Read Bound to You Online

Authors: Vanessa Holland

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction

Bound to You (10 page)

Yes, it does.” Almost everything in her life sucked lately. She knew then she had to let go of any notion of the two of them being together again. She couldn’t keep going back and forth, hoping, losing hope, hoping again. A life with Sam just wasn’t meant to be. Neither was a life with Brandon Stewart. But that was a different matter.

different,” he said without lifting his head. He continued to stare at the ceiling. “And that kid blows me away. I want to know him. But it scares the hell out of me and I don’t know why. I don’t know what to do about it.”

She dropped her forehead to her hand. There it was again. The hope, in an instant. And in the next instant, gone.

Sam sat up again, resting his elbows on his knees. “What’s the bottom line? If I knew that….”

This time she sat back and crossed her arm. “The bottom line? Ethan is real. He’s a handful and he’s every single day, whether you feel like it or not. He’s not here for your amusement, or your pride. His life comes first.”

Sam squinted at her as if he’d gleaned something from her words other than what she’d intended. “All right then,” he said, seeming a little frustrated. “So, that’s it. Either you come back to Texas with me, or I sell up and move back here. Or, I visit him when I can and send a check every month. Is that it? Those are our options?”

I think so.”

Can I take him over to see my family? Tonight might be the only chance for a while. They all want to see him.”

The very thought of that, of Sam taking Ethan away from the house, made her tense all over. “I don’t know. No. I don’t want you taking him anywhere. Not yet.”

The fear came over her again, of Sam taking Ethan and running off with him. Even though she knew in her mind he would never do that. Probably. But he’d admitted he didn’t always trust himself.

So, how could she?

He raised his eyebrows. “I’d never let anything happen to him. That, you can count on.”

You can bring them here, I guess,” she said by way of a compromise.

Or,” he said, smiling, “you can bring him to the party. Talk about an anniversary present. My parents would love that.”

But would she? And could she stand to see her son passed around like a basketball among people she didn’t even know? “Let me think about it.”

Okay. But he has family, you know. Grandparents that need to meet him.”

? She’d never really considered that. He’d been talking about his mother and brothers and other family members and still the realization hadn’t come to her. She had so little family of her own - just Bri and Ethan now - she simply hadn’t thought about it. Ethan had Strickland grandparents. Strickland aunts and uncles and cousins.

She thought of what Brianna had told her, about how the Stricklands were wild and aggressive. A memory came to her, one from her childhood. One she’d forgotten until now. The day had been cold and rainy and she’d been in the post office, waiting on line with her mother. An ordinary day, until the glass doors had swung open wide and two Strickland men had walked in, with their long hair dripping wet, their eyes wild and keenly aware. They’d been so big and exotic, like mountain men from a different era, she’d gasped loudly enough to catch the attention of one of them. The look he’d given her, the Strickland man, so large and dangerous and fascinating, the wicked grin, had chilled her to the bone. She remembered her mother grabbing her and pulling her close, suddenly nervous. And how still and silent everyone had become, throwing furtive glances around, hurrying to finish their business and get out in case trouble was about to occur. She remembered her mother rushing her out of the building the instant she’d mailed her package. And now, after all these years, she could remember her mother turning to her in the car and telling her to stay away from those Stricklands. They were trouble.

Brianna was right. The Stricklands were wild and aggressive and possibly dangerous. And she had carelessly involved her son with these people.

Her eyes must have widened to the size of stoplights, because Sam frowned at her, sharper than his usual frown, injustice shining in his eyes. “We’re good people, Jen. Family means everything where I come from. And Ethan’s family now. You can’t deny him that. It wouldn’t be right.”

Startled by his accusation, she could barely speak. “I just don’t think I’m ready for this,” she said softly. “This is moving too fast. You’re scaring me. You want me to entrust him to people I’ve never met.”

I only want you to let them meet him,” Sam said just as softly, warmth returning to his eyes. “There’s no reason to be scared. You’ll come too so you won’t have to worry. I’m not asking you to leave him there.”

Ethan was being awfully quiet in the kitchen, she noticed. And she needed a moment to think. She stood and walked toward the hall to listen for Ethan’s voice in the kitchen. At last, she could hear the faint lilt of one of his songs, and the sounds of Brianna washing dishes.

She strolled back to the living room. “What is your life like? In Texas? On the ranch?”

Ordinary, I guess,” he said. “It’s nice and quiet. Lots of space. Not many trees, mostly pasture and mesquites, but sunsets like you wouldn’t believe. What are you doing now? You told me but I can’t remember. Something in law?”

I’m working at my dad’s old law firm.”

That’s cool,” he said. “Doing what?”

He must have remembered she’d been unable to finish law school. She wanted to tell him she was a legal secretary or paralegal, or anything other than an office assistant, but she also didn’t want to lie. So she left it at that. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

Not right now.”

Her stomach tightened in fear. The thought of Sam moving on, forgetting about her, while she clung to the past made her chest ache. “But you did have one?”

I’ve done some dating, but nothing serious.” He winced. “See what I mean?” He tapped his forehead. “Kinda messed up in here.” Then he tapped his chest. “Or maybe it’s in here.”

She was relieved to hear he wasn’t attached, but his admitted unpredictability worried her. Admitting he was unpredictable didn’t make her trust him any more than if he hadn’t admitted it. In fact, it made her trust him less.

