Rex guided Jaycee towards the horse trailer, where Hector was working to soothe the excited animals with small pieces of apple and carrot. Her silence and acquiescence were as worrisome as her thoughts. His Jaycee was anything but quiet and docile. She was the most beautiful mustang filly running free across the rough terrain of the Hill Country. She was…she was perfect for him.
But he recognized too how accurate her thoughts were. In less than two days, her world had been turned on its head. He was asking her to understand and accept things that were beyond explanation. He smiled as he thought of the trouble she would make when this telepathy became a two-way street. But there was much that they needed to settle before that could happen.
And these horses were the first thing. “How are they doing, Hector?” The older man had much more experience with this quality of horseflesh than either he or Jaycee.
“The road was not easy on them, Señor Rex. The stallion is very skittish. He will not even take the food from my hand. The gelding took a bit of apple but moved away quickly.” The man’s voice was barely more than a whisper, and Rex thanked his ancestors for his heightened senses that allowed him to catch each word. “The younger filly, she is much calmer. But that may just be an illusion. I can feel her heart bounding still.”
Rex smiled, was the man speaking of the horse or his mate? His arm about her waist was the only thing holding her up at the moment as she struggled to make sense of things that defied explanation. “Which do we move to the barn first?”
“Not yet, Mister Rex. Let me speak with them a bit more first. If you and Miss Jaycee will make certain that the stalls are ready for them.” He reached a hand slowly through the small open window of the trailer.
Rex led the still silent woman towards the barn. He needed to rouse her from her cogitations. Her beautiful mind was like a prize-winning old hunting hound who had lost the scent and was circling round and round, trying to find something to catch the trail again.
Once they were inside the barn, he pulled her into his arms, pinning her against the wooden door frame as his mouth took hers. He had meant to be gentle and coaxing, but the hours without her and the long night with the distant but never-ending scent of her anxiety, had eaten at his mind. He needed to taste her as much to know that she was still real as he did to shake her from her ruminations.
For a moment, she remained that docile compliant softness beneath him. It was her soft whimpers that fed his soul as his hand came up between them to cup her breast. His thumb found her hard nipple and brushed back and forth across it through the layers of her shirt and bra. He was sorely tempted to tear them all away, to claim her, and put it all to an end.
But it was not this submissive and confused creature he wanted. He longed for her biting words and that strong spirit that challenged him to be more than he had ever been before. He needed her strength as much as she needed his. She was his very breath, his Nʉ Sʉmʉ.
Then he felt it…the shift inside of her mind as her hunger overcame the confusion of her earlier thoughts. Her actions followed suit as her hands wrapped about his shoulders, drawing him closer. Her tongue came to life as it battled with his. But when she arched her chest into his caress and growled like a bitch in heat, it was nearly his undoing.
He fought for control as she fanned flames inside of him that threatened to ignite them both. But the inferno would be a hell of a way to go. Rex gained enough self-control to slow the pace. His kisses became the tender caresses he had meant them to be in the beginning.
Then he found himself flat on his butt in the hay and dust of the barn floor. He laughed as he picked up a handful of the straw and threw it at her. “Vixen.”
Jaycee was not sure what she expected of this man. How could she be really? She barely knew him even though something inside of her screamed that she knew him better than she knew herself. Then again, her marriage should have taught her that you never really knew anyone.
One thing was certain a handful of hay was not what she had expected when she had shoved him away and sent him spiraling towards the indignity of that dusty barn floor. She supposed she deserved that tiny bit of retaliation. She hugged her side as she looked down at the big man sprawled so indignantly upon the ground.
“What’s so funny, woman?”
“Nothing,” she mumbled through fits of laughter that threatened to bring tears to her eyes. “Absolutely nothing.”
She watched as he rose to his full height, dusting off his jeans as he smiled at her. “We don’t want them thinking we just had a quick roll in the hay, now do we?”
“And I thought you said that a roll in the hay with you would not be quick, lover boy?”
His face lost its lightness as it clouded with the passion that they had shared only moments before, “It won’t be. And neither will it be a literal roll in the hay, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. You deserve silky rose petals, not rough hay.”
“You know, with a silver tongue like that, you could do much better than a bitter single mother with a sick child and the weight of the world on her shoulders.”
She was not usually the type for self-pity. Where that burst of unadulterated honesty came from, she was not sure. Jaycee squared her shoulders and turned her back as she fought back the tears at the thought of this man with another woman. Her mind proceeded to list every single one of the reasons that this could never work.
But the soft hand that rested comfortingly upon her shoulder made a lie of every last one of them as did his soft words whispered next to her ear, “You forget the only one that matters, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. You are mine. The other half of my dark soul created by the Great Spirit from the beginning of time. And if you think for one minute that I am letting any of those things stand in our way, well, you will just have to see.”
