For His Brother's Wife(4)

By: Kathie Denosky

Unfortunately, only a few short weeks after she became Craig’s wife, she’d lost the baby and had been unable to become pregnant since. She supposed she could have requested they end the marriage and go their separate ways. But she had made a lifetime commitment when she’d recited her wedding vows and she had been determined to be a good wife to Craig, even though they hadn’t been in love.

As she finished drying her hair, Paige decided not to dwell on the past. Craig was gone and, although they might not have had the closeness she had always wanted for their marriage, they’d had a comfortable life together and gotten along well. That was more than some couples could say.

She went downstairs to the kitchen and started the coffeemaker. As she looked out the window above the sink, she noticed that Cole’s truck was parked close to where the barn used to be. “When he says he gets up early, he means it,” she murmured aloud. The pearl-gray light of dawn hadn’t fully given way to the rising sun and Cole had already arrived and was ready to start work.

When the coffeemaker finished, she poured two cups of the steaming brew and left the house. She walked down to where Cole stood looking at a set of blueprints. “I thought you might need some of this,” she said, handing him one of the cups.

“Thanks.” He smiled as he took it from her. “Since most of the jobs I’ve been in charge of are on the opposite side of Royal, I couldn’t see any sense in driving all the way across town and back every morning for coffee at the diner.” Taking a sip, he nodded his approval. “This is the best coffee I’ve had in the past six months.”

“Doesn’t the Cozy Inn have coffeemakers in their rooms?” she asked.

He grimaced. “They do, but either I’ve been doing something wrong or they need to find a different brand of coffee packets.”

“Well, you’ll at least have decent coffee while you’re here at the ranch,” she said, taking a sip from her own mug.

“About that...” He hesitated. “I’m not sure it would be appropriate for me to stay here.”

She frowned. “Why on earth would you say that? There’s nothing improper about you staying here. This ranch has been in your family for five generations.”

He stared at her for several long moments before he finally nodded. “I guess you have a point.”

“I know I do,” she stated firmly. “Did you check out of the Cozy Inn?”

“I have to go back into Royal to meet with the crew working on rebuilding the hospital wing that collapsed during the storm.” He shrugged. “I’ll check out then and bring my things with me.”

The sound of a big truck had both of them turning to see a semi pulling a trailer full of lumber coming up the lane, followed closely by three R&N Builders pickup trucks. “It looks like it’s time for me to go back to the house and let you all get started on my barn.”

Cole handed her his empty cup. “Thanks for the coffee.”

His hand brushed hers, and a pleasant tingling sensation zinged up her arm. “I—I’ll have your room ready when you get back from town.”

As she walked back to the house, she felt Cole’s gaze following her as surely as if he’d touched her. Climbing the back porch steps, she entered the kitchen and took a deep breath. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so insistent that Cole stay with her on the Double R, she thought as she set his cup on the counter. When she had been in high school, she’d had a huge crush on him. Perhaps it hadn’t completely disappeared.

Thinking back, she could have sworn he had been just as smitten with her. But the one time he had asked her out, she’d had to explain that she wasn’t allowed to date until she was finished with school. He had assured her that he would ask her out when he came home from college for the summer after she’d graduated. But he had apparently forgotten his promise and stayed at the university to take a couple of summer classes. By the end of summer, Craig had charmed her into going out with him instead and the following spring they had gotten married. The only time she had seen Cole after that had been when his and Craig’s father had passed away.

She poured herself another cup of coffee and sank into one of the chairs at the table. The tension between the brothers at the funeral had been palpable and she never had learned why they were at such odds. She’d thought twins, even fraternal ones like Craig and Cole, were supposed to be close and share a bond that defied logic. But the Richardson brothers were as different as night and day. Whereas Craig had been outgoing and filled with restless energy, Cole was quieter and had a calming air about him. And the contrast didn’t end with their personalities.

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