The Cowboy Way(8)

By: Anna Alexander


“It’s not that, Trey–” She stopped and pressed her face into her hands. He gave her all the time she needed to pull her thoughts together. She kept her hands folded in front of her mouth as she looked up at him with those big brown eyes filled with regret, sympathy, and a whole lot of confusion. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” With agitated hands she brushed the loose tendrils of hair off her face. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to act or what to expect of you. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad about the bed. I just, I just don’t know what to do.”

She looked as helpless as he felt. How do you pick up a life you knew nothing about? “Don’t be afraid of me. Please, just don’t be afraid.” The plea came out low and rough.

The tension seeped from her shoulders as she took a deep breath. “I’m not afraid of you.”

“I sincerely hope not, Greta.” He spread out his arms to encompass the room. “This just all feels strange to me, and I know you’re just as lost too. What am I missing? What’s the biggest thing I’m forgetting that I need to know now? I can’t stumble around blind like this. I don’t want to hurt you by saying something insensitive on accident. Please, help me out.”

Greta sucked in a breath as if he’d punched her in the stomach. Her eyes clouded with grief as she blinked back tears.

“Um.” She swallowed twice and looked everywhere but at him.

Trey felt his breathing escalate along with hers as she struggled against an imaginary panic and his oh-shit meter rang again.

She had to clear her throat before she found the voice to answer, and even then the sound was rough. “We had a son. His name was Luke. He passed away over a year ago. He was two.”





4





“Fuck,” exploded from Trey’s lips. He swayed on his feet and braced a hand on the nearby dresser at the news that rocked him to the core.

Just brand the word Asshole across his forehead right now. First, he couldn’t remember his wife, then his own child? A child who had passed away?

And Greta. Poor Greta had to live the loss all over again in order to remind him.

“Jesus, Greta. I’m sorry. I didn’t—ah, fuck.” He clenched and unclenched his fists then clutched at his shirt as if he could physically keep his racing heart from leaping out of his chest.

“No, Trey, no.” She placed a soothing hand on his bicep. “I figured you might not…” She swallowed again. “I probably should have told you sooner, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. Please. I understand. It’s—it’s uh”—another swallow—“you’ve had a lot to deal with lately.”

Her sympathy was appreciated, but it didn’t stop him from feeling like the shittiest man on the planet. Forgetting your own child was unforgivable. Absolutely no excuse.

Now the root of Greta’s anxiety was clear. Any minute, she must have expected him to remember Luke or be faced with the moment when she’d have to remind him. No wonder she’d been so damn cagey.

A million questions flooded his mind. How did their son die? Oh God, did he play a part?

Did he want to know the answers?

The sorrow on her face ate at his gut. She lived with the pain of losing a child every day. He’d only had four minutes. Was he ready to rip open a wound he hadn’t known existed until that moment? Did he want to force Greta to tell the tale when they were still on shaky ground?

To drop the subject might be a cowardly move, but he wasn’t ready to listen, and it appeared as if she wasn’t ready to talk. Later. Later he’d ask. But his wife needed him now.

“I’m so sorry, Greta.” This time he didn’t hesitate to take her hand. “I’m going to remember. You and Luke.” Luke. He liked that name. “I will remember,” he vowed. “Look, I don’t want to hurt you anymore. I can stay somewhere else. Maybe in one of the bunkhouses.”

“Trey. Stop it.” The strength in her voice shocked him. “This is your home. You’ve been hurt and need to heal. This is where you belong. Let’s not worry about the past. Concentrate on now.”

One step, then another brought her flush against him. She was so soft, so lush. He could hold her all day. Trey held every muscle still, waiting to see what she’d do next.

Her arms came up slowly to encircle his neck. As her head rested against his chest, the breath he held came out in a rush, ruffling her hair.

Trey wrapped his arms around her waist and hugged her tight. Probably tighter than he should, but she felt so good in his embrace. Soft, woman, home. She was his only real link to his past. His anchor. They were connected, bonded. He knew it, he felt it. Like the warm solid beat in his chest, he knew in his heart that she belonged to him.

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