Instead, she walked through the empty dining room, through the prep area and the kitchen, to her office. She grabbed her purse and her jacket, then marched out. “Everyone go home. You were awesome last night. You saved us.” She hugged Wendy and Wade. “Robbie, you and Kaitlyn can handle today?” At the man’s nod, she walked outside and climbed into Wyatt’s truck.
The men piled into the truck bed, much as they had last night, only more subdued. They were exhausted. So was she. She closed her eyes, leaning her head back on the seat.
“You want to come out to the ranch?” Wyatt spoke in nearly a whisper.
She shook her head. That was the one thing she wanted to do more than anything, go back home where it was safe and Juanita and Addie—and maybe even Emily—would take care of her.
“I need to come back in a few hours.” The diner was firmly set as her focus. “But thank you.” She tilted her head sideways and rested it on her big brother’s strong shoulder. That would have to be enough. For now.
* * *
MORGAN HAD GONE past this kitschy T-shirt shop a couple dozen times. Always on an early-morning or late-night run. Never when it was open. He felt like a fool. He should have been more thorough…and more what?
He shrugged. Hindsight was twenty-twenty. He didn’t have time to second-guess himself.
Sylvie dozed, sleeping off whatever crap she’d put into her system, while he sat in the driver’s seat and stared out the window at the still-closed store. Maybe he could mentally make the doors open sooner, make the owner, her boss, what was his name—Jimmy?—open the damned doors.
Time stretched out. Despite the long, punishing night, adrenaline wouldn’t let him sleep.
Twice, he thumbed his phone to life and considered calling Tara. Twice, he cleared the screen before he finished dialing. She’d been so out of her element last night and had looked completely lost. He’d liked that, liked the contrast that she was to this awful world he couldn’t seem to escape.
What would Brooke think of Tara? Actually, they’d already met. What did Brooke think of her? She’d already taken a liking to Tara’s cookies, apparently. No big surprise there. Brooke had always loved sweets, and Tara made amazing desserts.
Something in his chest ached at the image of Brooke sitting at Tara’s counter. His hand itched to touch her, to hold his little girl. He wasn’t so sure he’d ever be able to let her out of his sight again. But he’d have to. She needed to go to school, to live a normal life. A healthy life.
Sylvie snorted in her sleep, and Morgan rolled his eyes.
Yeah, Tara was from a different world. One he had no business wanting, but one he ached to be a part of anyway.
He glanced at Sylvie. He’d never felt with her what he felt for Tara and part of him felt the guilt—just a part. He’d been telling the truth when he’d told Sylvie they never should have gotten married. They shouldn’t have.
But he’d been lonely, looking for a home, a family to come off the road to. At one point, Sylvie had offered that illusion, but it had been short-lived. Too soon, she’d gotten tired of playing house and he was itching to get on the road and away.
The few good memories he’d held on to took a beating whenever she did something like this.
It was different with Tara. With her, there was no itch to leave, no longing to get away. Just the opposite. He never wanted to leave. He’d learned that lesson the hard way.
“You got any aspirin?” Sylvie stuck her head through the space between the seats and brought reality roaring back. Her hair was a mess, her makeup was smeared and he didn’t even let himself notice anything else—too depressing.
“Cupboard above the fridge.”
He heard her rummaging around. She didn’t say thanks. Didn’t speak anymore, for which he was glad. He wasn’t yet beyond the point of wanting to give her a piece of his mind.
“Let’s go.” She yanked a brush—his hairbrush—through the tangled mess of her hair as she slipped into the front of the cab. He cringed. Luckily, he knew where to buy a new one.
“Give me a minute.” Morgan climbed out of the truck and came around to open the door for her. Not that he was being a gentleman—he didn’t trust her.