For His Brother's Wife(3)

By: Kathie Denosky

He hadn’t discussed anything about her future plans with her since Craig’s death. For one thing, he had made sure not to spend too much time with her once it became clear he was still attracted to her. And for another, it really wasn’t any of his business what decisions she made or where she lived.

“And staying here at the ranch instead of driving back and forth to the Cozy Inn would be closer for you while your work crew rebuilds my barn and makes the repairs to the outbuildings,” she shot back. “You said yourself that you liked to be close to the job sites you’re in charge of overseeing. You couldn’t get any closer to the job than staying here.”

He hadn’t expected her to turn the tables on him and use his excuse not to stay at the ranch against him. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” he hedged.

She shook her head. “That’s ridiculous, Cole. This was your home long before it was mine.”

Cole didn’t want to go into the fact that he really hadn’t missed the home he grew up in. He had too many memories of the altercations he had been in with Craig to be overly sentimental about it.

“But it’s your home now,” he countered.

“And I’m inviting you to stay here,” she said, giving him a smile that caused every one of his male senses to go on high alert. “It will give us the chance to catch up.”

As he stared at her, Cole realized that he’d run out of plausible excuses. He couldn’t tell her the real reason behind his reluctance to stay at the ranch with her. She would probably think he was crazy, and to tell the truth, he really couldn’t say she would be all that far off the mark. It was absolutely insane to be so damned attracted to his late brother’s wife.

Resigned, he finally nodded. “All right.” He turned toward his truck. “I’ll bring my things with me tomorrow morning when we start the job.”

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” she asked, walking beside him.

“Thanks for the offer, but Stella has a town council meeting and I promised I’d meet Aaron for dinner at the TCC clubhouse to discuss business.” He felt guilty when he noticed the disappointment she couldn’t quite cover with her smile.

“Okay, then I’ll see you tomorrow morning,” she said, turning toward the house.

“I’ll be here for the next couple of weeks or so,” he felt compelled to tell her. Maybe knowing it wouldn’t be just a night or two would change her mind about having a houseguest for such an extended period. “Before I leave to go back to Dallas, you’ll probably get tired of looking at me over the dinner table.”

His words didn’t seem to discourage her. If anything, her smile brightened. “I’ll plan on making something special for dinner tomorrow evening to welcome you back home.”

Cole’s guilt at avoiding her the past six months increased tenfold as he watched her walk up the back porch steps to enter the house. He knew Paige had to be lonely. Her parents had both passed several years ago, and with Craig gone, charity work could only go so far to fill in the empty hours of a day. She was obviously anticipating having someone to talk to for a change.

Climbing into his truck, Cole started the engine and drove down the lane to the main road. The next few weeks were going to be a true test of his fortitude. From the time he’d seen her walking down the hall at Royal High School all those years ago, he had wanted nothing more than to make her his girl. But it was too late for that. She had married his brother and, even though he and his twin had never gotten along and hadn’t spoken in more than ten years, Cole wasn’t about to disrespect Craig’s memory or his marriage to Paige.

* * *

The following morning when Paige got out of bed, she found that she looked forward to starting her day for the first time in longer than she cared to remember. What she had told Cole yesterday afternoon had been all too true. Craig had been away on business several nights out of each month for their entire marriage, but she had always known he would be returning home. And even though they had stopped sharing the same bed a few years ago due to Craig’s restlessness while he slept, she had taken comfort in the fact that she wasn’t alone—that he was just down the hall in the master suite. But the finality of his death not only forced her to face the fact that she had been lonely for a very long time, but also made her realize that their marriage had never been what she had wanted it to be.

She sighed as she walked into the bathroom for a quick shower. Maybe their relationship would have been different if circumstances had been less stressful when they’d gotten married and she hadn’t lost the baby. But she’d had very little control of the situation. The minute Craig’s father had learned she was pregnant, he had insisted that Craig do the right thing and marry her immediately. Her parents had been older and very conservative and the news of their only child being pregnant out of wedlock had broken their hearts. That was why when they urged her to accept Craig’s awkwardly worded offer of marriage—she hadn’t wanted to disappoint them further and agreed.

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