Trey waited until SueAnna was settled, her skirts spread around her and her back against the fork of the tree. He sat opposite of her, drawing his knees to his chest. Just enough moonlight filtered through the canopy to see her face. She didn’t look anything like Claire—but why was he constantly comparing?
Her gaze met his. “You’re thinking about Claire, aren’t you? Is that why you want to talk…to tell me you’re leaving to find her?” She lowered her eyes and picked at her skirt.
“Covington won’t let me go until after Thanksgiving.”
“But you want to, don’t you?”
He leaned closer and took her hands in his. “Look, I…I don’t really know what I want. That’s why we need to talk. I know I’ve been a real no-good kind of guy, and I couldn’t blame you if…if you went away like Sage Bowen suggested.”
She lifted her head and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “We’re married, Trey, and I’ll honor those vows, but you have to decide whether you want to continue this charade or go after the woman you really love. I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life resenting me. Neither do I want to be constantly compared to someone I’ve never met. I can’t compete with a ghost.”
“Do you love Sage Bowen?” He dropped her hands.
“Love him? Is that why we’re having this conversation, Trey? Maybe we need to leave Sage and Claire out of this and try to figure out why, after four months, you suddenly decide we need to talk.”
He folded his arms across his bent knees and rest his forehead on them. Why, indeed? If only he’d not reacted like a jealous husband when the truth was he’d never cared to acknowledge her as his wife. He took a deep breath and faced her again. “I don’t know what I’m feeling. I thought I loved Claire, but when I saw you leave tonight and go out in the dark with Sage, I…I wanted to hit him and then I wanted to scream at you and remind you we were married.” He swiped his hand across his mouth. “Sorry. I know we were gonna leave them out of this.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“Why didn’t I what? Leave them out of this like you suggested?”
“No. Why didn’t you scream and remind me of our vows?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been asking myself that same thing.”
She smiled. “You remind me of Lily. She absolutely hates turnips, but if she ever saw little Abigail Rawlings eat them, and Ben was anywhere near, she would eat them if it made her sick.”
“I don’t hate you, SueAnna.”
“No. But you’ve told me you’ll never love me. It feels a whole lot the same.”
“But that’s what I’m trying to say.” He moved to his knees. “I don’t know why seeing you with the preacher made me so jealous. I never felt that way before with Claire.”
“You didn’t have to, Trey. You and Claire grew up together, just like me and Sage. You felt safe. You knew she would always be there, and I suppose that’s how I feel with Sage. Maybe that’s love. I don’t know.”
“You don’t love me, do you.” He got to his feet but forgot to duck and a branch slapped him across his face. He crouched to his knees again.
“Why does it matter” Why is it that you care about my loving you when you’ve admitted being in love with someone else?”
“I don’t know why it matters—but it does. It matters a whole lot.”
SueAnna pushed herself to her feet and crossed her arms. “I’ll be forever grateful for what you did so I could keep Lily. But I don’t want to be blamed for every past hurt you’ve suffered, or for every disappointment that may come into your life because of it.” She moved away. “It’s late. I’m cold and I need to check on Lily.”
Trey grabbed her arms and pulled her back to him. “Ben is taking care of Lily.” He shrugged out of his jacked and put it around her shoulders. “Now, no more arguments. We aren’t finished.”
Even in the shadows, he saw her brow furrow.
“Finished? Did we ever really start?” She backed against the tree and slid to the ground. He lowered himself next to her and took her hands again.
“I want to start—I really do. But I never courted a woman before. Claire was always just…there. I don’t how to begin. I asked Ben, and he just knocked me down and compared me to an old ugly, dumb dog he once knew.”
SueAnna giggled. But it wasn’t a silly girl kind of twitter, and it sent shivers down his spine.
“I’ve never been courted, either. But I do recall you knocked me off my feet once.”
He chuckled. “So now what? Could we try?”
She gripped his hands and leaned closer. “What about Claire? What if, for some reason, you would see her again.” What then? What would happen to us? Maybe you should go looking for her first before we decide.” She pulled away and got to her feet. “Look at me, Trey. Can you honestly tell me she isn’t here in this hideaway with us right now?”
Could he? He didn’t know. How could he answer her? For longer than he could determine, her eyes locked with his—until he could no longer stand to see the questions they held. He looked away, and with that choice she fled from him.
Though the needle-covered floor of the grove cushioned her footsteps, it was as though his heart hammered in rhythm…and it hurt. “SueAnna, wait! Please!” He had to make her understand.