Rule's Property (The House of Rule Book 2)(8)

By: Lynda Chance



Nick had all but ignored Courtney during the time she'd attended the small college and her pride had demanded that she ignore him as well. It had been extremely difficult after his insane kiss, though she tried to manage it as well as she could. But sometimes she couldn't help feeling hurt. He'd smile at her but it felt forced. He'd look straight past her, as if she were a nuisance he had to put up with.

It had been impossible, even back then, not to realize that Nick treated her differently than the rest of the family did. But when had she begun to understand that it was because he was attracted to her and that he was trying to keep himself in check? It was undoubtedly once she'd been at college in Florida for a while; after a time, there'd been little question of his true feelings. But looking back, she realized there had been clues even before she'd left St. Louis, although she hadn't recognized them at the time. She thought back as the memories began to wash over her.





****





Academically, her two years at the community college had been a piece of cake. Luckily, making high grades had always come easily for her and during those two years, when the warm months finally arrived, Courtney found herself spending a lot of time in the backyard swimming pool. She enjoyed the subtle glow of a tan on her skin, and lying for an hour or so on a float here and there was incredibly peaceful to her.

By this time, Garrett had come home from graduate school. While looking for a place to live, he'd temporarily moved back into his old bedroom, and Courtney finally had a chance to really get to know him. The few times he'd been back for holidays hadn't been enough to even scratch the surface of his personality. Even though he was only a year or so younger than Nick, Courtney found him to be more approachable than either of his brothers. Maybe that was because he was younger than Damian, and certainly Garret had never grabbed her and kissed her as Nick had done. But because she did feel more comfortable with the youngest Rule brother, a deep camaraderie developed between them that she was only now beginning to experience with Erin.

It was as if she finally had a brother, but in a very adult kind of way, and during the three weeks he'd been settling in before assuming his full mantle of responsibility at the Rule Corporation, the two of them had become close. They'd enjoyed any number of deep, philosophical discussions. They talked about movies and television and debated the impact of digital technology on literature. They discussed world politics, religion, the scope of the universe, and whether or not any other beings were 'out there'. Garrett had shared confidences with her that she didn't think he'd even told his brothers. They laughed and they argued, but never once did Courtney feel anything for Garrett other than a deep, familial type friendship and respect . . . and never once did she feel anything other than a sibling-like relationship being returned.

That truth was underlined one day when Erin came by and all three of them spent some time together. It didn't escape Courtney's notice that Garret seemed to treat her exactly as he treated his sister. That realization didn't upset Courtney in the least; it had the opposite effect, it made her feel more grounded within the family fold. She was becoming rooted, and the knowledge enveloped her in a sense of contentment that she hadn't felt in a long time.

With Garrett seemingly unaware that she was an unrelated female, the two of them were floating in the pool one evening when the sun was just beginning to sink after she'd spent the morning helping him move the first of his boxes into his new apartment. Justine had been sitting under an umbrella chatting with them, but she'd walked into the house only minutes before to check on supper.

When his mother had walked away, Garrett had pulled Courtney's float to his so that their heads were close together. Lying on their stomachs, he anchored her float with his arms, and glanced at the house to make sure his mother was inside. Looking back to Courtney, he said, "The DNA test came back. The bitch lied."

"Oh, thank God," Courtney said as a bolt of relief shot through her.

"Yeah. She's nothing more than a c-- a whore. I fucking hate women," he swore vehemently. "Every fucking one of 'em. Out for nothing but a free ride with a rich man. Swear to God, Courtney, I'll never trust a woman again."

The fury in his voice was so deep that it worried her. It seemed as if she should hear pain in his voice, but she didn't. His tone was laced with fury. Grabbing his float on both sides as she lifted her head, she rapidly began trying to calm him down. "It's just going to take some time, you know? There are good women as well as bad ones . . . you'll find a good one."

"Don't want one. Don't fucking need one. No need to get graphic, but let's just say that I'll be way more fucking careful in the future."

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