Man of the mountain, p.18




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  Oh, yes, Eden most definitely was going to have a word or two with Jared Jones.

  Just as she savagely imagined the grim satisfaction she'd feel when she told him exactly what was in her mind, he appeared through the split in the curtain that led to the card room, carrying her service tray stacked high with empties. He saw her at once and froze where he stood.

  They confronted each other across the length of the room.

  His face was utterly expressionless, his eyes like twin pieces of slate. Yet she knew that he knew exactly why she had come.

  A hush fell over the crowded room. Every eye in the place looked from Jared to Eden and back again.

  Someone muttered, "Woo-ee, this don't look good, boys. She's gonna murder him for sure."

  "What's he done?"

  "Hell if I know, but you can bet your mama's britches that whatever it was, he's gonna pay in spades."

  Eden ignored the whispers. She held her chin high and demanded of the man across the room from her, "When?"

  He drug in a breath. "Eden, I—"

  "When are you leaving? Tell me. Tell me now."

  "This isn't the place to talk about this."

  "Oh, isn't it?"


  She threw back her head and laughed.

  Every man in the room shivered at the sound.

  She said, "You think it isn't the place. But I can see no reason in the world that I should be ruled by what you think."


  "I think it's time we got everything out in the open. That's what I think. I think everyone in this bar should know exactly what's been going on between you and me."

  "Damn it, Eden…" He dropped the full tray on the nearest table. The bottles and glasses on it rocked and clinked.

  "I want them all to know what you are to me, what we are to each other, that we've been—"

  He didn't let her finish. She'd never seen even him move that fast before. It was spectacular. He literally leapt across the room.

  A unified gasp went up.

  And then Jared had his hand over her mouth and was dragging her backward out the door, shouting, "Take care of business, will you, Nick?"

  "No problem, Mr. Jones."

  Eden kicked and struggled. She wiggled and flailed her arms. She even tried to bite the hand that was clamped over her mouth. But it did no good. Jared held her in a grip of steel. He hauled her outside, then dragged her around to the driver's side of her car. He flung open the door and pushed her in ahead of him, not letting up until she scrambled over the console. Then he thrust her down in the passenger seat. She had made the mistake of leaving the key in the ignition. He held her in the seat with one hand and started the car with the other. She made it as hard for him as she could, squirming and punching him and calling him terrible things.

  He pulled away from the curb and swung immediately into a U-turn, which he barely made. He missed a light pole and Sheriff Pangborn's big four-by-four by mere inches. He also left half of the rubber of her tires on the pavement. But somehow, he avoided an actual collision.

  He sped off up the street and burned more rubber at the corner, where he turned onto Middle Fork Lane


  By the time he pulled up in front of the cabin, Eden had stopped struggling. She sat there, absolutely rigid, her arms crossed tightly over her breasts, staring straight ahead.

  He stopped the engine and then turned to look at her.

  She said nothing. She flung open her door, swung her feet to the ground and marched up the steps to the kitchen door. She went in and strode straight to the big living area. She sat on the couch, which faced a stone mantel that served as a mounting place for a large black wood stove.

  Jared followed her inside, but stopped in the kitchen to make a phone call. She heard him talking to his brother Patrick, asking Patrick to go over to The Hole in the Wall and give Nick a hand.

  "Something's come up," Jared said. "So see that the place gets closed up right tonight, will you?"

  Apparently Patrick agreed, because Eden heard Jared say, "Thanks, brother," and that was all.

  Soon enough, Jared came and stood in the doorway between the main room where she sat and the kitchen. His eyes found her. They looked at each other.

  At last, Eden quietly demanded, "When are you leaving?"

  He said nothing.


  He let out a long breath. "As soon as possible. In the morning, I think."

  As she heard him say what she already knew in her heart, she realized that the hot wave of her anger had peaked and receded. She felt drained. But at least she could think clearly now.

  She wanted some answers. And she intended to have them.

  "Why didn't you tell me the truth?"

  "It's better this way."

  "Is it?" She stared at him. "Then why do I feel like you've cheated me?"

  "Someday you'll thank me."

  She shook her head. "You have me all figured out, don't you? You have everything all figured out. It's all … for my own good, right?"

  "You can sneer all you want. But yes, that's exactly what it is."

  "You're doing me one gigantic favor by forcing me to live without you for the rest of my life."

  "Yes, I am."

  She stood up. "Well, it doesn't feel like a favor. And I don't want to live without you."

  "You'll feel differently. Someday."

  "I will not."

  "I'm too old for you."

  "Only in your own mind."

  "I don't even have a damn job."

  "Yes, you do. You know you do. Oggie would step aside for you in a minute, and be glad to do it." She walked slowly toward him. "And we could be happy together, our life could be good and full together, if you'd only—"

  He put up a hand. She stopped where she was.

  "My mind's made up, Eden. I'm leaving. Let it be."

  "Just like that?" Eden felt the pressure of tears again, thickening her throat, pushing to get free behind her eyes. Oh, how she wished for the wave of anger to come back. Anger was so much better than this sadness, this soul-deep despair.

  "Yes. Just like that," he said flatly.

