How can two people be on the same road and not even know it? FROM ELUSIVE ECHOES CHAPTER ONE:
Melanie slipped Sean’s favorite draft in front of him with a smile.
Just being near him made her heart somersault. His pale blond hair, so similar in shade to hers, was longer than usual. It curled on the ends and she wanted to get her fingers tangled in it. His jade green eyes watched her hand where she was wiping up a few droplets of water. She wished he’d watch something other than her hands, but she seldom caught him checking her out these days.
“Ry’s got me on Sandy-babysitting-duty tomorrow morning.” He swirled his beer, eyes down. Amber liquid sloshed against the edges of the mug. Mel reached for the rag beneath the bar, just in case, but he stopped the restless movement and took a drink.
“It can’t be that bad. It’s not like she’s a little kid you’ll have to chase around or even entertain.”
“That’s what she told me.” When he looked up, his engaging grin was back. “Though I’m not so sure about not having to chase her. She’s been on a tear through the house lately, getting the nursery ready, re-doing her and Ry’s room. She reorganized the kitchen cabinets and cleaned up the pantry today. Dad keeps complaining that he can’t find anything in the cupboards.”
Melanie giggled. “Maybe she’ll clean out the attic tomorrow.”
“Aw jeez, I hope not. Ry’ll kill me.” Sean took a drink.
“It’s a light crowd tonight,” Mel said, running a forefinger along Sean’s arm. “LeeAnn can close. Would you like to come upstairs for a while?”
He looked past Mel to the other barmaid. “How’s she working out?”
Mel shrugged and followed his gaze. LeeAnn Shannon wore her dark auburn curls in a pony tail that sprayed from the top of her head like a fountain. She wore heavy blue eyeshadow and dark eyeliner, probably under the mistaken impression that so much blue highlighted her pale blue eyes. She was full-figured and her tight blue jeans only emphasized the outline of her wide hips. A skimpy green top hugged her bustline just a little too tightly, showing off an extra roll under her bra. Earrings that appeared to be made of multicolored confetti strung together by thin gold wire dangled from her earlobes, almost to her shoulders. Mel could only hope pieces of that confetti didn’t drop into anyone’s drink. She’d stopped asking the girl to wear something with less likelihood to shed after her third day working at Valentine’s, since LeeAnn apparently wasn’t listening anyway.
Mel sighed. Sandy wouldn’t have tolerated the blatant defiance. LeeAnn’s smile looked a bit forced as she slammed a shot down in front of one of the regulars. Mel wondered what the man had said to set the other girl off this time. She didn’t field the sexual innuendo and sometimes outright lewd suggestions very well.
Mel looked back at Sean and shrugged. “Well, she’s no Sandy but she’s a body to help with serving when she doesn’t call out.” Rubbing a finger back and forth along Sean’s arm, Mel was pleased to see goosebumps rise beneath her touch. “So how about it? You want to have some dessert in my place?”
Sean rubbed his chin, his “no” tell. Disappointment flared before he even answered. Most times she hated that her grifter father had taught her to read people so well. It usually just made her disappointment double up on her.
“I’d better get home.” Sean drained the last of his beer. “I don’t know what time Ryan wants to get started tomorrow but I’ll have stock to take care of before they leave.”
He glanced up at her and smiled. It was far from the look of heated desire she craved.
“I’ll walk you out.” She wished her heart didn’t feel like it had been trod on. Rejection sucked.
Mel snagged her sweater from just inside the kitchen while Sean waited. She crossed the room wishing she could carry off Sandy’s sexy saunter. Maybe then Sean would really see her. Sometimes he made her feel like someone’s vanilla-cream little sister.
“How’s the horse rehabbing going?” she asked as they traversed the parking lot.
“Really good, actually.” As he always did when talking horses, Sean became animated. “One of my rehabs is about to be put up for sale. Got some weight back on her. Sweet-tempered little thing now no one’s beating on her. I almost want to keep her for you.” He shrugged. “But you never really get much chance to come out and ride, I guess.”
