Zane(3)

By: Brenda Jackson


  “Channing. I heard you were in town, so I thought I would come by and welcome you back.”

  Channing leaned against the podium she’d stood behind earlier. There were any number of plausible reasons for Zane to show up at the hospital’s lecture hall, but for the life of her, she couldn’t think of a valid one. He claimed he wanted to welcome her back to town, but just last month, when she’d seen him at Megan’s wedding, he had refused to say a single word to her.

  “Thanks, Zane.” She could mention that she was only in town for three to six weeks but decided it wasn’t any of his business. Two years ago she had left Denver to move on, and she had.

  “So, you’re still engaged I see,” he said when she moved to the desk to place a stack of handouts in her briefcase.

  She fought back a scowl. “Is there any reason why I wouldn’t be?”

  “I guess not.”

  “And what about you?” Channing asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “I take it you’re still eluding serious commitments?”

  She noticed the muscle that flicked in his jaw. “If you’re asking if I’m still single, with no thoughts of settling down, then the answer is yes. That won’t ever change.” And without missing a beat, he asked, “Did Mark come with you?”

  She frowned. Why was he all up in her business? “My fiancé’s name is Mack, and no, he’s still in Atlanta.”

  “He’s a banker, right?”

  Channing clicked her briefcase closed, wondering why Zane felt it necessary to go over information he already knew. Although he had avoided both her and Mack at the wedding, Megan had said Zane had questioned her at the wedding reception.

  “Yes, Mack’s a banker.” There was no need to tell him the Hammond family owned several banks that were spread across Georgia, Tennessee and Florida.

  She turned to Zane and tried to ignore how totally, utterly male he looked. She felt a deep fluttering in her stomach when her eyes connected to his. He had soft bedroom eyes, eyes that could educate a woman as to what true desire was all about. She, of all people, should know. Yes, some things in her life had changed, but it seemed the charge she got out of seeing Zane Westmoreland hadn’t. Why was her body betraying her this way?

  “Well, that’s it for the day. It was good seeing you again, Zane.”

  “Same here. I figured sooner or later I’d run into you at one of those Westmoreland family dinners. I thought we should clear the air now so neither of us would feel uncomfortable.”

  So that’s what this little visit was about? Channing thought. “I’m sorry you wasted your time coming here just for that. I thanked Megan for the invite yesterday but told her it would be best if I didn’t attend any of your family functions.”

  “Why? Are you saying the only reason you got to know my family was because of me?”

  “No, if you’ll recall, I knew Megan and your sisters long before I met you. However, considering our history, I thought distance was best.”

  Zane stared at her. “I don’t understand why you would think that now when you had no problem attending Megan’s wedding and bringing ‘Roving Eyes’ with you.”

  Channing’s frown deepened. “First of all, Megan is a good friend of mine, and I saw nothing wrong with being there to share in her happiness. And, for the second time, my fiancé’s name is Mack.”

  Zane leaned back against a table and kept his gaze fixed on hers. “Didn’t it bother you that Mack was checking out other women with you right by his side? And don’t say you weren’t aware of it, because you’re too astute not to have been.”

  She shrugged. “All men check out other women. Big deal. Are you saying you never looked twice at another woman while we were together?”

  He sputtered out a harsh laugh. “Hell, yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I might be an ass when it comes to some things, Channing, but I would never have disrespected you that way. While we were together, I never once looked at another woman. You were everything I needed.”

  The next words were out of her mouth before she could call them back. “Evidently not, Zane. Had I been everything you needed then I wouldn’t be engaged to marry another man.”

  She saw the anger that flared in his eyes and knew she’d made a direct hit. She might have been everything he needed in the bedroom, but she hadn’t been in all the ways that mattered.

  “Goodbye, Zane.” She walked around him as she headed for the door.

  * * *

  A few days later, Zane stood on the porch of his cousin Dillon’s home. It was Friday night chow-down, when all the Westmorelands in Denver got together. The women cooked, and the men came hungry. Although they all lived in what was considered Westmoreland Country, they didn’t get to see each other every day. The chow-down was a way to bring everyone up to date on what was happening with each family member.

  Seldom was anyone outside of family invited, but Zane hadn’t thought twice about making Channing a regular during the nine months they’d dated. His family liked her, and she’d gotten along with everyone—especially the womenfolk. After a while, they’d begun to consider her one of them. That was when his troubles began.

  Channing had gotten ideas about them sharing a future. Somewhere along the way, she’d figured he had fallen in love and was rethinking his position on marriage. She’d found out the hard way that Zane Westmoreland didn’t change easily.

  “You’ve been pretty quiet all evening.”

  Zane glanced over his shoulder as his brother Ramsey stepped outside to join him. After dinner, the women retired to the family room to watch a chick flick, and, like usual after such a delicious meal, the men gathered in the game room for drinks and poker. But Zane hadn’t been in the mood. He had come out to get a breath of fresh air.

  “I’ve had a rough week with the horses,” he said, knowing that was only part of the reason for his mood. “Sugar Plum had to be transported to Casey, Visa Girl got loose and ran wild for a few hours, and Born Free had a difficult delivery.”

  Ramsey chuckled as he came to stand beside Zane. “That’s all?”

  “Isn’t that enough?”

  Ramsey didn’t say anything for a minute and then, “Not for Zane Westmoreland, who thrives on challenges and difficulties. Why don’t you tell me the real reason for your surly mood?”

  Zane didn’t say anything for a long moment. “Channing’s back in town.”

  “So I heard.”

  Zane flashed an accusing gaze at his brother. “And you didn’t tell me, either?”

  “I only heard she was back this morning. Chloe mentioned it over breakfast. I understand she was invited to dinner tonight but declined.”

  “Nobody told me she was back. I should have been prepared,” Zane muttered.

  Ramsey lifted a brow. “Prepared? Why? You saw her last month at Megan’s wedding.”

  “That was then. This is now.”

  “What makes ‘now’ different, Zane?” Ramsey asked. “I assumed you’d pretty much made up your mind two years ago when you let her go. You said you didn’t want Channing in your life.”

  “That’s not true,” Zane snapped.

  Ramsey lifted a brow, not anticipating such a strong response. “Then what is true?”

  Zane paused and then said, “She wanted more than I could give.”

  Ramsey frowned. “Did she want more than you could give, or was it that you refused to give her more?”

  Zane heaved out a deep, frustrated breath. “Channing knew the score, Ram. Love is not in my vocabulary. She knew that and accepted my terms. Then, months later, she tried changing the game, but there was no way I was going along with it.”

  “So, in other words, you wanted her as your lover but had no intention of ever allowing her to be more than that. You would have been satisfied to keep a casual arrangement for another two, three, possibly four years? Forever? Damn it, Zane, how would you feel if Rico would have wanted that kind of relationship with Megan, or Callum with Gemma? Yet you had no problem wanting one with Channing.”

  “I don’t love her like Rico loves Megan and Callum loves Gemma,” Zane said, narrowing his eyes. “And I wasn’t going to lie to her and say I did.”

  Ramsey shook his head. “Then I don’t blame Channing for leaving. You let her know she was nothing more than another notch on your bedpost.”

  “She accepted my terms like all my other lovers,” Zane snapped. “She knew the score. We couldn’t have the kind of future she wanted because I didn’t love her.”

  “If you really didn’t have feelings for her, you wouldn’t have moped around for months after she left, and you wouldn’t be all tied up in knots about her being in Denver now,” Ramsey muttered. He shook his head and added, “Well, it doesn’t matter now since she’s engaged.”

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