Dalton grinned. “I have my own crush, and I don’t need any competition.”

“Still no play?”

His grin disappeared at Tristan’s question. “It’s not like that. She’s different.”

“Didn’t look any different when I caught you walking from the shed. You both had guilty looks plastered all over your faces.”

“Just a kiss.” The memory of her lips opening under his shot a bolt of electricity through his body. “I’ve never felt like that before.”

Cal regarded him steadily. “Meaning you want her long term?”

He blew out a breath. “She wants long term, but that’s not my thing. Doesn’t mean we can’t have a deep, satisfying relationship for however long we’re both happy. For now, I’m trying to be her friend. Learn more about her. Figure it out.”

“Good luck with that,” Tristan said. “I’ve never been able to figure a woman out, so now I don’t even try.”

“Dude, if she wants a future, why don’t you just leave her alone? Why torture the both of you? It’s not cool. You’ll end up screwing her over like you always do.”

He stared at Cal, ignoring the twinge of hurt. Dalton knew he was the player in the group, and he usually had no issues with his brothers’ opinions. Cal was now getting married, and Tristan was into sophisticated women who weren’t emotionally messy. He’d said multiple times he’d be ready to settle down if he met the right one. But just because Dalton didn’t see wedding dresses and rings didn’t mean he felt nothing.

In fact, the big problem was how much he felt with Raven.

“Thanks for the support,” he muttered, finishing up his turkey. “I don’t plan to hurt her, Cal. I care about her.”

Cal let out a breath. “Sorry, didn’t mean to step in your business. I’m just warning you to be careful. Friendship breeds closeness and trust. Mix that with sex and you have a combustion ready to happen. I don’t want to see Raven as the casualty. That’s all.”

Dalton gave a jerky nod, still not happy with the sweeping assumptions that he’d walk away undamaged. Looking back, there was no one he’d ever wanted past a few weeks. The buzz and emotional high always drained away. Crap, probably not many almost-thirty-year-olds admitted they’d never been in love before.

He fought off the depression and tried to change the subject. “I hear you. Tristan, did you buy the house on Bay Street?”

His brother grinned with pride. “Damn right, I did. Got it for a bargain, and the inspection came back sound. I think I’ll turn it into an artist’s loft type and change things up a bit. Next weekend I’m heading to Manhattan to get some supplies.”

“Clear next Saturday,” Cal said. “We have to clean out Dad’s room. And the attic. It’s past time.”

Crap. The year after Christian Pierce had died had been taken up with trying to adhere to the terms of the will. They’d scrambled for jobs, moved into the mansion, and tried to find a way to not kill each other. Sorting their dad’s stuff had been the last item on the list. Dalton winced, sharing a glance with his brothers. “Not sure I’m up for that.”

Tristan gave a sigh. “Me neither, but Cal’s right. It’s overdue. We tackled the office, but no one’s been in his personal space since he passed.”

“Fine. I’ll deal with the room, but forget the attic. Leave it.”

“Dalton, we have Mom’s stuff up there, too. It’s not something I wanted to do myself, so I kept it untouched after you left. I think we should do it together.”

His gut churned, and he pushed off the bar stool. “Not interested. If you guys want to, go ahead. I’m heading to bed.”

He threw out the trash and walked to his bedroom, feeling the weight of his brothers’ sympathetic stares on his back. He refused to be dragged down memory lane. Hell, most of his memories were false anyway. Had they ever been truly happy, or was his whole life a hoax? Who was the real Diane Pierce? The woman who laughed with joy and encouraged him to follow his dreams? The woman who taught him not to lie and told him every damn day that she loved him, whether or not he wanted to hear it?

Or the woman who threw it all away for a man she wanted to chase across the world?

He’d blamed that son of a bitch for the first few years after her loss. Blamed him for seducing her and convincing her to leave. But as more time passed, he’d tried to bury the rage and move on. There was no point. Those unresolved emotions came out in one way now—in his sleep.

The image of his recurring nightmare flashed before his eyes.

He was running down the road with his mother, laughing while she chased him, her daisy-yellow dress blowing in the wind. He heard the car ahead but ignored it, too intent on the game he adored. When he realized she’d stopped chasing him, Dalton looked back.

A strange man stepped out of the car and held out his hand. His mother paused in front of the man, glancing once toward Dalton. He waited for her to tell the man to go away and keep chasing him, but she didn’t. Instead, she smiled at the man, climbed into the car, and disappeared down the road.

In shock, Dalton began running after her, wondering if this was a brand-new game and she was just teasing him. He saw the taillights flash, and he ran faster, closing the distance. The shriek of brakes echoed in the air, followed by the crash of metal hitting metal. He screamed and ran faster, and faster, and faster . . .

The car was in flames. His mother cried, trapped behind the shattering glass, imprisoned by the strange man who held her captive. In that one final moment, their gazes met and she mouthed the last two words she’d ever utter.

I’m sorry.

The car exploded.

Dalton shook his head hard. The nightmare had haunted him for the first year after his mother’s death, then receded for a while. But it was always there, like the bogeyman in the closet, ready to pounce after a stressful or emotional day. He’d had it again last week for the first time in months, as if it was a sign of something to come.

Opening up the balcony door, he took a calming breath and cradled his hands around the telescope. The stars glittered and beckoned, a million different stories and possibilities tangled together, full of pure and blinding light.

Even happy endings.

Dalton studied the stars.

Chapter fourteen

Raven looked around the bar.

It was perfect.

Pride and joy mixed together and rushed through her system. Mahogany and bronze gleamed with high polish. The magnificent blended wood of the stools perfectly accented the brick wall behind. The old, ripped vinyl booths had been torn out and replaced by sturdy blocked tables and dark leather, blending into the walls instead of standing out, allowing the bar to shine as the main feature. The two game tables were strategically placed across from the pool table and dartboard, allowing a bit of separation to offset the balance of gaming and show off the antique beauty. Dalton had helped with the layout, able to envision what an onlooker focused on and how to get the most bang for her visual dollar.

He’d worked an insane schedule this past week in order to deliver everything in time for the interview. The crew would be here within the hour and she was so nervous, her tummy was jumping around in a wild dance. Dalton had checked in with her this morning to make sure she had everything she needed, and then they’d shared this strange silence that held more emotional undertones than she could handle. Finally he’d wished her luck and hung up.

So he was officially out of her life. Kind of. The work was complete, and the only time she had to see him was at her bar to serve him drinks and food. Sure, she wanted more information about his parents, but being around him was getting a bit too dangerous.

Raven might have to back off.

Her cell jumped. When she glanced at the caller ID, a relieved smile curved her lips. She pressed the button. “About time you called to check in with me. What’s going on with hot cop?”

Her best friend, Izzy, gave a husky laugh. “He’s still hot and all mine. Wanted to wish you luck on the interview. Of course, you’re gonna kick ass and become famous, and travelers all over the world will flock to My Place just to get a taste of your exotic cocktails. Make sure you don’t forget about the little people, babe.”