Dedicated to my favorite avid reader, Rachel.
JOHN SMILED AT THEM. “I know you have reservations, Lisa, and that you’ve probably looked over every aspect of the proposal. What assurances would you like from us?”
Lisa cleared her throat, reached down for her briefcase, and pulled out a manila file folder. Megan watched her every movement, learning more about her boss with every interaction they had. Everything Lisa did Megan found intriguing, just as she was interested in the rest of them. The way they carried themselves so confident in everything they said and did. Lisa placed the folder before her, opened it, and pulled out papers that were marked with a bright yellow highlighter.
“What I didn’t find in the proposal was how you intend to fill the orders when they come at double the pace they are now,” Lisa began.
“Double?” Calvin interjected, his voice filled with skepticism as he leaned forward from across the table, his only focus Lisa.
Lisa looked up at him, raising her chin. “Yes, at the very least this will double in a short amount of time. Who is going to foot the bill for additional tailors? Not to mention the need of at least one more warehouse to house the finished product and the delivery capabilities so that things run in a timely manner. Do you intend to limit the items in the beginning, or just throw the entire collection out there all at once?”
John looked from Lisa to Calvin who sat to his right, and then back again.
The door flew open and Edward rushed into the meeting, moving to sit beside his brother, Calvin, tossing a stack of papers onto the table.
“Edward, I thought you had all the numbers and resources in the report to Lisa,” Calvin said.
Edward smiled, relaxing back in his chair, not one care in the world, even coming late to this specific meeting, unprepared, and none of that seemed to faze him. “I have them ready but didn’t have a chance to forward them to her before her flight, and since they were coming I thought we could go over them together now.” He reached for the papers, stood, and went around the table handing them out to everyone. Edward and Calvin were like night and day. Calvin appeared to be the more identifiable brother, his stiff posture and looks the spitting image of their father, whereas Edward had more of a laid-back approach to everything from what Megan could see.
“Lisa should’ve had the documents two days ago,” John reprimanded, crossing his arms over his chest, not even making eye contact with his son, the irritation creasing his brow.
Carol reached out placing a hand on her husband’s arm, doing her best to calm the growing tension in her husband, and the room as well. The intercom beeped, the secretary announcing the lunch delivery, saving Edward from having to explain.
Lunch was brought in and lined up on the back table, bringing the conversation to an abrupt halt. Megan waited as most of the group got up and went to load their plates with food.
“These things get a bit intense sometimes, but it never really has to do with us,” Anna whispered, then stood and followed the others.
“Hello everyone,” Isabel said, breezing into the room, Kurt hot on her heels.
Kurt’s twin was dressed to the nines as usual, but not dressed for a business meeting, more like a night out on the town and ready to pose for paparazzi. Megan would’ve laughed at the woman if she didn’t already know that Isabel coveted her appearance and had a tongue as sharp as a razor when she felt threatened in any manner. Megan stood and when Kurt found her, he came straight over, kissing her cheek in greeting.
“I didn’t know you were going to be here, Megan,” he said. “I’m so glad that you are. Maybe we can have dinner tonight while you’re in town?”
Megan smiled but immediately wondered how Corey would interpret something like that. If what happened after the launch party was any indication, it wouldn’t go over well, and she wasn’t ready to rock the boat days after marrying him. Megan raised her left hand to pull a stray hair behind her ear, and the ring caught Kurt’s attention. He reached forward and took her hand into his, staring down at the rings.
“You’re married?” He stared at her for a long moment.
She felt uncomfortable for a second, not able to figure out why and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “As of three days ago, yes.”
Kurt smiled. “Congratulations.”
He raked a hand through his blonde head. “I take it dinner is out then.”
“Probably not a good idea,” she admitted, thankful that he brought it up.
He smiled at her. “You married Anna’s friend, the rancher, right?”
Megan couldn’t contain the smile as thoughts of her husband raced through her mind. “That I did.”
He reached forward and squeezed her hand. “I’m happy for you, Megan.”
“Thank you.” She turned to see the line at the food table dwindling. “Are you ready to get something to eat?”
“Good. I’m starved,” she admitted and headed to fix herself a place.
MEGAN HAD ONLY BEEN gone for one day, yet Corey sensed her absence through every inch of his being as if something profound were missing. After sleeping with her two nights in a row, the thought of going upstairs to an empty bed made his heart hurt, not to mention the ache that ripped through him thinking about making love to his wife. He chastised himself constantly for waiting so long to pursue her, to allow himself to let Megan Evans into his life and his heart. Looking back, all he saw were years of wasted opportunity and lost time, time they couldn’t get back. All because he thought the age gap made an enormous difference, or that she could never fit into his world, though it didn’t take long to realize just how wrong his beliefs were.
He made plans to meet up with Nolan at The Stix after dinner, and considering the crazy day he had, a cool drink with his brother had volumes of appeal. If anyone could sympathize with what he was going through, knew the ins and outs of having a wife with a busy career, it was his brother. Corey grabbed his boots and headed down to the kitchen to let his parents know he’d be going out for the night, and to discuss something that had been weighing on his mind most of the day.
His mother was still cleaning up when he entered the room. “Hey mom, I’m meeting Nolan for a beer. Where’s dad?”
His mother turned the faucet off, dried her hands on the towel, and turned to face him. “He just ran out to check on the horses one last time. He should be back any minute.” She stared at him for a moment and smiled. “What’s on your mind?”
Corey laughed, still surprised that she could read him so easily when he wanted to discuss something important with her and stumbled with a good way to go about it. “Well,” he said, “I was thinking about our living situation.”
