A Cowgirl's Secret(11)

First, she needed to find the courage to expose Henry. Second, she’d return and introduce her son.

Two huge obstacles that at the moment felt insurmountable.

“Your family seems pretty happy about meeting Kolt,” Luke said. “I just don’t understand why you ran off. Hell, you’d already graduated. It’s not like half the kids we went to high school with weren’t already headed for the altar.” Luke sat next to her, and their thighs brushed, flooding her with awareness. His radiant heat combined with guilt, making her chest ache from the effort to breathe.

Nodding, she said, “I know. And I’d really appreciate you not reminding me every five minutes what an awful person I am.”

“For what you’ve done to me—our son—you’ve got a lot more than a little chastising to contend with. My family’s itching to lash into you. It’ll be a good time.” His speech ended with a condescending pat to her knee.

She hated him, so why did she feel each of his fingertips scorch through to her skin? She’d underestimated her former feelings for Luke. At a time when her whole world had been falling apart, he’d been her only solid ground. Now, when yet again her life had turned upside down, a long-buried part of her instinctively longed to turn to him for comfort and support—stupid, considering he grabbed every opportunity to bring her down.

You think you don’t deserve it?

It didn’t seem possible that only a short while earlier, she’d been a strong, confident woman, yet now her every doubt and insecurity had resurfaced. Each time someone entered the room, she feared facing Henry. Where was he lurking? Yes, keeping Kolt from Luke had been the worst of Daisy’s many bad decisions, but if Luke knew her true reason for escaping Weed Gulch, would he be any more sympathetic?

“You don’t have to stay,” she said quietly, not wanting to wake the twins who’d crashed on the sofa opposite the one she and Luke shared. “In fact, I’m not sure why you chose to come at all.”

“Simple. I trust you about as much as my old farm truck that has three hundred thousand miles.” Nudging her shoulder, he added with a mean-spirited wink, “Only you’ve got less body damage.”

Rising, she said, “Please, go. This reunion is hard enough, without—”

Also on his feet, meeting her stare from a perilously close position, he whispered, “Good. You stole my heart and then my son. I want you to feel every ounce of the hell you’ve put me through. I want you to hurt, Daisy Buckhorn. And just when you might feel better, I want to drag you down again.”

Why, why, when Luke’s speech should have incensed her, did Daisy recognize the scent of his breath? She’d once loved him more than she’d thought it possible to love someone—at least until a maternity-ward nurse had settled Kolt into her arms.

“There aren’t enough words to describe how I detest you. How you’ve built this fabulous life for yourself without so much as a thought for everyone you left behind.”

Silent tears streaming down her cheeks, Daisy hugged her arms over her chest. Nodding, she internalized his every critical word, negating years of supposedly successful therapy in mere seconds. Once again she was a little girl, hiding from a monster, begging to a nonexistent God for Henry not to touch her.

“Don’t cry,” Luke said. “All the tears in the world aren’t going to change what I think of you.”

“I—I know. And I—I don’t blame you for hating me.” I hate myself for ever letting that filthy old man near me. Most especially she hated still being afraid to share her darkest secret with the sole person she’d always been able to trust.

“I’VE MISSED THIS,” Daisy said to her mom Sunday morning while helping her roll out biscuit dough. “I feel like I can never apologize enough.” Eyes again filling with tears, she walked into her mother’s embrace.

“I’m the one who should be saying sorry. The fact you felt you couldn’t come to me when you found out you were pregnant means volumes. As your mother, I should’ve known.”

Daisy had many times felt the same—only about how her mom couldn’t have seen the signs of what Henry had done. Daisy immersed herself in every facet of Kolt’s life. Where had her mother been when Henry had—no. Daisy was finished questioning the past. What was done was done.

“Please, come home for good,” Georgina asked. “I want to know my daughter. Make up for all of the time we’ve lost.”

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