“What do you mean Channing’s back in Denver?” Zane Westmoreland dropped down in the chair across from his sister, a dark frown covering his face.
He fixed his gaze on Bailey, waiting on her response. Bailey knew that any mention of Channing Hastings would make him mad, but it seemed she was intent on ignoring him while she continued to eat her bowl of ice cream. Anyone else would have jumped at the anger that was apparent in his voice but not this particular sister. She didn’t do anything until she was good and ready. While he waited, even more irritation bubbled up inside of him.
After what seemed like an enormous period of silence, Bailey finally angled her head. “I meant just what I said. I saw Channing today when I had lunch at the hospital with Megan. I understand she arrived in town last week. She looks good by the way.”
Zane wasn’t surprised. As far as he was concerned, there was never a time when Channing hadn’t looked good…even after a sweaty workout session at the gym.
Suddenly, unbridled fury worked its way along his stomach lining. Why should he care how an ex-girlfriend looked? More importantly, why did the thought of her being back in town trigger such deep-seated anger within him?
Zane could answer that question without much thought. It hadn’t been their breakup that still pissed him off but rather how they had broken up. Usually he was the one who decided when one of his relationships ended, but Channing had surprised the hell out of him and ended it herself.
“Is Channing’s fiancé with her?” He could have bitten off his tongue for asking.
“No, she’s only here for six weeks, hosting a medical symposium at the hospital.” Bailey didn’t say anything for a minute and then, “That man got under my skin.”
Zane lifted a brow. “What man?”
“Channing’s fiancé. He was checking out the women at Megan’s wedding reception, even with Channing standing right beside him. He had a lot of nerve.”
Zane had noticed the man’s roving eyes, as well. He really shouldn’t care. If Channing was inclined to put up with that kind of foolishness, that was her business. It shouldn’t concern him. But it did.
He glanced out the window while his mind wandered back in time. He had dated Channing longer than he’d dated any other woman—nine months exactly. Things had been almost perfect between them. But then she’d started hinting that she wanted more from their relationship. That was when he’d reiterated that he was not the marrying kind and never intended to be.
She never brought up the issue again, and Zane had assumed things were back to normal. But less than a month later, out of the clear blue sky, she told him that she had accepted a job at a hospital in Atlanta and would be moving away.
That had annoyed the hell out of him. She was trying to force his hand, and he wouldn’t allow any woman to do that. So he’d called her bluff, refusing to offer a proposal. But then she’d moved to Atlanta as planned. That was almost two years ago, and he hadn’t seen or heard from her until she’d shown up at his sister’s wedding last month an engaged woman.
The very thought made him angry. She’d had the nerve to bring her fiancé to the wedding knowing full well Zane would be there. And like Bailey had said, the man had checked out other women even with Channing by his side. That she was so desperate to have a ring on her finger that she would settle for such a man—the realization made Zane madder.
“This is simply delicious.”
Bailey’s words intruded on his thoughts. He glanced over at his sister, and his frown deepened. He had come home to find her sitting at his kitchen table like she lived there. In his current mood, her presence aggravated him. “And what do you think you’re doing?”
She smiled. “What does it look like? I’m eating ice cream.”
“My ice cream,” he muttered. “How did you get in here, anyway? I changed the locks on my door.”
Bailey leaned back in her chair and chuckled. “I noticed. Did you forget that I know how to pick a lock, Zane? Bane taught me ages ago. And as far as the ice cream, you only bought it because you knew I’d eat it. You don’t even like ice cream, and this is one of my favorite flavors.”
“They’re all your favorite flavors,” he said, forcing himself not to grin. The last thing he needed was for her to think he was getting soft. And as far as picking locks, he had forgotten that talent had been just one of the many ways she and their cousin Bane used to get into trouble.
Getting up from the table, he headed for the door.
“Hey, where are you going?” Bailey called after him.
“Since I can’t find peace in my own home, I’m going to ride my horse a spell. I’ll be gone for an hour or so and hopefully that will give you time to find someone else to visit.”
He then walked out the door and slammed it shut behind him.
* * *
“Channing, wait up!”
Channing stopped and turned around. She smiled when she saw Megan Claiborne walking briskly toward her. Megan had been one of the first doctors she’d become good friends with while working at the hospital four years ago, and their friendship had remained intact. Last month, Megan married Rico Claiborne, a gorgeous Bradley Cooper look-alike who worked as a private investigator in Philly. To divide their time between Philadelphia and Denver, Megan worked six months as a doctor of anesthesiology in Denver and the other six months at a hospital in Philly.
Megan looked different. “Marriage agrees with you,” Channing said when Megan came to a stop in front of her.
Her comment made an infectious smile settle on Megan’s lips. “You think so?”
“I know so. There’s a radiant glow about you. You seem happy. I mean truly happy,” Channing said.
Megan’s smile widened. “I am happy, and I have to concur that marriage does agree with me. Rico is the best. He’s everything I could ever want in a man.”
“Then you have a reason to smile and look radiant.” Channing was happy for her friend and she wanted that same happiness and radiance for herself.
Long marriages were common in Channing’s family. Her parents had been married for more than thirty-five years, and her grandparents would be celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary next year. Her aunts and uncles had been in wedded bliss for more than twenty years, and her cousins and oldest brother, Juan, had all been married eight years or more.
When Channing had dated Megan’s brother Zane a few years back, she had believed he was the one. Although he had told her more than once that he never intended to marry, she’d actually thought he’d change his mind. Over the course of their relationship, although he’d never spoken any words of love, his actions had convinced her he had feelings for her. He’d been so attentive, possessive and protective. She was the first woman he’d invited to his family’s weekly dinner gatherings and the first woman he’d given a key to his place. So, quite naturally, she had assumed she meant more to him than all the women he’d dated in the past.
But as time went by, it became obvious that he had no intention of making their relationship more than the affair that it was. Then, one day after they’d dated exclusively for almost nine months—she’d come out and asked him how he saw their relationship evolving. He’d told her nothing had changed. He never intended to marry. He’d said that although he cared for her, he didn’t love her—and never would.
She’d appreciated his honesty, but his words had hurt. To protect her heart from further damage, she’d decided to move on. She wanted more.
A week later, she’d accepted the position as a neurologist at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. She didn’t tell Zane about her plans until the week before she was ready to leave Denver. She knew Zane was still angry with her about the way she’d ended things, but it wasn’t as if she’d left town without telling him.
“I wanted to ask you to come to my family’s Friday night chow-down,” Megan said, intruding into Channing’s thoughts.
Channing winced. “You know I can’t do that.”
“Why not? Things between you and Zane didn’t work out, and you moved on. As far as I’m concerned, it was my brother’s loss.”
“But I don’t want to make things uncomfortable, Megan. I saw the way Zane was staring me down at your wedding. He didn’t like the way I ended things between us.”
“Forget Zane.” Megan bristled. “Did he honestly expect things to continue between the two of you without him ever making a serious commitment?”
Channing shrugged, even though she knew Zane had expected that. They had been dating exclusively, and to him that was enough. “I guess he did,” Channing said softly, remembering how hard it had been to leave him, to move forward and not look back.
“Well, it served him right to find out he was wrong.” Megan took a moment and seemed to choose her next words carefully. “Channing, you were my friend long before you became involved with Zane. You moved away, and now you’re back for a short time. There’s nothing wrong with me inviting you to dine with my family.”