Mel’s heart did a cartwheel. “I could make time to come out. If you’d like me to, that is.” She looked up at him as they approached his truck. “Would you like me to?”
Sean rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah! If you come out before next week we can see if you and Lacey get along.”
Gosh, he looked so happy. And that made her happy. When he leaned in for a kiss, she took a step forward and tucked herself tightly into his solid embrace where she always felt safe. He sucked in a breath but didn’t pull back. Feeling a little bold, she snaked her arms around his waist and slanted closer still.
The kiss started out very chaste as usual, but Mel was feeling courageous for once. As he began to pull back, she outlined his lips with her tongue. His hands on her shoulders tightened and he pulled her back against him, deepening their kiss, stroking her tongue with his. His breaths came in ragged gasps and he trembled.
Score one for the home team. Finally.
Mel’s nerve fibers buzzed like a hundred honey bees hitting the mother lode of purple flowering clover. She clutched his waist, shivering at the way his muscles jumped under her hands. Sean slipped his hand beneath her sweater, around to the small of her back, and pulled her closer. His hand was hot through the thin material of her blouse.
A physical ache spurred by emotional need welled within her. With a low, feral moan against her lips, Sean turned them around and pressed her against the door of his pickup. Her toes barely touched the ground. Mel angled her head for a deeper kiss and wrapped her arms around his neck. Sean hissed through his teeth when she wiggled. He pulled back slowly, holding himself completely still for a minute. Then he let her slide down his body until her feet rested on the ground again.
“You’re killing me here, Mel,” he whispered, his voice quaking. “One of these days, we gotta do something about this—you and me.”
“It’s not so late yet. My room’s still open.”
That was the moment she lost him and she could have kicked herself. He stepped back a foot or so, kissed her on the forehead. His guard was back in place. They had just shared a very passionate embrace and he’d definitely been turned on. Now, if he felt any sort of desire for her at all, she couldn’t see it. Or feel it, the way he kept himself angled away from her. Darn it! He was so careful with her. Always keeping himself just one or two steps out of reach.
Mel sighed. She couldn’t remember a time since they’d been teenagers when she hadn’t wanted to be Sean’s girl. Yet they never seemed to get beyond a few heated kisses before he hightailed it in the opposite direction. Sometimes it was hard to tell if he really wanted to kiss her or if he was just being polite.
“Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” As always she felt a little anxious about his answer, though she usually tried to cover her anxiety with an attitude of nonchalance.
He smiled and gave her a peck on the cheek with one last warm
hug. Then he rubbed the back of his neck and cast a sheepish glance her
way. “Hope so.”
She breathed more easily when she caught his “yes” tell. He always seemed just a little on the shy side when he said yes to something that was important to him.
Sean waited for her to cross the parking lot again before he left. He probably didn’t know she routinely stood at the door and watched his taillights disappear.
Mel slid the sweater from her shoulders. A white envelope fell to
the floor and she groaned. Her brother’s letter. LeeAnn must have seen it
by the register and slipped it into her pocket.
Shaking her head, she tore open the envelope as she walked into the kitchen. The letter was typed and unsigned. If not for the address on the letter, written in her brother’s familiar careful script, it might have come from anyone. But it had come from her brother, and read simply, “You should be interested in this.”
Wearing a frown, she looked in the envelope, and pulled out an article cut from a newspaper. For no reason other than this was her family, her hands were shaking as she unfolded the clipping. The headline was to the point: Prominent Oklahoma City Attorney Indicted on Adoption Fraud and Baby Selling Scheme.
Letter and article slipped from Mel’s frozen fingers.
The sitting room light was still on when Sean pulled in to the ranch yard. That meant Ryan was waiting up for him. Aw, man, just what he probably needed and didn’t want. Sean kicked the door of his truck closed with more force than necessary.
“Dang, bro. Shoot it and put it out of your misery already,” said Ryan from the shadows. Sean almost dropped his keys. “Jeez, man. If you’re gonna jump
me, can it wait ’til we’re inside? It’s freezing out here.”
