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A truck. She quelled the disappointment it wasn’t a BMW. Her pulse leapt when she realized it was Cord’s truck.

AJ had come looking for her.

But all four doors of the quad cab opened. Colby emerged first. Followed by Colt. Cord and Cam came around the front end of the truck. Carter was the last one out.

Keely gaped at her brothers. All five of her brothers.

“You’re a hard woman to find,” Cord said.

Her gaze moved from face to face. She expected Cam would chew her out for taking off alone. Colby would comment she needed a babysitter. Colt would threaten to whup her butt. They did none of that. She finally looked at Carter, who’d stepped forward. “Hey, little sis. Looks like you need a friend or five.”

The tears she’d kept at bay streamed down her cheeks. Keely ran straight into Carter’s open arms. He caught her and squeezed. “It’s okay. We’re here for you.”

“I can’t believe you guys came.” She sniffed when Cam grabbed her from Carter and hugged her tightly.

“I can’t believe you thought we’d just let you be when you’re hurting.” Cam gave her a soft head butt and set her back on the ground. “You’d never let any of us get away with hiding, so what goes around comes around, little sis.”

Then Colt scooped her up and swung her in a circle, like he used to do when she was little. “We ain’t that easy to get rid of, if you haven’t noticed.” Colt practically tossed her to Colby.

“We McKays stick together. Although you ain’t got a stem, you were born with balls. You’re truck tough.” Colby kissed her forehead and dropped her in front of Cord.

“Sometimes I think you’re the toughest of us all. God knows you’re the smartest.” Cord hugged her and then smacked her ass. Hard.


“You’re damn lucky we didn’t all swat you. You scared the crap out of us, Keely West McKay.”

“Sorry. I needed time alone to think. A family trait you’re all familiar with.” She wandered back to the fire pit.

Her brothers followed and crowded around the fire. Colt and Colby crouched by the fire. Cord perched on a log. Cam and Carter stood, hands in pockets as they stared at the burning embers and the flames licking the pale night sky.

Cord spoke first. “What happened between you and Jack that sent you runnin’?”

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” This from Cam.

“No. We both said some pretty nasty, hurtful things to each other. Sometimes that’s worse.”

“So is it over?” Colby asked.

Keely stirred the embers, glad the heat in her cheeks could be attributed to the flames. “I don’t know.”

“Do you want it to be over?”

Her gaze connected with Colt’s after he voiced that question. “No. God no. I think he probably does.”

“We’ve already established he’s a fucking idiot if he walks away from you,” Carter said. “I’m glad we—”

“Carter,” Colby warned.

“What? I’m glad we figured out he’s just as stubborn as her, that’s all I’m saying.”

A weird feeling rippled through her. “What are you guys talking about?”

“You. And Jack. Stubborn as all get-out, both of you. Didja ever try talkin’ to each other? Instead of throwing insults and stompin’ off mad as a wet hornet?”

Keely’s mouth dropped open. She stared at Cord, who couldn’t be considered chatty on his best day.

“She threw the engagement ring at him this time, not an insult, which tells me it’s over for good.”

Her gaze whipped to Cam. “How did you know I threw my engagement ring at Jack?”

“Chet and Remy.”

And they claimed their word was their bond. She snorted. They’d gone tattling to her brothers fast enough. “When did you find out?”

“When you didn’t show up at the building today. Doc Monroe told ’em you weren’t at the clinic. You weren’t answering your phone. They called everyone… Who’d they call first?”

Cord lifted his hand. “I reckon they started at the top of the birth order and worked their way down.”

“They called all of you?”


“When was this?”

“One. Or thereabouts.”

Damn. “How’d you find me?”

“AJ,” they all said in unison.

“So what have you guys been doin’ the last six hours?”

Guilty looks.

Her pulse spiked. “Oh. My. God. What did you do?”

“Now, Keely. You gotta understand. We warned Jack not to mess with you,” Cam said amiably.

“He knew the risks and he hurt you anyway, which pissed us off,” Colby added.

Colt nodded. “You know we ain’t gonna let something like that slide.”

Fear, anger and shock all warred inside her. She forced herself not to scream to get to the bottom of what her crazy brothers had done to Jack. “What did you do to him?”

