Dedicated to my favorite avid reader, Rachel.
“BRADY!” A VOICE BOOMED.
Corey turned on the barstool and came face to face with Joe. By the anger in his voice, it was a safe assumption that the man had heard he married Megan. The last thing Corey wanted tonight was to have a confrontation with Megan’s friend, and the man who desperately fought for her affections.
“How could you?” he slurred, staggering forward. “I knew it was a game with you. I told her that. But this?” he yelled, moving closer to Corey until just inches separated them. “To elope just to get her into your bed. You sick son of a bitch. How could you?”
A hush fell over the bar, all eyes moved to them as Corey stood, anger pulsing through his veins.
“Easy now,” Nolan said standing beside Corey. “He’s drunk and doesn’t know what the hell he’s saying.”
“Look, why don’t we talk about this outside,” Corey suggested, not wanting half the town knowing his business.
Joe took another step closer, his whiskey-sodden breath washing over Corey and making him turn up his nose. The man was plastered, and no matter what he said to him tonight, he highly doubted Joe would have any recollection of any conversation they had come tomorrow.
“Why? What are you afraid of?”
Corey shook his head. “Not a damn thing. You’re drunk, and I think you should sober up.” Corey reached out, trying to calm the man but he swatted Corey’s hand away.
“I don’t care what you think.”
Nolan wedged his way between them, prepared to stop anything before it got started.
Joe leaned in and started laughing, his broad shoulders bouncing before his eyes turned to slits and he glared at Corey. “You don’t know.” He shook his head, laughing harder. Joe reached forward and grabbed Corey’s arms. “You think you won some prize, but you haven’t.”
Corey raised his arm, breaking Joe’s grip, which sent him wobbling backward a few steps. “Don’t talk about my wife that way. I think it’s best you leave.”
“When you get home tonight, ask your wife how she lost her virginity,” Joe imparted through clenched teeth, turned and stormed away leaving Corey and Nolan both standing there with their mouths hanging open.
Corey reeled backward, his butt hitting the seat of the stool as his head spun out of control and he found it hard to breathe. Nolan turned and gawked at him, but all Corey could do was focus on breathing as his heart hammered with a ferocity he had never known before. Dizziness assaulted him, while his stomach lurched and churned making him feel queasy while thoughts of his virgin bride sleeping with Joe Adams sailed through his mind. When did she sleep with him? Why didn’t she tell me?
“Corey,” Nolan called.
He shook his head, trying hard to calm the rage that began to rush through him, like a storm brewing on the horizon. Corey stood, letting the anger and insult take hold of his fragile emotions, wanting nothing more than to beat Joe Adams to a pulp.
“Don’t do it,” Nolan warned. “Besides, he’s drunk, probably lying.”
Corey stepped around his brother, determined to hunt down the man who violated his wife and teach him a valuable lesson. Nolan grabbed a hold of his upper arm, preventing him from taking more than two steps.
“That’s not the way to deal with this.”
He glared daggers at his brother. “And just what would you suggest?”
Nolan shook his head. “Calming down and talking to your wife first.”
It made sense, he could admit that, but the thought of Megan being with another man, any other man galled him to no extent. Nolan dug into his pocket and dropped some money onto the bar to pay for their tab and stayed glued to his side as they headed out.
MEGAN FOUND RELIEF AND finally relaxed when their plane touched down at Metro Airport, visions of dashing into her husband’s waiting arms swamping her mind. She missed Corey so much over the last few days and couldn’t wait to see him, to kiss him hard on the mouth, hold him close enough to feel his heart beating. More than anything, she wanted to sink into the man that she loved and get lost in all that he was. From the way Anna and Lisa spoke, Megan would need to get used to these little impromptu trips, and that left her sorrowful, so much so she refused to think about it. If Megan knew one thing, it was that she hated being away from Corey, especially now that he finally belonged to her, and the wonderful part of that was she didn’t care who knew it. She thought about some of the women she saw over the years who loved to put on a show for everyone, proving just how in love they really were, but all along she saw through their façade and vowed that would never be her. Megan realized that loving Corey Brady would never be something that held her back, and there was no shame in being in love with the man of her dreams. If anything, eloping with him was the best part of her life, even topping her new career, working for Anna and gaining her financial independence.
