Colters Daughter, Page 2Maya Banks
Pain—and regret—weighed heavy on his heart. The idea that he’d forego a promise made to the man who’d raised him as his own, that he’d lay aside the request of his dying mother. Her whispered apology that she hadn’t held on to the legacy that should belong to him and his sister and to their children.
He considered himself an honorable man. A man who put his family above all else. But what he’d done—what he’d considered doing—to Callie wasn’t honorable. Never mind that he hadn’t—couldn’t—go through with it.
Breaking his word was also not honorable, but from the moment he’d laid eyes on Callie, held her in his arms, taken what she’d so sweetly offered, he’d known. He’d known that he couldn’t have her and his honor when it came to his family.
He’d chosen Callie.
He’d always choose Callie.
He just had to convince her of that fact without her ever knowing the true reason for their chance meeting in Europe. It would only hurt her, and Max would do anything in the world to never hurt her again as he’d done by leaving. Even though his reasons were solid and he’d had much to consider in the time they were apart.
She thought he hadn’t loved her enough.
The truth was he loved her too damn much.
Callie woke with a sore back and a grumpy disposition. She hated sleeping on the couch. Which was kind of funny when she thought of some of the places she’d slept when she traveled. She’d slept in train stations, hostels with creaky cots, and she’d done plenty of camping. But a couch? She’d rather sleep on the ground. She stumbled out of Dillon’s office, checked her watch and decided it wasn’t too early to head to Lily’s.
What she really needed was a place of her own. Not that she minded staying with her folks. She loved them to pieces and her fathers doted on her shamelessly. She split her time between her parents’ and Lily and her brothers’ house, but they really couldn’t accommodate her long-term. Not until the renovations were completed. And by then she hoped to be closer to her own dream.
She’d promised herself, though, that she’d save every penny she earned to build her dream house in Callie’s Meadow, the piece of land she was born on. Land that had been gifted to her by her parents.
She traveled a lot. She’d always been a restless spirit, but she traveled very economically, and she always knew that one day she’d settle here on the mountain, surrounded by her family.
In the meantime, she built her savings and dreamed of the house she’d build in her meadow.
It was a toss-up as to whether she wanted to drive up to her parents’ to grab a shower and make herself more presentable before going over to Dillon’s to see Lily or just show up at her brothers’ and risk them giving her the third degree.
At least there she had Lily to side with her, and dealing with her overprotective big brothers was a lot better than a worried mama. Holly Colter was like a lioness when it came to her children. No matter how grown up they were, they were still her cubs and she treated them accordingly.
Callie smiled as she thought of her mom. Sometimes there was nothing sweeter than a mother’s hug. It really did make everything better.
She’d go up later to visit her mom and say hello to her dads. But for now she’d head over to see Lily, grab a shower there and do some venting.
Lily was one of the sweetest people Callie knew. She just had this way of looking at you that made you feel like everything would be okay. And she’d been through hell on earth. Callie respected that. She’d know exactly where Callie was coming from and she’d listen. Right now Callie really needed someone to listen.
She hopped into her mini-SUV, the same one she’d driven since getting her driver’s license, and pulled away from the bar. The dads made noises about getting her a new truck. They didn’t like the fact that she drove such an old vehicle. But it ran great and the body was in excellent condition. There was no need for a new one. She couldn’t afford one, and she didn’t want her parents footing the bill even though they could well afford it.
She’d paid her own way since striking out on her own. That wasn’t going to change.
She knew her parents were disappointed that she hadn’t followed in her brothers’ footsteps and gone to college, but she’d always known university wasn’t for her. She was simply too rebellious and too restless to ever survive four years in school. High school had been bad enough.
She was smart, and she wasn’t afraid of hard work. All she really needed was her house on her land. As soon as she had the money for that, she could continue traveling and picking up jobs here and there, and she’d always have her refuge to come back to.
If Dillon couldn’t give her enough work, she could always help Michael out in his veterinary practice. It was growing in leaps and bounds, and he’d be even busier when the only other vet in town retired next year.
It seemed everyone in her family was settled but Callie.
Seth was finally home where he belonged after working as a Denver police officer. After he’d met Lily, he’d moved back to Clyde and taken the position of sheriff from Lacey England who’d retired because of her husband’s ill health.
Callie had been on her way to healing. She’d licked her wounds for far too long as it was. She had finally achieved a modicum of peace. And now Max had shown up and taken it all away.
Damn the man.
She pulled into the drive of Dillon’s cabin and parked between the multitudes of trucks. She didn’t even try to straighten her appearance. She knew she looked like she was hungover but there was little she could do about it at this point.
She trudged up the steps and knocked. A few moments later, Dillon opened the door and stared at her with that big-brother look that always made her squirm.
“Rough night at the bar?”
She pushed by him. “Yeah, something like that. Is Lily here?”
“She’s painting,” Dillon said. “But you can go in. She’s always glad to see you. ”
Callie smiled at that. The feeling was entirely mutual. Lily was just…special. She started to walk away but Dillon called after her.
“Are you going to tell me what went on at the bar?”
“I didn’t throw anyone through the window. I didn’t break anything and I didn’t have to call Seth. So there’s nothing you need to worry about. ”
“So says you. ”
She ignored him and went back to the office that Dillon had converted into an art room for Lily. She knocked and then stuck her head inside to see Lily staring at her canvas, her bottom lip caught between her teeth in determined concentration.
“Can I come in?”
