"Everyone, I'd like you to meet Valarie, we've just gotten engaged." Wade said as he pulled the sultry red-head close and looked at everyone gathered in the kitchen. Annoyance and irritation hung like a cloud over the room.
For a split second the entire kitchen was quiet.
The coffee finished perking, disturbing the silence like a small tidal wave had just hit. Heads turned, mumblings, and then total quiet again.
The woman in question was dressed expensively in a red and white western outfit; her shirt unbuttoned just enough to display ample cleavage, her red hair flowing down her back in waves, and red lipstick shining like a new penny.
She looked like a rodeo queen undone.
Wendy's mouth dropped open and she whirled around from making coffee to stare at the couple who were practically groping each other. Shock registered on Wendy's face, but she quickly masked it.
How could he do this? Wendy almost dropped the coffee pot. Her face felt hot, her mouth dry, and her nerves were at an exploding point as her sisters and Cade moved to congratulate them, a ploy to distract Wendy's emotions.
After all the time she'd spent sucking up to Wade, years of it, and now this. He waltzes in, packing a well built, very sexy red-head on his arm? Sucking up her pride Wendy raised her nose a notch.
Control was what she needed. But how, everyone on the ranch knew how she felt about Wade. Everyone except Wade, of course.
But then again on second thought, maybe he did know. Maybe he was proving to her once and for all that she was not for him.
It was a good play and a hurtful one.
Letty shook her head. "Well, the mighty Wade has finally decided to settle down. I guess we should congratulate you…." She moved to hug the lady at his side. "I was beginning to think you'd never succumb to a woman. You could have warned us Wade."
Wendy smiled to herself. Letty never minced her words.
Wade grinned infectiously. "I know it might seem a little sudden, but it really isn't. I met Valarie when I went down south to bring that bull back, last year. Her daddy owned him. We got acquainted, and kind of close and have written and called each other ever since. When she came up here to visit me, I couldn't help myself, I asked her to marry me. And she said yes."
Julie sized the girl up slowly then shot Wendy a quick glance. Wendy was still putting her emotions on a back burner. "You are full of surprises…"
Wendy again smiled. Julie got in a good punch too!
Wade's grin faded a little. "I'm about the happiest man in Texas today. I never thought she'd say yes. I think she'll make a better man of me."
Wendy cringed inwardly, never letting anyone see the hurt he inflicted with his words. But somehow she had to get the nerve to congratulate them, and then mask her emotions while they were here. Inwardly she was seething with anger, hurt and humiliation. The hurt didn't run as deep as the humiliation of it all. Wendy found that odd. She'd never dated Wade, never kissed him, and never done anything with the man but work. Today she was grateful for that, he had no idea how grateful. And he brought her hero worship down with one thing, a red-head.
No one, but no one got a McKay girl down like this. She'd show him. She could handle this…somehow.
After all this time, loving him, being his slave, and now this? He'd made a fool of her in front of everyone. How was she going to hold her head up? But a little voice inside her head told her. Be strong!
I might have thought I loved him, but I didn't make love with him. So maybe I'm not such a fool after all.
Sandy was sitting at the table, and smiled sadly up at them. "We're all happy for you Wade."
Wendy heard the lack of conviction in Sandy's voice.
Her sisters were there for her, and she'd hold her head high to get through this, for them.
The celebration lacked vitality from anyone else in the room.
Sandy glanced at Wendy.
Wendy knew it was her turn; she put on a Texas smile and murmured. "Well, how about some coffee to celebrate until we can do better?"
Valarie came toward her. "I'd love some, hon. Can I help?"
Wendy willed her hands not to shake, willed her temper to calm and her face not to mirror her true feelings. Besides, right now murder was more on her mind than emotion. Not for the red-head, but for the man bent on humiliating her.
"Sure, the cups are up there." She pointed.
To top it off, the woman seemed warm and friendly, a little condescending but friendly none-the-less. Oddly, Wendy felt no animosity toward the girl. It wasn't her fault, Wendy reasoned. She probably had no idea what was going on.
Although she knew her sisters were feeling sorry for her, they neither showed it nor let on. If the engagement wasn't enough, she sat through nearly an hour of how they met, how they just knew they were so right for each other and how they couldn't wait to get married. And yet, Wendy was finally facing the fact that Wade had no emotions when it came to her. No feelings. So he laid it out in front of everyone, she wanted to slap that goofy, love-struck smile off his face.
It was her fault. Her sisters had warned her for years. She just wouldn't give up on him.
He'd done nothing to encourage her flights of fancy.
She wanted to find fault with him, but Wade was a figure she couldn't quite forget. Still, after staring at him for a while, she realized the small wisps of gray in his hair. She saw the wrinkles around his mouth and eyes that had never been there before now. Wade was aging before her eyes and it dawned on her the age difference. At one time he'd been the most virile man on the ranch. But today, the façade was down, and Wendy saw him for what he was. A mature, hard-working foreman of her father's ranch and that was all he was.
Wade wasn't old, but he did show some wear and Wendy had never looked at him like she was today. She had this hero in the white hat picture of him. Now she was looking, and now she saw the truth. How could she be so blind? Or such a fool? And it took a redhead to point it all out to her. In a strange way, the red-head had done her a favor.
Had she been a lunatic all these year? Wade was too old for her. She also realized she had some growing up to do, too.
This whole incident forced her to look at Wade through different eyes. It wasn't that Wade had suddenly aged, but that he was in a different time in his life. He wasn't fun loving like his brother. Most of the time he was all business. At one point she admired that, but as she put herself beside him, she realized she hadn't wanted to spend her life with a sour-puss. And Wade was a sour-puss.
Thinking back over time, he'd seldom let down his guard. He rarely confided anything in her. They hadn't shared anything but the love of the ranch.