  "Oh, Jared…" She took another step. And another.

  His body tightened in defense against her approach. "Don't…" The single word was a plea.

  She ignored it. She reached out and wrapped her arms around him and brought her body against him with one long, yearning sigh. She laid her head against his hard chest.

  "I love you, Jared," she said against his heart. "Now. Tomorrow. For the rest of my life."

  He stood rigid for endless, excruciating seconds. Then he grabbed her against him with a hollow groan. She lifted her face, wet now with unashamed tears, and he took her mouth in a kiss that seared her to the bottom of her soul.

  And then he swung her up against his chest. He went on kissing her as he carried her across the space she'd covered to reach him, to the couch. He laid her down and knelt on the floor next to her.

  He waited, there on his knees, until she opened her eyes and looked at him. Then he wiped the shining tracks of her tears with a tender thumb and combed his fingers, soothingly, through her hair.

  "Make love with me." The whispered words had trouble finding their way through the tightness of her throat. "One more time. And don't leave until I'm asleep. I think it might kill me, if I had to watch you go."


  "Shh. Don't say we shouldn't. It was one of our agreements, remember? That you'd stop saying we shouldn't."


  She touched his lips with a tender hand. "Please."

  That did it. His mouth descended. With an eager, grateful sigh, Eden raised her arms and wrapped them around his neck.

  He kissed her for a long time. Then he lifted his mouth, swollen from loving hers, and slanted it the other way. Eden idly stroked his shoulders at first, reveling in the bliss he could bring her, accepting the drugging wonder of his kiss.

  But t
hen an urgency came on her, to touch him, to feel his body, naked, against hers.

  Still kissing him, she sat up and struggled quickly out of her blouse and bra. And then she slid the black vest off his shoulders. She unbuttoned his shirt, pushing it free of his hard chest as she kissed a trail down his throat.

  She planted a thousand hungry kisses on his chest and shoulders and she stroked his skin as she kissed him. She wanted to touch him everywhere, with all of herself. She had to memorize him, after all, because tonight was the end of all that they shared.

  Her lips moved, soft, tender, insistent like her love for him, down the trail of hair at his belly. She laid her hand on him, through his black jeans. He threw back his head and moaned.

  Swiftly she slipped off his belt and parted the placket of his jeans. He sprung free into her hand.

  She kissed him then, as he had kissed her that first night, a kiss shattering in its utter intimacy. She took him into her mouth, stroking him, finding the rhythm that his body sought, until he cried out and clutched her bare shoulders. He tried to hold back, she knew it. But she didn't allow him to hold back. At last, he surrendered. His body tightened in that final ecstatic agony. He found his release.

  When it was done, he dropped back, his knees folded beneath him, his head bowed. She lay down once more and languorously reached out to comb his hair with her hand. For a long time they remained that way, Janed on his folded knees before her, Eden stretched out on the couch.

  And then, without a word, he lifted his head and looked at her. His eyes branded her. He stood, not even bothering to button his jeans, and he scooped her up in his strong arms.

  He carried her to the bedroom, put her on the bed and quickly got rid of the rest of his clothes. Then he removed what was left of hers as well.

  He stood looking down at her. She knew what he was doing, because she did the same. They were memorizing each other. Every line, every curve, every last splendid inch. She lifted her arms to him. He went down to her. He felt so strong and good, all along the length of her.

  The kisses began again.

  It all began again.

  Eden gave herself up to it utterly. It was their last time.

  * * *

  At three-thirty the next morning, Jared rose from the bed.

  Silently he dressed and gathered up his things. When he was ready to go, he couldn't resist one last look at her, dreaming there, in the bed where he'd loved her once, and then again, not wanting to leave her though he knew that he must.

  She was so beautiful, her hair tangled and soft all around her sweet face, her skin pale and lustrous.

  Oh, how I wish … he caught himself thinking.

  But then he made himself turn from her. She had a whole life to live. And the best thing he could do for her was what he was doing now.

  Jared left the bedroom and went through the quiet house on silent feet. He let himself out into the night and disappeared into the shadowed trees.

  * * *

  Chapter 17

  « ^ »

  Eden woke at dawn. The blue jays and squirrels were chattering away outside the window, but the thought of pausing to watch their silly escapades held no appeal at all. She felt infinitely weary, yet she forced herself to rise and strip the sheets from the bed and carry them out to the ancient washing machine in the garage. She washed the sheets and changed the bed. She knew it was the right thing to do, to erase the scent of their lovemaking from the sheets, to help her forget.

  Once the bed was made she took a long, hot shower, because her body, too, carried the scent of passion on it. When she was done, she smelled like soap and bath powder and her own perfume.

  Next, she went through the cabin, looking for the slightest sign of Jared. She found very little. It saddened her all the more to find how little he had left of himself for her to clear away. There was a disposable razor to toss out, and a nearly empty tube of toothpaste. She took the case of cola she'd bought for him yesterday out to her car. She'd take it to work with her. They always needed cola at the bar.

  She remembered the wedding dress, but decided not to deal with it today. Someday soon, on a day off, she'd take it back down to Grass Valley and try to get her money back. That decided, she went out to the garage and put the newly washed sheets into the dryer.

