They’d kissed, but Scott never pushed her to go any further. She’d been so innocent then, that she hadn’t thought about it, but now she wondered why he hadn’t. He asked her one night, during one of their phone calls, if she was a virgin. She remembered being aghast that he’d asked. She hadn’t told him she’d been saving herself for him, but she had been, in every way.
He came back at Christmas, and spent it with her family. He proposed on Christmas Eve in front of the Christmas tree, with her parents watching. She hadn’t questioned it then, but remembered now how happy her mother and father had been. She wondered now if they’d been happy for her, or happy that she landed such a “catch.”
She visited his base soon after they were engaged. Scott took her around, introducing her to his friends, most already married with families. She remembered how he always asked if Liv wasn’t the most beautiful woman they’d ever seen.
One evening during her visit they went out for dinner with several other couples. One of the wives asked Liv about her hobbies and what she liked to do. Liv told her she had a horse, and that she dreamed of being a barrel racer.
Later, when Scott dropped her off at her hotel, he sat her down and told her he didn’t want to hear any more talk of barrel racing. She would be too busy as an Air Force wife for such foolishness, and that he wanted to start a family as soon as they were married. She’d loved him so much that giving up her dream to be with him didn’t seem like a sacrifice.
When she got home and talked to her mother about it, her mom assured her that life with Scott would be an unimaginable series of adventures. She’d travel the world and have opportunities as the wife of a pilot that few dreamed about. Rodeos and barrel racing were for women of a different caliber than Liv, her mother said that night.
The next month was a flurry of activity as they rushed to plan the wedding. They held the ceremony at the Air Force Academy chapel, and the reception at their ranch. Liv remembered knowing very few people at her own wedding—most were Scott’s friends, or friends of her parents.
For their honeymoon, Scott took her to Hawaii, and treated her like a queen. He was charming, romantic, and made her feel as though she was the most special woman who ever lived. He was gentle when they made love, and patient as he taught her how to please him. She’d never dreamed sex could be so spectacular.
While they were in Hawaii, he made sure they did everything she wanted to do. They went sailing, whale-watching, hiking, and snorkeling. He took her to each of the islands and when they were in Kauai, they made love on a beach, under the stars.
As a captain, and a fighter pilot, Scott arranged for a very nice home for the two of them, off base. Not nearly as nice as her parents’ home, but Liv hadn’t expected it to be. She missed her horse, but being with Scott meant everything to her.
Liv was accustomed to the life of an Air Force officer, she’d seen and learned it all from her mother. There’d be wives’ clubs to join, dinner parties to host, and functions to attend.
In early April, Liv found out she was pregnant. Scott was thrilled. If she’d felt like a princess before, now she felt doubly so. He was attentive and caring, making sure she had everything she wanted or needed.
Each month, on the fourteenth, he gave her a gift to celebrate their anniversary. In March, he gave her an emerald four-leaf clover necklace. In April, a pair of diamond earrings, in honor of her birthday, April 17.
In May, he gave her tickets for the two of them to visit her parents for Memorial Day, and in June, he gave her a bracelet that belonged to his grandmother.
Scott never failed to tell her his sun rose and set with her, and she’d loved him, heart and soul.
In August he was deployed, and by November, he was gone. Those had been very dark days for Liv. Her world had ended when they told her Scott died.
Her parents flew in right away, and took care of everything. She wondered now, if her father knew Scott was shot down before she did. She moved home to live with them. She remembered Scott’s funeral, the day they buried him at the academy cemetery. Everyone told her she should be so proud, her husband was a hero.
Irene Louise Fairchild was born a few weeks later, and Liv’s world went from revolving around Scott to revolving around her daughter.
Ben watched the expressions on Liv’s face change as she told him the story of her life with Scott. She had been so young, so innocent, but it sounded as though he had been a decent man, and good to her. And she’d loved him, completely. Which made it easier to understand why she hadn’t ever remarried.
“When Renie was little, I had no desire to do anything but be her mom. My parents would’ve been happy to watch her if I had ever wanted to go out, but I never did. I believed that Scott was it for me. I shut off that part of me. The day Renie started school, I met Paige. Her daughter, Blythe, was in the same kindergarten class.”
Soon Liv became busy with mother-daughter play dates, helping in Renie’s classroom and on field trips. When that happened, her parents started traveling more. Liv never realized how much they’d put their lives on hold to help her.
When Renie turned ten, Liv’s father had a heart attack. He died the next day, without ever regaining consciousness. Liv got Pooh, Renie’s horse, as a way to distract her daughter from the pain of losing her grandfather. Two years later, her mother passed away from breast cancer. The time between her diagnosis and her passing had been brief.
Between then and now, Liv had her hands full raising her daughter. Paige and Mark tried to fix her up with different guys, but there had never been anyone who held a candle to Scott. She enjoyed the time she spent with Renie. They were as much friends as they were parent and child.
“I guess you didn’t ask me to tell you my life story, but it’s hard to tell you about Scott, without doing so. The truth is, we were together such a short amount of time. Even so, he was my life, and he impacted the rest of my life in a profound way. It’s hard to separate one from the other.”
