A MONTH LATER, after meetings with lawyers and accountants, Kit crammed trunks so full she had to stand on top of them to close the lids. There would be no formal goodbyes. After she left, Sandy would announce Kit had moved to the MacKlenna Estate in the Highlands and was not expected to return. Then, she would handle inquiries discreetly and discourage friends from contacting Kit.
She was ready to go.
Saying goodbye to Stormy was heart-wrenching. The stallion stomped and swished his tail. “I can’t take you,” Kit said. “You’d get a mare in foal and we’d be in big trouble. Stay here. Sire a few stake winners.” He pinned his ears. “I love you.” She kissed his broad, flat forehead and walked away. He ran the length of the white-planked paddock, his hooves thundering across the soft turf, taking the corners at high speed. Kit kept walking, tears filling her eyes.
Sobbing, she returned to the mansion and hurried to her bedroom to change. She caught her reflection in the floor-length mirror. At twenty weeks, she only had a little pooch, but her flushed cheeks gave her away.
Her skirt swished as she turned a slow circle, looking at her room for the last time. After all the fantasies she’d had about making love with her husband in her big cherry bed, it would never happen now.
Time to go.
She closed and buckled the carpetbag stuffed with her most important belongings. If she got separated from her trunks, she’d have her journal, iPod, childbirth books, medications for Cullen’s headaches and nausea, and the gold coins Elliott purchased from a rare coin dealer. He discovered when talking with the dealer that Kit’s father had also purchased coins and gold nuggets from his coin shop. Kit was relieved to know the treasure in the leather pouches belonged to her father, solving one of the many mysteries.
She took one final look around, turned out the light, then closed the door.
Elliott waited at the bottom of the stairs with red eyes and trembling shoulders. “I’ll never see you again, will I?”
She paused on the second landing. “I don’t think so.”
“I’ll never know about the baby?”
She took the steps slowly, thinking with each footfall. “If I can get into Mr. MacKlenna’s office, I’ll leave my journal in the secret compartment in the bookcase and find a way to seal it so no one will find it.”
“You promise to stay in Kentucky until after the baby is born, right? No traveling. It’s not safe.”
“I promise. When we head to San Francisco, I’ll do my best to leave a breadcrumb trail for you to follow.”
“I’m not finding any humor in this, Kit.” He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes to wipe away his tears. “Are you sure you want to go?”
She reached the bottom step. “I’ve never been more certain about anything in my life.”
He took her bag. “You’ll have to take care of yourself. I won’t be around to watch out for you.”
Tate’s howl echoed through the silent house.
“I locked both critters in the mudroom, but they saw your trunks.”
“Tate just wants to go. He doesn’t care where.” She put her hands on her hips and tapped her toes. The dog howled again and this time Tabor’s trill joined in, creating a discordant duet. “Damnation.” She stomped off toward the mudroom. “I hope they know what they’re getting themselves in for.”
Tate bounded down the hallway, barking a path for Tabor to follow. Elliott held open the front door. They ran out and jumped on top of the four trunks he’d lashed together with an old hemp rope. “Looks like you’ve got everything you need now.”
She looked at her pets, shaking her head.
“They’d be miserable here without you.” As if to prove Elliott right, Stormy rounded the corner of the house at a trot, stopped when he saw her, and walked up the porch steps as if he did it every day.
“You jumped the fence?” She rubbed her hand through his mane and breathed into his nostrils, showing him how much she loved him.
“You’re stuck with them all.” Elliott laughed. “Look, his ears are forward. Can you hear what he’s saying? Where to now, Kemosabe?” When Elliott produced a shank from his back pocket, Kit knew Stormy’s gate had been unlatched.
Elliott tied the horse to a trunk’s end strap, stepped back, and took a farewell picture with his cell phone. As he stared at the small screen, more tears rolled down his face. “Don’t go.” His soft plaintive words ripped through her heart.
Elliott had taught her to ride. He’d bandaged her knees and wiped her tears. He’d found her in the pasture with a broken back and held her hand as they stood over the graves of her parents. He’d changed her diapers and picked out her prom dresses. And he’d lain helpless and bleeding while Wayne attempted to rape her.
She and Elliott had danced and laughed and drank whiskey together, and in the late-night hours he’d picked her off the floor where she’d dropped exhausted from her grief. He’d been her support for her entire life, loving and protecting her, and now, much as a bride is given away by her father, it was time for him to let her go.
Time for her to let go of him.
She kissed his wet salty cheek, picking up a whiff of his signature scent that always made her think of a big leather chair in a field of cloves. “My soul is telling me I’m making the right decision. My destiny lies somewhere behind, not forward. Let’s be joyful in the midst of our loss because we choose to be.” She gazed into his eyes. “I love you, Elliott.”
He pulled her into his arms, rested his chin on the top of her head. “I love you too, my wee lassie.” After a few shuddering moments, he climbed into his Suburban and drove away.
Look back, Elliott. He stopped at the end of the tree-lined drive. Please wave. Let me know you’re okay. He stuck his arm out the window and gave her a thumbs-up. Then he was gone. She released the breath she was holding.
“What? Are you ready to go?” The sight on the porch was laughable—four trunks, a cat, a dog, and a horse. The scene reminded her of landing in Independence the first time. Cullen had been there, but he wouldn’t be there now. Her knees knocked beneath her green brocade dress. She fluffed out the skirt, whisked away a bead of sweat trickling down her cheek, and plopped down on the trunks. Tabor squatted in her lap.
“Everybody ready?” She squirmed to get comfortable, but couldn’t. Something was haywire about her plan. What was it?
Take a gut check.
She did, and knew the answer. Not only did she have to say goodbye to Elliott, but she had to let go of the animals, too. A knot formed in her throat.
She kissed Tate’s and Tabor’s heads. “Y’all can’t go this time.” Tate tucked his tail and turned his head away. Tabor curled into a ball. Stormy neighed, and she laid her cheek against his nose. Memories of their rides across MacKlenna Farm’s rolling hills flooded her mind—no saddle, no bridle, just the two of them racing into the wind. “We’ve been through a lot together, but it’s time to let go of you, too.” She blew into his nostrils again. “Sire those stakes winners. Make me proud.”
Elliott would circle the farm and come back. He’d understand why she left them behind.
She stepped away from them—from the cat and dog her mom had loved and spoiled, and from the horse who had grown into a magnificent, powerful animal.
She stepped away from the trunks packed with trappings of her century.
She stepped away from MacKlenna Farm because she had the strength to do it.
With the carpetbag in one hand and the ruby brooch in the other, she repeated the magic words and stepped into the rest of her life.