May 29, 2023

Update Link: Invisible Strings – Part 22

Oof, it was definitely NOT supposed to be three weeks between updates, but you know, life is weird, and your brain doesn’t always obey you. I was determined not to let my contract status affect me, but then, well, it did. I just really struggled to get through the last three weeks of classes. Putting together nine applications (exhausting), getting through my classes (AND starting my last sixth grade rotation), and just generally wrapping my head around spending the summer interviewing with no health insurance for my chronic health conditions. It took a toll on the creative brain, and I started to feel really burnt out.

But — as you might have seen if you follow me on Twitter — I got some good news recently. Some really great news, actually. I applied for an ELA position in my home district (where I live and worked as a substitute during the pandemic). My sister encouraged me to reach out to the superintendent — he’s a connection through my mother (she was on the Board of Education that hired him, and he went to school with my brother-in-law). Why not capitalize on that? So I did that, and he told me the ELA job would be filled internally, BUT he wanted to meet with me to talk about some current interests because he’s also the high school principal.

Last Friday, I met with him, and he indicated that he wanted to bring French back to the district — there hasn’t been one since my old French teacher retired. My French class was one of the last (and I graduated in 2002). But he had to run it by the board. I found out later that this position doesn’t exist — the board would have to okay creating one. I spent all the last week, trying not to get my hopes up and just focusing on my current students.

On Friday, he officially offered me the job. I found a position in my top choice district without having to do an actual interview, lol. This is mostly because I’ve interviewed in this district before, getting all the way to the final two, and I’ve taught there. So beyond the personal connections, my professional abilities were well-known. Plus, it’s not like French teachers are found under every rock, you know.

Anyway, this is all great news, and I’ve made some really big rebounds in my energy and emotional health. (Unsurprisingly). I started to write again yesterday and here I am, finally finishing this flash fiction.

I need to do a soft reset on most of my thoughts and plans for the summer — just because I’d counted on writing for most of May and then that didn’t happen. However, flash fiction is back, and I’ll be here next weekend with the return of Watch Me Burn.

Thanks for your patience and understanding. I’m really excited about starting this next chapter! Eleven school days left until summer vacation!

This entry is part 22 of 22 in the Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings

Written in 68 minutes. Went over because it was the ending and I wanted to do it right 😛

Jason checked the latch on the horse stall, ensuring it was fastened firmly. Over his shoulder, he heard footsteps.

“Do you know how many replies that advertisement received last year?”

Mystified, Jason turned to find his cousin several paces away, glaring at him. “What?”

“When I decided to find you a wife, it’s not like I chose the first woman who replied,” Dillon said, and Jason clenched his jaw. “I took it seriously. There were twenty women. Elizabeth was the only person I wrote back to.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything—”

“I knew from the second I opened her letter that she was the right person—”

“You recognized her name—”

Dillon dismissed that with a snort. “Yeah, okay. Let’s credit all that’s happened this last year by suggesting the only reason I picked her was the name. Maybe it made her letter stand out, maybe it’s why I took a second look. But it’s not why I invited her here.”

Jason grimaced, shook his head. “I don’t know why you’re bringing this up—”

“I spent a lot of time and energy last year finding you someone who would suit. She had to be devoted to her family, but she also had to know how to handle loss. How to deal with grief—”


“Shut up,” Dillon said, and Jason closed his mouth, realizing that his cousin was truly angry with him. “We can argue all day long whether I had any right to do what I did, and you’d probably come out on the winning side. But I didn’t do any of that lightly. I wanted you to be happy. I could have sent for the first woman who replied, but I didn’t. And I found you someone who suits you down to the bone. Don’t deny it—” he warned when Jason opened his mouth. “Elizabeth fits. She can handle all the stupid committee stuff that Grandmother thinks is important, she works hard, and she loves her family. Which includes you, jackass.”

