Authors: Cheyenne McCray
Lace and Lassos
Copyright © 2012 by Cheyenne McCray
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Eight years was a long time to have been away…and to come home to face demons of the past.
Kaitlyn Barrett took a deep breath and headed toward the ranch house. She’d walked the mile from her own ranch, which butted up to the border of the Bar C. It was a good night for a walk even if there was a hint of possible rain on the breeze. According to the weatherman the rain was going to hold out for tomorrow.
Sounds of country western music along with voices and laughter filtered through the evening on the cool Arizona spring breeze. Apparently Zane and Jessie Cameron’s wedding reception was in full swing. The long and huge driveway was packed with cars and even more vehicles were parked alongside the dirt road leading to the ranch gates. Everyone in the San Rafael Valley must be here.
Her stomach churned and she almost turned around to head back toward her ranch. She wasn’t ready for this. Wasn’t ready to see any of the Camerons… Especially Wayne.
She bit her lower lip.
I can’t back out now.
When Danica Cameron had called yesterday, Kaitlyn had agreed to go to the reception, and she couldn’t let the girl down. Danica had a special place in Kaitlyn’s heart and always would.
Kaitlyn’s father’s funeral had been only two days ago and she had wondered if she should just stay home. Danica had insisted that Kaitlyn needed to celebrate life. Her father wouldn’t have wanted her to sit around the house, depressed.
She straightened her shoulders and sucked in her breath as she walked toward the Cameron family ranch house. It seemed that everything was as she remembered and she couldn’t help a smile. She could see a lot of the yard thanks to the floodlights that illuminated the place. Native oaks, mesquite trees, and huge old sycamores flanked the house. The same old wagon wheel rested against an oak and the triangular dinner bell hung above it. She could hear the small waterfall trickling into a pond and see a porch swing swayed in the light wind.
Small rocks crunched beneath her shoes and the hint of a chill in the spring air made her glad she’d picked out Levis instead of the jean skirt she’d thought about wearing before she decided to walk to the ranch. It was a casual western reception so most of the people there would be in casual western clothing.
The waist-length brown leather jacket she wore covered a long-sleeved lacy pink blouse. She shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket just to do something with them as she continued toward the ranch house. In her pocket was her cell phone, keys, and ID even though she likely wouldn’t have need for any of those things tonight.
The Bar C had been in the Cameron family for generations. The ranch that Kaitlyn had inherited, the Rocking B, had been in her family just as long. Of course the Rocking B was no longer anything compared to the Bar C and hadn’t been for years.
George Barrett, her father, had sold off all of the livestock and horses when he became ill and could no longer care for the animals. It was her dream to bring the property back to a full, working ranch once when she was able to. A neighbor wanted to buy half the ranch—once that deal went through, Kaitlyn would be able make her dream a reality. It would take a lot of cash to do it and the sale would help.
“Kaitlyn,” Danica’s cheery voice brought Kaitlyn’s attention to a young woman who was near a stately old sycamore to the left of the house. Warm yellow light spilled from a window onto her face, clearly showing her beauty.
“Danica?” Kaitlyn’s eyes widened. “Is that really you?”
The youngest Cameron grinned and jogged to Kaitlyn. When they reached each other, Danica embraced Kaitlyn in a tight hug.
“You were only thirteen when I saw you last.” Kaitlyn pulled away and put her hands on Danica’s upper arms. You’re definitely not a young girl anymore. You’re what, twenty-one now?”
Danica laughed. “Just turned twenty-two.”
The young woman had the Cameron blue eyes and her oldest brother’s black hair. “Look at you,” Kaitlyn said. “You’re absolutely beautiful.”
“And you look as amazing as ever.” Danica looped her arm with Kaitlyn’s and they started walking toward the back of the house where all of the voices and music were coming from. “I’ve really missed you,” Danica said.
Kaitlyn met Danica’s gaze. “I’ve missed you, too. All of you.”
Danica rubbed her hand up and down Kaitlyn’s upper arm in a soothing movement. “I’m sorry to hear about your dad,” Danica said.
Kaitlyn nodded. “Thank you.”
“We would all have been at the funeral…” Danica started.
“My dad wanted something quiet,” Kaitlyn said. “He didn’t want any kind of production, as he called it, over his funeral.”
Danica led her closer to the house, the band and partygoers growing louder. Kaitlyn stopped beneath the shadows of the old sycamore before they could walk around the back corner of the house to where the celebration was. She held her hand to her belly as the churning feeling grew more intense. “I—this is silly, Danica, but I don’t know if I can do it.”
“Is it because of your father?” Danica tilted her head to the side. “Or is it seeing Wayne again?”
“Not so much because of Daddy.” For a moment Kaitlyn didn’t say anything else. “Yes, in part it’s because of seeing Wayne again.” She pushed her white-blonde hair away from her face. “I guess you could say it’s also because of other…issues.”
“Hey.” Danica touched Kaitlyn’s arm. “Anything you want to talk about?”
