Read After Tex Online

Authors: Sherryl Woods

After Tex (9 page)

“All that stuff that Jake and I laid on you just now was pretty heavy,” she said casually. “It would be
understandable if your feelings were hurt, or you were worried, or even scared.”

Tess's eyes blazed. “I ain't scared of nothing.”

“I'm not scared of anything,” Megan corrected.

“Who asked you?”

Megan ducked her head as a smile came and went. “Never mind. How do you feel about seeing your mom?”

There was the faintest hint of worry in Tess's eyes. “Do I have to?”

“No. That's the point. You don't have to, but I thought a part of you might want to.” When Sarah had disappeared, Megan would have done anything to see her again. Was she projecting her own feelings onto Tess? More than likely.

“She dumped me. Why would I want to see her?”

“My mom dumped me, too,” Megan said quietly. “I never stopped wishing she'd come back, though.”

Tess's mouth gaped. “Your mom left you?”

“Pretty much the same as you,” she explained, a lump forming in her throat even after all these years. “She brought me by to visit with Tex, then disappeared during the night. I've never seen her again. I only heard from her once, a long time ago. I don't even know if she's dead or alive.”

Tess crept a little closer and scanned her face. “And you still care about her, after what she did?”

Megan nodded. “I know it doesn't make much sense. I should probably hate her, right? And in my head, I do. But right in here—” she tapped her chest “—I still love her.”

A huge tear spilled over and streaked down Tess's cheek. “Me, too.”

Megan opened her arms. “Come here, baby.”

For once Tess didn't have a smart retort, a protest about the term of endearment. She raced into Megan's embrace and clung to her tightly. Sobs shook her shoulders and dampened Megan's blouse. They remained that way, rocking together on the edge of the bed, until a soft tap on the door had Tess jerking away.

“You guys okay in there?” Jake called out.

“Fine,” Megan said. “We'll be down in a few minutes.”

“I talked Mrs. Gomez into making pizza. Mind if I hang around?”

“Could we stop you?” Tess demanded. Her voice, hoarse from crying, had lost some of its belligerence.

“Probably not,” Jake agreed.

Megan could hear the amusement in his tone—and the relief.

“See you downstairs. And hurry up. I'm starved.”

Tess regarded Megan shyly. “Jake's not so bad.”

“No,” she agreed. “He's not so bad.”

“But he's always starving.”

Megan grinned. “He was that way as a kid, too. He would eat anything that wasn't hidden. Tex used to swear our grocery bill went up a hundred bucks a week when Jake was working here.”

“Know what?” Tess said.


“Tex said that about me, too,” she confided, then grinned impishly. “But I don't think he really minded.”

Megan reached out tentatively and brushed a damp
lock of hair from Tess's cheek. “No, I imagine he didn't mind at all.”


Exhausted by the emotional turmoil, Megan crawled into bed at ten and sank into a sound sleep. Todd woke her from it practically in the middle of the night. Oblivious to her groggy state, he launched straight into a barrage of questions that had her head reeling.

“Hey, wait!” she protested, finally cutting in. “Give me a chance to wake up.”

“It's after nine,” he responded.

“Not here.”

“Oh,” he murmured, obviously chastened. “Sorry. You've been checking in so early most days that I forgot.”

“Yes, well, post a big sign about the time difference on your desk. Now slow down and start over. What has you in such a tizzy?”

“The syndicator's been calling. Dean Whicker's nervous because you're not in production and there are only a few backup tapes left.”

“I'll call Dean.”

“And say what?”

“That they shouldn't worry.”

“Why shouldn't they?” Todd demanded. “I'm worried.”

Megan ignored that. “What else?”

“The real estate agent says she's not going to look at office space anymore until you give her a firm appointment.”

“Fine. What else?”

“Caitlyn's still ape-shit over redoing that layout.”

“She'll get over it. Anything else?”

“For nine in the morning, that's enough, don't you think? Megan, when are you coming back?”

“I can't answer that.”

“Those tapes will buy you till the end of next week. No longer.”

She sighed heavily. “I know. I swear I'll give this some thought today and try to finalize some plans. I'll call the syndication company, the real estate agent and Caitlyn right after I've had my first cup of coffee, okay?”

“Thank you.”

“Hold down the fort, Todd. This won't last forever.”

“It already feels like longer.”

“Just imagine what it feels like on my end,” she said quietly, and hung up before he could respond. Predictably, the phone rang again at once. Todd with an apology, no doubt. She ignored it. But when the ringing stopped, then began again, she sighed and reached for the phone. “It's okay, Todd. I know you're sorry.”

“Who the hell is Todd?” Jake demanded.

“Ah, and a pleasant good morning to you, too.”

“Sorry. Who's Todd?”

“My executive assistant, who is currently charged with juggling all the balls that I ought to be handling. He's having a tough day.”

“Taking it out on the boss?”

“Something like that. You're up early.”

“I've been thinking about your problem.”

“Which problem is that?”

“Staying here and keeping your career alive.”


“I may have a solution. Can you be ready to go in an hour?”

“Go where?”

“Can't you trust me, just this once?”

“Give me an hour and a half and I'll try.”

“You've got it. See you, darlin'.”

