Authors: Lynda Chance
Her eyes lifted to his. "What are you doing here?"
Zach leaned back in his chair and studied the fragility of her bone structure. "Went downtown to a round-table meeting on alternative fuels. Thought since I'm in Fort Worth, why not come see you?"
Her hand visibly shook as she placed a glass of water on the table. "You came here just to see me?"
"No. I came to Fort Worth because I had a meeting."
A fine line came between her brows. "But you came in this restaurant because of me?"
He held her eyes for an abbreviated moment before giving up on his excuse of a coincidence and going with the truth. "Yes."
She cleared her throat as her gaze darted around the busy restaurant. "So, Hannah told you where I work?"
"I don't really have time to talk--"
"I'll take the strip, medium-rare, a fully loaded baked potato and a glass of iced-tea," he said without picking up the menu. "You can fix me up with that, right?"
"We have t-bones, but no strips."
"That'll work. Now, did that just buy me sixty seconds of conversation?"
She took her pad out and scribbled what he assumed to be his order down on it. "Sixty seconds. Why would you come in here just to see me?"
"Because I wanted to make sure you're all right."
"Why wouldn't I be?"
He shrugged, trying not to give too much away, but at the same time, needing her to at least develop a mild understanding that
existed between them. "I worry about you, sweetheart. Is there anyone else who worries about you?"
A subtle tension gripped her shoulders and the fine-line between her eyebrows deepened. "What is that supposed to mean?" She took an almost invisible breath of air. "Are you asking me if I have a boyfriend?"
. "Do you?"
"I don't have time for that."
Her short, abrasive answer calmed him down a bit. So that was one thing he didn't have to worry about for a while. "You can see why I worry about you. Hannah says you study too hard, and every spare minute is taken up with this menial job."
"Menial?" The word was laced with sarcasm. "I'm guessing you do want to eat this afternoon, and not find your food dumped on your lap?"
He raised one eyebrow even as he enjoyed seeing the color that had come back into her face even if it did come with a strong streak of belligerence. "Have you been eating properly, Katie?"
"Zach . . . this is not your business.
not your business." Her tone turned, sounding more confused than angry to him, and that was good.
"You remember that kiss in the middle of the night at the Bar M a few months back?" Zach tried to temper his voice, hell, he didn't want the entire restaurant to overhear what they were discussing. He just wanted to give her a visual of how it had been. Why the hell should she get to push it from her mind when the memory fucked with him on an almost daily basis?
Her fingers held a slight tremor as she wiped her palms down across her apron in what looked like agitation. She remained silent.
"I can see you remember. You clung to me; you whispered my name, comforting yourself. Maybe you don't think you're any of my business, but I tend to disagree."
"I'm not here to cause you any angst, Katie. I wanted to see for myself that you're okay. Maybe you're not ready yet. That's fine. I'll wait a bit longer."
Her face became pale and as her eyes clung to his, the panic he saw reflected there almost floored him. But when the dark green orbs filled with tears and a level of distress filled her features that he couldn't explain, guilt overcame him.
She began shaking her head, back and forth, slowly, denying what he was telling her. A single tear slipped down her face and he had to stifle a growl that rose up in his throat and almost spilled over.
Was he the one putting that look of distress on her features?
Who the hell else could it be?
He didn't want anyone to cause her trouble or pain, and here he was, evidently the one who was hurting her. He didn't quite understand it, but he knew one thing. She hadn't had that panicked look on her face and she damn sure hadn't been crying before he walked into the restaurant.
Son of a bitch
He was going to have to leave her alone.
He gritted his teeth.
For a while.
He glanced back up at her ashen face. "Go turn in the order, Katie."
Katie rounded the corner of the restaurant kitchen and put her back against the wall, taking several large, ragged breaths. For days, for weeks,
, she'd put that damn kiss and how it had made her feel out of her mind as she refused to think about it.
But now it all came flooding back.
She'd felt safe.
She'd felt threatened. Not by Zach so much, but by a dark memory she couldn't conquer. A memory that caused nightmares and isolation. A memory that she should have been able to move past already.
She closed her eyes and took several more sustaining breaths.
Why Zachary? What kind of bad karma had him arriving in her life at a time when she least needed somebody like him? Her sexual life was nil. She had zero sex drive. She was asexual. She was the epitome of the word.
And besides, she had a plan.
When she was ready to move on,
and she wasn't yet
, she'd choose somebody safe. Someone laid-back, someone gentle, someone who was maybe her height and weight who had as little interest in sex as she did. Somebody just this side of gay.
That person wasn't Zachary McIntyre.
No, Zach was as far across the spectrum from gay as one could possibly be. He was a man's man, he was massive in height and his shoulders were so wide it would be a stretch for her to wrap her arms around him. If she'd wanted to. And she didn't.
And he wasn't gentle. He was gruff and rough and intensely masculine with a hint of superiority that at the best of times, used to make her stomach turn to butterflies and at the worst of times, irritated the shit out of her.
So why now? Why should the man of her past dreams, albeit the secret man, come into her life and want to pursue something with her that literally scared the crap out of her? And why had he changed again? Why had his anger seemed to evolve into some sort of . . . possessiveness?
She didn't know why.
But it didn't matter why.
All that mattered was that he stay away from her. If he wouldn't stay away from her . . . she'd have to tell him.
And surely that wouldn't be so horrible? Practically the entire town of Redwood Falls knew anyway. Probably the reason he'd never heard of it was because no one dared breathe the name
Nobody had the guts. Nobody spoke to Zach about anything that had to do with the Turners. Not about his dead wife and who she'd been cheating with. Not about the trial because it had involved a Turner as the key witness. And not a word about the fact that Zach's little sister was involved with Chris Turner's son.
