Rielle held his gaze. “Then you shouldn’t have let her go out with mine.”
Gavin’s mouth tightened, but he didn’t say a word.
Headlights shone through the window.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Their conversation had been headed toward dangerous ground and she didn’t have the mental energy to deal with it right now. She recognized the vehicle as Rory’s truck since the engine continued to sputter after it’d been shut off. A truck door slammed. Just one, not two. The porch floorboards creaked. The handle on the door moved as if the person was testing to see if it was locked.
The door opened and Sierra stepped inside.
Sierra wasn’t surprised to see her father glaring at her in the entryway. She removed her gloves and scarf, hung up her coat and kicked off her boots. She jammed her hands in the pockets of her jeans. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Why didn’t you answer your phone?” Gavin demanded.
“I left it in the car?”
“Bullshit. You’re surgically attached to the damn thing. Try again.”
“Fine. It was loud in there.”
“You knew I called you. You could’ve texted me if it was too loud.”
Sierra lifted her chin. “I didn’t answer because I was having an awesome time. Talking to you would’ve ruined it. I already knew I’d be in trouble.” Her eyes met Rielle’s. “Rory told me to tell you she had too much liquid fun tonight. I dropped her off at her cabin and put a garbage can by her bed just in case she gets sick.”
“Thank you, Sierra. I appreciate you looking out for her.” Rielle looked at Gavin. “Good night.”
She felt his angry and surprised gaze following her but she didn’t turn around. He could deal with his daughter now; she’d deal with hers in the morning.
Rielle wasn’t surprised to see Rory in the kitchen at seven a.m. making breakfast. Even as a small child, she’d been quick to anger, but she’d mend fences just as quickly. They’d never stayed mad at each other for longer than a day, but she had the niggling feeling this conversation would test that theory.
“Morning,” Rory said. “Coffee’s done.”
“Thank you.” Rielle poured a cup and sat at the breakfast bar. She eyed the bacon sizzling in the skillet and watched as her daughter expertly cracked four eggs. Then she dropped the bread into the toaster, flipped the hash browns and set out two plates.
“Want fruit too?”
“No. This is good.” Rielle sipped her coffee. “How bad’s the hangover?”
Rory shrugged. “Digesting grease and salt will give my body something to do rather than trying to expel the excess alcohol in my system.”
She laughed. “Who’d you run into last night that made you get your drink on?”
“How is he? I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“The man drives me insane. I almost got into a fistfight with him.”
“What did he say that pissed you off?”
“What didn’t he say.”
“I thought you two were friends.”
“We were. Until we weren’t.”
Rory dished up the hash browns and bacon. The toast popped up, she buttered it and sliced it before adding the eggs to the plates.
“You would’ve been an awesome short order cook.”
“Doesn’t pay as much as bartending.” She ripped off a piece of bacon. “Or a master’s degree in Ag Management.”
They dug in. Rory didn’t chatter through the meal like normal.
Once the dishes were cleared and they’d refilled their coffee, Rory spoke. “So you’re really with him.”
Rielle squeezed Rory’s forearm. “I love you. I’m here for you. I will talk to you about anything you want. Except for this.”
“Why are you being so secretive?”
“Why are you being so nosy? I’ve never grilled you about the guys you’ve dated. So what gives you the right to do that to me?”
“Because this isn’t like you, Mom. Because I’m worried about you.”
The frayed end of her patience began to unravel. “You know what? You should’ve been worried about me years ago. When as a young woman I never went on a date, never had a boyfriend—not one man passed through my door or your life during your growing-up years. I was one hundred percent devoted to being your mother. I did a damn good job raising you. But that part of my life—seeing myself as a mother first—is over. It has been for a while and I’ve needed to move on from that. Now I have.”
Rory didn’t look up from her coffee when she asked, “What does that mean?”
“It means my relationship with Gavin is not up for discussion with my daughter.”
“Yeah, I get that having me at sixteen fucked up you having a normal life.”
Rielle slammed her coffee cup on the counter. “For Christsake, Aurora, you think that’s a fair thing to say to me?”
