But he would also never be able to get this broken-hearted Hannah out of his head. This Hannah wasn’t smiling. This Hannah groped around for her skirt in an attempt to hide from him.
She dressed in utter silence, with her back to him. He wished she would just walk away. He wouldn’t be able to handle the quiet dignity she would surely toss his way any moment. Still, he forced himself to stand there and wait as the guilt poured in.
Hannah turned after smoothing down her skirt, but it wasn’t quiet dignity on her face. No, pure feminine fury reigned.
“You’re a jerk, Mr. James. I never would have expected this from you.” He had to keep being a jerk. “What, Hannah, are you going to play the scorned woman now?
I never lied to you.”
“You’ve never told me the truth either. Why did you hire me?” Because he wanted her close. He wanted to bask in her light. “It was a favor to my brothers.” Her eyes narrowed, sharp intelligence clear in their depths. “I don’t think so. Dex and Slade could have just as easily pursued me without bringing me into your office. And why did you keep me as your executive admin if I was just ‘okay’?”
Why was everyone questioning him? Why wouldn’t they just leave him the fuck alone?
Because he deserved whatever shit rained down on him. God, he’d taken her without a condom. If she was pregnant, it would kill him. No, if she was pregnant, Dex and Slade would kill him.
“I told you before that I didn’t have a problem sleeping with you. You have a certain charm, both in the office and flat on your back. But I won’t give up my social standing to marry a girl so utterly lacking grace and upbringing.”
Her lips curled up in a cynical smile. It was the first he’d ever seen on her. Gavin swallowed down a throat full of bile. His Hannah had learned a lot in the days since he and his brothers had kidnapped her, not all of it good.
“Right, I’m just a country girl without manners or education. I’m nothing but a good time to a man like you. Rest assured, I won’t forget that again.”
It made him sick, but Gavin nodded. “Good. I hope you won’t make a fuss with my brothers.”
“That won’t be a problem.” Her shoulders sagged. Her cynical smile fled, and tears welled in her eyes. “I won’t cause any trouble between you and your brothers. We dumb country girls at least know better than to mess with family.”
She started to walk out of the room, her head held high.
“What does that mean?”
“Piss off,” she snapped, without even turning back to him.
“Where are you going?” he demanded.
“It’s none of your concern.”
“Stay in your room until my brothers get back.” He couldn’t see her again.
She still didn’t turn back to him. “I don’t need to follow your orders any more, Mr. James.
You’re not my boss. You’re not even my lover. You’re just a jerk who used me.” That summed him up in a neat little package. Pain slammed through him, but he swallowed it down. “This jerk thinks it would be best if you remained in your room.”
“What you think doesn’t matter anymore.”
He laughed, a humorless sound. “I guess you don’t love me after all.”
“You’re wrong.” She sighed and kept walking.
With two words, she dismantled him. Gavin staggered back to the piano, clutching his stomach. He felt fucking eviscerated. He grabbed the bottle of vodka and drained the last of it, staring at the piano. He’d never be able to play again without seeing Hannah there. He’d never be able to come back to this house without aching for her all over again.
He was a miserable bastard, and it was only going to get worse. But he knew what he had to do, the only honorable thing he could do. He picked up the phone and dialed his lawyer’s number.
Maybe someday Hannah and his brothers would understand.
* * * *
Hannah walked through the house like a zombie, her feet shuffling across the hardwood floors. The events of the past days played through her brain as she made it to her room. She’d been briefly happy here, but that was over.
She took off her clothes and started the shower. God, she felt dirty. Funny how she could be with two men and feel like an angel, but Gavin had made her feel slutty and cheap.
After washing away the evidence of her mistake, she climbed out and dressed the best she could. With tears blurring her eyes, she packed her things and closed her suitcase. She opened her laptop. With a few keystrokes, she found the phone number to the charter service that flew from River Run to Anchorage. She could find a flight home from there. In a day or so, she would be back in Two Trees. Maybe she could pick up the pieces of her life.
If she could find a way into town.
Next, Hannah pulled up her word processing program and typed out a note to Dex and Slade.
After searching the nearby study, she found no evidence of a printer, so she left the computer open so they would find her goodbye.
Hannah cried as she dragged her suitcase behind her and searched the whole house futilely for car keys or the driver. Neither were anywhere to be found. Darn it, she needed to be gone before Slade and Dex returned. They wouldn’t understand. They’d convince her that Gavin was like a lion with a thorn in his paw—snarling and mean, but really just hurting deep down. They’d convince her that she could heal him. But Hannah knew better. If she remained, she would just cause trouble between Gavin and his brothers.
God, she’d miss these men, and she would never love anyone half so much again, but she couldn’t break up a family.
Why had she thought she could be involved with three men? She hadn’t been thinking at all, at least not with her brain. Her heart and nether regions had proven that they couldn’t make a halfway decent decision between them.
She wandered into the great room where she’d confronted Gavin earlier. If only she’d listened to him. She’d been so sure he was hiding something. Maybe he was, but nothing she’d done had cut through his protective walls. He didn’t want her help or her love.
She stared out the window, wondering how far the walk was into town when the golf carts caught her eye.
She smiled for the first time. Country girls might not be polished, but they knew how to make do.
* * * *
She pulled her golf cart into a parking space behind the Angry Moose Saloon, Grocery, and Lodge. It was the biggest building in the tiny little town. Made of large logs, it resembled a huge cabin. Two burly men walked out of the saloon doors and stopped in their tracks when they saw her.
