Authors: Lynda Chance
Even though she was only a teenager, Katie Turner was painted with the same brush as the rest of her no-good family. It didn't matter
beautiful she was, and even though she
sweet on the outside and even though his little sister cared for her, Zach had to get a grip on his emotions and remember that Katie
was a Turner
, and always would be.
He knew a moment of guilt for the animosity he held toward that entire family. His cognizant brain knew that everything had been Chris Turner's fault and that the man was dead now. Zach took a deep breath and tried unsuccessfully, once again, to let the dark emotions go. As he downed the last of his bourbon, he knew there was no help for it; he was holding a grudge against the whole family and for the moment, he couldn't seem to shake it.
Katie Turner sat at the desk in Hannah's bedroom and studied for the calculus advanced placement test while she waited for the younger girl to fall asleep. She bit her lip and desperately tried to concentrate on the numbers in front of her. She really needed to score high enough on the exam to get the full college credits. Every credit she could get before she went to college in the fall would be that much less she would have to take out in student loans.
Even though she had earned an academic scholarship for tuition, she still had to come up with the money for room and board, and she hoped to get her bachelor's degree accomplished in three years instead of four.
It was imperative that she stand on her own two feet. She absolutely wouldn't be a burden to her family. Her heart softened when she thought about the three people she loved most in the world, her parents and her cousin, Josh. Her parents were the kindest, most loving people she knew. They were the sort
who would take the shirt off their backs to give it to someone in need. Unfortunately, that often left their own circumstances wanting. Her family struggled on a daily basis to make a go of farming the single section of land left by her grandparents.
When her parents had reached out five years ago and rescued her cousin Josh from his worthless, abusive father, they had done so at their own detriment. The last thing they needed was another mouth to feed, but their loving hearts couldn't allow the situation to continue, and when Josh came into their family, it was for the better of them all. He was like the brother she never had, and his degree of gratitude was shown daily with the good grades he made and the amount of work he did on the farm. Sometimes, Katie didn't think her parents would have been able to make it work if it wasn't for her cousin's extreme work ethic and intellect.
She tapped her pencil softly against the calculator at her side as her thoughts continued.
Sitting in this room at night had become a ritual since Hannah's parents had started going to Shreveport so often. Mrs. McIntyre's mother was receiving treatments for breast cancer, and at sixteen, Hannah had to stay in school but detested staying alone in the house surrounded by the sixty-thousand-acre ranch. As one of Hannah's best friends and two years older, Katie had offered to help. Nobody would call it babysitting, Hannah was too old to need a babysitter, but both Hannah and her parents seemed comforted by Katie's presence in their home. Some nights she stayed all night, but some evenings, like tonight when Hannah's brother was at the ranch, Katie usually left after Hannah fell asleep.
Katie tried to stay focused on the derivatives and integrals in front of her, but her mind kept coming up blank. A knot of anguish solidified in her throat as she thought of Hannah's circumstances. Hannah was the shy, quiet type, and although she was sweet and pretty, she didn't make friends easily. Katie knew it was mostly because all the girls in the county were jealous of her angelic looks and her family's money. No, Hannah didn't have many friends except for herself and Ava, and while Josh and his buddies were always sweet to Hannah, they were just guys and they were older than Hannah and they didn't really count. No, Hannah had too few girlfriends and Katie had to leave for college in August.
Against her will, Katie's thoughts turned to Hannah's older brother, Zachary, and a shiver ran down her spine. He'd changed recently; he was now cold and cynical and Katie hated leaving Hannah alone with him. The fact that Hannah didn't see her brother in that same way soothed Katie's frayed nerves somewhat. Since the . . . trouble began between the two families, Hannah had often taken up for her brother in Katie's presence. The McIntyre stepsiblings had become closer in the face of adversity, and that closeness had been even more obvious in the last few weeks. The girl was firmly in her brother's camp. Even though Hannah considered him strong-willed and determined, she also believed he was sweet and that he was capable and deserving of love.
A shudder went through Katie when she thought of the animosity he'd shown to her since her uncle had started having an affair with his wife, Cindy. Since the rumors had started flying about Josh's father sleeping with Zach's wife, hostility had been in every look, and in every word that Zach had spoken to her. No, there wasn't a sweet bone in Zach McIntyre's body. Even as Katie had the thought, a wave of sorrow washed over her for what he'd endured. It didn't excuse the way Zach acted toward her, but it did explain it somewhat. His wife had been pregnant with his child when she'd left town and run off with Chris Turner. The fatal car crash that had taken the couple had also taken Zach's unborn baby.
As horrible as the thought was, Chris Turner dying in that crash had almost been a relief to Katie's family. Josh would always be marked with the years of physical and mental abuse his father had inflicted on him. But Cindy McIntyre hadn't been such a malicious person, at least, not in Katie's eyes. It was true that the woman was flighty and had cheated on Zach, but that didn't mean she deserved to die. The innocent baby certainly hadn't deserved its fate.
The entire incident had taken a toll on both families. It was a minor miracle that Katie and Hannah still remained such close friends after events.
Katie clenched her jaw as she vowed to stay close to Hannah after she left for college. Hannah was young and innocent and thought the best of everyone. She didn't realize the world was filled with people who would claim to be your friend one minute and then turn around and stab you in the back the next.
Thankfully, Katie's thoughts were interrupted from going down a darker and even more upsetting path by the sound of the door opening.
"She's asleep. Time for you to go." Katie stiffened with nerves as the deep, sharp voice interrupted the peace of the bedroom. Without looking at Hannah's
brother, Katie glanced from her books and saw that Zach was right. Hannah was asleep and breathing deeply.
