This is a scene involving Mel and Dan from REBEL COWBOY, taking place after the book ends. I recommend reading the book first.
Mel Shaw had been surrounded by irritating men her entire life. She’d been surprised to find that moving in with a man who did not share her last name had made some of that irritation fade away.
It wasn’t as though Dan never irritated her—by God, the man drove her to the brink of insanity, sometimes on purpose—but he also listened, and softened, and gave.
Completely unlike the two men she’d grown up with. She’d left the Shaw ranch this evening, two identical stony expressions completely unmoved by her pleas following her out the door. Two men completely unwilling to just talk.
It was beyond frustrating. It was beyond infuriating. Did Dad and Caleb really think they were going to get anywhere if they didn’t open up? If they didn’t communicate? Didn’t they see all she’d learned in the past few months?
She wanted to cry, but instead she blinked away any tears as she drove through Blue Valley. Caleb was making strides, it was true, but the ranch was faltering and it wasn’t easy to step away from that. Even harder when Caleb shut down whenever she tried to help.
What would it take, she wondered miserably, to wake him up? To get him to see that holding his burdens so close only hurt him.
Simply by loving her, by standing up to her, Dan had shown her that life could be more than she’d been letting it be. She’d tried to get that through to Caleb, and it ate at her that she kept failing it.
She blew out a breath as she turned into the gravel drive that would lead her to the old Paulle place, the new Sharpe place. She smiled, because no matter what people in Blue Valley called it, she was a part of it.
This had become a sanctuary. A respite. A place to be herself and feel at peace. A place where love didn’t just exist, but was shown.
Which gave her hope, not just for herself, but the two stubborn Shaw men, and a newly found sister Mel still didn’t know what to do with.
Maybe it would take time, but she’d find a way to get through to all of them. To bring Shaw back. She may have been felled by love, by Dan Sharpe, but she was still Mel Shaw, and she had a hell of a lot of fight left in her.
She hopped out of her truck, hoping Dan had remembered to throw the pre-made casserole in the oven. Hoping he hadn’t waited for her to eat. It was already dark and bitterly cold for September. If the earlier-than-usual approach of freezing temperatures was any indication, it would be a long, tough winter.
She walked toward the house, but light from the stables distracted her. It wasn’t the usual little light either, not a beam or a swath, but something closer to glowing.
Her heart kicked at her chest, the first thought in her brain the worst possible outcome. Fire. She broke into a run, rounding the corner behind the house at full speed. She skidded in her tracks as the stables came into full view. No fire, just…lanterns. At least ten, probably more, hanging along the fence.
And llamas, naturally. His little herd who tended to treat Dan like something of a king. “What’s all this?”
“Finally,” he muttered, turning from Mystery and the rest who’d been pressed around him. He pushed through the little crowd of llamas and hopped the fence easily. “You were supposed to be home an hour ago.”
“You underestimate the hard headedness of Shaw men.”
He crossed to her, the lanterns lighting up his perfect face. His green eyes glowed with mischief, his mouth curved into a wry smile. “I never underestimate the hard headedness of a Shaw.”
She rolled her eyes at that, but when he wrapped his arms around her, she let him. He rubbed his bristled chin against her temple.
“Bad one, huh?”
She sighed. “Just the normal. I don’t know how to get through to Caleb. I don’t know…” She didn’t want to dump it on Dan right now. She would, eventually, but for right now she wanted to soak up in something good. “He needs a woman to knock some sense into him. All you men do.”
Dan chuckled, tucking her head under his chin, holding her until she relaxed.
Of course, once she relaxed she realized how odd the scene around them was. Llamas milling about behind the fence. Lanterns everywhere.
“What is all this, by the way?”
“Oh, this? Just setting the stage.”
She pulled away from him as much as his strong arms would let her. “Oh, God, you’re not planning some kind of llama play, are you?”
“No, smartass.” He dropped an easy kiss to her mouth before stepping away, and it was things like that, the way he doled out affection so easily, almost carelessly, that always got her a little teary.
She’d grown up with an absence of that—easy touches, hugs, careless kisses. She thought maybe he hadn’t had too much of it himself, and yet Dan gave it as though it was breathing to him. Part of his makeup.
She swallowed at the lump, clearly she was coming down with something because all of this emotion just wasn’t like her.
“I would have done this all sooner, but I had to have this sent to me, and it took some doing.” He pulled a velvet box out of his coat pocket. The kind that held jewelry. Or had, because the velvet was clearly old and worn.
It took a few seconds for her brain to jerk into gear, to recognize and realize what all of this meant. Not a surprise exactly, they’d been hinting around the whole engagement issue since Chicago, but she hadn’t expected…stages being set, and old jewelry boxes in his big hands.
She probably should have.
“Mel, just Mel, Shaw.” His mouth quirked in that cocky way of his, as if he didn’t have a doubt in the world, as if this was simply the way the universe should be. Him and her and love.
He opened the box, revealing a thin, simple band. “This was my great-grandmother’s,” he said, letting the lantern light glint against the simple gold. “I never met her, but Grandpa always told me stories of a hard-ass ranch woman that’d as soon smack his butt with a wooden spoon as offer up a hug. Seemed apt.”
The laugh that escaped her was breathless and maybe a little teary, but he just kept talking.
“I want you to be my wife, my partner. To damn well promise to spend the rest of your life by my side.”
“And vice versa,” she squeaked.
He grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”
She did something she almost never did then. She paused, drinking in the moment, hoping to memorize it forever. The glow of the lanterns, the chill of the air, the blanket of stars and the dark shadow of mountains in the distance.
The most beautiful man standing in front of her, loving and true and strong. It was so hard to believe she deserved him, and yet… It didn’t matter. She had him.
“You’re not proposing to me with a llama audience,” she managed to say, though her voice shook betraying her attempt to hide the emotion coursing through her.
“Of course I am.”
And it was so Dan, all of it, from the llamas to the easy and casual way of taking anything she threw at him, to the lanterns and the beautiful world around them, she couldn’t speak anymore. She simply fell into him, wrapping her arms around him and holding him close.
Worry and doubt plagued her, that insidious whisper she’d never be good enough for this, for him. She burrowed closer.
“Are you sure you want to marry me?” she mumbled into his jacket. She knew it was a weak question to ask, but she’d made a promise to him back in Chicago. That she’d tell him when she was scared or uncertain instead of running away.
Her impulse was to run away. To hide from all the ways she could fail him. But God, she loved him. So much. It trumped the impulse. Every time.
“Positive,” he said, pulling her back and pushing a stray hair off her cheek. “And if you ask me that again, I’m going to have to punish you. Llama duty for a month.”
She looked at the scene around them. Their little cabin, llamas in the paddock. This beautiful man holding her tight. She smiled up at him, determined to bask in that. “I think I’m agreeing to llama duty for a lifetime.”
His mouth quirked. “It’s not so bad.”
“No, it’s perfect.”
“Now, you’ve said a lot of shit, but none of those words were yes.”
“Yes,” she breathed, pressing her mouth to his. “Yes, yes, yes,” and with every yes she kissed him, and with every yes, he held her tighter.
Mel Shaw, soon to be Sharpe, felt something she hadn’t felt in most of her life. A moment without doubts. Because she knew, she knew this would be their legacy: strength, and love, and, of course, llamas.