Jason exhaled on a harsh breath. “I’m not doing with this you. It’s none of your concern.” He started towards the door of the stables, brushing past his cousin. “You took a risk, nearly humiliated Elizabeth, and put me in an impossible position—”

“It was a risk, but until tonight, I didn’t regret a damn thing. I found you the perfect wife, but I definitely didn’t do right by Elizabeth. She deserves better.”

Jason’s chest tightened and he whirled to face Dillon. “What the hell does that mean—”

“She’s in the house, practically in tears, sure that she’s ruined her marriage by asking you for more than you’ve promised. She’s burdened you with the weight of her love because you don’t feel the same. You told her so—”

“I never—” Jason swallowed hard. “That’s not what I told her—”

“You didn’t reject her?” Dillon wanted to know. “You didn’t tell her not to say it, to keep it to herself?”

“I—” He dragged a hand through his hair. “She thinks she loves me, but I know it’s not—it’s gratitude. For not sending her away last year. For Cameron—”

“Gratitude,” Dillon sneered. “Aren’t we full of ourselves? Then you don’t love her, either? All you feel is grateful? She’s given you a son to love. Another child. She’s made Grandmother happy. She’s impressed all the busybodies in town. She’s learning how to train horses—yeah, you have a lot to be grateful for.”


“You and I both know it’s bullshit. You’re so stupid in love with her you can’t see straight, but she can’t use those same facts to be in love with you back. Moron,” Dillon said. “You make her cry again, Jason, and we’re going to go another round. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you, but I worked too hard for you screw it up. So fix it.”


His cousin’s words rattled in Jason’s head as he returned to the house and managed to get through dinner. Elizabeth was careful around him, her eyes strained, her movements awkward. His grandmother had clearly taken against him—Lila sent him  several disappointed looks over dinner, and Dillon all but glowered.

Cameron was the glue that kept the evening upbeat. He talked about his pony, about his dog, about learning to read, about being a big brother, about the snow, about being sick — He filled the uncomfortable silences and brought light to his mother and grandmother.

Jason avoided saying goodnight to his family by excusing himself to put Cameron in bed for the night—fleeing like a coward, obviously, but he had no notion what to say. How to put it right.

Dillon had the right of it — Elizabeth was the center of everything. His family, the work on the ranch, and in a few more years, likely even the town itself. She’d slid in so neatly with all facets of his life that Jason hadn’t really appreciated how difficult it must have been for her.

But his world had centered around Michael, once, hadn’t it? Spending time with his nephew, finding an excuse to bring him to the ranch, planning all the ways he’d show Michael the world. Purchasing a pony long before he was old enough to ride—

Jason read to Cameron until his son’s eyes drifted close, his hand curled around the stuffed dog, the living one resting at the foot the bed, snoring softly. Jason tucked the counterpane around him, then took a deep breath.

It was time to face his wife and, as Dillon had commanded, fix what he’d broken.


When she’d retired for the evening, Elizabeth had nearly retreated to the bed, pretending to be asleep as she had the night before. But Lila had advised her to find some way to clear the air with Jason, to move forward. There was Cameron and this child to consider, and oh, Elizabeth wanted more children.

She wanted that ease back—the comfort and sweetness they’d brought to each other before she’d opened her mouth and ruined it all. Jason was a good man who cared about her, and he loved their children.

So she sat in the chair before the fire, working with her needlepoint—it was still a bit awkward as she retrained herself to avoid the use of her index finger, but it was more than she’d had before.

Jason came in, halting at the door, his expression blank. Elizabeth lowered the hoop to rest on her belly. “Cameron is asleep?”

