“Sounds good,” my father answered.
Stella turned and quickly left the small office, shutting the door quietly behind her.
“Want to play?” I asked as I held up the cards.
“Deal away, sweetheart.”
I did and we played the first few games while making small talk about the ranch, like the horse he had ridden that morning and Stella’s amazing cooking skills. I also found out what Kaylee had eaten that caused Blayze to throw up.
“Liver and onions?” I repeated.
My father shuddered. “Yeah. Brock was telling us about it on the ride. She asked Stella if she could make some when Ty refused to allow her to cook it in their house.”
I laughed. “That’s gross.”
“Women get some pretty weird cravings. Your mother ate watermelon with chocolate syrup on it.”
I stared at him. “Is that why I hate watermelon so much?”
We both laughed. It was nice to hear my father talk about my mother. It was something he rarely did.
I went to deal again when he held out his hand. “I was wondering if we might simply talk, sweetheart.”
My heart dropped, and I set the cards down carefully. “Dad, if you’re going to demand that I return to Georgia, I’m not leaving Montana.”
He smiled and shook his head as he looked down, then back up at me. “No, I’m not ever going to demand anything from you, Timberlynn.”
“You’re okay with me living here?”
He slowly drew in a deep breath, then quickly let it out and sat back in his chair. “Timberlynn, you’re a grown woman with a pretty hefty bank account. You can do whatever it is you’d like. And I don’t want me, or anyone, to hold you back any longer from the dreams you have.”
I was positive my jaw was on the table. “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”
“The part about me following my own dreams. What about mom’s wish for me to be a nurse?”
He let out a grim laugh. “It’s pretty obvious, Timberlynn, that it’s not what you want to do. Although, it would have been nice for you to tell me, so you could have gone to school for a business degree instead of nursing.”
I stood and shook my head to clear all the thoughts racing through it. “Wait. I thought you were going to be angry. You were angry.”
He nodded and calmly folded his arms over his chest. “Yes, I was angry. I was angry you left and didn’t tell me. I was hurt as well.”
“Hurt?” I asked.
“Yes, but pretty angry. But not just at you, sweetheart. At myself for not knowing, or seeing, that nursing was not the career you wanted. If I had been paying better attention, that would have been clear to me.”
I was stunned into silence. Then, I frowned. “Did you drink on the ride this morning? How did you sleep? Have you had the water here? I think something might be in it.”
This time my father tossed his head back and let out a roar of laughter. “I’m not drunk, I slept the best I have in years, and I think the mountain air is clearing my head some. Maybe the water too,” he said with a wink. “Timberlynn, honey, I’ve been wanting to talk to you for months now, and I just never knew how to start a conversation or what to say. Less than twenty-four hours with the Shaw family, and I’m confessing things I’ve never shared with anyone, and telling your boyfriend my feelings about your mother’s death.”
Slowly, I sat down as I kept my gaze on him. “Yeah, I think it’s something in the water here. Or it’s their eyes. Have you seen how blue they are?”
He laughed, then reached for my hand. “The first thing I want to say to you is I’m sorry. I’m sorry I missed your birthday. It’s no excuse, but when I realized I had missed it the day after, I was so upset I couldn’t bring myself to call you. I was…embarrassed.”
“No, let me get this out. I know I wasn’t always there for you, but I’ve always remembered the best day of my life. When you were born.”
Tears built in my eyes and I blinked rapidly to keep them back.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you were growing up. I was selfish and unsure of so many things, and in a strange way I thought I was doing the right thing for both of us.”
My brows pulled in as I tried to understand his words. “The right thing? What do you mean?”
He took my hand and gently rubbed his thumb over it while he tried to think of his next words. “You don’t know this, but your mother was told she’d never have a child.”
I inhaled sharply. “What?”
