Authors: Lynda Chance
Hannah flinched at that last cutting comment and Katie asked her, "Do your parents know how far the relationship has gone?"
Hannah licked her lips and met Katie's eyes. "They know. They like Josh, they really do. It took my dad awhile, but he's good with it now. Except for . . . except for telling Zach."
"So it's not just me,
is afraid of Zachary finding out?" As Katie asked the question, she was aware of the angry, hooded look that came over Josh's face before he shut it down. The conversation was definitely not pleasing him.
"It's awkward, and nobody wants Zach to be hurt by any of this," Hannah replied softly.
Katie didn't have a rebuttal for that, and at her silence, Hannah's top lip quivered. "Please, Katie. Don't be upset. What are we supposed to do? I love Zach; he's my brother and I don't want him upset. He's been hurt so much in the past." The younger girl's gaze drifted away from Katie and down to the strong, masculine hands that were wrapped around her middle as Josh held her. "But I'm
with Josh; I've been in love with him forever and yes, my parents know," the younger girl reiterated.
Katie wasn't hearing anything completely new, but something about the way Hannah used the word
made her eyebrows lift in question. "Forever?" A sudden, suspicious thought came to Katie as she studied the younger girl. "Is that the only reason
friends? Because of my cousin?" Katie felt a slither of pain; the idea hurt, more than a bit.
Hannah's eyes dropped uncomfortably from hers and her reply was hesitant. "I can't deny that I wanted your friendship because being close to you always made me feel closer to Josh when he wouldn't have much to do with me because of my age. But I love you and I'll always love you no matter what happens."
Josh's muscles surged into prominence as his arms clenched around Hannah in a grip that looked as if nothing could ever break it,
"Nothing's going to fucking happen."
As Katie witnessed firsthand the raw emotion that her cousin felt for Hannah, she couldn't help but remember Zachary accusing her of using Hannah to get to him.
If only he
knew the truth.
The situation was so twisted; her hand shook as she ran it over her trembling mouth.
She turned her mind away from the hurt she was feeling and tried to focus on the more important details. "So what does this mean? What's going on now?" Katie asked.
Josh answered. "Hannah wants to get married now and not even start college full-time. She wants to get a job at the bank in Redwood Falls instead and start taking online classes. I want her to get her degree in case anything happens to me, because she'll need it. It will also give her time to make sure she's ready for this."
Hannah cried, "I'm ready! I want you. I want you
Josh looked down at the eighteen-year old girl he held within the circle of his arms. A shiver ran along Katie's spine when she recognized the look of naked need in her cousin's eyes.
As much as she wanted to state her opinion on the matter, the two people she loved so much needed to make up their own minds. They were both legally adults and she knew her opinion would only clutter up the point and get in the way.
"I'm going over to the Student Union for awhile. Ya'll have things to discuss, so I'll give you some breathing room." She focused on Josh. "Will you text me before you leave? I want to say goodbye." Katie stood hovering at the door, hoping she was doing the right thing by not screaming at Hannah and telling her to listen to Josh.
"Katie," Hannah's soft voice reached her and Katie turned to see pain screaming from the younger girl's eyes.
Katie didn't hesitate, just walked straight to Hannah and took her in her arms for a hard, swift hug.
Hannah's voice came softly again, "I love you."
Katie squeezed her younger friend again and whispered back, "I love you, too." She held Hannah in her arms as she cut her eyes to Josh and back again to Hannah, where they softened on her young friend. "As much as I think this is going too fast, God knows I understand. There's not a better man in this world than my cousin. Believe me, I totally get it."
Katie looked between the two of them a moment more before walking to the door. She turned the knob and let herself out.
As she walked out, a dark, disturbing premonition of an enraged Zachary McIntyre infiltrated her entire being. She had only seen him briefly a handful of times since that dark night when he'd cornered her in the study at the McIntyre ranch. The times she'd spoken to him in the last two years had been sporadic. But each time she was in his radius, she felt like a bug pinned under a microscope. His intense scrutiny never failed to induce a confusing mix of sexual tension, resentment and a slight, unwarranted fear.
At least, she prayed the fear she felt was unwarranted.
Zach McIntyre sat in the corporate offices of McIntyre Oil and Energy and surveyed the Dallas skyline with a scowl. For a man who had it all, he was inexplicably stressed and impatient. What he lacked was time. The last few years had been good to him financially. His determination had made it so.
The wind contracts he had signed had led to more business; his energy company now held such a large stake in the wind-generating segment of the industry that he was a major player. The money was fantastic, unbelievable; the lack of personal time his schedule left him was frustrating and kept him on a tightrope.
If it wasn't for his secretary, Betty Cargill, who was from the old school and didn't mind running his personal errands and taking care of overseeing his life away from the office as well as inside of it, he would definitely be up shit creek.
But luckily, when he'd originally set up the infrastructure of his business, he had hired both Betty, and a couple of young, hungry engineers who had just completed grad school. It had taken almost all of Zach's funds to pay those three high salaries when he had first started out, but now it was paying off in spades. He had chosen his employees well, and he had brought them up with him when he struck gold. They were loyal and would do just about anything for him.
Of course, he had more employees now than he could count, but the hiring and firing was something Betty and Human Resources took care of. His days were packed with back to back meetings and travel. Everything from visiting with the land commissioner, to travelling back and forth to Saudi, to buying and selling blocks of oil futures. There were just some things he couldn't delegate. And the larger and more intricate his company became, the more it ate up his time.
