Meeting Megan Again. Julianna Morris
had kept him away was the very same reason he’d come to the reunion?
And the reason was Megan.
Warning tension crept though Tyler and he shook his head. It was wiser, not to mention safer, to concentrate on something else.
Megan might be a widow now, but she was his cousin’s widow, however distant that relationship might have been. Tyler cleared his throat, looking for something to change the subject. He finally decided it was the direction of his thoughts that needed changing.
“Look, why are you so bothered by Eleanor’s matchmaking?” he asked.
Megan blew a strand of hair from her forehead. “I just don’t want Grams getting her hopes up. About either of us.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll only be here for a few days, then things can go right back to the way they were.”
“You don’t know anything about the way things were,” Megan countered. “I mean…not that you should know, and I’m not criticizing or anything, but you’ve been gone and I’ve been here and…and…,” she stuttered to silence.
She looked flustered and tongue-tied, a condition that made Tyler want to smile. “Yes?” he prompted, enjoying this previously unseen side of Megan.
“Uh…that is, I know I’m not blood family, but…” She stopped again and lifted her shoulders in a helpless shrug.
“The O’Bannons don’t care about blood ties.”
“Then why did…you…uhm…” Megan stuttered into silence a third time and Tyler couldn’t control his grin.
She ran her palms over her thighs in a nervous gesture. “Eleanor mentioned it was a little tense when you lived with them—that you kept saying you weren’t really family, and why should they bother? And…well, you did stay away for a long time.”
Tyler’s grin faded. The issue of his childhood was a sore subject, though not because of the O’Bannons. He’d been raised in a boys’ group home, made to feel like a charity case because he didn’t have any “family.” By the time Grady and Eleanor arrived on the scene his pride had grown to such immense, angry proportions that even an army tank couldn’t have put a dent in it.
And what could they have said, anyway? They’d taken him out of duty, not love. He might respect that choice now, but it didn’t make any difference.
“Staying away is my concern,” he replied stiffly, then kicked himself. The charming, flustered expression on Megan’s face vanished and she bit her lip.
“Sorry. But you did ask.”
“Yeah.” Tyler ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. Some things never seemed to change. His pride continued getting in the way, especially in relation to Megan. He couldn’t have pursued her nine years ago because of his cousin, but it still rankled to think he wouldn’t have had a chance. There was so much that had never been said between them, he was at a loss, not knowing what to say now.
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” she murmured, sounding more tentative than before. “It means so much to Eleanor that you’ve come to the reunion. Grady will be thrilled, too.”
Tyler looked at Megan, a frown creasing his forehead. He’d built up a lot of ideas about her over the years, ideas about her marrying Brad mostly because he was charming and handsome and belonged to the right social class. He supposed it was a way of protecting himself, because he’d taken one look at Megan at her engagement party and found himself thinking about fairy tales and happy endings.
Now Megan belonged to the family in a way he never could, and it was still impossible. “You really love them, don’t you?” he asked quietly. “The O’Bannons.”
Megan’s head snapped back, irritation swamping other emotions in her eyes. “Of course I love them. You don’t understand. You never understood,” she muttered angrily and not too clearly.
“Nothing. It’s not important.”
“It seems important to you.”
She gave him a look that suggested he was a low-level moron. “Go outside and visit with everybody. If there’s anyone you don’t recognize I’m sure Grams or Kara will make the necessary introductions.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Check on dinner.” Without giving him a chance to say anything else, Megan hurried away.
It was on the tip of Tyler’s tongue to call after her, asking why she didn’t have a maid or cook to handle that kind of detail, but he stopped himself just in time. The California Gold Country was a beautiful place and attracted interesting tourists, but bed and breakfast inns were hard work. If Brad had left Megan a ton of money, she probably wouldn’t be in the hotel business in the first place.
Tyler whistled under his breath. That was something he hadn’t considered. He’d assumed Megan and her daughter were well-provided for, but what if they weren’t?
He walked back into the garden and gazed around. The afternoon sun filtered through the trees, putting warmth into the crisp October air. Various members of the family were heading for the house and they stopped, greeting him. They didn’t say anything about his long absence, just how glad they were that he’d made it to the reunion.
“Tyler? Has Megan thoroughly warned you off?” Eleanor asked as she stood and draped a quilted lap robe over her arm. “She puts up huge No Trespassing signs, but underneath she’s a very sweet girl.”
Eleanor chuckled at his wry tone. “You never understood Megan, but that’s all right. Give it some time.”
You never understood….
Tyler frowned thoughtfully. Megan had just accused him of the same thing, or at least of generally not understanding. It was probably a feminine thing. And he couldn’t disagree—women were damned hard to understand.
“Tyler?” Eleanor said, putting her hand on his arm. “You do like Megan, don’t you? I know she can be prickly, but that’s because she’s been hurt.”
He winced, realizing Megan was right about one thing—Eleanor was matchmaking. “Of course I like her,” he said automatically, knowing it was the only answer he could give that wouldn’t make things worse.
“Good. It’s been hard for her since Brad…” Eleanor’s voice shook.
“I know you miss him.”
“Mostly I miss what he should have been,” she said sadly. “The boy made such a mess of things. Then he got himself killed that way and made things worse.”
Tyler’s eyes shot wide open.
Brad O’Bannon had been an extremely charming playboy with parents who indulged his every wish. Apparently he’d never changed. He was the one member of the family Tyler had never really cared for, but it was a surprise to hear Eleanor say something critical about her grandson. It also sounded as if there was more to Brad’s death than a simple car crash.
“Well, now, look who’s here!” Grady O’Bannon exclaimed suddenly, charging across the garden with the energy of a man half his age.
Grady drew Tyler into a hug, thumping him on the back with hearty enthusiasm. “It’s good to see you again, lad. We missed you.”
“It’s good to be here,” Tyler