“Yes,” Jason said, a bit warily. But then he came and sat in the chair across from her, both angled slightly towards the fireplace. She’d miss this when the weather turned warmer — there’d be no reason to sit before a cozy fire and speak of the day that had passed or the one yet to come. But perhaps it would be for the best if they didn’t have these moments—

Should she just pretend it hadn’t happened? Ask about the horses or the nursery? Or should she clear the air—

“I’m sorry,”  Jason said, breaking into her musing. Elizabeth blinked, then focused on him. “For yesterday. I hurt you—”

“I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable.” Her voice sounded strong, but her fingers trembled, the needle slipping. “That was not my intent. I just—I wanted to share how I felt.” Elizabeth met his eyes. “I never meant for my words to feel like a burden. They shouldn’t, you know. I don’t require you to share my feelings.”


“Love should be a gift. Offered freely. And mine is.” Here it was. The clearing of the air, the words spilling from her lips with little thought or consideration with what came next. “It needn’t change things between us. I’ve told you how I feel, and that’s—it’s what I wanted. I promise I won’t say it again—”

“That’s not—” With a grimace, he leaned forward, bracing elbows on his knees as he bent his head, dragged his hands through his hair. “I hurt you,” he repeated.

“It’s all right—”

“It’s not.” He rose to his feet, all but stalked across the room. “You could die,” he muttered, and she frowned. “Women do, you know. In childbirth.”


“And the baby—” Jason shook his head. He gazed out the window, over the dark landscape that was scarcely visible. “Dillon was right,” he added, and her confusion deepened. “You’ve been the perfect wife since the moment you stepped off that train—”

“You aren’t—” Elizabeth made a face, her bewilderment shifting to irritation. “You needn’t feel guilty for not loving me. That was never my intent—not in the saying of the words nor in anything else I’ve done since I’ve arrived. I—” Her face flushed. “I wanted to be a good wife so you’d never regret—”

“I don’t feel guilty,” Jason cut in, turning back to face her. “I feel—” He paused. “Unworthy,” he said finally. “I’ve done nothing to deserve all you’ve given me. And you owe me nothing. There’s no regret to be had, Elizabeth. I’ve told you that, over and over again. When I asked you to marry me, it had little to do with how you got here. I never made any damn sacrifice—”

His face was flushed, his brows pinched together, and something hopeful began to swirl. He really believed that, she realized. There’d been no sacrifice on his part. “Before the lake,” she said. “Before the lake, I worried all the time if I’d be good enough for you—”

“Damn it—”

“But I stopped. Because you looked happy that day. And you made me a promise that day would just be ordinary. That we’d have such memories, so many that Cameron wouldn’t remember just one. But I told you I’d never forget it.” Elizabeth rose to her feet, set aside the needlework. “Because I loved you that day. Yes, for the kindness you showed Cameron. To me. For the gentle way you taught him, and how you made me feel when I was in the water, in your arms.”

His expression eased as she approached him. “I’ve worried,” she said softly, sliding her arms around his waist. “Because I was scared you didn’t love me back. I was jealous of any woman who might have had your attention—”

“There wasn’t—” Jason framed her face, his touch soft against her skin. “There wasn’t anyone but you.”

“But I wasn’t sure of it, you see. Until these last few weeks. I’ve grown as large as a house—”

“You haven’t—”

“And I’ve driven you senseless with all my small worries about Cameron, the nursery, the horses—” She smiled, because it was so lovely to just know. “Yesterday, my love for you just spilled over, and I had to share it. Because it made me so happy. But it worried you. It scared you.”


“Because you love me, too.” A tear slid down her cheek, cool and quiet. He brushed it away with the tip of his thumb. “And you’ve had such a hard lesson to learn—that what you love—who you love—we have such a finite time in this world. And sometimes, our time ends before anyone is ready to let us go.”

Jason rested his forehead against hers. “Is anyone ever ready?”

“Maybe not.” She slid her hands up his chest, her palm resting over his heart. “But I would rather have a short life with love than a long without it. I love you, Jason.” His chest trembled beneath her hand. “And all I wish in this world is to hear the words from you. Just once.”