Wow—her life story. First a daughter, then a wife, and then a mother. Until tonight, when she summed it up so succinctly for Ben, she hadn’t realized her whole life she’d been someone’s something. Liv had never been anything all on her own.
What bothered Ben the most about everything Liv had told him, was hearing her birthday had been a little over a week ago, and he hadn’t known. Had she celebrated alone? He hoped Paige and Mark had done something nice for her.
“Are you getting hungry?” They were sitting out on Ben’s deck. The sun was going down, and he turned on one of the outdoor heat lamps.
“I am. What should we make?”
“Let’s go out tonight. How does sushi sound?” Ben wanted to take her into town to celebrate her birthday.
“Fabulous. I love sushi, I would eat it every day if I didn’t have to drive so far. Um…what should I wear?”
“Something comfortable. I’d be happy if you wore nothin’ at all, baby, but then I wouldn’t want to leave the house.” Ben snuggled her closer to him. “Thanks for telling me about Scott.”
“I’m still not sure I want to hear about your ex-wife, Ben.”
He needed to tell her about Christine, but more, he needed to tell her about himself, which included the things that led to the demise of their marriage. He didn’t want to keep any secrets from her. He wasn’t proud of the way he’d lived his life back then, but getting beyond it made him a better man. At least he hoped it had.
“Tell you what, let’s leave that story for another day. I want to take you out on a date tonight. And show you off a bit.”
The thought filled Liv with dread. Had Ben dated much? How many other women would they be running into that he’d slept with? Was she just another one of Ben’s conquests? This was all so new to her.
The dates she’d gone on had never been with anyone she cared about. When she had dinner with Ben and the band in Las Vegas, she hadn’t given any thought to other women, it hadn’t mattered then. At that point, Liv considered the thi
ng between them a fling, something that would last a day or two. She no longer saw it that way.
She wished she’d brought something nicer to wear, but she made do with a sleek cashmere sweater, wool pants, and the black boots with the four-inch heels she remembered to throw in at the last minute.
He waited on the deck, leaning on the railing with his back to her. God, he looked hot, even from behind. His jeans, slung effortlessly low, hugged his tight behind and rock-hard thighs. The sweater he wore taut over his broad shoulders made her reconsider the cashmere. She was overly warm already.
Ben turned as Liv walked by the fireplace inside, the light from it casting a warm glow around her. He had never seen anyone more beautiful in his life.
“Look at you,” he said when she came out on the deck. He took her hands in his but stood back, his eyes gazing over her. “Remember when I said I wouldn’t want to leave the house if you wore nothing at all? This counts, too. You are so hot, I want to keep you all to myself.”
“Uh-uh,” she said. “You promised me sushi and I’m holding you to it.”
They stopped first at the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin. It was dimly lit and very romantic.
“Where to begin,” Liv said, studying the menu. “These are the swankiest cocktails I’ve ever seen.”
She decided on the Bee Sting, a mix of tequila, honey, mint and lemon, with a splash of habanera. Ben ordered a Latin Lover—hot cocoa, habanera, and whipped cream, but he asked them to hold the tequila on his.
“I thought you might enjoy this place,” he said. “It seems like a good place to start a date.”
“Is this where you start all your dates?”
Ben pulled her close and nibbled on her earlobe. “You’re the first woman I’ve brought here, Liv, and you’ll be the last. It’s you and me, baby. I thought you knew that by now.”
She turned her head and brushed her mouth across his. Ben cupped the back of her neck, holding her close, and nibbling her bottom lip. “Do you know what you do to me?” he whispered. “You make me crazy with wanting you.”
Liv brought her hand up and stroked the side of his face. “I’ve never wanted anyone the way I want you,” she whispered in his ear.
“Ben? What are you doing here?” Ben didn’t have to look to know that his ex stood next to their table.
Every muscle in Liv’s body tightened in an instant. She tried to pull her hands away, but he tightened his grip. Before he spoke, he brushed his lips against hers one more time. “Shh,” he whispered.
He kept his eyes fixed on hers, not even blinking. “Liv, this is my ex-wife, Christine.” She tried again to wriggle her hands free from his, but he wouldn’t let go.
“Christine,” he said, eyes not leaving Liv’s, “What brings you out tonight?”
“Drinks with the girls. I didn’t expect to run into you here. Who’s your friend?”
Ben’s gaze remained fixed on Liv’s. Every instinct told him Liv would pull away from him, and he wasn’t going to let her.
“This is Liv,” he said.
“Oh, uh, nice to meet you.” Neither Liv nor Ben looked at Christine. “I guess I’ll let you get back to it.”
Ben wanted to breathe a sigh of relief when Christine walked away, but Liv’s body remained so taut, he was afraid to let out a single breath. “Liv, honey, what’s goin’ on?”
Her hands relaxed and she took her eyes from his.
“She’s stunning,” Liv murmured.
“She doesn’t hold a candle to you,” he answered, keeping his voice soft, hoping to soothe her.
“Don’t be ridiculous, she’s gorgeous.”
“You don’t have any idea how beautiful you are, do you?”
“For an older woman, who spends more of her time with horses than humans.”
He dropped her hands and sat back. “Liv, how much younger than you do you think I am?”
