The Secret Child & The Cowboy CEO(8)

By: Janice Maynard

His jaw went even harder than before, and his tires squealed as he pulled away from the curb.

Bryn’s brief show of defiance drained away, and her bottom lip trembled. Why couldn’t Trent let the past stay in the past? Why couldn’t they start over as friends?

She picked out Mac’s beautiful Native American–patterned blanket in no time, and visited a few more of the shops down the street, managing to select gifts for her aunt and for Allen. A friendly shopkeeper offered to stow Bryn’s bulky packages until Trent returned, so Bryn took the opportunity to stretch her legs.

Back in Minnesota she and Beverly and Allen walked each evening when the weather was nice. The two women enjoyed the exercise, and it was good for Allen to use up some of his energy before bedtime.

Bryn missed her baby. He hated it when she called him that. He was five and would be starting kindergarten in the fall. She wasn’t ready. Maybe because it pointed out the fact that he wouldn’t always need her. He’d go off to college and meet some scary girl who would take him away for good.

She laughed softy at her own maudlin thoughts. She was twenty-four years old. She was two semesters away from finishing a degree in communications, and as soon as she was able to return home, she would fall back into her familiar, comfortable routine. She had her whole life ahead of her.

So why did she feel despondent?

The answer was simple. She wanted Trent to trust her. To ensure Allen’s future, she had no choice but to insist on a paternity test. But everything inside her rebelled at that thought. She didn’t want a litigious battle with the Sinclair family.

She wanted Mac, Trent, Gage and Sloan to admit that she was one of them, blood or not. She wanted an apology. She wanted to see more in Trent’s face than suspicion and anger.

Her daddy used to say, “Men in prison want out.” So what?

She was sitting on a bench, packages tucked beside her, when Trent returned. Without speaking, he got out, opened the trunk and waited for her to put her shopping spoils inside.

Then he faced her across the roof of the car, his expression stoic. “Where would you like to eat?”

Bryn’s temper had a long fuse, but his manner was insulting. She glared at him. “There’s a sandwich shop on the corner. We can grab something and eat on the way home…so we don’t waste any time.”

Her sarcasm hit the mark. He opened his mouth and shut it again, displeasure marking his patrician features. “Fine.”

Twenty minutes later, they were on the road. Bryn chewed a turkey sandwich that felt like sand in her mouth. Finally, she gave up and wrapped most of it in the waxed paper and stuffed it in the bag.

Trent had finished his without fanfare and was sipping coffee and staring out the windshield in the dwindling light. Encountering large wildlife on the road was always a hazard, but Trent was a careful driver and Bryn felt perfectly safe with him.

She chewed her lip, wishing she could go back in time and erase every stupid thing she’d ever done. Including the day she invited Trent to take her to the prom. Trent had said no, of course. Bryn had cried her eyes out behind the barn, and Jesse had come along to comfort her.

In retrospect, she suspected Jesse’s motive, even from that first moment, had been troublemaking.

When the silence in the car became unbearably oppressive, Bryn put her hand on Trent’s sleeve. “I’m really sorry about Jesse. I know you loved him very much.” She felt the muscles in his forearm tense, so she took her hand away. Apparently even brief contact with her disgusted him.

Trent drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, his profile bleak. “I still can’t believe it. He was such a good kid.”

“You weren’t around him much in the last several years, though. He changed a lot.”

“What do you mean?” The words were sharp.

“Didn’t you wonder why he never graduated from college?”

“Dad said he had trouble settling on a major. He was restless and confused. So he switched schools several times. Apparently he decided he wanted to get more involved with the ranch.”

Bryn groaned inwardly. It was worse than she thought. Mac clearly must have known about Jesse’s problems, but apparently he had done a bang-up job of keeping that information from his other three sons.

Did Bryn have the right to dispel the myths?

She thought of little Allen, and the answer was clear.

“Trent—” she sighed “—Jesse got kicked out of four universities for excessive drinking and drug use. Your father finally made him come home to keep an eye on him.”

The car swerved, the brakes screeched and Bryn’s seat belt cut into her chest as Trent slammed the car to a halt at the side of the road. He punched on the overhead light and turned to face her. “How dare you try to smear my brother’s memory…. You have no right.” His dark eyes flashed, and the curve of his sensual lips was tight.

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