She’d have to do this on her own, have to prove her worth to the judge. She wouldn’t ask her sisters for help unless it became absolutely necessary. “It’s nothing,” she said quietly as the weight of her lies buried her. “I’m just…tired.”
“Of course you are, with all this worrying over Jacob. You talked to him today?”
“Yesterday.” If one could call it that, for Jacob didn’t do much other than respond to her with monosyllabic answers.
Yes, he liked school.
No, he didn’t have too much homework.
Yes, he liked sports.
No, he didn’t know where the Triple M was.
And given his tone, he didn’t care, but there was always the slightest quiver in his voice, the smallest hesitation, and she clung to that, having to believe it did matter to him, that he was just uncertain and afraid.
Time, she reminded herself. He needed time.
“I know you want to go to Los Angeles alone,” Zoe said. “But I wish you’d let us come with you.”
Delia knew they would drop everything. They’d cancel guests, they’d spend money they didn’t have. They’d do anything for her, anything at all, including hurting their future.
Delia was many things, but she refused to be that selfish. “I’ll be fine.”
Zoe nodded reluctantly, clearly not believing, but unwilling to push further. “Promise if you change your mind, you’ll tell us. We’d be there, Delia, in a heartbeat.”
With one lithe motion, Zoe was out of the water. “I haven’t seen you this upset in a long time,” she said dripping water everywhere. “It scares me.”
“This is upset?” Ty looked from one woman to the other. “She hasn’t even raised her voice.”
“Delia never raises her voice.” Zoe bent to take Delia’s hand, looking deeply into her eyes. “Jacob is yours, honey. The court will see that.”
Delia closed her eyes.
“And as for Cade…”
Delia’s eyes flew open again. That name, she thought darkly. Just that name altered her pulse.
“He belongs here, too.”
Ty got out of the tub and wrapped his fiancée in a towel. “Let’s go inside,” he decided. “I’ll get everyone a hot drink and we’ll discuss how much Delia will pay me to kick Cade out on his tough rear end.”
“We’re not kicking anyone out.” Zoe was still watching Delia. “Honey, you know we can’t. He’s a part of this family now, and when you think about it, whatever is bothering you, you’ll realize we can’t hurt his feelings.”
“Feelings?” Worry and stress hardened Delia’s voice. “If he didn’t have to be here, he’d be long gone, having easily forgotten all about us.”
The sound of someone male clearing his throat came from behind her. “Well, that’s flattering.” The voice was hauntingly familiar.
Delia groaned, wished for the night to be even darker so that she could vanish. She turned and saw Cade standing there, leaning his big body against the doorjamb, his arms casually crossed over his chest. “You must not think too highly of me,” he said quietly, his unsmiling eyes on hers, “if you think I could easily forget anything about you.”
It was embarrassing. Ridiculous. Silly even. But she could think of nothing to say, couldn’t even find her legendary cool, so she did the only thing she could.
She grabbed her shoes, squared her shoulders and walked right past him, as well as Zoe and Ty, into the night.
And for once, she was grateful for the icy air because it cooled her heated cheeks.
But not her dreams.
Oh, she definitely has a bee in her bonnet, Cade thought as he came upon Delia on her hands and knees in the dining room the next day, scrubbing a stubborn stain on the hardwood floor.
Her hair was loose and shining, and her backside… He took an extra-long moment to admire the way it shimmied and shaked as she worked. Her long legs were tense with strain, and for an insane moment he wished they were tense and strained…around him.
He had no idea what was running through her head, but he could safely bet his last dollar it wasn’t anything close to his own lusty thoughts. “A penny for your thoughts,” he ventured.
She stiffened, making him smile. God, she was so easy to rile.
“Hell,” he said, grinning at her uptight pretty little spine. “I’ll give you everything I have for them.” Opening his wallet, he pulled out a bill. “How about five bucks?”
She sat back on her heels, wearing her queen-to-peasant expression that never failed to stir his blood.
Off-limits, McKnight, he reminded himself. Way off limits.
Still, egged on by some perverse need to see her ruffled out of her cool calm, he waved the money. “What do you say?”
Her lips, wide and oh-so-kissable, tightened. She looked away, but not before he caught a flash of…vulnerability? When he frowned and looked again, it was gone. Which was good. Delia wasn’t vulnerable, no more than he was, well, able to settle down. “Hey, if anyone’s upset about last night, it should be me. It was my reputation you were slandering.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I certainly didn’t mean for you to hear.”
But not sorry she hurt his feelings, he noted, torn between the sting of that and humor at her fierce pride.
She was so in control.
He wondered what it would take to have the city girl lose the reins on that tightly held control. He couldn’t help the possibilities that tumbled through his head, starting with a hot deep wet kiss. Yeah, that would do it nicely. He could picture it-her long blond hair falling around him, brushing his bare belly, his thighs. Her lush lips would curve gently, her eyes molten as she softened with desire.
But Delia wasn’t soft at all. She was staring at him, her frosty-blue eyes narrowed, her body taut as a bow.
He should walk away.
And yet he couldn’t. He’d known the three of them, Zoe, Maddie and Delia, for far too long to do that now. In spite of himself and his past, he’d grown to care for them, felt responsible for them coming so far from their home city of Los Angeles to the wilds of Idaho.
But it was more than that, and though he wasn’t willing to name it, Delia seemed to be at the bottom of it. He hardly knew her, he understood that. She had a knack for hiding her true self, for being incredibly stingy with emotions. He understood that, too. Though he hated it, it made him all the more curious, and there was nothing worse than a curious investigator.
In spite of needing to be far away from here and from this woman who drew him as no other had in too long, he worried about her. “You seem uptight today.”
“I thought I was always uptight.”
“Well, there’s uptight and then there’s uptight.”
But she wasn’t, for whatever reason, and he knew it. He’d known it the other night when he’d found her in the dark in the kitchen, with tears in her huge blue eyes.
He had other cases to be obsessing over, had a whole other life, in fact, and yet the Triple M haunted him.
Delia haunted him.
She was staring down at her cleaning supplies as if they held the greatest interest.
Cade knew his instincts were razor sharp. They’d saved his life more times than he could count, and they were screaming now. “Ownership of this place would be incredible,” he said carefully, seemingly out of the blue, but he’d had a hunch.
She flinched before she could control it, confirming his guess.
Bingo. “You know I’m doing my damnedest to get proof of that ownership,” he said softly. “Whether it turns out to be you or Maddie.”
He tried a different tack. “Your father-tell me about him.”
“I have an idea.” She’d risen and now grabbed her broom and started sweeping. “Let’s talk about you, instead,” she said.