Jenny didn’t see herself as any modern-day champion.
Trey’s face had knit into a worried frown.
“I’m doing great,” she told him quickly, perhaps too quickly, because she felt his close scrutiny. Smiling, just then, would have been impossible.
Trey moved closer to her by the railing. The wind hit against him. His arm came loosely around her shoulder, and, needing him, she pressed her head against his solid strength.
“There’s something you should know,” she said after dragging a deep breath through her lungs. She closed her eyes, unwilling to continue the pretense any longer. “I’m not what you think.”
“No, please, let me finish.” This was so much more difficult than she’d thought it would be. Trey had come all this way from Montana thinking she was a Broadway star. Either she told him herself or he’d learn it on his own.
A dozen times since his arrival she’d been tempted to blurt out the truth. It had held her prisoner, tortured her, and she couldn’t stand the pressure any longer.
“I’m not starring in an Off Broadway production of South Pacific. I’m a waitress, a singing waitress. I lied, and I want you to know how very sorry I am.” Her voice pitched and heaved with emotion as she hurried to get all the words out at once for fear she’d break down and weep.
The pressure of his arm around her increased slightly. “I realized that right away.”
He knew and hadn’t said anything.
“The first place I headed when I arrived in New York was the theater. I wanted to see you perform.”
Jenny’s throat constricted. “I’m so ashamed to have lied, but I had to tell my family something. It’s been so long, and . . . you’ve got to believe I gave it my best shot, and now, well, now it seems I’m buried neck deep in the lie. Mom and Dad are so proud of me, and they’ve told everyone, and—”
“Come home, Jenny.”
“No.” Her response was automatic and sharp.
The brightness in Trey’s eyes dimmed, and she turned away, unable to meet his gaze. It sounded as if he were eager to hear she’d failed. Glad of it. Well, she wasn’t through yet. She was close, so close she could taste it. If John Peterman didn’t want her for this play, then there were other parts, other producers. She wouldn’t give up. She refused to turn her back when she was this close. Not even Trey could convince her to do that.
“I may not be the star I led everyone to believe,” she told him stiffly, “but I’m an actress, and a damn talented one. I realize I’ve probably disappointed you, and I’m sorry for that, but I’m not willing to throw in the towel yet.”
Trey didn’t answer her, and the air between them was strained and tight.
“I shouldn’t have asked it of you,” he said as the boat neared Ellis Island.
It was as close to an apology as she was likely to get from Trey. She stepped away from him, letting the breeze whip against her face while she mulled over his words.
Trey stepped back, and she noticed the attention he generated with his tall, lean good looks. He was obviously out of place with his scuffed snakeskin boots and weather-beaten Stetson, yet he’d dressed in the height of fashion. Jenny knew more than one male model who would have given anything for that rawboned, natural look.
“Jenny,” Trey said, coming to stand next to her, “I don’t really think what you did was so terrible. Sure you stretched the truth a bit, but under the circumstances that’s understandable.”
“But hardly commendable.”
Trey didn’t agree or disagree. “What you did was burden yourself. It seems to me these New York theater people must have holes in their heads not to realize how talented you are.”
This was what Jenny loved about home the most. When it came to talent, the good folks in Custer believed none had more than Jenny Lancaster.
“Those responsible for the theater in New York meet lots of talented men and women with big dreams and a lot of ambition. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, and I suspect that in some ways I haven’t completely accepted it. I’m good, Trey, and I know it, but there are any number of equally talented people just waiting for their big break, the same way as me.”
The ferry docked and the passengers disembarked onto the island. Most everyone headed directly for the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
“There’s something I want you to see first,” Jenny said, leading Trey toward the flagpole. A brass railing-like border ran the circumference of the island. Embossed in the polished metal were hundreds of names, a small representation of the thousands of immigrants who’d made their way to America between 1892 and 1924. The first time Jenny had visited, she’d walked around the entire island until she’d found what she was looking for.
“My great-grandfather’s name is listed here,” she told him excitedly. Her fingertips ran over the raised letters. Anton Hellmich. A sense of pride moved her to know that this man’s blood ran through her veins. “You can’t imagine how excited I was when I discovered this. I called my mother that very night.” She doubted that Trey understood what a rare thing it was for her to phone home. With her finances so tight, Jenny usually wrote letters and made up excuses why it was difficult for her to phone. Talking to her mother, hearing her father’s gruff, loving voice, increased her longing for home and her family all the more.
“Anton Hellmich,” Trey repeated slowly. He placed his callused hand on top of hers and laced their fingers together. His skin was rough and hard from the long hours he worked his spread. Her skin was silky smooth.