The meetings were painless, and Megan learned a lot from the trip, as well as enjoying being more acquainted with the Grayburg family, and learning more about the business side of Anna’s Originals. When John and Carol found out Megan eloped, they had champagne brought in and even offered to put her and Corey up for a few nights in any New York hotel for a mini honeymoon. The amazing offer took her by surprise, and feeling like a fish out of water here, Megan had little doubt that her husband would probably feel the exact same way, yet he surprised her. When she sent him the text about spending a few days, all expenses paid, Corey said yes, so Carol and Anna set it all up for the following weekend. Megan didn’t expect to be back in New York so soon, but thoughts of touring the city and being in a luxurious hotel with her man had tremendous appeal.
They deplaned and headed to the luggage carousel to wait for Lisa’s bags, which made Megan laugh because she packed light and only had her carry-on, while Lisa went to extremes. It was only a two-day business trip and the thought of needing two full-sized suitcases for that made no sense to Megan at all. Megan wondered what Lisa deemed necessary for two days, was tempted to ask, but knew that Lisa would have a justified explanation for everything she brought with her. Megan quickly learned that her boss did nothing on a whim, that everything she did had a lot of thought and planning behind it. As soon as Lisa grabbed her luggage, they headed for the exit.
Just thinking of rushing out of the airport and going home sent the dormant butterflies in her stomach in motion as anticipation of making love to him again zipped through her. She couldn’t wait to feast her eyes upon Corey and take a good, long look, drinking her fill of him. She expected that he would have the same reaction, one of longing and excitement where they could drown out the rest of the world and become absorbed in one another. Every step toward the exit doors her heart pounded harder, faster, beating so furiously against her breast she predicted it would burst right from her chest. Nolan stood waiting for them, Megan couldn’t miss that vibrant smile directed at Anna as she raced to him and launched herself at her husband like a missile. Megan craned her neck, searching all around Nolan’s pickup looking for Corey, to no avail.
“Ladies,” Nolan said setting Anna back on her feet. “I’ll be your chauffeur tonight.” He moved toward the back door and opened it, before grabbing the suitcases and putting them into the bed of the truck.
Megan’s heart plummeted. She thought for sure Corey would be here, waiting, eager to see her like he said he would. She even had the text messages to prove it, yet for some reason he didn’t come for her. Where was he? Why didn’t he show? Had he changed his mind about marrying her? Questions assaulted her left and right, and the more she thought, the more her head throbbed, the beginnings of a migraine in progress.
Once they were on their way back to Endurance, she noticed Nolan watching her from the rearview mirror.
“He really wanted to be the one to pick you up, Megan, but there was a problem with work and he had to stay and help Dad.”
The deep breath she took and held released, taking a million questions running through her head with it. “Thank you for letting me know,” she uttered.
Megan turned to stare out of the window and watch as the landscape went by. She settled in for the drive back home, figuring Lisa would be dropped off first since they had to go through town to get out to the ranch. The yearning to see Corey began to wane as her thoughts drifted to ones of dread again, that something was wrong, and no idea what it could be. Every minute that ticked by made her a little antsier, more uncomfortable, panic descending and gripping her heart like a vice. Even though Nolan gave her a plausible explanation for Corey’s absence, something felt off, she would bet her life on it.
Everyone made small talk, filling Nolan in on the agreement Lisa and the Grayburg’s made about the online launch of Anna’s Originals, but Megan only listened to them talking, had nothing to contribute. When they arrived at Lisa’s house, Nolan got out to help her with the bags and made sure everything was fine at the house. Before he could get back to the truck, Anna turned and looked at her.
“What’s wrong? And before you say it’s nothing, I’ve been watching you from the side mirror and can tell you’re upset.”
Megan groaned and closed her eyes, hating that she was so easily read. “Just a bad feeling,” she muttered.
