Excerpt from the “King’s Brats” series
The instant Eve and Connor walked away to dance, Pippa jumped up from her seat at the picnic table and fled. Why did her father treat her as though she were still a child? She felt furious. And frustrated. And frightened. She was unwed and pregnant with a child whose father she loathed as much as she’d once loved him. But she wanted this baby with all her being, and she was determined to raise it on her own, no matter how many obstacles her father, however kindhearted his intentions, put in her way.
A strong hand caught her arm and dragged her to a stop. “Pippa. Wait!”
She whirled and snarled at Devon, “I’m not going back to live with my father. Not today. Not ever. If I can’t stay with you, then I’ll—”
“I was going to ask if you’re ready to go home. With me.”
Pippa huffed out a breath. “Yes. I am.” She met Devon’s gaze and realized she’d been so focused on her own troubles that she’d forgotten about his. “Are you all right?”
His voice was low and hoarse as he asked, “Where did your father get the idea that I’m not Angus’s son?”
“I have no idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made it up as an excuse to get me to come back home.”
“I notice my father didn’t deny it.”
“He shouldn’t have to,” Pippa said. “Why would you believe such a thing?”
Devon met her gaze and said, “Because I’m not like the rest of them.”
“I don’t look the same. I don’t want the same things. And Angus doesn’t treat me the same way.” He shrugged and said simply, “I’ve never felt like I belong.”
“Maybe it’s because you’re the youngest.”
“Maybe it’s because I had a different father. And because I killed my mother when I was born.”
Pippa didn’t know what to say or how to comfort him. She merely took Devon’s hand in hers and said, “Let’s go home. Beowulf will be hungry.”
Devon’s gray wolf, which he’d raised from a pup, was always hungry. He was huge and he wasn’t fully grown yet.
Devon sighed. “I suppose I’m not likely to get any answers from Angus today. I’m not sure I want to know the truth.”
As they walked back to Devon’s pickup, Pippa tried to imagine what Devon must be feeling. How awful to discover that your mother had cheated on your father—if, in fact, that was what had happened. If Devon had a different father, what had happened to him? If he was out there somewhere, did he know about Devon?
Pippa realized that her life at Devon’s remote mountain ranch had just gotten infinitely more complicated, because the “relative” she’d been staying with might no longer be related to her. She eyed Devon askance. He might not have the same black hair, blue eyes, and over-six-foot height as his brothers, but to her, his lithe build, gray-green eyes, and sun-streaked chestnut hair were even more attractive. She was tall, but he stood tall enough to make her feel protected within his embrace, which he’d offered strictly as solace the day she’d come to him seeking a place to stay.
Pippa hadn’t felt shy running around in a robe with Devon in his pajama bottoms because they were second cousins. She hoped this revelation wouldn’t interfere with the ease they’d found together. Even if they weren’t related, there was no chance of anything romantic happening between them. She wasn’t interested in getting involved with anyone after what she’d just been through.
Not to mention the fact that she was pregnant. She hadn’t told Devon about the baby because she’d figured she would only be staying with him until she could figure out what to do with the rest of her life.
As Devon helped her into the cab of his pickup, a courtesy he never failed to offer, Pippa realized that she admired his kindness and affinity to animals even more than his looks. Beowulf wasn’t the only wild animal he’d rescued, but she’d learned that he usually nursed them back to health and then released them into the wild again. However, Beowulf would have been in danger because he no longer feared humans, so Devon had kept him.
“I hope you’re going to hang around for a little while,” Devon said. “Despite what your dad said about me.”
“I don’t have anywhere I have to be. If you’re willing for me to stay, I’m willing to stay.”
“Good,” Devon said. “I’ve been living alone a long time. It’s nice to have company.”
Pippa wondered what Devon would think when he found out who it was he’d really welcomed into his home. That she’d run away with a married man. That she was pregnant with his child. That the small town in Australia where she’d lived had found her behavior so shameful that her father had agreed to return to a place he’d sworn he would never visit again in his lifetime. And that she’d come with him because she’d wanted to escape the label of adultress that would have branded her forever after.
But she didn’t have to tell him today. He had enough to deal with today, and maybe for a while yet. Her pregnancy didn’t show. So long as she could hide it, she would.
And when you can’t? What is Devon going to think when he realizes you’ve been lying to him all along?
Maybe she’d be gone from his ranch before that happened.
And go where? With what money? Your only skill is whispering wild horses. Can you really do that when you’re the size of a hippo? You have to tell him.
“Are you all right?”
“I wish . . .” She let the words hang in the air. She wished she’d done a lot of things differently.
“Yeah,” Devon said. “So do I.”
Pippa smiled and reached out to brush his forearm in a gesture of friendship. “Thanks, Devon.”
He shrugged. “I’ve been where you are, Pippa. Believe it or not, I had to run away from home, too.”
He smiled. “Angus had a fit when he found out I’d bought this ranch in the mountains. Told me I was crazy to live so isolated from other people. Told me I was just like—” He paused, and looked at her with a shocked expression. “Angus cut himself off. He never said who I was just like.” Devon’s mouth flattened. “It must be him I’m like. My biological father.”
“Maybe you should try to find him.”
“What point would that serve? He’s nothing to me.”
“Except it seems you’re a great deal like him.”
“How did we get on this subject?” Devon said irritably.
“We were wishing things could be different.”
The silence between them grew oppressive. Finally, Pippa could stand it no longer. “Is it true Angus figured out a way to ruin King?”
Devon laughed. “You really know how to change the subject.”
Pippa grinned. “I thought that was what you wanted.”
“Yes, he might have figured out a way to do it. But no, it’s not a sure thing yet. Your dad might have come all this way for nothing. He might end up losing Kingdom Come to Angus.”
Pippa’s grin disappeared. “You’re kidding, right?”
Devon shook his head. “Angus has been pretty closemouthed about when the ax will fall, but he’s been gloating that the day is coming when he’ll finally have his revenge for my aunt’s death.”
“Is there anything King can do, or my father, to stop him?”
Devon shrugged. “Who knows? By the time King figures out what Angus has been plotting it may be too late.”
“What about my dad? He left everything behind to come here. What’s he supposed to do?”
“I don’t have an answer for that.”
Pippa turned to face Devon as much as she could within the constraints of her seat belt. “Is there any way we can find out what Angus intends?”
“What would you do with the information?”
“Tell my father, of course.”
“You’ve run away from your dad, but you still want to help him?”
“He’s my father. I love him.” And he has good reasons for wanting to protect me.
Devon shoved a hand through his hair. “I don’t know, Pippa. I don’t agree with what Angus is doing. But he’s my father and—” Devon cut himself off. His lips pressed flat and a muscle worked in his jaw.
Because Angus might not be his father, Pippa realized. And he’d apparently treated Devon differently than his other sons.
“All right,” Devon said. “Let’s do it. I’ve never supported Angus’s desire for revenge. I’ll see what I can find out.”