“She’s a good teacher, then.”
“The best I’ve ever had.”
That did and didn’t surprise Roberto. He knew Brynn was popular with the kids, but that didn’t say much about her ability to teach a class.
“Then go back,” Roberto said as though it should be an easy decision. He never did understand Emilio’s sudden desire to quit. The teenager certainly wasn’t any help here at the garage, mooning around, looking miserable. Everything he’d asked Emilio to do thus far, with the exception of errands, he’d had to do over.
His brother’s low, trembling voice caused Roberto to look up. “Why can’t you?”
“If you like school, then go.”
“I’m not going back,” Emilio insisted with a ring of rebellion.
Roberto frowned and gave Emilio his full attention. Something was very wrong. “First you said you can’t go back, and now you’re telling me you won’t? Which is it?”
Emilio looked decidedly uncomfortable. “Both.”
Leaning against the work bench, Roberto crossed his arms. “You’d better explain that.”
Emilio took a short stroll around the garage. “I can’t go back because . . .” He hesitated.
“Because why?” Roberto pressed.
Emilio whirled around, his eyes flashing with open defiance. “Because I’m embarrassed, that’s why.”
“Embarrassed about what?” He hadn’t a clue what his brother could possibly have done that would cause this reaction.
“I made a fool of myself in front of Miss Cassidy.” He admitted this between clenched teeth, as if to say that was all he was willing to admit.
Roberto snickered and shook his head. Emilio wasn’t the only one to play the fool when it came to dealing with the beautiful redhead. All at once it dawned on him that Emilio might have fallen in love with her, too.
His brother seemed to read Roberto’s thoughts. “It’s not what you think,” he snapped. “She’s your woman, not mine.”
Roberto returned to the carburetor rather than look his brother in the eye. “She’s not mine, either,” he said forcefully, “and that’s the way I want it. The less you say about it the better. Understand?”
Emilio didn’t say anything, but Roberto felt his brother’s scrutiny. He regretted having said this much, but Emilio would have figured it out sooner or later.
“Now get your butt over to school.”
Emilio didn’t budge. “Why is it so hellfire important for me to get an education? I thought you said it was a waste of time. What changed your mind?”
The last thing Roberto wanted was to be dragged into an argument over the pros and cons of education. “You changed my mind. I gained nothing in high school, least of all a decent education. But it’s different for you. Now don’t make me embarrass you further by dragging you back.”
Emilio hesitated, as though he didn’t know what to do. “You’d do it, too.”
Roberto grinned. “Don’t doubt it. Now get your sorry ass over there.”
“I’m going to tell Miss Cassidy you forced me to come.”
“Fine, tell her.” He’d rather Emilio didn’t mention his name, but he wouldn’t give his brother something to hold over him, either. Swallowing his pride was a small gift he could give the two people he loved most in this world. His brother would have his education, and Brynn would have the pleasure of knowing that he’d changed his mind about school.
The decision made, Emilio disappeared.
Roberto heard the door slam and paused long enough to look out the window to see Emilio racing down the street, kicking up his heels in his eagerness to get back to school.
It didn’t seem an hour had passed before Emilio was back. He looked more like his usual self than he had over the last couple of days, loitering around the shop, disgruntled and miserable.
“I thought you went back to school,” Roberto said with a scowl.
“I did go back. School’s over.”
Roberto glanced at the clock above the door. Emilio was right.
“A couple of the guys are waiting for me. We’re going to visit Modesto. He can have company now, and we thought we’d see if we could find any good-looking nurses.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
“I got a message for you from Miss Cassidy.”
Roberto steeled himself. He didn’t want to play any games, notes back and forth, that sort of thing. It was over, and the sooner she accepted it, the better. “I don’t want it,” he said forcefully.
“The note or whatever it is she gave you.”
“She didn’t give me anything. She just wanted me to tell you something.”
“Fine,” he said stiffly, “tell me.”
“She said thank you.”
Emilio’s look told him the answer to that should have been obvious. “For me coming back to school. I told her you were the one who insisted I did, and she got all teary-eyed and asked me to tell you she appreciated that.”
The pain in Roberto’s chest tightened. “You’ve told me, now get out of here. I’ve got work to do.”
Jenny didn’t know what to think about Trey. He hadn’t been himself for nearly two days. She’d spent as much time with him as her schedule would allow, but that was only an hour or two each day. Perhaps he was disappointed in her.
She’d taken him to all the tourist spots. Only recently they’d been up to the top of the World Trade Center and to the United Nations building.
