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“So you saying appearances don’t matter at all?”


“Yes, appearances do matter, but it shouldn’t define you.”


“Does it define you?” he countered.


“No. What if I’d tracked you down in the banquet wearing my stable-cleaning clothes? If you’d pretended not to know me, that’s shallow. If you’d kissed my cheek and said, ‘Darlin’, next time leave the shitkickers at home,’ that’s caring less about appearances because you were happy to be with me.”


Jack seized the chance to turn the tables. “Would you be happy to be with me, Keely? If the reverse was true?”


“Meaning what?”


“Say I accept your dirty boots and western quirks. Say you accept I’m a suit-and-tie-wearing guy. Say I’m madly in love with you. You’re madly in love with me. Would you give up your way of life to be with me?”


“Way of life?” she repeated.


“Would you move away from your home in Wyoming to live with me in this condo in Colorado? Or are you so set in your ways that you wouldn’t consider it?”


“What does that have to do with being shallow?” she demanded.


“Don’t you think it’s shallow that you won’t consider living anywhere besides Wyoming?”


“Not the same. Not at all.”


“Really? You don’t look at me with pity because I live in a high rise and wear a monkey suit? The same way those women pitied you for what you wore and where you lived?”


Sticky silence.


Jack wanted to tell her he wasn’t just hypothesizing. Would any kind of long term, real relationship have to be solely on her terms?


“Maybe I am shallow,” she said in a small voice. “I never thought of it that way. You definitely gave me something to think about.”


“Keely. You misunderstood.”


“The hell I did. I’m happy in my own skin. I could be happy anywhere if I was with the person I loved. But it’s a moot point anyway.”


“Why?”


“Because you don’t love me. And I don’t pity you for the way you live as much as you pity yourself.”


“Hey, that’s not fair.”


“Nothin’ ever is. Good night, Jack.”


She jerked the covers so tightly around herself he only saw a lump on the other side of the bed.


Cocooned as she was, she wouldn’t have heard his But I do love you rebuttal, but he said it anyway.


“I wish you’d change your mind.”


“I’ll text you and let you know, okay?”


“Okay.” Jack scrambled her brain with a kiss with equal parts fire and sweet regret.


Keely watched the elevator doors close and returned to his condo. She spent a considerable amount of time staring out the window contemplating her options.


Wow. Big choices: Stay or go.


Her cell phone blared “One Hot Mama”. Smiling, she said, “Hey, AJ. What’s up?”


“My feet. Foster is down for his nap. Ky and Anton are helping Cord. So I have time to grill you about what the hell happened last night.”


Where to start? “Jack was too freakin’ busy being a businessman to notice I was miserable with his asshole associates’ wives. I got tired of being the lowbrow entertainment and left. Oh, and piss off for telling him where I went, AJ.”


“What was I supposed to do, K? I’ve never heard calm, cool and collected Jack Donohue that upset. I figured something major had gone down if you’d bolted. So sue me. I wanted to make sure you were all right just as much as he did. You know how we all hate it when you just take off and no one has a clue where you are.”


Keely closed her eyes and let her head fall into the headrest. Sometimes getting away by herself was the only way she could clear her head. Her family didn’t understand, so she’d stopped trying to explain and just took off whenever she needed.


“Here’s where you tell me what happened,” AJ prompted.


“It was a fucking nightmare.”


“Still doesn’t explain anything, K.”


She struggled to put it in a context that didn’t sound hopelessly high-schoolish. “Remember when you first moved to Denver? We went to that party over at Tim’s house and you had an awful time? Back at the apartment you cried because you’d felt totally out of place, like my hick cousin who’d never been to the big city? That describes last night.


“But replace the obnoxious jocks with Jack’s colleagues. Replace the snotty sorority sisters with snooty colleagues’ wives. I wore the wrong clothes. I wore the wrong shoes. Hell, I think they sniffed to see if I had cowshit on me. Plus, the ringleader was Jack’s old flame and she made me feel small enough to fit into a thimble—before she cornered me in the can to reinforce what a total fuckin’ loser I am. It was horrendous, AJ. All I wanted was to go home.”


AJ paused thoughtfully. “So you ran?”


“Yep. And I hid.” And I realized I’m a total idiot for falling in love with a man I can’t have because he sees me the same way they do: A hick country girl who’d never fit in his world.


“You never run. You always stay and fight.”