Her pale skin colored. “Probably not. But that’s the way you make me feel sometimes.”
“When?” Rielle demanded. “When have I ever acted like you were anything but the absolute joy and light of my life? Never. And don’t let your jealousy that you might have to share my affections with someone else now distort the past.”
“So you’re saying tough shit, suck it up?”
“Pretty much. You are a twenty-four-year-old woman, Rory. Your reaction to your mother having a boyfriend is ridiculous.”
Rory was completely taken aback.
“My relationship with Gavin won’t ever affect my relationship with you. Unless you let it. Your choice.” Rielle slid from the barstool and walked out.
An hour later, she’d reached the bottom of her pile of logs to split. Even though it was still snowing, she’d gotten so hot she’d ditched her jacket and only wore a thermal shirt.
If anyone asked, she’d blame her wet face on sweat. So what if a few frustrated tears leaked past her defenses while she was working out her aggravation.
She let the blade fall before she looked at Gavin. “Yeah?”
“Is it safe to approach?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Because you’re in a bad mood and wielding an ax?”
She offered a sad smile. “Point taken.”
Gavin moved in closer. “You and Rory had words.”
“Did the little snot say something nasty to you?”
“No. But she shoveled the walkway. And swept a path to the garage and the barn.” He gestured to the pile of chopped wood. “Like mother, like daughter. Literally working off a mad.”
“More productive than drinking,” she said lightly.
Gavin framed her face in his hands. “Do you want to talk?”
“That’s the thing, Gavin. I don’t want to talk about my kid or yours.”
“Just what I was hoping to hear.” He tugged her hat off and pushed his fingers through her damp hair.
“I probably smell like sweat.”
“I don’t care.” His thumbs stroked her cheekbones. “I watched you out here. So strong and determined. You’re beautiful and it’s bizarre that seeing you whack the shit out of stuff turns me on.”
Gavin fastened his mouth to hers; the kiss was sweet and steady—like a first kiss. Maybe it was the first time he’d kissed her with such exquisite tenderness. He’d shown her passion. Playfulness. Lust. He’d flirted and teased. But this soft and slow meeting of tongues showed her another side to him and another side to herself. She accepted that he could comfort her, he could offer his support and it didn’t make her weak or needy for wanting it.
Rory watched her mom from the upstairs window. Kissing Gavin. But it was more than that. Just by their body language she saw that her mom trusted him.
Before her mother had stormed off this morning, Rory had tried to get her to recognize that she was making the same mistake she had at age sixteen, falling for the first guy who paid attention to her.
Her mother’s inexperience with men scared her. This wasn’t a casual situation with Gavin. They lived in the same house. Of course the temptation would be there, but Gavin Daniels didn’t seem like her mom’s type.
Had she ever thought about the type of man her mother would be attracted to?
No. She’d spent her life seeing her mother as…sexless. Selfless. More an earth goddess than a sex goddess.
But the way Gavin had kissed her mom—her mom!—yesterday afternoon had caused her jaw to drop. Not only the passion between them, but the familiarity. Rory realized she didn’t know that part of her mother at all.
And when she’d demanded an explanation, she hadn’t gotten one. Which again, wasn’t how her mom usually acted. She couldn’t believe her mother hadn’t told her about one of the biggest changes in her life…well, ever.
Rory knew she was being a brat. Maybe it wasn’t Gavin specifically that she had a problem with. Maybe she was bugged by the idea of her mom being with any guy—and that was stupid and childish and she didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with her. She was just so…mad.
“I’m pretty sure the fiery looks of hatred you’re sending my dad won’t start his hair on fire from up here,” Sierra said from behind her.
“You’re a fucking laugh riot a minute.”
“You’re still pissed off about this?”
“Yep.” Especially after Sierra told her she’d accidentally seen them making out weeks ago.
“Come on. Can’t you at least admit they look happy?”
Rory didn’t answer.
“Or don’t you want your mom to be happy?”
“Of course I do.”
“Doesn’t seem like it.”
“Why? Because I’m not teary-eyed that she’s making out with your dad in the clearing while snow falls around them?”