“I didn’t think so,” he said, closing the door behind her and walking around the truck to climb into the driver’s seat.
Rachel watched him settle behind the steering wheel. He was such a big, solid man. Even in a truck this size, he seemed to completely fill the cab. “What does that mean?”
“Just that you are exactly who you’ve always been. Loyal, loving, generous.”
“She’s my friend. I’m a professional baker. It’s the least I can do.”
He shifted in his seat, his lips curving faintly. “Darlin’, I’m not criticizing you. I’m complimenting you. I respect you and admire you. You’re a good woman, through and through.” His smile slipped, faded, and he reached out to smooth a dark tendril of hair from her face. “And I didn’t know your parents, but I heard your grandma talk about them plenty, and I can tell you this, if they were alive, they’d be very proud of you, too.”
For a long time Rachel couldn’t speak, too overwhelmed by emotions to say anything. But when they reached the place she’d left her car on Highway 180 and discovered it was gone, she looked at Cade. “My Jeep?”
“I had it towed to a good mechanic in Mineral Wells.” He suddenly sounded uncertain. “Hope that’s okay?”
She glanced at him and took in his creased forehead and troubled gaze. “Yes. I appreciate the help, and I appreciate you driving me home.” She hesitated. “You remember we’ve got to stop at Tommy’s sitter on the way, too, right?”
They both fell silent and they drove for nearly ten minutes without talking before Cade broke the silence. “I’m sorry, Rachel. I really am.”
“It’s fine,” she said quickly.
“No, it’s not,” he answered brusquely. “It’s anything but okay, and we both know it.”
The curtness of his tone surprised her and she glanced at him in the dim light of the cab interior. It had been twilight when they’d left the wedding but it was nearly dark outside now, which made it hard to read his expression. “It was a long time ago, Cade.”
“Not that long ago. I remember.”
Rachel pressed her lips together, her insides suddenly bruised and too tender.
“I remember the drinking,” he added tersely. “I remember the fights and the tears. I remember you crying—”
“Cade.” She cut him short, pressing her hands to her knees, her voice strangled, because she remembered, too.
“I remember you telling me how much you loved me, and that I was everything.”
She closed her eyes, steeling herself against the past, against the terrible ache, as well as the scar covering her heart, which barely held it together. “Let’s not do this,” she said, thinking he had no idea how hard it had been to get over him and even harder to accept that once he left, he wasn’t coming back.
“Rachel, I remember our last night together. We were in bed and you had your arms around me and your cheek pressed to my chest, and your tears were falling on my bare skin. I remember how hot they felt as they fell.”
She angled her body away from him and stared out the truck window, her fist pressed to her mouth to keep from making a sound, because every detail from that last night was permanently engraved in her memory. It was the night she gave him the ultimatum. It was time he got help. Time he stopped drinking. She loved him so much, but she couldn’t stand by and watch him self-destruct.
And he’d listened to her that night, quiet, so very, very quiet and much too still, and then after an endless silence that stretched for fifteen minutes, then thirty, he smoothed his hand over her head and kissed her forehead and said she was right. She was absolutely right. She did deserve better. Then he climbed from bed, stepped into his jeans and dressed. And left.
He left her.
She waited days, weeks, months for him to come back. Waited days, weeks, months for him to come to his senses, remember how much he loved her, remember how she was his heart and his life and his soul. Waited for him to be the man he’d always said he’d be for her.
But he didn’t return.
Didn’t call, didn’t write, didn’t email, didn’t do anything and Grandma kept telling her to give him time...give him time...but it was killing her, not hearing from him, killing her, not knowing how he was doing and what he was doing...killing her that he could have forgotten her so completely. And so she tracked him down, showing up in Waco where he’d entered a rodeo, hoping that once he saw her, he’d remember how much he loved her. But it didn’t work out that way. He saw her, all right, but she saw him, too, lip-locked on the rodeo grounds with another brunette. Rachel’s replacement.
Rachel met David a week later while out with girlfriends in Fort Worth. Her friends had dragged her with them for a girls’ night out, determined to help her forget Cade. They’d driven to Fort Worth and gone line dancing. David was there that night at the bar, and he’d been handsome and charming. He had bought her drinks and all of her friends drinks, and showered her with compliments.
Rachel didn’t normally fall for guys like David—a little too smooth, a little too polished, a little too quick with a line—but he made her feel special and important, and desperate to get over Cade, Rachel slept with him on the second date—just that once—because they never went out again, but Rachel only needed that one time to get pregnant.
David didn’t want anything to do with her or the baby when she told him. He even moved to Calgary, taking a job there, to make sure he couldn’t be roped into anything.
Thank God Grandma had been there. Thank God Grandma had loved her. She drew another quick, painful breath and then forced herself to face Cade. “You want to talk about this? Okay, fine, we’ll talk. Yes, the way you left me hurt. But I’m not mad at you, Cade, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think about you, either. I have Tommy now, and he’s my life, and I wouldn’t have had him if you and I had stayed together.”
When they arrived at Mrs. Munoz’s small house in Mineral Wells, Cade put the truck into Park, and Rachel opened the passenger door and headed up the front walk to get Tommy.
Rachel thought Mrs. Munoz looked pale and tired as she handed over Tommy’s small backpack and his coat. “Everything go okay today?” Rachel asked her sitter as she crouched in front of Tommy, zipping up his puffy winter jacket.
“Everything was fine.” Mrs. Munoz leaned on the back of a chair in the hall. “He was a good boy. I’m just not feeling so well.”
In the four years that R
achel had known Mrs. Munoz, Mrs. Munoz had never once complained about anything and Rachel swiftly straightened, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s probably nothing.”
That was never a good sign, Rachel thought, forehead creasing. “Are you sick?”
“No, no. The doctor just wants to run some tests—”
“What kind of tests?”
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about me.”
“But I am worried, Mrs. Munoz. What kind of tests?”
“They want to check my heart, but it’s probably nothing—”
“Oh, Mrs. Munoz, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because we don’t know anything yet, and you need help—”
“But having Tommy here can’t be good for you.”
The elderly woman shrugged. “He likes coming here, and I like having him here.”
Rachel’s chest squeezed tight and she felt the pressure inside her grow, the old pressure she’d felt when Sally was dying and Rachel was eaten alive with guilt that her grandmother was exhausting herself trying to help her. She felt the same guilt now because Mrs. Munoz was a truly lovely woman and had been an invaluable help these past several years. Rachel wondered now if she’d leaned on the caregiver too much.
“When do you see the doctor again?” Rachel asked her.
“He wanted me to do the tests a couple weeks ago, but you’ve had those two weddings, and now the move—”
“My work and the move aren’t more important than your health! Nothing is more important than your health, Mrs. Munoz, and I’m going to keep Tommy with me this week until you get your tests done and have your results and you know what’s going on.”
Rachel gave Mrs. Munoz a fierce hug goodbye, but walking to Cade’s truck with Tommy’s hand tucked in hers, Rachel felt close to tears. Mrs. Munoz was such a sweet lady. Nothing could happen to her. Nothing.