Jenna imagined Ethan spending his summers in Texas with Sam on a ranch, and tried to envision good times for her son, out in the fresh air, riding horses, growing strong, having the time of his life. But in the end, all she could really see was Ethan getting trampled by a herd of out of control cows. Or what if Sam forgot all about him and left Ethan alone, lost in some pasture miles from the nearest soul? She could see her poor little baby standing alone, crying, lost in the middle of nowhere while Sam was off with friends, laughing, oblivious.

Sam stared at her as if he could read her mind, that familiar frown adding weight to his gaze. “Don’t worry, honey,” he said. “We’ll work it out. It’ll be okay.”

She shrugged, determined not to let him know how much she doubted anything would ever be okay again.

I saw a for sale sign out front,” he said as if to protect her by changing the subject. “You’re moving?”

Again, she shrugged. “We don’t need this much space.”

Where are you moving to?”

Good question. “Someplace smaller.” But hopefully larger than her car.

He nodded, and nodded, gazing at her with worry in his eyes. “Is everything okay with you?”

She forced a smile. “Everything’s fine.” Then she let the smile fall and rolled her eyes. “More or less. Everything is changing, that’s all. It’s nothing.”

I was sorry to hear about your dad,” he said. “That’s still pretty recent.”

She nodded. “We’re adjusting. But we’re okay.”

All right.” He stood and took his wallet from his back pocket. He removed a short stack of bills and dropped them on the coffee table. “There’s a couple hundred to get started.”

She stood with him and looked at the money, suddenly feeling as if she were selling her son. And what a deal, two hundred bucks for a lifetime admission into Ethan’s life. But she tried to shake off all the worrisome thoughts. This was child support, exactly what Ethan deserved. He needed food and diapers and… so many things she could barely afford anymore, like electricity and running water.

Don’t worry,” he said, “that’s just all I’ve got on me. My checkbook’s back in my bag at my brother’s house, but I’ll get more to you.”

Thanks,” she said, crossing her arms behind her back. She needed the money, but couldn’t bring herself to touch it in his presence.

So, can I come back out later this afternoon? I need to run some errands, but I’d like to see him again before I leave. Say, about two or three?”

The hope in his eyes broke down her defenses and she nodded. “Okay. Three would be better. He’ll be in a better mood once he’s up from his nap.”

All right, great.” Sam stood there almost smiling, seeming as if he wanted to say something else. Then he blinked and turned toward the door. “About three,” he called as he left.

As soon as the door closed she fell back on the couch and covered her face with both hands.

Oh… my… god,” Brianna said. “That was the most painful thing I’ve

Jenna dropped her hands. “What did I tell you about eavesdropping?”

That was like being forced to watch somebody get their teeth pulled out. It gave me a headache.”

Me, too,” Jenna said. “Where’s Ethan? Did he eat?”

Yeah. He’s still eating.” Bri sat down on the coffee table. She saw the cash and grabbed it up, counted it, then pretended like she was about to stick the cash down the front of her shirt.

Jenna snatched the bills away from her.

Isn’t it obvious?” Bri said. “Because it’s obvious to me.”


Bri made an exaggerated face of disbelief. “We’re finished here. Dad messed us up and now we’re gonna lose everything. So, we give up. Sell everything and let’s move to Texas. You used to ride horses. That’s all you used to talk about – horses, horses, horses. You have all those trophies and ribbons and things.”

Now Jenna was the one to give her sister a look. “First of all, he didn’t ask. Second, you’re going to college. You need an education. Skills of some sort. My horse-riding days are over.”

Brianna frowned. “Did you tell you-know-who where to stick it yet?”

Brandon Stewart. She’d forgotten all about that. “I’m about to call him.” She stood, remembering she had a lot of work to do. “Let’s finish packing up everything we can put in the garage sale. And then we have to clean the house top to bottom. We have to keep it in viewing condition right now.”

Bri groaned but got up to help. “Did we start packing yet?”

I did. Yesterday. We have to finish it today. I have work tomorrow.”

And I have to find a job tomorrow.”

Jenna stopped and gave her sister a hug. “I’m so sorry. You worked so hard to get into Vanderbilt. It’s not easy to get in and you got in and now…. Maybe if I’d planned better…. I thought the house would sell faster. I let everything get behind.”

She was about to cry. Brianna pulled away, tears in her eyes. “Don’t. You’ll make me.”

Brianna ran off and Jenna sat back down with her cell, to calm herself and make the dreaded phone call.





You’ll regret this, you bitch

Jenna held the phone away from her ear.


She disconnected the call and set the phone on the coffee table, away from her. Then she went ahead and switched it off, so Brandon couldn’t call back.

Told you,” Brianna said, hugging the doorjamb, eavesdropping again. “Scum.”

Jenna stood, ready to get to work, if only to distract herself. “Wow. He didn’t take that well.”

Bet he can’t find anybody else to marry him. Everybody thinks he’s creepy. There’s something off about him.”

She didn’t want to talk or think about Brandon Stewart anymore. “Let’s get the rest of the packing boxes out of the attic. You start in your room. Anything you don’t want anymore. Including clothes you don’t wear or can live without. Try not to be too sentimental.”

Brianna darted past her and picked up the phone.

Jenna stopped. “What are you doing?”

Brianna shooed her away. “You keep stealing the phone and I wanna call somebody. I have my own life, you know.” Bri turned on the phone on and dialed a number. “Hey, hi. I know. I haven’t talked to anybody all day. My sister keeps hogging the phone.”

Jenna thought about stopping her, then decided to let her be. She was eighteen and needed to act eighteen for as long as possible. Soon, her life would be nothing but hard work.

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