She shrugged, trying to be nonchalant. “Ten years?”
“How old are you?” he asked.
Ben shook his head. “I’m three years older than you are,” he laughed. “Not that it makes any difference. I thought you should know, since it seemed to bother you.”
“You are not.”
“I am, and I’ll prove it.” He dug out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license.
“I don’t need to see that,” she said, while at the same time taking it out of his hand. “Wow. You look damn good for your age, Benjamin Caldwell Rice.”
“Let’s see yours, Olivia.”
“Not on your life. Your picture is way better than mine.”
Ben let himself breathe that sigh of relief he’d been holding in. Liv was fine. The awkward moment passed, thank God.
He brushed his lips across her knuckles. “Wanna get out of here?”
“More than anything.”
Ben threw a fifty on the table and they walked out, before their drinks were even delivered.
They walked, hand in hand, around the corner and downstairs to the sushi restaurant. It was crowded as usual, but there were four open seats at the bar. Ben led Liv over, pulling out a stool for her.
“Shouldn’t we check in with someone?” she asked.
“There he is,” she heard a deep male voice say. “This must be Liv.”
Ben hugged the man and slapped him on the back. “Good to see you, big brother. Liv, I’d like you to meet Matt. Matt, this is Liv.”
Matt took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. “The magnificent Liv, I’ve heard so much about you.” He turned to Ben. “She’s even more beautiful than you said.”
“Back off, brother,” Ben said, taking Liv’s hand from Matt’s and tucking it in his.
Matt threw his head back and laughed, the same hearty, whole-body, soulful laugh as Ben’s.
“This is Matt’s place,” Ben explained. He waved his hand over the corner section where they were seated. “Reserved for family, no matter how crowded it gets.”
Matt stayed and chatted with them for a few minutes and then excused himself to seat open tables. Less than ten minutes later, Will, Ben’s youngest brother, joined them.
“Is this a coincidence?” Ben asked as Will pulled out the stool on the other side of Liv and sat down. “Or did Matthew give you the word we were here?”
“I had to come and meet Liv,” Will answered. “Who knows if you’ll leave your house again while she’s here? Liv,” he turned to her, “I’m Will, Ben’s younger, handsomer, more romantic brother.”
“Will, it’s nice to meet you,” Liv responded. “Ben, didn’t you say you had ‘sisters-in-law,’ plural? Do you have more brothers?”
“Damn,” said Will. “You already told her I’m married?”
They both laughed. “Seriously, I’m Will, and I am all the things I said before, as well as happily married.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Will.”
“Speaking of which, Maeve wanted me to invite you to dinner while Liv’s here.”
A few minutes later, two women approached, both gorgeous. Liv stiffened again, but relaxed when Will stood. “And there she is. Hey darlin’, fancy running into you here.”
“Will Rice,” said the woman with coal black hair, and the palest, but most beautiful skin Liv had ever seen. “Don’t pretend you didn’t call me to come and meet her. Hi,” she turned in Liv’s direction, “I’m Maeve, Will’s wife, and this is Allison, Matt’s wife.”
Will and Ben pulled more stools over to the bar. When the couple around the corner from them left, the group took over the whole far end of the crowded bar.
Ben watched Liv interact with his family. She fit, he thought, as she talked and laughed with them. She fit perfectly.
They never ordered, the guys behind the bar kept the sushi and other house specialties coming without them needing to. Matt was showing off, thought Ben with a smile.
“Oh, I’m so full,” Liv said, putting her hand on her stomach. Moments later the lights around the bar dimmed as
the group broke into a rousing version of “Happy Birthday.” Liv tried to figure out who they were singing for, and then someone set the candle-filled mochi ice cream in front of her.
“Happy birthday, baby,” Ben said, brushing his lips against hers. “Make a wish.”
When Ben woke, the heat of Liv’s body next to his flooded him with a sense of calm. He loved having her here with him, just as he loved being with her at her place. As long as she was next to him, he was at peace.
He wanted to talk to her about running into Christine last night, and her reaction. He hoped Liv understood that he and Christine were co-parents now, and nothing more.
Before any of that, though, he needed to tell Liv more about himself. He wasn’t proud of most of his past, but he’d overcome a lot of his demons, and made significant changes in his life.
Living life at home and living life on tour, as he soon would be doing, were very different things, though. Life on the road was crazy—a different city every night, sometimes several nights in a row. They’d have a day off here and there, but never enough time to come home and regroup. He wished again that she wasn’t going to Europe with Renie, and that he could take her on the road with him. That wouldn’t be fair to her, though. He didn’t need or want a babysitter, he wanted a lover, a mate…someday a wife.
Liv shifted so her back faced his front, and he wrapped his arms around her, nestling her close. For someone who slept alone as many years as she had, he wondered if his constant need to touch her bothered her. Even in his sleep he clung to her. Awake he wanted to bury himself in her every chance he had.
“Sweet Liv,” he whispered in her ear, hoping to wake her gently.
“Hmm, is it morning?”
“It’s almost nine. You can sleep longer if you want to.”
Fall for Me (Cowboys of Crested Butte Book 1) Page 12