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.
The late morning sun slanted though the window, across the bed and pierced the back of Amanda’s eyelids. She rolled away from the light and snuggled deeper beneath the covers. The fresh scent of the fabric softener her mother had used for years brought back sweet memories of childhood.
She stretched, pushed her legs out toward the end of the bed and then tucked them back up into a fetal position. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept past six in the morning. Back in Arizona, she’d be in the stables by now, the horses fed and the stalls mucked. Then again, she didn’t make a habit of staying up until two o’clock in the morning either.
After her dance with Mr. Henderson, she’d returned to her table of friends and did her best to push Jacob out of her thoughts. Once the girls realized she would not satisfy their curiosity as to what had been said between her and Jacob, they continued as they’d been. She’d done her best to get back in the spirit of the party, but the confrontation with Jacob acted like a wet blanket, snuffing out the fire.
She let her thoughts drift to him now. She’d never loved anyone the way she’d loved Jacob. He’d been her first crush and her first love. And she’d been so certain she would marry him one day. A teenager’s fantasy.
His shoulders were as broad and tightly muscled as she remembered. His dark hair and deep tan enhanced the cobalt blue of his eyes. A rugged face made more handsome in spite of or because of the fine lines that fanned out around the corners of his eyes.
She’d forgotten how tall he was, how well she fit in his arms. Her height matched well to his six-two frame, ripped with muscle from years of work on the family farm. His musky scent brought back vivid memories of a night spent between his sheets where the smell had surrounded and clung to her.
She closed her eyes against the pain those memories brought, surprised at how raw and fresh the hurt could be. First love left scars that never quite healed.
Distraction came in the form of Emily who burst through the door and jumped onto the bed. “Wake up sleepyhead.”
“I’m awake.” Amanda groaned. “Why are you here so early?”
“It’s after ten, lazy butt.”
The smell of bacon and coffee wafted through the open door, enticing her to get up. She didn’t budge.
“So, did you consummate the marriage?” Amanda giggled into her pillow.
“Oh God, yesss. He…”
“Okay, okay, don’t want to know.” She help up her hands.
Amanda felt a sudden onslaught of emotion at her sister’s obvious happiness. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you how beautiful you looked last night.”
“I could see it in your eyes.” Emily smiled and then gave a short laugh of disbelief. “You aren’t going to cry, are you?”
“No. I never cry.” Amanda twisted her face in disgust. “I know I’ve said it a million times, but thanks for understanding why I didn’t want to be in the wedding.”
“No problem. You would have been a distraction. The whole town would have been more interested in you than the wedding.”
“That’s a little extreme.”
“I’m just glad you were with me on my special day.” Emily settled in cross-legged on the bed. “Before we head down, you have to tell me what happened last night with Jacob. And don’t play dumb.” She pointed a manicured finger to stop the denial.
“I’m not sure, Em. He asked me to dance and then looked shocked to find me in his arms. He acted weird. I know he blames me for Timothy leaving town, but nobody forced him to dance with me.” She never understood the blame, but then she hadn’t ever really understood Jacob. If she had, she wouldn’t have thrown herself at him the way she had. She’d misread his signals and made a fool of herself. “Why the hell did he ask me to dance?”
“I don’t understand why he blames you for choices Timothy’s made.”
“Everyone blames someone when they hurt. I guess it’s easier than facing the truth.”
“What did he say to you?”
“He asked me about Timothy. About where he is and why he never came home.”
“Did you tell him?”
“I told him it was his brother’s choice to leave and his to never come back.”
“I don’t understand you, Amanda. I don’t know why you don’t just tell Jacob and the Hendersons what an ass Timothy turned out to be.”
“The truth would only hurt them and I don’t see a reason to do that. It doesn’t matter what they think of me.” She’d seen the pain in their eyes when, year after year, she’d come home and Timothy didn’t. She’d heard it in their voices when they’d call and Timothy wouldn’t come to the phone. To tell them the truth now would only add unnecessary hurt. “You haven’t told mom or anyone, have you?”
“No, of course not. You asked me not to.” Emily crossed her arms over chest.
