Exasperated, Seth picked up the gilt-framed photo on the fireplace mantle of his daughter at age six.
“Everyone ignores me!” was Lexi’s usual lament in the most miserable six-year-old voice she could muster, when she couldn’t get her way. “You never listen, you just ignore me,” she’d wail, eyes the color of light blue crystal filling with tears, and the promise of full lips pouting.
“That’s cause you always have see-through excuses for not listening to me or your mother,” Seth would tell her, sounding gruffer than he meant to. It was near to impossible to reprimand his daughter when she looked at him with that pout or those eyes. Lexi had inherited her mother’s eyes, not to mention her stubborness and her determination. Twenty years later, Lexi was smarter, more sensible, but just as stubborn and determined as her mother had been when he had first met her. Not that Lee had become docile or easily compliant. But she still loved him — an unreasonable daughter and two rambunctious sons later. The silver strands weaving through her chestnut hair only added to her matte refined beauty. The ranch workers still referred to her as Driscoll’s Lady.
On Lexi’s sixth birthday, when she’d run out of the main house in a huff, hands on hips, and face scrunched with tears running down her cheeks, red with fury, screaming, “I won’t, I won’t go to school!” They had good-naturedly nicknamed her, Driscoll’s Daughter. Of course, Lee had recognized herself at that age. She’d quickly interposed herself between father and daughter. “It’s okay, Seth, calm down. I know how to handle this.” And she had. Taking Lexi into the country, and reasoning and explaining that the only way she would be free to be her own self, was if she received a good education, learned self-restraint, and created a good life for herself.
Somehow, mother had gotten through to her daughter, and the next morning, having already missed kindergarten, Lexi began first grade.
And now eighteen years later, a far more serious problem than starting first grade loomed over Lexi, and he doubted that even Lee’s reasoning powers could get through to Lexi, this time.
Lee entered the family room of their spacious ranch on the Triple R. Shortly after Lexi’s birth, he’d caved in to Lee’s request that they tear down the old main house with its antiquated plumbing and fixtures, and build an up-to-date — for that time — elegant ranch house. There was very little Seth wouldn’t do for Leatrice once he’d consigned his heart fully into her keeping. And he didn’t mind, because he seriously doubted that any other woman could love him the way she did, heart, body and soul. So he’d given her free reign. Leatrice, wealthy by herself, and heir to an affluent and distinguished family from the Catskills in New York, had created a home he could not help but like, elegant, gracious, but not ostentatious. Nothing at all like the luxurious Bar LB cattle ranch she had mortgaged to him. She had pleaded with him to let her gift it to him, but on his insistence, had finally agreed to sell it to him. She understood it was matter of a man’s pride. And after what she had gone through to prove herself to him that year before their marriage, his pride and beliefs about spoiled rich eastern women didn’t stand a chance fighting his own attraction and desire for Leatrice.
He’d never regretted marrying her. There was a saying on his ranch that only one man had the strength to withstand the rock hardness, the authoritative and indomitable pull of her eyes, the color of crystal under a clear morning sky, that would fell a lesser man; the only man in front of whom she’d lower that gaze humbly with love, though it rarely came to that. Over the years, their love had grown, and their hearts melded as one. Linda, a country girl he’d once considered marrying, had sworn they’d never last, until she’d found her own true love and realized that Seth never was and would never be the man for her. A few months ago Seth had celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary married to the woman he loved more than life itself. He always hoped the same for their daughter and their sons. But if Lexi was the example of what was to come, then it looked to be trouble in heaven for the next twenty-five years.
Seth shook his head as he replaced the photo back on the fireplace mantle. He sensed Leatrice enter the room. He always sensed when she came into a room. She had that sort of presence. Her voice had softened somewhat with the years, but it was still beautiful to him. It brought to mind golden coins landing gently on a crystal surface.
“What wrong, dearest? You’re worried about her, aren’t you?”
Seth turned and closed the space between them. Without thinking, and out of habit, he closed his arms about her. Lee nestled her head against his chest. Seth rested his chin on the chestnut brown and silver strands. “Lee, sweetheart, I’m at wit’s ends with Lexie. Bad enough she moved to New York after college. And now What’s she thinking agreeing to move in with that lawyer friend. Didn’t we bring her up better than that? He won’t even meet us. A lame excuse, he can’t leave his clients. I think it’s her doesn’t want us to meet him. What’s she afraid of?”
“That you’ll hate him,” Lee whispered against his chest.
The plaid shirt, black and red, wasn’t enough to keep the heat of her breath from warming the flesh on his chest and fueling anew his desire for her that never left him. He gently let go and took a step back. “Well, I already dislike him.”
“He did propose to her.” Lee said.
“And she said No.”
“Now, she explained in her letter to us that it wasn’t quite a No.”
“No is No,” he said. Seth had always had a slightly gravally voice, and it sounded as though he were growling.
Leatrice couldn’t stop the chuckle, but she sobered immediately when Seth declared, “He may not have the time to come here, but there’s nothing stopping me from going there.”
Leatrice pursed her lips. Seth knew that look. He wasn’t going anywhere. not that she could stop him physically. Both of them ate sensibly and for the most part had kept their figures, but he was still stronger than her. Yet Leatrice had a way with him. “So what do you suggest?”
“Let me go to New York,” she said. “I’m familiar with the lingo and territory,” she added, tongue in cheek. “Please, Seth. You know she’s always opened up more to me.” And before he could protest, she added, “Besides, Cal needs you here. Tom is holding his own, teaching at Montana Tech, but Cal is still new as foreman of the Triple R. You and I are busy with the Bar LB, and Tanner is gone, now that he and Linda have bought their own horse ranch. You can’t expect him to come flying here to coach Calvin in your place. I’m the only expendable one at present.”
“Expendable to whom,” Seth asked. She has me, as usual. “You know it takes the two of us to run both ranches.” He didn’t mention the other reason he wasn’t happy with her going — the part where he’d be sleeping alone without her beside him. “All right, you go. But I warn you, if you can’t talk any sense into her within the week, I’m coming up, Ranch or no Ranch!“
Lee didn’t retort. She knew that stance. He meant business. She would have to figure out something to stop her daughter from possibly making a huge mistake, and hurting herself, along with her parents.
Copyright 2013 by Paula Freda