Rule's Property (The House of Rule Book 2)(11)

By: Lynda Chance


"Goddamnit, Nick. Florida is her home. You can act like she's your little sister all you want but that still doesn't give you the right--"

"She's not my fucking sister." The sudden venom in Nick's voice made Courtney reel back. She continued to listen in frozen shock as he continued, "She's an innocent girl and you don't seem to have a problem with throwing her into the deep-end. All I'm trying to do is protect her."

There was a sudden silence and in her imagination, Courtney saw the two men standing off and staring at each other.

"I need a drink," Damian said, a few seconds before Courtney heard footsteps. Quickly, she stood to her full height, away from the wall, bracing herself, her heart hammering in her chest. The study door was pushed open and Damian's steps faltered when he saw her loitering in the hallway. He walked up to her and looked her over, his face set in lines of tension. "You heard?"

She nodded her head while she tried to get her vocal chords to function. "Some of it," she finally answered.

Damian gave her a look of commiseration. "Don't worry about Nick. I'll get him to agree eventually," he reassured. "We've got you covered on your expenses, okay?"

She shifted uncomfortably but tried to smile. "Thanks. I'll pay you back," she answered earnestly.

Damian gave her a penetrating look and then a half-smile. "No, you won't and don't even think about it. We look after our own and you're one of us now." Courtney felt a warm glow even as she realized that those were the most words that Damian had ever spoken to her at one time. He shook his head as if to clear it and said, "I'm going to leave him to stew a bit while I fix a drink. You want something?"

"No, thanks. I think I'm going to try to calm him down." She motioned toward the study with a tilt of her head.

Damian looked taken aback. "Be careful. He's not happy about this. I don't know why he thinks your future is his prerogative to decide, but by all evidence, he does."

Courtney gave him a shaky smile. "Thanks for the warning."

Damian walked away and taking a deep breath, Courtney went into the study and closed the door behind her. She leaned against it and waited for Nick to notice her.

He faced the window, staring out, and the muscles in his broad shoulders visibly tensed as if anticipating another confrontation with his brother. As he slowly began to turn away from the window, he braced his legs apart as if ready for attack. "You're not changing my mind." His jaw was clenched and his voice dripped with intimidating determination, "There is no goddamn way she's--"

His words cut off abruptly when he saw her standing against the door. Their glances connected and she felt the same warmth cascade through her bloodstream that she felt every time she saw him. As he became aware of her presence, it was as if a metamorphosis occurred within him; his aggressive stance relaxed as the anger slowly receded from his body and his features softened.

They stood across the room and studied each other in silence. Courtney was the first to speak and she did so tentatively, "You don't want me to go away to school?"

He let out a long sigh and said very gently, "I didn't say that. I was talking about Florida."

"I don't understand," she said.

"How much did you hear?" he asked with a frown.

"A lot. I probably shouldn't have listened, but I did." His eyes grew stormy at her answer and she asked, "You don't want me to be happy?"

His lips twisted and his shoulders sagged. "The only thing I want is for you to be happy."

Watching him imploringly, she said, "I want to go to Florida, Nick. Please let me go."

His body jerked as if he'd taken a hit. "Sweetheart, you're so young." He shook his head slowly as if actually debating it but knowing it wasn't a good idea. "You've been too sheltered."

She shook her head, disagreeing with him about being too young, but unable to speak.

"You don't think you've been sheltered?" he asked.

Oh yes, she knew she'd been sheltered. If she hadn't been, she wouldn't be standing here now, imagining herself in love with him, while he only saw her as a burden, albeit one that he worried about. But she couldn't tell him those things. "I'll be okay. I'm smart, you know I am," she argued her case softly, somehow knowing that she had to make her tone of voice exactly right with him. "I'll make good choices and stay out of trouble. You won't have to worry about me."

As he listened to her, he remained silent, but his expression looked as if her words were paining him.

"Please, Nick. I'll study, I'll make good grades, and I'll . . . I'll pay you back."

His eyes narrowed. "This isn't about the money. It has nothing to do with the money."

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