He turned her gently and stared down at her as his finger brushed the smile lines around her mouth, “You are even more beautiful when you laugh, Jaycee.”
She shook her head as she tried to remember the last time she had laughed, really laughed. Not the bittersweet chuckles of irony that accompanied each small victory that she and Angel grasp from cruel Fate, but genuine, honest to goodness laughter that came from the heart.
“I will consider it my job to make certain a day does not go by for the rest of our lives without laughter then, Nʉ Sʉmʉ,” he whispered as he placed an almost solemn kiss on her forehead.
Jaycee once more found herself fighting back the tears, but she fought back hope even harder. Hope that for once, she would not be alone, would not face every damned burden that seemed sent just to break her all alone. But she knew it was just an illusion. She was the only person that she could count on in the end.
Sure, she might have good friends like Hector and Lupe to help. In the end, they went home each night, and she was left alone in the darkness to face her demons. Alone.
Rex thought about arguing with her, but he realized that it would be futile. Words would never convince this woman. She was a master wordsmith. She crafted them for her purposes, to win cases for her clients. Her opponents used those same words to try and wrest that victory from her. Words were not real. They were merely weapons to be used, lies to be carefully crafted to suit the purpose.
Only actions would convince this woman of his true intent. “Everything looks fine here. Let’s go back to the house and check on Angel and grandfather until Hector is ready for us.”
She nodded, but this time it was she that took the lead. Rex smiled as he watched her assume the reins once more. There was his woman. His strong, brave, if slightly cynical Nʉ Sʉmʉ. She paused for just a moment to confer with Hector before leading them back to the small house.
As they entered, Rex took the opportunity to look around for the first time. He had been too focused upon the little girl and his woman yesterday to notice anything beyond the fact that the room was warm and safe for his charges. But now he saw the wood-burning stove that gave a cozy warmth to the place even when it was not in use.
The rest of the place was like his woman, functional though he guessed that most of it was a pish-posh of odds and ends that she had found at yards sales and thrift stores. But they were all arranged to make the most of their country feel. Despite all that or maybe because of it, this place felt like home.
She led him into the kitchen, where Lupe was working away busily. He smiled at the fragrant reminder, “Mole?”
The older woman turned with a smile and nodded, “Si, Señor. It is my Hector’s favorite. And his reward for working so hard for Miss Jaycee.”
He tried for his best boyish grin as he snuck up to the stove and dipped the end of his finger around the edge of the bubbling brew, “I don’t suppose there will be any extra?”
The woman laughed and swatted at his hand with the back of her wooden spoon. “Not if you keep sneaking around like that. I doubt that after feeding three hungry men, there will be any left.”
He smiled and kissed the woman on her weathered cheek. It was not just the food or her genuine care for his woman’s child or even the devotion that this couple showed them. It was the knowledge that there were still good people in this world. That this couple had been there for his woman before he knew her. It was a humbling thought as he swore that this couple would come under his protection as much as his Nʉ Sʉmʉ and Angel.
“You can stay and try charming Lupe if you want, but I am going to check on Angel and your grandfather.” Jaycee crossed her arms over her chest. Rex smiled, did he detect just a hint of jealousy?
He followed the gentle swaying of her hips in the tight jeans, hypnotized by its seductive call until his brain was throbbing with need as much as the stony ridge behind his zipper. His woman was leading him a merry ole’ chase…and he would not want it any other way. It would only make her final surrender all the sweeter. He, on the other hand, had already surrendered. Was forever in her power.
Jaycee damned those tears that seemed ever-present as she watched the tiny dark head with its halo of tight curls bent so close to the grey streaked one. It was as if the two of them had known one another forever. As if they alone shared the secrets of the universe as they bent conferring over the pages of Angel’s favorite book about horses.
Rex’s grandfather looked up at her with a soft smile as her daughter tugged on his shirt, “Read, read.”
Jaycee returned the smile as she stepped into the room. “Mister Greywolf probably needs a break, sweetheart…and you need a nap.”
She could tell by the pout that immediately rose on her daughter’s full lips that a storm was brewing. She was tempted to give in…to allow the child her story.
She was never comfortable with her child’s meltdowns. She had adopted that term because temper tantrum simply was not accurate. There was little manipulative about her daughter, and these outbursts had nothing to do with getting her way. Once a meltdown began, not even giving her what she wanted would stop them.
But there were other reasons as well. The seizure diary that Jaycee meticulously kept indicated that there was some correlation between these outbursts and her fits. Which was the cause and which was the effect she could not seem to fathom? At times it seemed a little of both, like a vicious cycle. Especially around strangers, she was never comfortable having people see her child at her worst.
