Gus rubbed the back of his neck. “You told me that you were running away, that you couldn’t go back. That going back would make it too real.”
That sounded like her.
Gus slid down the seat, rested his head on the back of the chair and closed his eyes. Alex waited for him to continue but he just sat there, soaking up the winter sun. She flicked his thigh and he cranked open one eye. “What?”
“Aren’t you going to tell me that I run away from stuff I don’t want to have to deal with? That I did it ten years ago when I left Daniel—”
“In fairness, I did encourage you to do that,” Gus said, his eyes still closed.
“So why aren’t you pointing out that running away is what I do, that it’s the way I deal with life when things get hard? That I push people away when I think they can hurt me? Why aren’t you telling me that?”
“You seem to be doing a right fine job working this out on your own, sweetheart. Seems to me that you don’t need my input.”
Alex glared at him before dropping her gaze to her hands, which were dangling between her thighs. Running, hiding, staying away—emotionally, as well as physically—was what she did. She dipped her toe in and yanked it out when the water got deeper, the current stronger. As Daniel suggested, she played in the shallows, too scared to take a chance.
“I’m so scared, Grandpa,” Alex whispered, her voice so low, she wasn’t sure he had heard her small admission.
“So?” Alex looked at him and he shrugged. “Be scared. Be whatever you need to be, but instead of running, be scared while you stand in one place, while you try something new.” Gus stood up and pinned her to her chair with his don’t-BS-me blue eyes. “I loved your grandmother, Alex. I really did. But a part of me always regretted walking away from Rose, for missing out on fifty years with her. Regret is a cold hard companion I don’t want you to live with. Daniel is a good boy—”
Alex couldn’t help putting her hand on her heart and feigning shock at his praise of a Clayton.
Gus blushed and waved her mockery away. “Yeah, yeah. But he is a good man—he’s loyal and hardworking, and God knows you two burn hot enough to start a wildfire.”
Alex grimaced. That wasn’t something she wanted Gus noticing. Gus bent down to kiss her cheek. “Don’t run this time, Lexi. Stay still and see what happens. Gotta go. Need to check on the calves in the stable paddock.”
He had hands and Jason to do that for him, but Gus would ride back on the wheels-on-death because he wanted to. No, because he needed to. Alex watched the best man she knew walk away, his back still strong, his gait still steady. He was hard and tough and frank, but her grandfather had an enormous capacity for love. For his family, both present and past, for his land and for his beloved Rose. He’d lived and loved and cried on this land. He tended it and it repaid him by providing a good livelihood for his kids and grandkids. His beloved wife and children and pets were buried in the family graveyard, and every inch held a memory. The land was an intrinsic part of him, just as Clayton land was a part of Daniel.
And they belonged here. Both of them, on this land. Together.
It was time, Alex thought as she stood up, to put this latest, most stupid Clayton-Slade feud to bed.
Her car was filled to the brim and Alex knew that if anyone saw her driving it, they would immediately assume she was leaving Royal and the gossip would fly around town. She and Daniel had created enough gossip lately, so she decided to quickly unpack her vehicle before tracking down Daniel.
She wouldn’t take all her worldly possessions back up to her room, as that would take far too long, so Alex decided to dump them in Gus’s spacious hall until she returned. She parked her car as close as she could get to the front door of her childhood home, exited her car and walked around to the other side. She had a heavy box of books in her arms when she heard the low rumble of a powerful pickup. Turning, she squinted into the sun and saw the dusty white truck with The Silver C’s logo on the side panel.
Alex held the box, conscious that her mouth was as dry, as Gus would say, as the heart of a haystack. Watching as the truck stopped next to hers, Alex stared wide-eyed as Daniel flew out of the car, his face radiating determination and a healthy dose of kick-ass. He was at her side in two seconds and then the heavy box was yanked out of her hands and tossed, with very little effort at all, into the back of his truck. The corner of the box hit a fence post and the box split open, spilling books over the bed of the truck.