She could trust him.
The thought came from nowhere and was quickly squelched.
With one click of his tongue, Cade moved his horse right next to hers. “Why were you crying last night?” he asked bluntly.
She closed her eyes, blocking out the pretty but too-cool autumn sun, the breeze and his too-curious gaze.
“Was it Jacob?”
“You don’t have to go meet him alone,” Cade said as if she’d responded. “Your sisters-”
“It’s too expensive.” And none of them had a spare cent to their name. “And then there’s the upcoming opening. Plus, we’ll have guests soon.”
“You need support for this.”
“I can handle it.” She could handle anything.
“So strong.” He gave her a look that said he saw right through her. “You can do it all, right?”
He shook his head. “No one is that strong.”
He stared at her until she felt that odd fluttering in her stomach. It annoyed her since she could see nothing in his gaze but his irritation at the worry he didn’t want to feel for her.
It was ironic that once upon a time she’d wished for a prince to solve all her problems, but life had taught her the hard way that she needed to be self-reliant-at all times. She would handle this, by herself.
And besides, Cade was no prince.
“Look, I don’t know why you won’t just drop it.” She felt more desperate than ever, but her voice was sure and calm. Her voice was always sure and calm, thanks to years of practice.
“I can’t,” he said with real regret.
“Because I can’t shake the feeling that…that you need me.”
She managed to laugh at that and toss her head. “I don’t need anyone, Cade, especially you.”
“Yeah. I can see that.” Not a man to hide his feelings for anyone, his voice was tight. She’d stirred his male pride.
In a way, Delia admired him for showing her that. With Cade, she never had to guess what he was thinking, not when his face expressed every emotion, even when he obviously didn’t want to feel that emotion.
What would it be like not to worry what people thought? To just be? Delia didn’t have a clue. She’d been playing at being strong and independent for so long she no longer knew how to do anything else.
“It’s not a bad thing, needing someone,” he said after a long moment, and because she’d often wondered about that very thing, she closed her eyes.
She thought she felt a light caress in her hair, but when she opened her eyes again, he held his reins in one hand, the other lay on his thigh.
It must have been the wind, she decided.
Cade was a man seemingly at rest. Yet power and restless energy emanated from him in waves. There was a dangerous edge to Cade McKnight, one she didn’t understand. For all his casual smiles and laughter, there remained a part of him always prepared for anything. Maybe it was the bright day or the isolation, but she thought she saw a surprising depth to that edge now, and it made her take a good long look at him.
He looked back just as steadily, without a hint of discomfort.
Hurt, she realized, startled. He was hiding a wealth of hurt, just beneath his rough surface, and this unexpected side to the man she’d thought of only as a pain-in-her-own-rear was unsettling.
She looked away first.
The day around them was gloriously white, green, blue-a whole array of colors so brilliant that her eyes welled with stinging tears. It almost hurt to breathe, the air was so cold and crisp and pure.
So different from Los Angeles where she’d worked all her life in busy upscale beauty salons. Yes, she most definitely missed everything about it, especially the weather. Right now, she couldn’t remember what fifty degrees felt like, much less seventy.
And God help her, it was only October.
But her sisters were here, she reminded herself. They loved it and she loved them. It would also be the perfect place to raise the brother she’d never known existed-if she could ever get Jacob here from Los Angeles.
That, unfortunately, depended on Cade’s help. And he didn’t even know it yet.
“We going to ride?” Cade asked lightly.
“Yes.” She drew a deep breath and urged Betsy to walk. The stark wild land before her was the most incredible she’d ever seen, she’d give it that much. When they’d first arrived, the Triple M had been nothing more than two run-down barns and a house ready to collapse.
Over the past few months she and her sisters, along with Ty Jackson, their neighbor and now Zoe’s fiancé, had worked their fingers to the bone and their bank accounts to the limit. Due to inexperience and lack of funds, they’d been forced to give up the idea of ranching. Instead, they’d opened a guest ranch.
It was harder than anything she’d ever done, and if she was in an admitting sort of mood, she’d have to say it was also the most rewarding thing she’d ever done.
Now, looking over the land they’d worked so hard on, Delia felt a fierce surge of pride for what they’d accomplished.
It was all thanks to Constance Freeman, a woman she hadn’t gotten the chance to meet, but who could have been her paternal grandmother. Family.
In a shocking move, Cade came close and cupped her jaw in his leather-gloved hand, gently but firmly bringing up her chin so that she was forced to look at him. “You’re a million miles away and you don’t want to talk about it, right?”
To soothe her, or maybe to combat the glare she knew she’d shot him, his thumb slid over the skin of her cheek once, then again. Her skin rippled in reaction to the touch that should have been impersonal, but wasn’t.
Not even close.
With his hand on her, his eyes hot and intense, it became difficult to think, much less speak. His big body sat in the saddle as if he were born to it, his long, loose limbs at rest, but as the master of control, Delia wasn’t fooled.
The darkly handsome man was battle-ready.
For some reason, that shot a pure undeniable thrill through her. Control, she reminded herself. She had it. Or she had, until Scott Felton, Jacob’s caseworker, had informed her of the possible trouble she was in for, since the courts were happy with Jacob’s current custody situation. Jacob’s father had originally had custody, but then he’d died and custody had gone to Delia’s mother. When she’d died as well, years later, with no will, Jacob had had to move again. He’d nearly gone into the welfare system when they’d finally located a distantly related aunt. No judge wanted to uproot the boy yet again, especially for someone Jacob didn’t even know.
But Delia wanted her brother safe and sound, and with her. She thought she might know how he felt, for she’d been five years old when she’d been left in a group home. Those first years had been spent dreaming of a family taking her and making her theirs.
It hadn’t happened.
Most people didn’t want a little kid, they wanted a baby.
Back then, Delia had decided she didn’t care. She had Zoe and Maddie, and they were more than enough.
All their lives, they’d had nothing but each other. They’d survived. Zoe had done it by being unruly and defensive, and tough when she had to be. Maddie had done it by being quiet and reserved. Accepting.
Delia had survived by masking her emotions so thoroughly that no one could see what she was feeling or thinking. She donned this protective mask every day, just as she did her makeup and clothes. It was a part of her. She needed no one, and no one needed her.
But now she had a brother-eight-year-old Jacob. He was alone, too, or had been. That gave them a kinship she couldn’t ignore. Yet it went deeper than that, far deeper.
For the first time in Delia’s life, she faced the truth…she needed to be needed by someone. Yes, she had her sisters, and yes, they loved one another with all their hearts.