― 1 ―
“JANE WAGGONER, you’re a silly old fool.”
Jane, nearing sixty, although she looked a decade younger, peered in the mirror, running her fingers through her hair. Still beautiful, with softly retouched tresses and only the barest of crowfeet, she’d kept a trim figure with a regular workout.
Her makeup was the problem.
Her hair had fought her at every turn of the brush, but she’d finally beaten it. Her mascara? Dried out. That was the first tube. The second? Blue instead of black. Then, thank the stars, at the very back, hiding from her, she found the third, black, like she needed.
Her bloodshot eyes? Don’t even go there. Her eye drops had barely made any difference.
“Sheesh!” She grabbed her keys and her red clutch and yanked the door open. She’d never make her lunch date now. At least it was only Peggy Lynn Johnson.
She hit the remote to unlock the car door, only to fumble her keys to the ground. She was tired, too tired. That same nightmare. Bill, his accident.
All he’d done was head out for the weekly paper. She’d continued dinner preparations, totally unaware he was dying a block away. Even the sirens hadn’t triggered any real alarm.
How would she ever pick up those thirty-three shattered years?
“Well, girl, you can at least pick up these keys,” she muttered, leaning down to snatch them with her carefully manicured fingers. If she hadn’t figured this out in three years, she guessed she never would. It’d take a miracle from the past to make a difference now, or maybe God’s finger on the clock of life, moving the hands back for about thirty-six months.
Yeah, that would do it. Thirty-six months, and she’d talk Bill out of going after that paper.
Jane climbed into her car and sighed, her finger resting on the start button, not yet willing to push it. The truth swept over her with a rush of clarity. It wouldn’t have mattered. Talking Bill out of going out that morning wouldn’t have made a difference. The heart attack would have happened at home or in the car.
She whispered her pain into the silence, “God, don’t you care?”
She glanced up at the sky overhead, the endless blue laced with cotton candy clouds. It was beautiful. Despite her gritty eyes and troublesome mascara, there were good things about her life. The blue sky overhead, a good car to drive, and Peggy.
What would she have done without Peggy?
She pushed the button, smiling at the soft rumble of the engine as it came to life, then the small clicks and purrs as the car worked through its startup diagnostics. This was Bill’s last gift to her. He laughed when she said she wanted candy apple red, telling her it was the color of a ridiculous female. She explained to him it was the color of love.
It was six months after he died that she placed her order. She had the dealer wrap it in a giant white bow in the center of the lot. It was his last gift, and he didn’t even know.
“Thank you, Bill.” She backed out of the drive and turned toward the Community Center. She would enjoy this day. She would be pleasant, even charming, and Peggy would know that she was over Bill’s death, ready to move on with the rest of her life. She would. She would.
She didn’t even have to wipe tears away on the way to the Community Center. It was three days since she’d last cried. That was an improvement.
Maybe, just maybe she was putting Bill’s death behind her.
JANE TAPPED THE WHEEL, debating on whether to leave the car running or kill the engine. She could afford the gas, but Peggy was normally as punctual as a pincushion, and Jane was hungry.
“Your car may be in the shop, Peggy Lynn,” she growled, “and I don’t mind picking you up, but you do own a cell phone. It wouldn’t hurt you to text me, so I know what’s going on.”
She opened the door as she jabbed the ignition button—harder than she should—to stop the engine. The words of her favorite song died away, but Jane murmured the lyrics in her own variation. “Stop in the name of love, don’t you know I’m waiting on you.” Then she punched the words, “Peggy Lynn!”
She laughed at how clever she sounded, and she closed the door and pushed the button to lock the car. She looked around before moving toward the building. The Center was pretty. Even with all her moping that morning, she had to admit that. Flowerbeds lined the walks, and the giant oaks created ever-changing patterns of dappled light. Well, it ought to look pretty, she decided. That’s why I pay such high taxes on my house, so the city can afford the water bill when the sprinklers turn on.
She took a deep breath and decided it would be cooler under the shade, not standing in the lot in full sun.
