Rule's Property (The House of Rule Book 2)(2)

By: Lynda Chance

And then there was Nick, the middle brother. Her nerves shifted restlessly when she thought of him. She supposed she knew him best because, like Damian, he lived here in St. Louis. But now, at only twenty-four, he was still young enough that his mother worried about his welfare. Justine had taken Courtney several times to his apartment to drop off hot meals or groceries; making sure he was well fed seemed to ease his mother's mind.

No, Courtney didn't know any of the Rule siblings very well. But they would all be here tonight for her birthday supper. Justine had invited so many people, but they were all older, all of them adults, mostly in their late thirties and forties.

Courtney thought it was a sad reflection on her life that she didn't have a solitary friend of her own to share the day with. It was sad, really sad, and unfortunately, it didn't seem to be getting any better.

She took a deep breath and slipped under the water again.


Courtney let herself cry for an hour that evening before washing away the tears and putting on her make-up. Missing her parents was always there, like an open wound in her heart that wouldn't heal. But on her eighteenth birthday, she felt their loss even more intensely.

Knowing she was early but tired of being cooped up in her bedroom, she walked downstairs in the new dress her godmother had insisted she buy. If there was one thing Courtney knew to be true about Justine, it was that the older woman had a sense of style. It was reflected everywhere: in the clothes both she and Courtney wore, and in the home she'd created for her family.

When Courtney saw herself in the mirror wearing the dress for the first time, there'd been little doubt in her mind that she'd left childhood behind. Whether she was ready for it or not, she'd attained her eighteenth birthday, and with it, her status as an adult.

Unfortunately, she found little joy in the transition.

She wandered around downstairs for a few minutes, but she was early for her birthday party, as she'd known she would be, and the only people she found were the caterers and the housekeeper. Forcing animation to her face and a smile to her lips, she thanked them as she looked at all the work they were doing. Leaving the kitchen, she strolled over to the French doors and looked out at the swimming pool, the lights glistening in the dark and sparkling off the water in a shimmery reflection. As she stood staring out, a new knot of anguish settled in her stomach as a familiar, lonely ache washed over her.

As a child growing up, her family hadn't had the same kind of lifestyle the Rules enjoyed. They'd never had a swimming pool in their backyard, but her parents had taken her to a water park every year in the summer; Florida was full of them. As the memories washed over her, a bittersweet smile crossed her features and a tear rolled down her cheek.

She brushed it away and took a sustaining breath and forced her grief to stay below the surface. She couldn't cry again. She only ever let herself cry upstairs in 'her' bedroom, where no one would know the true depths of her misery.

Why tell this wonderful family that she wasn't getting any better? It wasn't as if they could do anything about it. They had their own problems; they were dealing with their own sorrows with the death of Mr. Rule, not to mention the complexities of the business dealings he'd left behind. Courtney especially knew that she couldn't burden Justine. Some days, the poor woman looked as if she was barely holding it together. She took a shuddering breath as another tear escaped to trail down her cheek.

She stiffened her shoulders, refusing to give in to her remorse, and decided to go back up to her room to wait. She turned away from the doors but came to an immediately halt, what she saw making her gasp. Nick Rule stood not four feet away, contemplating her in brooding silence.

The oxygen stalled in her throat and she dashed her hands up, trying to wipe away the evidence of her sorrow.

He studied her silently, his brows coming together in a grimace as he undoubtedly saw the tears on her face that she hadn't been able to contain. Standing completely still, Courtney bit her lip and then tried for a smile. It came out rather shaky, and she knew she'd failed miserably. Embarrassed, her gaze left his, as she looked down at the floor, oblivious to his eyes sweeping down her body and then up again.

As she continued to stare at the carpet, his voice came out gruffly, "You all right?"

At the unexpected sympathy she heard in his voice, she closed her eyes in despair and was unable to keep her face from crumpling. As the tears rolled down her cheeks, she answered his question by shaking her head, but then appalled that she was being a burden, she changed direction, nodding her head instead.

He let out a rough laugh that held no humor and even with her eyes closed, she knew he came to stand directly in front of her. He tipped her chin up with a single gentle finger and her eyes flew open to stare into his. His thumb caressed her cheekbone and she was hit with a strange feeling in her stomach that she'd never felt before . . . but there was little doubt in her mind that it had something to do with his overt masculinity. "It's rough, isn't it?" he asked in a gravelly voice.

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