Kaitlyn looked away for a moment before returning her gaze to Danica’s. “A lot has happened over the years. I’m not the same person I was when I left.”
“We’ve all changed.” Danica gave a soft smile. “That doesn’t mean you aren’t the same person at your core. And you are one of the sweetest, kindest, most loveable people I know.”
“I really don’t think that person exists anymore.” Kaitlyn looked down at her hands. When she looked up again, she said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t—”
“Kait?” The male voice sent both a shock and a thrill through Kaitlyn and a tingling sensation swept over her skin.
She raised her head, looked over Danica’s shoulder, and met Wayne Cameron’s eyes. Her heart pounded, rising up into her throat. He looked so good, so rugged. He seemed filled out now, more muscular than she remembered. He wore Wrangler jeans, a long-sleeved white shirt, and a gray Stetson.
In that moment she could see herself touching his face, tracing the outline with her fingertips. She could almost feel his firm lips against hers, could almost taste him…
The thought jerked her out of her momentary stupor, reminding her of how things had been, and what she could never go back to.
“Hi, Wayne.” Her voice came out soft, unsure.
“I need to get back to the party.” Danica looked torn as her gaze moved from Kaitlyn to Wayne and back. “I think you two have some catching up to do.”
Kaitlyn almost protested, almost asked Danica to stay. Seeing Wayne… It brought back so many feelings and memories—good and bad—that she had a hard time sifting through them.
Danica gave Kaitlyn a quick kiss on the cheek then walked away toward the back of the house, rounded the corner, and then Kaitlyn couldn’t see her any longer.
“Hey.” Wayne stepped closer to Kaitlyn as she made herself stay put. In the light from the house that winked through the tree leaves, she could make out his strong features and the firm set of his mouth. “How are you, Kait?”
“Fine.” She tried for a smile. “I’m just fine.”
“Something’s wrong.” He reached her but didn’t touch her and he studied her face. “Is it because of me?”
“No.” She took a deep breath as she changed her mind on how to answer him. “Maybe a little.”
“I understand.” He gave a slow nod, his blue eyes thoughtful. “You remember how I was before you left. I don’t blame you for not wanting anything to do with me.” He hooked his thumbs in his jeans pockets. “But I’ve changed, Kaitlyn. I’m not the same man I was eight years ago.”
She gave a wan smile as he echoed her own words that she’d spoken to Danica about herself, moments before Wayne arrived.
“Of course it’s not because I don’t want anything to do with you,” she said. “It’s not that at all.”
He stepped closer and brushed his knuckles across her cheek and she tried not to stiffen. His breath smelled of mint.
“When you left…” His words trailed off. “I turned my life around, Kait. I haven’t had a drink since the day you walked out, eight years ago.”
A feeling of happiness for him swept through her. “That’s wonderful.” She rested her hand on his arm and smiled, and it was genuine. “I’m proud of you.”
“So many times I picked up the phone to call you.” His voice was low. “But I wanted to make something of myself before I did. I went into the Army and made my way into Special Forces. I was in for the past seven years before my knee was blown out.”
As he spoke, her heart felt a bit lighter. “You really did turn things around. I knew you had it in you all along.” She frowned a little. “I’m sorry to hear about your knee, though.”
“Everything I’ve accomplished is thanks to you.” He rested one hand on her shoulder. “All that you did for me—getting me into a rehab program, finding a sponsor, the years of support. I just wish it hadn’t taken you leaving to jolt me back to living again.”
An ache blossomed in her chest. “I shouldn’t have left,” she said before she thought better of it.
“But I was dragging you down with me,” he said as a strong breeze stirred tree leaves and branches swayed. “And that wasn’t fair to you. You tried so hard and I didn’t see it until you knocked me back into reality. You took the hardest step for both of us.”
She leaned back up against the tree trunk as she met his blue eyes. “I wish you would have called.” Maybe life would have turned out differently. Maybe she wouldn’t be in the dark place she was these days.
“Like I said, I wanted to make something of myself, first.” He gave a little smile. “When I felt it was time to call you, I heard you were married.”
The mention of Kaitlyn’s marriage sent a sick feeling traveling through her gut. “I was for the past four years.”
“You’re not anymore?” Wayne asked.
She shook her head. “Divorced him seven months ago and changed my name back to Barrett.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“I’m not.” She let out her breath. The pain in her chest only magnified when her divorce was mentioned. What Steven Cullen had put her through during their marriage…she didn’t like to think about it. “I don’t want to talk about him.”
He looked at her for a long moment as if trying to figure out why she didn’t want to discuss her ex, like he knew something was wrong, really wrong. “Any kids?” he asked.
“No.” She sighed. “As much as I would like to have children, it really was for the best, considering.”
“I missed you.” He caught her by surprise as he stated words that nearly tore her to pieces. “I’ve never stopped loving you.”
She looked away from him, not wanting to meet his eyes.
“You loved the woman I was. Not who I am now,”
went through her mind, but she didn’t say it aloud.