“In a nutshell: yes.”

Renner laughed scathingly. “In a nutshell: no. Fuck no.”

“Did I mention this is not a negotiation?”

“I don’t give two shits about your assumption that there’s even room to negotiate when it comes to how I feel about Tierney.”

“Is this supposed to prove you love her?” Pratt mocked.

“I do love her. I don’t have to prove a goddamned thing to you. And that’s what gets you, doesn’t it? Not only that Tierney loves me enough to walk away from Daddy’s purse strings, but she’s been done jumping through your hoops since the moment she stepped on this property.”

“She’s a brilliant girl and she’d be throwing away her life here with you.”

Renner pointed at Pratt. “There’s your problem. Tierney is not a girl. She’s a woman, hell, she’s all woman, and she’s making an adult decision that you have no part of. She’s out of your reach. Done being under your thumb. She’s taken control of her own life for a change and I applaud her for that.

“You only see her as another asset. Another thing you own. I know she’s smart. Yeah, she’s probably too smart for the likes of me. But her brain ain’t the best part of her. Her heart is the best part of her. And I can’t believe I’m the lucky guy she’s decided to give it to.”

“Pretty words,” Pratt sneered. “Think she’ll stick with you when all you’ve got to offer her is your twice-divorced heart?”

“At least it’s honest. And I ain’t putting conditions on it.”

“You’ll lose. You’ll both lose.” It appeared Daddy-o was losing his cool. He bit off, “Take the offer, Jackson.”

“Take your offer and shove it, Pratt. We’re done.”

“We’re not done. Not by a long shot. You’ll be hearing from me.” He turned and walked out.

Renner was half tempted to shout something juvenile like, bring it on, motherfucker. He’d let that bastard foreclose on the Split Rock before he’d ever turn on Tierney. But the bastard was her father. Although Gene Pratt didn’t have an issue making Tierney choose between Renner and him, Renner would not do the same thing to her.

This was all kinds of f**ked up. But what sucked the most? He couldn’t stick around and hash it out. He needed to be on the road in an hour. He walked to his truck so he could talk to Tierney before he left.

Ten minutes later Renner burst into the office, demanding, “Did you know?”

Tierney’s hands froze on the keyboard. “Know what?”

He threw the sheaf of papers at her. “That PFG has a clause in the contract that can force me to pay back one hundred percent of the loan before the year is up? Or I default on everything?”

By the guilty look on Tierney’s face, she’d known. Maybe she’d even put the damn clause in.

Fuck.

Had he been played for the fool again?

“How did you find out?” she asked quietly.

“After your father”—he started to say, used you as the currency to buy me off, but amended—“had a chat with me, he oh-so-thoughtfully left a copy of the contract on the seat of my truck with the clause in question circled.” Renner clenched his hands into fists. Gritted his teeth so hard his jaw ached.

“What did my father say to you?”

Renner laughed bitterly. “As if you don’t know.”

“I don’t. I swear.” Tierney came around to rest her backside on the front edge of her desk.

“I’ve let you deal with all the financials regarding the Split Rock. I didn’t question you. Not like you questioned me on every goddamned thing about this place.” Anger burned up his throat and heated his face. “Did you get a big f**kin’ chuckle out of that? The dumb cowboy so desperate that he’d believe everything you told him?”

“It wasn’t like that, Renner, not at all.”

“So when I came to you needing more cash, where did that money come from?”

Tierney averted her eyes.

Not good. “Answer me, dammit.”

“From my personal account.”

Renner’s mouth dropped open. “What? Why? Just to maintain the f**king lie? Or to have something to hold over my head? So you could own me too?”

“No. I did it because I believe in this place. I expected it’d be successful given the chance. But I also knew unforeseen expenses in the first year of operation for a new business can wipe out any financial reserves. So I covered it and kept track of the cash outlay.”

“Yeah? You’ve gotta have a lot of cash outlay available to ‘cover’ those expenses. Since I know little about your personal financial situation, I wanna know where you got the money.”

“I earned it.”

“How?”

Tierney dropped her gaze again and he recognized she was still keeping something from him.

“Tell me.”

“When you saw me working after I first arrived? Ninety-nine point nine percent of what I was doing had nothing to do with the Split Rock. Ninety-nine point nine percent of it was . . . killing time.”

“That’s why you could piss with me endlessly about every aspect of it? You had nothin’ better to do?”

She nodded.

“Jesus. When did that change?”

“When you needed money from the escrow account and that account was already empty. I lent my available cash reserve to the Split Rock general fund. Then I was broke. I have stocks and other investments, but no ready cash. So I did freelance work for PFG. But I earned it. Every penny of it.”

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