Songbird(10)

By: Maya Banks


Her legs shook, and she had to steady herself by reaching down to grasp the arm of the couch. Who was playing? And moreover, her song?

The words to the song floated through her mind, and she was reminded of earlier, happier days. Carefree.

She opened the front door and stepped into the chilly morning air. The music stopped, and she found herself staring at Taggert, his hand frozen over the strings as he stared back at her.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Taggert said.

“I didn’t know you played.”

He glanced down at the guitar, and it was then she realized it was Sean’s.

“I don’t play well. Been fiddling with it for the last year.”

“It sounded beautiful,” she said in a low voice.

He looked back up at her, his gaze roving over her face until she could feel it caressing her cheek.

“Will you sing if I play?”

Her hand flew to her throat and she shook her head forcefully. “No. I c-can’t.”

“Why can’t you?” he persisted. “Emmy, it’s been a year. Yours is the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard in my life. You have a talent that astounds me, and you’re wasting it.”

She shook her head again, unable to voice her terror, to admit her guilt, that it was because of the voice he loved so much that Sean was dead. She hated it. She couldn’t even think about singing without her throat closing in on her.

She sank down onto one of the rockers. “Play for me,” she begged.

His fingers stuttered over the strings for a moment, clumsy at first, and then he strummed the first chords of Montana Memories, a song she’d written specifically for the Donovan brothers. Did he know? Had he guessed?

She wrapped herself in the beauty of the music, allowing it to give her comfort when nothing else had. When the last note died and the skies began to lighten in preparation for sunrise, she sought his gaze and asked the question burning a hole in her mind.

“Why?”

His brow furrowed. “Why what?”

“Why did you come after me? Why did you bring me back here? Why…do you and Greer act as though I mean something to you…more than being your brother’s widow?”

He sucked in his breath and carefully laid the guitar aside. His hands wiped along the tops of his legs and then gripped the area just above his knees. He looked…nervous. That puzzled her. Taggert was brash, temperamental, outspoken, opinionated, but she’d never seen him nervous.

“We made a mistake,” he said in a raw voice. “One that’s cost us a lot. One we’ll regret making the rest of our lives.”

“We?”

“Greer and I, but he’s not here, so I can only speak for me. I made a mistake, Emmy. I pushed you away. I was surprised, even a little appalled that you claimed to love all of us, that you wanted to be with us. I was angry—jealous—and so I sent you away.”

She stared at him in shock. Had he changed his mind? Now? After four years?

“Don’t you see, Emmy? If I hadn’t sent you away, you could have been with us. You would have never turned to Sean the way you did and the two of you wouldn’t have left here. You would have been happy and wouldn’t have spent so much time avoiding us. You and Sean would have stayed here and not in a hotel in town, and you damn sure wouldn’t have been walking back to the hotel from the café the night Sean was killed.”

Oh God, it hurt. She couldn’t breathe. She wanted to deny that he was at fault, but she couldn’t find the words. Her mind screamed no, no, no in a never-ending litany, but instead of saying it, she got up and walked back into the house, leaving Taggert calling after her.

She walked past the living room, through the kitchen to the back door with no destination in mind. She let herself out, shivering when her bare feet made contact with the cold ground.

She went in the opposite direction of the stables, through the gate and down the worn pathway to the pond. The water looked dark and forbidding in the faint light, and she hurried on until she topped the slight rise beyond.

She came to a stumbling halt by the large oak tree that sheltered the headstones beneath. Some of them old, dating back a hundred years, and one much newer.

It wasn’t necessary for the sun to shed its light over the engraving. She knew it by heart. Sean Donovan, beloved brother and husband.

Pain. Unrelenting pain. A tiny crack formed in the thick ice protecting her. Spreading rapidly, splintering in all directions. Unstoppable.

Panic swelled in her chest. A garbled noise caught in her throat. She couldn’t breathe and oh God, it hurt. She needed help. She was going to explode. Something was terribly wrong. She was losing control and felt her insides straining against unbearable pressure.

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