“I love you.” He captured her mouth for a quick, but soft caress. “I love you,” he repeated, and a soft sob slipped past her lips. She’d worried he’d say the words and she wouldn’t believe them, but oh, she did. He’d said it, and it was true, and it was real— “You won’t hear it just once, I promise.”

“The words are lovely, and I thank you for them. But you’ve shown me in so many ways, small and giant, that they’re true.” Elizabeth pressed her hand to his cheek. “And we’ll hold on to it for as long as we can.”

“A lifetime won’t be enough,” Jason said, taking her hand in his and kissing her fingertips. “I will always love you.”


Spring had blossomed by the first week of May. Dillon drove his grandmother back to the ranch as Lila bubbled over with happiness and plans for the wonderful summer getting to know her new great-grandson.

Dillon was feeling pretty smug when they arrived, and his cousin greeted them, tired but happy. He’d been responsible for all of it, he thought, meeting the new bundle of joy who looked like a red wrinkly mess to him. He’d found Elizabeth and brought her here. And then when Jason had nearly faltered, Dillon had fixed it all.

Lila returned from visiting with the new mother above the stairs and they went back to the carriage. He helped her over wheel, then swung up next to her. “Well, that’s a relief. For Elizabeth to be safely delivered, and all in good health.”

“Yes.” Lila smiled. “Your cousin is all settled. It’s your turn.”

Dillon dropped the reins. “What?”

“It’s time for you to write another advertisement.”

He paled. “Another?”

Lila snorted, then set the reins in her grandson’s hands. “You don’t really think I ever believed Jason advertised for a wife, do you? Foolish boy.”

Feeling less smug and vaguely ill, Dillon took his grandmother home.

In the bedroom, Elizabeth sat propped up against the headboard, cradling the day old newborn. Jason lifted Cameron onto the bed beside them both, then sat on the edge. “What do you think of your little brother?”

“He’s awfully red and angry looking,” Cameron said, peering at the swaddled bundle. “Not a lot of fun yet. He can’t play with me.”

“Not yet, darling. But soon. You’ll have to help us teach him everything he needs to know. How to talk, to run, to play—”

“I know. I know. Big brother. Big responsibilities.” Cameron crawled in close to her, laying his head on her shoulder. “I have to make my promises now.”

“Promises?” Elizabeth echoed, meeting Jason’s eyes. “What do you mean?”

“You made promises to Papa and he made them, to you. Then I had to make promises, too. Papa, you told her I made my promises, right? Because I’m a Morgan, too. Just like Mama.”

“At the wedding,” Jason clarified. He raised his brows, suggesting he’d explain more later. “Cam—”

“He’s too little to make promises yet, so later for him. But I can. So I promise to be a good brother. To take care of you and help you learn to scoop the poop and clean up. And to find you a dog and pony of your own if you want but it’s okay if you share mine.” Cameron furrowed his brow. “I don’t know how to read a lot yet, but I know more than you. So I’ll read to you like Papa does. Or maybe we can do that together.” He looked at his father expectantly. “Right?”

“Of course.”

“That’s some lovely promises you made,” Elizabeth said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mama. And Papa. And baby Jake.” Cameron leaned down to kiss his brother’s cheek. “And Pip, too. And Alice. And Cinnamon—”

Jacob Martin Morgan yawned and then settled in for a nap, falling asleep before his brother could finish listing all the things he loved.


May 6, 2023

Update Link: Invisible Strings – Part 21

Apologies for the delay in updating. I wish I had a better excuse other than the usual — work is difficult, and my energy has felt completely drained. Not entirely sure if I’m all the way back, but I have to start concentrating on something other than work, or I’ll go insane.

