Channing could see plenty wrong with it. “Thanks, but I think it’s best if I don’t accept your invitation. I’ll be in Denver for at least three weeks, six weeks if I decide to do a second symposium. Considering how Zane feels about me, he and I should keep our distance.”
Megan didn’t push…at least not right now. Channing knew her friend wouldn’t let it drop. “You’re welcome to come. If you change your mind, let me know.”
Channing nodded, but she wouldn’t be changing her mind.
* * *
By the time Zane had returned home, Bailey was gone. He headed up the stairs to shower, refusing to admit he missed his sister already. She was known for her drop-in visits not only to him but also to her other brothers, sisters and cousins.
Presently, there were fifteen Denver Westmorelands. His parents had had eight children: five boys—Ramsey, Zane, Derringer and the twins, Aiden and Adrian—and three girls—Megan, Gemma and Bailey. Uncle Adam and Aunt Clarisse had had seven sons: Dillon, Micah, Jason, Riley, Canyon, Stern and Brisbane. Over the past few years, nearly everyone had gotten married. Megan had married last month, and Riley would marry in September. The only holdouts were him, the twins, Bailey, Canyon, Stern and Bane.
His parents and uncle and aunt had died in a plane crash nearly twenty years ago, leaving Zane’s brother Ramsey and his cousin Dillon in charge of the family. It hadn’t been easy, especially since several of their siblings and cousins had been under the age of sixteen. Together, Dillon and Ramsey had worked hard and made sacrifices to keep the Westmorelands together. When the state of Colorado tried forcing Dillon to put the youngest four in foster homes, he had refused.
The deaths had been the hardest on those youngest four—the twins, Aiden and Adrian, and Brisbane and Bailey. Everyone had known that their acts of rebellion were their way of handling the grief of losing their parents. Now, the twins had finished college and were working in their chosen professions: Aiden as a doctor and Adrian as an engineer. Brisbane was in the navy and Bailey…was still Bailey. Considered the baby of the family, at twenty-six she worked for Simply Irresistible, a magazine for today’s up-and-coming woman that was owned by Ramsey’s wife, Chloe. But even with a full-time job, Bailey still managed to remind everyone she could be a force to reckon with when she put her mind to it.
When Zane reached his bedroom, he glanced out the window at the acres and acres of land surrounding him. Westmoreland Country. Since Dillon was the oldest, he had inherited the main house along with the three hundred acres it sat on. Everyone else, upon reaching the age of twenty-five, received one hundred acres to call their own. Thanks to Bailey’s creative mind, each of their spreads were given names—Ramsey’s Web, Zane’s Hideout, Derringer’s Dungeon, Megan’s Meadows, Gemma’s Gem, Jason’s Place, Stern’s Stronghold and Canyon’s Bluff. It was beautiful land that encompassed mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and streams.
Zane loved his home, a two-story structure with a wraparound porch. He had more than enough space for himself and a family—if he ever chose to marry. But since settling down with one woman was not in his plans, he had the place all to himself. Some people did better by themselves, and he was one of those people.
Except when it came to business. He, his brother Derringer and his cousin Jason were partners in a lucrative horse breeding and training business along with several of his Westmoreland cousins who lived in Montana and Texas. The partnership was doing extremely well financially, with horse buyers extending all the way to the Middle East. Ever since one of their horses, Prince Charming, had placed in the Kentucky Derby a few years ago, potential clients had been continually coming out of the woodwork.
He was happy with his work. Zane liked the outdoors. The only thing he liked better was women. He didn’t have a problem with the revolving door to his bedroom, and he didn’t intend for any woman to get it in her head that she could be the one. There wasn’t a woman alive who could make him think about settling down.
A quick flash of pain across his gut let him know he wasn’t being truthful about that. There had been one woman. Dr. Channing Hastings.
