“After the party she wanted me to come to her place for a drink. I declined.”
Tanner turned and looked directly into my eyes. “I wasn’t in the mood for a mindless fuck that night. So I said no. She got pissed off and said something about getting tired of being used by me and that she wanted more. I had no idea what she meant, but all I had to hear was that she thought I was using her. I stopped calling her after that. I thought we had an understanding. I would have never intentionally led her on.”
“Ahh, so now you’re putting two and two together and realizing that Ms. Johnson wanted more, as in a relationship more.”
His eyes were still locked with mine. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, she didn’t say anything bad about you, so I’m sure she’s not going around spreading nasty rumors.”
When he didn’t answer me, I smiled and asked, “Are you upset she was talking about you at all?”
That seemed to break the weird spell he was under. “No, it was true at the time. Well, most of it.”
I raised a brow. “It’s no longer true?”
“I’m not sure,” Tanner said as he turned and stared off in the distance once more.
A part of me wanted to ask him what he wasn’t sure of and what hadn’t been true, but before I could, he stood and reached down to help me up. “We need to head on down and to the cabin. We should reach it about the same time as the guys.”
I let him help me up and tried to ignore the dip in my stomach that seemed to happen every time he touched me. His slight change in breathing told me he felt it as well, and that made me dizzy. This was happening too fast and I was starting to lose a bit of control over my emotions when it came to Tanner. One look into those baby blues, and I no longer seemed to care about keeping him at a distance. I liked the way we bantered back and forth. The way he looked at me like I took his breath away. No man had ever looked at me like that. Tanner made me feel different, in the most amazing way. But how could I be sure it wasn’t all an act? The few guys I had dated had been sweet, but it didn’t take them long to show their true colors. Most simply wanted sex. Plain and simple. How could I be sure of anything when it came to Tanner?
I was losing my focus and forgetting all the reasons that I was here. I pushed away all thoughts of my past and drew in a deep breath.
But a tiny voice inside me was saying that maybe, for once in my life, I needed to let go of my fears. The question was, could I actually do it?
It didn’t take Timberlynn long to strike up a conversation as we rode back down to the valley. “Your older brothers all did bull riding?” she asked as we rode side by side.
“Not all of them. My brother Beck wasn’t interested in anything that had to do with the rodeo.”
I could feel her eyes on me. “I haven’t met Beck yet,” she said.
With a deep breath in, I let it out slowly. “Damn, I’m sorry. I thought you knew. My brother Beck died in the Marines a few years ago. My mother didn’t really like to talk about him until recently. For a long time, she sorta pretended he was off on a mission and would be back home.”
Timberlynn stared at me with a blank expression.
“Again, I’m sorry. I figured Kaylee told you about him. It’s okay, I don’t mind talking about it. In fact, it makes me feel closer to Beck when I do. For years, Ty and Brock followed my mother’s silence. It wasn’t until recently that we really started to speak about him a lot more. I think it had to do with Lincoln and Kaylee coming into the family. They showed us it was okay to talk about it. To begin to heal from the loss.”
When Timberlynn didn’t say anything, I glanced her way. She looked white as a ghost.
I slowed down my horse, which caused Rosie to slow down as well. The horses came to a stop and I leaned over and touched Timberlynn’s leg. “Hey, it’s okay, you didn’t know.”
She swallowed hard and then quickly looked away.
“You don’t have to feel bad for asking about him, Timberlynn, honestly.”
“It’s not…I…I know how your mother feels, that’s all.” When she finally looked back at me, she attempted to smile but failed. I saw the sadness in her eyes and waited for her to decide if she wanted to tell me what caused it.
She looked down and spoke so low, I had to strain to hear her. “I lost my mother when I was six. It was a car accident. My father told me to keep my eyes closed, not to look.”
Her voice shook slightly, and I wanted to pull her into my arms and hold her.
“He handed me to another person and ran over to my mother. I tried not to look, but I did. And I still sometimes have nightmares about what I saw. My father holding my mother. She was…already gone, I think. He’s never told me. He won’t talk about my mom. Ever.”
She quickly wiped a tear away and stared straight ahead. “I really wish I hadn’t looked.”
My lungs felt as if someone had reached in and ripped them out of my chest. I had a hard time finding air to breathe for a few moments as I let her words settle into my head. “Timberlynn, I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”
She finally lifted her gaze back to mine, and a single tear slipped down her cheek. The urge to jump off my horse and pull her into my arms was so strong, I had to will myself not to move. I hated to see women cry, but that single tear making a path down this particular woman’s cheek did something strange to me. I would have done anything to take her pain away.
