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Finding Our Forever(9)

By:Brenda Novak

Since both hands were full, Cora used her hip to close the car door. “Maybe that’s it.”

“You can’t always assume the worst.”

“It’s hard not to. Especially now that I see how functional she is. I mean...if she were a down-on-her-luck prostitute, I could point to that and say, Makes sense.”

“The fact that she isn’t a down-on-her-luck prostitute is why you’re interested in getting to know her. There’s promise there. You believe she might be someone you’d like to have in your life. That’s what scares you. You’re afraid she’ll reject you a second time.”

Cora had to set her suitcase down to let herself into the house. “Do you have to be so frank?”

“It’s important to know when fear’s doing the talking—to keep things straight in your head.”

“It could be a while before anything’s straight in my head—another reason I’d be crazy to get involved with Elijah, even if he were open to a relationship, which I can tell he’s not.”

“Fine. You won’t listen to me, anyway. You’re too busy throwing up roadblocks.”

Cora wasn’t sure she felt any better now that Jill had conceded. She sort of liked it when Jill was arguing the other side. Maybe that was because she did find it hard not to think about Elijah. Even though she’d been almost completely focused on the fact that she’d just found her birth mother when she had that interview with him, she couldn’t help wondering what was going on behind those inscrutable eyes... “You were never given up for adoption. You grew up in a big, boisterous, happy family. You can’t relate.”

“I’ve tried to be understanding,” Jill said.

“I’m sorry,” Cora responded. “I don’t know where that came from. It was uncalled for.”

“You’re angry. That’s where it comes from. And I can see why. But I’m on your side.”

Cora opened her mouth to say she believed that, but before she could formulate the words, she heard a car engine and turned. What she saw wasn’t a car; it was a silver truck. And Elijah was behind the wheel. As he parked in front of her house and jumped out, she felt her pulse leap. “I’ve got to go,” she told Jill.

“Why? What’s up?”

She ducked her head so she could speak without being overheard. “He’s here,” she whispered and clicked the button on her Bluetooth that would disconnect them.

* * *

Cora was wearing a silky orange tank with a pair of white linen shorts that showed off her long, tan legs. As Elijah approached with the orientation materials he’d brought, he found those legs to be distracting. But she was a teacher at New Horizons. That meant he couldn’t get involved with her, even on a casual basis. Contrary to what his mother seemed to believe—and probably everyone else who was surprised he hadn’t hired Gary—he hadn’t offered her the position because he had any romantic interest in her. He’d been impressed with her portfolio. Each piece—a sculpture, a painting, a photograph and a piece of pottery—moved him in some way. He liked that she could make him, someone who knew very little about art, feel something. Gary Seton’s work simply hadn’t been the same.

One piece that Cora had brought, the conceptual sculpture of a mother cradling a child, affected him deeply. When she’d unveiled it during their interview, it’d been hard for him not to stop and stare. He’d wanted to keep it—not because he felt he needed that kind of love. No one would ever be able to hurt him again. He wanted the boys here at the ranch to experience the safety and security that piece inspired, and he wanted to give them a teacher who could not only depict that emotion but understand it, feel it.

Because he knew Gary was disappointed, he hoped he’d made the right choice. Fortunately, the sensitivity he saw in the large brown eyes staring up at him as he drew closer reassured him. She’d wanted the job even worse than Gary. He wasn’t sure why—if she’d needed to get out of whatever situation she was in or was on her last dollar—but he’d been able to feel her eagerness during their interview and he’d responded to that. Maybe this woman would never be able to teach the boys how to create a decent picture or vase, but she should be able to entice them to see the beauty of the world. She was part of the beauty of the world. And she seemed open and vulnerable to the point that he almost felt he should warn her to be careful or life would chew her up and spit her out. After what he’d experienced, that she could get so far without learning that lesson was a bit of a shock to him.