However, she never expected him to go straight into Michelle's arms.
Michelle had had her sights on Nash the instant he and Hayley had stalled dating. Hayley had known that, but she'd just never believed her own sorority sister would betray her or that Nash would fall for Michelle's helpless-Southern-belle bit. But that was only part of it. Hayley wasn't good enough for him. She didn't have the social graces, the impeccable background that Michelle Criswell had. Michelle was a socialite; she traveled in Nash's social circles, possessing all the proper qualities a man like Nash needed in a wife. Hayley, on the other hand, was nearly poverty-stricken, on scholarships and working two jobs to survive. She could never measure up to the Rayburn two-hundred-year-old lineage.
Michelle had flashed her indecently large engagement ring in her face and victoriously said just that.
Hayley sniffled and swallowed, reaching for a napkin to dry her tears. Then, she couldn't have made plans till she had her MD, and she couldn't now.
Nash's deep voice rumbled through the distance to the kitchen, making her heart skip and she looked up at the wall separating the kitchen and dining room. It's too late to go back, she thought.
"Calm down, Hayley."
"Calm down?" she said into the phone. "I swear, Kat, if I was there, I'd—"
"Beat me senseless about the head and shoulders?"
Hayley's lips curved in a smile and she sighed. "Yeah. But that would ruin your hairdo." She sank onto the bed, rubbing her forehead. "How could you do this to me?"
"Sugah, it was fate, I swear it. He called and you were next on the list, available."
"Didn't you consider the position you put me in?"
"You can handle him. You're a strong woman, Hayley."
"And his former lover."
"It would have been rude to mention that."
"He doesn't want me here."
"How do you know that?"
Hayley scoffed. "I'm a bad penny turning up, Kat, and the fact that I'm inches from residency is just one reminder of why we split."
"And Michelle didn't have a thing to do with it, right?"
Hayley didn't want to talk about Michelle. She was dead, part of the past, unchangeable. No one, not even Kat, knew the details of Nash's marriage. It was as if he'd shut out the world then. And it was too painful a subject to approach, especially with Nash. "Michelle didn't tackle him till he and I argued. Besides, she had all the right qualities, obviously, and—"
"—it wouldn't have worked," Hayley said as if Kat hadn't spoken. "He wanted a wife and mother. I wanted a career. I still want that. Besides, I don't have time."
"You have two weeks."
Hayley didn't bother to comment on that.
"Fine, be that way." Kat paused and then said, "So, how's he look?"
Smiling at the purely feminine interest in Kat's voice, Hayley shook her head and flopped back onto the pillows. "Well, you know how fine wine gets with age."
"Oh, lawd, he must be devastating."
"An understatement." Wealthy, commanding, handsome, strong-willed and, as she recalled, a great kisser. What more could a girl ask for?
Kat's voice broke back into her thoughts. "His daughters?"
She smiled. "Beautiful. Sweet, well behaved."
"You're falling in love with them."
"Anyone with a heart would."
"And their daddy?"
"That is a dead subject, Kat. But…"
Kat jumped on her hesitation. "But what?"
"Nothing … it's nothing."
"Dag-gummit, Hayley Ann!"
Hayley smiled. Let her stew, she thought. Kat deserves to be left out in the cold. Not that there was anything to tell. "You know, Katherine, what goes around comes around."
"Hah! I wish something long-legged and slow talkin' like Nashville Rayburn would come calling around me."
Nashville. She'd forgotten about that little secret. "Careful what you wish for, you tart."
"Pest. Always were. Worst little sister I've ever sponsored." The love in Kat's tone was unmistakable.
Hayley heard voices, and frowning, she walked to her bedroom door and opened it, peering into the hall. It was coming from the girls' quarters upstairs. "I've got to go. I can hear Nash hollering, and he sounds like he's going to bust a vein or something."
"Well, you just go to him, then, sugah."
Distracted, Hayley didn't recognize the smugness in Katherine's voice before she cut the line and tossed the phone on the bed.
Had she, she might not have gone upstairs.
"Kimberly Grace Rayburn, open this door!"
"I can't, Daddy!"
"I promised not to come in, but you promised not to lock the door."