Tough to Love
Rally Teveare had been living a lie for years and hiding a huge secret. He was telling Sage one thing, but feeling something else entirely different anytime he saw her. He wasn't supposed to want Sage as deeply as he did, but he was undeniably in love with her. Now, all he had to do was make her believe it especially after all of the harsh words he had tossed in her direction.
There wasn't a time that Sage Nicole didn't remember caring about Rally, but sometimes love wasn't enough. She wasn't going wait any longer for him to get a damn clue. Especially not when a gorgeous new man was taking an interest in her, she would be crazy not to give him a chance.
Had Rally waited too long to confess his emotions or did he still have a chance at recapturing Sage's heart?
A song played softly around Sage Nicole while she watched couples move on the dance floor. Tonight was supposed to be a celebration, but she didn’t feel much like partying. She wanted this night to be over so she could go upstairs and crawl into her bed. She had spent half her paycheck on her dress to finally get Rally Teveare to notice her, but it hadn’t worked. He was ignoring her the way he had done for most of her life.
She was usually a strong and confident woman, but when it came to him all her common sense went right out the door. Earlier he had given her a quick congratulations before his stunning date, Vanity, dragged him away from her and held his unwavering attention for the rest of the night.
It never failed that Rally focused more on the dark-haired woman in his arms than her. It had been that way for as long as she could remember. Why was she even staying in this house after so many years? It was past time for her to move out and get her own life and find a decent man of her own.
She tossed back another tequila shot and sat the glass down on the table next to the half empty bottle. She had lost count of how many she’d had in the past hour, but she wasn’t drunk because she’d been munching on a plate of food a cute waiter brought to her earlier. She was pretty sure Shawn was the one who had sent the guy in her direction.
Couldn’t Rally at least pull himself away from Vanity long enough to ask her how graduation went? Of course not. She wasn’t family in his eyes, only an interloper he was ready to toss out on the streets when the right time came.
After going to college for six years, she had finally graduated with a double major in Public Relations and Management Consulting. Rally wasn’t courteous enough to even show up to her graduation. Was an hour out of his day too much time to waste on her? She hated acting like a lovesick teenager, but she was so in love with Rally that she couldn’t think straight, and that had to change.
“It’s about time I figure out if I’m going to stay here in Arizona or move on,” Sage muttered to herself. Seeing Rally with other women was tearing her apart and she deserved so much better.
“You’re going to wear a permanent hole in my brother’s back if you don’t stop staring at him,” a voice teased behind her.
“I’m not staring at that idiot brother of yours,” she said, reaching for the liquor bottle. “I’m just sitting here having my own private party since no one else seems to care what today is.”
“Sage, I’ve never seen you take a drink before. What’s wrong?” Shawn asked, easing the bottle away from her.
Shawn placed the liquor bottle on the table behind them and then rejoined her. “Aren’t you happy to finally be out of college? I know how hard you worked to get those extra credits.”
“Nothing’s wrong with me,” she lied. “I’m enjoying watching your brother dance with Vanity all night at my graduation party.” Sage stole another glance at Rally and his date. “She’s very beautiful, isn’t she?”
Shawn grabbed her chin, making her look at him. “My brother doesn’t know what he has when it’s staring him right in the face. Sage, you’re intelligent, sweet, kind to a fault and very loving.”
“Which are all the code words for ugly.” She sighed.
She and Shawn had been best friends since Rally’s folks had taken her in after her parents died. Shawn always found a way to cheer her up, but not tonight. She wasn’t in the mood and nothing was going to pull her out of it.
“I know I’m not the type of woman Rally would ever be interested in, and I’m fine with that. I’ve been keeping my feelings a secret for this long, so what’s a couple more weeks?”
“A couple more weeks?” Shawn frowned, removing his hand from her face.
“Haven’t you heard the latest rumor?” Sage asked. “Rally is going to marry Vanity. She’s his other half. Everyone knows that. She’s stunning and your family would be pleased with his choice.”
Shawn linked her fingers with his and held them against the table. “My brother wouldn’t marry Vanity just to keep the family on his good side. You know him better than that. He’s his own man and makes his own decisions.”
Leaning across the table, Sage gave Shawn a tiny kiss on the mouth. They both knew Rally would marry Vanity if he wanted to, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact he was in love with her. She needed to stop making excuses for him and just see the truth for what it was. Rally never looked at her the way he did other women and he never would.
