“Did she admit she slept with you to gather this information on Mom?” Cal asked gently.
His gut lurched. “No. But she was lying.” He studied Cal’s face, which reflected calm. “Why aren’t you freaking out about this?”
Cal met his gaze head-on. “Because I knew.”
His fingers gripped the beer bottle. Rage swept over him. “You knew she was lying and manipulating me and didn’t say anything? Do you still hate me for what happened years ago and want some revenge?”
Cal cut his hand through the air. “Don’t be stupid, it wasn’t like that. When you started crushing on her so bad, and she kept treating you like she’d known you before, I got curious. So I Googled her. Figured out he was her father. I didn’t want to tell you anything, because I was keeping watch, and you both seemed genuinely happy. I just got a feeling, Dalton, that she wasn’t lying about how she felt. I planned on confronting her if she didn’t tell you soon.”
Dalton jumped up from the chair, glaring. “Are you fucking kidding me? How could you not tell me the woman I was hot for was the daughter of a man I despised? He killed Mom!”
“What were you thinking, Cal?” Tristan asked.
Cal remained steady, staring back with an innate calm. “Because I agree with Raven. I don’t think this is about blame, or manipulation, or one of them seducing the other. I think they were truly in love and were trying to figure it out.”
“But she left,” Dalton said. “She took our baby teeth, remember? That proves she wasn’t coming back.”
“No, I thought that, too, but after this past year I changed my mind. I reconnected with you both, and it started me thinking about Mom again and what I knew about her. I think she took those teeth to keep us close with her, and I think she was coming back. Mom loved us too much. But she’d been miserable with Dad for so long, maybe when she met Raven’s father, she found real love.” He sighed and looked out into the dark, his voice sad. “Maybe I understand better because I now know what it’s like to love someone so much.”
“I can’t believe it,” Dalton muttered. His head throbbed. “You’re defending her.”
“No. What she did sucked, because it made you question if anything was real. But if she was like us, and obsessed with figuring out why her father left, don’t you think you might have done the same?”
“No,” Dalton said stubbornly. “I don’t lie.”
“What about when you decided not to tell me my fiancée was cheating on me? Instead, you kept the information to yourself and made this elaborate plan to prove it. That was a lie.”
“I told you—I was young and stupid, I wasn’t thinking.”
Cal shrugged. “Maybe she got wrapped up in trying to defend her father’s reputation. She was young when he died. Dad made sure he told everyone Hawthorne manipulated Mom, and gossip was fierce. Hell, stores wouldn’t even sell his paintings anymore. We’d dragged his name through the mud. Must’ve stung.”
His thoughts whirled, confused. “I don’t understand why you kept this from me.”
“Because I’ve never seen you so happy before,” he said simply. “You changed. It was like you found a piece of yourself, and that’s rare. I wanted her to tell you herself, in her own time, so you could both work it out.”
Dalton backed up, shaking his head. “There’s nothing to work out anymore. It’s over. I can’t trust her, and God help me, I don’t feel like I can trust you, either. I’m going to bed.”
He ignored his brother’s calls and headed to his room, running from the ghosts of the present and the past.
Raven checked her phone. Nothing. It had been an entire week since their night together, and he refused to return any of her calls or texts. Panic was beginning to set in. She’d never imagined they wouldn’t be able to work past their history, but now she realized her lies had damaged him on a deeper level. She’d broken his trust, and Raven wondered if he’d ever be able to give her another chance.
Sick at heart, she went through the motions serving drinks at the bar and keeping orders moving from the kitchen. Should she try to go to his house? Did he need more time? Her mind spun with possibilities. She’d thought about reaching out to Morgan or one of his brothers, but that felt cowardly. No, she needed to deal directly with Dalton, because he was the one she’d hurt.
Through spending time with him the past weeks, Raven had reached her own conclusions about their parents. But Dalton never had the chance. Maybe if she gave him an opportunity to talk about her father, he’d understand more. She needed to convince him the only reason she’d slept with him was her body’s wracking demand and need for him to complete her.
The night was long. Al stayed while she locked up, refusing to budge, and finally she got in her Jeep and drove home.
Dalton’s truck was parked in her driveway.
Swallowing down the raw urgency to reach him, she walked deliberately slowly, trying to clear her mind. Please, God, let him be here to talk. He sat on the steps, jean-clad legs stretched out in front of him, resting his arms on his knees. His hair caught the moonlight, turning to molten gold, and his face remained carved from stone when he finally looked at her.
Her heart sank.
“I want to talk.”
She nodded, leading him inside. Heart pounding, she waited for him to accuse or fling angry insults, but he stood in front of the wall, staring at the paintings she’d put up. “Are these your father’s?” he asked tightly.
“Yes. I had them covered up for a long time. But I think we’ve all been in the dark for too long.”
“Poetic. Maybe if I’d seen these before, I would’ve known. Or asked questions.”
“Maybe. I don’t think it would have changed what happened between us, though. I put them up that morning, you know. I always planned to tell you.”
He remained silent, studying the paintings. Then he turned his back on them and sat down on the couch.
Nerves attacked. “Do you want coffee?” she asked politely.
She sat in the opposite chair. The distance between them stretched as long and deep as the Grand Canyon, and there was a terrifying silence she didn’t know how to breach. “Did you get my voice mails?”
“Yeah. I listened to them all today. When you were making excuses to not get involved with me, you said you wanted to get married. Was that a lie, too?”
“No. I may have emphasized it a bit more, because I needed some defenses against you. It was a way for me to make sure you kept your distance. But I do want long term. I’ve done my playing around and intended to look for a man who’d like to settle down. A man interested in marriage and a family.”
He didn’t answer for a while, seeming to process her statement. Vulnerability hit her. It was hard sharing things with a man who no longer acted like he cared about her. She kept telling herself the man she loved was still there, he was just buried underneath a mess of emotions and hurt right now.
“You said your tattoo was a symbol of justice. Care to elaborate now that all our skeletons are out?”
She refused to wince. Her fingers came up unconsciously to stroke the familiar lines. “I thought your mother had ruined my father. Your family forced me to question his love and loyalty, and it was easier to hate. I got the tat so I’d never forget the day I lost him. I wanted to be reminded that one day, justice would finally be served.”
“Congratulations. How does it feel to scratch something off your bucket list?”
“I can’t apologize for the girl I was and how I felt, Dalton. I won’t even try. I can only say I see things more clearly now, and we owe it to ourselves to forgive. That’s the real justice I was looking for all along.”
He seemed to ponder her words, taking his time before asking another question. “What made you change your mind about my mother?”
She took a deep breath and clasped her hands in her lap. “The stories you told me. The way you loved her. The way she loved you. They didn’t add up to the woman I’d imagined. Then my aunt Penny mentioned something to me recently. She said Papa told her about a woman he’d fallen in love with, but who needed time to sort things out. We both agreed it sounded like a married woman. I think it was your mom.”