Brighter Than the Sun

Page 26

“It sounds amazing,” she said excitedly. “Too bad it isn’t going on now. That would be fun to see.”

She couldn’t keep the wistful note from her voice and promptly shut up before she descended back into the dark sadness that had plagued her moments earlier.

“Maybe you can. You’re family now,” he said in a teasing manner. “You could come stay with Rusty the next time they have an event and I’ll take you.”

She flushed but wisely kept her mouth shut before she accepted an invitation she knew she’d be unable to take.

“It’s beautiful here,” she said as they drove into LBL. “The whole area is beautiful, I mean. You all live right on the lake, and I’ve never seen so many trees in my life.”

“City girl, huh,” he teased.

She flushed again.

“Hey, it wasn’t an insult,” he said softly.

“I never wanted to be a city girl,” she said in truth.

He cocked his head, glancing at her as they slowly traveled the road farther into the preserve. “What did you want to be, then?”

She grimaced. “It sounds stupid.”

“Try me.”

She sighed and then shrugged her shoulders, bracing herself for him to laugh at her. “I always thought living in the country would be fun. Maybe even a farm. And fishing! Do you know I’ve never fished in my life? And it looks so fun.”

“No!” he said in mock horror.

His eyes twinkled with merriment and she relaxed.

“This kind of place is exactly where I always thought it would be wonderful to live. Where people are friendly. It’s quiet. People help one another. Life moves at a slower pace. It’s so . . . peaceful.”

“Something tells me you haven’t had a lot of peace in your life,” he said in a quiet, serious tone.

God, she had to shut up. What was it about him that made her just blabber on when she knew she had to be careful of every word that came out of her mouth? Rusty had reminded her about a hundred times that she had to be on guard every single waking moment, and yet she couldn’t make it two days without messing up.

Hoping he’d buy her act, she nonchalantly lifted one shoulder. “Oh, you know how it is in a big city. Chicago is just so crazy. It’s like watching a film in fast-forward. Everyone scurrying around, always on the move, never taking the time to just stop and . . . forgive the cliché . . . smell the roses.”

“So move,” he said as if it were the simplest solution in the world. “You graduated college and have a degree. You can move anywhere you want. Why stay somewhere you’re unhappy?”

Why indeed.

“I don’t plan to,” she said with absolute honesty. “I just haven’t figured out where I want to move to yet. I have an MBA, and, well, there isn’t as big a demand for MBAs in rural areas as there is in more populated towns and cities.”

“Start your own business. Pop did that when he got out of the service. Dover isn’t exactly a metropolis but he started a hardware store and he’s managed to not only stay in business for over thirty years but turn it into a thriving enterprise.”

“That’s what you and your brothers did too, right?” she asked, curious for more information on KGI. “Rusty told me you all served in various branches of the military but formed KGI when you got out.”

Joe’s brow furrowed as he slowed to a stop, but he didn’t immediately speak. Instead he pointed. “Look. There’s a bison and her calf.”

Zoe whirled in her seat and made a sound of excitement as she saw the giant beast standing about a hundred yards away, her calf next to her, rooting to nurse.

“Oh my gosh! That’s amazing!”

She pressed her hands against the glass as if somehow that would get her closer and stared in fascination as the mama bison moved away from her calf, leading it toward the cover of the trees. Her lips turned downward and a sound of dismay sounded when both ambled off and disappeared from view.

“Don’t worry,” he reassured. “It’s actually rare to see so few at a time. They tend to move in herds, and LBL’s is pretty large. We’ll likely run into it before we get finished.”

She perked up as she turned back to him. That is until he didn’t resume driving and instead regarded her seriously, his eyes flat and his expression much less warm than it had been.

“Just what all has Rusty told you about KGI?”

Zoe’s mouth fell open. Crap. She’d probably just gotten Rusty into trouble. She knew Rusty wasn’t supposed to talk about what her brothers did, but then she hadn’t said that much! All the same, he didn’t look very happy to know his sister had been discussing him and his brothers with her.

“She didn’t tell me a lot,” Zoe said defensively. “Don’t be angry with her. She told me she couldn’t talk about it much, that none of you did. All she said was that all her brothers had served in the military and that Sam, Garrett and Donovan formed KGI when they got out of the service, and that you, Nathan and Ethan joined later. She said that you protect people and go after bad people. That was it.”

Joe quickly reached for her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Honey, it’s okay. I’m not mad at Rusty. I was more worried about what she didn’t tell you than what she did tell you.”

She looked at him in confusion. “I don’t understand.”

He sighed. “To an outsider, the things we do . . . well, let’s just say you might not think very highly of me if you knew some of the things we’ve—that I’ve—done.”

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