Hayes knew this would be their reaction, but he hadn’t thought about his sisters-in-law. “I’ll explain the same thing to them. I didn’t want a big fuss made.”
“Too damn bad,” Colt gritted out. “Why do you think we want to cause a fuss? Because we’re damn glad you came home, Hayes. Maybe we want to celebrate the fact you’re alive.”
Hayes turned away. “Well, maybe I’m not quite ready for that yet.”
He went to the box with the antique light fixture and stared down at it. His first thought when he’d seen it was Alexa. Would she approve? She’d had so many ideas for the house, specifically this kitchen.
“So you went to this awards ceremony alone and decided to keep everyone else at arm’s length?” Nolan asked.
Hayes glanced over his shoulder. “I didn’t go alone.”
Colt’s eyes narrowed. “Alexa.”
“Where is she now?” Nolan asked. “She wasn’t at the hospital with you. She’s not here, but she’s serious enough to take to the governor’s mansion.”
She had been important enough to take. She’d been…everything.
That couldn’t be right, could it? Alexa had been someone he’d turned to when he needed an outsider who wasn’t offering pity. Yes, his heart had gotten wrestled into the mix, but he’d been confused and beaten down. It was only natural. Right?
“We’re…not together,” he confirmed.
Colt let out a bark of laughter and adjusted his hat. “So you pushed her away, too?”
“No, asshole, if you have to know, I found out she’d been married to Scott.”
Nolan’s brows shot up. “That’s Scott’s widow?”
Hayes nodded. “I just found out the morning I got the call about Dad. I didn’t leave her house on the best of terms.”
“And you’ve not reached out since?” Colt guessed.
Hayes turned and sank down on the bench that ran along one side of the table. “Just leave me alone.”
He was done. Exhausted. The lack of sleep, the ache in his heart, he just wanted to get through this on his own…like everything else.
“Being alone doesn’t seem to be working for you.” Nolan slid in next to him. “I’m not trying to get into your love life—”
“But you seemed almost happy when Alexa was here,” Nolan went on.
“How the hell would you know?”
Colt eased onto the bench on the other side. “Because I saw you. Annabelle saw you. You think we all don’t talk? There was something so different about you. You actually smiled.”
“I smile now.”
Okay, that sounded like a lame argument. But he smiled…didn’t he?
“Is it because she has a baby?” Nolan asked. “I know you’re worried about moving on with your life, about getting involved with people again, so I’m sure kids are scary.”
He didn’t want to discuss Mason with his brothers. He sure as hell wasn’t ready to have the family bonding talk about how to raise kids and how to form a life and step into the role of dad.
“I know your fiancée did a number on you and that was on top of whatever hell you experienced during that extraction.” Nolan shifted and kept his focus on Hayes. “But are you really going to blame Alexa for being married to your friend and not telling you? Hell, you’ve kept nearly everything from us and we still love you.”
“I don’t love her.”
Colt snorted. “I didn’t love Annabelle, either. And then I realized I couldn’t live without her or her girls.”
Hayes could live without Alexa and Mason. He could, damn it.
He just didn’t want to. He wanted them both, he wanted them to be his family and he wanted to provide for them, to take away their worries and fears.
“Did you tell her about what happened over there?” Nolan asked.
“Don’t you think that speaks volumes, little brother? She knows and you’ve yet to open up to your own family.”
There was no hurt in Nolan’s tone, just a matter-of-fact manner.
“Damn it,” he muttered, dropping his head into his hands. “I’ll talk to you guys. Just not yet, okay?”
Nolan’s hand came down hard on Hayes’s back. “If she was important enough to take to the ceremony and to tell your darkest secrets to, don’t you think she’s important enough to apologize to?”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
He glanced across to Colt who merely raised a brow.
“Fine, I left without hearing her side, but Dad was in the hospital. And since then…I just needed to get my head on straight.”
“If you wait too long she might not want to explain at all,” Nolan stated.
His brothers came to their feet and headed to the door.
“What? That’s it?” Hayes asked. “You two have some code? When I’m emotionally beaten down you get up and leave?”
“Pretty much,” Colt confirmed as he adjusted his hat again. “But we didn’t discuss it.”