Written in 20 minutes. No time for rereading.
Elizabeth stirred, feeling the bed beneath her sink and shift slightly. She opened her eyes, then rolled over to find Jason pulling on his clothes. She blinked blearily, then smiled lazily for a moment—
Then remembered. The smile faded, and she slowly sat up, holding the coverlet to her chest, watching Jason fasten the buttons on his pants, then tug his shirt over his bare chest. “Is it dawn?”
Jason nodded with a regretful smile. He slid the curtain away from the window a bit and Elizabeth could see the gray light creeping over the horizon in the distance. He rounded the bed and sat on the edge of it to lean forward and kiss her softly. She wrapped her arms around his neck to hold him there—
SHe wanted to stay in this moment, live here forever—pretend that this could be her life, her future—
“I didn’t want anyone to see my horse,” he murmured against her lips. Jason pulled back slightly, dancing his fingers over her temple. “Unless…” he tipped his head to the side, searched her eyes. “Stay,” he said. “Last night…Elizabeth—”
“Part of me wants to,” she admitted. “But I just—” Elizabeth bit her lip, touched his lips. “I want to, but I can’t live here—with all these memories. I stayed because I was terrified of what Ric might try if I left.” She sighed. “Until he tried to take my son, and I realized there was a line. There was a limit. I’d run forever if it meant Cameron was safe.”
Jason dipped his head, then nodded and stood, starting to button his shirt again. Elizabeth winced, slid her legs onto the floor, her toes brushing the cold hardwood. “Jason. I know you think this will work. I want it to work. I want Ric to pay—”
“But you can’t trust it.”
“I can’t.” Elizabeth’s throat tightened. “I don’t want to have the same argument again. Please. I—”
“You have no reason to trust me. To trust anyone,” Jason told her. He pulled her to her feet, framed her face in his hands and kissed her again. “And maybe you’re right—maybe this won’t work. You need to make sure you’re safe—that Cameron is safe. So go to San Francisco.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes, let her head fall against his chest as he held her in his arms. “Will you—will you send me word? Tell me what happens?”
“Yeah. I will.” He kissed her one more time. “I’m not giving up on us yet,” he told her softly. “But I understand why you are.”
Elizabeth’s lips curved into a smile as she tightened the coverlet around her bare body. “Clearly, I didn’t give up after everything else that happened. So—maybe I’m not giving up either. I’m…just taking a break.”
“I promise that I will find a way to make this right and give us the chance we deserve,” he told her — then went to the door and left.
Jason didn’t go to his rooms after leaving the ranch — he knew he wouldn’t be able to find any more sleep, not after spending a few hours in the bed of the woman he’d loved all his life.
He’d let her down in so many wany ways — he wasn’t going to let anything come between them again.
When the clock on the court house rang that morning at eight, Jason was in the jail, pouring over documents that they’d taken from the bank after the arrest, looking for the evidence he knew the circuit judge was going to need.
Then he heard the train—the whine of the locomotive as it pulled out of the station on the other side of town—
He knew Elizabeth and Cameron were on board—he knew she wouldn’t change her mind at the last minute, so it was important to make sure this counted—
That Ric Lansing paid for everything he’d ever stolen from Elizabeth and anyone else.
“Hey, Jase—” Dillon came in, shoved his hat up his head. “Something very strange is happening outside.”
Jason blinked, then got to his feet. He walked over to his cousin, then stepped out of the building onto the sidewalk. There was a crowd lining up down Main Street, and first line — his grandmother.
Lila lifted her chin, met his eyes. “I heard that you’ve arrested that scoundrel.”
“I did—” Jason blinked, looked down the line to see Lucas Jones, his aunt Felicia, and some of the bank tellers—twenty or thirty more people behind them. “What is this? Did he threaten you?”
“Yes. And that’s why I came. I paid a few visits after I received word yesterday.” Lila leaned heavily on her cane. “I thought I was the only person Ric Lansing terrorized, blackmailed, but I wasn’t.”
Jason frowned, looked at the line again. “Are all of these people—”
“We’ve all been scared,” Felicia Jones murmured. “He threatened to take my home—”
“He threatened to take my mother’s store,” Lucas reported.
“I wasn’t strong enough when you needed me to be,” Lila told Jason. “And I think that I helped Ric take something very precious from you. I don’t want to help him anymore.”
“But—but why now?” Jason shook his head. “Why didn’t anyone say anything before?”
“We all thought we were the only ones,” Felicia admitted. She folded her arms. “But we’re not.”
“Sometimes, dearest,” Lila said, touching his arm. “It just takes one person to stand up first.”