Terms of Surrender(2)

By: Shirley Rogers

From her cool looks, apparently she hadn't forgiven his transgressions that last day he'd been at Cottonwood, when he'd dragged her in his arms and kissed her before walking out the door. While David felt like an outsider in his family home, she appeared at ease, as if she had more right to be there than he did.

She'd come to live at Cottonwood as an intern through a program designed to help underprivileged youth. His father had taken an immediate liking to the young waif. By the looks of things, their relationship had grown deeper—they'd formed a stronger bond than David had ever shared with his father. He turned away to give them privacy.

Hearing a sharp gasp, he turned back and looked, his eyes immediately focusing on her. In what seemed like slow-motion, Dr. Brewer rushed over and withdrew his stethoscope. Tanya slumped on the bedside. As if it were perfectly natural, as if he hadn't been away for years, David went to her. Sliding his arm around her shoulders, he drew her away. Despite her disdain for him, she'd cared deeply for his father.

David's gaze found the doctor's, and he quietly confirmed the worst. His father was gone.

On a soft cry, Tanya turned into David's embrace and buried her head against his shoulder. His heart heavy, David nodded to Dr. Brewer. He started to lead Tanya from the room, but she stiffened and tried to pull free. "You can't do anything for him now, Tanya," he said gently. "Come on."

Shaking with grief and despair, Tanya Winters broke down in tears as David led her out of the bedroom, down the stairs and into the sitting room. Bright sunlight shone through massive windows, an almost painful contrast to the emptiness she felt inside. The only person on earth she cared about was gone. What was she going to do without him?

A fresh wave of anguish overcame her. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks, robbing her of strength, and she clung to David for support. He held her tightly, keeping her from crumbling, whispering that everything would be all right.

Oh, she wanted so much to believe it would be. But it wasn't possible, was it? The man who'd given her a chance when no one else would help her was gone. She'd come a long way from the homeless teenager that Edward Taylor had taken in five years ago. Standing in the huge, immaculate room, she looked around, searching for solace in the familiar surroundings. The floral print settee. The massive, hand-carved mantel over the fireplace. This magnificent plantation in Georgia was the only place she had to call home.

Her life before moving here remained a mystery to her. She still didn't remember how, at seventeen, she'd ended up lying unconscious on a rural road with a concussion, which had left her with retrograde amnesia. All she really knew was what the hospital staff had said her identification provided—that she was Tanya Winters, a streetwise kid who had no family to claim her. By a stroke of luck, Edward Taylor had heard of her plight and had offered her a second chance and an opportunity to work on his peanut farm.

She'd learned so much from him, had worked alongside him, devouring his attention and knowledge. With stiff competition from other farmers, it had become increasingly difficult to continue making a reasonable profit selling peanuts. At her urging, he'd changed their major crop from peanuts to soybeans. Tanya had researched the growing soybean industry, and she'd provided Edward with a plethora of information with which to make an informed decision. The farm was currently turning a larger profit than it had in years.

Oh, God, what would become of her now? She loved this house and the land and the people who worked here. She loved the small, quaint town of Cotton Creek, where everyone accepted her for who she was. They didn't care that she came from poor beginnings. Now that his father was gone, would David let her stay and continue managing Cottonwood?

As if that was going to happen. After their hurtful parting years ago, she was amazed that he was even offering her the comfort of his arms. The summer she'd arrived, he'd returned from college, and though she'd harbored a crush on him, he'd barely tolerated her. David had fought with his father over nearly everything, and at the end of the summer, announced he was leaving. Wanting him to stay, she'd made a fool of herself and had thrown herself at him. He'd kissed her senseless, then had thrust her away from him and stormed out.

His rejection had been devastating.

But she was no longer that shy, wayward teen. Edward had molded her, had taught her to be proud of who she was. And now, more than ever, she had to be strong.

Her tears began to subside. Aware that David was still holding her, she raised her head and met his gaze. "I'm sorry." Disturbed by the flare of awareness at his nearness, Tanya moved out of his embrace, not wanting him to know that she still cared, that he could still make her feel. It was the grief, she rationalized. Her emotions were just out of whack.

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