Gavin James put down his coffee and looked out over the Dallas skyline. From the top floor of the Black Oak Oil building, he could practically see all the way to Fort Worth. He knew the view well. The same buildings and trees, the same smog hanging over the same traffic jam this time of morning. Even the coffee was the same, just like every other morning. He rose long before the sun, nightmares chasing away any semblance of peaceful sleep. He always gave up and, after a punishing run, came in to the office. His employees thought he was dedicated, but the truth was he had nothing better to do.
His only reason for smiling anymore was the one person he must stay far, far away from. Hannah Craig.
Yeah, you did such a great job staying way far away from her, you idiot. You hired her as your admin. Way to keep the girl safe. She’s a whole twenty feet away from you eight plus hours a day. Good going, James.
The phone ringing on his desk interrupted his nasty inner monologue.
“Hey, bro, I’m going to be a little bit late.” Gavin’s brother Slade yawned as he spoke.
“What a surprise. Another late night at the club?”
Maybe Hannah wasn’t the only one who made Gavin smile. He couldn’t help the way his lips quirked up, thinking about how his brother spent his nights. Spanking women was rapidly becoming a second job for Slade—and he was good at it. Often, Gavin wondered why he didn’t go out with his brothers. Maybe not to the BDSM club they frequented, but dinner would be nice. He’d become so solitary in the last ten years since—
Nope. He refused to think about that.
Gavin forced a cheery tone to his voice. “Did Dex keep you out all night?”
“I did not keep him out,” Dex said as he strolled into the office, proving once again that he was always on time. Of course, he also was the illegitimate child who felt the need to prove he belonged. “Slade managed that all on his own. He found a pretty blonde. Surprise, surprise. When I left the club they were getting mighty cozy.”
Gavin’s brief foray into a decent mood took a nosedive. Slade would have picked a pretty blonde for one reason and one reason only—to pretend she was Hannah. Of all of Gavin’s many reasons for staying the hell away from his admin, the fact that both of his brothers were crazy about her sat at the top of his list.
Who are you fooling? That’s not why you stay away. If you don’t, you know what will happen. You know what you’d do to that girl. You already lost one. Do you really think you deserve a second chance?
Gavin took a deep breath and forced a smile. Dex already believed that he was indifferent. He didn’t want to push his half brother even further away.
Punching the button on the phone, Gavin put Slade on speaker. “Tell me you’re going to make the board meeting.”
Dex snorted and tossed his big body into one of the chairs in front of Gavin’s desk. He crossed one leg over the other, his beat-up cowboy boots poking from his tailored suit. That was Dex. Gavin could force him into a designer suit, but he was never going to lose the cowboy.
“Of course I’m going to make the meeting,” Slade said with a long-suffering sigh. “I’m not late because I partied too hard. I just talked to the blonde. Mostly. Candy? Sandy? I don’t remember. She was nice, but she wasn’t…”
Hannah. Gavin watched Dex’s mouth turn down. He was obviously thinking the same thing.
Slade continued. “It doesn’t matter. Listen, I got a call about the Alaska site. We’ve had a little trouble there. Something’s gone wrong with the infrastructure. I’m going to have to head up there for a few days. I spent the morning calling around to make sure the house is ready for me after the board disperses.”
Gavin arched a brow at Dex, who waved him off. “It’s an engineering problem, not security. I already talked to Mike in River Run. He said it’s been really quiet there. The worst they’ve had is some kids deciding the base office needs new graffiti on the side. They have computer problems, too, but the IT guy is on it. The situation Slade is talking about just needs a little follow-up and supervision.”
Well, at least security was one thing he didn’t worry about. Since Dex had taken it over for Black Oak Oil, that function had been running smoothly.
Gavin grabbed the stack of mail he’d taken from Hannah’s desk, waiting for her arrival in thirty-four minutes. God, he was an idiot. He knew the exact time she would walk in the door, and he waited on her like a dog waiting for a promised treat. Anxiously, he sorted through the mail. It was too early to expect anyone else to be in for meetings, and he had nothing else to do. She was far too efficient. He’d hired her straight off the bus from some no-name West Texas town, never imagining how quickly she would become essential. Sometimes, Gavin even found himself twiddling his damn thumbs because Hannah ran his workload so efficiently.
