At eighteen, Amanda Riley got her first lesson in love when Jacob Henderson broke her heart. But then she made the biggest mistake of her life – she ran off and married his younger brother.
Ten years later, she’s divorced and moving back to her small hometown. She’s made a name for herself in the cutting horse industry. That should count for something… Right? But decade old mistakes won’t be easily forgotten by everyone in town.
When Amanda and Jacob are thrown together to help an abused horse, old desires ignite and past truths are revealed. And just when they think they’ll get a second chance at love, the younger brother comes home.
Jacob Henderson sat with his date, Maggie, and his parents, but found it difficult to keep from tracking Amanda’s movement around the room. When she stood in the doorway with Matt, he’d seen the tenderness on her face and wondered if she had regrets about her own wedding day.
He took the opportunity to linger over her long, lean body, paying close attention to each and every curve. She’d always been beautiful, but with maturity had come another kind of beauty which made her alluring and untouchable. He wondered if freckles still played across her nose and cheeks, and along the top of her slender shoulders.
Peals of laughter erupted from where Amanda now sat with her friends at a table across the room. He thought about all the times he’d seen them like this. The last time had been on her eighteenth birthday. His heart stabbed against his chest, a warning to stay away from those memories. When he’d been younger, he’d roll his eyes and acted like they were too silly to spend time with. Secretly, he’d been intrigued by their nonstop chatter and giggling. He’d wanted to know what they talked about all the time.
“Excuse me,” Maggie said as she stood and maneuvered between Jacob’s chair and the one behind him. “I’m going to go talk to Mrs. Weaver.” She leaned over, kissed his cheek and then grabbed his and his parent’s empty plates as she went. Nice job Henderson, he thought, not a good idea to ignore your date.
Jacob and Maggie had dated off and on for three years. He knew he should make things permanent between them, but just hadn’t taken the action to make it happen. There was always a good reason, although at the moment he couldn’t remember a one of them.
At thirty-three, he’d expected marriage and children by now. Weddings had a way of reminding him of this particular failure. As a third generation farmer, he’d yet to produce the next generation. If he didn’t have children, there would be no family left to leave the farm he owned and operated with his father.
And he wanted a family. It’s all he’d ever really wanted. Ten years ago, he’d thought his life would be with Amanda. He’d believed they’d have children together—five or six if she’d been able. He’d gotten it in his head they’d grow old together, but things—Amanda—hadn’t turned out the way he’d thought. When she’d disappeared from his life, his plans for the future vanished.
But a chance at a good life with Maggie stared him in the face. She worked as a kindergarten teacher and would be a good mother. He couldn’t ask for a more solid and loyal friend. So what held him back? Why wait? Maggie would make him a good wife.
He didn’t want to think that Amanda was the reason he hadn’t moved forward. His feelings for her had died years ago, right? So why avoid her? What was he afraid of? If anything, he should be pushing her for answers to the whereabouts of his brother.
He shoved to his feet. His chair slammed into the one behind him, startling his parents from their conversation with the Lewis’. He apologized, excused himself and headed straight for Amanda.
He’d prove he wasn’t afraid of her. That she was not the reason he’d never married Maggie. She held little interest to him other than what she might know about his brother.
One by one, the group of girls who hovered around the table began to zero in on his approach. Conversation began to falter and Amanda turned to see what had captured their attention. Those big green eyes of hers travelled up the length of him and rounded with surprise when she realized he was heading straight for her.
He starred into her eyes and felt as if he’d stepped into quicksand.
She hesitated, but stood to face him. “Jacob.” Her eyes darted off to the side.
“Would you like to dance?” He squared his shoulders.
Confusion creased her brow. “Sure.”
He led her onto the dance floor and took her into his arms. The DJ played another slow country song, but he didn’t hear the music. His heart pounded frantically, thumping in his ears and drowning out all other sound. The hand holding hers felt damp. The one resting along the swell of her hip felt too comfortable there. Heat burned his fingers. Her hair smelled of honeysuckle and resurrected the image of her standing in his bedroom doorway, her long dark hair splayed across her bare breasts. His body reacted to the memory, just as it had then, years ago.
For the past ten years he’d stayed out of her way when she came home. When that hadn’t been possible, they seemed to mutually ignore each other. Even though he’d set out with this purpose in mind, it now seemed odd to have her in his arms. She fit so well there and he wanted to pull her closer.
His eyes locked onto hers and the fog emptied from his mind. It was clear he’d failed his own stupid test. What the hell was he thinking?
She must have sensed the change in him because she attempted to step back. He knew he should let her go, but he didn’t. He saw the hurt drift across her face before she looked away. What the hell did she have to hurt over?
He’d lost both his hopes for the future and his best friend, her brother Matt. She’d turned Timothy against his own family and pitted their families against each other. He had a right to his anger and hurt. She didn’t.
“You owe me some answers. I should have asked for them years ago.” Her body stiffened and she stopped dancing. “Where’s Timothy? Why hasn’t he come home?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged her shoulders and tried to step away from him.
He gripped her upper arms, fighting the urge to shake her. “How can you not know? You were married to him.”
“We’ve been divorced for five years.”
“You expect me to believe you haven’t heard from him since?”
“Believe what you want, Jacob.” She twisted her arms seeking relief from his grip.
“It’s your fault he left. Your fault he never came back.”
“Good, then you have your answers, don’t you?” she flung the words at him. Her eyes flared with emotion. Again, she tried to step away.
He tightened his grip. “What did you do to him? Cheat on him? Break his heart?” He could feel the heat rise into his face at her callous disregard for his brother’s feelings. He didn’t know this cold hearted bitch? How could he have ever thought he cared about her?
“He walked out on me, Jacob. It was his choice.”
“That’s what you say, but he’s not here for us to ask, is he?”
“Again, his choice.” Jacob’s grip tightened further when she attempted to jerk free. “Get your hands off me before I cause a scene.” Her eyes never wavered from his face. Anger dripped from every word she spoke.
“Excuse me.” Frank Henderson stepped in and laid a hand on Jacob’s arm. “Son, I think you need to sit down or leave.” Jacob heard the warning in his father’s voice and dropped his hands. Red marks encased her slender arms. Shame slithered and tightened his gut.
He turned on his heel and left as if hell itself chased him out the door.
Check back next Monday for another excerpt. Two Brothers will be available in August 2011. I love getting comments, so please feel free to leave one. Please be sure to check out the 2011 Summer Reading Trail by clicking the link at the top of the page.