She searched his eyes, wanting to believe him. "But you and I went to Jekyll Island the weekend after that fight, Nash." Her brows drew tight. They'd almost worked out their problems then. "So that's why you were so quiet."
Seeing the accusation in her eyes made his survival skills rear up. He had to make her understand, no matter what came later. "I couldn't tell you because I didn't remember it."
She wrenched off his touch as if it stained her clothes. "A man doesn't forget making love to a woman, Nash."
"He does when there's nothing to remember."
Her head was pounding with confusion. "But you said she was pregnant."
"She said she was. I had to believe her. Especially when I calculated the weeks. So I did what I had to do."
"You married her to give the children your name."
"I made the mistake and I had to make it right. It was a matter of duty, Hayley."
"What about your duty to me?" she cried, angry again. "And I might believe this pile of horse dung, Nash, if your daughters weren't a year too young for this story." Disgusted, she headed for the door. She'd leave tonight and head to Kat's in Savannah.
"That's because she lied."
Hayley spun around, her breath lodged in her throat. "Oh, you better talk fast, Rayburn."
"She wasn't pregnant, but I didn't realize the truth till after the wedding. Weeks after." Nash pushed his fingers through his hair and held on to the back of his neck, feeling drained and alone. "She played us both for fools. And after I learned that, she admitted we'd never had sex." He let his arms fall to his sides, remembering his outrage, the hurt and, worse, knowing he'd abandoned Hayley for nothing. Nothing.
He met her gaze and for a moment, they stared in silence.
Nash kept his features impassive, waiting to see what she'd do; if she'd leave now and never look back, or if she'd stay and at least talk to him.
Crossing the room, Hayley sank into the sofa, her heart numb. Nash's shoulders slumped and he moved to the sideboard and poured her a small splash of bourbon, adding some water. He started to move away, then stopped to fold the wedding picture facedown.
He went to her, holding the glass in her line of vision.
She tipped her head back. "Pawns."
Nash released a long slow breath. "Yeah."
She took the drink, but didn't taste it. "What did you do?"
He shrugged. "What could I do? I'd lost you and I was married. We were living closer to town then. She wanted to live here, but when my parents learned the truth, my mother didn't want her at River Willow."
"That must have been hard for you."
He dropped into a chair. How like Hayley to think of him at a time like this. "It was, but Michelle didn't seem to care. But when Dad died, we had to move in to help. After a while Mom decided she couldn't stand it and got a house about thirty miles from here."
"Michelle forced her out?"
Nash shook his head. "Michelle hardly spoke to her. But it was me Mom couldn't stand to look at."
Tapered brows rose. "Your own mother?"
"She knew I was unhappy." He held her gaze. "And she knew I'd loved you and what I'd done." Her features tightened and she looked down. Nash kept to himself that his mother had always been Hayley's champion, though they'd never met. Hayley didn't need to hear that right now, especially when he'd ignored his mother's advice and paid dearly.
"I tried to make the marriage work, but when the twins came along, Michelle couldn't handle them. She wasn't exactly prepared for the demands of motherhood on her social schedule." His lips twisted with bitterness. "She expected me to hire a nanny for the girls so she could go off playing rich man's wife. This is a working plantation, but she didn't feel it was necessary for her to work it. However, she liked the money. She was hoping I'd turn the work all over to Jake and go traveling around the world."
Hayley curled into the couch, pulling her feet up with her. That certainly sounded like Michelle. "I guess I shouldn't complain, then."
Nash was slumped in the chair, his hands folded on his stomach. "You have every right to hate the Rayburns, Hayley. Me especially."
That just wasn't possible, but she didn't mention that. This was all too much to take in.
"The day of the accident, she'd packed her things, asked for a divorce, and when I said I would fight her for the girls, she said don't bother and walked out, abandoning me, her babies and this life she'd manipulated to get." The hurt in his eyes was like a bleeding wound.
"Thank God she didn't take the girls with her."
His gaze swung to hers. "Oh, I do. Every day."
"How could she walk away from her babies?" She shook her head. It was unthinkable to her. "The girls don't know a thing about this, do they?"