Chapter Nineteen – The Moment of Truth
by Laura Breck
His hand, scratching his bare chest, froze as Candy spat out his real name like she'd bitten into a rotten peach.
Ah, shit. How had he let it come to this? For days he'd been searching for a way to tell her, struggling for the right words.
Candy dropped the paper she'd been holding in front of his face, and it fluttered to the floor.
Mitch watched it settle and then raised his head to meet her gaze. Wet with tears, her beautiful hazel eyes glistened. His breath faltered. He opened his mouth, but words failed him. What the hell could he say? What could fix this?
Major nosed his way past him into the room. After sniffing at the paper, he yawned and stretched his front legs out in a yoga position, then dropped his butt and lay on the floor watching them.
“Oooooh!” Her face pinched and turned bright red. “I could just…” When her gaze lowered to his bandaged arm, she dropped her raised fist and let out a heartbreaking sigh.
Major whined, the sound skittering along Mitch’s nerves.
“If hitting me would make you feel better…” He held his arms out to the side. “By all means, do it.”
When she blinked, tears ran down her cheeks. She shook her head, and her bottom lip quivered.
“I hate to see you hurting like this.” He lowered his arms.
“Really?” She snapped. “You're concerned about me? You're the one who orchestrated this whole—”
“Nothing was orchestrated.” He lifted a hand, and she jumped back. As if she was afraid of being struck. Or worse, touched by something nasty. “When I realized who you were…”
“You asked me a dozen questions.” She jabbed a finger toward him. “Questions you knew the answers to. And I went on and on, telling you all about my life.” She closed her eyes for a second, then looked past his shoulder. “You must have had a damn good laugh."
“Of course not. I just didn't know how to—”
“Was this a game to you?” she cried. “Did the rich boy have fun seducing the maid’s daughter?”
“No. Goddamn it, Candy…” He had to make this right. Mitch scrubbed a hand down his face. “I wanted to tell you. After we made love the first time, I wanted to tell you.”
“Why didn't you?”
The misery in her eyes clawed at his gut. Everything he said was wrong. He had to get away, just for a little while. He had to have time to think before he screwed this up completely.
The dog jumped up.
Without looking at her, he said, “I'm going to take a walk. When I come back, we’ll talk this out.”
She didn't speak.
She stared at him as if he were just this side of full-crazy.
Hell, maybe he was crazy. All he knew was, he didn't want to say any more until he cleared his head. He turned and went to the bedroom, dressed, and walked through the kitchen to the back door. Major followed, not his usual exuberant doggy self, as if sensing the tension in the air.
Mitch let the dog out and paused to listen. Silence. Where was she? God, he hoped she wasn't crying.
He headed into the woods as the sun dipped low between the trees. The ground sucked at his boots as the melting snow turned the forest floor into mud. He walked toward Jeb's cabin and considered knocking on his neighbor's door and burying his troubles in a bottle of whiskey, but that was a coward’s way out.
“I may be an idiot, but I’m not a coward.”
Major looked up at him from where he dug snow around a tree.
“Yeah, me,” he told his dog as he turned and headed back toward his own house.
Major barked twice and bounced alongside him as if in full agreement.
When he stepped into the yard, he drew up short. The fresh air and exercise had helped, but he still needed a plan.
He ducked into the garage and turned on the light over the workbench. Picking up a hammer, he whacked at a loose nail. Then dug out another one and pounded it into a piece of scrap lumber. Then another. Pretty soon, he’d wasted a half a box of nails.
“Shit.” Facing Candy would be one of the most difficult things he’d done in his life. No matter how hard, he’d tell her the truth. He hadn’t revealed his identity because she was only looking for a quick fling. Then she’d leave. How many times had she told him that? He hadn’t thought they’d grow this close. Never imagined she’d stick around.
He looked out the window toward the house. The kitchen glowed golden with light. Warm and inviting. His heart beat double time, and a bubble of emotion tried to break free of his throat. “Candy.” Damn, he was glad she’d stuck around.
He’d tell her how much she meant to him—no—how much she’d always meant to him. How those adolescent feelings had matured in the last few days. A love that took twenty years to—
The hammer fell from his fingers, clattering on the cement floor. Panic gripped him. Where the hell had that come from?