He nodded. “We tried to get pregnant almost immediately after we got married. Months turned into a year, then two. They did every test they could, and then determined she wasn’t able to get pregnant. When we ended up getting pregnant with you—” He let out a soft laugh and looked into my eyes. “We had never been so happy, and your mother, God, Timberlynn, it was like her purpose in life was being filled. She was so happy.”
I smiled and let my tears fall freely.
“No, baby girl, don’t cry. Please don’t cry.”
I sniffled and wiped my tears with my free hand, before drawing in a shaky breath. “Don’t stop talking, Dad. Please don’t stop telling me about her.”
He closed his eyes and then opened them. I could see the sadness, and I wasn’t sure if it was from talking about my mother, or simply because this was the first time in years, maybe in forever, that he’d shared anything with me about her.
“I had never seen her so happy. She prayed so hard for you, Timberlynn. Wanted you desperately.” He cleared his voice when it cracked.
“When she died in the accident, I was so angry with God for taking her away from you. Why would He give her this gift, only to take it away? She should have been there to see you grow up. To see all the amazing things you’ve accomplished.”
“Dad, is that why you never remarried?”
He rubbed the back of his neck and then let go of my hand to drag his own down his face. “Hell, Timberlynn. I don’t know how to explain to you how messed up I was after losing your mom. And when I saw someone get too close to you, I’d panic. Yes, I was lonely, but none of those women would ever be able to replace your mother.”
“But she’d want you to be happy.”
“I’m not sure I know how to be happy that way again, sweetheart.” He exhaled quickly and then slowly shook his head. “After your mother died, I sort of lost a piece of myself. She was my entire world, and when she was gone, I was confused. Angry. Hurt. Filled with guilt that I got to see you grow up, our little miracle baby, and she couldn’t. Then one day you were on a swing and you fell. Your knee got busted up, and I saw the blood. Something inside me switched, and I closed down. The thought of you being hurt or taken away from me was something I knew I couldn’t mentally handle. And the more you grew up, the more I saw your mother in you.”
“You didn’t want to be around me because I reminded you of her?” I asked so softly even I had a hard time hearing myself.
“No, sweetheart, God, no. I wanted to be there for you, but I was afraid that I’d let myself get…I don’t know…too close to you and something would happen. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you like I did your mother. I also felt responsible for the accident.”
I gasped and reached for his hand. “Daddy, no. It wasn’t your fault.”
Tears filled his eyes and he closed them. My heart broke as I watched him deal with all of this. Had he held all of this in for so many years?
“Dad, the accident wasn’t your fault. You have to know that.”
He nodded. “I want you to know I was there, sometimes, at your events. Especially the dressage events. I showed up late a few times,” he said with a laugh. “But I did watch you. You reminded me so much of your mother. It was hard for me to be there, and looking back on it now, I know it had to have hurt you to think I wasn’t there. I’m so sorry, Timberlynn. God, I’m so sorry.”
“You were there? I never saw you.”
“Like I said, my way of thinking since your mother passed away probably hasn’t been very healthy for either of us.”
I looked down at the table and let everything he said process, then I looked up at him again. “Why now? Why are you telling me this all now?”
“When I found out you had left Atlanta and moved to Montana, I nearly fell to the floor. In that moment I realized that after all those years of keeping myself guarded, I had lost you anyway. I was so angry, but not at you. At myself. Then when I found out you were buying property here, I sort of…”
“Lost your damn mind?”
He chuckled. “Yes. Exactly. But I think it’s worked out for the best. At least Tanner thinks it has.”
I smiled. “What do you think about Tanner, Daddy?”
His eyes lit up like Christmas morning. “God, how I’ve missed hearing you call me that, Timberlynn.”
“I’ve really missed saying it.”
With a nod, he went on. “I like that boy. He’s smart and madly in love with you and wants to make your dreams come true. Plus, I like his father. He reminds me of my best friend from college.”
I laughed. “I think he likes you as well. Stella likes you too.”
“That’s good, because I came to a decision today.”
My heart sped up and I had to force myself to breathe. “Wh-what decision is that?”