Hell, even her ex-husband, had blamed her, calling her an over-protective and permissive mother. Sean had even blamed her for their child’s illness, claiming it was probably the effect of some drug that Jaycee’s mother had done when she was pregnant with her. The stings of being a ‘bad’ mother were terrible enough from the man she had once thought she loved. She did not need them from total strangers.
There it was again. That damned calming hand on her shoulder. She shrugged hard, trying to dislodge it as she fought to regain control of this situation.
“Your mother is right, my little warrior. This old man must help the others with those horses. But by the time that you wake from your nap, they will be in the corral, and we will watch them run together. I will show you how to read their spirits,” the old man said in the softest of tones as if he were hypnotizing her daughter…and perhaps her as well.
She shook her head and tried to fight off the comforting feeling as if they belonged. As if she and Angel were tied somehow to these strangers. It was foolish. They barely knew the older man or even his grandson. And Jaycee had never been the type of woman to engage in flights of fancy. Except maybe when she indulged in her books.
But this was no book. This was her life…and her daughter’s. She shook off that web of deception and walked over to her daughter’s bed. Its big pink princess canopy was the one luxury that she had indulged in when setting up this new home on the tightest of budgets. She had put all that she had into this room, just as she had her only child. That was how it should be, how it was going to remain, she told herself as she took the book from the older man’s gnarled hands.
“Mommy will read to you until you go to sleep, Angel Princess.”
She watched the tension drain from her child’s face, and she sighed a deep breath of relief that one disaster had been diverted as she settled into the bed next to her daughter.
The old man slipped from the room with a nod to his grandson, “I will see you outside, my son.”
Rex nodded, but rather than follow behind his grandfather, he walked to the bed. He bent and lightly kissed the top of her little girl’s curls. “Sleep well, Angel mine.”
The way that her child just accepted this intimate show and words of possession ate at her. She knew that her child thirsted for her absentee father’s affection. As a former foster child, it was a feeling she knew all too well.
She had done absolutely everything she could to make up for Sean’s lack. At times she had convinced herself that she had succeeded, that her love was enough for both mother and father. But less than an hour with these men shattered that illusion and made Jaycee feel as inadequate as a mother as she had as a child after each meet and greet with prospective parents, who never wanted to take her home.
Then it was her turn, and his lips brushed her cheek softly. “You are a wonderful mother. But you can never be a father. That is not how this world works, Nʉ Sʉmʉ.” He drew back slowly and smiled down at her almost sadly, “You are not alone anymore. And I swear that I will do everything I can to make you see that. I very much want to take you home, Jaycee.”
Then he turned and left. Jaycee was left alone with her confused mind that seemed a volcano ready to erupt at any moment. Her duty was clear, to read the story to the sleepy child. She forced back her thoughts that bubbled and boiled as she began to read the book almost from memory.
As she neared the end of the chapter, she stared down into Angel’s brown eyes as her lids drifted lower, “Grandfather says that I am a very special little girl, Mommy. Just like you do.”
Jaycee fought back the anger as she gently arranged her daughter on the bed. She kissed her head gently in stark contrast to the rage boiling in her gut. “Grandfather indeed. Time for a showdown Mister Ranger.”
Rex heard her coming before he saw her. The loud slamming of the front door announced her presence as surely as the hands upon those curvy hips that swayed so beautifully in the early afternoon warmth. Damn, the woman was even more beautiful when she was mad…if that was possible.
She was upon him in less than thirty seconds. Her dainty little finger poking into his chest as her cheeks flamed scarlet. He knew he should be listening to every word that she said, but he was too busy listening instead to what she thought.
His woman was scared, mortally terrified, that he and now his grandfather was getting too close. He shook his head and fought back both rage and tears, not at her, but for her. His woman had been alone so long that it was all she knew. This new feeling of needing someone else was so foreign that it frightened her more than she wanted to admit.
“And who does your grandfather think he is coming in here and telling Angel that she may call him ‘grandfather’?”
Rex drew a deep and calming breath. Only one thing was absolutely clear. The one thing he could not do was the one thing she was trying to make him do – back down. She wanted him to leave. Or rather that was what she had decided was best…that he should go before she came to actually need him.
She was trying to force him to do the one thing that she did not want him to do. Inside her, deep inside, she longed to be able to lay even just a tiny bit of her burdens on his broad shoulders. The problem was that she had been carrying them all alone for so long that she did not know how to let them go, any of them.
His job was to show her that path. His task was to teach her honor and faithfulness in a world that had robbed her of such things from birth. It was a monumental task, but one at which he could not afford to fail.
His grandfather tapped Jaycee softly on the shoulder, and she spun around, glaring at him for a moment as well.