Just yesterday, he'd had to cancel with Hannah and their parents on her move-in day at college. He was supposed to have been there to help, but something had come up at the last minute. He had insisted on sending a team of professional movers and his apologies instead.
Looking out over the Dallas skyline, he felt a sharp pang of regret that he had missed out on Hannah's excitement. Or what he hoped had been excitement. She was a quiet little thing. She never caused any problems. She never got mixed up with anything or anybody she shouldn't.
Except for Katie Turner, of course. And now that over two years had passed and Zach's emotions were much more stable, he knew that Katie was no danger to Hannah and never had been.
But no doubt Katie had been there with Hannah yesterday when his little sister had moved into her dorm. A suppressed memory clouded his mind. Katie had
been there for Hannah. When Janet's mother had finally succumbed to breast cancer, his sister had taken it hard for weeks. He remembered walking down the hall to check on Hannah. He had found both girls in Hannah's bathroom where Katie was trying to distract his little sister from the pain of losing her grandmother. Hannah was dressed in her nightgown and robe and had just come from her bath. She'd sat on the vanity stool in front of the mirror, and Katie had stood behind her, gently combing out the tangles in Hannah's hair while she hummed softly under her breath. Hannah's eyes were closed and Katie seemed to be having a quiet, one-sided conversation. "Let's try your hair like this." The older girl picked up a thick lock of hair and separated it into three sections as she began softly humming again. Zach must have made a noise, because the lilting sound stopped and Katie's eyes had risen to the mirror where they had clashed with his. He remembered seeing something in those dark green orbs he couldn't identify before he lowered his gaze and saw that Hannah's eyes were still closed. He'd looked at Katie once more and then slowly turned away.
He brushed the disturbing image from his mind. But it reiterated to him that Katie would have almost certainly been with Hannah yesterday when his sister had moved into her dorm.
Hannah had wanted to follow Katie to the University of Texas at Arlington. Zach was actually pleased she'd chosen that particular university, because he'd be able to see her more often. The university was still close to home, yet still allowed Hannah to go
to college. Arlington was in the center, between Dallas and the ranch. She could come and go as she pleased; she was close enough to come see him in Dallas or go home to Redwood Falls. It suited everyone.
He thought of Hannah in the expensive red car she'd gotten for her sixteenth birthday. She was pleased with it, no doubt, especially now with all the miles she'd be driving, but typical for Hannah, she didn't realize what the car had cost. She probably thought it was a decked out Honda. His little sister wasn't materialistic in any way. If the family didn't watch out, she would probably find some needy charity and give away all of her spending money. Hannah was sweet and special, no doubt about it.
At that last thought of the little sister he loved, he threw down his pen and told Betty that he would be out for the rest of the day.
Katie left the freshmen dorms and headed over to the parking lot where she'd left her car, just as a sleek silver Porsche pulled into a no-parking zone directly in front of her. The unmistakable countenance of Zachary McIntyre almost made her heart stop beating completely. And then it rapidly started to pound in her chest.
He could only be headed in one direction. To Hannah's dorm room.
Where Josh still was.
Fear and panic slithered down her spine. Zach was rich and ruthless and probably still hated the memory of Chris Turner with a passion, possibly almost as much as he loved his sister. Katie was held immobile as her mind went blank with panic and shock. The ramifications of him finding out that Josh Turner was dating--
--with his little sister were unthinkable, even though he'd have to find out someday, if the situation continued. She blew out a breath and knew immediately that it would continue, because there was no way in hell her cousin would
give up Hannah. And Katie knew she would do whatever she had to do to protect Josh and Hannah from Zach's wrath.
Zach recognized Katie immediately. He hadn't seen her in a few months, he hadn't spoken to her since he'd gone to see her in Fort Worth, but her image was burned into his brain, not something he was likely to forget. She stood on the sidewalk, staring at him or his car, he couldn't be sure which. It really didn't matter. The slender lines of her body attracted him as always. The same inexplicable urge to reach out and touch her gripped him as it always had.
This time it was even stronger
There was something about her that wouldn't let up. Certainly, she was an itch he needed to scratch, a pain in his pants. But it wasn't completely sexual. Or maybe it was, because libidinous thoughts crept into his head and he admitted to himself that he had a dark, imbedded need to punish her, both for the past and for denying what was between them.
Of course, the punishment he had in mind wouldn't hurt her, in fact it would only bring her pleasure. Even though the violent fury he used to feel was completely gone, he still had a stark need to possess her, to own her even. The thought was hotly exciting, even addictive, and if it took absolutely years and years and years to punish her then that was all the better, right? Fuck, it might even take forever. If keeping her forever and having her under him brought both of them immeasurable pleasure, why should he let that stop him?
He was almost ashamed of the primal emotion he felt toward her. He knew it wasn't right; his own sister loved Katie. Deep down he knew it wasn't fair but he just didn't give a rat's ass. The urge to have her was like a slow-burning ember that wouldn't die away. It burnt into him slowly, leaving him with a need that ate like corrosive acid in the pit of his stomach. She would be twenty now, almost twenty-one. He had tried to give her space. He really had. But now, after a couple of years of college, she was probably experienced enough that she probably wouldn't quibble about sleeping with him if he took the time and wooed her properly.
He wouldn't think about where she had gained that experience, it would drive him fucking berserk.
He knew one thing for certain; he was going to find out if she was finally ready, because he was sick of waiting for her.
Katie's mind began to function again just as Zachary stepped from his car. She knew she had to stall him. She had to stop him from going to Hannah's dorm. But what plausible excuse could she have for speaking to him now, when she'd always gone out of her way to avoid him? She'd always avoided him, even to the point of being rude.