There was a slight pause on Slade’s end of the line, and then his brother sounded almost reluctant. “Gavin, Dex and I want to talk to you about something. Do you think we could schedule lunch after the meeting?”
The mail was all crap. He could throw most of it away. He came to a large envelope that looked more interesting. Maybe it contained something other than an offer to halve his budget for bulk paper. Gavin sliced his letter opener neatly through the material as suspicion about this luncheon crept into his mind. “About what? Business?”
Dex shifted in his chair. “Not exactly.”
Fuck. He didn’t want to do this with them. “Is this about Hannah?”
Why had he even asked? He knew. His brothers had been sniffing around her since the day Gavin had reluctantly hired her almost a year ago. Somehow, they’d zeroed in on the fact that he wanted her, as well.
“What we want isn’t going to change, Gavin,” Dex said, his mouth a stubborn, flat line. “No matter how much you want it to.”
“She’s an adult.” Slade’s voice was cajoling where Dex went straight to the fight. “She’s smart and capable of making her own decisions. She’ll be fine.”
“She’s what? Twenty-two or something.” Practically a child. At least he kept telling himself that.
Dex leaned forward as if ready to fight if need be. “Gavin, you were running this company at twenty-two, don’t forget. Besides, Hannah is twenty-five.”
A chill raced across Gavin’s skin, and suddenly the room seemed way too small. Hannah was twenty-five. They had just celebrated her birthday not a month before. He’d brought in a cake, and Dex and Slade had thrown her a party. Gavin remembered the jealousy he’d felt as his brothers had led her out of the office. He’d wanted to be there beside her, too, celebrating with Hannah. Holding her.
“If you’re being at all honest with yourself, Gavin, you want what we want. Hannah is not Nikki, and you’re not the same person you were then. You have to let it go and live again,” Slade said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. We’ll talk more then.”
“Regardless of her actual age, she’s naïve. She’s not ready to take on multiple men or play your games.” Gavin was pleased with how stable his voice sounded when all he could see in his mind’s eye was Nikki’s body laid out on the impersonal slab at the morgue.
Lately in his dreams, Nikki’s body turned into Hannah’s. The image seared itself in his head. He managed to breathe, barely. He had to focus or he would lose it. And he needed to find another job for Hannah. If he kept her this close… No, he just couldn’t.
“Damn it, Gavin,” Slade growled. “When it comes to Hannah, these aren’t games, and we’re not playing.”
Gavin’s heart stuttered. “Give the girl time to grow up.”
He upended the large envelope in his hand and let the contents drift to his desk, hoping Dex didn’t notice his shaking hands.
“Don’t act like it’s all just Slade and me. You’re not fooling anyone,” Dex said. For once, the big cowboy almost looked reluctant to speak. “I see how you look at her. You want her. You care. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Hell, if there’s one thing both Slade and I understand, it’s how a man can be crazy about Hannah.”
Slade’s voice came over the speaker. “Dex and I have given this a lot of thought. We think it’s time, and all of us need to be on board.”
“Exactly.” Dex leaned forward. “We have a plan.”
“What the fuck?” Anything else they were about to say got lost as Gavin saw what spilled out of the envelope. Photographs of Hannah. He frowned. Ten pictures, all of them of her gorgeous body wearing lovely, lacy creations in soft colors that showcased her plump breasts and gorgeous ass. In one, a shot of her backside, she wore nothing at all. Gavin’s breath fled, and his cock stiffened at the sight.
Dex stood, peering down at the pictures on the desk. “What’s that?”
Gavin had a sudden desire to hide the provocative images. Instead, he glared. At times, Dex had been known to think way outside the box when he solved a problem. Dex had said he a plan. Was taking these pictures a part of it? Or Dex’s immature way of reeling him into their twisted little arrangement?
“Do you want to explain this?” He shoved the least seductive image in Dex’s face.
“That’s Hannah. What the hell?” Dex grabbed the picture.
