She sent him a quick brittle smile. “Talking wasn’t part of the deal when we were lovers, Daniel, even less so now. If this turns out to be something you need to know, I’ll tell you, but for now, butt out! Okay?”
Alex moved away from Daniel, but she clearly heard the words he threw at her back. “You’re crying, Lex! How am I supposed to let you just walk away?”
Alex turned, walked backward and spread out her hands. “It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve done this, Daniel. Ten years ago, I walked away from you in tears and you let me go. Let’s repeat history, okay?”
* * *
Daniel watched Alex stride away from him, bunching his fists as he fought the urge to go after her, to shake her until she spilled her secrets. But, God, she was right. They weren’t lovers anymore and even when they were—a handful of hookups over the past two months—they hadn’t spent their time talking. That wasn’t what they’d wanted from each other...
They’d wanted sex, hot and fast and furious. They’d wanted deep kisses and gliding hands, bone-melting pleasure and mindless nights, an escape from the day-to-day world that they lived here in Royal. They’d always, even when they were kids, had the ability to separate themselves from reality, to pretend that the outside world didn’t exist. And they’d done that again, using sex as an escape, as a way to divorce themselves from their lives.
When they were entangled in one another’s arms, he wasn’t a Clayton and she wasn’t a Slade. They were just Dan and Alex, two people who’d once loved each other with all the force and fury that was only possible when you were a teenager, before life showed you the million shades of gray between black and white. He shook his head at his youthful folly; he’d been such a sap for her.
But his days of being a sap for anyone were long over.
“Are you just going to stand there, staring into space?”
Daniel looked into the room that he’d been told was where the bachelors and Tessa were supposed to wait and saw Rachel standing by the refreshment table, her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed.
“Can you tell me what that was about?” he asked. Rachel was Alex’s best friend and the two were said to be close. But how close? Like him, Alex had never been one to wear her heart on her sleeve and they rarely, if ever, had deep and meaningful conversations. Did she have those types of conversations with Rachel? Had she had them with another lover?
And why did that thought feel like the tip of a burning cigarette incinerating his stomach? He had no claim on Alex. There was nothing between them but one blissful summer long ago and some recent hot sex.
He had no claim on her. He didn’t want to have a claim on anyone and most definitely didn’t want someone to have a claim on him. With attachments came pain and he was happy with his own company, to live his life alone.
People, and their expectations and emotions, drained him.
“Is there anything you can tell me?” Daniel demanded, shoving his hands into the front pocket of his battered jeans. In an hour or two he would swap his jeans and flannel shirt for a designer tuxedo, but for now he was comfortable. With what he was wearing, at least.
“Nope,” Rachel replied, shaking her head. She lifted her clipboard. “I have a ton of work to do.”
“And that is why I’m really surprised Alex bolted out of here like her tail was on fire. With her work ethic, normally you’d have to pry her away with a crowbar.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Daniel.”
Tell me what’s going on! Tell me why Alex was crying. Tell me something, anything to help me understand. Daniel rubbed his hands over his face, before turning to head out the door. He needed a whiskey, possibly two. Anything to help him numb his worry about Alex, his annoyance that he’d agreed to be part of this dumb auction. Not to mention the vague apprehension that no one would bid on him, the bastard son of Royal’s wildest child.
God, now he sounded like a loser wallowing in self-pity. He’d brought The Silver C back from the brink of ruin, was regarded as one of the most talented young ranchers in the state. He was rich, respected. Who the hell cared that his mother was a crazy narcissist who was incapable of love and that his father had walked out on them before he was born?