“Why were you late?” she asked.
A small smile touched his mouth but didn’t reach his eyes. “Oh, that little thing?” He hesitated, drawing the moment out. “A half hour before I was supposed to meet you, my father walked back into my life.”
The next morning, Daniel rested his forearms on the whitewashed pole fence and watched as one of his stable hands led Rufus, his prize stallion, from the barn to spend the day in the paddock behind his house.
Rufus had it made, Daniel thought. He and Rose and every other hand petted and pampered him and treated him like the king he was. Rufus got fed and brushed and stroked, and he could frolic and mate with a variety of mares.
Lucky Rufus. His life had certain parallels with his favorite horse. He thought he could go through life running his ranch, socializing with his friends and falling into the arms and bed of any available woman who caught his fancy. He thought that was living, but as it turned out, he hadn’t had a clue.
Truth was, he wanted what he couldn’t have. He wanted Alex, he wanted his child, he wanted a life together. Early-morning coffee in bed, long trail rides over the Clayton and Slade ranches, alone or with their child safe between his arms and knees. He wanted to walk into his house and see her there, watch her grow rounder and bigger, kiss her mouth when she brought their child into the world. He wanted to make dinner with her, listen to her read stories to their children, snuggle with her at night.
He wanted to love her body and nurture her soul.
He simply wanted the opportunity to love her.
Daniel scratched his forehead, his head pounding from sadness, stress and the half bottle of whiskey he’d consumed when he got home last night. He’d missed one appointment—and had a damn good reason for doing so—and she’d written him off as being untrustworthy, inconsiderate. She should’ve allowed him to explain and then decided, not jumped the gun. If he spoke to another woman, would she think he was having an affair? If he was a minute late, would he be in for a night of receiving the cold shoulder? He wasn’t perfect; no man was, and Alex didn’t seem to allow any room for him to maneuver.
He couldn’t love someone who only loved you back when you proved your worth, who was only happy when you did what she wanted you to do. He loved Alex but he wanted a wife and a partner, not a shadow. He wanted a friend and a lover, not a prosecutor, cross-examining him on his every move.
Sighing, Daniel stared at the empty paddock. Maybe she was right, maybe they were better off apart. Maybe they’d been living in a fool’s paradise while they were on vacation at Galloway Cove, allowing the fresh tropical breezes and the island’s sultry allure to sway them into believing that they could have the impossible.
How many times were they supposed to try? Shouldn’t he just accept that he and Alex were not meant to be?
Daniel turned to see Hector approaching him, dressed in an Italian suit. He looked down at his jeans and worn denim jacket over a flannel shirt and thought that while he and his father looked so alike, he didn’t have Hector’s taste in clothes.
Daniel hadn’t had the chance to have a private moment with Hector, to take him aside and find out what he really wanted. The meeting at Rose and Gus’s had carried on and on, and his grandmother had been less than pleased when he insisted that he had to go because he had a prior commitment that couldn’t wait. Hoping to catch the tail end of Alex’s appointment, he’d floored it to Royal, but he’d been too late.
And because he was late, his world had fallen apart.
“We didn’t have time to have a one-on-one conversation last night,” Hector said, coming to stand next to Daniel. “Your grandparents are extremely hospitable, and they love you very much.”
“Rose is my grandmother. Gus is a new addition to the family,” Daniel replied. Tired, upset and not wanting to indulge in small talk, he looked Hector in the eye. “What do you want?”
Shock passed over Hector’s face before he schooled his features. “What do you mean?”
“Money? An introduction? A new sports car? A loan?”
Hector cocked his head to the side and instead of anger or annoyance or shame, Daniel saw sympathy in his eyes. “None of those.”