I found out yesterday morning that my contract isn’t being renewed for next year. I knew that was a possibility because while I have a bachelor’s degree in French, I haven’t been able to obtain certification because the testing is impossible and expensive. I thought I’d be reassigned to ELA or Social Studies where I am certified, but instead, my VP dropped off a letter while I was teaching my Block 1. Of course, my eighth graders know my face, and I wasn’t able to keep it in. It was a rough day — by dismissal, most of the older kids knew and kept stopping by to hug me or plan a protest. One of my girls organized a bunch of kids to sign a poster for me, which was really sweet and unexpected from this particular student. I knew that she liked my class, and I always enjoyed having her, but I had no idea how much she and some of her friends cared.  Anyway. I’ve got some leads on other positions, and a few applications in already, so we’ll see what happens.

I’ve been working on other things in the background, particularly Signs of Life and Fool Me Twice. I should have a lot more details on both in about a week or two. Hope you enjoy today’s update — we’re just about wrapped up with this story.

This entry is part 21 of 22 in the Flash Fiction: Invisible Strings

Written in 65 minutes.

The weather continued to improve as February faded into March, and Jason was relieved when the last of the snow had melted, leaving the ranch free of dangerous ice, and if a doctor was needed, they could arrive safely.

Elizabeth fretted over nearly everything as the birth of their child drew closer. She thought they had maybe eight weeks left, and worried that the cradle wouldn’t be ready or that the room next to theirs wouldn’t be cleared out enough for the nursery, or that Cameron would feel jealous over a new sibling—

Each morning, it seemed to Jason that as soon as Elizabeth opened her eyes, there was a concern, as if she was being chased in her dreams by a never ending list of problems. He’d grown accustomed to spending a few minutes each day reassuring her that the cradle was already finished, that he and Johnny had already cleared out the room they’d chosen for the nursery, and all Cameron could talk about was being a big brother—

This morning, he opened his eyes to the birds chirping outside the window, the streaks of pink and orange outside the window as the sun rose beyond the horizon. And for once, Elizabeth lay silent next to him, still sleeping. Her long hair, braided and tied with a yellow ribbon, lay across her chest. One of her hands curled up next to her cheek and the other resting comfortably on the bulge of her belly. That made him smile — Elizabeth had felt the baby move and shift, but Jason had managed to miss them so far — he and the baby kept a different schedule.

Jason gingerly slid from the bed, hoping he wouldn’t disturb her. It was difficult for her time sleep sometimes, and she’d been up and down through the night. He wanted her to rest as much as possible—

But he made it no further than the dresser to pull out clothing for the day when he heard the bed clothes rustling behind him. He looked back and Elizabeth was trying to sit up—Dropping the trousers in his hands, Jason went to her side and offered a hand.

“I feel like one of the ships back home,” she grumbled, reluctantly letting him pull her to her feet. “The ones bound for the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic. Big, clumsy, taking up space—”

“You’re none of those things,” Jason assured her, touching the end of her braid and flicking it of her shoulder. “And you don’t have to get up—”

“No, no, I do. I have so much to do before your grandmother comes to dinner tomorrow—” Elizabeth moved across the room, towards her own wardrobe, her face already set in a grimace. “I want to show her the nursery and, oh, Cameron and Pip got into the woodshed yesterday—and they tracked mud through the living room—”

“All taken care of.”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” Elizabeth continued to grumble as she sorted through the handful of dresses that would fit. “These all look like sackclothes—”

Jason kept his mouth closed. The first time she’d complained about her clothing, he’d offered to buy her anything she wanted. Which she took as his agreement that she resembled one of the cows in the barn. The second time, he’d told her she looked beautiful just as she was—which was apparently also his agreement that she was a cow.

Simpler to say nothing and stick to the one topic he knew he could handle. “Cam’s just excited about the weather. He knows it means we’ll be back working the horses. And he’s grown two inches since last fall.”