No more had she made it to the front of the car when she saw her friend coming out of the door, trailing a small group of her adult students. It was a pottery class, continuing education, definitely not for college age kids. It was mostly seniors that attended, that and the occasional young mother who needed a break from the joys of motherhood. Jane raised her hand to wave only to see her friend in a deep discussion with one of her students. She let her hand drop to shade her eyes before turning to the car. That was when she heard Peggy call to her.
“Jane, can you believe it, after all this time?” The words quivered with excitement.
“Believe what?” She turned, putting a smile on her face.
“Who would have ever thought he would have turned up here?”
“Who—” Jane started, but a very familiar voice interrupted her question.
“Me. They say a bad penny always turns up now and again. Well, here I am.”
The interruption was laced with amusement, but it was the voice, deep and penetrating, that stopped Jane cold. She felt the temperature jumped ten degrees, and she knew it had nothing to do with standing in the sun. That voice was a tidal wave from the past, an avalanche of explosive memories, and a dark tide threatening to overwhelm her.
The man at Peggy’s side was as tall as she remembered, but his hair was now woven with silver. Those eyes, though. There was no mistaking those caramel eyes. Still, the voice had been enough. Even in the darkest night, over the most distant connection, she would know that voice. It belonged to the only man she had ever loved. Yet, it couldn’t be him.
Her heart told her differently, though. It beat faster, just like all those years ago, threatening her with discovery, telling the world around her that Bill hadn’t been the only man in her life. There had been someone else, and if she’d had the chance, if things had played out differently, then she and Bill might never have been . . .
She caught herself. No longer. At one time he was the only man she’d ever loved. Then, Bill had filled the void left by Tarzan, and her life had eventually come back together. Slowly, but eventually.
What was he doing here?
TARZAN, KNOWN WITHIN his family circles as Tres Juan, was actually Juan Cordello Rivera III. Growing up, all his friends had been mesmerized by Saturday afternoon television. Their favorite show had been Tarzan. Say Tres Juan quickly, and the outcome was inevitable. Tres Juan became Tarzan, and, naturally, being Jane, she was paired with him. Tarzan and Jane, the lords of the jungle.
At first it had put her off, but Cord, as he liked to be called, was very TDH. That was Tall, Dark, and Handsome. Half Hispanic and half Irish, he was dark-haired with lightly bronzed skin, and every teenage girl swooned when he walked by. Eventually, Jane had caught the bug, and they became a couple.
Now, after nearly four decades, they were back together once again.
“JANE, ARE YOU AWAKE?” Peggy had made it to the car by then, and she reached and rapped Jane on the forehead with her knuckles.
“Jane?” This time it was Cord who quizzed her, in that resonant voice, rattling Jane’s bones . . . and her heart and lungs and kidneys, too, she supposed. She pulled herself together.
“I’m sorry, Peggy. Of course, I recognize him.” She held her hand out. “Welcome, Cord Rivera.” She heard her voice. Her words were little more than terse, and she refused to look him in the eyes. Why, oh, why was Cord here now?
“Don’t you mean Tarzan?” Peggy laughed, her hair bouncing around her face.
Jane was furious. She wanted to grab Peggy’s mahogany mane and yank those curls to get her attention. Cord was the last man her friend should be flirting with after how he’d treated Jane all those years ago.
“Don’t be a flirt,” Jane hissed, batting at Peggy’s arm. “I do not want to be around this man.” Her words went unheard, as Peggy laughed again, her chortling covering her friend’s hissed command.
“Nice to see you, too, Jane.” Cord gave her a slow and easy smile.
Good Lord, I hope he didn’t hear that. Jane shuddered at the idea of having Cord around again, but she didn’t feel the compulsion to be rude, either. Not with her heart going ninety miles an hour just at the sound of his voice. Good heavens! How could she be attracted to a man she hated so much?
It was only then that he took her hand. She’d forgotten she’d offered it. Forty years since they’d last touched, skin to skin, and the electric shock jolted her as hard now as it had then. She was certain he could see the fire she felt in her face. This was Texas, and spring in Texas could be very warm, but it was outright hot. And it wasn’t the weather, she was sure.
