“Travis Wilde,” she said, “you owe me, big-time.”
“Well, that answers your question,” Caleb Wilde said as he joined them. “You suspect she’s not having a good time because she isn’t. Right, Addison?”
“Considering that I’ve spent the last months turning down invitations from the country club, the ranchers’ association, the ladies’ sewing league—”
“Not the sewing league,” Travis said in shocked tones.
“The sewing league,” Addison said, and when she saw the brothers’ mouths twitch, she relented, if only a little. “You said he would be here by eight.”
“Jacob.” Caleb cleared his throat. “That’s what we figured.”
“It’s almost eight-thirty. And there’s still no sign of the mystery man.”
“Jake’s not a mystery man,” Travis said quickly. “And he’ll be here. Just be patient.”
Addison made a face. The last few months, her patience had been in increasingly short supply.
“You need an expert to take a long, hard look at the Chambers place, figure out if it makes sense to fix it up before you put it on the market or not. In today’s economic climate—”
Addison held up her hand.
“I’ve heard this speech before.”
“It’s still valid. Jake’s recommendations could make hundreds of thousands of dollars’ difference to you.”
She could hardly scoff at that. Those Manhattan mortgage payments, the tuition loans …
Besides, the ranch had meant something to Charlie and he’d left it to her. That was a kind of obligation. She had to do the right thing with it, if only out of respect for his memory.
“Ten minutes. He’ll be here by then,” Caleb said. “Okay?”
“He’d better be,” Addison said, but she softened the words with a smile.
She could spare another ten minutes, partly because she liked and respected Caleb, her attorney, and Travis, her financial consultant—
And partly because she was curious.
She was increasingly certain the Wildes weren’t telling her all there was to tell about the mysterious Jacob.
She knew he was, or had been, in the army. That he’d been wounded. That he was some kind of hero. His brothers hadn’t said so but she’d heard the rumors from the one lonely cowboy who worked her ranch part-time. Caleb and Travis simply talked about his ability to assess the place.
“You sell it without his advice,” they’d said, “you’ll regret it.”
“Couldn’t someone else do it?” Addison had asked.
The brothers had exchanged a glance so quick she might not have noticed it if she hadn’t been looking at them from across her desk—old man Chambers’s desk—in what passed for the ranch office.
Addison’s eyebrows had risen. “What?”
“Nothing,” Caleb had said.
“Nothing at all,” Travis had added.
“Bull,” Addison had said calmly. “You’re up to something and I want to know what it is.”
Another of those quick looks. Then Travis had cleared his throat.
“Jake truly is the man you want, Addison.”
Addison had been tempted to point out that she didn’t want any man. She had a career she’d worked her tail off to obtain. But that wasn’t what he’d meant, and she knew it.
“He’s the best there is.”
Travis had shrugged. “But, he’s not plannin’ on stayin’.”
“Here we go. The drawl. The smile. The famous Wilde charm—and you both know damned well how much good that will do you.”
She’d said it just lightly enough so the brothers had chuckled.
“Heck,” Travis had said, sitting back and crossing one boot-clad foot over the other, “it works with every other female in this part of Texas.”
“I bet,” Addison had said sweetly. “But I’m not from this part of Texas. I’m not from any part of Texas.” She’d paused for emphasis. “And I’m not ‘every other female,’ I’m your employer.”
“Our client,” Travis had said, his drawl as lazy as Caleb’s.
The brothers had grinned. So had Addison. It was a familiar routine and it still surprised her that she felt comfortable enough with them for relaxed banter.
“And because you’re our client,” Travis had said, “and we have your best interests at heart….”
“Try telling me all of it,” Addison had said. “Or I’ll put this place on the market tomorrow.”
The brothers had exchanged a long look. Then Caleb sighed.
“Jake’s been in the army.”
“So, he was, ah, he was wounded. And he, ah, he’s not sure if he wants to stay at El Sueño or maybe move on. And—”
“And he needs a solid reason to stay,” Travis had said bluntly, no charm, no drawl, nothing but the cool voice of the financial advisor Addison had come to know and respect. “He knows your land almost as well as he knows ours. He’s smart, he’s pragmatic, and he was born knowing horses and ranching.”
“We promise you,” Caleb had said in that same no-nonsense way, “you won’t regret working with him.” And then, before she could say anything, he’d added, “Have you had any regrets, dealing with us?”
Thinking back to that conversation, Addison sighed, brought her glass to her lips and drank some more wine.
No. She most definitely had no regrets. She’d learned not just to like the Wildes, but to trust them.
Travis had been her financial advisor pretty much since she’d arrived in Wilde’s Crossing. Caleb had been her attorney close to the same length of time. Using a New York lawyer and a New York financial guru just hadn’t made much sense.
The point was, she took legal advice from one Wilde and financial advice from the other.
It might make sense to take ranching advice from the other.
Which was why she was here, tonight.
Travis had greeted her; he’d taken her on the obligatory rounds, introduced her to his three sisters.
Apparently, no one had told them that her relationship with their brothers was strictly professional.
Not that they hadn’t been pleasant, even gracious, but a woman could always tell when other women were sizing her up.
Listen, she’d almost said, you can stop worrying. I do not, repeat, do not intend to sleep with either of your brothers. They’re hunks, all right, and I like them, but I have no interest in getting involved with any man, no matter how handsome or sexy or rich or charming, not even if hell should freeze over.
She wasn’t interested in waiting another minute for the Hero to show up, either. The Wounded Hero, she reminded herself, but the wound could not have been much.
Jacob Wilde was a famous man’s son. He would have grown up rich and spoiled—girls from trailer parks knew the type. So, why on earth was she still standing around, waiting for a man she would undoubtedly dislike