“Almost tall enough,” Elizabeth murmured. “A few more inches. He’ll be over the moon.” She sighed, rubbing her belly. “Still, he has better manners than he’s shown these last few days. I just have to—” Her eyes widened and locked on his. “Oh—oh—come here—”

He was at her side in seconds, his heart thudding, his throat tight. “What is it—”

Elizabeth snagged his hand and flattened it against the side of her belly. Jason drew his brows together in confusion at first—but then it registered what was pressing back against his palm. There was barely any strength behind it—it was little more than a gentle push—

Their baby. Kicking against his hand. Jason raised his other hand to double his chances of feeling it. “That’s—it’s the baby.” He grinned, feeling another kick—stronger this time. And then against his other had, what felt like an arm. There really was a baby growing inside of his wife. Their baby.

“Oh, I was hoping you would get to—” Her voice faltered, and he glanced up, worried when he saw her eyes damp with tears. “I’ve waited for weeks for you to feel the baby, and now you can, and it’s so amazing.” She cupped his jaw and leaned in, their mouths brushing gently at first, then Jason drew her a bit closer and deepened the embrace. When Elizabeth stepped back, her eyes stayed closed another second or so, and then opened with a starry-eyed expression. “I love you.”

Startled, Jason stepped back and his hands fell back to his side. He stared at her for a long moment, her cheeks flushed, her expression expectant. “You don’t have to say that,” he said finally.

Elizabeth frowned, shook her head. “But—”

“You don’t have to—” Jason started to say again, then swallowed hard. “It’s all right. I don’t need to hear that.”

Her mouth closed, and her cheeks lost some color. “I—”

“I—I have things to handle,” Jason said in a rush, before going back to his dresser, yanking out the first change of clothes he found. He hurried out of the room, not wanting to know what Elizabeth might say next.

He changed  clothes in the next room, where the nursery was half-furnished, the cradle he’d made tucked in a corner. Jason dragged his clothes on, his heart pounding so loud, it echoed in his eyes. He knew Elizabeth had meant well by her declaration and he’d nearly blurted out the response she’d clearly hoped for. But he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t accept the words when he knew that so much of what she felt was mixed up with gratitude. How many times over the last year had she spoken of his decision to offer marriage? Her worries that he’d sacrificed too much, her promises that he wouldn’t regret it—

No. He couldn’t stand to hear the words and know they weren’t true. They were much better off leaving their feelings unspoken.


Elizabeth nearly crawled back into the bed after Jason’s escape, her cheeks hot with mortification. She hadn’t meant to say the words—they’d just fallen from her lips at the way he’d lit up feeling the baby kick. Everything she felt had bubbled up and spilled over—

But it was just as she’d feared. He didn’t want those words. He didn’t feel the same way about her, and now he knew how she felt—oh, this was terrible.

Somehow, Elizabeth found the courage to dress and prepare for the day, to smile at Alice and Cameron at the breakfast table. To make excuses when Jason avoided the house most of the day, only coming to fetch Cameron to help muck out some of the stables. He’d avoided her eyes and Elizabeth hadn’t been able to look at him either.

Why, oh, why had she said anything? She ought to have kept it to herself. After all all the wonderful ways he’d changed her life and given her so much, Elizabeth had had no business burdening him with her feelings. Jason was so kind — God, what if he had spent most of the day trying to convince himself to return her words? To say he loved her so that she’d feel better?

She’d rather die than hear words he didn’t feel.

“You seem quiet tonight, Miss Elizabeth,” Alice said, setting down a bowl of soup. “You sure you don’t want to wait for Mister Jason to have supper?”

“Oh. No.” Elizabeth swirled her spoon in the creamy dish. “No. I’m feeling a bit tired, and I’ll turn in before he comes in. It’s a busy time—the thaw—”

“Not so busy a body can’t spend time with his wife,” Alice said, but it was a grumble offered as she left the dining room.

Elizabeth did exactly as she said, going to bed nearly an hour before she would normally, and when Jason finally came in much later, the way his footsteps hesitated at the threshold caused the tears to well up anew, but she squeezed them back, hoping her breathing would fool him.

The footsteps resumed, coming towards the bed. The mattress dipped beneath his weight and Jason stretched out next to her, laying flat while she laid on her side, turned away.

