip wouldn’t allow her to fall. “I’d carry you if you’d let me.”

 “Not even in your dreams. How much farther?”

 “Almost there.”

 A sinking ache in the pit of her stomach warned her that this wasn’t a good idea. The road they’d traveled, the scent in the air, the quietly rushing waters, gave credence to her rising suspicions.

 The ground under her feet was softer now, her ankles tickled by fragrant wisps of flowers.

 Alex stopped and announced, “You can open your eyes now.”

 Her eyelids lifted. A beam of sunlight caressed a quiet river. She stood in a field of bluebonnets, the cushion under her feet. Alex took her shoulders and turned her around. She blinked and gazed out. Wooden stakes outlined the skeletal beginnings of a country house Alex had promised to build for her. Inside the house, in what was to be a dining room facing the river, a table was set for two with a floral centerpiece of ivy and gardenias. A quartet of musicians stood off to the side, playing Alex and Cara’s favorite songs.

 She didn’t get it. Why had he brought her here? This was where Alex had proposed to her. From childhood, she’d loved this little patch of land where bluebonnets carpeted the banks of the river and mesquite trees grew tall and shady.

 When Alex had been in the hospital recovering from his injuries, Cara spent time with him, trying to get him to remember her. Trying to revive his memory about the special love they’d shared. She’d told him of his beautiful marriage proposal and how it had filled her heart with joy. The way he’d proposed had shown her that he’d paid attention. He’d known what she loved. He’d known what little things made her happy.

 She’d been desperate to rekindle his memory. She’d been desperate for him to remember their love. But that was back when Cara believed he was Alex Santiago and not a spy and a scoundrel.

 Now, her gaze darted from the musicians, to the silver bucket of champagne standing at attention beside the table, to the material-backed Parsons chairs tied with lavender bows. Dozens of small stone planters filled with red roses and tall pillar candles were set around the entire would-be dining room. She’d never gone into detail like this. She’d never mentioned to Alex the flagged stakes in the ground. Or the exact layout to the country house he’d promised to build her after they were married.

 She’d never mentioned lavender bows or ivy and gardenias or roses.

 She was sure of it.

 Her mind swam, fishing for answers. Then, bingo! Her heart slammed against her chest. She shuddered, and Alex stepped up beside her, so close that his presence reassured her. If that wasn’t the oddest thing, that he could still lend her comfort. Giving her head half a turn, she faced him and whispered, “You remember?”

 He nodded. “I remember.”

 Her eyes squeezed shut. How many times had she prayed for his memory to return? “When?”

 “Just recently.”

 “So you remember lying to me? Using me?”

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