“Are you fucking kidding?” Kaleb could barely make out his youngest brother’s words as Zane doubled over in laughter.
“Hell no. I’m dead serious. Sawyer was standing on the side of the road, holding up a sign that said Will Work for Sex. I shit you not.” Kaleb finished pouring his coffee before taking his mug back to his desk, dodging Zane in the process.
Hello? This was Sawyer Walker they were talking about, so Kaleb shouldn’t have been all that surprised really. But he’d been hard-pressed to keep his jaw out of his lap as he drove past his brother standing shirtless in the glaring Texas sun, wearing jeans and shit kickers while standing on the side of the road holding up the damn sign. To top it off, there was a truck full of women pulled over talking to him.
“You know Dad’s gonna be pissed when he sees it.” Zane doubled over in another fit of laughter.
Kaleb wasn’t all that worried about their father and what he thought about Sawyer’s wild and crazy antics. It was their mother they actually had to worry about. Curtis Walker would laugh right
along with Zane, but Lorrie Walker would be fit to be tied.
But that was Sawyer for you. At thirty-three, he wasn’t supposed to be the wildest of the seven of them, but he even gave Zane a run for his money.
The screen door slammed and Zane sat upright, immediately choking on his laughter. As Travis made his way into the small kitchen, Kaleb barely suppressed a groan.
“What’s going on?” The oldest of the seven Walker brothers wasn’t smiling, and Kaleb had a feeling he wouldn’t find Sawyer’s antics all that funny anyway, so Kaleb kept his mouth shut.
“Sawyer’s down on Main and First half dressed holding up a sign.”
“Fuck,” Kaleb muttered and pinned his brother with a death glare. “Seriously, Zane?”
He was met with a shrug.
Telling Travis anything that didn’t pertain to Walker Demolition was like telling their mother as far as Kaleb was concerned. The oldest of the Walker boys at thirty-five, Travis had turned into an old man in recent years—at least as far as his mood was concerned.
“Fuck,” Travis groaned as he turned to the coffeepot sitting on the counter. “When will he ever grow up?”
Today, just like any other day, Kaleb was going to give Travis a wide berth, not to mention knock Zane upside his head for telling on Sawyer. “Likely never if I had to guess,” Kaleb chimed in, knowing that was the only sufficient answer.
“Did you hear back from Carl Stranford?” Travis glanced over his shoulder at Kaleb before returning his attention to pouring his coffee. “You were going by his house yesterday?”
Suddenly wishing he’d had more coffee, Kaleb rubbed his
hand over the back of his neck, trying to squeeze some of the tension out. Not that there ever was a good time to have this conversation with Travis, but now certainly wasn’t it.
“Yeah.” He definitely stopped by Carl’s, just like he had several times that week, but his brief conversation hadn’t resulted in anything other than the expected Let me think about it, Kaleb, and get back with you.
“Shit,” Travis groaned again, obviously knowing what the response had been before Kaleb even had to say it out loud. “That man keeps stalling, and I don’t know what the hell for. You’d think he’d be ready to sell off a portion of that land by now. He’s all but lost every one of his crops and to tell you the truth, I’m getting damn tired of waiting.”
And if Carl didn’t do something soon, he’d lose a lot more than just his crops, but Kaleb wasn’t going to share that with Travis just yet. Until he had the chance to talk to Zoey about it, he wasn’t ready to spread the devastating news.
Not to mention it wouldn’t matter what he told Travis until he had a firm agreement from Carl. His oldest brother would just get even more pissed off than he already was.
Walker Demolition—the company Kaleb and his brothers had built from the ground up—had grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. And instead of being content with what they’d built, Travis was ready to venture in another direction—expand their horizons, he’d said. Due to reasons Travis had only vaguely shared thus far, Kaleb’s oldest brother seemed to be following some big dream that he’d harbored since he was younger. Kaleb anxiously awaited the in-depth version, which didn’t seem to be coming anytime soon.
Instead of focusing solely on tearing shit down, Travis had
come up with the idea to build a resort. Not that Kaleb didn’t think it was a brilliant idea—he did. He was just content with the tearing-shit-down part.
The plans he’d seen for a megaresort, the likes of which their small town had never known, were under way. They’d received the necessary approvals, and now the only thing left to do was to secure the land. Travis had already bought out two of their adjacent neighbors, acquiring a good three hundred acres of decrepit farmland, but he hadn’t been satisfied with that. Now he was looking for another hundred that backed up to what they’d already purchased. Only this land belonged to Carl Stranford, an ornery old farmer who had been giving them the runaround for the better part of the last six months.
“Call him.” Zane’s tone was laced with sarcasm. “Or better yet, go see him. Maybe some of your macho intimidation will make him come to a decision.”
Zane, at twenty-four, was the youngest of seven, and considering the age difference between him and Travis, he didn’t remember much of the Travis they had all grown up with. The fun-loving, hang-on-by-the-seat-of-your-pants guy they’d all wanted to be like. But that Travis never returned from his four-year stint in the army. In his place was the grouchy, unsmiling man who sat before them now.