Sage slipped her hand away from Shawn’s light grip and laid it on her lap. “Thank you for trying to make me believe something that isn’t true, but be honest with me. Rally and Vanity are truly the perfect couple. They complement each other so well. Rally is tall and muscular, which only brings out Vanity’s slender model-like figure.
“Rally is a proud Native American man and he only wants the best for himself and his future family. Vanity can give him that and more.” Sage sighed.
She waited for Shawn to refute what she’d just said, but he couldn’t and they both knew it. The look in his eyes told her everything she needed to know. Rally was the oldest and it was on his shoulders to keep the family going with his future children.
“Sage, I’m so sorry, but Rally is fond of you. He’s always talking about how smart you are and how you’ll be able to get anything you want.”
“Whatever, but we both know how he actually feels about me. He hated how your parents were my godparents and they got saddled with me after the house fire. I can still see him standing there yelling at your parents about how they didn’t have enough room for another mouth to feed.”
“Shit, Sage. Rally was about to go off to college and thought our parents were too old to have a ten-year-old in the house.” Shawn jumped in, trying to denying his brother’s actions. “After a while he grew fond of you and liked having you around the house.”
“Yeah, like a stray off the street,” she muttered under her breath. “Rally never liked me and he never will. Why won’t you tell me the truth? I’m adult enough to handle it now.”
“Is that why you tried to run away when you were eighteen?”
“I had graduated high school and I thought your parents had done enough for me. I wanted to give them a break.” Sage shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal. I came back, didn’t I?”
“Only after Rally found out and went out looking for you. I never saw him so furious in my life. Over the years, my brother learned how to control his quick temper, but the day Mom called him and told him about you not coming home will be a day I’ll never forget.”
“Rally was annoyed I upset his mother and nothing else. I was trying to ease their burden of having me around.”
“My parents never saw you as a burden, Sage.” Shawn corrected her. “They loved you from the second you got out of that car with those two pigtails and your glasses slipping down your nose.” Smiling at the memory, he leaned across the table, pushing up her glasses with his index finger.
“I haven’t changed much over the years, have I?”
“Yes, you have.”
“Sure, I’m just drop-dead gorgeous with a line of men waiting to date me.” Sage sighed, tired of this conversation again. Her situation never changed, and it never would if she didn’t get herself away from Rally.
“I think you only want one man and we both know who that is,” Shawn said, taking a look at his brother on the dance floor.
“Am I that transparent? Maybe I should try to get a job in another state. The time away from Rally might do me some good. What do you think?”
“Hey, I’m not in this. You have to talk to Rally about that one, but you know he believes in family staying together.”
Sage gave Shawn a sad smile as she stood up from the table. “See, that’s where you’re wrong. Rally has never seen me as family, just as a nuisance that came into his life when he didn’t want it.”
Shawn got up from his seat. “How about we stop talking about my brother? I think you owe me a dance.”
“Not tonight.” Sage shook her head. “I’ve had a long day and I’m going to bed. Since none of these people here are my friends, besides you, not one of them will even notice I’m gone.” She spun on her heel and turned away from Shawn, leaving the room without looking back in Rally’s direction.
Out on the dance floor, Rally Teveare only half listened to Vanity as she kept bragging about herself. He brought her to Sage’s party because she was good company most of the time, but she was making him hate the sound of her voice. Why he was still even dating her was a mystery to him, but he just couldn’t find a reason to get rid of her yet.
He did feel a little guilty that he hadn’t danced with or even said more than maybe five words to Sage. He’d noticed her looking in his direction earlier, but she hadn’t made a move to approach him for a dance.
He spun Vanity around just in time to see Sage getting up from the table and hurrying from the room. What’s that all about? Where is she going? He noticed how the waiter who had brought her something to eat earlier couldn’t take his eyes off her. Now, it wasn’t twenty minutes later; Sage was disappearing from the party and he was nowhere in sight. She better not be doing something that would land her ass in a world of trouble.
“Vanity, I’ve got to see about something,” Rally said as he stopped dancing. “I think I see one of your friends over by the band. Could you talk to her for a few minutes? I won’t be gone that long.”
“Sure, but I hope you’ll be back. I want to tell you about the amazing advice my boss gave me yesterday.” Vanity gave him a quick kiss on the mouth and then strolled in the direction of her friend.
Striding away from the dance area, Rally went out the door in search of Sage. He didn’t need her getting into any trouble. It seemed like everywhere that girl went, trouble followed her. Rally caught the shadow of Sage’s body going up the steps as he rounded the corner.
Why is she going upstairs?
