He scared her, she forced herself to admit, resting her forehead against the glass and staring out into the deep dark night. He definitely scared her. After all, Delia needed no one and had made sure no one needed her. As a result, she’d bent people to her will with little to no effort. Teachers, friends. Men.
But not Cade McKnight.
He was truly his own man, one who refused to bow to any authority except his own.
It was frightening to realize she could never control a man like that. But no matter. Despite what he’d said about no longer being able to ignore her, she could still ignore him.
Needing air, regardless of how cold it was, she stepped out into the night, onto the deck that Ty had recently rebuilt. She heard bubbles, which she knew came from the newly installed hot tub, and she followed the sound in search of her sisters, seeking what only they had been able to give her.
She found Zoe and Ty blissfully immersed in the steaming water, entwined. They were kissing-a deep passionate kiss that made Delia sigh theatrically even as something deep within her yearned. “Don’t you guys ever do anything other than connect your mouths?”
Ty lifted his wet head and shot her a wicked grin. “Uh-huh.”
Zoe smacked him lightly on his chest and smiled up at her sister. “Come on in, Dee. It feels terrific on sore muscles.”
Ty’s grin faded. “You hurt something?”
His concern was touching…and embarrassing, considering it was her bottom that hurt the most from the unaccustomed riding. Zoe and Ty did most of the physical work on the ranch, working the horses and their small herd of cattle. Maddie ran the kitchen, providing all meals. Delia’s job was managing the reservations and the front desk, which included checking people in and out and keeping up the house.
It wasn’t very physical-anyone could have done it. Which was the root of most of her guilt, because she didn’t feel she was pulling her weight. She didn’t belong and she knew that; she just couldn’t admit it to her sisters.
Ty straightened, standing in the tub, a frown marring his brow as water dripped off his well-built frame. He was one of the most handsome men she’d ever seen. “What did you hurt?” he asked.
Zoe snickered and Delia sent her a dirty look. “Nothing,” she muttered.
Some of his fierceness drained, but none of his curiosity, and finally Zoe took pity on her clueless husband-to-be. “She hurt her rear end yesterday during her riding lesson.” She shoved back her wet auburn hair. “She’s got first-timer’s butt.”
“It was my second lesson,” Delia corrected with icy dignity.
Ty bit his lip, but his eyes danced with humor. “Maybe Cade ought to take it easier on you next time.”
Ty and Zoe laughed then, revoltingly disgusting in their happiness.
“Speaking of Cade, why is he still here, anyway?”
Ty lifted a brow at Delia’s question, glancing at Zoe before answering. “You know he’s working.”
“You mean eating us out of house and home.”
“Well, technically, that’s Maddie’s fault,” Ty countered. “She’s too good a cook.”
“But we don’t even know anything about him-his background, where he came from…anything.”
Something flickered in Ty’s eyes. Knowledge of Cade, Delia realized, and whatever it was, it wasn’t pleasant.
She’d known from the first time she’d looked into Cade’s dark gaze that he’d suffered in his past. But to know the details of that suffering would be to know him far more intimately than she ever intended, especially when she didn’t intend to know him at all.
“Cade’s past isn’t important to Constance ’s case or our friendship with him,” Ty said carefully. “He’s trustworthy and honest, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s all that matters.”
“He’s a friend,” Zoe agreed softly, reaching for Ty’s hand and smiling at him with love in her eyes. “Without him we wouldn’t be here.”
“I know.” Delia sighed, then kicked off her boots, pulled off her socks and crossed to the edge of the tub. Pulling up a chair, she sank into it, set her bare chilled feet into the water and moaned with pleasure.
Moving close, Zoe put her hand on Delia’s leg. “What’s the matter?”
Delia shifted away. “Nothing.”
She sighed, rubbed her temples. Everything, she wanted to say. I can’t control this place. I can’t control what happens to Jacob. I can’t control these strange feelings I’m having for Cade. “I don’t know what’s wrong.” It was a half-truth. Which was as good as a lie, something she’d never told to either Zoe or Maddie.
Still standing, Ty divided a look between them. “Is this the kind of talk where men aren’t invited?”
It seemed like forever that there’d been no one but Zoe and Maddie in Delia’s life. But now there was Ty, too, and though Delia didn’t trust men on principle, Zoe, the tough fiercely independent sister, loved him with all her heart. That made him okay in Delia’s book. “You can stay.”
“Good,” he said with a grateful shiver, sinking back into the water. “Not just because I was starting to freeze, which I was, but because as your brother, I have to hear all the gossip or I’m completely ineffective when I tease you.”
Delia narrowed her eyes. “Brother?”
“Well, yeah.” He gently tugged on a lock of her hair. “Which means I get to annoy you often, you know. I also get to inspect all future boyfriends and grill them until their eyes cross. And beating up anyone who hurts you is just a given.”
The strangest thing happened. Delia’s heart constricted, making her chest far too tight to breathe. A warmth filled her. To cover that, and all the confusing emotions that went with it, she punched him. “I can take care of myself.”
“Not with a punch like that you can’t.”
Zoe smiled at the banter, but still watched Delia carefully. “What’s really going on, Dee? Why did you ask about Cade?”
“I just think he can solve this case from his office in Boise.” Or maybe from the other side of the country.
“He’s not…bothering you in any way, is he?” This from Ty, who Delia knew cared deeply about Cade. After all, without Cade, Ty would never have met Zoe. Or any of them for that matter.
“No, he’s not bothering me,” Delia said slowly. Not much other than occupying my every single thought. “But as my big brother, would you really beat him up for me if he was?”
“You better believe it, baby.”
Zoe laughed, running her hand over her fiancé’s straining biceps as he comically flexed for them. “Isn’t Cade bigger than you?”
“It’s not about brawn,” Ty assured her, giving up the pose and laughing when Zoe rolled her eyes. “It’s all in how you use it.”
Zoe shook her head. “Men.”
Ty kissed her laughing mouth, which made Zoe melt and Delia…well, she melted, too, but she couldn’t get sidetracked. Once upon a time it had mattered greatly to Zoe who inherited the Triple M. Delia knew Zoe had wanted to be the heir with all her heart. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, and Zoe seemed to have come to terms with it.
Which didn’t make this any easier.
Zoe pulled back from Ty. “Come on, Delia, tell me what’s up.”
“Well, we’re pretty good at complicated,” Zoe told her dryly. “Our whole life has been complicated.”
Yes, but how to explain that her need to be the heir was greater than either of her sisters’? That she hated to need anything at all, but to need this, this huge thing, was nearly killing her.
“It’s the investigation,” Zoe guessed. “Cade’s investigation for Constance.”
“It’s Jacob, then. Oh, honey, I wish I could make this all work out, right now.”
“Me, too.” This was so hard. With all her heart, she wanted happiness for Zoe and Maddie. But she also wanted Jacob. How to hurt one sibling over another?