Pure relief sagged her shoulders, softening the urge to strangle her new friend. “Are you kidding me right now? Just because I have a vagina, you assume I give a crap about curtains?”

Morgan sniffed in misery. “I know, but even Tristan won’t deal with me any longer, and I swore I’d pick out the final choice myself.” She tapped a finger against a sketch. “I’m going with a mix of silver and purple, matching various tones, but the crushed velvet curtains seem too heavy, and the sheers seem too feminine, and I don’t like that color but I think it suits the room better, and I really, really need to make a decision.”

Oh, hell no. She was not about to watch this strong, independent woman lose it over curtains. No. Way.

She grabbed the book, slammed it shut, and faced her. “Listen up. You will not fall apart on me and become one of those ridiculous women who gets so stressed about planning a wedding and building a house she collapses in tears, becomes Bridezilla, and loses her friends and fiancé. Not on my watch.”

Morgan’s eyes widened in shock. Good, she had her attention.

“When we get too caught up in our heads, we lose our gut instincts. When you design for other people, it’s easier to follow your training, but this has become too important to you. You’ve lost your balls.”

Morgan nodded. “Yes, yes, I have,” she agreed. “I’ve lost my balls.”

“Close your eyes. Think about each of the fabrics in the book and anything else that you’ve seen. Picture you and Cal in your bed, opening your eyes in the morning. The light is pouring through the windows, you’re warm and happy, and you look at these damn curtains. What do you see?”

Morgan scrunched up her face. Seconds ticked by. Raven waited.

Her eyes flew open. “Hell and damnation. It’s the sheers with an underlay of the storm-gray linen!”

“Umm, okay. Sounds perfect to me. Done.”

Morgan threw herself at Raven, clasping her arms around her neck in a strangling hug. “Thank you! Oh, thank you, I think I know how to get my balls back!”

Raven laughed, hugging her in return, and felt something inside her shift, strengthen, connect. Dalton’s family wasn’t her enemy. No matter what had happened with his mother, he was a separate person, and he deserved to be given a chance without her chaining him to her past experience. Especially one seen from the view of a devastated young girl who had no concrete answers.

It was time to truly let go.

She pulled back from Morgan. Her chest loosened. Lightness flooded her body.

“I’m glad you came tonight,” Morgan said with a smile. “Besides enjoying your company, I’ve never seen Dalton so happy.” Raven caught the curiosity gleaming in her blue eyes, but her friend seemed to respect her privacy. “I hope I get to see more of you.”

“I’m happy, too,” she offered. Damned if a flush didn’t heat her cheeks. “But we have some important things to talk about first.”

Morgan nodded. “I know how that is. Cal and I had some obstacles to get through before we could really be together. I kept a secret from him for a while because I really wasn’t ready to acknowledge our relationship could be anything more than a short affair.”

Her heart galloped. “But you were able to work through it?” The hope in her voice must have given her away. Morgan reached over and patted her hand.

“Yes, we were. He needed some time, though. Facing the truth about love is harder than most think. It’s raw and vulnerable and feels terrifying.”

Raven sighed. “Yeah, it’s sure not all roses and chocolates and heartfelt confessions, is it?”

Morgan laughed. “Nope. That stuff’s not for us anyway. Way too easy. I’d rather have great sex, messy emotions, and real depth.”

Raven laughed with her. “Damn, I like you.”

“So do I,” a familiar voice drawled from the doorway. Dalton strode over and swung Morgan up in his arms for a big hug, ignoring her squeal as her petite five-foot-three frame lifted easily in the air. “But it’s dessert time, and I need some help.”

“You just want me to do it,” Morgan corrected.

“I can help. Want me to make the coffee?” Raven offered.

“No!” yelled Morgan and Dalton at the same time.

“Wimps, both of you,” she muttered, rising from the stiff sofa.

They piled into the kitchen for banana cream pie and almond cookies, spending the rest of the evening in entertaining conversation. Finally Brady announced his departure. Cal stretched and gave a motion to Morgan. “We should probably go up now. You need your sleep.”

Dalton groaned. “Real subtle, bro. And we both know you’re not going up for sleep.”

Morgan didn’t even blush, just gave her fiancé a naughty wink.

“Good night, Raven. I hope we see more of you,” Cal said.

“Thanks.” She remembered his strange words at the bar, warning her about Dalton’s heart. Almost as if he knew his brother was more vulnerable than anyone believed.

“Hey, Dalton, we still need to clean out Dad’s stuff. I swear I’ll kick your ass if you cancel on me again. This weekend. Okay?”

“Yeah, sure, absolutely.”

“Good. I’ll tell Tristan, too.” Cal and Morgan headed up the circular staircase toward the left and disappeared.

Raven realized it was time for the big talk. “We should go. Do you want to come back to my house?”

He grinned and kissed her hard on the mouth. “Yes. But first, I want to show you the stars from my telescope. Come on.” He tugged on her hand and they headed left down the hallway into the other half of the mansion. She passed about a dozen rooms and just kept walking.

“How many rooms do you have in this house?” she asked in disbelief.

“About forty, I think. Dad used it as a model house as the image of Pierce Brothers. My mom didn’t like the highbrow decor, but she understood it was more of a business decision. Her domain was the kitchen and their master bedroom. She liked things simpler, very different from my father.”

Yes, she’d been right. Diane had claimed the kitchen as hers. Had Raven’s father sat with her there, planning their escape? How had they met? How long had they been involved before they decided to run away together?

She tried to push the whirling thoughts out of her mind and concentrate on Dalton. He opened the door to his room and she tried hard not to gasp.

The masculine, almost rustic feel suited him. Navy-blue bedding covered a gorgeous hand-carved poster bed, and various woodworking pieces filled the space. Interesting treasures decorated the shelves and walls, from trophies and sports memorabilia to framed photos. She longed to have time to study every picture, learning more about his youth. Massive French doors opened up to a balcony, allowing an unmarred view of the night sky streaked with stars. The warm summer breeze blew in and cloaked them with the scent of wildflowers and pine. She walked outside, tilting her head up to take in the breathtaking view.

His hand slid into hers.

In that moment, she felt every road had led her here. Staring at the stars, hand in hand with a man she wanted to give her heart to. Had this been how her father felt? This loosening of breath and lightening of spirit as rightness poured into all the empty spaces and filled her up with meaning and purpose?

Was this real love?

And if so, would she have done anything to protect it, even at the expense of her family?

“Here, take a peek. Saturn is visible tonight.”

She closed one eye and peered through the telescope. She located the constellation Scorpius and pinned down Antares. The red star was gorgeous close up.

“What are you viewing?”

“Antares. I love the reddish sheen through the scope. It’s beautiful.”

“Isn’t it? Okay, so point west of Antares toward that flock of stars called—”

“The Crown of Scorpion.”

“You are so turning me on right now.”

“Slick, it doesn’t take much.”

His deep laughter cut through the night air. “Only with you. Saturn should be a golden light and easy to spot.”

“I see it!” She let out a breath, enjoying the sheen of gold vibrating in the sky. She feasted on the vision, then motioned him over. “Come look.”