Nothing more was said about the incident at the barn. Apparently Alex didn’t want to talk about his relationship with Lori. In fact, it wasn’t any of her business. After all, she had no claim on Alex. So when Lori picked him up again Easter Sunday morning, Carmen said nothing - except a prayer that Josh wouldn’t catch him. If Alex was interested in Lori, Josh had no right to insist he make an honest woman of Carmen. That was another thing that irked her. Apparently Josh thought they were having an affair. Of course, it did look suspicious, and if she had come across Lori and Alex doing the same thing . . . She caught her breath. But it wasn’t innocent. They were doing exactly what Josh had thought. Would it have looked any better if he had come in a few minutes earlier when Alex had his hand under her shirt? And hadn’t she been a willing participant? Alex had forced himself on her - taken advantage of her. The only thing Josh didn’t know was that Alex had stopped when she protested. Unwittingly, she had set Alex up for a fall. And yet his only attempt at defense had been to tell Josh that things weren’t as they appeared. He wasn’t defending himself, though. He was defending her honor. She was willing to bet the farm on it. Still, if Alex had been trying to get somewhere with her, why wouldn’t he have tried with Lori? And hadn’t he told Josh that it wasn’t what it looked like - when it was exactly what it looked like? Should she fight for him, or was she better off without him? Alex was back by lunch and unusually quiet when they sat down to eat. No doubt he was thinking about Lori. Katie glanced at him questioningly a few times, but he gave his attention to his food. Finally Katie could bare the silence no longer. “I have an announcement to make.” She had their undivided attention. “Bill and I are getting married - next weekend.” Alex lifted one brow. “Don’t you think that’s a little sudden?” She scowled at him. “We’ve been dating for over a year.” Alex smiled. “I meant the wedding date. It doesn’t give me much time for preparations.” She shrugged. “We don’t want a big wedding, and we’ve already made the arrangements.” She gnawed on her lower lip and shifted in her chair. “We didn’t want you to pay for our wedding.” He lifted his tea glass and examined the amber liquid. “I don’t mind, you know. I’ve put the past behind me.” His gaze shifted meaningfully to Carmen. Katie didn’t miss the exchange. “Are you two having an affair?” she asked tersely. “Katie!” Carmen gasped. Alex shook his head. “No, Katie. I can’t even get on her shopping list.” Carmen and Katie stared at him. Did he want on her list? Was this fling with Lori a ploy? One thing was sure, her list only contained one name - and he was on it. He seemed to be waiting for a response, so she shrugged. “You’d better be careful making that kind of remark. Some love struck girl is likely to take you up on it.” He was watching her intently. That wasn’t the response he wanted. “I was on one of those lists once,” he said in a monotone. “I even got to the top. The trouble was, she forgot to scratch off the other name.” Carmen could feel her face getting hot. Was he telling her to scratch Josh’s name off her list? Didn’t he know it had already been erased? She shrugged again. “I thought you had put that in the past.” His smile was sour. “The affair, not the experience. Completely forgetting about the past is tossing away a valuable lesson.” “Now Alex,” Katie began in a scolding tone, “You can’t keep throwing your past in Carmen’s face. All women aren’t alike, you know, and . . .” He pointed his fork at her plate. “Eat your lunch.” Katie glanced at Carmen for support, but Carmen continued to stare at her plate. She wasn’t about to say anything. Katie picked at her food. “I heard she has a number fourteen record.” Alex attacked his food as if it were to blame for the havoc he had created at the table.
“Then I guess she married the right man,” he commented casually.
