Chapter Two

    It took Carmen exactly thirty minutes to shower and change. Fifteen minutes to travel six miles to the clinic - most of it rough gravel roads. The scary part was; she made it with three minutes to spare. Even so, Alex was waiting outside when she pulled into the parking lot. He hopped into the car, directing her to the small Cafe a few miles down the road.
    After they ordered dinner, he pondered over his water glass. What was so terrible that he couldn’t come out with it in his usual candid manner? Finally he cleared his throat.
“TAYCO called today.”
    She tensed. “Don't tell me,” she responded dryly. “They just now realized you quit.”
    The dark eyes shifted to her face soberly. “Apparently not. They want me to make another sales trip - to South America.”
    She stared at him, a gnawing feeling beginning in her stomach that had nothing to do with hunger.
    “You said no, didn’t you?”
    He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “They offered me a good package.”
    “But we don't need the money.”
    His mouth twisted into a wry smile and the dark eyes glinted with something less than humor.     “Nobody gets to the point that they can’t use more money, sweetheart. Besides, the clinic and the house took a chunk out of my savings.”
    She sighed heavily. “It isn't the money. You’re just too kind hearted to tell anybody no when they ask for help.”
    He leaned back in his chair and frowned at her. “I can say no. I just think it’s too good an offer to turn down.”
    She stared at her empty plate. “Didn’t they hire someone to replace you?”
    He shrugged. “Sure, but the customer is familiar with me, and I'm bilingual.”
    She glanced up at him. “That sounds awful. Is there a cure?”
    He laughed shortly. “Yuck it up.”
    Across the table, their gazes locked and she had that giddy feeling again. Would she ever get over it? She tore her gaze from his.
    “I don't want you to go.”
    “It's only two weeks.”
    She caught her breath. “Two weeks? I’ll be an old woman by the time you get back. I’ll have forgotten who you are.”
    The dark eyes twinkled suggestively. “I’ll remind you.”
    She wrinkled her nose at him. “Don’t be vulgar.”
    He laughed softly. “You didn’t think it was vulgar this morning in the shower.”
    Warmth crawled up her neck and she glanced around to see if anyone was close enough to hear. They were alone, though. She ignored his implication that they showered together. He was simply trying to lead the subject away. She shook her head.
    “I don’t want you to go,” she repeated tersely.
    He took a sip from his glass and avoided her eyes. “I’ve already told them I would go.”
    Her stomach twisted painfully. “You could tell them you changed your mind,” she suggested hopefully.
    He shook his head. “They've already made arrangements.”
    She twisted her glass around in the puddle of condensation.
    “You could take me with you.”
    “You'd be bored out of your mind. And who’d take care of the stock?”
    Bill or Josh would be glad to take care of the animals, and he knew it. He didn’t want her to go because he would be concerned about her safety in South America. Of course, stating so would be an admission the he was taking a risk as well.
    He leaned toward her and rested his arms on the table. “Two weeks isn’t so long. I’ll be back before you know it.”
    Tears blurred her eyes. “How will I make it without you? You’ve spoiled me rotten, you know.” She met his gaze accusingly.
    He covered her hand with his. “I can’t believe this is the same woman who climbed down my throat every time I tried to help her with the dairy. What’s the matter - really?”
    “I’m afraid,” she blurted out. “I have a bad feeling about this I’m going to lose you.”
    He eyed her critically. “You could lose me any time. You know that - in a car wreck or....”
    “I don't want you to go,” she interrupted forcefully.
    He gazed down at her sternly. “So you said - several times. But I am going.” He leaned back and lifted his glass again.
    She frowned at him. “You didn’t even ask me how I felt before you made your decision.”
    He gave her a level look over his glass.
    “It’s a business deal, Carmen. We agreed that I would make those decisions.”
    She gnawed at her lower lip. “I know, but when it affects me personally….”
    He nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t anticipate all this static.”
    He glanced up as the waitress delivered their food. He smiled and thanked her and when she left, he turned an imploring gaze back to Carmen.
    “Come on, Carmen. Get your chin off the table. I’ve had trips before. You never acted this way then.”
    “We weren't married then.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “If you've got your mind set on it, there's nothing I can do, but I don't have to like it.”
    One side of his mouth tipped up in a wry smile. “Like it? Who said I wanted you to like it? I want you to miss me something fierce.”
    She kicked his boot under the table. “You sadist.”
    Dark brows shot up over twinkling eyes and he winced. “Oh, you cut me to the core.”
    She smiled in spite of the situation. “So, when are you leaving?”
    “Next Thursday.” He picked up a fork and lit into his lunch.
    She picked at her food for a few minutes and then remembered the buffalo.
    “Oh, I almost forgot. I have a surprise for you.”
    He glanced up from his food and lifted a brow. Alex loved surprises.
    “Your buffalo cow had two calves.”
    His eyes lit up with excitement. “Two? Really? And are they healthy?”
    She shrugged. “You're the vet. Go look for yourself.” She stole a glance at his troubled features and then laughed. “They looked great to me.”
    They ate in silence for a few minutes before he spoke again.
    “Katie called me today. She wanted to know if I could pick the boys up from the sitter tonight. She has to work late.”
    Carmen made a face. “What's wrong with Bill? Doesn’t he have time for his own kids?”
Alex shrugged. “I know the twins make you nervous, but they are my nephews. I’ll keep them out of your hair.”
    “They don’t make me nervous, and I don’t mind watching them. I just think your sister should be at home with her children. It isn’t like they couldn't survive without her contribution to the income. Sometimes I think Katie took that job to get away from the boys.”
    He shrugged again. “Maybe so, but that’s their business. Meanwhile, the boys could use some attention. Why don’t we take them out for pizza?”
    “You'd make a great daddy.” The words slipped out before she thought about what she was saying.     He glanced up sharply and a shadow passed over those warm eyes. He fell on the comment like a hungry dog on a steak.
    “So why don’t we adopt a child?”
    It was her turn to squirm in her chair. “You know how I feel about that. I don’t want to set myself up for that kind of hurt.”
    He was watching her intently. “There’s a worse pain, Carmen. Growing old and waking up some day to realize you’re alone because you were afraid to take a chance. It’s only a remote chance at that.”
    He was right, but deep inside she hadn’t completely accepted the fact that they wouldn’t have one of their own. All her prayers had fallen on deaf ears - or as Alex had once said; God was answering. He was saying no. It was so hard to accept. Alex was so virile. He practically oozed testosterone. How could it be? Mumps at twelve, he explained, but could the damage be reversed? And now this trip. The haunting feeling returned. Would she see him again after Thursday - alive? What a morbid thought.
    She glanced out the window. Think of something else - anything. Her gaze fell on a little blond-headed girl, her pigtails dancing with each step. Carmen tore her gaze from the child and realized Alex was still watching her. She forced a smile.
    “Maybe you’re right. I’ll keep it in mind.”
    He nodded, eyeing her suspiciously for a moment. Sometimes she was afraid he could read her mind.

Continue to Chapter 3

The Darkest Hour
Linda Louise Rigsbee
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