“First of all, Channing didn’t call me. Louise Mitchell did,” Megan snapped.
“Yes, as well as Emma Falk and Mavis Upshaw. They were all dining at McKays when Channing practically ran out of the private room in tears. I immediately went to see Channing when I got off work tonight. Thanks to you, she was completely devastated. She told me everything, Zane. Everything. And if you weren’t my brother, I would shoot you.”
“Not if I shot him first.”
Zane looked toward his front door where an angry Bailey had let herself in. The hellion! That was all he needed. “You are supposed to knock, Bailey.”
“Kiss it, Zane.” She glanced over at Megan. “I heard. Wanda Grunthall’s parents were dining at McKays.”
Zane rolled his eyes. Was there anyone who hadn’t been dining at McKays tonight? “If the two of you want to discuss my business among yourselves then go ahead. I’m going to bed.”
“The hell you will,” Bailey said, moving toward him. “You’re going to sit and listen to what we have to say. And don’t be surprised if Gemma calls you from Australia. Wanda Grunthall is a good friend of hers, as well.”
Seeing that he would never get to bed until he heard what his sisters had to say, he dropped down on the sofa. “Okay, I’m giving you both five minutes. Say what you have to say and leave.”
Megan went first. “Have you even taken the time to consider why someone like Channing would fake an engagement?”
“I don’t have to wonder why. She did it to piss me off.”
“It’s not all about you!” Bailey shouted.
Zane flinched. He was sick and tired of being yelled at. “If you use that tone of voice again in my presence, Bailey, I’m going to snatch up your little butt, take you to the bathroom and wash your mouth out with soap like I used to do.”
Bailey glared at him. “Go to—”
“Bailey!” Megan interrupted. “Please let me finish. Then you can go for blood if you want.”
Bailey nodded. “Sorry. Please continue, Megan.”
Megan smiled at her sister. “Thanks.” She then narrowed her gaze at Zane. “No, Zane, that’s not the reason. Channing did it to keep her dignity and pride in check when she came to town for my wedding. Two years ago, when you were dating, people talked, made bets, laughed at her behind her back and figured you would eventually kick her to the curb like you did all the others.”
Zane’s jaw tightened. His eyes sparked fire. “Who told you that?”
“Doesn’t matter. Everyone around these parts knows your reputation when it comes to women. But Channing hung in there because she thought she meant more to you than that. Most people knew better. They knew she really didn’t mean a damn thing to you, that eventually you would drop her and move on.”
Megan paused. “She was your steady girlfriend for nine months, Zane. Although I’m certain you gave her the same warning that you gave all your other women, at some point she began thinking she might be different. We all did. You treated her differently from the rest.”
Zane didn’t say anything for a long minute and then said quietly, “She was different.”
“Then why would you hurt her, Zane? All you wanted to do was prove a point? What if Rico had done something like that to me?”
Before he could answer, Bailey spoke up and asked, “What did Zane do to Channing? All Wanda said was that they had a little spat. Is there more?”
Both Zane and Megan said simultaneously, “No.”
Bailey narrowed her eyes. “You two are lying.”
Instead of responding to Bailey’s accusations, Megan returned her attention to Zane. “She told me the truth about the fake engagement, and I feel partly to blame for what happened because I deliberately let Ramsey eavesdrop on a conversation I had with Chloe. I figured he would tell you what Mack Hammond was doing and that you would get upset about it and come up with a plan to save Channing. Lord knows, I didn’t think you’d go as far as you did.”
“Damn, what did he do?” Bailey asked again.
A collective “nothing” was the response from Megan and Zane.
Then Zane said to Megan, “It wasn’t planned. It just happened.”
“Ahh,” Bailey said, figuring out what nobody was telling her. An angry frown settled on her face. “If you weren’t my brother, I would castrate you.”