Well, she wasn’t going to let him win at this game. He had abandoned her, not the other way around. It wasn’t her fault the world had fallen apart all those years ago, and besides, this was her town. Not his. His family were the rich ones all those years ago, and hers had barely grubbed by, but no longer. She and Bill had done well. They were respected in the community. She could beat Cord at his own game.
“It’s good to see you, too, Cord Rivera.” Jane gave him her brightest smile. She wouldn’t let him see her emotions. They would remain masked. Too many years and memories had gone by to let a meeting like this reveal anything. “Good-bye, Cord Rivera. I expect you have things to do, and maybe we’ll meet up again. However, Peggy and I have plans, and we have to run.”
She shook her hand free, only then realizing she was shaking inside. She turned without looking him in the face and made it to the car in record time.
“Oh, look at you!” Peggy dropped into the car and put her hand on Jane’s arm. “I think I saw sparks of romance out there.”
“You did not.” Jane barked the words, and she hit the start button and flipped the temperature to its lowest setting, closing her eyes as the fans came on high. “Don’t even suggest that, Peggy Lynn.”
“I invited Tarzan to lunch. Oh, Cord, I forgot. I invited Cord to lunch.”
Jane looked to see a grin on her face. “Sure, said the Wicked Witch of the West.” She pulled the lever into reverse, only to see a black Escalade in her rear-view camera. “We’re blocked in. Just hang on.”
She looked to see Cord standing beside her car. With a groan, she toggled the switch and let the window slide into the door. “Yes?”
“If you ladies don’t mind, I’ll chauffer you in my vehicle. I’m not sure where we’re going.”
“Do something, Peggy,” Jane hissed, glaring at her friend.
“Sure!” Peggy leaned over the console and waved. “Isn’t that so sweet of him, Jane? This will be the best lunch, ever.”
Jane hit the switch and let the window close off her tormentor. Then she decided she’d just trapped herself with another one. Cord? Peggy? She guessed it didn’t matter much any longer. The day was beyond redemption, so she might as well make the best of it.
“Okay, evil woman. You get your way. We’ll have lunch with that man, but there’ll be paybacks later. You can count on it.” She reached for the door handle and flipped the lever.
Before she could push the door open, Peggy grabbed her arm and quipped, “Sure. Paybacks. Anytime.” Then she pushed the button on the dash and opened her own door. She grinned. “Just don’t forget the keys, honey.”
And she was gone.
BY THE TIME JANE reached Cord’s truck, Peggy had already claimed shotgun, leaving Jane to climb in on the driver’s side, taking a seat next to him.
“Thanks again, Peggy Lynn,” she fired off as she pushed up the armrest to make room. She brushed her friend’s offer of gum away, only to feel Cord leaning over her. Frowning, she already had a sharp retort when she saw the seatbelt in his hand.
“Just to be safe. Right, ladies?” He leaned into her as he snapped the latch.
“Hey, thanks for the reminder.” Peggy held hers out, unlatched, and began searching for the connecting end. “Safe is as safe does!” She was smiling like the Cheshire cat, though, as if she’d planned it all.
Jane knew better. She was never safe around Cord Rivera. Not forty years ago, not now, and not in a hundred years. And especially not in this truck with his leg pressed against hers and nowhere else to go.
Oh, she hated this.
“Where to?” Cord’s rich, honey voice broke the silence.
“How about Grubstake Barbeque?” Peggy was so cheerful and buoyant. “It’s out off the highway.”
“Sure. I know that place. The one that was under construction two years ago, right? I saw it yesterday coming in.”
And you don’t know where we’re going? I bet. Jane fumed. Yet, she had to admit one thing. Cord was at least being sociable. He’d always been the strong, silent type. Incommunicado, her father had once suggested. Cord had told her that he had trouble sharing his feelings. She wondered what made her think of that. What would he say if he decided to actually talk to her? I screwed up? I abandoned you? I left you in the lurch, and I’m a dog for doing it?
Well, at least I can make you wish you’d treated me better, Cord Rivera. Look at my hair. It’s as thick and beautiful as it was in high school. Even if it needed a little color every month to stay that way, something she rarely admitted even to herself. And her dress, fitted, deep lapis cotton. Peggy had adored it at the shop, telling her it matched her vivid sapphire eyes. She was glad she’d dressed up a bit more than she usually did for a lunch date. She hadn’t let herself go, and this man would see what he’d missed all these years.