Both of them towered over Hannah. They stared openly at her, and then the one wearing a hat walked right back into the saloon without a word.
Fabulous. Everywhere she looked today, she found a man willing to be rude to her. She lifted her chin and walked through the saloon’s double doors.
The Angry Moose was unlike anything she’d ever seen. The walls were covered with animal heads. These people took their hunting very seriously. Moose, bears, dear, even a gopher, all had heads hanging on the wall, a testament to human prowess with a shotgun.
A quick image of Gavin’s head on the wall sprinted through her mind. She shook her head.
Violence wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t make her feel better. Maybe it would assuage her for a moment, but she still loved him. In fact, she loved all three of them. The ache from leaving the James Gang behind was going to last forever.
She clutched her suitcase and walked to the bar, ignoring the crowd of men who stopped to stare at her. What was going on? They acted as if they’d never seen a woman before.
A young man with dark hair and Native American features stood behind the bar. His eyes widened as she approached.
“Miss, can I help you? Are you lost?” He leaned over. “Do I need to call the sheriff? He’s not exactly effective, but he’s better than nothing.”
Hannah frowned. “Why would I need the sheriff? I just need to find Billy.” Billy Harris ran the small charter service that would take her from River Run to Anchorage.
From there, she was on her own. But she could find her way back to Texas.
The young man’s face fell. “Uhm, are you Harry Crag?”
She shook her head. “Hannah Craig.”
The bartender winced. “Sorry. Billy isn’t really great with names when he’s plastered.
Unfortunately, that’s most of the time.”
Out of nowhere, a stranger’s hand gripped her arm. “Don’t worry about nothing, Harry. I’ll have you out of this hellhole in no time.”
She could smell the liquor on the man’s breath. This was Billy, her pilot?
Hannah turned to the bartender. “Can anyone else take me home?” The bartender frowned and pointed behind her. Hannah turned. Every man in the bar stared at her. Most had moved way too close for comfort.
“I can take you home,” a deep-voiced man with faded jeans and a naughty smile said. She got the distinct feeling he was not talking about Texas.
“I should take her home, you old coot. I’m way closer to her age.” A man who looked barely old enough to drink pushed to the forefront.
Hannah eased back—and felt the hard edge of the bar at her back. She swallowed. This could get ugly.
Dex walked into the house, an unaccountable sense of confidence clinging to him. Despite the fact that the conference call with the Lenox brothers hadn’t yet yielded the name of Hannah’s stalker, Dex had a feeling that they were close. Of course, now they had another problem, a corporate saboteur. Someone had purposefully uploaded a virus to their drilling sites’ computers.
Dex had already put out a call to their other drill sites to lock down their systems and accept no updates until further notice.
“Hey.” Slade walked in behind him, through the kitchen doors, and into the mud room.
“Since we got all the crap settled with the computers, I was thinking we should show Hannah around a bit. She’s probably too sore to ride a horse today, but we could climb in the Jeep and take her up into the mountains.”
“Yeah, good thinking.” Then he frowned. “What about Gavin?”
Big brother was another problem they were going to have to solve. Hannah loved him. Slade would miss him. Hell, if he was really honest with himself, Dex didn’t want Gavin left out, either, despite the awful lies he’d snarled at Hannah last night. If they allowed Gavin to pull away this time, it would likely be permanent. Dex knew it deep in his bones.
“What do you mean? Are you asking if we should we invite him along?” Dex shook his head. “No, we need to figure out what’s eating at Gavin and how to stop it before we let him anywhere near Hannah again. What do you know about Nikki and the night she died?”
Slade zipped a sharp stare his way. “Not much. Nikki was really beautiful. You know, one of those girls who just catches everyone’s attention.”
“I remember.” Dex tended to steer clear of women like her. Anyone who needed that much attention typically didn’t know how to give it back. “Society girl, wasn’t she?”
“Yes. The worst kind. Her family had fallen on hard times, and she was willing to screw her way back to the top.”
“Starting with Gavin.”
Slade shook his head. “Hell, no. She’d worked her way through a bunch of men before she got her hooks into him.”
“Gavin has always been so smart. Why would he let someone like her get close?”
“It was a difficult time for him,” Slade said slowly. “Our father was gone. We had just found you. Gavin got lost trying to save the company. I let him.”
“You were barely eighteen.” Dex remembered that time as the greatest of his life. He’d found brothers who’d seemed to embrace him, and he’d started college. Until Gavin and Slade had shown up, he’d been pretty sure he wouldn’t see a college campus unless he was cleaning it.
Many rich families would have never contacted him, much less welcomed him with open arms and offered to pay for his education.
But those years had been hard for Gavin. He’d barely graduated from college himself when he’d been forced to delve into the shark-infested waters of corporate life. If their father hadn’t stubbornly held onto the majority of the stock, Black Oak Oil would have likely been savaged and broken up.
Gavin had saved it for his brothers. Yeah, he owed Gavin.
“I remember Nikki, but only a bit.” Dex flushed. He hadn’t wanted to admit this. “She came on to me one night.”
“Join the club. What kills me is that Gavin wasn’t in love with her. I think he liked the sex.
She was very passionate. They fought constantly. At the time, some demon in him craved that drama. Maybe it took his mind off everything else.” Slade shrugged. “I don’t know.” And Dex could just bet that Nikki had made up for all that arguing in bed. “I remember a couple of breakups. They always seemed permanent, but the next week she’d be back.”
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