“I’m sorry, Em. I should have known you wouldn’t.”
“Yes, you should. You didn’t deserve to get hurt, you know?”
“Yes, I know that, but I married him, so I had to deal with the consequences of my actions.” She said it with a taste of bitterness in her mouth for it was what her father had preached. There were consequences for every action. She’d lived with her choices.
“Come on girls, breakfast,” Adeline called up the stairs.
“I’ll be down in a sec,” Amanda said to Emily as she left the room.
Stretching her arms, Amanda yawned and rolled to her side. Her old room held reminders of the girl she’d been. Statues of horses, trophies and ribbons from the fair mixed in among pink flowers and frilly ruffles. A faded picture stuck out from the corner of the mirror. In the picture, she, Amy and Kimmie stood with their arms wrapped around each other. Big innocent smiles split their faces and their eyes danced free from the worries that the world would one day bring.
Horses still dominated her life. She didn’t win little plastic trophies anymore, but she thrived on the thrill of competition and winning. Somehow, despite the past ten years, bits and pieces of the girl remained.
She lounged a few minutes longer and then climbed from beneath the covers. She found an old pair of knee-length sweatpants and a white tee shirt she’d left behind. The sweatpants clung to her thighs and butt like a second skin, but they fit. She pulled the tee shirt in every direction possible in an effort to give herself room to breathe. They’d have to do until the airlines called with her luggage. She didn’t hold out much hope they’d call on a Sunday. With her luck, they’d find her bags Tuesday when she headed back to Arizona.
At the bedroom door, she stopped and glanced sideways out of the second story window. The little red barn out back stood empty, the fence gone. They’d sold the horses the year after she left, with her knowledge of course, but she’d hated to let them go. She’d wanted to beg her parents to keep the horses a little while longer, but knew she couldn’t ask. By that time, her father had made it clear he wanted nothing to do with her anymore.
Her love for horses had started at an early age and her father encouraged her love. He’d spent so many Saturday’s hauling her and her horse to riding lessons and shows. He’d bought cows when they’d fallen in love with the style and art of the cutting horse. He’d been the first to recognize her talent and always said, “God gave each of us talents and our thanks to Him is to make the most of that talent.” She understood now.
There hadn’t been a day she didn’t think about home, about what she’d left behind. She hadn’t planned to stay away or to marry Timothy. But every time she’d talked to him about home, he’d acted as if she’d destroy his world if she left. He’d said he loved her and at first he’d made her feel special, desired. He’d promised to take care of her. The opposite of what Jacob had made her feel that fateful night.
She’d loved Timothy as a friend and convinced herself that they could make their marriage work. And if he would have followed through on a single promise, she believed they could have. She thought they’d been happy despite her terrible homesickness and struggle to make ends meet. He’d been charming and knew how to make her laugh. He’d spin big tales about the life ahead of them, the house they would someday own, yet things began to unravel after the first year.
He took their rent money to gamble with, claimed he would hit it big and all their problems would go away. When the money didn’t roll in right away, he got frustrated and began to drink when he gambled. She took a second job and managed to keep them in a cheap two-room apartment.
In the third year, he’d bullied her into taking a job at a strip club, said with her looks she’d make more money than any of those bimbos. That had lasted only a few months, when after a day at the casino and a night at the strip club, she'd come home at three in the morning to find one of those bimbos in her bed.
Looking back now, she couldn’t believe she’d stayed, and humiliated herself in the process. He’d apologized and made more promises. She’d wanted to believe they could make their marriage work. She’d been afraid to fail. In the end, after five years, he’d left her.
She’d failed anyway.
In the process she’d accumulated a few additional blunders that, in comparison, made running away and marrying the wrong man look tame.
It all turned out okay, she told herself, and released a shaky breath. The past was the past and she had plans for the future, ones she needed to share with her family. With everyone gathered downstairs, she wouldn’t find a better time to tell them.
I hope you've enjoyed this excerpt and will check back next Monday for the 4th and final excerpt. Two Brothers is scheduled for release August 1st.