Let him suffer.
Suffer? She was the one suffering, sitting next to him. She felt herself grow hot again. Five weeks after graduation, and he had dumped her, just disappearing. Then he’d married someone else only weeks later. How could he have done that to her? It was a betrayal that could never be forgiven.
That’s why she’d stayed away from this town so long. Cord Rivera and his betrayal had hurt too much anytime she returned to see her parents. She’d only given in when Bill retired. Her parents were gone by then, and the oil had come in on the family farm. Then there was Peggy, her dear friend Peggy, Wicked Witch of the West.
And now here she was sitting next to Cord.
Time will not heal this wound, Cord Rivera. I know what you’re up to, and you, too, Peggy Lynn. Tarzan and Jane are long gone, and I’m not climbing that tree again. You can count on it!
Out of the corner of her eye, she could just see Cord’s face. He had a grin on his lips, and that made her fume even more.
I hate you, Cord Rivera. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.
Her heart told the story differently, as did her leg pressed against his. And she couldn’t even reach to wipe the impending tears away, because then he would know. He mustn’t know what he was doing to her.
He must never, never know.
― 2 ―
CORD TOOK IN THE broad expanses of the nearly new restaurant. The paint still smelled new. The dining area was surrounded with green-tinted glass, and just at the edge of his hearing, the clatter of glass dinnerware sparkled in the background.
The aroma of barbeque was like a velvet glove, drawing him in.
Even so, he could barely focus on the restaurant, the views from its windows, or the tantalizing odor of slow-stewed, spicy meat. It was Jane that had him preoccupied, well, perhaps not Jane, but what he needed to say to Jane, and that meant Jane was the center of his preoccupation.
Time. It was said that it healed all wounds. Not his wounds. Not the scars that crisscrossed his heart, leaving him sweating in bed at night, wishing he could go back forty years and rewrite what could never be rewritten.
He had seen Jane’s eyes, the way she refused to look at him. Her words, spoken to Peggy, hadn’t been so muted he couldn’t hear. Even after all these years, he felt the shame of what had happened brush his ears with fire.
He had taken the only alternative open to him, and it hadn’t been Jane.
Dear God, that week had ripped his heart from him. He would have cast his family aside, thrown his own reputation to the winds, just to have Jane at his side for the rest of his life.
However, it was Jane’s reputation, too. Him? He’d take the heartache just to be near her. For Jane? For Jane, he’d give up anything, even his happiness.
That was exactly what he’d done: broken up with her, disappeared, and married a woman he hadn’t loved.
All for Jane.
Now was his chance to undo all that, and Jane didn’t want him here.
“Cord?” It was Peggy. “Everything okay?” She placed her hand on his arm.
“You know me.” He laughed. “I’m always okay. Why do you ask? Oh, and I see the greeter is on his way. Are you ready to be seated? Jane?”
“No, you don’t.” Peggy pushed Jane the way of the greeter. “You go on, honey. Tarzan and I will be right there.”
“Peg—” Jane began.
“No questions, sweetie. I said we’ll be right there.” She pushed on Jane’s shoulder with a light laugh. “Go, now. Don’t keep the nice boy waiting.”
“Said the Wicked Witch.” Jane’s eyes flashed, but she turned and walked away, her hips swaying in an in-your-face manner.
“Whew, but she’s a bobcat, just like always.” Cord chuckled, but he felt it fade away. “She’s not happy to see me. Are you sure I should have come?”
“Now, Cord Rivera, since when do you let others’ opinions of you dictate what you do? You tell me that. You’re going in there and have lunch with that woman, because you two need each other. You waffle now, and I’ll pinch your ears so hard you’ll beg for mercy.” Her face told the truth of what she said with narrowed eyes and a tight mouth. “I’m not funning about this, either.”
“Funning?” He could finally grin, and it was real.
“Oh, you!” She slapped him on the shoulder. “Git, you hound dog!” She pointed the way Jane and the greeter had gone.
