He cups my face and tilts my gaze to his. “You’re not going to lose your brother. I’m not going to let that happen. I’m not ever going to do anything to make that happen.”
My heart squeezes because we both know that while he means that now, and I know that he really does, he might not feel the same later, not if my brother is connected to Hunter’s death. I catch his hand. “Thank you for saying that.”
“Don’t say that like I’m just talking. I’m not just talking, Emma. I told you, woman. You are what matters to me.”
“Is gone,” he supplies decisively. “And no, his murder can’t go unanswered, but Hunter wouldn’t want innocent people to pay for my revenge, either. You will not pay for my revenge. You will not lose your brother.”
“If he hurt Hunter, I already lost him. Because he was never the man I believed him to be. But I don’t think he’d do that. He’s always been my best friend, and I just—I need to know where he and I stand. I need to know who he really is. I need him to be the person I think he is. And I’ll know. I’ll know when I talk to him and then we’ll know.”
“Will you? Are you sure about that Emma?”
“I won’t let the sibling thing cloud my judgment if that’s what you’re worried about. Not after the threats Randall made. But I need to talk to Chance.”
He studies me a moment and gives a quick nod, his hands settling on my shoulders. “I get it. You know I get it.” His expression tightens. “Don’t tell him about the DNA test. I’m not as convinced as Savage that Randall left that test. I’m not even convinced it’s real. Let’s give Savage’s team time to find official record.”
“I agree,” I say quickly, realizing the source of a nagging feeling I’ve been battling now as we speak. “Randall wouldn’t know about the red dress. He might have heard about the castle ghost, I’m sure it was talked about during some of the Harvest event, but not your mother wearing red dresses. But if not Randall, who?”
“I don’t know, baby. Echo? Jill? One of the staff members who’s been here forever. We’re hyper-focused on Randall because he was here tonight acting like a fool. We’ve forgotten everyone else including Echo. Echo disappearing is not sitting well with me; that’s not his way.”
“I’m worried about Echo disappearing, too, but surely, it can’t be him who left that note. He wouldn’t point that finger at you, would he? He was a second father to you.”
“To Hunter,” he corrects. “In these latter years, he hasn’t been close to anyone but Hunter. And he once told me that men are fact-checkers while women sympathize and humanize.”
I frown at that. “How very sexist of him.”
“Agreed, but the point is that he’s a fact check kind of guy. Maybe he handed the facts to a humanizer.”
“Me,” I conclude, following where he’s going now.
“I’m reaching here, but that’s where we’re at. We’re speculating on all fronts. And it’s better than the alternative of not even trying.”
I touch the muscle flexing in his jaw. “You think he didn’t leave of his own free will.”
“The fact that Savage and his men can’t find him certainly highlights that prospect.”
My cellphone starts ringing on the counter next to us, and I jolt. “Clearly I’m on edge,” I say, reaching for it. “I guess we found my phone.”
“I wonder how it got here,” he teases, because, of course, it was while we were having sex, which is why his eyes are now warm and my cheeks hot.
“I wonder,” I reply, and in this little exchange, the weight on my shoulders becomes just a little lighter. That’s what this man does for me, and to me. He’s my escape, my shelter, and it’s both wonderful and terrifying to count on another person for such things. What if I get used to him and forget how to shelter myself?
My phone is no longer ringing, but I glance down to check the call log, only to have my stomach flutter at the name on the Caller ID. “It’s Chance,” I say, eyeing Jax. “And I have no idea why I’m suddenly nervous about talking to my own brother.”
“One word shared between you two, and your nerves will be gone. Call him back. You’ll see.” He winks, and disappears into the kitchen, offering me privacy I don’t expect. I blink after him, shocked that he’s not listening in. I mean he’d be within the norm of expectancy if he did. The man’s brother is dead and Randall threatened him, perhaps at my brother’s direction. Instead, he’s trusting me. He’s trusting us. He’s not trying to control me. He’s the only damn person in my life not trying to control me. My phone buzzes with a text message, and I glance down to find a text from Chance that reads: If you don’t call me back, I’ll assume you’re in danger and send help.