“Well, what?” Daniel demanded, his voice ragged. Because there had to be a reason he was here, back in his life.
“I have more than enough money, and I don’t need your connections. I own six sports cars and I am excessively liquid.” Humor touched Hector’s mouth. “But thank you for offering.”
Daniel pushed a hand through his hair. “Then why are you here?”
Hector placed his hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “I am here because you are my son. I have three daughters with a lovely woman who has been my life for more than twenty-five years, but you are my firstborn, my son. I am here because I need to know that you are happy, healthy, okay. I also wanted you to know that I never stopped thinking about you, that I was always looking for you. There’s no price to pay, Daniel.”
Daniel stared at him, shocked. “What did you say?”
Hector sent him a soft smile. “I didn’t spend much time with Stephanie, but it didn’t take me long to work out that life was a series of exchanges with that one. Do this for me and I’ll do this for you. Pay me this and I’ll do that. Pay me more and I’ll pretend to love you.
“Why do you think I was so determined to find you? Apart from the fact that you were mine, I didn’t want your life being a series of transactions.”
Oh God, that was exactly what life with Stephanie had been like.
Daniel felt like he needed to say something, anything. “I’ve always thought that was what love was. Up to now, it’s all I’ve known. My grandmother married Ed to make sure her mother was cared for... Stephanie only allowed Gran to have me if she paid for the privilege.” A muscle ticked in his jaw. “And then, of course, there’s Alex. She dumped me ten years ago when I refused to leave The Silver C with her.”
“She was a teenager and, as such, stupid,” Hector said, his voice mild. “I’m sure you hurt her, as well.”
He had. By refusing to leave The Silver C, choosing the ranch over her, he made her feel abandoned. To a girl who’d been left by so many people, she felt any loss more keenly than most people did. She’d been scared and was still scared...
So was he. When there was so much to lose, love was goddamn terrifying.
Earlier, instead of explaining, instead of reassuring her, he’d turned the tables on her, accusing her of wanting to run. Guilt coursed through him. Rather than trying to see things from her perspective, he’d cast blame, got angry. He’d been confused and upset about Hector dropping back into his life, worried that the man he instinctively liked would disappoint him by putting a price on fatherhood.
Driving to Royal, he remembered thinking that his life had been so much less complicated last year: he’d had affairs that had the emotional depth of a puddle, his grandmother wasn’t in love with her oldest enemy and Alexis Slade was a girl he saw around town, whom he was determined to keep at arm’s length.
His life had been safe. But, God, so boring.
He didn’t want that. He wanted to watch his grandmother fuss over her new husband, and he wanted to get to know this man who’d looked for him for the better part of three decades. He wanted his woman, his child, the two most important things in his life.
Because while he loved this land, loved The Silver C, the love of his life was probably packing up her car and heading south.
Daniel looked at Hector and lifted his shoulders and his hands. “I’m running out on you again but it’s not because I want to, but...”
Hector smiled. “But there’s a girl leaving, and you want to stop her.”
Rose and her big mouth. Daniel smiled. “I intend to make that girl your daughter-in-law.”
Hector grinned. “Sounds good to me.” He pulled a card out of the top pocket of his suit and handed it to Daniel. “When you are ready, come to Houston, bring Alexis, meet my family. Or come alone, whatever...”
Daniel took the card and nodded once before scuffing his boot over the short dry grass. He cleared his throat, pushing down the emotion that threatened to strangle his words. “Thanks for looking for me.”
Hector squeezed his shoulder again. “It’s what fathers do. Go get your girl, son.”