Carter studied her a minute before he spoke. “Would you care?”

“Yes! How could you think I’d…?” She inhaled, exhaled, amidst awful, bloody, violent scenarios racing through her mind. “Where is he?”

“He’s a little tied up at the moment.”

Every single one of her brothers started laughing.

Not good. Not good at all. “Tell me where Jack is right fuckin’ now or I will call every one of your wives and round up my own McKay posse to track him down. I ain’t kiddin’.”

More exchanged looks. Something passed between Cam and Carter. They stood, along with Colt, and walked to the back of Cord’s truck bed.

The grunting noises were loud in the stillness. Dragging, scraping sounds echoed. Hissed breaths.

Keely couldn’t see the action. She gasped when her brothers struggled into her line of sight carrying a bulky form. A six-foot-four, muscular form they dropped on the ground, none too gently. A form that was blindfolded, gagged, with arms and legs tied.

Holy fucking shit. That trussed up form was…Jack.

“Omigod! Please tell me you didn’t kill him!”

“Jesus, Keely. Give us some credit. If we woulda killed him, you never would’ve known,” Colby said.

“Yeah, we definitely wouldn’t have brought the body here,” Cam scoffed.

She glared at him. Before she could move or speak or do anything, another pickup barreled up and skidded to a stop. When the dust cleared she realized it was her father’s pickup.

Carson McKay got out of his truck. His impassive gaze swept over his sons and then landed on Jack.

His mouth tightened. “What in the hell is wrong with you boys?”


“Cut him loose. Now.”

Cord crossed his arms over his chest. “Dad, we were just—”

“Jesus Christ. I’ll do it.” He whipped out a Bowie knife and knelt in the dirt to saw off the binding around Jack’s ankles. Then he cut the ties around Jack’s wrists. Colt swore and helped her father pull Jack upright when he couldn’t move the big man by himself.

When Keely started toward Jack, Carson stepped between them. “You can go to him in a minute, okay?” He threw up his hands as he addressed his sons. “I don’t know what kind of shit you boys are pullin’, but I raised you better than that. What were you thinkin’?”

“We were thinkin’ it was his goddamned fault she was gone,” Cam snapped.

“We ain’t gonna stand by and let him treat her that way,” Colt said stubbornly. “You raised us to protect her.”

“If you haven’t noticed, Keely ain’t exactly six years old anymore. She’s old enough to make up her own damn mind about when she needs protection and who she wants it from.”

“Are you taking Jack’s side?” Carter demanded.

“No, I’m takin’ Keely’s side.”

Keely’s head spun. Was she having an out-of-body experience? Or was she just in the throes of a bizarre dream? Had her brothers really kidnapped Jack? And dragged him out here like some kind of trophy for defending her honor? Instead of her father high-fiving them, he was chewing collective ass?

“Don’t get me wrong. I understand where you’re all comin’ from. I thought about flaying the skin offa Jack a piece at a time myself. But the bottom line is Keely chose Jack. He might not be the one you’da picked or I’da picked for her. Jack might be dumb as shit, but we’ve all been there. Complete and total dumbasses when it comes to the women in our lives. None of us can claim we didn’t make a mistake or two. But we’ve managed to figure out how to fix ’em on our own, and I’ve gotta give Jack the benefit of the doubt and allow him the same chance with Keely.”

She bit her lip, surprised she had the urge to weep within this cloud of testosterone.

“Girlie, tell your brothers goodnight.” He turned his back on his sons and crouched by Jack.

Grumbles. Curses. But Carson McKay had said his piece and his word was law.

Cam gave Keely a hug. “If you change your mind and decide to shoot him, I can get you off on a self-defense charge.”

“Thanks, Cam. But that won’t be necessary.”

Colby pressed a jar into her hand as he kissed her forehead. “This’ll help with his sore muscles. Not much good on bruises, though.”

“Bruises? What the hell did you guys do—”

“What we thought was right,” Colt said, holding her tight. “Can’t blame us for looking out for you, Keels, because we love you.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “You’re gonna make me cry.”

“As long as they’re happy tears, I don’t mind. I mostly recognize the difference now.” Cord wrapped her in a one-armed hug and mumbled, “Call AJ tomorrow.”

“I will.” Keely faced a hangdog Carter.