Once again Trey ran the thick pad of his index finger over the raised letters with her. His touch, so warm and caring, so gentle, was like a healing balm to her wounded pride.
Barely realizing what she was doing, Jenny turned so that she faced him. Before another moment passed, before her heart could beat again, Trey’s arms were clasped around her as he brought her into his arms.
She watched the transformation come over him, as if he were caught in some winless battle. The muscles in his jaw clenched. Then, moving slowly, as though hypnotized, he lowered his mouth to hers. His lips over hers, moist and warm, were as gentle as lambskin.
Jenny closed her eyes as tightly as she could, seeking to blot out the world and everything around them. Everything but Trey. For the first time since her arrival she didn’t want to be subjected to the sights and sounds of the New York waterfront. She didn’t want to hear the buzz of aircraft overhead. For this one moment she wanted to be as far away from other people as she could get.
Trey’s kiss was everything Jenny had ever dreamed, everything she could have anticipated. She trembled in his arms, needing his strength, his comfort, more than she’d ever needed anything in her life. She clung to him, not wanting him to let her go. Not ever.
Snuggling closer, she stood on the tips of her toes. Her breasts nuzzled his chest, and a new brand of sensations shot through her. Trey recognized the difference, and his tongue went in search of hers as the kiss deepened. By the time they broke apart, Jenny’s knees were weak. It didn’t seem possible that anything would feel this wonderful.
Jenny had been kissed before, plenty of times. She wasn’t a novice to the art, but with Trey all things became new. Everything changed.
When they broke apart, Jenny could feel the heat invade her cheeks. She was actually blushing, which was something that hadn’t happened since she was in junior high.
“Trey?” she whispered, pleading with him to explain what was happening to them. She was at a loss to understand, let alone explain.
He answered by kissing her again, this time deeper and with such intensity that her senses spun out of control. When he’d finished, he held her close and whispered, but his words were low and filled with emotion.
“I’ve waited so long to hold you like this.”
“Oh, Trey, I’ve missed you so much.”
His fingers were in her hair, and he angled her head to kiss her again and again. His breathing was harsh with excitement and need.
“Come home, Jenny,” he pleaded. “For the love of God, give up on this madness and come back home where you belong.”
The pond near Cherry Hill fountain had always been one of Hannah’s favorite spots in Central Park. Because she was late, she feared Joshua would have given up waiting for her. Barely taking time to look both ways, she raced across Fifty-ninth Street. Her heart pounded in her throat as she approached the pond. Excitement filled her when she spied Joshua standing along the edge of the water, feeding the goldfish. Hannah half ran to meet him.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly when she joined him. “It took me much longer to get away than I thought it would.”
Joshua glanced at her and enfolded her with a warm smile of welcome. “I was feeding the fish, and didn’t notice.” He handed her a fistful of stale bread crumbs for her to toss onto the water’s still surface. Huge goldfish, some marked with black-and-white blotches, battled for the crumbs, stirring up the water’s smooth surface.
“This has always been one of my favorite places,” Joshua said.
“Mine too,” she admitted. It didn’t surprise her that Joshua felt the same way about this place as she did. They appreciated many of the same things.
They stood side by side, content without speaking, satisfied simply to be in each other’s company.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Hannah said once she’d regained her breath and her equilibrium. Being with Joshua always seemed to pull her off center.
Joshua hesitated, and his eyes sparkled. “Am I going to need to sit down to hear it?”
“No. At least I don’t think so.” She thought about what she had to say and realized he was the last person she should be telling instead of the first. “I’ve decided not to marry Carl.”
“I know.” Joshua tossed the last of the bread crumbs into the pond with a flourish.
Of all the reactions Hannah had expected from Joshua, she’d never anticipated this calm acceptance. She frowned. “What did you say?”
“I said, I knew you weren’t going to marry Carl.”
“And how could you be so confident of that?” she asked. She hadn’t realized it herself until the night before. Once she’d admitted that she couldn’t go through with the wedding, she’d felt as though a great weight had been lifted from her heart. It hadn’t been an easy decision, and she didn’t want him to think she’d made it flippantly.
“I knew you weren’t going to be marrying Carl, my sweet, adorable Hannah, for one simple reason. I fully intend for you to marry me.”
Hannah blinked back her surprise.
“And yes, if you’re wondering, that’s a marriage proposal.”
“But I’m already engaged to Carl,” she argued, saying the first thing that came to mind. He’d shocked her so thoroughly that she wasn’t sure how to respond. The second thing that came to mind was that she would have liked nothing better than to be Joshua’s wife. She was forced into biting her lips to keep from blurting it out.