Last night, she’d looked me clear and strong in the eyes and told me to leave her alone. She didn’t want what I offered. And I didn’t blame her. She had a kind, generous, sweet heart. I preyed on people like her. I plundered, pillaged, raided, scanned others for weaknesses and opportunities and then took full advantage.
I had it in writing. I’d had it told to my face. She didn’t want me. I knew what I had to do.
At six o’clock that night she called. I let it go to voicemail. I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t been sure she would try to get in touch. I’d made certain that my name wasn’t associated with any part of the real estate transaction. She’d never know for sure it was me who paid for and gave her back her ranch.
Now that she had called, I felt confused. If she asked me had I done it, should I tell her the truth? Or should I lie? I had no rulebook, the good guy’s code of conduct. This was all new to me.
Stephen, my lawyer, called to confirm that he’d spoken with her. He’d simply identified himself as an attorney and told her that the terms of her property transaction had changed. She was now the full owner of her ranch, paid off completely. The deed had been delivered to her by courier and she’d signed her acceptance.
“How did she sound?”
“Excuse me?” Stephen wasn’t used to that kind of question. Terms of agreements, i’s dotted, t’s crossed, that was his comfort zone. Emotions didn’t factor in for him, nor did they usually for me.
“Did she sound happy?”
“Well,” he hesitated. “It took a few repetitions to make her understand. And then she started crying.”
“It was on the phone.”
“I know, but could you tell?”
“No, I could not.” He paused and I could almost hear him thinking ‘what the fuck?’ in the silence. But he didn’t say it out loud. He was too professional. And I paid him too well. “I’d have to guess yes, wouldn’t you?”
I went to the gym. Seven o’clock she called again but I let it ring through. I had boxing gloves taped to my hands. That would only last so long, though. Sooner or later I’d have to answer it.
Eight thirty. I’d jogged back to the condo and showered off. Drink in my hands, Kara called again. This time, I picked up.
“What did you do?” She sounded breathless, elated. My hand clenched on the phone. I wanted to see her like that, the light in her eyes, joy in her heart.
“What do you mean?” I cleared my throat.
“The ranch!” she exploded in delight. “I know you did it! I have the title in my hands!”
“I’m happy for you, Kara.”
“Declan!” She laughed, maybe cried, I couldn’t tell, just that she sounded happy, so overwhelmed with happiness. “I can’t believe it.”
I didn’t say anything, just listened to her delight, taking it in, letting it wash over me. No one did happy like Kara. She brought it right up to the top, overflowing, and I could feel it through the phone.
“Thank you,” she murmured and I could tell she said it smiling, suffused with emotion. I nodded though she couldn’t see me, neither confirming nor denying. She knew I’d done it. Though I supposed I could still take some pride in the fact I hadn’t taken credit, hadn’t immediately shot my hand up in class waving it and shouting, “Me, me it was me!”
“I don’t know what else to say,” she sighed, satisfied. “Guess I’ll just go with good night, Declan. And thank you.”
The call ended. She hung up. I stood there like a wooden statue—man with phone at ear.
What would a good man do? Probably, that would be it. He’d put down the phone and not call back. He’d go about his business, respecting the distance others requested. That would be what a good man would do.
I wasn’t a good man.
Ten o’clock and I’d made good time. I only had another couple of hours before I got to Kara’s ranch. And it really was her ranch this time, not Harlan’s, not Lymon what-the-fuck’s, not a bank-owned property. She owned her ranch and I loved that, hoped she felt the true freedom and gift of independence. I remembered how it felt to own my first property, the American Dream come true.
I wasn’t going there to take credit. I swore I wasn’t. I was going to see Kara to say one last thing before I walked out of her life forever. There was one thing remaining, one last piece of unfinished business. Then I’d turn away and leave for good this time.
It had to be close to midnight when I turned into her property, the dust pluming out behind the wheels of my truck. It hadn’t rained in over a week, hot as hell, and the crickets greeted me loud and insistent as I stepped out.
Hand up to the door, I paused, realizing I’d likely be waking her. Other people slept. In my exhausted state, I’d managed five hours last night, but some people slept eight hours every night.
Then the door opened as I stood there, hand hovering in a loose fist. She looked radiant, her hair down in golden waves over her shoulders. She wore a simple t-shirt and shorts, nothing fancy, but I wouldn’t want her any other way. Not a hint of makeup, glowing and perfect, standing before me in the entryway.
“Sorry to wake you.” My voice sounded gruff, awkward.
She laughed, musical and light. “I wasn’t asleep.”
“No?” I stood there, big and dumb.
“No.” She smiled. Her lips looked so plump, glistening and lush. “Would you like to come in?”
“Huh?” I looked down at her. I’d forgotten why I was there. I really wanted to kiss her.
“Do you want to stand on the porch or would you like to come in?” She teased me, that sweet kindness in her eyes again. But I knew what I was there to do. I wasn’t there to ravage her, smother her in kisses, pin her to the floor and fuck her senseless like I wanted to, like I had many times before.
No, this time I’d be a good guy even if it killed me. And looking at her standing there, barefoot, no bra on, her breasts luscious and full, I realized it just might. It really might kill me.
But I could do this. I’d done harder things. Right? Hadn’t I? Nothing came to mind.
I cleared my throat. “I’m not staying. I just came here to say something. Then I’ll get out of your hair.”
“Thank you, Declan,” she interrupted me, softly. “I know you did it. And I can’t tell you how much…” Her voice started to break.
“Kara.” I thrust my hand up into my hair so I wouldn’t touch her. Christ, she was making this hard.
“I’m so…” She continued to try to thank me. “I’m amazed—”
“I should have done it the morning you walked into my office.” I shook my head, disgusted with myself. “I should have helped you straight off instead of being a selfish bastard. I’ve caused you so much pain.”
“No.” She started to protest, always too generous with me.
“Yes, I have hurt you, Kara. I have.” Now my hand fisted in my hair, nearly ripping it out at the roots.
I stopped and took a deep breath. This wasn’t about me. This wasn’t my time to flagellate myself. There’d be plenty of time for that, years and years. This was about showing restraint, being the good guy. She wanted to be set free and I’d do it.
“I’ll go,” I exhaled, staying calm, focused, controlled. She stood trembling before me and it took all my strength not to wrap her in my arms, bury my face in her neck, sweep her up and into the house and onto a bed. But that wouldn’t solve anything. Her body would comply, but her brain would fight it. She didn’t trust me. She didn’t want what I had to offer. I needed to respect her wishes.
“But there’s something I need to say first.” My boots planted firmly on the ground, I looked up steady into her eyes and spoke the truth. “I love you.”
“What?” Her voice soft, she met my gaze, her pink lips parting.
“I love you,” I repeated, sure as I’d ever been about anything in my life. “I love you. Always have. Always will.”
Then I turned my
back on her for the last time. Out of habit, I’d parked next to the old cabin. That stretch of dirt driveway had never felt longer, every step heavy as lead. But I’d do it, for Kara, because I loved her enough to leave her.