In the past decade, her ex had done quite well for himself. He’d acquired degrees in both agriculture and business, and all the hard work he put into The Silver C had, judging by his designer tuxedo and the German sports car he occasionally drove, paid off. He was smart, wealthy and good-looking, and that trifecta made him one of the most sought-after bachelors in the area. Hell, possibly even the state. Although he hadn’t brought a date to this wedding, Daniel Clayton was never, so she’d heard, short of a female companion.
In bed or out of it.
A hand on her arm pulled her eyes off her former lover and she smiled at Rachel Kincaid, her closest friend. Alex didn’t make friends easily, but Rachel was someone who’d sneaked under her defenses.
“Why are you standing here by yourself?” her friend asked, handing her a glass of champagne.
“Trying to avoid another conversation about Shelby or what I think of the new president of the TCC,” Alex admitted, taking the glass with a grateful smile.
“James Harris is a great guy.”
Alex nodded. “I like him, too.” She glanced at the tall African American man standing next to the right of them, talking to Rose Clayton. “And, oh my God, he’s seriously hot.”
In fact, there were many drop-dead gorgeous men in this room, most of them members of the TCC. She knew why she was single—chronic commitment and abandonment issues—but that didn’t mean she had to be celibate. Yet she was.
“You keep looking at Daniel Clayton,” Rachel remarked. “Not that I blame you. I swear he was birthed by an angel.”
An unfortunate choice of words, Alex thought wryly, since Daniel’s mom was reputed to be anything but celestial. Daniel never spoke about Stephanie but there were enough gossips in Royal to ascertain a little of what his life with his tempestuous and unstable mother had been like. According to the grapevine, Rose had been the only responsible adult in his life. His loyalty to his grandmother was rock-solid and unshakable.
Their romance had been doomed from the start. Because, as it turned out, Alex had never been able to compete with Rose and Daniel’s fierce allegiance to The Silver C ranch.
“Matt Galloway is just as good-looking,” Alex commented, partly to be perverse but also to distract Rachel from linking her and Daniel together. There was no “her and Daniel,” and there hadn’t been in a long, long time. And she wasn’t lying, Matt Galloway was a young Clooney: as good-looking, as rich and charming, and as much of a reputed playboy as George used to be.
“He is—was—Billy’s best friend.” Alex wasn’t sure what Matt’s looks had to do with him being Rachel’s dead husband’s friend, but she was familiar with the don’t-go-there look on Rachel’s face, since it was an expression she often used. Alex liked her own privacy, so she didn’t push Rachel.
Rachel wound her arm around Alex’s waist and squeezed. “Have I said thank you lately for letting me stay with you at the Lone Wolf Ranch?”
“We love having you and baby Ellie there,” Alex responded.
“And I don’t take it personally that you frequently run away to Sarah’s tree house.”
“That’s more to avoid Gus’s lectures about finding a husband and giving him a great-grandchild than avoiding you, as you well know. Gus is determined to get me bound and breeding. I, on the other hand, need to think about getting back to Houston, to my life there. I came home to be with Grandma Sarah in her last days, but I’m still here, a year after her death. Royal was only meant to be a stopgap. My life isn’t here.”
“Sure looks like it is,” Rachel commented. “As a digital-media strategist, you can work anywhere in the world, and you love the ranch, spending time with Gus.”
Of course she did, but being with Gus and working part-time as the Lone Wolf’s business manager didn’t stop her from missing her grandmother with an intensity that still threatened to drop her to her knees. It didn’t stop her from wallowing in the past, from remembering how happy she and Daniel had once been before she learned that love didn’t conquer all.
Alex sucked in her breath when his eyes slammed into hers and, as always, she felt caressed by the light of a million stars. Electric tingles skittered across her skin, tightened her nipples, sent heat to that place between her legs. This was just red-hot, carnal lust, and nothing, she silently insisted, like what they’d experienced so long ago.