Son. Daniel heard the word and closed his eyes. He was finally someone’s son. It felt good, wonderful. But it would be freakin’ fantastic to be Alex’s husband and the peanut’s dad.
* * *
Alex recognized the sound of Gus’s ancient ATV and wondered how much longer he’d continue to nurse that ancient beast. It sputtered and belched smoke and was in the shop for repairs more often than it was on the road. Gus had access to three brand-new ATVs a couple of steps from his front door but his loyalty to that old, paint-deprived quad bike remained constant.
Her grandfather was the most loyal of creatures. He’d loved Sarah—of that she had no doubt—and he’d treated her like a queen, but when he was with Rose, he glowed. Her hard, tough, frank-as-hell grandfather was putty in Miss Rose’s hands. He loved her to the depths of his soul, beyond time, for eternity.
Rose, she was surprised to find, seemed to love him just as much. Rose was now Gus’s world and Alex was happy for him. Happy that he’d spend the rest of his life loving and being loved.
She couldn’t help feeling a little envious, but she shrugged it away, thinking that love like that perhaps now only existed for people of a certain age, a particular generation. She and Daniel were modern people, living in a modern world, and they’d been conditioned to be selfish, to be self-obsessed. How could true love flourish in a society that was so materialistic, self-loving and narcissistic? It was all about them, only about them. She was a classic example because she’d been so caught up in her own drama, in thinking how badly Daniel had treated her in failing to make the doctor’s appointment, that she’d brushed aside his explanations. Her feelings, her heartache had been all she’d been worried about.
Daniel meeting his dad had been a damn good excuse to miss her doctor’s appointment, and if she hadn’t reacted so selfishly, she might not be sitting in the chair on Sarah’s deck, her car fueled and packed, ready to make the journey to Houston and a new life.
She was thoroughly ashamed of herself. And now, more than anything, she wanted to know how he was dealing with his father’s reappearance. What did Daniel think of his dad? Was the reality of meeting him as an adult as good as the dream he’d had of him as a boy? But no, because she’d acted like a selfish brat, he was dealing with this all alone.
Alex sighed as she heard Gus’s footsteps on the wooden stairs that led to the tree house. Her grandfather’s shadow fell over her and she lifted her head and greeted him. Gus nodded, dropped into the Adirondack chair next to her and propped his old boots on the railing. His pushed his ancient but favorite Stetson back with one finger like she’d seen him do a million times before. Old ATV, old boots, old Stetson, Rose.
The man never gave up on the things he loved. Alex bit her lip as the thought struck home. Gus didn’t give up; few Slades ever did. So why was she?
Gus cleared his throat and Alex turned her head to look at his profile. “Do you remember when Gemma died?”
Alex jerked her head back, surprised at his question. That was the very last thing she expected him to say. “Sure. I remember getting the news. I thought my world had stopped.”
“Do you remember the funeral?”
Alex shook her head. “Not so much, actually. I remember the coffin, the flowers, Sarah holding my hand.”
Gus stared at the barren winter landscape beyond the river. “We woke early that morning, the day of the funeral. Sarah looked into your room but you weren’t there, and we couldn’t find you. We looked everywhere. You never took your hound with you that day. You two were never apart and that scared me.”
Olly had died in her arms only a few months later after being kicked by a horse. It had been another loss in a string of losses. “I eventually saddled a horse and told your dog to find you. We went for miles and I eventually found you in the top paddock, the one that borders the Clayton land.”
The one where she first kissed Daniel. Yeah, she knew it well. “It was the farthest point you could go without crossing onto Clayton land, and you were standing right on the boundary line.”
Alex tried to remember but nothing came back. “I don’t remember any of this.”