Jared shifted. “It’s not a given.”
She tipped her head so that she was looking at his face. “Maybe. But you don’t go into something planning for failure, either.”
He was gazing through the open window at the near-full moon. “You can love each other, or appear to love each other, and your marriage can still crumble.”
“You’re a cynic.”
“I’m a realist.”
A sudden unease came over her. “Jared? Have you been divorced?”
He shook his head. “No.”
But she could tell there was more. She waited as long minutes ticked by.
“What’s wrong?” she finally asked.
Tension radiated in waves from his body. “Jared?”
“My mother was unfaithful.”
The admission hit Melissa with the subtlety of a brick wall. She was too shocked to speak.
“The old cabin,” Jared rasped. “That bedroom.” His hand raked through his messy hair. “Until I saw it, I’d hoped Gramps’s memory had somehow…”
Melissa’s stomach clenched around nothing. “Oh, Jared.”
He met her gaze, his irises dark with the depth of his pain. “My whole life, I thought their deaths were an accident.”
“They weren’t?” Melissa struggled to understand what he was saying.
“My grandfather told me. Before he died. I guess he thought…” Jared drew a ragged breath. “I don’t know what he thought. I wish he hadn’t told me at all.”
“Somebody killed your parents?”
“My mother’s affair started a chain reaction, and three people ended up dead.”
“Three?” Melissa squeaked.
Jared’s tone turned warning. “Stephanie and Royce don’t know. I have to pretend everything is normal.”
Melissa nodded her understanding. “You went to the graveyard to keep the secret.”
And he’d come to her afterward. She had no idea how she should feel about that.
He suddenly pulled her close, his face getting lost in the length of her hair, his arms and legs imprisoning her against his body.
“It’s stupid,” he told her. “I barely know you. But when I think of another man…” Jared drew another breath. “For a second tonight, I understood why my father shot him.”
Melissa reflexively stiffened. “Your father shot your mother’s lover?” “Yes.”
She swallowed a sickening feeling. “And the man died?”
“Yes. And that same night my parents’ truck went off the cliff. But my grandfather didn’t know that. So he threw the gun in the river. Two accidental deaths and a homicide with no clues. Nobody ever made the connection. I never made the connection.”
Melissa’s heart went out to Jared. What an incredible burden. And he was bearing it all alone.
“You should tell Stephanie and Royce,” she advised.
Jared scoffed out a cold laugh. “Why?”
“They could help you cope.”
“I’ll be fine.” His voice grew stronger. “Today was the worst. It’ll get easier now.” He gave a sharp nod. “I’ll be fine.”
Melissa wasn’t so sure. “Do you think maybe they deserve to know?”
“Nobody deserves to know this.”
She wasn’t going to argue further. She barely knew the family. Who was she to give them advice?
“I wish I could stay here,” he said.
“Me, too.” She’d like nothing better than to sleep in Jared’s arms. The morning might be awkward, but at the moment she was willing to risk it.
His hug loosened. “I leave for Chicago tomorrow afternoon.”
“Oh.” She thought he was talking about staying the night. But he meant he was leaving the ranch. She backed off, slightly embarrassed by her presumption. She forcibly lightened her tone. “Of course. I know you have a big company to run.”
“Come with me.”
“Come to Chicago. I have a Genevieve Fund event Tuesday night. We could go together. Spend a couple of nights in the city. Afterward, I’ll buy you a plane ticket to Seattle. You’ll be right back on schedule with your trip, and you won’t have to worry about the bus.”
There were a dozen reasons Melissa should have said no. Not the least of which was Stephanie’s resultant excitement and Royce’s knowing grin. There was also Melissa’s deception and the article and, though she hated to admit it, the very real possibility she was falling for Jared.
She glanced at his profile across the aisle in the compact private jet. Royce was in the pilot’s seat, while the two cream-colored, leather seats facing Melissa and Jared were empty. Four others behind them remained empty, as well.