Shadows of Yesterday(9)

By: Sandra Brown



“I need you.”

“The government needs me. Those kids in grade school who get hooked on speed and smack need me. No matter how many busts we make, we’re only skimming the surface. It’s a losing battle, but I’ve got to keep fighting. Support me. Trust me. I’m not going to let anything happen to me when I know you’re here waiting for me.”

She pushed away from him and smiled a shaky smile. “I’ll always be waiting for you. Come home soon and safely.”

He kissed her hungrily. “I will.”

But he didn’t. The next time she saw him, he was lying in a casket the government had provided.

They never got to eat the celebration dinner Leigh had prepared. She never got to surprise Greg with the news about the baby, which she had planned to tell him that night. And Leigh had sworn that she would never again get involved with a man whose job was more dangerous than that of an elementary school principal’s.

Greg had worked out of El Paso, but soon after the funeral Leigh had been offered a job in Midland. She had read about the new boom town springing up out of the west Texas plains. Midland was an oil town. Where there was oil, there were jobs, and money being made and spent. It seemed a good place to start over. In spite of her mother’s vehement protests and tearful pleas that she come live with the Jacksons in Big Spring, Leigh had taken the job in Midland. With the salary she’d been promised, Greg’s pension, and frugality, she could live comfortably. She was determined to make it on her own.

Leigh listened to the light, rapid breathing of her baby, saw the rise and fall of her dainty back. “The worst is over, Sarah. We’ll make it.”

She had a home, a job, a healthy baby. All she had to cope with now was the loneliness.

* * *

“Sarah, you’re going on a diet tomorrow,” Leigh panted as she placed the baby in her wind-up swing and cranked it. She had had a hard day at work, had picked up the four-month-old Sarah at the babysitter’s house where she left her only when necessary, and then had had to go to the grocery store. Now, having established the chubby infant in the house, she went back to her car to get the two sacks of groceries and returned to plop them on the countertop.

“Whew!” Leigh exclaimed, kicking off her shoes and collapsing onto the couch. Her mother’s exertion seemed to amuse Sarah, and she crowed her laughter and waved her arms in merriment. “I’m not doing this for your entertainment, you know, Miss Sarah,” Leigh reproached her.

She pushed off the couch and knelt down in front of the swing to tickle Sarah’s plump stomach. “What do you think I am? Huh? Your personal court jester?” Sarah squealed as Leigh burrowed her face in the soft baby fat under her chin and made gnawing motions with her mouth.

The baby’s hands did damage to the neat bun on the back of her mother’s head, all but destroying it completely.

“Ouch!” Leigh fell back onto the floor. Her shirttail came out of the waistband of her skirt. She laughed and tried to draw her breath. When the doorbell sounded, she groaned.

“You stay right there,” she warned Sarah mockingly.

She pulled the front door open and instantly her hand flew to her chest in surprise. Her heart beat wildly. Fireworks seemed to be exploding in her head. Strange as it was, she was experiencing a rare sense of elation.

“Hi.”

He looked so different! His hair was still long, but shiny clean and well brushed. His face was just as darkly tanned, but smoothly shaven. Gone were the dirty jeans and cowboy shirt. In their place were a pair of well-fitting gray flannel slacks, a light blue shirt, and a navy blazer. Polished black loafers had replaced the disreputable boots.

Only his eyes were the same. Brilliant. Blue. Electric.

No, his eyes weren’t the only familiar trait. Leigh knew that wide, white smile. “Do you remember me?”

“Of… of… course,” she stammered. Remember him? Yes, she remembered him. Often, lying alone in her bed, she recalled all too well his eyes, his smile, his voice, his kiss just before leaving her. She’d told herself the only reason she wanted to see him again was to thank him. Now, looking into his eyes, seeing that handsome, virile smile, she wasn’t so sure that was the only reason. “Chad. You look… look so different,” she finished lamely, feeling awkward and confused. She hoped he didn’t realize how his magnetic presence unsettled her.

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