“I apologize, child. I am sorry if I offended you. Grandfather is the name which I am called much more often than Ray.”
“It is not just my grandson and nephews who use it, but half of the town where I live and many of those among the Nation. It is more of a title of respect than familiarity. I am sorry that I did not explain that to you as I did to the Angel.”
Rex watched his woman. He was proud of the way that the great oak could bend…both of them. He knew her words before she opened her mouth. “I am sorry too, Mister Greywolf. You are right; I did not understand that.”
His grandfather smiled and took his woman’s hand. “Is it too much for this old man to hope that you too might be persuaded to call me Grandfather?”
Rex’s arm went about her waist immediately. He knew it was all that was keeping her on her feet. How had his grandfather shattered the wall that he thought impregnable? But he felt it, he knew it. Even as she smiled, nodded, and whispered, “Yes, Grandfather.”
Rex knew something else too. This was only a temporary truce in their battles of love. She still feared that which she wanted the most. Love. Trust. Need. Him.
But right now, it was her physical needs that battered at him most. “Excuse me, Hector, Grandfather. Can you finish putting the horses away? I need to speak with Jaycee alone.”
He did not bother to wait to see the nod from both men. He wanted to scoop her up into his arms and carry her into the house before she collapsed. An action that was certain to lead to a fight, an unnecessary one. As it was, his arm about her waist did much the same thing as he led her through the front door.
“Where is your room?”
“Please, now is not the time for another round of kissy-face, Mister Ranger. I am too confused and tired to handle it or you.”
It was a breakthrough of sorts. Did she realize how completely honest she was with him? “I know that. But beds are for more than just making love, Nʉ Sʉmʉ. And right now, you need sleep even more than your body needs mine.”
She shook her head, but he noticed that even those movements were slower, less sure than usual. “I can’t. I need to help ya’ll settle the horses. I have to check on Angel. I should probably see if Lupe needs anything in the kitchen. I have a court appearance next Tuesday.”
Her list was exhausting, even to him. And for the first time, he truly understood the depth of his woman’s responsibilities and their weight upon such tiny shoulders. His respect for her grew accordingly.
“Hector, Grandfather, and I can handle the horses. And if Lupe needed your help, I am sure she would ask for it. If it makes you feel better, I will check on her after I put you to bed and ask her to keep an eye on Angel while you rest.”
“As for your case? Well, I am sure that it will be much easier to think once you have a bit of rest,” his fingers traced the dark shadows beneath her eyes even as he noticed the glassy layer of tears that she just barely managed to hold back.
“Now, woman, your choices are to show me your bedroom so I can tuck you in, or I will throw you over my shoulder and go looking for it myself.” Rex tried to keep his expression non-threatening and jovial, but he meant every word. He always would with this woman.
“You would too, wouldn’t you?” She led the way down the hall to the closed door just across the hallway from Angel’s room. “You don’t need to tuck me in. I am a big girl. I have been doing it…”
‘All my life,’ he caught the unspoken words in her mind, and it was he whose vision was clouded with tears.
His childhood might have been difficult with scientist parents seeking scientific answers for their only child’s ‘shortcomings.’ But he had never questioned that they loved him, even after the divorce. And of course, Grandfather had been the stalwart rock upon which he could always count.
But his woman had had none of that. She had faced it all alone. And her few disjointed thoughts of Angel’s father made him believe that her marriage had not been much more than a legal partnership. It was no wonder that she found it so hard to trust…and even harder to believe.
He opened the door and, for a moment, thought perhaps they had the wrong room. The first thing he saw was the desk and locked file cabinets that dominated the room. The place looked like what it was her office. It was a moment before his eyes lit upon the small daybed in the other corner of the room.
“I usually sleep with Angel anyway,” she murmured.
He led her across to the bed. She half sat and half-collapsed onto it. He tried to block out the cacophony of disjointed thoughts that beat at her already exhausted brain. It was as if she could not even manage to focus upon a single one.
He pulled off her boots and gently lifted her feet onto the bed. He grabbed a quilt from the end of the bed and unfolded it, tucking it around her just as he said he would.
He wanted to climb into that bed and hold her tight in his arms, promise her that everything would be all right now. But he knew that would only scare and confuse her more right now. Besides, he knew too what that kind of closeness would do to his body.
No, the best option was to do what he promised…help Hector and Grandfather settle those horses and make sure that Lupe watched the child. That was what she needed from him right now – to carry just a tiny bit of the weight that was dragging her down. To show her that she could depend on someone else. That she could trust him.
He bent to kiss her forehead, but despite all her protests, her eyes were closed already. “I’ll just rest for a moment,” she whispered. ‘Can’t afford to drop my guard,’ he heard even louder in his mind as she drifted off into sleep.