Zane’s sister Megan had introduced them, and he had been attracted to Channing from the first time he’d seen her. In addition to her beauty, she had a luscious scent that drew him like a bee to honey. She was the very thing erotic fantasies were made of. He’d only intended to date her for a couple of months. Then, the next thing he knew, he was in an exclusive relationship.
Zane reached under his bed for the locked box he’d placed there. Using the key he kept on his key ring, he opened the box and pulled out the calendar that was inside. It was a personalized photo calendar that Channing had made for him as a gift on his thirty-fifth birthday. Had it been almost two years ago?
He flipped through the calendar, beginning with January. By the time he’d gotten to December, he had worked up a sweat. Seeing Channing dressed in such scanty attire—a different outfit for every month—had sent memories soaring through his mind. In January, she wore a floor-length red gown, the same one she’d worn to a charity benefit he’d taken her to at the hospital and the same one he’d loved taking off of her later that night. By December, she was wearing nothing at all while stretched across her bed in one damn hot position, her body barely covered by a white bedspread decked with colorful Christmas ornaments. She had one of those I want you now looks on her face. The photographer had been another female doctor whose hobby was photography, and she had captured Channing in some unbelievable poses. Channing Hastings was definitely a beautiful woman.
She had skin the color of rich mocha, a beautiful pair of hazel eyes, high cheekbones, a perky nose, full lips and a luxurious mane of golden-brown hair. The one constant in each photo was the necklace around her neck. It was the gold one he had given her. The same one she had returned when she’d told him she was leaving Denver.
Reaching into the box, he pulled out that same necklace, remembering the day he’d bought it. He’d been in Montana at a jewelry store with his cousin Durango, who’d wanted to buy a birthday gift for his wife, Savannah. Zane had seen the crescent moon and immediately known he wanted it for Channing. At the time, he had refused to question why, he’d just known that seeing it around her neck was important to him.
After Channing left, he’d flipped through the calendar and pulled out the necklace too many times, which was why he’d given the locked box to Megan for safekeeping. He’d been tired of torturing himself. Although Megan would have been curious about what was inside, he’d trusted her enough to know she would not open the box. He couldn’t say the same for Bailey, who, as she’d reminded him today, had a fondness for picking locks. Megan had kept the box for almost a year, but he’d gotten it back from her when she’d taken that trip to Texas with Rico last year.
Megan had invited Channing to the wedding last month, even though he’d asked her not to. However, like Bailey, Megan had a mind of her own and didn’t like her brothers telling her what to do. And what teed him off more than the wedding invitation was that he’d been over to Megan’s place a few nights ago to welcome the newlyweds back to Denver, and she hadn’t mentioned anything about Channing returning to town. He was convinced there was no way she hadn’t known.
Zane placed the calendar and necklace back in the box, locked it shut and slid it back under his bed. He then stripped off his clothes to take a shower. His and Channing’s paths probably wouldn’t cross while she was in town.
But…maybe they should.
It was time he looked at the situation differently, more objectively. He had gotten over Channing months ago, and she had evidently gotten over him. She was an engaged woman. He was happy with his life. She was happy with hers.
He stepped in the shower with his mind made up. He felt rather pleased with the decision and already he considered it done. He would seek out Channing and pay her a visit.
There was nothing wrong with welcoming her back to town.
Channing bent to lower the projector screen when a pair of dark leather boots came into view. The boots were followed by a rich, masculine aroma that she would recognize anytime, anyplace. Her stomach knotted as she slowly straightened.
Her eyes moved up past a pair of jeans-clad thighs, a lean waist, a firm stomach and muscled shoulders. Her gaze unerringly landed on a pair of gorgeous dark brown eyes, creamy chestnut-brown skin, an aquiline nose, sharp cheekbones, full lips and a strong chin.
Zane Westmoreland was almost too handsome to be real. She’d thought that very thing the first time she’d seen him three years ago, right here at this very hospital. He had come to repair his sister’s flat tire, and Megan had introduced them. Channing’s life hadn’t been the same since.
She drew in a long breath and slowly released it. “Zane.”