By: Brenda Jackson

“When we eloped.”

“But you and Crystal never made it to Vegas.”

“Weren’t trying to,” Bane said evenly. “We deliberately gave that impression to send everyone looking for us in the wrong direction. We got married in Utah.”

“Utah? You have to be eighteen to marry without parental consent and Crystal was seventeen.”

Bane shook his head. “She was seventeen the day we eloped, but turned eighteen the next day.”

Dillon stared at him. “Then, why didn’t the two of you say something? Why didn’t she tell her parents that she was your wife or why didn’t you tell us? You let them send her away.”

“Yes, because I knew that although she was my wife, I could still be brought up on kidnapping charges. I violated the restraining order from that judge when I set foot on her parents’ property. If you recall, Judge Foster was pissed about it and wanted to send me to the prison farm for a year. And knowing Mr. Newsome, had I mentioned anything about me and Crystal being married, he would have demanded that Judge Foster send me away for even longer. Once I was gone, Newsome would have found a way to have our marriage annulled or forced Crystal into divorcing me. She and I both knew that so we decided not to say anything about our marriage no matter what...even if it meant being apart for a short while.”

“A short while? You’ve been apart for five years.”

“I hadn’t planned for it to be this long. We figured her old man would keep her under lock and key for a while. We were prepared for that seven-month separation because it would give Crystal a chance to finish high school. We hadn’t figured on him sending her away. But then something you said that day stuck with me. At the time I had nothing to offer Crystal. She was smart and deserved more than a dumb ass who enjoyed being the town’s troublemaker.”

Bane didn’t say anything for a minute before adding, “I told you earlier that I hadn’t seen Crystal, but what I didn’t say is that I managed to talk to her after she left town.”

Dillon frowned. “You made contact with Crystal?”

“Only once. A few months after she was sent away.”

“But how? Her parents made sure no one knew where she’d gone.”

“Bailey found out for me.”

Dillon shook his head. “Now, why doesn’t that surprise me? And how did Bailey find out where Crystal was?”

Bane held his brother’s gaze. “Are you sure you want to know?”

Dillon rubbed his hand down his face. “Does it involve breaking the law?”

Bane shrugged his shoulders. “Sort of.”

Bailey was their female cousin who was a couple of years younger than Bane and the baby in the Denver Westmoreland family. While growing up, the two of them, along with the twins, Adrian and Aidan, had been extremely close, thick as thieves, literally. The four used to get into all kinds of trouble with the law. Bane knew that Dillon’s close friendship with Sheriff Harper was what had kept them out of jail.

Now the twins were Harvard graduates. Adrian had a PhD in engineering and Aidan was a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Research Hospital. And both were happily married. Bailey, who had her MBA, was marrying Walker Rafferty, a rancher from Alaska, on Valentine’s Day and moving to live on his spread. That announcement had definitely come as a shock to Bane and everyone else since Bailey had always sworn she would never, ever leave Westmoreland Country. Bane had met Rafferty today and immediately liked the ex-marine. Bane had a feeling Rafferty would not only handle Bailey but would make Bane’s cousin happy.

“So if you knew where she was, what stopped you from going to her?” Dillon asked, holding Bane’s gaze.

“I didn’t know where she was and I made Bailey promise not to tell me. I just needed to talk to her and Bailey arranged a call between me and Crystal that lasted about twenty minutes. I told her about my decision to join the navy and I made her a promise that while we were apart I would honor our marriage vows, and for her to always believe that one day I would come back for her. That was the last time we talked to each other.”

Bane remembered that phone call as if it had been yesterday. “Another reason I needed to talk to Crystal was to be certain she hadn’t gotten pregnant during the time we eloped. A pregnancy would have been a game changer for me. I would not have gone into the navy. Instead, I would have gone to her immediately.”