Megan rolled over and let the sound of Jake's voice linger in her head. There'd been a time when just a whisper would have made her pulse hum. It was beginning to have that effect again and that was worrisome. Jake was a complication she didn't need. Todd had just ticked off a whole long list of things that ought to be preoccupying her. Instead, she was propped up against her pillows daydreaming about a man who'd been out of her life—out of her heart—for years.

“Dangerous, Megan,” she murmured. “Definitely dangerous.”

That warning didn't stop her from taking extra care with her clothes and makeup before she rushed through her calls back east. Dean Whicker at Whicker Television professed understanding of her dilemma, but she could hear the concern in his voice. Jasmine was also sympathetic, but stuck to her refusal to look for another piece of property for their offices without Megan's firm commitment to check it out in person. Caitlyn expressed chagrin that Todd had passed along her continued complaints about the layouts.

“You know me, I was just grumbling. I know who the boss is. You're a pushy, know-it-all broad, but I do respect your instincts for this sort of thing. Otherwise, I'd have bailed a long time ago.”

“Thank you, I think,” Megan said, sure there was a compliment in there somewhere. She resorted to some flattery of her own. “I wouldn't demand so much from you if I didn't know you could do it.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I'll have the new pages faxed to you by the end of the day.”

“Thank you, Caitlyn.”

“You're going to love them.”

“I'm sure I will.”

Caitlyn laughed. “You always do when you get your way.”

Three crises and it wasn't even nine o'clock in Wyoming. What was happening to her? Megan wondered. She was never up to speed at this hour. It was a point of honor with her, her own little rebellion against years of predawn rising. Less than a week on the ranch and she was drifting back into old habits even without Tex nagging at her.

She sighed and closed her eyes, trying to relax away the headache that was on the verge of becoming full-scale pounding. She was startled when strong hands settled on her shoulders and began massaging. Jake's hands, she thought, allowing herself to sink into the sensation.

“When did you get here?” she murmured.

“A couple of minutes ago. You look wiped out. Tough morning?”

“Nothing unusual,” she assured him. “It just started earlier.”

His fingers worked on a knot in her shoulder until she sighed with pleasure. She had to try very hard to keep her imagination from taking a wicked turn about the magic those hands of his could perform.

“Anytime you get tired of law, you could hire out as a masseuse,” she murmured with lazy contentment. “People in New York would pay a fortune for your services.”

“Sorry. I only take on very special clients.” He gave her shoulders one last squeeze. “Okay, that's it. Let's get a move on. The day's a'wasting. I want to check into that restraining order while we're out.”

She groaned. “Good God, why am I surrounded by people who are perky in the morning and can't wait to get started with the day?”

“Just lucky, I guess. Come on. We'll do breakfast first. Another jolt of coffee and some blueberry pancakes will improve your mood.”

Megan's spirits brightened at the suggestion. “The Starlight Diner's still here?”

“Of course. It's an institution. I think the whole town would collapse if Henrietta decided to retire. That's where everybody goes for mental and physical sustenance.”

“Gossip, you mean.”

Jake grinned. “Gossip and those blueberry pancakes. I'm relieved to see you haven't gone too highfalutin' to love them. I was afraid you'd prefer kiwi and homemade granola, both of which are in short supply in Whispering Wind.”

“There are some basics that I would never presume to mess with,” she said, sweeping past him to tell Mrs. Gomez she was leaving.

“Where are you going?” Tess demanded, looking up from her own breakfast. After the prior night's turmoil, she had obviously gotten a late start.

“Into town,” Megan told her.

“Can I come?”

Megan almost grabbed at the chance to have a chaperone, then chided herself for cowardice. Besides, Tess didn't need to know all the details about the restraining order. “No. Not this time. Jake and I have some business to take care of.”

“Monkey business, I'll bet,” Tess retorted.

Mrs. Gomez chided. “That is enough. We have plenty to do here today. You are going to help me with the canning before all the green beans from the garden spoil.”

“Oh, yippee!” Tess grumbled sarcastically. Suddenly her expression turned wary. “You aren't thinking my mom's going to be in town today, are you? Is that why you don't want me around?”

“No,” Megan reassured her at once. “Absolutely not. It's just because we're going to take care of some business. That's it. You'll have more fun here with Mrs. Gomez.”

“Have you ever actually canned anything?” Tess asked.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” Megan replied, amused to see Tess gape. “Every year, right up until the day Mrs. Gomez pleaded with me to stay out of her kitchen.”

“Why'd she ask you to stay out?” Tess demanded, clearly brimming with curiosity.

The housekeeper grinned. “There was a little accident. It was nothing.”

“That wasn't what you said when the jars started exploding,” Megan reminded her.

Tess giggled. “You blew up the vegetables?”

“I just made a bit of a miscalculation,” Megan insisted. “It could have happened to anyone.”

“Oh, man, if your readers knew about that, your magazine would probably fold, right?”

“Don't go getting any bright ideas, kiddo. I told all in a column I wrote once.”

Tess sighed, looking disappointed. “I guess blackmail's out, then.”


“Too bad. I've had my eye on a pair of really neat boots for a long time. Tex said I couldn't have 'em till I learned to ride.” Her expression clouded over. “I guess I'll never get 'em now.”

Megan stared at her. “Why would you say that?”

“Who's gonna teach me?”

“I will,” Megan promised recklessly, not pausing to consider just how long it had been since she'd been on a horse. “And you will have those boots, Tess. Count on it.”

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