“Okay, trail boss. Your arm, though. I need fortification.” He held his out, waiting until she slipped hers inside before moving forward.
“So, what will Jane think?”
“You and me as a couple.”
Cord laughed out loud. “She’ll ring the wedding bells, glad to get rid of me for good.”
“No, not Jane. We need Tarzan and Jane back together again, just like old times.”
“Are you blind, woman?”
“Blind? I see what I see, Cord, and I see you two back together.”
“And I see a woman who couldn’t bear to look at me. That’s what a seeing person sees.”
“Well, it’s just lunch, and we can do this, can’t we? Just talk to her. She needs to know where you’ve been all these years. You can do it.” She patted his arm, before releasing him to walk at her side.
“So, there’s the happy couple!” Jane was in a booth, and she patted the seat next to her. “Peggy, I saved you a seat, unless you want to sit next to your boyfriend.” She didn’t sound nice at all.
“Hm.” Peggy paused with her hand on her chin, as if in doubt about whether to take up Jane’s offer. “I don’t think so, Jane. Those long legs of Cord’s, he really needs the side with the most room, and that’s next to you. So sorry.” With a grin, she plopped in the seat across from Jane, sliding over, and placing her black shoulder strap bag so that the rest of the seat was taken.
“So, I’m—” Cord stood at the end, letting his voice drop off. His gut was sour. Age was what he blamed it on, not taking his acid reducer that morning, and he pushed aside his disappointment that Jane was so antagonistic. This was to have been a reunion, not an emotional wrestling match.
“There.” Peggy pointed without hesitation. “Jane saved that spot for you.”
“Well, you’re here, just like Peggy wanted.” Jane glared at her before turning to Cord. “So, if we must visit, you might as well tell me what’s been going on for forty years. Wouldn’t that be nice, Peggy, to know what’s kept Cord Rivera away for forty years? Make it good, Cord, because I’m all ears.”
“Hum-ho, you’re as feisty as ever, I see. And good morning to you, too, Jane.” He chuckled, willing himself to get over his trepidations. For forty years he’d wanted to sit next to this woman, to have the chance to talk to her again. Well, it was here, and it wasn’t coming back to him if he didn’t jump on the bronc and ride it till the bell. “Well, I got married—”
“He got married! How about that, Peggy? Cord Rivera got married during his forty-year hiatus. What do you think of that?” Jane pressed her mouth tight, her irritation flashing from her eyes. “Was that it? Forty years and only a marriage to show for it? I thought you’d do something with your life. Marriage! Pshaw! That’s nothing. I’ve even done that.”
“Jane, honey.” Peggy grabbed her hand. It had been waving in the air, and she pulled it down to the tabletop. “Where are your Sunday manners? Let him say just two words. After all, I’m here, too, and he was my friend in high school, also. I wasn’t exactly Cheetah. Well, maybe I was.” She grinned. “But I was his friend, too. Now be quiet and listen.”
“You’re right. I’ll try.” Jane reached to wipe under one eye. “That was very rude of me. I apologize. I thought I had all this behind me.”
It was their waiter that saved the moment. Before Jane could say anything more, he stepped up and passed out menus, one to Peggy and two to Cord. “Good morning. My name is Holden, and I’ll be taking your order, today. Would you like to choose from our new weekday brunch menu? It’s been such a success on the weekends, we’re offering it daily.”
“Brunch? Absolutely.” Peggy rubbed her hands together in anticipation.
“The brunch menu is on the back. Coffee for everyone?”
“For everyone.” Jane’s voice still had an edge, and Peggy frowned at her.
“Decaf for me,” Cord murmured, fighting a smile.
“Yes. With milk.” He’d always consumed it black in high school, but times had changed.
“Mine, too!” Peggy closed her menu. “Jane wants hers black, like her mood. Waffles, anyone?”
“Let me give you a bit. I’ll get your coffee while you decide.” Holden smiled and made as if to walk away. “Five minutes?”
“Not necessary. We’re ready,” Cord announced. “I’ll have the brisket, and wings and waffles for everyone. Mine with blueberries, the sweet lady at my side wants bananas on hers, and you, Peggy, strawberries, still?”“Strawberries? Absolutely!”