Carmen pushed the beans around on her plate a little more and wished she were anywhere but here. Obviously Alex wasn’t ready for marriage because he was still involved - with a woman who didn’t love him. Her stomach was churning and her eyes burned with unshed tears. The kitchen clock ticked off thirty seconds before she put down her fork and pushed away from the table. “I think I forgot to turn the water off when I filled the trough.” From the corner of her eye she saw Katie give Alex a poisonous look, but Carmen walked out without looking in his direction. He’d made it plain enough how he felt. Once she was outside she viciously kicked at a stone. Why couldn’t things work out - even one time? And why did she always have to make such a fool of herself? No wonder he wasn’t interested - not in marriage, anyway. Was that what he was trying to tell her? If she were willing to take that tumble in the hay, he’d hang around a while longer? She kicked the stone again, sending it flying across the yard. The screen door squealed and slammed, and then Alex spoke. “I thought you were going to check the water. Aren’t you headed in the wrong direction?” She froze with her back to him. “If you came out here to rub it in, you can go back in the house. I got your point. I’m out of your hair - that’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” Boots crunched on gravel behind her. “I came out here to apologize for airing my dirty laundry on your kitchen table.” “Apology accepted.” She kept her back to him. “And I haven’t shown up on your doorstep so often because I want you out of my hair.” “I know. You came up to see Katie. I’m handy, that’s all.” He laughed shortly. “Katie couldn’t care less whether she sees me or not.” She turned and stared up at him. “Sure she does. And you care.” He nodded and grimaced. “That I do. But Katie isn’t the one responsible for my visits.” Her heart skipped a beat. “No, the goats brought you the first time.” He quirked a brow. “Is that a fact?” She stared at him. “I thought you said . . .” But he hadn’t said anything. It was Katie who had said he was coming up to watch the goats kid. And it had been Katie who sent him that picture - to lure him up here? Alex smiled. “I was intrigued by the girl Katie kept telling me about. When she sent me the picture, I had to come see for myself. You looked so innocent and sweet.” Warmth returned to her face. Was that all he saw in the picture?
“I didn’t know . . .”
“I know,” he interrupted, “and it made you that much more irresistible. But you kept . . . keep, pushing me away. Don’t you know by now that I’m in love with you?” Her heart was pounding. Finally. “But why didn’t you say something earlier. It would have made things easier.” His brows arched. “I thought three days was being a pretty bold. Anyway, I was causing enough trouble between you and Josh as it was - and I wasn’t sure where you stood with him.” He touched her cheek. “I’m still not sure.” She put her hand over his. “Do you honestly think there could be anything between Josh and me after that scene in the barn yesterday?” He gazed down at her somberly. “I could tell him it was my fault - that I was forcing myself on you. He’d believe me.” She shook her head. He’d nail your hide to the wall.” He stiffened. “He might try.” She laughed. “Somehow I get the idea he’d be taking on more than he could handle.” She stepped closer to him. “But I wouldn’t want to take a chance on losing you.” He smiled down at her, the dark eyes beginning to twinkle.
She wrinkled her nose. “As if you didn’t know. I think you knew before I did. Because I love you.” He drew her close in an embrace. “That’s what I’ve been waiting to hear.” For a moment she laid her head on his chest, enjoying the smell of him and the feel of his hands on her back. “Carmen,” His voice was soft and husky. She lifted her head and gazed into those delicious dark chocolate eyes. His hands slid up her back in a slow caress that made her heart beat wildly. Warmth flooded her entire body so quickly that it was almost painful. Her breath came quickly as she leaned back into his hands. Never had she felt such an intense and thoroughly delightful emotion. Was this love? When his lips found hers, the world ceased to exist around them. Her hands operated on their own as they pushed against the inside of his shirt collar and snaked up to his neck. Pressing against him, she forced his lips down on hers. The magical moment was long, but not long enough. Alex was the one who finally broke the embrace – and spell. “Let’s go to my room,” he said in an emotion-packed voice that was barely above a whisper. His room? What were they doing? What was she thinking of – arousing him that way? “Not now,” she said, disentangling herself from his searching hands. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I was just so . . .” Aroused would have been the ideal word, but certainly wouldn’t have defused him. Stuffing trembling hands into her pockets, she took a step back from him. “Inexperienced,” she finally supplied. His chuckle was soft. “I’m looking forward to experienced.” For the next half-hour they walked together and talked about her plans for a horse ranch. In the few hours remaining before his departure, her head was so far in the clouds that she didn’t even notice he said nothing about marriage. It wasn’t until after he left and Katie jokingly asked if they had set a date, that she remembered. Even Katie looked apprehensive at her hesitation. Maybe she didn’t want her wedding day overshadowed by theirs. Carmen shrugged. “There hasn’t been any talk of marriage between Alex and me.” Katie looked relieved, but Carmen’s stomach took an uncomfortable lurch. Surely Alex was considering marriage now. They had simply overlooked the issue in their excitement.