“And leaving everything else hanging is something you’re comfortable with.” She silently commended herself for the iciness she’d been able to lace through her tone.
“That’s just it,” he told her, stepping toward her. “I don’t want to leave anything hanging. My school won’t open until spring anyway and I was hoping you’d come with me.”
Piper froze, clutching her mug. “You what?”
“I want you to come with me.”
“Let me get this straight.” She set the mug on the granite countertop behind her and turned back to him, coming to stand at her full height. “You want me to uproot a life I love here, friends I love and friends who need me, just so you can get a few last kicks in?”
“You’re not uprooting, Piper. It’s two months. And it has nothing to do with my kicks.”
She poked his chest. “You’re damn right I’m not uprooting. You say two months, but what you really mean is two months now and when next season rolls around maybe a few more then and before you know it, you’ve gotten sucked back in.”
The muscle in Ryan’s jaw ticked. Yeah, he may be angry but she was fuming.
“I’m not your father,” he said through gritted teeth.
“From where I’m standing you’re exactly like him.”
Ryan shook his head, placing his hands on his narrow hips. “And that’s been hanging between us this whole time, hasn’t it? You’ve been waiting on me to go back. You’ve been waiting on me to screw up so you could throw your father back in my face. The one man who you trusted as a little girl, the one man who’d let you down. Well, if you want to play that card, fine. I can’t stop you, but you damn well know I’m a man of my word, Piper, and when I say I’ll be back, I will. It’s up to you what you want to do with that information.”
“You’re right,” she agreed. Piper cursed the lone tear that slid down her cheek. So much for control. “But for how long will you be back, Ryan? I can’t fault you for loving the rodeo. I can’t fault you for wanting to help your friend. But I can fault you for promising me to stay and then expecting me to be happy when you’re not. I can fault you for pulling our relationship into something I’d only dreamed of and I can fault you for making me love you. Because I do.”
Piper paused, swallowed and wiped at her damp cheek. “God help me, Ryan, I do love you. But I can’t wait for you to decide if you’re going to stay or go. And I can’t just give up my job, my friends, and wait on you to make up your mind on what you truly want because I’m convinced you don’t know.”
“But I do, Red. I know what I want.”
She smiled through the pain. “Yes, you do. It’s just that you can’t have it all at the same time, so you’ll have to choose.”
When he remained silent, the fullness he’d placed in her heart shattered and each and every shard sliced into her. Even as he stood with tears brimming in his eyes, she couldn’t believe he wasn’t backing down. Of course, neither was she, so they were at a standstill.
Pride...it was a fickle emotion that ruined lives.
Running a hand through her mass of curls, Piper nodded. “It’s okay. I won’t make you say it. I’ll get my stuff and be on my way. Go ahead and call Joe.”
Piper didn’t wait on him to respond, to tell her she was wrong. The entire way back to the bedroom where they’d made love and shared dreams of the future, she waited on him to call her name.
But silence filled the house.
Today wasn’t as bad as the past few days at work had been. At least that was a positive in Piper’s life.
Alex still hadn’t regained his memory. Her house renovations were at a standstill because, well, she’d been spending more and more time at Ryan’s house and her priorities had shifted.
Ryan. Even his name made her ache. But she would not give in to the anguish. She’d known his leaving was a very real possibility even though he’d denied it adamantly. She’d seen it before, that confidence in retirement, but all it took was one simple phone call for the two men she’d loved to walk easily out of her life.
Oh, her father had claimed he’d be back, but at that point her mother had had enough and set the divorce in motion. It had been her father’s “get out of jail free” card because the man had barely looked back.