Brighter Than the Sun Page 80

Her smile was sad and didn’t reach her eyes. “Actually, I’ve had other job offers. I was taking the summer off and spending it here at home to decide which opportunity I want to pursue. I’ve narrowed it down to two and plan to make my decision soon.”

Something in her tone and expression made Donovan hesitate to believe her, but he’d never call her on it. She’d already been given too much disrespect by her family.

“Are you sure I can’t persuade you to turn to the dark side?” he teased. “Not only would you be paid a very generous salary, but it would be a load off for me. Eve and I are talking about having a child, and with KGI already being a full-time job, the foundation would take even more time away from my family and eventually a baby.”

“I think Eve would make a great director of operations,” Rusty countered. “She knows what it’s like. She would be a great advocate for these women because she’s been where they’ve been. And if not her, what about Eden? She rarely takes modeling assignments anymore.”

Donovan was frustrated by the subdued Rusty sitting beside him. Conversing as if they were strangers. He had a sinking feeling but couldn’t put his finger on what bothered him. Maybe she just needed time to get over the hurt his brothers had inflicted when emotions had been so volatile in the wake of Zoe’s disappearance. And he didn’t know what to do and he hated that kind of helpless feeling of not knowing how to repair the damage done.

She obviously hadn’t said anything to Ma or Pop or they both would have torn a strip off all their sons’ hides. But then Rusty wasn’t malicious. She’d been greatly misunderstood all those years ago when she’d first entered their lives, but she had the biggest heart of anyone he knew.

Knowing he wouldn’t get anything else out of her, he forced a grin and reached over to ruffle her hair affectionately.

“Okay, well if you change your mind, you know where to find me. Or if you’re holding out for a bigger salary, I’m sure we can come to a mutually satisfying agreement.”

She smiled faintly and for a moment he could swear her eyes glistened with moisture, but it was gone so quickly he must have imagined it.

“Thanks, Van. If the other possibilities don’t pan out, you’ll be the first person I call.”

Again, he had the feeling she wasn’t remotely telling the truth but rather saying whatever she had to in order to get him to back off. Impulsively, he stood and pulled her to her feet and enfolded her in a huge hug.

“Love you, girl. Hope you always remember that.”

She hugged him just as fiercely for a moment and then carefully disentangled herself from his embrace. He could swear he saw relief in her features when they heard the sound of a car pulling up outside.

“That’ll be Zoe,” she said. “I’d better go help get her settled.”

Just like that he was summarily dismissed. As he watched her hurry to the door, something inside him twisted just a little tighter and he frowned, worried about what his gut was trying to tell him.

CHAPTER 28

ZOE sank into the fluffy, overstuffed reading chair in the room she shared with Rusty, which afforded her a prime view of the lake that spread out over the horizon. She wrapped the old quilt more firmly around her, one that Marlene had given her, stating that it had belonged to her mother.

Zoe had objected to the gift, asserting she had no right to a family heirloom. Marlene had merely hugged her and informed her that she was family.

An entire week had passed since the day she’d escaped certain death at the hands of a man whose purpose she never knew exactly. Other than to wrest power from her father. It was laughable that he’d actually believed, even for a minute, that her father would sacrifice anything for her, when that knowledge had been what prompted him to end the farce of his relationship with her what seemed a lifetime ago.

In many ways, it had been a lifetime. Or at least another life. One that she realized she’d never truly lived but had simply survived. She hadn’t known what it was to live, laugh and love until Rusty, Joe and their family. Especially Joe.

She closed her eyes against the sudden surge of emotion, determined not to be weak. Not to break. Somehow she had to learn to survive all over again after two decades of surviving.

The house had been eerily silent since her return. Marlene and Frank were exceedingly respectful of her privacy and her care. Zoe and Rusty still shared a room and they conversed, but Rusty was distant and wounded, her devastation as evident as Zoe’s own.

As thick as her own grief was, she wasn’t blind to Rusty’s, and each morning, she feared she would wake up to find Rusty gone.

It was as if the entire community and network in the small Tennessee county adjoining Kentucky Lake was holding its breath in trepidation. Zoe purposely sought refuge in her bedroom, rarely leaving and only doing so when Marlene became insistent enough that guilt weighed too heavily on her.

She felt . . . dirty. As if her very presence in a family like the Kellys was offensive and she sullied their name by association. Intellectually she knew how screwed up her thinking was. She knew her father’s sins were not her own. And yet she simply couldn’t get beyond the fact that she represented every single thing the Kellys risked their lives for on a daily basis to defeat. How could she ever expect to hold her head up in a family whose sole ambition was to make the world a better place? When her family was one of the very ones who polluted it?

Was it any wonder her mother had left without ever looking back? She tried to feel sympathy for a woman she held such scant memories of, but she couldn’t consider a single circumstance in which she’d ever willingly leave her child, especially in the care of someone whose level of success was measured by how intimidating and feared he was.

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