“I might just do that,” Travis snapped, before turning and walking out of the room.
When the screen door slammed behind their brother, Zane turned to Kaleb. “Why don’t you go talk to Carl? Or better yet, Zoey?”
“What does Zoey have to do with this?”
Zane liked to give Kaleb shit about Carl Stranford’s only daughter. Not only had she been Kaleb’s closest female friend for the better part of the last decade, she was also the woman Kaleb had always wanted, but never had. Despite the ever-present physical attraction, he’d somehow managed to be friends with her without ever trying to push it any further, although he’d wanted to.
More than wanted to.
Since she’d never shown even an inkling of interest in him other than friendship, Kaleb had opted to take what he could get, and they’d established a very solid friendship. Hell, the woman knew everything there was to know about him and most of his brothers, yet she still chose to associate with him, so he considered himself lucky.
They were infamous in their little town, but that was mostly due to their wild and crazy behavior since about the time each of them could walk. They were a rowdy bunch, and there was a long list of rumors associated with them—some true, some not entirely true. For whatever reason, Zoey ignored them, and for that, he was grateful.
Not that Zoey Stranford wasn’t as wild as they came. That was partly what he found so damn attractive about the woman. She didn’t care what other people thought about her, and it seemed her one goal was to have fun and not hurt anyone in the process.
So he’d mastered the art of pretending when it came to Zoey. First and foremost, he was her friend, but that wasn’t the problem. His issue was learning to hide the unbridled lust burning deep and hot for as long as he’d known her.
And since his brothers had dubbed her the one woman who wouldn’t give him the time of day, they loved to give him a hard
time about her.
It certainly wasn’t a hardship being friends with Zoey, but it had gotten increasingly more difficult in the last few years. Ever since she and that jackass Jason Tribbons divorced, Kaleb did everything he possibly could to make sure he kept his feelings for her hidden. But hell, he wasn’t a saint, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could pull off the charade.
“Zoey doesn’t have any say in what her father does with that land,” Kaleb added as he watched the wheels turn in Zane’s head. His little brother was going to piss him off, he could feel it.
“Yeah, but she likes you,” Zane goaded. “I’m sure if she goes running to Daddy, telling him her boy toy wants to buy the land, he’d sell it in a heartbeat.”
Boy toy? “I know you’ve got something better than that,” Kaleb pushed.
Carl Stranford would just as soon cut off Kaleb’s dick than let him date his daughter. Kaleb had grown quite fond of his dick over the years, and he didn’t have any intentions of losing it, thank you very much.
Carl was an overprotective son of a bitch when it came to his one and only daughter, and he and Zoey had had to clarify their friendship on more than one occasion over the years. Granted, Carl was close to eighty now, and Zoey was very much a grown woman who didn’t let her daddy tell her whom she could see, but still . . .
Hell, he’d expected Carl to answer the damn door with a shotgun in his hand the night he had taken Zoey to her senior prom. Thankfully Carl hadn’t, but that was probably due to Zoey’s mother, who had liked Kaleb. Not that Kaleb could blame the man. If a nineteen-year-old man had the balls to show up on his
doorstep asking to take his seventeen-year-old daughter to the prom, Kaleb knew damn well that young man would know how acquainted he was with his gun collection.
But true to his word, even back then when he was ruled by hormones alone, Kaleb never laid a finger on Zoey, no matter how badly he wanted to. And to this day, he’d never so much as kissed her, and his dick knew it all too well.
Shaking off the thought, Kaleb pushed himself out of his chair. “I’ll go talk to Carl. Until we get that land, Travis won’t let it go.”
“Nope, he won’t,” Zane agreed as he stood. “Tell Zoey hello for me.”
“Fuck off.” Kaleb grinned as he walked out the back door.
NOT FIFTEEN MINUTES later, Kaleb was pulling up to Carl Stranford’s house, wishing like hell he didn’t have to do this today. Thankfully Zoey’s truck wasn’t in the driveway, which meant she was probably working—something Kaleb should’ve been doing. Instead, he’d get the pleasure of explaining to Carl yet again what he wanted and why he was there.
He pulled around to the back of the house, put the truck in park, and climbed out. Steeling himself for the conversation to come, Kaleb took a deep breath and looked around. With the sun shining bright and not a single cloud in the sky, Kaleb took in the vast landscape, looking off to the south as he tried to picture the entrance to the resort as Travis envisioned it.
He could see the massive wrought-iron gates in his mind, the ones that would be staffed twenty-four hours a day by security,
allowing only those invited to come inside. Kaleb had seen the artwork for the gates’ design, including the large “A” and “I” that would be welded into the intricate iron design. They stood for Alluring Indulgence, the name he and his brothers all agreed on.