She silently gathered her books and stood with an unconsciously graceful movement. Her long, dark hair uncoiled and slid all the way to her waist. She managed to keep her face devoid of all expression as she prepared to leave. Hooking her bag over her shoulder, she started to walk past him, looking neither to the left nor to the right.
Katie had no reason to trust men and no matter what his little sister believed, Zachary McIntyre was harsher than most.
As she moved to slide past him, he reached out and grabbed her wrist with a hand roughened from hard work. His glance slid to the book in her arms and a withering stare crossed his features. "A Turner studying for an AP test. What a joke." His voice was a sneer and she pulled on her arm in an attempt to be free of him as waves of remembered fear diluted by only a hint of curiosity assailed her. Zach McIntyre hadn't always hated her. "Not so fast." He continued to control her movements with his strong hand.
He eased the bedroom door shut behind them and tugged her down the hall to the office. Katie glanced around at the darkened room as butterflies tried to claw their way up from her stomach through her tight throat. It didn't escape her notice that if this had happened a year before, it would have been her most secret fantasy for Zach McIntyre to pull her into an empty room. Of course, he'd been married back then, and she'd had to bury the inappropriate thoughts that she'd had about him.
And it didn't matter anyway, it wasn't a year ago; it was now and she was no longer the trusting soul she used to be.
The darkness of the room was only mitigated by one small table lamp that radiated a subtle glow. The room was masculine, its dark leather furnishings and rustic embellishments attempting to convey informality that in her opinion missed by a long shot; the room oozed old money. The domain of Hannah's stepfather, the room now temporarily belonged to Zachary, and evidence of his occupation was everywhere. His laptop was on the desk, his tie carelessly thrown on the floor where it had missed the chair he had obviously aimed at.
And the aroma of hard liquor was in the air.
Katie's breath got clogged in her throat and her eyes moved back to his as she stood frozen in his grasp. Trepidation mingled with fascination as he stood over her.
Who was the real Zachary McIntyre?
The sweet, loving person who felt things deeply and was affected by pain and betrayals so deeply
scarred him? Hannah fully believed that was so, but Katie wasn't convinced. She thought he was exactly who he seemed to her now. A man who ridiculed and disparaged, who had absolute control over his actions, a man who managed to scare her shitless with his tyrannical, domineering behavior; that was probably who Zachary McIntyre truly was.
Katie desperately wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but her innate sense of protection wouldn't let her. She was saddened by the man he'd become, and she mourned for the man he used to be.
As he stood so close to her now, his scent invaded her senses. He had a masculine aroma, a musky scent with a hint of bourbon and leather. It was a spicy and heady smell. That potency, combined with his sinewy strength as he towered over her and held her in his uncompromising grip made her limbs tremble with a kind of fear she was afraid she would never be able to conquer.
Her heart started beating a vicious tattoo as she waited for him to say something. She could feel the anger pulsing from him. He hated her; she knew that. And she knew the reason, too. It was because Chris Turner had been her father's brother. It hadn't always been this way. Zach hadn't always hated her. Growing up, she hadn't seen him often, but when she had, he'd always been teasingly indulgent.
Until the day her uncle began sleeping with his wife
Katie straightened to her full height of five feet, six inches and just managed to glare up at him. She had to look a long way up; he towered over her by a good eight inches. His body was lean and tempered with hard, steely muscles and his stance emphasized the strength of his legs and the power and virility of his upper torso. The clear-cut lines of his face were tanned by the sun, his skin weathered by exposure to the wind and elements. He had high, proud cheekbones, and his lips were firm and sensual. His eyes held a stormy, inky blackness and a menacing tic in his cheek was indicative of his feelings. Distress ran through her as she tried to maintain a façade of bravado.
She knew that if this encounter had transpired a year earlier, he would have found a more worthy opponent and that knowledge disappointed her. But this was now, and her life was forever changed by an event that she hadn't been able to control. An episode that had left her a different person.
A scared person
. She stiffened her spine, clenched her jaw, and tried to find the courage she had once possessed in spades.
Zachary ran his eyes over the girl in front of him. She wasn't as young as his sister, and the two years difference in age was a very important two years. It was the difference between girl and almost-woman. He saw the hint of that in Katie's eyes. She was already,
beautiful. With her dark hair and slanted green eyes, she was beautiful in a sultry, exotic way.
Even though she was a decade younger than he was, he'd always been aware of her existence; he even had a vague memory of picking her up and taking her home when she'd hurt herself as a child. She'd been a pretty little girl even then.
But he'd first noticed Katie sexually only a few months before, when she began hanging around his little sister, about the same time that his wife began fucking Chris Turner. The cheating hadn't been much of a secret around town, and he knew that this girl had known about the affair.
Zach admitted to himself that he had fucked up feelings about Katie, even back then. Every time he'd seen Katie at his parents' ranch house, he'd wanted to steal her away. All he could think about at the time was the fact that Chris Turner had stolen his wife, so didn't it seem fair that Zach should have Katie? An eye for an eye, that was the way he looked at it.
But there was one thing that stood in Zach's way from doing something stupid, something crazily impetuous. He hadn't had a choice at the time; it
to stand in his way. Katie Turner was too young. And Zach had still been too angry. Livid with it. Even now, months later, he still couldn't give Katie the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was a nice, decent person, but he refused to consider it. All he could think about was the fact that she was a Turner. A
Turner, and one he wanted so badly it made thinking of anything else almost impossible. Yeah, the feelings he had for Katie were
borderline insane and he knew it.
She should be his
. She should belong to him, because she was
to him. And even though it was imperative that he let her grow up some first, someday it would happen. He'd bide his time because he'd have to, but one day, he'd feel her underneath him . . . at his mercy.