But Katie had a different reason for not telling Zach about her past.
It wasn't his business
. It was nobody's business.
And she didn't want to think about it, not even a single moment longer than necessary.
The University of Texas at Arlington
Katie ran up two flights of stairs in the freshmen dorms, pausing in the corridor to catch her breath as she looked for room number 316. Freshmen move-in day had been yesterday, but she had been waiting tables again and hadn't been able to be here when Hannah settled in. She was happy the younger girl was finally here and they could catch up and spend some time together. Katie knew her feelings for Hannah were more big sister than best friend, but the kinship and love between the girls was real and solid.
She found the correct door and gave a quick tap before trying the handle. The door tipped open and Katie eagerly flounced into the room, not waiting for an invitation. What she saw immediately filled her with happiness and horror at the same time.
Josh was standing with his back against the wall, arms folded over his wide chest and one booted ankle crossed over the other as he glared at Hannah. He held himself in a controlled, hostile stance that Katie recognized very well. It screamed of his iron will and complete implacability. His hair was cut short and his expression was set in lines of disapproval. His biceps bulged against his t-shirt sleeves, and although he was only twenty-one, his eyes were already creased with wrinkles.
Being a few months older than Katie, he'd only recently attained his twenty-first birthday, and with it, the badge that declared him a Redwood Falls peace officer. He was off duty now, of course, but the weapon he was required to carry was in a shoulder holster, strapped to his side.
Although the fall semester was only now starting, Katie had stayed on campus all summer and worked while taking a few classes, so she hadn't seen Josh in awhile. Katie let the happiness of seeing him again rush through her. "Josh!" She squealed and threw herself at him.
Josh caught Katie to his chest and engulfed her in a bear hug. "Hey there, little cousin." His deep, familiar voice and loving embrace brought tears to her eyes. He called her 'little,' but the cousins were within months of being the same age and although not nearly as tall as Josh, Katie towered over Hannah's tiny stature. Katie leaned back, away from Josh, and looked into a startlingly handsome face with eyes as green as her own.
"What are you doing here? Were you waiting for me?" Katie asked a bit sarcastically.
She knew for a fact he wasn't here to see her. His attention was a hundred percent focused on Hannah.
Katie looked over at Hannah whom she hadn't seen in several weeks. "Hey, Hannah." At Hannah's weak smile, Katie concentrated on Josh again.
Never one to lie or speak an untruth, the complete opposite of the man who'd fathered him, Josh drawled, "Well, I wanted to see you, yeah."
Katie absorbed that noncommittal answer and looked from Josh to Hannah and then back again. A soft blush stole over Hannah's cheeks as she refused to meet Katie's eyes and instead, concentrated on Josh while she bit into a fingernail.
From the rigid way her cousin was holding himself, Katie knew that she'd interrupted an argument.
She thought of the dark specter of Zachary McIntyre and fear made her blood run cold. "
Oh my God
." Suddenly, Katie felt lightheaded and swallowed deeply, the secret both families had been keeping from Zach suddenly blazing larger than life in her brain. She broke away from her cousin's embrace and stood staring at him in horrified silence. Ignoring Hannah for the moment, Katie's fear made her focus on her cousin. "Are you insane? Are you
insane? He lives in freakin' Dallas! Thirty minutes away, Josh! He could walk in here at any moment." Turning to Hannah, Katie asked hopefully, "Was he here yesterday?"
"No, just my parents."
Katie put a hand to her mouth. "Does
know? Did y'all finally tell him?" Katie paused, and then answered her own question. "He can't know. You'd be dead. Josh,
he'll kill you
Her cousin lifted himself from his negligent position against the wall and came to his full height of six feet, two inches. Katie studied him and absorbed what working on the ranch for years had achieved. Josh was young, but he was built like a brick wall. His answer was clipped and brutal.
"I'd like to see the motherfucker try."
Katie shook her head in denial and glanced over at Hannah who had turned white as a ghost and looked like she was about to collapse.
Katie swiftly turned back to Josh and tried to get through to her cousin again. "Josh,
ran off with his wife
be serious. You--"
Josh interrupted her, pain lashing his voice. "The man who ran off with Zachary McIntyre's wife wasn't my father. He was just the sperm donor who gave me nothing but bruises and cigarette burns."
Katie knew well the emotional and physical scars Josh carried from the years of abuse he had endured before her parents had rescued him, though she had no idea if Hannah did. But even if she did know, the situation was upsetting to the younger girl, and at Hannah's pained gasp, the cousins turned in unison to watch her begin to slide to the floor as emotion got the better of her.
Josh lunged for Hannah and caught her just before her knees buckled completely.
He stood still and erect, holding a visibly trembling Hannah in his arms. Katie watched as he ran a steely hand behind the younger girl's back and held her to him with a possession and familiarity that was telling.
Katie felt her face blanch completely when she realized the depth of the clandestine relationship. For some reason, denial perhaps, Katie hadn't thought the two of them were sleeping together.
she needed to get a clue and start living in the real world. Just because she'd been denying her own sexuality for years, it didn't mean that the rest of the world lived in the same deep freeze that she'd been enduring.
She tried to calm her raging heartbeat enough to understand the details. "Josh, tell me the truth. Zachary doesn't know about the two of you, does he?"
Her cousin's arms noticeably tightened on the girl he held and it was a blatant indication to Katie that he'd never let the younger girl go, no matter what. "No, he doesn't. But only because Hannah won't let me confront him." His voice roughened with accusation. "And that tells me all I need to know about whether or not she's ready for this."