Excerpt from A BIT OF SASS

Copyright © Sarah McCarty 2005
All rights reserved

CJ smiled. It was his mother’s smile, full of warmth and acceptance. It reached all the way down to Jacob’s heart. He could, he realized, really like CJ. The strength of his feelings was a surprise. He’d never thought of children as human beings that one either liked or didn’t. As shameful as it was to admit, even after all his research, he’d always thought of these two as appendages to their mother. He wanted Sass so he would accept them. It had been that simple, but now he got an inkling that his reasoning had been flawed. Accepting the kids wouldn’t be enough.

Corrine wiggled in his arms, anxious to get down and explore with her brother. CJ immediately took her hand and eased her around the shovel so she wouldn’t get hurt. He saw the love and pride in Sass’ eyes as she watched the protective move, and he began to see why Sass had bolted. Hell, he would have bolted too, had be been in her shoes. This was a family he was moving in on. Not a group of three with two having no say in anything, but three individuals. This was a living, breathing family. He’d never had one of his own, but he remembered dreaming about wanting one. He touched Sass’ arm to get her attention. “I won’t hurt them.”

The kids started a game of tag and then dashed over to their own yard to play on the swing set. Sass’ gaze followed them. “If you mean that, you’ll leave.”

He heard the anger in her voice, the resentment, and beneath it all, the resigned sadness.

“I don’t think so.”

She turned on him then, her hair belling out from her face in a rich brown swirl. “Why not?”

A lock blew across her mouth. He stepped closer, ignoring the way her shoulders braced. He brushed the silken strands away from her cheek, his fingers lingering on her skin. “It’s not my nature to give up on what I want.”

That his statement pissed her off was evident by the way she folded her arms across her chest and lifted her chin. Nope. Five hundred bulbs were not going to be enough.

“You don’t want me, McConnally. You want the woman who came to visit you for the occasional week of fun, but this,” with a wave of her hand she indicated her house, her kids, and her appearance, “is the real me. This me isn’t free, and this me isn’t easy. This me has responsibilities and challenges you’ve never experienced in all your forty-one years of your freedom-chasing lifestyle. And,” she jabbed her index finger into his chest, “you know what, McConnally? I wouldn’t change it for the world. I like knowing my kids depend on me. I like being obligated to them. I like my neighbors and my friends. I like being involved in the community. I like every single chain that ties me to this earth, because I chose them. The same way I’ll choose, someday, a man to share my life with me.”

He slid his fingers down the side of her neck, under her hair, the coolness of the strands a direct contrast to the heat of her skin. She quivered under his touch, her breath breaking on a tiny gasp. He smiled, stroking his thumb over her lips as he tipped her head back. “I’m not apologizing for the life I had before I met you.”

“I didn’t ask you to.”

Yes, she had. With every touch, every generous gesture she’d made toward him, with the very effort she’d made to play the game by his rules, she had been asking him for something in return. It had just taken him a while to figure out what it was. “And you did choose a man to share your life with. You chose me. It’s not a deal I’m letting you renege on.”

She winced as if he’d delivered a blow and turned to check on the kids, closing herself off from him as if they weren’t connected by touch. Her fingers bit into the upper sleeves of her coat, making deep dents in the dark blue fabric.

“You say that as if I should find it comforting.”

“You should.”

“Right.” Sass looked at Jacob standing before her, the sun shining on his hair, lighting it with fire. She remembered waking up once on the couch with his arms around her. She remembered squeezing her eyes shut against the sun, dreaming that the moment could be frozen into forever. She remembered how much it had hurt when he had opened his eyes and drifted away. She remembered that she’d always known Jacob was temporary. “Well, I don’t.”

“Why the hell not?”

Corrine squealed. Sass spun around spotting Corrine immediately at her favorite pastime, watching the ducks. “Corrine, get away from the edge of the lake,” Sass called, not turning back right away. Needing a minute. Behind her, she could feel Jacob staring at her. She took a breath and blinked back her tears. Hiding from the truth didn’t change it. Her first marriage had taught her that. “Because you won’t stay.”

“You’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. As soon as you discover the reality the pipe dream you’re chasing turns into, you’ll be gone.”

She heard him move as the breeze sighed around them. His hands, large and heavy, settled on her shoulder. Dead leaves crunched beneath his feet. His big body pressed against her back. His cheek brushed her hair as softly as his lips brushed her ear and he whispered, “Take a chance on us.”

Take a chance. Take a chance.

Temptation threaded with her heartbeat, ripping another layer from her soul. Behind her, Jacob stood, six-foot-three of nothing but pure masculinity. In front of her, her children laughed and frolicked. She’d stolen their laughter for a time when she’d divorced their father. She’d made herself a promise that she’d never do it again. She stepped out of his arms. “I can’t.”

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