  She went in and had her breakfast. Then she called Nick Santino and asked him how he'd managed the night before.

  "Patrick Jones came in and helped me. It all went just fine," Nick told her.

  "Good. Nick, I know it's asking a lot, since you worked late last night, but do you think you could handle opening up today? The closing shift is always tougher on weekends, so I think I should take that one."

  "Er … what about Jared?"

  Eden swallowed the knot that had suddenly formed in her throat. "He won't be helping out anymore. He was only … filling in until we could find someone like you, anyway."

  "Well, okay. I'd be glad to go in early. I'm happy to get the hours, I've gotta say."

  "Great. And next week we can talk about raising your pay. Your training time is over, from the way it looks now."

  "Hey. Terrific." Before he hung up, he asked cautiously, "Er, everything all right then, Miss Parker?"

  "Everything is just fine," she lied. "And for heaven's sake, call me Eden, okay?"

  "Sure. Well, okay then. Eden. I'll see you at—"

  "I'll be in by five, just to make sure you're doing all right. And call me if it gets too busy. I'll be right over."

  "No problem. See you at five, then."

  Eden hung up. And then she realized that she had eight hours ahead of her with nothing to do. It might be better to keep busy.

  Maybe she ought to call Nick back and tell him she'd decided to work both shifts, have him come in around seven to help at the busiest time.

  But then she reconsidered. Just the thought of getting ready for work right away made her feel totally exhausted. It was strange, really, because Eden usually felt energized at the idea of work.

  But not today. Today, she was tired to the bone. She'd go in at five as she'd promised Nick, and that would be good enough.

  She called Patrick next and thanked him for helping out the night before. He asked her cautiously about Jared.

  She told him the truth. "He's gone."

  Patrick was silent for a moment. Then he muttered, "The damn fool. Look, Eden. If there's anything I can do—"

  "There's not. But thanks."

  After she told Patrick goodbye, she got up with a sigh and wandered back to the bedroom. She lay down on the bed and closed her eyes and took a long nap.

  Strangely, when she woke, she didn't feel at all refreshed.

  Laurie called about three.

  "Hey, pal. It seems we never get together anymore. I was just thinking, maybe I could take a few days off and—"

  "Laurie, didn't your new semester just start?"

  "Look. I can manage it, don't worry."

  It didn't take a genius to figure out what Laurie was up to. Eden cut through the well-meaning subterfuge. "All right. Come clean. Did Patrick call you?"

  "No. Honestly, I haven't spoken with him."

  "Then who have you spoken with?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Laurie. Don't lie to me, please."

  "Oh, all right. Evidently Patrick called Oggie and Oggie called just about everyone, including Heather. It was Heather who called me."

  "And told you what?"

  "Oh, Eden…"

  "Just say it."

  Laurie sighed. "Heather says that Jared has left town again."

  "So." Eden dragged in a deep breath. "Everyone in the family knows, right?"

  "Well, I guess, more or less."

  "It sounds like more, not less, to me."

  "Eden, I know you need a friend right now."

  "I'm fine. Really. I'll survive. I'm just … a little tired, you know?"

  "Oh, Eden. It's bad, isn't it?"

  "Please. I will
call you. When I'm ready to … have a good cry. Okay?"

  "Or if you don't want to be alone. Whatever. I'll come."

  "I know you will. And thanks. But listen, I have to go…"

  "But, Eden—"

  Eden gently hung up the phone.

  Oggie called at four.

  "I'm gonna find out where that damned idiot went and bust his head in for him."

  "Oh, Oggie. Please just let it go."

  "Good God, gal. I'm a Jones. I ain't never let nothin' go."

  "Oggie, I have to hang up now. I'll call you, I will…" She could hear him huffing and puffing his outrage into the phone even as she laid it back in its cradle. It was time to get ready for work. She put on her black slacks and her white shirt and trim little vest and then drove over to The Hole in the Wall.

  The sly winks and knowing grins started as soon as she walked in the door. Eden got right to work and tried to ignore the veiled questions concerning herself and Jared and if they'd "worked things out yet."

  If she hadn't felt so numb and listless, she would have been pleased at the way Nick reacted to the ribbing she received. He stepped in consistently whenever the teasing comments got too extreme, either redirecting the jibes, or else quietly suggesting that he and Eden had heard about enough.

  At six, Patrick came in, and the teasing mysteriously stopped. He sat at the bar the rest of the night, nursing watered-down drinks and giving measuring looks to anyone who spoke to Eden.

  It was a good night, in terms of business, but not near as busy as those last hectic Saturday nights of the summer had been. Eden was glad when it was through and she could go home and go to bed at last.

  She decided to open the tavern on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, because those nights were generally slower nights and she thought Nick could handle taking the closing shift.

  Sunday, when she opened the doors, Delilah's husband, Sam, was waiting there with Rocky to get himself a stool. Sam stayed until Eden left at 11:00 p.m. Not a soul that whole day or evening mentioned the name Jared Jones. By then, Eden had figured out that the Jones men were intent on protecting her from gossip and verbal abuse.

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