Authors: Sharon Sala
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Ranch Life, #Accident Victims
KISMET® is a registered trademark of Meteor Publishing Corporation
Copyright © 1993 Sharon Sala
Cover Art Copyright © 1993 Tony Meers
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher, Meteor Publishing Corporation, 3369 Progress Drive, Bensa-lem, PA 19020.
First Printing February 1993.
All the characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
CLS 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America.
To ladies everywhere who've had the good luck to find a cowboy and the good sense to keep him.
And to Billy Jack, my cowboy, who's never let me down.
Sharon Sala is an Okie and proud of it. She's lived her entire life within seven miles of where she was born. Prague, Oklahoma, where she and her husband farm and ranch, has been her home for the past twenty-seven years. This past year she was nominated by Romantic Times for a Reviewer's Choice Award, and was a RITA finalist in the short contemporary division at the national Romance Writers of America convention. Pretty heady stuff for a farm girl with a head full of daydreams.
Other books by Sharon Sala:
No. 60 SARA'S ANGEL
No. 73 KING'S RANSO
No. 109 HONOR'S PROMISE
"My God, Doctor! Can't you fix her face?"
Lily Brownfield stood behind the door of her hospital room and listened, with her heart breaking and tears flowing, as her fiancé, Todd Collins, stood in the hall, berating the plastic surgeon in charge of her case. The bandages had been off less than fifteen minutes, and already her world was falling apart. She heard the disgust in Todd's voice. She didn't want to hear the doctor's response. Yet she stood transfixed as he reluctantly answered her fiancé’s frantic question.
"Of course, there will be a time when we can do further surgery to lessen the impact of permanent scarring. But for now, you should be thankful your fiancée is alive and healing. All things worthwhile take time, Mr. Collins. You, as a lawyer, should know that, because nothing grinds slower than the wheels of justice." He smiled gently. "Give her time. Lily is a young, vibrant woman. She needs to heal a bit and then we'll see. Okay?"
"Of course, doctor. Of course," Todd murmured. "But we were going to be married in less than two months. Now it will have to be postponed indefinitely. She certainly won't want to walk down the aisle with a face like . . ." Words failed him. Todd cleared his voice and began again. "I can't have a wife who's . . ." He was almost shouting. "How can she be the perfect wife and hostess now?"
The doctor bit his lip to keep from cursing. In his job, he met all kinds. This perfectly dressed, perfectly educated, perfectly bred man was a perfect jerk. He knew his patient wouldn't agree, but in his estimation, she'd be lucky to be rid of him.
Lily gasped and pressed her fingers tightly against her mouth to keep from crying aloud. She couldn't help it. His words confirmed her worst fears. Lily knew that their relationship was lacking in depth, but everyone always said they'd been the perfect couple. She'd hoped that time and the bonds of matrimony could create the kind of marriage her parents had enjoyed before her mother's untimely death several years earlier.
She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to ignore the fact that her future plans had just come to an abrupt end. Facts were impossible to ignore. She'd seen the look of utter abhorrence on his face when the bandages had come off. Even if she insisted on the marriage taking place, how could she marry someone who cared more about how she was outside than inside? There was only one thing she could do and maintain a sense of control in her life. She'd make the first cut. It wouldn't be easy, but in the long run would save her the most pain.
She opened the door and caught the guilty look on Todd's face before he had time to conceal it.
"Todd," she said quietly, "I think you'd better come inside. It's obvious that we have something to discuss that does not concern my doctor, nor his methods of healing."
The doctor frowned, knowing full well what was about to take place, and wished with all his heart that he could heal more than the bodies of his patients. This beautiful young woman who'd been brought into the emergency room nearly two weeks earlier was going to go home with a long, ugly scar down the side of her face. But in his estimation, it was going to heal faster than the injury her shallow fiancé was about to deal. Sometimes broken hearts were more deadly than the worst of bodily injuries.
Lily stared blindly toward the beach, watching the breakers crashing against the rocks below her house. It had been weeks since she'd been dismissed from the hospital, and still she could not make one simple decision about her future. She didn't see the beauty of the day, nor the gulls swooping toward the sands in raucous abandon. All she kept seeing was an instant replay of Todd's face as she handed him her engagement ring. And his look of guilty relief as he'd stuffed it into his pocket.
He'd tried to hug her.
Why now, Todd? she'd thought. It was much too late. She'd stopped the gesture and pushed away from him. She didn't need his pity, and being held by one of Los Angeles's best young lawyers was suddenly not as appealing as it had been.
"No more pretenses, Todd," she had told him. "You obviously loved my appearance more than you loved me. And I understand that I was not chosen to be a wife as much as a hostess, a pretty foile for your perfect looks, Todd. It seems to me that I still am perfect—the perfect fool."
"But Lily, you don't know . . ."