Following Sage, he watched as she went into her bedroom and closed the door. He paused as anger set inside his body. He warned her before about having guys in her bedroom. He’d better not find the waiter there, because if he did neither one of them would like the consequences. His long strides carried him the remaining distance to Sage’s room. He knocked on the door once and then went in.
“Sage, why in the hell are you up here instead of downstairs at the party? Please tell me you aren’t hiding that damn waiter in your room.” Rally slammed the door closed behind him.
Shrieking, Sage spun away from the closet and gave him a stunned look. “What in the hell are you doing in my bedroom? I never have any privacy in this house. What if I had been getting undressed instead of looking for a change of clothes?”
“You weren’t, and furthermore you’re not going to get it unless you start acting like an adult. Now, is there a guy in here?”
“I don’t answer to you, Rally,” she uttered, crossing her arms under her breasts.
“Answer my question or I’ll search every inch of this room,” Rally snapped back, taking a similar stance as Sage’s. She was pushing his buttons a lot lately and he didn’t understand why it was bothering him more than usual.
“I don’t have to give an answer. It’s none of your damn business what I do up here. Get out of my room.”
Rage simmered as he unfolded his arms and walked across the room until he was standing over Sage’s shorter frame. He knew she hated when he did this, and that’s why he was doing it now.
“You do have to answer me because you’re living under my roof. I paid a lot of money for this party and you’re up here with some waiter instead of downstairs. Now tell me where he is and all of this will be over.”
Rally didn’t know what it was, but ever since Sage turned sixteen she tested him. He thought it would end once she hit her twenties, but she had only gotten worse. She was slowly driving him insane.
Defiance flashed in her gorgeous sienna eyes. He loved how her glasses made her eyes so big and inviting. It was another thing that worried him. Sage was staying in his mind way too much lately.
The sooner he got her out of the house the better off he would be. He was starting to see her in ways that he shouldn’t. His sudden attraction to her could be one of the reasons Vanity was still on his arm. He had to find a way to keep her at arm’s length.
“Don’t test me,” Rally growled before Sage could open her mouth.
“I really hate you.”
“The feeling is mutual,” he tossed back, tired of the game they always played. “Now tell me where this guy is and I’ll leave.”
Throwing her hands up in the air, Sage moved away from the closet into the middle of the room. “I’m the only one up here. I haven’t tried to sneak a guy to my room since I was in high school. I was so embarrassed when you walked in on us that I never thought about trying it again.”
Lying wasn’t one of Sage’s best traits, so he knew she was telling the truth. “I’m glad that I did. I wasn’t going to let your first time be in this house with a guy you barely knew. My parents wouldn’t have allowed it and neither was I.”
“Joseph wasn’t a bad guy, but after the lecture you gave him he never looked in my direction again.” She sighed, moving over to the window.
“Good, he proved my point. If he couldn’t wait until you graduated to have sex, then he wasn’t the right guy for you.” Rally joined Sage by the window and glanced down at her bent head. “Now, do you want to tell me why you’re up here and what my brother was talking to you about?”
“Shawn wasn’t talking to me about anything important. He was just being sweet as usual and I came upstairs because I wasn’t enjoying the party. All of those people downstairs were yours and Vanity’s friends, not mine. You tried making it into a party for me, but we know both it wasn’t.”
“How did you find out? Was it Shawn? I told him to keep his mouth shut.”
“No, Shawn didn’t say a word to me. I’ve known all along. I overheard you on the phone talking about Vanity getting promoted to vice president at her company last week. She wanted a party to celebrate and now you’re having one for her, but are trying to pretend it’s for me. You’re in love with her. So, why wouldn’t you give her one?”
Guilt ate at him for lying about the party, but he still thought Sage wouldn’t mind sharing her graduation party with Vanity. “I’m sorry. How about we have another one for you next weekend and you can invite all of your college friends?” He was trying to make amends.
“No…thank you. This was good enough for someone like me.” Sage moved away from him. “If you don’t mind, could you leave? I’m tired and I need to get some sleep.”
Someone like her, he wondered as he headed back towards the door. What is she talking about? “We aren’t finished with this. I want to discuss this some more at breakfast tomorrow.” Rally paused in the doorway and looked back over at Sage standing in the middle of the room.
“Sure…just not tonight.”
He wanted to say something more, but he could tell that Sage wasn’t in the mood to talk with him, but he would get to the bottom of her comment tomorrow. In the last year, Sage had grown a lot more distant and it worried him. She seldom wanted to spend any time around him, so he was really surprised when she accepted his job offer.
“See you tomorrow,” he tossed out before exiting the room.