Setting the tray down on the edge of his desk, careful not to disturb the papers, she poured him a cup, adding just a splash of cream.
Nash accepted it. It was just the right color. He sipped, feeling the tension in the room grow since she'd slipped through the door.
He tried for a safe subject. "Dinner was great, Hayley." He hadn't eaten this well since his mother had lived here.
"Thank you, sah," she drawled. "There was a little vengeance in serving a roasted pork loin."
He smiled into his cup. "So when did you become a culinary master?"
She scoffed. "Necessity. The need to eat and have money for school." Her smile faded a little. "It's taken me six years to do what most people do in four. I've had to work, save, go to school, then stop and work some more till I got the money for the next semester."
He wanted to offer her money to make it easier on her, but he knew she wouldn't accept it. "What else have you done?"
"You name it. I'm a jack-of-all-trades," she said, reaching over to freshen his coffee. She sent him a look asking his permission as she lifted the bottle of bourbon. He nodded and she poured a swallow into the glass. "Working for Wife Incorporated fits my schedule and the pay is good."
He relaxed back in his chair, watching as she strolled around the room, looking at trophies and framed belt buckles.
Hayley hadn't been in here before. As he'd said on the first day, it was off-limits and she'd respected that. She glanced around, wondering if the twins ever came in here. "This is your sister, Samantha, right?" She pointed to one photo among several on the wall. He nodded. "She's beautiful." Though they'd never had the chance to meet, Hayley recognized the resemblance in the dark hair, the piercing blue eyes. And the love in the eyes of the man standing next to her. Samantha was married to a man named Daniel, the girls had mentioned.
"Thanks, not that I had anything to do with it. She had every man for miles chasing her. Daniel caught her before my parents threatened to send her away."
"A little too wild?"
He scoffed, smiling to himself. "If my father knew everything she did, he'd have sent her away the minute she started—" He stopped.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Growing breasts?"
"Matured," he said. She grinned and he sipped coffee, then leaned over to splash some bourbon into the cup.
"Does your brother, Jake, live near?" She pointed to the photo of a younger version of Nash—dark hair, blue eyes and a captivating smile. He was standing with a prize-winning horse and wearing the biggest rodeo belt buckle she'd ever seen.
"Close. Next county."
Hayley felt his gaze follow her as she moved around the large room. The furniture was dark burgundy overstuffed leather, the coffee and end tables wrought-iron and glass. Terribly masculine and seductive, she thought. Even the shiny garnet walls and white crown molding lent an air of sensuality. Like the man, she thought, sparing him a glance. He was still watching her, his gaze sliding like silk and leaving steam behind. It wasn't fair that after all this time he could make her heart skip a beat with just a look, she thought, sipping the bourbon, feeling it warm her throat. She examined the Civil War relics on the mantel—a ball shot, the workings of a gun with small chunks of wood stock still there. Under glass in a shadow box was a pair of spectacles, a stick of graphite in a metal case like a mechanical pencil and a faded letter with its envelope.
She peered. "It's a love letter."
"From one of my ancestors to his wife." Nash left the chair and rounded the desk to stand beside her. "You can barely read the writing, but he mentions that they were headed to Pennsylvania." He caught a whiff of perfume and freshly washed hair. It made him ache.
She inhaled. "Gettysburg?"
"Yeah, he died there. This came home with his personal things and a letter from his commanding officer."
"Oh, that's heartbreaking." She covered her heart, her look romantically sympathetic. "He never got to send the letter."
"He left three children and a wife. Here in this house."
She blinked up at him. "It's that old?"
"Over 225, near as we can figure."
"Mercy." She looked around the room as if she could see above and outside. "It's amazing your family still has it."
"A Rayburn kept it during the revolution and the Civil War by lending horses to the army."
She met his gaze. "I admire that, Nash. Not many people can put a finger on their roots and say, this is where it began, where I come from." She scarcely remembered her grandfather, and even her mother's face was a faded image in her mind.