Rule's Property (The House of Rule Book 2)(9)

By: Lynda Chance

At his determined look, Courtney's heart sank for him. "Garrett--"

"Nah, I'm done," Garrett said. "I just wanted you to know the outcome. Let's talk about something else--"

His words were interrupted by a deep, booming voice, "What's going on?"

Courtney and Garrett both glanced up to see Nick standing by the side of the swimming pool, his legs braced apart, the edges of his mouth cut into irritated, brooding lines.

Obviously not feeling any guilt or awkwardness for being within Courtney's personal space, Garrett continued to hold on tightly to her float as he answered his brother. "Nothing much, man. Enjoying the day. Get changed and get your ass in here." Letting go of her float, Garrett attempted to splash Nick. "Come on, the water's awesome."

Nick took a step back and the look on his face became completely shuttered. His stance relaxed minutely, but his answer came back forcefully, "No time. Supper's almost on the table."

When neither Garrett nor Courtney made a move to leave the pool, Nick changed direction and lazered his gaze on her. "Out of the water, Courtney. You look chilled already," he ordered in implacable terms.

"The water's warm. She's fine--"

Garrett's argument was cut off as Nick gave his brother a squelching look. "She's been ill with a bad case of the 'flu. You want her to relapse?"

Garrett appeared taken aback as he glanced back to Courtney. "When was this?"

She rolled her eyes as if Nick were being ridiculous. "Last month. I'm fine now," she replied neutrally, refusing to jump to do Nick's bidding.

Nick cracked his knuckles, a sudden antagonism he hadn't been showing before rising to the surface as he barked directly at her, "Get your ass out, now."

As if on cue, Justine strolled through the open French doors. "Darling, Nick's right, despite his appalling choice of words. It's getting late and you might catch a chill. Let's not forget you lost five pounds during your illness and almost developed pneumonia." Her gaze moved to her youngest son. "Garrett, I realize you didn't know she'd been sick, but let's not be a bad example, okay?"

Garrett moved to get out of the pool. "If you guys don't tell me shit like this, how the hell am I supposed to know?"

Justine tipped her head to one side. "Language, darling," she rebuked softly, moving to get her son a towel. "Nick, be a sweetie and hand Courtney a towel."

Courtney swam over to the steps and slowly began to rise from the pool. As Justine turned and went back inside with Garrett following her, making a comment about being starved, Nick watched his mother and brother go inside the house. When they were out of sight, his stance relaxed somewhat. Then he turned back toward her with a towel open and ready, a sudden strain coming over his features as she came to stand in front of him. His large frame seemed to become infinitely still, and suddenly embarrassed to be soaking wet in a skimpy bikini when she hadn't been the least bit embarrassed before, Courtney lowered her face and her eyes fell from his.

He wrapped the large towel around her until it covered her from shoulders to knees and she grabbed the two ends at her throat to hold it together. Barefoot while he wore shoes, she was very aware of how he towered over her, even more so than usual.

One masculine hand clenching around her shoulder, he lifted her chin with a determined finger. As he leaned in with an intractable posture, Courtney lost the battle and looked into his eyes. "You need to take better care," he bit out with precision.

She licked her lips, light-headed from the situation she suddenly found herself in. Nick hadn't shown her this much attention in months, even if the attention he was giving her was only anger. "I'm fine."

Letting out a harsh bark of laughter, he lifted a single eyebrow, looking none too happy. "That's a fact, sweetheart." Before she had time to digest his meaning, his features turned menacing once again. "And I'm telling you that you need to take care and make sure you don't have a relapse, understand me?"

Once again, her brain splintering in total confusion because of Nick Rule, she nodded her head, too tongue-tied to even begin to think of arguing with him.

"Go get dressed," he snapped.

She watched him for only a couple of seconds, totally confused by his mood swings, and then she'd turned and fled . . .

Courtney emerged from her reminiscing. After the swimming pool episode, Nick had stayed away from the house for several long weeks. When he'd finally started visiting again, it was sporadically at best, and he'd paid her little attention. But then another memory hit her. This occurrence had happened many months after the first; she'd been twenty years old at the time.

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