By nature Trey was a man of few words, but he’d been less communicative than usual the last couple of days. That worried her.
“Are there any other sights you want to see?” Jenny asked as they strolled lazily through Central Park, feeding the birds.
“I can’t say that there are,” Trey said, tossing birdseed to a flock of people-friendly pigeons. Others flew over instantly from a variety of directions, looking for a handout. Their wings made a ruffling sound that carried with the wind.
Jenny tossed a fistful of seeds and laughed at the way the silver birds battled over the goodies.
“I was thinking maybe we could go to dinner this evening,” Trey said unexpectedly.
“Dinner,” Jenny repeated. She’d promised Michelle they would have their own small Christmas that evening, since her friend would soon be heading home for the holidays. Jenny’s schedule at the restaurant had changed a number of times with other girls needing time away. She’d worked all the extra hours she could. The only night she’d been free in nearly two weeks had been the evening of the Christmas potluck. Surely Michelle would understand.
“I’ll need to check with Michelle first.” She didn’t tell Trey the reason, because another, more intrusive thought immediately came to mind.
Trey was going back to Montana.
Dinner would be his way of telling her good-bye. An empty feeling, one that chilled her heart, came so swiftly it felt as if someone had slapped her viciously across the back.
“When’s your flight?” she asked point-blank.
Trey didn’t answer her right away, and she thought he might not have heard her. “Two days’ time.”
So she was right.
“I can’t stay any longer, Jenny. I’d like to, but I’ve got a herd of cattle to worry about, and I can’t leave Pete alone much longer.”
“I understand.” If anyone could appreciate his need to return, it was she. After all, she was a rancher’s daughter. That Trey had stayed in New York this long was something of a surprise. Just when she was growing accustomed to having him with her. Just when her heart felt whole again. He was going to leave her. “Maybe you’ll be able to visit again soon,” she said, fighting to disguise the ache in her heart. Next time. The only way she could deal with his leaving was to look into the future and the promise of his return.
The birdseed gone, Jenny experienced the need to sit down. She walked over and sank onto a park bench.
Trey joined her. “When will you be able to talk to Michelle?”
For a moment Jenny didn’t know what he was talking about. “Soon,” she said, and then remembered Trey had asked her to dinner. A fond farewell dinner. A “gee, but it’s been swell” good-bye dinner.
Her stomach clenched, then tied itself into a knot that tightened with each breath. As the ache intensified, Jenny realized how much she wanted Trey to stay. How much she needed him in her life.
Sitting on the edge of the park bench, her hands buried deep in her coat pockets, Jenny tried to compose herself, fearing she’d embarrass them both by breaking into tears.
“Michelle’s at the apartment now. We can go ask her,” she suggested cheerfully. That she could fool Trey into thinking nothing was amiss was a testament to how truly talented an actress she was.
“Michelle’s there now?”
Jenny checked her watch. “If not, she will be any minute. Why don’t we go back to the apartment? It’s about lunchtime anyway. I can fix you a sandwich. I make an excellent peanut butter and jelly.”
He didn’t answer her right away. “If that’s what you want.”
“Sure,” she said, rushing to her feet as though tickled pink to return to her small, cramped apartment and slap together two pieces of bread.
It didn’t escape Jenny’s notice that Trey didn’t speak a single word on the way home. Perhaps it was the subway, which she knew confused him; it had her in the beginning, too, but now she was a pro when it came to finding her way around the city. Of course she didn’t take it at night, and never when she was alone.
She unlocked the apartment door and stepped inside.
“It doesn’t look like Michelle’s back,” Trey murmured.
“She’ll be here any time,” Jenny said confidently. Now that she was home, in familiar surroundings, she didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to keep up the pretense. The tightening, empty feeling in the pit of her stomach had spread to her heart and her throat. Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks.
“Make yourself comfortable and I’ll get you a sandwich,” she said, eager for an excuse to leave him. She needed this time to compose herself, to figure out how she was going to see him off and do it with a smile. No one was that good an actress.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You will be soon enough,” she said, hoping she sounded enthusiastic. “If you don’t want it, I’ll eat it later.” She walked into the kitchen and braced her hands against the kitchen sink and closed her eyes. Inhaling deep breaths didn’t seem to help.
Trey was going back to Montana, where he belonged—where she belonged, too. Only she was too proud to admit it, too stubborn to throw in the towel. For three years she’d given all that she had, looking for a chance to prove herself. All that effort, all her talent, had gotten her was a job as a singing waitress in a two-star restaurant.