“Extra sugar. We need to sweeten someone up.” That was Peggy, and she nodded knowingly toward Jane.
“No sugar. Just the coffee, barbeque, and waffles.” Cord glanced at Jane. Fire and ice, just like always. Well, she had been more fire at the end, and he couldn’t believe he’d lived without her for four decades. Now, here she was again, just like all those years ago, if only he could fix things.
“So, your family. Tell me everything. I have to know.” Peggy had her elbows on the table, staring at Cord, as if mesmerized by his sudden waltz back onto the local scene. She winked. “Speak up, Tarzan.”
“Drop the Tarzan, Peggy. Please.”
“But why? That’s who you are. To the two of us, anyway. Right, friend Jane? Me Cheetah, you Jane, and you Tarzan. Now, swing for us, Tarzan. Tell all.” Her eyes twinkled.
“I married, like I said.” At Jane’s narrowed eyes, he held up a hand for her to be patient. “But I’m not married now.”
“You dumped her, too?” Jane’s comment was muttered, but it was very clear.
“No, not dumped, Jane. I’m a widower.”
“Oh, Cord, you poor thing. How sad. Jane knows just how you feel, don’t you, Jane. Jane’s husband died, and she’s been so down, for three years. Haven’t you, Jane?”
“You can shut up, now, Peggy.”
Cord was beginning to be amused. He laughed. “Let me handle this, Peg, please.”
“Peg?” Jane spit the question.
“She’s my friend, too, if you remember. You weren’t the only friend I had in high school.”
“Obviously. After all, you did get married. Go on.”
“Coffee’s here! Everyone smile!” Peggy moved the placards on the table aside to make room.
“Here you go. Black, decaf with milk, and decaf with milk. I’ll have your barbeque and waffles out in a jiffy.”
“You’re so sweet, Holden. Don’t forget the sugar. Despite what my friend here says, we do need it. Don’t we, Jane, sweetheart? Oh, did I say sweetheart? Holden, did you know these two were sweethearts forty years ago? High school sweethearts. Think of that. How old are you, dear?”
“Oh, that’s so sweet! Do you have a squeeze, Holden?”
“A squeeze, ma’am?”
“A girlfriend,” Cord growled, glaring at Peggy.
The boy beamed. “Sure. Autumn Dumas. She’s on the track team.”
“Well, don’t ever dump her, Holden. That just causes hot water for everyone.” Peggy nodded sagely.
“No, ma’am, I won’t. Oh, your food’s here. Let me get you set up.”
Once he was gone, Peggy laughed. “I like that boy. He reminds me of you back in the day, Cord. Polite, mannered, and one to stick by his girl. Now for the rest of the story. I’m all ears.”
And all mouth, Cord thought, but he let that go. At least he could keep his mouth stuffed with food for a bit. He needed a break. The barbeque and waffles had arrived just in time.
“ONE DAUGHTER.” CORD pushed his empty plate away. “Veronica. She’s married, in Lubbock, with two children. Closer would be nice, but what can I do? They had to go where the jobs were, and they weren’t here.”
“One daughter. You sure about that?”
Jane had spoken into her cup of coffee, and Cord looked at her, with one eyebrow raised. He chuckled and let it go as nothing more than Jane’s irritation with him, questioning everything he said.
“She and Don met at Tech, married the year after graduate school.”
“Your wife, though. What happened with her?” Peggy reached her hand to his, although she didn’t quite touch him.
“Lung. Cigarettes. She couldn’t let them go, even at the end. But that was five years ago.”
“You haven’t been around here, though.” Jane plunged in with her comment, her voice surprisingly civil. “Bill and I, that’s my husband, moved back five years ago, and I haven’t seen you around.”
“We were in Sweetwater for twenty-five years. We were on the ranch helping Mom and Dad, but after they were gone, the place held too many memories.” Me. You. Why I left. Driving by your parent’s place, knowing I’d never see you again. He left those unsaid, though. That was old water, tossed out long ago.
“So, Sweetwater.” Jane looked as if she was interested. She smiled. “Just for interest’s sake, you understand. I’ve been to Sweetwater a few times with my church group, and I had no idea you lived there.”