Keely sighed. “I know. But I was in way over my head.”


“So next time you’re in that situation? What happens?”


It won’t happen again. “I don’t know.”


“Keely. Listen to me. Sounds like these social events are a big part of Jack’s professional life. You can’t run every time. You have to find a way to deal with it in a way that works for both of you.”


“My way to deal? I’d tell Martine and her cronies to fuck off. But I can’t because it’d reflect badly on Jack.”


“True. But you’ve got no reason to hide and hang your head in shame for not being good enough. So what if you wore the wrong clothes? You’ve got a college degree for cripesake. You’ve worked for the PBR, the PRCA and the VA. You’re part of one of the oldest ranching families in Wyoming. You’re on your way to being a businesswoman in your own right. Plus you’re generous and funny, everyone who meets you loves you, not to mention you are beautiful inside and outside. If they can’t see that—”


“They don’t. And I don’t feel like I should have to defend my life or explain who I am to anyone.”


“Does Jack know that?”


“He does now. I don’t want to change, AJ. I’m happy with who I am.”


“Then screw ’em. What the hell do you care what some hoity-toity wives think? They don’t have any power in Jack’s career. Isn’t that why they’re called trophy wives? They’re worthless ornamentation. I say show up tonight in your hottest, most flattering western outfit and flirt shamelessly with all their husbands.”


“Great plan, AJ.”


“Seriously. If they already dislike you, what’re you out? They smacked your pride; hit ’em back where it hurts. We both know, sista, when you’re on, you’re on. No one can top you in the charm department. No one can top you in the looks department. Let that wild child out, Keely West McKay. She’s been caged too long.”


Keely laughed. God, she loved AJ. She was the best friend in the history of the world. “That’d definitely stir things up.”


“Will this ‘in your faces beyotches’ response cause problems in your relationship with Jack?”


When she and Jack broke up, AJ could convince everyone she’d seen it coming due to their divergent philosophies. “Maybe.”


“Then what are you out?”


Nothing. Or everything.


“Just think about it. When will you be home?”


“Tomorrow.”


“Good. Come over, I’ll crack Cord’s expensive tequila for you and we’ll talk more. I love you, K.


You’re the best person ever. Don’t believe differently.”


“Love you too, and thanks.”


She hung up and stared out the window again.


Hell. Maybe AJ was right. If Keely McKay was going out, maybe she should go out with a bang instead of a whimper.


Chapter Nineteen


Keely was twenty minutes late for the pre-dinner cocktail party. Not intentionally—it’d been difficult finding a parking place big enough for her truck. She’d wound up on the bottom level of the parking garage. Again. Not a good sign.


Wrong. You’ve got no place to go but up.


True. With each step into the hotel her inner cheerleader kept up a brisk, You can do this! You can do this! She was doing it; she just wasn’t sure how smart it was.


After she’d sauntered in, the banquet room hushed in a collective pause she’d seen in movies.


Fuck ’em. Let ’em stare. This is the real me. Proud to be one hundred percent pure Wyoming cowgirl.


If they didn’t like it they could take a flying fuckin’ leap. So could Jack.


Keely wore a pair of dark blue, skintight bootcut jeans with deerskin leather fringe running down the outer seam of each leg. The fringe made a cool flap flap noise as she walked. She’d threaded her rainbow crystal b.b. simon belt through the belt loops and tucked in her favorite baby blue camisole to showcase the horseshoe-shaped rhinestone buckle. Lastly she’d donned a vivid blue long-sleeved shirt, embroidered with cornflowers, finished off with pearl snap buttons. Her feet sported scuffed up ostrich skin Ariat boots.


Baxter Ducheyne approached her first and his piggy eyes slowly scrolled over her. She forced herself not to shudder at his leering smile. He thrust out his sausage-fingered hand. “Keely. Lovely to see you again.”


“The pleasure is all mine, Baxter,” she lied. “Have you seen Jack? I didn’t meet many people last night after I left the dinner.” Thanks to your vomit-inducing wife.


“I’m sure Jack’s here someplace. Don’t you worry. I’d be happy to introduce you around,” Baxter assured her.


Keely oozed folksy charm. At one point, she realized a half dozen men surrounded her. A lanky man with a pronounced goiter and Fabio’s flowing hairstyle had spoken to her. “I’m sorry, sugar, what did you say?”

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