Zane rolled his eyes, although he believed Bailey was more likely to carry out her threat than Megan was. “I never meant to hurt her,” he said, when he began to realize just what had happened. He had tried to stop Hammond from hurting Channing, and he was the one guilty of causing her pain.
“I need to go see her and apologize,” he said, standing.
“Too late,” Megan said softly. “By the time I’d gotten over to her place, she had already canceled the rest of her symposium and packed her things. I sat and talked to her until it was time for her to leave for the airport.”
Zane felt a gut-wrenching sensation in the pit of his stomach. “She’s left town?”
“Do you blame her, Zane?” Megan asked.
He drew in a deep breath. No, he didn’t blame her. “Doesn’t matter. I’m leaving for Atlanta tomorrow.”
Megan placed her hands on her hips. “To do what? Tell her you’re sorry for what you did but that you still don’t love her? Just let her go, Zane. You’ve done enough damage. Besides, she’s not going to Atlanta.”
He lifted a brow. “Where did she go, Megan?” he asked in a near growl.
“Don’t tell him,” Bailey piped in to say. “He will only hurt her again. Channing wants to be loved, and Zane isn’t capable of loving any woman.”
Zane ignored Bailey’s words and continued to hold Megan’s gaze. “Did she go to her parents’ in New Hampshire?” he asked.
“Don’t tell him, Megan!”
Megan drew in a deep breath. “No, she didn’t go there, either.”
Zane felt an intense need to ferret out her location. All of Channing’s family lived in New Hampshire. He then remembered that she’d told him her brother had moved to San Diego. “Did she go to California?”
“Then where the hell did she go?”
Megan lifted her chin. “If you find out Channing’s whereabouts, it won’t be with my help. Bailey’s right. You’re not capable of loving anyone but yourself, so just leave her alone.”
She turned and headed for the door. After giving him one hard glare, Bailey followed her sister.
* * *
Early the next morning, after a sleepless night—and when he was certain Megan had left for work—Zane got in his truck and headed over to Megan’s Meadows to see Rico. His brother-in-law opened the door with a sympathetic look on his face. “I heard my wife tore into you pretty damn good last night.”
Zane grunted as he strolled toward the kitchen, following the aroma of coffee. He went still when he saw his brother Derringer and his cousins Jason, Riley, Canyon and Stern sitting at the kitchen table. “Somebody gave you guys a day off of work or something?” he asked Riley, Canyon and Stern. The three worked for the family-owned business, Blue Ridge Land Management.
Riley chuckled. “It’s still early yet. Besides, we heard both Megan and Bailey chewed you out, and we wanted to be here when you came and asked Rico for a bandage.”
Zane set his chin in a frown. “Funny.” After helping himself to a cup of coffee, he slid into one of the empty chairs at the table.
“That’s not why they’re here, Zane,” Rico said, grinning, leaning against the counter with his own cup of coffee. “In fact, Ramsey and Dillon are on their way over, as well. I called you earlier this morning to tell you about this impromptu meeting, but you didn’t answer the phone.”
Zane shrugged. “I thought it was Megan calling, and we don’t have anything to say to each other until she tells me where Channing is.”
Derringer snorted. “Don’t hold your breath for that to happen. Megan’s pretty angry with you.”
Zane opened his mouth to respond to Derringer’s words when there was a knock at the door. “That’s probably Ramsey and Dillon,” Rico said, moving toward the living room.
Moments later, Ramsey and Dillon Westmoreland walked in and glanced around. Their gazes locked on Zane. Dillon smiled and said, “Glad to see you’re still in one piece.”
Zane cursed under his breath. Had everybody heard about Megan’s and Bailey’s visits?
Rico proceeded to get everybody’s attention. “I wanted to give you guys an update on something I discovered with Raphel’s investigation. I told Megan last night, and now I want to share the information with you.”
“What did you find out?” Dillon asked. Since there weren’t any more empty seats at the table, he and Ramsey settled their tall frames in stools at the breakfast bar.