She stared at him as though seeing him for the first time. He wasn't a wise-cracker, nor a jokester, or even much fun through the years. The fun was in trying to get him to be more relaxed. That never happened, Wendy recalled.
Why had she never seen this in him? Love was blind.
He had picked a woman that wouldn't be washing baby bottles, but strutting on the dance floor with him. A woman with physical needs and less with emotional ones.
Wendy quickly realized her sweet pure love for him would have never been enough. She could see it now, as though someone had taken blinders off of her.
Why did I have to waste my youth not seeing it?
Still anger lingered, for his lack of respect for her. She wanted to scream, to lash out, to do something besides sit there in the kitchen and drink coffee with them and talk about their future together. He had absolutely no idea how she had felt about him all this time. It floored her. Her mistakes lay in the fact that she'd been too subtle with him. Not bold enough or flirtatious enough to capture his attention as a woman. And now, it suddenly dawned on her how glad she was she hadn't been bold enough.
Truth was, she didn't know how to flirt. She had been out of her depth. And she realized one thing clearly, she wasn't going to change who she was for a man.
Deep down, what hurt most was that she'd been a real fool and his actions today laid her bare, for all to see. But they all saw this, and I didn't.
Wade went on and on about how much talent his new bride-to-be had and how she had stolen his heart. Wendy began putting pieces of her own puzzle together.
What she began to see was that Wade had never cared for her in the first place. He had treated her like one of the hands, with the exception that she had done twice as much for him, in little favors throughout the years. He never led her on, flirted with her, or had given her encouragement. No, it was truly her fault this had happened. And truth be told, she had latched onto Wade after her father died, almost as though he were a father figure. Could she have missed her father so bad that she had used Wade to replace him? She was the fool, not him!
Trouble was, he had slapped her with this realization this morning without warning, embarrassing her. He was a cruel man, and didn't even know it.
Valarie seemed innocent of knowing a thing about all of this. Wendy was secretly glad.
Her biggest problem now was that almost all the ranch hands had witnessed her foolishness.
Absorbed in her ill behavior, she nearly didn't hear the knock on the screen door at first. When no one moved to answer it though Wendy decided she would.
The man standing against the door frame was a new hand that Cade hired and he looked thunderstruck at Wendy. He wore a tight pair of worn jeans that were faded and had seen better days, a checkered shirt, and a beat up straw hat, but he somehow managed to make an arresting picture of a man. Sexy was more the word for him. He had a slight curl to his smile, and his eyes danced with life. Wendy was hard pressed not to admire every inch of him. And his grin made all the difference in the world to his demeanor.
Her mind began working once more. She liked a man that could smile without provocation.
"I was lookin' for Wade Weston?" He said with a soft southern drawl.
"He's here, come on in." Wendy invited. "And everyone, I'd like you to meet my boyfriend." Wendy announced, grabbing the cowboy and pulling him to her, and looping her arm in his. The cowboy didn't resist, just looked a little startled at her.
When he aimed his smile directly at her, she almost dropped her mouth. He oozed with quiet southern charm. And he didn't seem to mind the title of boyfriend either.
His hand was a bit sweaty, but right now, she didn't care. She just needed him to save face for her.
Everyone went dead silent again, as if one surprise this morning wasn't enough. But Wendy's sisters knew exactly what she was doing and obviously approved from the looks on their faces.
As everyone smiled or nodded, it gave Wendy time to assess the man more thoroughly.
His dark hair flirted with his hat, and his indigo eyes danced without any music. He stared at Wendy for a second, obviously tongue-tied at the moment, and Wendy couldn't help but feel sorry for him, but what a nice guy for not giving her away.
"So you're Sam Jamison?" Wade said rather sternly, moving to stand between them.
"That's right." The man said his gaze going around the room and landing on Wendy once more.
"Oh yeah, you're the one that's on probation. The one Cade hired?" Wade asked curiously as he moved toward the door, as though about to throw the cowboy out. Even Cade took exception of him pointing that out as though it were a huge mistake. "Boyfriend, huh?"
Wade glanced knowingly at Wendy, as though she hadn't fooled him one bit.
Wade pushed his hat back and frowned at the young man.
Wendy lifted her head and stared into angry eyes. Wade was no fool, but she wouldn't back down now.
The young man hesitated, his glance steadying on Wendy once more. "That's right." He answered without hesitation.
"They tell me you're a good wrangler." Wade seemed to size him up quickly. "I told my brother I'd take you on, give you a try. But let's get a few things straight right now."
Everyone in the room tensed at that moment just from the tone of Wade's voice. Valarie hung on to Wade as he almost forgot she was there.
Cade's brow furrowed at his brother's arrogant attitude. Short of saying something aloud, his lips firmed and his brow furrowed.
New tensions plied the air.
All eyes were trained on the two men standing like gunfighters about to draw their guns.
"I busted a few in my time." Sam remarked watching some of the faces in the room change from a welcome to a puzzle. All but Wendy. She didn't change; she stared at him for a long time, mesmerized by his dark good looks, her hand still resting comfortably in his.
"If you're giving the man a chance for a new life Wade, then do it." Cade remarked. "He did me a real favor the other afternoon."
Along with her father, Wendy took pride in measuring a man and this man didn't seem to be hiding anything. In fact, he looked poised for whatever might come next. His glance had no edge, his voice held no animosity. She liked that. He held his head high, his chin angled for any problems. And he didn't back down when she announced him as her boyfriend either. His hand rested firmly with hers.
"Alright, but know this, first sign of trouble you are out of here. And one other thing…"
"What's that?" Sam questioned.
"There's an unwritten law around here about dating the McKay girls."
"Too late Wade, we are already dating. Besides, those were dad's rules, not ours." Wendy smirked and looked at Sam again, squeezing his hand.