It was a terrible long night, and Elizabeth had only herself to blame.


The next morning, Jason decided that they ought to just pretend the whole scene had never happened. Especially as his grandmother and cousin were coming to dinner that evening, but Elizabeth seemed more upset than he’d expected. She wouldn’t look at him, not even over the breakfast table where Cameron bounced with excitement about the impending visit from his great-grandmother that evening. Elizabeth was so subdued that Alice sent him dark looks, indicating that Jason was fooling no one.

The carriage carrying his family drove through the ranch gate as the afternoon slid into early evening. Cameron waited on the porch with him, the little Greyhound Pip sitting expectantly at his side.

“Well, look at this handsome welcome.” Lila beamed as Dillon escorted her up the walk. She kissed Jason’s cheek, then leaned down for Cameron. “And it’s good to see you, too, Pip.” The dog yipped, as if reply and she laughed. To Jason, she said, “I hope Elizabeth is inside resting comfortably.”

“She’s supposed to be,” Jason said, holding the door open for his grandmother. “But you know it’s difficult to keep her in one place for long.”

Elizabeth was in the parlor, her face smiling but her eyes still carried a lingering somberness that cut at Jason. He’d hurt her the day before, rejecting her words. Maybe he ought to have just accepted them and said nothing—

“Hello, daring,” Lila said, pressing her cheek to Elizabeth’s in greeting. “And how is my youngest great-grandchild?”

“Restless,” Elizabeth said, touching her belly, hidden slightly beneath the dark blue dress with its higher waistline. “He’s awake when the world sleeps, and sleeps in the day.”

“He?” Lila echoed.

“I’m not sure when I decided it was a boy,” Elizabeth said, her smile a bit more genuine now. “But I just do. I knew with Cameron.”

“I want nothing more than a healthy baby,” Lila declared, “but I must admit, I was looking forward to seeing my Jason cope with a little girl with flowers and lace.”  She smiled at her grandson, the blue eyes they shared twinkling. “Well, maybe next time.”

Jason’s lips curved, but now he wondered if that would even be possible. Would there be another child?

Lila’s smile faltered slightly, and she looked back at Elizabeth, who dropped her eyes. “Dillon,” she said, not actually looking at him, “I think you ought to take your cousin to the stables. Put the horse up while I visit with granddaughter-in-law.”

“Grandmother,” Jason began, but Lila arched a brow, and he closed his mouth. “Of course.” He turned and left, not waiting for Dillon who eventually quit the room. A moment later, they heard the door close.

“And Cameron, take Pip into the kitchen. I think you deserve a cookie.”

“Yay!” Cameron punched the air and then raced out of the room, the dog yipping behind him.

“Now, my dear,” Lila drew Elizabeth to the sofa. “Tell me what’s happened.”

“Everything is wonderful—” Elizabeth started but her throat closed, and she couldn’t push out another word. She curled her fingers into her palm. “I fear I’ve made a terrible error. I—I spoke rashly, and it’s poisoned things between us.”

“Ah, it happens in all marriages,” Lila said. “You mustn’t worry so—”

“I told him that I loved him, and he said that I shouldn’t have said it. That he didn’t need to hear it.” A tear slid down her cheek. “He doesn’t feel the same, you see, and now I’ve burdened him with that—he doesn’t love me. And he can scarcely look at me now.”


Dillon had not, in fact, followed his cousin out the door. Instead, he’d lingered by the doorway, hoping to learn the cause of Jason’s glum expression and Elizabeth’s quiet. Then he’d heard Elizabeth’s hushed confession, the words shaky — he thought she must be crying. You could hear it in the words.

He scowled at what she said and tossed a dark look towards the direction of the stables. He’d worked hard to give his cousin a happy ending, and he’d be damned if Jason screwed it up now.

“Idiot,” Dillon muttered, and strode out the door, careful not to let it make a sound behind him. It was time to take matters into his own hands.