Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write in the ROMANCE genre (04/19/07)
- TITLE: Breathless
By Marty Wellington
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He saw the familiar curve of her neck, her auburn hair blowing wildly in the wind, her long stride. He felt as if a tidal wave had engulfed him and left him breathless. Even though he had known she was coming, he hadn’t been prepared for this.
He remained behind her, hidden in the shadow of the barn. Daniel reined his horse around the back of the barn out of sight of the house, much like he did with his emotions seventeen years ago when he lost the only woman he’d ever loved. He needed to compose himself before he confronted her again.
Daniel shook off his troubled thoughts while he dismounted and tied Sage to the fence post. Seeking refuge, he buried his head in the gelding’s neck and wept.
Marlie arrived at the ranch, exhausted, and wary of what lie before her. Her father’s health was failing. It was only a sense of obligation, no, probably guilt, that led her to return to her childhood home and to a father who barely knew her. She had spent the last four hours in a rental car and three hours before that on an airplane. Why did the ranch have to be so isolated?
Stepping out of her car and onto the dusty driveway Marlie found the landscape virtually unchanged. She wasn’t sure she could adjust to the slower pace of ranch life again. Owning her own public relations firm in Chicago consumed every aspect of her life. It would be difficult to maintain her business from this distance—both emotionally and professionally.
Her father’s ranch manager, Jim, and his wife, Consuela, met her on the front porch. An aura of warmth and hospitality surrounded them like an angelic halo, thought Marlie. They had served as surrogate parents for her with her mother gone and her father usually distant.
Tears spilling down her brown face, Consuela rushed to Marlie embracing her with motherly abandon. Marlie’s icy constitution began to thaw with feelings she had long forgotten.
“Oh, mija, it’s so good to have you home. We’ve all missed you.” Jim held back just long enough for the two women to become untangled and then he too pulled Marlie into his arms.
“Honey, your dad’s sleeping right now. Why don’t you come in the house and we’ll catch up before we have to wake him for dinner.”
Marlie attempted a tired smile. “Sure, I’d love to.”
Jim opened the door for the two women as they moved through the front room and into the kitchen. Consuela poured ice tea and the three settled into an old familiarity around the pine kitchen table.
After nearly an hour of animated conversation, Consuela excused herself to finish dinner preparations. “Why don’t you go wake your father, Marlie? I’m sure he’d love to see you.”
Before she could respond, squeaky hinges of the back porch screen door announced the arrival of Daniel, Jim and Consuela’s eldest son.
Daniel moved lithely into the room, making his way to the sink. “Just need to wash up, Mamasita.”
A lump formed in Marlie’s throat. She wasn’t really expecting to feel this way. She stared at his wide back, clothed in a blue cotton shirt; his jet hair just barely visible under the obligatory western hat. Was he trembling?
“Daniel, what’s wrong with you? Can’t you greet Marlie?”
Daniel spun around, his hands still dripping with soapy water. “Really, Mama. I’m no child.” His bronzed complexion tinted red; his dark brown eyes flashed hurt and anger.
“Well, you act like it sometimes.”
“Marlie . . .” The word caught in his throat. Quickly, he recovered, and continued in almost a whisper. “I’m so glad you’re here.” His eyes softened. Why did she always make me feel so off-balance? I have loved her since . . . forever. And, now she’s back . . . sitting here before me . . . so beautiful. It’s going to be different this time. This time I won’t lose her . . . I’ll love her . . . yes, really love her . . . forever.
“It’s good to see you too, Daniel.”
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