"I know more than I want to, Todd. I want you to leave. It's going to be up to you to cancel all the arrangements that have been made. You can tell people whatever pretty lie you choose as to why we're no longer being married. I don't have the stomach to pretend."
Her voice shook and she swallowed hard, refusing to break down in front of the man who'd just broken her heart. Lily wanted to scream, she wanted to lash out, but she did neither. It wasn't the ladylike thing to do, and Lily Catherine Brownfield was, above all else, always a lady. Todd had told her it was one of the first things that had attracted him to her. However, it was obviously not enough to maintain a relationship in the face of her injuries.
Todd had stood before her, shamefaced and angry, but he neither refuted her accusations nor handed her back the ring. Instead, he had spun around and walked out of her life.
Lily had closed her eyes, and tears had trickled out from behind her bruised eyelids, and down the red gash across her left cheek. But she hadn't wanted to cry. Todd Collins wasn't worth it.
She had walked over to her bed, and fell across the wad of sheets, wondering what she was going to do? There was no way she was going back to work in the same offices and face Todd Collins everyday. Before her accident, she could have worked anywhere. She was a good legal secretary. But she had a sick feeling that kept growing inside her heart that no one would hire someone so disfigured. Todd knew her, was supposed to love her, and he'd been unable to bear the sight of her face. Why would a total stranger feel any differently?
The phone rang, jarring Lily's wayward thoughts back to the present. She blinked, trying to erase the ugly memories of the past. She turned and ran into the house.
"Hello," she answered.
"Lily Kate, where the hell have you been?" Her father's deep, booming voice was a welcome break, even if he did persist in calling her by her childhood nickname.
"I was just outside, Daddy," she said softly. "You know, getting some fresh air and sunshine and all that stuff."
"When are you coming home?" he asked.
He was still furious with her for not letting him punch out Todd Collins. He hadn't liked the ambitious, blond yuppie in the first place. Now he definitely didn't. But his love for his only daughter prevented him from saying I told you so.
Lily sighed. It was more of the same old thing. Every time she stubbed her toe her family wanted her to come home and hide. It was true that this latest event in her life hardly compared to a stubbed toe, but she knew that going home was not going to heal the hurts inside, not this time.
"Daddy, we've discussed this. I love you and I love my brothers, although having four of them has been, at times, a burden I could have done without." She smiled to herself, knowing that neither she nor her father believed her brothers any kind of burden. "But, under no circumstances am I coming home to hide. You didn't raise me like that."
Morgan Brownfield sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. He'd just had a mouthful of his own preachings thrown back in his face and couldn't argue with his daughter. She had him cold.
"Okay," he muttered. "But if you do decide you want to come home . . . just for a visit mind you . . . you know you don't have to call. Just come."
"I know, Daddy, and thanks. Tell Cole, Buddy, J.D. and Dusty that I said hello. I love you all."
"We love you, too, baby," Morgan answered, and swallowed past a lump in his throat. He could hardly stand the thought of his baby, his only girl, alone and hurting like this. And he still hadn't given up on the thought of punching Todd Collins in the face.
Lily replaced the receiver, sank down onto a hassock and buried her face in her hands. The tears fell. Life was not fair. Her fingers splayed across the groove in her face and unconsciously traced its path from the corner of her eye, down across her cheekbone, almost to the corner of her mouth. It was long, red, and ugly, and Lily wanted to scream at the un-justness of it all.
It hadn't taken long for a drunk driver to change the course of her life. But she knew as she sighed and walked back toward the deck overlooking the ocean that she should be thankful she still had a life. It was just hard to look in the mirror and convince herself of the fact.
A strong gusty breeze caught the heavy fall of her hair, lifting the ash blond curls into the air and playing with the ends before letting them fall in place down her bare back and shoulders. Her matching blue shorts and halter top were cool, comfortable and old. Lily's bare feet were padding across the redwood deck toward a chaise lounge when another breeze gusted across the horizon.
From the corner of her eye, she had a moment's impression of something small and white on the beach below and turned to look. A newspaper was blowing across the sands, leaving sheet after sheet to scatter in the swiftly rising breeze. She frowned. Trash. It was a constant problem.
The beach in front of her house was private, but less than a mile up the sands was a very popular, very public beach. She muttered to herself about the carelessness of strangers as she hurried down her steps to catch the bulk of the paper before it scattered even worse.
The chase was fast and furious as Lily danced about on the sands, trying to outwit the winds that played with the loose pages of newsprint. Finally, puffing and winded, red-faced and sweaty, Lily had captured all but two pages of the paper, which had escaped on the outgoing tide. She started up her deck steps to the garbage can, opened the lid and began stuffing the wadded pages inside when she noticed the paper's origin.
"Good grief," Lily muttered, "The Daily Oklahoman? How in heaven's name did you get so far from home?"
Curiosity and boredom got the better of her. It might be interesting to see what was happening halfway across the country. She yanked the pages from the garbage can, took them into the house to be straightened and put back into order, to be read later.