Garrett(26)

By: Anne Marie Winston



The hair on the back of his neck rose in automatic reflex as the truth kicked him in the face. Ana's mother had drawn this.

Walking across the room, his eyes scanned the bottom portion of the sketch—there. There, in the bottom left-hand corner: JB. And the date, all in a miniscule, elaborate cursive that looked as if she'd been drilled in the Palmer Method as a young girl.

Slowly he groped his way back to his desk without taking his eyes from the sketch. Sagging into his chair, he tilted his face toward the ceiling, closing his eyes as he exhaled heavily. An unyielding fist squeezed his chest, making it hard to breathe. He hadn't wanted to believe her but deep down, he'd known she wasn't lying.

And the proof hung right over there on the wall. Ana had told him her mother had gone through a brief pen and pencil phase before moving on to oils early in her career. Robin and Janette Birch had come here together, indeed, had created the cottage with their mutual needs in mind. And Ana's mother had sketched her lover in the setting where they'd been happy. No wonder Robin seemed to leap off the paper—Janette Birch had known him so well she probably could have drawn it without even having him in front of her. Just as Ana had drawn him.

Ana should have told him right away—but as he remembered his behavior in Baltimore, he knew he'd brought this on himself. No wonder she hadn't told him. He'd barely given her a chance. And she'd probably realized early on that he'd call her a liar when she tried to explain.

He dropped his head into his hands and speared his fingers through his hair, tugging hard enough to make himself wince. He'd been utterly, completely despicable to her. Smug, condescending, superior. God, how would he ever get her to forgive him?

Abruptly he spun on his heel and headed for the stairs to pack. He needed to get back to Baltimore. But halfway there, he stopped abruptly. Her friends!

Ana wouldn't leave Maine without saying goodbye to her friends. He might have made some monumental misjudgments where Ana was concerned, but he knew how she felt about friendship. She'd never take off without talking to Teddy and his wife first.

Grabbing his car keys, he made one brief stop in the study before racing up the path to his truck.

It was a good thing cops in rural Maine were few and far between, he decided, or he'd have been nailed for exceeding the speed limit ten times over in his rush to get to town. When he pulled onto Main Street and saw the familiar little car parked in front of the art supply store, a wave of intense relief swamped him. He pulled into a parking space and simply sat for a moment, dropping his head forward to rest against his hands atop the steering wheel.

Thank God he'd caught her.

He straightened and began to climb out of the car. The momentary rush had faded and his steps felt leaden and hesitant. What could he say to her to fix the mess he'd made of things between them?

He was almost at the front door of the art supply shop when he saw Ana walking toward the door. His gaze met hers through the glass and she stopped for an instant, then slowly began to exit the store.

She forestalled him by asking, "Did I forget something?"

"No." How was he going to change her mind?

They stood there awkwardly for a long moment. Finally she took a wide step that would allow her to pass him.

"Ana, I don't want you to leave." He turned as she moved past him and walked with her toward the cars.

She shook her head without looking at him. "I have to," she whispered. "Please don't, Garrett." Her car was parked in front of his larger vehicle and she wrenched the door open, fumbling for her keys. "You can have the cottage," she said. "When I get back, I'll go to Mr. Marrow's office and sign anything he needs to make you the sole owner."

"I don't want it," he said. "I want you. If you won't share it with me, I'll sell it."

Shock snapped her head up. "You wouldn't do that. Robin wanted you to have it."

"Your father wanted us to have it," he said.

"He—" Then his words sank in. "My father...?"

"I didn't want to believe you," he said. "I was jealous. Robin was my father in all the ways that mattered, and I couldn't stand the thought of someone else meaning more to him."

"Robin loved you so much," she said quietly. "No one could ever have taken your place in his life."

"I know that now," he said. "I'm sorry for all the things I said to you." His voice lowered. "The things I believed."

"Thank you." She appeared to have trouble getting the words out and she made a show of looking at her watch. "I have to go now."

But as she moved to slide into her car, Garrett caught her wrist. "I love you."

She stopped. "What?"

He slid to one knee, still holding her wrist, and he brought it to his mouth as he spoke again. "Ana, I love you. I want to marry you."

"Stand up," she said in a low voice, "and stop it. We're on Main Street!"

"I don't care." He didn't move.

Wildly she glanced around. Down the street, he could see a few tourists turning and staring. A man came out of the post office, glanced their way, and then stopped for a second look.

She tried to tug her hand free. "Garrett—"

"Marry me," he said again.

A bell trilled and he saw that Teddy had come out of his shop. "Everything okay?" her friend asked.

"Yes—"

"No," Garrett said. "I love her and I want to marry her. She hasn't said yes yet."

"Maybe that's because she doesn't feel the same way," Teddy said in a cool voice.

A sudden spear of uncertainty shot through him. "You said you loved me." But there was a hint of vulnerability in his tone and his grip on her wrist lessened.

A tear rolled down her cheek and she swiped at it with her free hand. "I do," she managed to say.

He stood and pulled her into his arms, folding her small body against him with all the tenderness he was feeling. "I don't want to wake up without you beside me," he said. "I don't want to spend a day wondering where you might be or if you've thought of me. I don't want to be like Robin, missing the only woman I'll ever love until the day I die." He ran his hands up and down her back. "I love you," he said again.

She swallowed. "It's not just sex?"

A chuckle from Teddy made them both stop and look his way. "A man doesn't chase a woman down Main Street and declare his love in front of half the town just for sex," he said, grinning. "I think he means it."

"I'll shout it loud enough for every one of them to hear if you want me to," he told her.

"No," she said hastily.

"Then say yes." He pressed a kiss to her forehead, overcome with the need to make her see how much he needed her.

"Yes." Her voice was a whisper.

Relief nearly made his knees buckle. "You'll marry me?"

"Yes," she said again. She pulled back enough to see his face, and a dawning radiance broke through the sadness that had shrouded her features. "Yes!"

"All right!" said Teddy.

Garrett barely heard him. All his attention was focused on Ana as he hauled her off her feet and swung her in a wide circle on the sidewalk. Clapping and laughter erupted from the people along the street. Her arms wound around his neck and he held her closely against him as he halted, searching for her mouth and kissing her deeply.

"I love you," he said. "And you're marrying me. Anything else is negotiable."

"Children?" she asked in a hopeful tone.

"As long as they don't come in pairs like his." He jerked his head in Teddy's direction. Then the import of their words hit him. "Grandchildren," he murmured. "Our children will be Robin's grandchildren."

Ana's eyes were bright with tears, but she was smiling. "Nothing would have made him happier." Then she shook her head. "That old matchmaker."

"Matchmaker? More like manipulator," Garrett said, chuckling. "He knew I wouldn't be able to resist you any more than he could have your mother." He drew her close for another kiss. "Let's go home and make wedding plans."

"All right." She trailed a finger over his lips and his blood heated at the look in her eyes. "Let's go home."

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