She moved forward and sat down at the table, motioning for him to take a seat. Corey dropped his boots beside the chair and sat down.
“Your father and I were just discussing that as well.”
Corey’s heart fell. “Oh?” He didn’t mean to impose on his parents, but things happened so quickly that he didn’t have time to arrange an alternative to their living situation.
His father’s ears must have been burning, because before either of them could say another word, he came in the door, looking from one to the other. He took his Stetson off his head and placed it on the counter before moving to take a seat next to his wife.
“Living arrangements?” he questioned.
“Yes,” his mom said.
“Did you tell him?” his father asked.
His mom shook her head. “I was just about to.”
Corey sat there wondering just what they needed to say, and how bad it would be for him. He really wanted to get Nolan’s crew up to the ridge and start building a house, but that could take years before it would be ready for them to move in. “What am I missing here?” Corey inquired, his heart beating hard against his ribcage.
“Nothing earth-shattering,” his dad said, amusement thick in his deep voice.
Corey breathed a sigh of relief.
“What were you going to say,” his mom asked.
“Well, I was thinking of building a house for us up on the ridge. I’ve always loved that spot, and I’d be close enough to help in the middle of the night if there was an emergency.”
His parents looked at one another, his mom shaking her head. “We had something else in mind,” she uttered.
His dad reached for his mom’s hand and then turned his full attention on him, his hazel eyes almost searching for something. “Look, we have five bedrooms, and have only ever used three, and with your brother gone, we have three empty rooms just sitting there.”
“What are you saying?”
“We want you and Megan to live with us. It won’t be long until you take over the ranch, and it makes no sense for you to be elsewhere,” his mother said.
Corey’s jaw dropped, both shocked and elated by the offer. Though if he and Megan started making babies, which he fully intended to do, hopefully before Anna and Nolan, he wasn’t sure how that would work with more bodies filling the house.
“I would love that, but what happens when we start a family? It will be noisy and crowded. Are you sure you want to sign up for all of that?” As much as he wanted to hear them say yes, he had his doubts.
“Actually, that won’t be too much of a problem. We would like to take the two bedrooms on the opposite side of the house and turn them into a master suite for us, which would give you and Megan three bedrooms, and more privacy.”
Corey loved the idea of that, couldn’t find anything to object to, not that he really wanted to. He loved what his mother and Anna had done to his bedroom and bathroom. This place was home, the only home he’d ever known and the thought of staying there made sense to him. “I’ll talk to Meg as soon as she’s back from New York.”
“Good. You made a good choice in a bride. We like Megan a lot,” his mother said.
Corey grabbed his boots and slipped his feet into them. “Was there anything else you wanted to tell me?”
“No. Tell your brother to come for dinner tomorrow since the girls won’t be home for another day,” his mom said standing and headed back to cleaning up the kitchen.
MET WITH SURPRISE, COREY pulled into the parking lot at The Stix, irritation welling because he had to circle around just to find an empty spot for his truck. He assumed most would be home on a Tuesday night, but with the lack of a sufficient nightlife in Endurance, he shouldn’t have been amazed that folks would come here to socialize. Nolan sat at the bar waiting, an empty stool beside him, and a beer in his hand talking to the town tramp, Sue Jones, Nolan’s ex-friend with benefits. That’s alarming. After all the ludicrousness the woman put Nolan through, Corey couldn’t believe his brother would even give her the time of day, let alone have a conversation with her. He moved closer at a snail’s pace, knowing without a doubt if Anna found out she would rip the woman’s eyes out, and then toss his brother out on his hide to sleep in the doghouse for weeks to come. He attempted to suppress the snicker that bubbled up at that visual yet couldn’t.
Corey clapped Nolan on the back hard, unable to blow this off as nothing. “How long have you been waiting?” he asked.
Nolan glared at him. “Long enough to have a beer.”
"Hey, sugar, what are you drinking tonight?” Sue asked, leaning on the bar and giving him a good look at her ample cleavage.
Corey rolled his eyes at her forwardness. “I’ll have what he’s having.”
“Sure thing,” Sue crooned, her voice filled with sweetness, yet just the sound of her voice shook him like nails across a chalkboard.
Once she was out of earshot, Corey turned to his brother. “Are you insane?”
Nolan laughed, “Ready to run off and tattle on me to your bestie?”
Corey scoffed. “You know as well as I do that Anna would rip Sue’s eyes out the first chance she gets if she knew Sue even looked at you.”
"If you’d suggested that a few years ago I’d agree for sure, but not now.”
He gawked at his brother, so confident and unfazed by the implication that his wife could find out he still spoke to Sue Jones. “Are you sure about that?”
Nolan took a swig of his beer. “Positive.”
He shook his head, not able to digest that kind of self-assurance, even knowing how totally in love with Nolan his best friend was, he still couldn’t process it. He didn’t have one doubt that Megan would skin him alive if he went near Grace Grayburg, and that was just a one-night stand.
Corey turned and looked Nolan dead in the eye. “How can you be so sure?”
Nolan smiled, his eyes shining. “Because my wife knows she is the only woman I have interest in, that I belong only to her and am devoted to her.”
“Here ya go, sugar. Drink up,” Sue interrupted, placing the cold bottle in front of him.
Corey snatched the beer and took a long drink, his thoughts racing. What would it take for Megan to trust him that same way? Would she ever truly know and believe that no matter who he spoke to, he would remain faithful to her? Maybe after a couple years, they would both have the same commitment and understanding that Nolan and Anna found. One could hope anyway.
“I’m truly happy for you both, you know that right?” Corey affirmed.