Given the type of resort they were looking at creating, the name suited it. The goal had been to come up with a name to reflect the carnal temptation they intended to offer. So, thanks to an online dictionary and a case of beer, Alluring Indulgence was born.
He wouldn’t lie: he was anxiously waiting for the day they opened their doors, but in order for that to happen, Kaleb had to convince Carl to sell him the land. With a resigned sigh, Kaleb shut the truck door and made his way to the side of the house.
Rapping his knuckles on the wooden door frame, Kaleb waited like he always did until Carl’s gruff voice instructed him to come in. The man never bothered to get up, nor did he bother locking any of his doors, so Kaleb let himself into the spacious, classic farmhouse kitchen with its whitewashed cabinets, butcher-block island, and appliances that probably hadn’t been updated since the house was built.
“Mr. Stranford,” Kaleb greeted Zoey’s father as he stepped into the living room.
Instead of a greeting, Kaleb was met with a muted, “Hmmphh.”
“How are you today?” When Carl pointed to the couch, Kaleb took a seat, keeping a smile on his face and his eyes on the old man sitting in the chair.
Just like in recent days, Kaleb felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia sitting on the couch in the Stranfords’ dated living room.
Noticing the dark wood paneling, well-worn hardwood floors, and a ceiling fan that had to have been produced in the 1980s, he was hit with flashbacks from his teenage years. The faint smell of cigarette smoke still lingered, although Kaleb knew Carl had quit smoking long ago.
He and Zoey spent many days sitting right there on the very same maroon and green flowery couch Kaleb sat on now, talking, laughing, and avoiding the glares of the cantankerous old man who continuously traipsed back and forth through the room, making sure the up-to-no-good teenage boy in his living room wasn’t somehow taking advantage of his sweet little girl.
“Was doing fine until you showed up.”
That was definitely the Carl he’d grown accustomed to. He much preferred the cranky old man to the fragile, forgetful one he’d spent hours with, as well. Carl had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s within the last year, and as each day passed, Kaleb recognized more and more symptoms. At times, he was positive Carl didn’t know who he was, even though he pretended to.
“If you’re looking for Zoey, she’s not here.”
Kaleb barely heard him over the television turned up loud enough for Carl to hear without the hearing aids he refused to wear. Glancing over at the TV and then back at Carl, he bit back a laugh when Carl sighed dramatically before turning the volume down with the remote on the arm of his chair.
“I’m not here to see Zoey, Mr. Stranford. I’m here to see you.”
“Ahhh.” Carl didn’t look any happier than he sounded by the news. “Out to try and steal my land again, are you?”
“No, sir,” Kaleb said, forcing back a smile. He was, of course, looking to acquire some of Carl’s land, but in his opinion, the offer was more than fair. So, no, he was not looking to steal anything.
“So, why is it that you can come over to talk to me about my land, but you aren’t here trying to woo my daughter?”
Kaleb couldn’t tell whether Carl was serious or trying to jack with him. Woo? Seriously? Who said woo anymore?
He couldn’t very well tell Carl that he’d been thinking about “wooing” his daughter for some time now, but had never gotten up enough nerve to do so. No matter how Carl sounded, Kaleb wasn’t convinced he’d take any man’s intentions toward his daughter as a good thing. Not after her devastating divorce.
Shaking off that train of thought, Kaleb focused his attention on Carl once more. “Mr. Stranford, I wanted to stop by to see if you’d come to a decision about the land.”
“What are you planning to do with my land again?”
Kaleb’s hands balled into fists, but he kept them hidden. He was fairly certain Carl knew exactly what he and his brothers intended to do with it, but he figured he had no choice but to oblige him.
“Sir, we’re looking to build a hotel.” Well, it was more of a resort, but he didn’t want to go into the details.
“A hotel? Like what? A La Quinta?”
Fighting the urge to laugh, Kaleb shook his head. “No, sir. Not a La Quinta.” Not by a long shot, he thought.
“What do you plan to do with my house if you build this hotel?” Carl asked sincerely, his forehead creased with worry.
“We don’t have any plans for your house, Mr. Stranford. We aren’t looking to buy the land that your house sits on. We’re only looking to acquire the one hundred acres that sit adjacent to my father’s land.”
“One hundred acres, huh?”
The amount that Kaleb and his brothers were looking to purchase was about half of what Carl owned in total. Even though he was certain Carl didn’t have any intentions of using the land in the future, they didn’t want to go overboard. In Kaleb’s opinion, Travis was riding a fine line as it was.
Since Travis was insistent that the entrance face the south, for a number of reasons he’d been told, this had been their only option.
“And how much are you offering me?”
Kaleb was pretty sure he saw a twinkle in Carl’s eye, and if he wasn’t mistaken, the man was trying to catch him in a lie. Well, the Walkers didn’t lie, and they didn’t try to cheat someone out of what was rightfully theirs.
Taking a deep breath, Kaleb settled in for the long haul. For the next half hour, he repeated the same conversation he’d had with Mr. Stranford for the umpteenth time.