Framed family photos dotted the tables and the walls, and colorful, braided rugs spread across the wood floor. There were bookshelves ringing the wide room and two cushioned window seats that during the day provided a wide view of the ranch yard. Tucked into one corner of the room was a bar where crystal decanters filled with whiskey, brandy and vodka glinted in the light. The hearth was empty and cold—about how his insides felt.
Will was slumped in a chair set close to the fireplace, a crystal tumbler of whiskey in one hand. Here in this room, the lamplight and the fire kept the darkness outside the windows at bay. The wind kicked up suddenly, wailing as it passed beneath the eaves, and Jesse made a mental note to have one of his men check the shingles on the barn roof tomorrow. When the wind was strong enough, sometimes he swore it could carry off the horses.
But for right now, he had a brother to confront. Will wore jeans, a blue T-shirt and his favorite brown boots—currently propped up on the coffee table in front of him. He looked at home. Where he belonged. Fake Will had moved off the ranch to Megan’s house after their marriage and Jesse hadn’t been able to figure that one out, blaming it on Will’s grief and taking time to recover from the accident. Now, of course, it made sense.
Will lifted his glass, took a drink, then silently saluted Jesse’s entrance.
“Welcome to my gilded cage,” he said.
Jesse scowled at him and crossed the room, his steps muffled by the rugs strewn across the floor. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Will studied the amber liquid in the glass as if searching for an answer to that question. Then he gave it up and shrugged. “Hell, what could be wrong? I’m alive. Back home. Married to a woman I hardly know. Trapped.”
“Trapped.” Jesse walked closer, slapped Will’s feet off the table and sat there himself, staring at his brother. “How are you trapped?”
“Are you kidding?” He took another drink and shook his head. “I can’t even go into Royal for lunch at the diner. I’m stuck here on the ranch while that bastard Rich Lowell is off living God knows where. What about that seems right to you?”
“None of it. But you know why it’s like this. Enough people already know what’s going on,” Jesse said, voice hard and tight. “Everyone who was at your funeral knows you’re actually alive. We’ve got a lid on them, but you go strolling through Royal, the rest of the town finds out. With all the gossips around here, not to mention the media that loves to get the dirt on the top families in Royal—somehow word would reach Lowell before the cops can find him. Then he’d disappear and we’d never get his ass back to Texas.”
“Right, so the thief who tried to kill me is free to go where he wants and I’m serving jail time.” Will snorted and shook his head, taking another sip of his scotch. “He pushes me off my own damn boat in the middle of a storm and leaves me for dead. I’m in a damn coma in Mexico for months while he’s here—”
He broke off, dragged in a breath and pushed one hand through his hair. “While he’s here living my life and nobody—” he fixed a hard glare on Jesse “—not even my damn family notices that he’s an impostor?”
That last bit Jesse knew he had coming. Hell, sometimes he couldn’t believe himself that he hadn’t known the impostor wasn’t his brother. But Rich had done a damn good job of pretending to be Will. The man had not only fooled the Sanders, but the whole damn town of Royal.
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t expecting a fake brother, was I?” he asked in his own defense. Pitiful and he knew it, but it was all he had. “Rich clearly had had surgery and he even explained away why his voice didn’t sound like yours. He had excuses for everything, damn it.” Jesse grabbed Will’s scotch and took a long drink. “He even fooled Mom and that’s not easy.”
“Doesn’t make me feel any better,” Will muttered, grabbing his drink back. “When I finally woke up from that damn coma, I didn’t know who I was. It took me forever to remember, all the while learning how to walk and move again and when I finally get home to my loving family, I find them burying me.”
That had been a weird day for the ages.
“Glad we didn’t. Bury you, that is.”
“Who the hell is in that urn?” Will demanded.
That question had been bugging Jesse for the last couple of weeks at least and he was no closer to getting an answer than he had been the day Will had walked into the funeral. “Could be Rich.”
“I wish,” Will muttered. “I think.”