“‘Thank you’ sounds like a good place to start. Or maybe ‘I love you.’”

“Teague. Stop.”

“Taylor. Do you love him?”

“I—” Her throat seized up on her, the painful constriction as she tried to fight the emotions making it almost impossible to speak. “It doesn’t matter.”

“C’mon, just tell me. You do or you don’t. It’s a simple question.”

Taylor considered lying to him. What did it matter when it wouldn’t change a damn thing about this mess she’d made? But she knew her brother, and he would keep bugging her until she told him.

“Yes. I love him.”

Teague bowed his head, giving it a quick shake of disbelief before looking back up at her.

“Then why did you plan to leave?”

“It’s complicated.”

“I’ve got time.” He leaned back on the window seat, hands behind his head in a clear message—he had all the time in the world. “He’s pretty crazy about you.”

How would he know that? Had he been talking to Lucky? She clamped down her lips in a tight seal to keep from blurting out the questions clamoring to get out.

“Teague, it doesn’t matter. Whatever we had, I killed it. It’s gone. He’s done with me.” That was clear when he walked away from her at the Jolly Gent. He’d sat with her in the closet until the sheriff arrived and then handed her off to a deputy as soon as he could. Before she could follow him, he’d disappeared like Batman. He refused to answer her phone, wouldn’t return her texts.

“How do you know that?”

“Lucky offered me everything and I threw it back in his face. He’s got no reason to give me a second chance,” she said. “Sometimes you can break something—”

“Bullshit.” He shot forward, his body edging into her personal space. He was in full lawyer mode, making sure she heard his point. “God knows our example of a lasting, loving marriage is a little fucked up, but you fell anyway. That’s got to mean something. It’s got to be worth something.”

Taylor was tired of playing games, and her insides ached as if her heart had suffered a physical blow since she watched Lucky leave Elliot House that last time. She was tired of playing games; she was hanging on to her cool like the surfers back in Hawaii—by her fingertips, and seconds from getting pulled in by the undertow.

“Teague, I’m barely holding on here. Can you please get to the point?”

“My point is that I would think a woman who coldcocked her groom at the altar and stole a car—”

“I borrowed it.”

“—stole a car and subjected herself to hours of pain and torture in a tattoo parlor would be a little braver. You go after what you want and work your ass off to make it happen. All I’m asking is why not Lucky?”

“What the hell, Teague? You were against the idea of the two of us together. You hit him—twice—when you found out. What’s with the whiplash attitude?”

“Lucky came to me within an hour of getting the call from Wilkes. He demanded that I help him get his money out of the bank so he could use it to save you. I’ve never seen anybody look like he looked. Intense. Focused. Deadly. I was too scared to tell him no.”

“He’s a Marine. It’s what they do.” Taylor’s ears buzzed with the sudden leap of excitement in her chest.

“Lucky was prepared to give up the farm and give his money to a criminal for you. I know you’re scared, but you can’t ignore the obvious.” Teague was more subdued, his usually rakish chuckle edged with something soft, almost bordering on awe. “That Marine loves you, and he’s laid it all on the line. Whatever it is you need him to prove, he’s jumping through hoops to make it happen.”

“But what about his parents and the debt? How can he just abandon them and just…just…”

“He can do it because the moron thinks he loves you. He waltzed into my office spouting off about true love and pledging his soul to making you safe.” Teague took his glasses off and plopped them on top of his head, his grin splitting his face wide open. “The wacko is seriously nuts about you and clearly suffering from some sort of latent head injury from his service.”

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