Brighter Than the Sun Page 79

She pulled away and patted him on the cheek. “You know I will, and I’ll update you often. I give it a day or two at most. I’ll smother her with so much love and acceptance that she’ll forget all this nonsense about not being good enough for this family. She’s just what this family—and you—needs.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” he said gruffly.

“Now listen, son. I know you want to see her—you need to see her. I get that. But she’s not in a good place right now. I think you should go so I can bring her home. She’s horrified over the thought of you seeing her right now. You’ll only make it more traumatic for her if you stay.”

Tears burned the edges of his eyelids. He wanted to do more than just see her. He wanted to cradle her in his arms and never let go, but he didn’t want to put her under any further stress. His shoulders sagged and he knew the bleakness he felt was reflected in every part of his body.

“I’ll go, Ma. But can you please just call me and let me know how she’s doing and when or if she’ll agree to see me?”

Tears shone in his mother’s eyes as well. “Of course, baby. Now go get some rest if you can. I hate to see you in so much pain. I’ll cover her up with love until you get the honor of doing so yourself.”

He hugged her again. “Thank you.”

“Go now so I can get her home so she can rest. She has to be in terrible pain.”

He didn’t think it was possible to feel more tortured than he already did. Slowly, feeling a hundred years old, he turned and trudged toward the door. Donovan followed him out.

“Come on. I’ll give you a ride,” Donovan said quietly. “I’ve got an errand I need to run anyway.”

Joe sent him a questioning look as they walked out to Donovan’s SUV. “I figured you’d be in a hurry to get back to Eve and Cammie.”

“I need to go talk to Rusty first,” Donovan said grimly. “I owe her an apology.”

Joe’s heart ached a little more because he and Zoe weren’t the only two people suffering.

“Give her my love, will you?” Joe asked softly.

“Will do. Now let’s get you home so you can get some sleep. You look like hell.”

“I feel like hell.”

• • •

DONOVAN pulled up to his parents’ house and got out, heading to the door. Rusty’s Jeep was there so he didn’t bother knocking. He wasn’t sure how well a visit from any of his brothers would be received at the moment. Rusty had every right to be pissed. And feel betrayed.

He let himself in, noting the silence within. His dad would have ridden over with his mom to get Zoe, and after a quick check of the downstairs, he knew Rusty must be upstairs in her bedroom. Not wanting to barge in and invade her privacy, he instead stood at the foot of the staircase and called up to her.

“Rusty?”

There was prolonged silence, and just as he was about to call her name again, she appeared at the top, her expression inscrutable.

“Donovan? What are you doing here?”

“Can we talk?” he asked.

She hesitated but then slowly descended the stairs, and it was then he could see the grief dulling her usually vibrant, mischievous eyes.

“What’s up?” she asked nonchalantly when she reached the bottom.

“Come into the living room and let’s sit,” he said, cupping her elbow in a gentle grasp.

“Is Zoe all right?” she asked anxiously.

“She’s fine, honey. Or at least she’s doing as well as can be expected. Ma is bringing her over shortly.”

She shot him a confused look. “What do you want to talk about then?”

“Have a seat,” he said, motioning toward the couch and taking the space next to her. “I owe you an apology, honey. I—we—were way out of line, and we had no right to say the things we said to you.”

She shrugged. “I deserved it. I lied to all of you.”

“No,” he said emphatically. “You did the right thing. You were a good friend and you saved Zoe’s life. Hell, I was flabbergasted at all you managed to pull off. You even fooled me, and my ego took one hell of a beating. You’re a genius. I never suspected a thing when I did a background check on her. You impressed the hell out of me, Rusty. I always knew you were brilliant. I just didn’t realize the extent of your tech skills.”

She stared down at her hands, not responding to his compliment.

“I’m sorry for what happened, Rusty. I’m not going to offer excuses. It never should have happened. You’re family, and that’s not how family should be treated. But offering you an apology isn’t the only reason I came to see you, though it’s the primary one. I want to offer you a job.”

Her head came up at that and her forehead furrowed in confusion. “What?”

“You know about the foundation and that the wives help out to the best of their ability, but the technical aspects are handled by me. New identities, documents, birth certificates, basically everything you did for Zoe, only you did a far more superior job than I ever pulled off. I want you to take over and manage the foundation. The wives would still help, but you’d head everything up and take over the technical aspects. And don’t think this is a pity offer or an apology of sorts. The foundation is my baby and I take it very seriously. If I didn’t know for sure you could do the job and do it well, I wouldn’t ask you to take it over.”

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