Amanda gave him a look before the cook rang the bell and yelled, “Order up!”
And then it was him and Keaton. His brother had changed, but then, hadn’t everything? Fine lines had settled in around his eyes and his mouth. They might have been the lines that went with smiling. Maybe Keaton had been happy after Jake had slipped off into the night with Skye four years ago. Maybe he’d gotten married, had some kids. Had a nice life. Jake could be a big enough man to hope for that.
There were no smiles now.
Jake took a sip of his coffee and felt something inside him unclench. He’d had coffee the world over, but there was something about the coffee at the diner that tasted like...
He was not going to be glad to be back, no matter what Amanda said. And he was not staying long, either. The look on Keaton’s face made it plenty clear he wasn’t welcome. Some things never changed.
Slowly, the noise level in the diner began to return to normal conversation levels. Still, Keaton said nothing. And Jake wasn’t about to fill the void. He had nothing to say to his brother.
Nothing polite, anyway.
Finally, Keaton cracked. “Bahrain?”
Jake nodded. “I run a successful information technology company that specializes in creating the IT infrastructure on oil drilling sites. We do jobs around the world. The Bahrain job was a major win—I beat out some NASDAQ companies for the right to that job.”
Of course, none of that information was exactly secret. If Keaton—or anyone else here in Royal—had really wanted to, they could have searched for Texas Sky Technologies online.
Keaton’s jaw worked. “Texas Sky, right?”
Jake stared at him. “You looked me up?” Had his brother...missed him?
“Yeah, I really had no choice,” Keaton replied with a snort. “Imagine my surprise when the people who answer your phones insisted that you didn’t have a brother. Like I didn’t even exist.”
Okay, so Jake maybe hadn’t talked about his family in warm, glowing terms with his employees, but that didn’t explain why his receptionist hadn’t forwarded the messages.
One other thing was clear from the way Keaton had said he didn’t have a choice—the man hadn’t missed Jake. “Did you ever consider it’s not the rest of the world, Keaton? Maybe you just bring that out in everyone.” He started to slide out of the booth. Sparring with his brother was not getting him any closer to finding Skye. He did not have time for this.
Keaton put up an arm to block Jake’s exit. “How long were you there for?”
Jake was stuck. He’d come in here to get information about Skye and he still had nothing. So he gritted his teeth and settled back in. This was for Skye. “Almost ten months. It was a yearlong contract, but once you factor in the vacation time, it was just short of ten months.”
“So you have no idea, then?”
“No idea about what?” Which pretty much answered the question, but that was all Jake was going to give the man.
And just like that, the power balance in the booth shifted.
Jake took in the angry look on Keaton’s face and did what he had to. He blurred the truth. “Bahrain isn’t exactly a woman’s paradise. She wasn’t up to joining me on this job.”
“I imagine not.”
Jake didn’t like his brother’s sarcastic tone, and fought the urge to lunge over the table and grab Keaton by the collar. He wasn’t the same hotheaded kid. He was a businessman—a darned successful one at that. He could negotiate with businessmen from China to South Africa to Bahrain.
He would not let Keaton win. Not now, not ever.
So he let that nugget sit while he sipped his coffee. “Something you’d like to get off your chest, Keaton?” he finally asked.
“Did you at least have the decency to marry her?”
He. Would. Not. Kill. Keaton.
Not yet, anyway.
“Actually,” Jake said in his coolest voice, “I don’t see what that has to do with you in the least. What goes on between me and Skye is our business. Not yours.” He would absolutely not tell his brother a single iota of information more than he had to—and his questionable marital status was at the top of that list.
“You should have married her.” Keaton made a show of sipping his coffee.
Jake didn’t want to have his brother all up in his business like this. This was not how the plan was supposed to go. He was supposed to swing into Royal, find Skye, confront her if she was here and swing right back out again. Whatever problems he and Skye had were between the two of them. Keaton was not a part this. No one in their families was.
So much for that plan.
“Again, not your concern.”
“You’re so sure of that, huh?” Keaton shook his head in obvious pity.
Jake bristled. Why was Keaton insisting that he should have married Skye? The man had spent years trying to push Skye and Jake apart—not enter them into holy matrimony. “Positive.”
“Positive,” he said, his tone deadly serious. “Oh, yeah, you’re positive! You always did think you knew everything, didn’t you?”
That was it. Jake didn’t have to sit here and take this. Keaton was always doing this—lording it over Jake. Jake hadn’t missed his brother at all in four years. Not once. And this was why.
“Been good seeing you, Keaton. Give my best to Mom and Dad.” He tried to slide out of the booth but Keaton grabbed his shirt. Immediately, the conversation in the diner dropped to an audible whisper.
“I need to congratulate you, Jake.” The sarcasm had slipped back into Keaton’s tone and he had a mean glint in his eye. “You’re a father.”
Jake’s stomach dropped. It couldn’t be true. He and Skye had always been careful, always discussed waiting to start their family until they were a little better situated. No, he wasn’t a father because it just wasn’t possible. Instead, this was Keaton trying to screw with him, as always. He probably didn’t even know where Skye was. “Funny, Keaton. Real funny.” He shook free of his brother’s grip and bolted out of the booth. He tried to smile at Amanda as he all but bulldozed his way out of the diner.
As he walked, his mind raced through the options. He was going to kill his brother. Keaton had always been a jerk about Jake and Skye, but this? This took the cake. Jake was not a father. Skye hadn’t been pregnant when they’d called it a day.
He thought back to the last time he’d lain in bed with her in his arms. They’d gone out to dinner—a fancy thing, because he was making more money now. Business was good. He was trying to show her that he could take care of her, give her the very best in life. But dinner had been tense. They hadn’t spoken much. They’d had sex when they’d gone home, but it’d been...
It’d been missing the spark that had held them together for so long. The evening was supposed to be about showing Skye that they still had something worth saving. But apparently in the end, it’d shown them—her—that what they’d had was already gone.
A few days later, their world had erupted. Skye had insisted that, if Jake loved her, he’d go home to Royal with her and start a family. And Jake had insisted that, if Skye loved him, she never even would have asked him to come back to this pit of a town.
The fight had been—well, he tried not to think about the things he’d said. And he tried extra hard not to think about the things she’d said. He’d gone to a hotel the next morning and left for Bahrain the next week.
He could not be a father. He just couldn’t be. And if he was—that was a huge if—then Skye had even less business serving him with divorce papers. But he’d had no other contact with her. Not so much as a peep.
So Jake did the only reasonable thing. He ignored his brother—who had followed him out of the diner, calling his name—and kept walking. He wasn’t about to sit there and let his brother mock him. There were other ways to find Skye. Ways that did not involve additional humiliation at the hands of Keaton.