Terms of Surrender(3)

By: Shirley Rogers


She sniffed and met his gaze again. His piercing blue eyes studied her, and in that moment, the shock of realizing she was still attracted to him was nothing compared to her growing anger. Though she knew that father and son hadn't gotten along well, she was disappointed that he hadn't returned home immediately when he'd learned of his father's illness. "What happened, David?" she demanded, pausing before one of the long, narrow windows in the room. "Why did it take you so long to get home?"

"When you called, I was out of the country." His lips twisted briefly. "I ran into some unexpected delays because of bad weather on the west coast. I got here as soon as I could."

She stared at him, her gaze hard and unrelenting. "Your father became seriously ill two months ago."

"What?"

Tanya searched his expression, then she realized that she'd truly caught him off-guard. "You didn't know?"

"I had no idea."

"But he told me that he'd called you," she insisted. "I asked him several times to try to make amends with you."

"Hell would have frozen over before he would have admitted needing my help." David shoved his hands in his pockets. "We talked briefly a couple of months ago, but he never mentioned that he was sick. I haven't heard from him since." Though Tanya seemed surprised that his father hadn't confided in him about his illness, David wasn't. Until the very end, their relationship had been strained.

She drew in a breath, then nodded. "He said he had called you, but he never told me what the two of you had discussed. I'd assumed he'd informed you that his health was declining. I asked if you were coming home. Your father said no." Her gaze held his. "I thought it was because you didn't care about him."

"I didn't know he was sick," he assured her. "The first I heard of him being so ill was when I received your message two days ago. I'd have come back sooner if I'd known."

"Really?" Tanya wanted to believe him, wanted to believe he wasn't the callous, selfish person she thought him to be. But his absence the past five years told another story. If he'd cared about his father, he would have tried harder to understand him.

"I guess there are funeral arrangements that need to be made," David said, changing the subject. He didn't want to discuss his feelings for his father. Not with Tanya.

Tears filled her eyes, then spilled down her cheeks. She brushed them away with her fingers. "No. Edward had talked with his lawyer and everything has been taken care of. I tried to help him, but he insisted that I had enough to do managing the plantation."

"Managing the plantation?" David stared at her in disbelief. "You're the manager?" he asked, his tone incredulous.

Tanya lifted her chin. "Yes." He approached her, stopping only a few feet away, his questioning gaze fueling her irritation.

"You're way too young and inexperienced to be handling this entire plantation."

"Too young?" she repeated, clearly insulted. "Who do you think has been taking care of everything since your father became ill?"

"I'm sure you've been doing the best you could for the past couple of months, but I find it difficult to believe that you can handle this place on your own."

Tanya couldn't believe his arrogance. "Actually, due to your father's worsening condition, I've been running the farm for quite a while. Besides handling the daily operations, I've installed a computer system, bringing the office and the accounting procedures into the twenty-first century. I also take care of this house and supervise the entire staff." Five people shared the duties of the household and grounds. Edward had taken great pride in his ancestral home.

"You've made yourself right at home, haven't you?" David's quiet voice was coated with a tinge of accusation. If the old man had put the entire plantation in Tanya's immature hands, maybe his father's illness had gone to his mind. Then another thought hit him. Maybe Tanya had manipulated his father in order to inherit his fortune. She'd arrived a streetwise teen, far from innocent. Living at Cottonwood with servants at her beck and call wasn't something she'd want to give up. And because he'd been away for years, she would have had plenty of time to work her name into his father's will.

David shouldn't care. But this was about more than just money. He knew what it was like to be burned by a woman. He'd broken up with his ex-fiancé, Melanie, when he'd figured out that she'd only been interested in him because of his wealth. Thank God he'd come to his senses and had seen her for the gold digger that she was before he'd walked down the aisle.

And he'd be damned if he'd stand by and see everything his father worked for put in Tanya Winters's name.

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