Lily glanced up and a wide smile broke over her face. “Callie! Of course you can. It’s wonderful to see you. ” Then she frowned. “What on earth happened to you?”
Callie smiled wryly. “Can I borrow your shower and maybe a change of clothes? I didn’t feel like going all the way up to Mom’s. I spent the night in Dillon’s office and I look and feel like crap. ”
Concern crinkled Lily’s forehead. “Of course you can. Take whatever you’d like out of my closet. ”
“Thanks. I’ll be back in a few minutes. ”
Callie headed into the bedroom where Lily kept her clothes and found her brother Michael sprawled across the bed reading a book.
“Hey kiddo,” Michael said as he looked over his book. “What are you doing?”
“Lily said I could borrow some clothes and use the shower. ”
He frowned and studied her for a minute. “Not that I ever mind you coming over here, but why on earth do you look like you slept in those clothes?”
“Because I did? I crashed in Dillon’s office last night. Was late closing up. Didn’t feel like driving home. ”
“You should have carried your ass over here,” he growled. “There’s no reason for you to have slept in the bar. What if someone broke in and tried to rob the place, for God’s sake?”
/> She rolled her eyes and headed into the bathroom, shutting the door before he could really get wound up. She loved her brothers dearly, and she’d always been especially close to Seth, but there were just some things she couldn’t talk to them about. Max being one of them because they’d want to go kick his ass, and if they knew he was here, there’d be no holding them back.
She didn’t spend long in the shower, just long enough to wash her hair and remove the grimy feel from her skin. Alcohol and cigarette smoke did that to you.
After dressing in a pair of sweats—because Lily was too tiny for Callie to fit into her jeans—and one of Seth’s T-shirts, she wrapped a towel around her head and went back into the bedroom, relieved that Michael was no longer there. Of course he’d probably gone to find Dillon and Seth so they could gang up on her later.
She slipped down the hall and into Lily’s office and shut the door. Lily looked up. “Feel better?”
“Ten times,” Callie said. “Thanks. ”
Callie walked over and sat down on the floor in front of where Lily was painting and put her palms back to brace herself. “What are you working on?”
Lily frowned and made a sound of exasperation. “I wish I knew. It feels like a big blob of nothing. I’m not sure what the hell I was thinking. ”
“I’m sure it’s beautiful. ”
Lily smiled. “You’re so sweet to me and so good for my ego. Between you and the guys, I’ll be convinced that I’m the next Picasso. ”
Callie leaned further back until she was flat on the floor. Then she put her hands behind her head and stared up at the ceiling. “Can I ask you something, Lily?”
She heard Lily put her paintbrush aside.
“Of course. ”
“When you went to see Charles…did it feel good to tell him off? Or did it make you feel worse?”
Callie glanced over to see Lily’s startled look. Charles was Lily’s ex-husband and a complete bastard. He’d placed the blame on Lily for the loss of their daughter, and Callie had never been more proud of Lily than when she went to confront him and tell him how wrong he’d been.
Lily’s brows drew together and she pursed her lips in thought. “I don’t really know, to be honest. It was such an emotional day for me. I remember feeling betrayed when I saw he had a new wife and new children. I was angry. But by the time it was over, I was just sad. I suppose I was more relieved than anything. Why do you ask?”
Callie closed her eyes. She wasn’t sure how she felt after telling Max what she thought of him. The problem was, Lily wasn’t in love with Charles—she hadn’t been for years. Callie couldn’t say the same about Max. Oh, she wanted to hate him. She did in some ways. But his betrayal still cut deep. It was still fresh. In some ways, it was just yesterday.
“Callie?” Lily softly prompted.
Callie sighed. “Remember I told you I fell hard for someone and that he dumped me after taking what he wanted?”
Lily scowled. “Yes, I remember. ”
“I met him when I was in Europe. His name was Max. He was… He was perfect. Or so I thought. He was handsome. Confident. Arrogant. He was strong and so dominant he made me shiver just being in the same room with him. ”
Lily quietly got up and sat on the floor beside Callie. She lay down so they were side by side and reached over to take Callie’s hand.
“I fell so fast. He seemed so into me, so in tune with my needs. I gave him complete control in the bedroom,” she said quietly. “I felt so cherished. He took such good care of me. He told me he wanted us to be together. I thought he was the one. I mean, I almost called Mom to tell her I had met the man I was going to marry. I know that sounds horribly naive now. I cringe when I think of how stupid and foolish I was. ”
Lily squeezed her hand. “Don’t. Don’t be ashamed because you gave him your heart. ”
Callie squeezed back, her chest tightening at the comfort Lily gave without even realizing it. “We spent three wonderful weeks together. It was all such a blur. Italy, Greece, we explored so much. We spent every moment together and every night in his bed. It was like a fairy tale. I’ve never been happier.
“Then one day he said he’d gotten a phone call and he had to go back to the U. S. for an emergency. He didn’t give me details. He was in such a hurry to leave, but before he did, he told me to wait. That he’d be back in a few days, a week at the most. He’d come back and then we’d be together. He wanted me to enjoy the rest of my vacation.
“He never came back. ”
Lily gripped Callie’s hand tighter. “I hate him. ”
Callie laughed even as the sting of tears made her nose draw up. “You don’t hate anyone, Lily. Not even Charles, and if there was ever a reason to hate someone, he would be it. ”
Lily sniffed. “I do so hate Max. He’s a bastard for hurting you. I think we should tell the guys so they can go beat him up. Seth could find him for you. ”