With a quick sweep of her hand, the tear was gone, and she was sitting up straight once again. Her voice was clear and strong, as if she hadn’t just told me her mother had been taken from her at the age of six. “I never talk about that day. I’m not even sure I’ve ever told anyone outside of a therapist all of that before,” she said with a nervous chuckle. “Besides Kaylee, that is.”
“I can’t even imagine what that had to be like for you and your father.”
Her head snapped up, and she looked at me. “It was hard on us both.”
I nodded. “I’m sure it was.”
“About your mom...” Timberlynn took a deep breath. “I guess I understand her thought process, not wanting to talk about the profound loss, so I can see why she shuts down about your brother. Sometimes when I try to talk about my mom, the pain hurts so bad that it’s better if I don’t talk at all. I think it’s because my father would never talk about her. I’m almost positive he still hasn’t gotten over her death.” She paused for a few moments. “But if it helps you to heal from your brother’s death, I think it’s a good thing you and your brothers talk about him.”
I nodded. “If you ever want to talk about your mom, I’m here to listen.”
Her eyes filled with tears, and she quickly looked away. She shook her head as if to shed a thought, a feeling, a memory, maybe? Before I could get another word out, she lightly kicked Rosie’s side and took off into a trot. She called back over her shoulder, “We should get going!”
I followed her and made a mental note not to push her when it came to her mother. She needed to learn to trust me first, and I could be patient.
A few minutes later, we were on another path and heading to the cabin. Timberlynn had been silent for about five minutes or so, and then started asking me questions about the area. Where the closest large animal vet was. How many large horse breeders there were in Hamilton. I answered them to the best of my knowledge, but I had no idea how many breeders were now in the Hamilton area since I was usually gone more than I was home.
“My mother would be the best person to ask,” I finally said. “She’s always had a love of horses. Bogo here is a rescue horse himself.”
“Is he? How wonderful!” Timberlynn exclaimed, her eyes finally coming back to life.
“Do all these questions mean you’re looking to change from nursing to becoming a vet or something?”
She laughed. “No.”
“What made you pick nursing, then?” I
asked as we walked the horses side by side up to the cabin. The path was flanked by tall trees dusted in snow.
“My mother was a nurse, as was her mom. It was something my mother and father both wanted me to do. So, I did it.”
“Did you not want to be a nurse?” I asked as I slid off of Pogo and helped her down once more.
“Yes, I wanted to be a nurse.”
I gave her a look that said I knew she was lying through her teeth.
With a laugh, she looked up at me, her head tilted and an adorable smirk on her face. “Was it that obvious of a lie?”
Motioning for her to head up the small set of steps to the cabin porch, I replied, “Yes. Although it wasn’t how you answered, it was in your eyes.”
“In my eyes?” she asked.
Before I opened the door, we faced each other. Her eyes moved quickly as she studied every inch of my face while I stared at her. One thing was for sure, there were gold specks in those eyes that seemed to light up only when she was happy. I liked that about her. Her eyes told their own story. “Yes, in your eyes. You can read a lot about a person when you learn to read their eyes.”
“Is this something you learned on the rodeo circuit to pick up women?” she asked with laughter in her voice.
“No, my granddaddy used to take us fishing up in the mountains at a lake called Hidden Pines. It’s a magical place, just ask Ty and Kaylee. They exchanged wedding vows up there. Their first exchange of vows, that is.”
Her brows rose in surprise.
“My brothers and I loved the time we got to spend with him. He would always give us some worldly advice, and once he told us you can tell a person’s truths by watching their eyes. When I asked you about nursing, you spoke in a cool, easy tone. Almost like it was rehearsed. But your eyes said something different. They disagreed with you, told a different story.”
Timberlynn gazed up at me with an expression I wasn’t able to read. I wanted desperately to cup her face with my hands and tell her that no matter what she wanted to say or not say, I didn’t care. I simply wanted to be near her, and she could hide whatever she wanted to.
A laugh tumbled out of her lips, and she rolled her eyes. “Okay, never had a guy try to use that approach on me before. Good try, cowboy.” She patted me on the chest, then reached for the door to open it. When she walked past me, I had to fight the urge to grab her and kiss her senseless. I wanted to know every single thing about Timberlynn Holden, but it was clear I would have to work a lot harder for it than I thought.
“Right on time, kids!”
I stopped when I saw my mother standing at the table in the small cabin. I should have known when she said she’d help me with the food that she’d stick her nose in my plan.