“Well, I don’t anymore. Sold the place about six months ago. Now I’m back at the ranch. Still working for Pipeline Fitters, Inc, just like in the old days. Some things never change.”
“You never sold the ranch? Good for you.” Jane sounded almost enthusiastic. “My family never did, either.”
“You next, Jane.” Peggy reached across the table and pushed on her friend’s arm. “Cord’s bled his past. Now’s your turn.”
“Now, I never said—”
“Please, Jane Lane. Forty years I don’t see you, and I deserve just the bare bones.”
“Forty years in the next town.”
“Not anymore. Just talk to me. Please?”
“I liked you in high school, Cord Rivera. I really did. But this isn’t high school, anymore. Forty years under any bridge changes people. I’m not the silly girl I used to be. I’m not naïve any longer. Don’t you think I am.”
“Please?” For me? For old times’ sake? If he could only break the ice just for this one meal, then he would at least have something to take with him, a memory he could cherish, one that would hopefully replace the hurt he’d heard in her voice all those years ago. What a fool he’d been to not even go to see her. Who breaks up with the best girl in the world over the phone? Only a stupid, idiotic fool!
“Oh, sheesh!” Jane made a sour face, then let it smooth. “Sure. Masters in interior design at UNT. Bill, my husband, was an industrial engineer. One stepson, Billy, still married, and two grandchildren, all living in Plano. Ages? I haven’t kept track, but all teens, and you know teens. Enough?”
“That’s so dry, I could mop the floor with it. You can do better, Jane.” Peggy winked. “Did you notice he called you Lane?” She snickered.
“Yes, I noticed,” Jane retorted, “and he’s heard enough.”
“No, I haven’t. Billy, what does he do for a living?” Just the sound of Jane’s voice was enough for the moment. Anything to keep her talking.
“If I must. Architect. I bet you want to know where Bill and I lived before moving back to the ranch.”
“Oh? You were somewhere else?” I kept away for no reason. How sad.
“Garland. That’s Dallas, if you haven’t heard of it.”
“I know Garland.” He looked away and smiled.
“Everyone’s heard of Garland. Be real, Jane. Cord’s not stupid.”
I was forty years ago, he thought. Anyone would be stupid to let Jane Lane get away for forty years.
“Remember all those parties at the ranch? Three hundred years in one family, and the best ones were when you were there.”
Jane laughed, her expression nicer, almost pleasant. “Sunday lunches. Your family really seemed to like me. They invited me every week.”
“They did like you. Very much.”
“Just not you, not at the end?”
“Ouch. I deserve that, I guess.”
“Enough of that. How long are you staying, Cord?” Peggy’s voice was bright and engaging.
“It all depends.”
“On all your new oil wells?”
“Oil wells?” Jane looked hard at him. “Since when are you drilling oil wells on your land?”
“Well, I couldn’t let your family take all the black gold.”
“We needed the money, Cord. Your family has cash to spare. You’ll destroy the ranch.”
Was there concern there? Her tone gave him hope. However, before he could engage her on the topic, they were interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Well, hello, Peggy and Jane. How’s lunch?”
Jane nodded and smiled.
Peggy answered, “We’re fine, Calvin. And do you remember Tar . . . I mean, Cord Rivera?”
Calvin Harris smiled and extended his hand. “Why, of course, I do. I see your name on paperwork at the bank all the time, and I’ve even faxed a few documents to you lately. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever get reacquainted with you. I’m glad you finally decided to do some business in person. As your banker, I’m happy to assist you on any transactions that need to be made. We like keeping everything local and family oriented at the bank here. The Rivera name is a highly respected one. We’ve always appreciated your family’s business.”
Cord stumbled to his feet, annoyed at the interruption. This was to have been all about reconnecting with Jane. However, he smiled as he shook Calvin’s hand and said, “That’s what I’m here to do all right, take care of business in person.”
His eyes were on Jane, though. She was the business he hoped to take care of in person. She might think everything between them ended forty years ago, but he hoped not. If only she would reopen negotiations, they might be able to do business once again.
She had at least broken down and spoken to him. That was progress, of a sort. And for that, he let himself hope.