“What’s going on?” Slade asked, his voice rising in alarm over the phone. “What do you mean by ‘that’s Hannah?’”
Dex stared at Gavin, his face taking on that same blank expression he’d had for the first two years after Gavin and Slade had found him in a foster home. Dex had been the child their father hadn’t planned on or wanted. It had been pure chance that Gavin and Slade even discovered that Dex existed. “You think I would do this?”
His half brother’s indignant tone registered in Gavin’s head, but rage rode him hard. “Do you know what Hannah could do to you if she found out about this? She could call in the cops, and I would let her. And your sick ploy won’t work. You might be able to pull Slade into your perversions, but don’t think you can do the same with me.”
“Goddamn it, Gavin. Why would you say that?” Slade slammed a door, and Gavin knew that his brother was on his way.
Dex practically radiated fury. He was a huge bull of a man, and Gavin thought they were about to have the throw down he’d always suspected was coming. Dex loomed over Gavin, his fists clenched and ready, but then he shut down. Dex’s shoulders relaxed, and his face became a mask of bland politeness. “Listen up, Gavin. The only reason I am not walking out the door right this second is that I want Hannah safe. After I figure out who’s stalking her and make sure he can’t do it again, I’m leaving. You won’t have to deal with this perverse bastard ever again. But next time your rich-boy conscience takes over, don’t you dare come looking for me.”
Gavin looked at the pictures again and realized he’d made several terrible errors. He’d been so concerned about the photos that he hadn’t taken time to really look at the envelope. It hadn’t been addressed to him, but to Hannah herself. There was no stamp on the front. Some bastard had walked right into her office, stood at her desk, and made sure she would receive his “gift”.
Dex flipped over one of the photographs and slapped it on Gavin’s desk with a resounding thud.
The menacing words had been written in blood-red marker, the color a stark contrast to the white of the photo paper.
“This is not some prank I cooked up to trick you into joining us. You’re really accusing me of becoming a stalker and trying to terrify the woman I love? And yes, I love Hannah. I won’t not say it because you’re too much of a pussy to handle it. I’m going to figure out what’s going on, and when I leave, I intend to take her with me. And you, big brother, can go to hell for all I care.” Dex turned on his boots and strode out the door.
Gavin tried to stop the queasy feeling in his stomach as everything Dex had said sank in.
“What the hell did you do, Gavin?” Slade asked, his voice barely audible over the sounds of traffic.
Gavin bit back the urge to put his head in his hands. He’d utterly mishandled everything. But that was the story of his whole fucking life. “Get your ass up here now, Slade.”
He hung up the phone and couldn’t help but stare at the pictures in front of him. Hannah was in her bedroom, and the pictures were obviously taken from a distance. They had a grainy quality. In most, Hannah was reading or watching television in her tiny bedroom. She wore a nightgown in two of the pictures, but the majority featured her in a lacy bra and barely-there panties. So fucking gorgeous. She hid that body under nearly shapeless clothes and always kept her hair in a ponytail. In the pictures, her rich honey hair flowed down her shoulders in loose
He loved the one where she leaned back on the bed, the phone in her hand and a smile on her face, like she was laughing. Her green eyes were bright, and that smile could light up the whole fucking world. The clock by her bed read ten o’clock. Gavin remembered calling Hannah at just around that time a few nights before. He’d lost an important phone number. She’d teased him about his organizational skills.
This was how she looked when she talked to him? Half-dressed, plump lips welcoming? Fuck, he’d explode next time he had to call her at home.
Gavin flipped the photo over.
Don’t let those perverted brothers touch you. You’re mine.
Gavin shoved the photo aside and surged to his feet. Hannah was in danger, and he’d been getting a hard-on looking at evidence. What kind of man was he?
You know, that voice said. You know exactly what kind of man you are, asshole.
He was a man who had just shoved his half brother aside in one of the cruelest ways possible. He shoved everyone away. Now, he was going to lose everything if he didn’t get his shit straight.
Not this time. By damned, he was going to make things right.
Gavin paced as he waited for Slade, a plan already forming.