“Liar,” he teased.
She shrugged again, feigning indifference.
He laughed softly, studying her from beneath his lashes. “You’re not scared to be alone with me, are you?”
Rachel went hot, then cold, and her tummy did a crazy little flip. “No.”
Her cheekbones burned and she lifted her chin to hide the fact that she was nervous and excited and just a little bit turned on. “I’m not.”
“Yes, you are.”
He gestured to the chair at the table. “Then come in. Have a seat. I promise I won’t eat you.”
Her face burned. “Barking. Biting. Eating. What are you, auditioning for the part of the wolf in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’?”
“If you’re Little Red Riding Hood,” he said lazily, shifting his weight against the counter.
The subtle shift of his hips caught her attention and her gaze dropped to the skin suddenly visible just above the low, loose drawstring waist of his sweats and below the hem of his T-shirt. It was only a couple inches, but what a view...hard carved abs and the tantalizing jut of hip bones.
Her mouth went dry and she went weak in the knees, imagining the feel of his hips against hers, and how good he’d feel, and how warm his skin would be...
It’d been forever since she’d been held. Forever since she’d been loved. Five years and forever...
She shivered, hit by the strongest wave of desire.
The kettle came to a boil, whistling softly. She heard the whistle in a distant part of her brain. “I don’t need tea. I think I’ll just turn in.”
“I probably shouldn’t have told you about crashing my truck,” he said abruptly. “But I meant what I said about not drinking anymore. I’m done with alcohol. I’ve given up drinking for good.”
“I miss you, Rachel.”
She closed her eyes and held her breath, aching on the inside. Finally. Finally, he’d said what she’d waited so long to hear, so why didn’t she feel better? She ought to be vindicated, but instead she just felt bruised. Undone.
The kettle whistle turned shrill.
He ignored it. “Give me a chance—”
“Cade, the kettle. Please.”
She watched as he grabbed the faded red pot holder and lifted the kettle from the burner. “What kind of tea do you want?” he asked quietly. “Black tea, green tea, herbal?”
She heard the weariness in his voice and the hurt, and her stomach knotted, even as her gaze settled on his hard profile. Once she’d loved to kiss the strong angles and planes of his face, remembering how she’d lavished extra kisses on the scar near the bridge of his nose. “Decaf or herbal. Or I won’t be able to sleep.”
Silently he took two mugs from the cupboard over his head and she watched as he pried the lid off a large tin filled with boxes of tea, selecting a couple tea bags and dropping one in each cup.
He added hot water, and then carried the steaming mugs to the table. “Do you want sugar or sweetener?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No, thank you.”
He nodded and pulled out one of the ladder-back chairs at the farm table and sat down. “You don’t need to stay. You can take your tea to your room. You’ll probably relax better there.”
She’d wanted to go. She’d been thinking she’d rather drink her tea in her room, but now that he’d said it out loud, she felt ungrateful and mean. Cade had been nothing but kind to her since showing up on her doorstep last Friday. For the past five days he’d picked her up and driven her around, and had been so very patient with Tommy...
“I’m afraid,” she blurted.
His jaw dropped. “Of me?”
She nodded jerkily. “But not just afraid of you. I’m afraid of me. Afraid of my judgment in men.”
“We were good in the beginning,” he said softly.
“I know we were, and I know it was your...past...catching up with you that made you drink, but David...” She shuddered. “David...he was just bad news from the beginning, and I was so determined to turn him into you—”
“He was a cowboy?”
She laughed hollowly. “No, a salesman, and he sold me.” She shook her head, lips compressing. “But that’s not fair. I knew he was too smooth and slick, but I let him sell me anyway, convincing myself that because he was tall, with dark hair and blue eyes, he was like you. But he wasn’t. He was shallow and fake, completely insincere. And when we....did it, it was awful. Empty and disgusting and I hated the way he touched me.”
Cade said nothing and she didn’t blame him. This wasn’t easy to talk about, but it was something she wanted him to know.
Rachel joined him at the table, sitting in a chair opposite Cade’s. She pulled the mug toward her, her hands lightly circling the hot exterior. “Needless to say, there was only that one time. It had been a horrible experience in my mind, and I wanted nothing to do with him, which was good as I think he was just as disappointed by me.” She paused and glanced down into her cup, breathing in the sweet
fruity aroma of her tea. Peach or mango, or maybe a combination of the two. “Imagine my surprise when I discovered eight weeks later that I was pregnant. I was so upset. I wanted to die. I thought my life was over.”
She glanced up and saw that Cade was watching her intently, his expression pained, and she didn’t blame him. This was hard. This was pretty darn gritty stuff and she didn’t like it, wasn’t proud of it, but it was part of her past, part of who she was, and it’s where Tommy had come from. This was his beginning, how he was made, and Cade needed to understand that becoming a single mother had broken what was left of her heart.
Rachel exhaled slowly. “Grandma was a rock and a saint, and sometimes a saint throwing rocks. She sat me down and told me I had two choices. I could take the money David had given me for an abortion and get the abortion, or I could grow up and take responsibility for my actions and become the best mom I could be. So I became Tommy’s mom, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
“You made the right decision.”
“Not everyone thinks so, but I don’t care what they think, and I’ve given up trying to prove anything to anyone. Now it’s about doing what works for us, doing what’s right for us. Making Tommy healthy and happy.”
“You’re a great mom.”
Her eyes burned and she twisted her shoulders. “At the end of the day, I get tired. I lose my temper. But then I go to sleep and I wake up ready to try again the next day.”
“Not your average girl,” he said quietly, reaching across the table to lightly touch her cheek.
It was a brief caress, fleeting, really, but it was enough to make her feel fragile, beautiful, special. For a moment she almost felt like his girl again, the one who’d once been so sure they could get through anything that life sent their way.
“I’ve made mistakes,” she said huskily.
Cade nodded, expression somber. “Haven’t we all, darlin’?”