“It’s October. It’s supposed to be freezing.” A lighter flared, harshly illuminating Ryan’s face in the glow. The acrid smell of a cigar wafted over Sean. “Didn’t you eat enough smoke when you worked in L.A.?” He started walking for the house.
Ryan took a puff. “You’d think. But I guess a year or so of chatting
with Dad on the porch while he lights up got me in the habit.” He took
another puff. “So what’s eatin’ at you tonight?” He stared at the lit end of
the cigar. The gesture was so like their father’s, Sean groaned.
Sean tried to remember why he’d missed his brother for sixteen
years. He sighed. May as well get it over with. “It’s Mel.”
Ryan frowned. “Get in a fight?”
“Nope. We never fight.” Sean blew out an exasperated breath.
What the heck? Maybe talking it out would take some of his edge off.
“She keeps hinting at wanting something more.”
Ryan stepped back to eye Sean with a critical eye. “More than
what? Like she wants to get married?”
Sean stopped walking at the bottom porch step. “No, not exactly. As in she invited me to her place tonight, and not so we could watch a little TV.”
Ryan’s mouth fell open. The cigar he’d just lit tumbled to the ground in a shower of sparks, and with a muttered oath, he stooped to retrieve it. Then he scrutinized Sean. “And yet the man came home. Interesting. So, you told her no?”
“Why?” Ryan’s gaze drifted below Sean’s waist. “Everything—ah—all . . . works, right?”
Irritation flared. “Yes. Everything works. Get your mind out of the
gutter, man. It’s not always about sex.”
Ryan’s face registered total disbelief. “It’s almost always about
sex. You’ve been . . . um, seeing Mel steady for over two years now,
Here it came. The big brother lecture about getting laid. Sean lifted
a shoulder. “Yeah, ’bout that.”
“Nope. Never did the deed,” Sean said impatiently. “Satisfied?”
“No, I’m not satisfied!” Ryan took another puff of his cigar. Then he frowned. “Ah, when you say never, do you mean never-never or just never-with-Mel?”
Sean glared at his brother, just for one second wishing Ryan was
back in L.A. “Jeez, Ryan! Not that it’s your business, but yes, I’ve had
sex. It’s just—things are different with Mel.”
“You don’t like her?”
Sean turned, looked out into the darkness. “I love her. I want everything with her. I want what you and Sandy have with her.”
“Then I don’t get it,” said his brother, as if the answer was just that
simple. “Ask her to marry you.”
Sean turned back. “I got nothing to offer her, Ryan.” There. Now it was out. Sean didn’t know what was up with Mel lately, but something was off and he felt like they were drifting in separate directions. Yet he couldn’t begin to sort things out and fight for her without having his own life together. Every time he tried to bring up the possibility of a future together, she turned it around and made it about something physical. She clearly wanted a physical relationship, and so did he, but he wanted more than that. Sean wasn’t made for casual. He was done with unsatisfying, going-nowhere relationships.
Ryan looked stunned. “Nothing to offer? There’s your share of the ranch. We’re turning things around. You’ve got your horse rehab business. You earn a decent income. You’ll be able to take care of a family.”
“And we can share my bedroom here, all cozy with everyone in the main house.” Sean blew out a frustrated breath and kicked at the dirt. “It’s already crowded with you and Sandy, Dad, Ricky, and now your baby on the way.”
“That can change, Sean.” Irritation had crept into Ryan’s voice.
“You don’t have to live in the main house to keep working the ranch.
Heck, live in town at her place. Just get engaged, let her know you want to
be with her. The two of you can work out the details later. And for the
love of mercy, when she asks you up to her place again . . . go.”
Sean shook his head. “Can’t.”
“Because Mel’s worth more than a few vague promises and getting hot between the sheets. I thought you would get that.” Sean turned on his heel and stomped onto the porch and through the front door, leaving Ryan behind.
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