It's Never too Late - By Tara Taylor Quinn
“I’M NOT GOING, ELLA.”
“Yes, you are.”
Sighing, Mark disentangled himself from the girl who’d been his one and only for the past couple of years—ever since his twenty-eighth birthday party, which had taken place at the exact same spot by the lake where he and Ella were right then.
Their lake. Really more of a pond a couple of miles outside of Bierly, West Virginia, where both he and Ella had been born and raised.
Gazing out at the water now, Mark couldn’t figure out why everything was falling apart before his eyes.
He’d had it all going for him. The promotion to operations shift manager—making him the youngest manager in the history of the gasification plant that supported their small town—and the small savings account that was going to build until he didn’t have to worry about money anymore.
Nonnie was having a good spell.
And Ella...she was nice looking. Content to stay in Bierly her whole life. And faithful to him.
He spun back to her—and found her sexy in her work jeans and T-shirt. “You want to get married?”
* * *
ELLA STARED UP AT HIM, her blue eyes and blond hair familiar in the dusky light of the setting sun. They were good together. In so many ways.
“What would Nonnie have to say about that?”
Huh? “I just asked you to marry me and you bring up my grandmother?”
But he knew why. Ella and Nonnie... Things had never been right between them.
A female territorial thing, he’d figured. He’d also hoped the situation would ease as time went by.
“Where would we live?” Feet in front of her on the blanket they’d spread, Ella wrapped her arms around bent knees.
“My house, of course. It’s set up for Nonnie’s chair.” He’d been born there. Figured he’d die there, too.
And Ella lived in a rented apartment in town. A small, one-room place with a hot plate for a stove.
“Nonnie’s house, you mean.”
With a sick feeling in his gut, Mark sat down, took her hand and stared straight into her eyes. “I think we’ll be good together.”
“I want to have a family.” She pulled her hand out of his and stood with her back to him.
He stared at her behind. He’d just proposed marriage. A once-in-a-lifetime event. It wasn’t going well.
“I’ll make a great father.”
“I know.” Her words were muffled by the breeze and the water that lapped at the shore.
Mark’s throat tightened. Ella was a decent woman. The best. He went to her, wrapped his arms around her from behind, pulling her back against him. “I’ll do right by you, Ella. I’ll be faithful to you until the day I die. I’m a good provider. We have fun together. We can make this work.”
She leaned her head against his chest and he relaxed into her. This was home.
The lake beckoned and he thought of the rowboat that he kept stashed in some brush a couple of yards away from where they stood. A couple of yards away from where they’d first made love.
This was the life he’d been born into.
“Do you love me, Mark?”
“Course I do.”
“You never say so.”
“I’m not much of a talker, you know that.”
“You say it to Nonnie.”
“She’s my grandmother!”
Ella turned to face him, her hands on his chest. “I can’t leave this town. It’s my home. I love it here.”
“I know!” Had he asked her to move? Ever? “I’m not leaving, either.”
“I think you will.”
He’d have scratched his head if he hadn’t been holding her. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
She looked away, off to the trees on their right. And then she took a step back. “Rick Stanfield asked me to a pig roast at his church.”
Rick Stanfield was new to town—to the plant. An operations field tech. Just like Ella. Like Jimmy had been.
“Doesn’t he know you’re my girl?”
“Yeah, he knows.”
“So? What’s the problem?”
“I told him I’d go.”
“What?” Grabbing her hand, Mark pulled Ella back to him, her hips snug up against his. Reminding her. “You going to invite me, too, Ella? ’Cause we made a vow not to go out single.”
“I know. I just think—”
“It’s the scholarship, isn’t it? You’ve been acting weird ever since I told you about that letter.” A fluke. Incredible. The idea that Montford University, the Harvard of the West, would offer him a four-year full ride without his even asking for it. It was completely ludicrous.
“I barely graduated high school, Mark. I’m no good anywhere but here.”
“That’s crazy talk.”
Her blue gaze was direct as she stared straight at him. “You used to say the same kinds of things.