Or a tornado had blown the town to bits.
The thought made him nervous. Jake cast a withering glance at the papers in the benign-looking envelope on the passenger seat. Divorce papers. Skye had sent him divorce papers. He probably shouldn’t be surprised—he hadn’t spoken to her in almost ten months. He’d been out of the country, setting up an IT at a new oil site in Bahrain. He’d been busy and she’d made her feelings clear.
Part of him knew the marriage was over. They wanted different things. He wanted to be free of their families and their never-ending feud over land. He wanted to wash his hands of Royal, Texas, for good. He’d wanted to get his business, Texas Sky Technologies, off the ground, which required a lot of hard work. He’d wanted to be a success and give her everything she wanted.
Except he couldn’t. Skye wanted the impossible. She hadn’t been able to let go of the crazy notions she’d had about coming back home and resolving the family feud and somehow bringing the Taylors and Holts together. He didn’t know why. Maybe so they could join hands and sing in perfect harmony and share a soda together.
No matter what her reasons, it wasn’t going to happen. The Taylors and the Holts had been arguing, suing and occasionally shooting over the same piece of land for at least a hundred years and nothing Jake did or said was going to change that. Hell, he couldn’t even get his own family to accept that he’d fallen in love with Skye Taylor. How was he supposed to convince her parents to accept him as a son-in-law?
Easier just to pick up and start over somewhere new.
Or it had been, until it all fell apart.
Still, Jake could not believe that she’d actually had him served with divorce papers. Skye had been his world for so long. They’d sacrificed everything to be together once.
The papers were dated eight months ago. Jake wasn’t about to sign the damn things and mail them off. Not until he made good and sure that Skye was done with him.
Which was why he was back in his least favorite place in the entire world—Royal, Texas. If Skye could tell him to his face that it was over, then it was over. Twenty years of his life spent loving her—done.
God, he hated this town.
He’d come home after all these years on the assumption that Skye was here. But now? Now he hoped she wasn’t here. It looked as if the tornado that had blown through town had left a wake of complete and total destruction in its path.
Despite the long months apart, and the evil divorce papers, he prayed she wasn’t here, that wherever she was, she was safe. That she hadn’t been in the path of that twister.
He didn’t even know when the twister had hit. He was jumping to conclusions, but the whole prodigal-son-returns-home thing had him on edge. He needed information before he did anything else. And the best place to get information in this town was the Royal Diner.
As he headed into the heart of the town, the damage got worse and worse. Trees were gone, nothing but twisted stumps left. The car lot where he’d bought his first truck was vacant, save a pile of rubble where the building used to stand. Plenty of places had tarps over their roofs and boarded-up windows. The walk-up ice-cream shop where he used to take Skye for a cone was off its foundation entirely, sitting four feet away on the sidewalk where he’d dared to hold Skye’s hand in public.
He’d turned his back on this town four years ago. Said he didn’t care if he never saw Royal—or the people in it—ever again. But now that he was here, it was almost too much.
Just when he thought he couldn’t take it, he came upon a block that was mostly okay looking. Jake was thrilled to see the Royal Diner was still standing. People were sitting inside, drinking coffee.
He felt himself breathe. It wasn’t all gone. The diner was still here.
He pulled up in front and sat, thinking. He didn’t want to care about Royal, Texas, because he’d told himself for years that he didn’t care.
But seeing the town so wounded, and not knowing who’d lived and who’d died—it tore him up in a way he wasn’t prepared for. He was worried about his family, for God’s sake. He was worried about Skye. Just because it was over didn’t mean he hoped something awful had happened to her.
Someone walked past his car and did a double take. Jake didn’t recognize the man, but then, he didn’t recognize the town anymore. Things had changed.
He needed to know how much they’d changed. Forewarned was forearmed and he needed to know what had happened before he sucked it up and went home.
So, gritting his teeth, Jake got out of the car and walked into the diner.
What had been a pleasant midday hum died the moment the door shut behind him. He recognized Amanda working behind the counter, although he was surprised to see she was pregnant.
“Jake? Jake Holt?” She froze in what seemed to be true shock—or horror. “Is it really you?”
“Hi,” Jake said, putting on a smile as the silence closed around him. He could feel the shock rolling off of every single person in the restaurant. Even the cook leaned out of the kitchen to look at him.
He’d been in tight spots before, dealing with angry international businessmen who didn’t speak much English and had their own ways of doing things. But this? This was the tightest spot he’d ever been in.
“What?” someone demanded from one of the booths in the back of the diner. “Did someone say Jake Holt?”
Then, to Jake’s surprise, his brother, Keaton, stood up.
“Jake?” Keaton looked at him as if Jake were a zombie who’d stumbled into the diner fresh from the graveyard. “What the hell?”
Jake looked around the room, but he found no moral support. Everyone appeared to be thinking the same thing. Even Amanda, who’d always been a sweetheart back in school.
This was not how he’d wanted it to go. He’d wanted to locate Skye and hash it out for once and for all in private with no one—or at least not their families—the wiser. He wanted things to go back to the way they used to be, back when it was him and Skye against the world. And if he had to confront his family, then he’d wanted it to happen in the privacy of the Holt home, without an audience.
Which is what he had right now—one hell of an audience. The diner was mostly full with the lunch crowd. Plenty of witnesses with waggling tongues who would probably be more than happy to spread the news of the less-than-happy family reunion from here to San Antonio.
“Hello, Keaton.” Jake tried to sound as if he were glad to see his brother, but he didn’t pull it off.
The diner was so quiet he could have heard a pin drop. He wasn’t sure anyone was even breathing.
Keaton’s jaw was clenched—and so were his fists. Yeah, this wasn’t a happy family reunion by any stretch of the imagination. “Where have you been?” To his credit, at least it didn’t come out as a snarl.
“Bahrain,” Jake replied, trying to keep his tone casual. After all, he was basically announcing this to the whole town. “I had a big job there. It just wrapped up.”
A light murmur rippled through the onlookers. Jake couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
“I heard about the storm,” he went on. Might as well put some lipstick on this pig. “I came home as soon as I could to see if I could help.”
More murmuring. At least this time, it sounded like a positive reaction.
Keaton gave him a look of white-hot death, but then he seemed to realize that they had an audience. “Do you have time to have a cup of coffee?” He motioned back to the booth.
“Sure.” Just a casual cup of joe with the man who’d forced Jake to choose between the Holt land and the woman he loved. No big deal.
He walked past his brother and slid into the opposite side of the booth. Keaton stood there, glaring down at him for a moment before he took his seat.
The diner was still unnaturally quiet—so quiet, Jake could hear Amanda’s footsteps coming toward. “Coffee?”
He tried to be polite. “Sure. I take it you’re not Amanda Altman anymore, huh?”
“Been married to Nathan Battle for over a year,” she said with an awkward grin.
Jake nodded, hoping the gesture concealed his surprise. He’d thought they’d broken up a long time ago. “That’s great. Congratulations.”
“It’s good you’re back, Jake,” Amanda said. She paused and then, after a worried glance at Keaton, added, “Things may have changed, but it’s still good to come home.”
He forced a polite smile. “Not sure how long I’ll be here,” he said. “But I’ll do my best to help out.”