This is an excerpt from the fourth book in the Ashbrook, Montana series. The book is free for this weekend only. If you like what you’ve read so far, click the link at the bottom of the story and get yourself a copy. It goes back to regular price on July 24th.
Kate overheard someone whisper, “I think it’s Sam and Kate from the airplane. Maybe they’re making up.”
“You and I have a history. We have a common bond. You just met pretty boy this morning, and here you are almost kissing him.”
This was not Sam talking. Kate knew it. The Sam she knew talked about engines, fishing, and stunts he pulled with his friends. The Sam she knew pined for his wife that left him twelve years ago. The painful truth slapped her. The Sam she knew ignored her until another man showed interest. She was just a toy he was at risk of losing. To keep her resolve, Kate reminded herself of these things.
“And stop thinking,” he yelled. “You do that when you’re in a situation and you want to say the right thing. You’re not a mother right now. You don’t have to be logical. I’ll tell you the right thing to say. Say something like Sam you’re right, or what the hell let’s give it a go.”
She tried to think of something that would hurt him to make him go away. “Sam, you go outside to pee sometimes.”
“That’s your best argument? I hunt Kate. Pretty boy may know the right thing to say, but I know what to do.”
The intensity of his demeanor declined and brightened with revelation. “You’re playing hard to get. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?”
“Where do you get these things from?” she asked. “I’m not playing anything.”
Satisfied with his conclusion, Sam said, “Well, kissy, kissy, huggy, huggy time with Luke is over. I will block every attempt he makes at taking you from me.”
“Sam!” Kate scolded, “That’s what dolphins do.”
The eagerness in his voice changed to that of a driven man. He pointed at her. “And, that is the Kate I want. The one who knows how to keep up with me.”
Streams of sunlight streamed through the branches of the tree behind the gravestone. One ray seemed to be pointing at the name: Jesse Duncan March 4,1978-July 11, 2015. Annie Duncan offered a sad smile in response. Nature was sending some sort of a sign. She wished she knew what it was.
One of the flowers in the vase was turned in the wrong direction. Annie bent down to readjust it to align with the others. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it for some reason unknown to her it did. She stepped away from the flowers to assess how they’d look from a distance. Pleased with the slight alteration, Annie gave them a nod of approval.
“Noah’s working at the clinic. They really needed another doctor. So everyone was happy about him coming back to town. But I suppose you knew that was going to happen.” She pressed her lips together. “You always told me that he wanted what we had. People say that sort of a thing all the time.” Annie threw a furtive glance at the car parked on the gravel path and took a deep breath. “Then again, you said you’d be back in time for supper.” Her frown was so deep she felt the dark cloud loom over her head. “I sold that four-wheeler as soon I saw Jesse eyeing it the way you used to. Like father like son.” Her chuckle was more from sadness than appreciation of the similarity. There was no way I was letting it take both of you from me.” Her anger dissipated as quickly as it appeared, “We’re using the money for a down payment on a pickup for him. You know he’s excited about that.”
She pulled a slip of paper out of her pocket. “Anyway, I came to tell you that once again you won. I should have known you’d argue with me even after you left. I didn’t believe it at first. But when Jesse and Noah started taking your side it took all the steam out of my boat.” It was as though her world was on mute and the sound had returned. Some birds in the tree above her chirped loudly. Maybe they were arguing with her. Annie’s eyes searched through the branches to find where exactly they were. The last thing she wanted was a present from above. Just in case she stepped out of the shadow into the sunlight.
When she heard the car door shutting she knew her time with Jesse was coming to a close. “I will love you always, Jesse Duncan. Nothing will ever change that.” The crunch of the grass beneath the footsteps counted down the time she had remaining. Annie took one last breath. “I’ll be by again soon. I promise.”
“Hey, Jesse.” Noah’s eyes clouded and cleared. He slipped his hand into Annie’s and fiddled with the diamond ring on her finger. “I’m sorry to have to cut this short. If we don’t leave soon we’ll be late for Jesse’s graduation.”
Annie nodded and pulled the slip of paper out of her pocket. She released her hold on Noah’s hand and noted how quickly the coolness from its absence discomforted her. “I’m bringing this back to you. To let you know you won.” She looked into Noah’s almond brown eyes. “And, I’m not mad about it anymore.”
A small smile formed at the corner of his lips. It was the same smile he gave her when he showed her the note the first time. Annie folded the note until it fit in the palm of her hand. It fit perfectly in the gap between the flowers and the vase.
With her task completed, she returned to Noah’s side and took his hand. They headed toward the car in reverent silence.
Noah stopped for one last looked at the grave. He whispered, “Thank you, Jesse. I’ll make sure to do right by her.” This time Annie gave his hand a gentle tug.
Her heart wasn’t as broken as she thought it was after all.