“Because you’re one big mystery.”
“My past isn’t relevant to this case.”
“And therefore doesn’t need to be discussed?”
“Exactly. Now tell me about your father.”
“You’re a hard man, Cade McKnight.”
“From you, Delia, I take that as a compliment.” He was surprised when she smiled. “Your father?” he repeated patiently.
“You mean, could he have been Ethan Freeman?” She’d given up trying to get information out of him, whether because it wasn’t important to her, or because she knew he wasn’t about to indulge her curiosity, he had no clue.
“We’ve already discussed this,” she said, leaning on her broom. “All I ever knew was what my mother told me when I was five, just before she took me to the foster home.”
And had left her there, without a word. What kind of mother, Cade wondered, would just dump her child like that? He came from a large loving family of six. His mother would no more give up a child than her own right arm. And even when Cade had walked away from that family, his heart destroyed, she’d never turned her back on him, instead, had badgered and badgered until he’d come back to the fold.
Delia set aside the broom and lifted one of the three windows. Immediately a cool breeze hit them. Delia’s sweater plastered itself to her lush form. Cade tried not to look, he really did, but she was so beautiful.
“She said he was an undercover cop on assignment,” Delia continued in that low husky voice, the one that screamed sex.
Or maybe it was just his own mind that screamed sex. “Undercover cop,” he repeated, shaking his head to clear it.
“Top-secret assignment. I don’t think she even told him I existed.”
Cade had taken on some heartbreaking cases before, not to mention his own unspeakable heartbreak. He prided himself on his ability to harden himself, separate himself from any pain, his own or his clients.
But he didn’t seem to be able to do that with Delia, and it disturbed him that he felt her anguish as his own. In fact, it multiplied his own. “We know Ethan Freeman disappeared about that time.”
“Just as we know it’s unlikely he became a cop,” she countered. “So unless you’ve missed something or made a mistake…”
It was possible. God knew, he’d certainly made plenty of mistakes in his life. His biggest had cost the lives of the two people he’d cared about most.
Delia stared sightlessly out the window, showing more emotion in just her weary stance than Cade had ever seen her show.
“The three of you are sharing the ranch no matter who inherits,” he said.
“Yes, we knew we would do that before we even got here.”
“Then why does it matter which of the three of you actually owns the Triple M?”
It took her a second longer than usual, but her eyes shuttered and she drew herself up. “You couldn’t possibly understand, not with your life-style.”
Since she knew nothing about his life-style or why he led it, that shouldn’t have hurt.
“And, anyway, it matters,” she whispered.
Cade knew how close she and her sisters were, knew that they had clung together out of a need for more than mere survival during their childhood years. They’d been mother, father, sibling and best friend to one another. They’d been one another’s sole support. Out of that had grown a deep abiding love that was stronger than in most blood-related families.
Despite himself, despite how many years it had been, something deep and frozen in Cade cracked. Thawed. He’d had a family once.
A wife and a beautiful son.
But Lisa and Tommy were dead, had been for eight long years now.
As a result, he lived for his cases, as wide and diversified as he could get them and as scattered across the globe as possible. It helped bury his pain, the all-consuming pain that was too great to think about. Actually, it was far easier not to think at all, instead, taking on case after case, working himself half to death, pushing himself to the very limit and then beyond, so he could fall into bed at night so exhausted he couldn’t even dream. Traveling was a way of life for him, the only way, because if he stayed in one spot too long he lost himself.
It was that simple.
He’d been on this case too long, and the wanderlust part of him was raging to run far and never look back at this place, which was beginning to feel too much like a home.
Damn. Not that. Not ever again did he want a home, a warm safe place that could only, in the end, hurt him. Soon enough he’d solve this case and be on his way, he promised himself. And until then, he’d be an idiot to encourage any more ties than absolutely necessary.
But Delia blew out a harsh breath. “I need to be heir to get Jacob.”
Don’t ask. Just back off, McKnight. “Jacob is your brother,” he said, instead. “I’m betting the court rules in your favor.”
“The court is going to snub its nose at me.” Her voice was clear enough, but her hands shook when she again reached for the broom.
And despite all his talk about no ties and distance, he moved closer. “What are you talking about? Of course they won’t.”
“I’m financially insolvent, I’m a thousand miles away from Jacob’s home, and I’m single. I’m not exactly parenting material.”
He thought that was pretty much crap and said so.
Her lips tightened, but it was as if the veil of control lifted for that one second, and he suddenly saw the truth.
She didn’t believe herself worthy.
Distance. Lord, he sorely needed it, but there was none coming, not when she was standing there pretending to be so strong and fierce when inside she was incredibly vulnerable, so much so that he ached to hold her. “Delia…you’ll get him.”
She just shrugged.
He was leaving Idaho soon. Wanted to be leaving. Couldn’t wait to be leaving.
So why, then, did his heart contract just from looking at her struggling with pride, rigid with the effort to be strong for everyone?
Who was strong for her?
“You’re leaving for Los Angeles in a few days,” he said slowly. “To meet Jacob.”
“I have a case there. I could come with you, try to help-”
“No,” she said quickly. “I’ll do this alone.”
He watched her gather her supplies, watched her move away from him, and with everything he had, he wanted to let it go. Wanted to let her go.
“Hell,” he muttered, knowing he couldn’t let her go alone. Knowing also that it was far more than mere friendly concern.
Delia got on the plane, found her window seat, then buckled in and straightened her skirt to avoid wrinkles.
First impressions were everything, and she intended to make a good one on Scott Felton, Jacob’s social worker. He’d known Jacob for six years, ever since Jacob’s father had died. He was close to Jacob, perhaps closer than anyone at this point, and his approval or nonapproval could make or break her case.
“Excuse me, dear.” An elderly woman stood in the aisle, wearing eye-popping chartreuse sweats, high-top tennis shoes and a ski cap.
Delia willed her to keep moving-not that she had anything against old women, but this one looked like a talker and it was a long flight.
“Sadie,” the woman informed Delia, as if she’d asked for her name. “Sadie Walkins. Howdy.” Her arms were completely loaded and she proceeded to stuff the overhead bin with two large shopping bags. Then she plopped into the middle seat, directly next to Delia, and smiled.
“Whew, those things are darned heavy. It’s no wonder they wanted me to check them. I refused, though, because I like to keep my stuff with me, don’t you? Though I have to say, I don’t think they’re too happy with me about now.” Pushing at the glasses slipping down her nose, the woman shifted around, bumping Delia’s arms and legs until at last she was apparently comfortable. “Oh, aren’t you lovely?” she said to Delia, staring at her.