Anna eyed her suspiciously. “As far as I know everything’s fine. Try not to worry.” She reached between the seats and grabbed onto Megan’s hand, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
Nolan got back inside and pulled away from Lisa’s. “Megan is worried,” Anna announced.
He looked up into the rearview mirror and sighed. “Corey and Joe had a run in the other night.”
“Oh Lord,” Anna said. “Tell me he held his temper and didn’t knock Joe’s teeth in this time.”
Nolan shook his head. “Mostly just words.”
“See, Megan, nothing to worry about.”
Megan hoped that’s all it was, knowing that by now Joe had heard about their elopement and that it probably didn’t go over too well, not that anything he said would’ve changed her mind about her choice. “I know Joe can be a bit hardheaded, but he’s always been a good friend to me.”
Nolan’s eyebrow rose, and he turned his complete attention back to the road before him, which made Megan uneasy again.
“Nolan?” Megan asked. She could tell there was something he wasn’t saying, something huge.
“Joe was drunk, stumbling around.”
Anna groaned. “You were at The Stix. I swear, sometimes I think that place needs to be shut down, it’s such a haven for all the town undesirables. But then again, there’s really no place to go to wind down. What a shame.”
“They didn’t fight, right? I’m not coming home to see my husband with a black eye?” Megan questioned, thoughts of another brawl between her friend and Corey making her sad. She wished they could get along but knew that snow in June would be more likely than that.
“No, I got Corey out of there.”
“Thank you,” Megan said. She was thankful for that. She hated seeing Corey with bruises, and the one from her brother was probably still evident on his jaw.
They pulled up to the ranch, and excitement danced again. After seeing the welcoming Anna and Nolan had, Megan wanted nothing more than to run into Corey’s waiting arms and take comfort in the man she loved. She needed that, needed to be held by him, supported and reassured that everything would work itself out in time, and she wanted to do the same for him.
When she got out of the truck, she noticed him standing at the stable doors, a slight smile on his face. Just looking at him, feeling those dark eyes on her made her heart fill with warmth. He headed towards them, and Megan couldn’t hold back the overwhelming relief that washed through her at his approach. Each step she took grew quicker until she was almost running for him, yet his pace didn’t match hers and she wondered why. As mere inches separated them, his arms opened, and she melted into them, right where she wanted to be.
“I missed you so much,” she said, holding him so close she could feel his breath on her skin, his heartbeat beating with hers.
“I missed you too,” he returned, his voice low, so low she almost didn’t hear him.
Megan pulled back and looked up into his face. “Are you all right?”
Corey nodded, put his arm around her and led her to where Nolan and Anna stood waiting.
“Thanks for bringing her home.”
“Not a problem. No sense in both of us going out there anyway. Did you and Dad get the mare settled?”
“Yeah, took a little coaxing after Doc got her leg set and put her in a sling. She’s medicated and we’re hoping in a few days she can put some weight on it.”
“Good. Call if you need anything. I’m taking my wife home,” Nolan said, turning and smiling at Anna.
Anna moved forward and hugged Corey. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Meg, and we can discuss plans for the reception”
“Okay. Thanks again. The trip was interesting.”
They stood and watched as Nolan backed the truck up and headed down the path that led to the main road.
Megan turned to Corey. “I’m sorry about the horse. I guess you’ve had a rough day
“Been a rough couple of days,” he muttered.
Megan stared at him, knowing something else was going on other than the horse. “Talk to me. Nolan mentioned you and Joe had another run in. Is that what’s bothering you?”
Corey winced at the mere mention of Joe’s name. “You could say that.”
Megan didn’t understand this. Corey never beat around the bush, he always just came out and said whatever was on his mind, but tonight even though he was standing right in front of her, she felt the profound distance in him. “What happened?”
Corey looked at her, his dark eyes intense, almost searching for something. “He told me I should ask you who you lost your virginity to.”
Megan’s heart plunged, and she closed her eyes, finding it difficult to breathe. The secret was out, and the worst part was that she wasn’t the one to tell him. No. He found out from the one person he didn’t care for, and the knowledge that her friend betrayed her trust made her sick to her stomach.