Which led him right back to the issue at hand with his brothers.

He sighed.

A big red diesel Chevy turned and barreled up the driveway.

Cord’s truck. And was that Colby in the passenger’s seat?

What the hell?

“Speak of the devils,” Edgard murmured. He ran his hand down Trevor’s back before dropping it from view. “We’d better get goin’.”

“Tell Chass thanks for the muffins.”

Edgard and Trevor chatted with Cord and Colby for a few minutes before they disappeared up the driveway.

Colt stood his ground and waited, hating that he felt nervous.

Colby climbed out first. “Mornin’ Colt.”

“Mornin’. What brings you guys by?”

The truck door slammed in response.

“Didja need something?” Did I do something wrong again?

“No. Gotta say, it’s sad the only time we show up at your place is when we need something.”

“A damn shame,” Cord added.

“You’re both welcome here any time.”

“Good to know.”

Both men leaned against the truck. Colby still favored the leg he’d busted up rodeoing, and had taken up a cockeyed position.

Cord crossed his arms and his legs, keeping his face shadowed beneath his hat brim.

“So why are you here?”

Colby tipped his head up and looked Colt square in the eye.

“To apologize for bein’ a prick to you.”

Whoa. Not what Colt expected.

“I ain’t gonna make excuses about what I said a few weeks back, ’cause it’s over and done. We both know it was wrong. We all know this situation has been buildin’ for a while. You’ve pissed me off so many times since I quit the circuit and started workin’ on the ranch that I’m surprised we ain’t come to blows before now.”

“Hell, I’ve been pissing you off since I was born,” Colt said.

Colby shot him a smile. “Ain’t that the truth.”

“And Colt, you and I did come to blows,” Cord added.

Just another blackout drunk moment Colt didn’t remember.

“So until Cam pointed it out a couple weeks back,” Colby continued, “I hadn’t considered I’d kept up that shitty attitude toward you even now that you’re clean. Because I was used to actin’ that way, I realized I didn’t know how not to be mad at you, bro.”


“Then when you built this house, away from us, and up the road from Trev, who’d always been my best friend, I guess I was pissed and jealous. Makes me an immature fuck to spout off the shit I did to you. You didn’t deserve none of it. Jesus. I don’t know if I can ever apologize enough.”

“You don’t hafta—”

“Lemme say my piece. I’m sorry I— we—didn’t kick your ass when we saw you losin’ the battle with booze. You shoulda been able to turn to us, Colt, instead we turned you against us. I don’t blame you for wantin’ to distance yourself. No wonder you prefer Kade and Buck to us, at least they had your back when you needed it.”

Colt glanced away.

“As long as we’re spillin’ our guts, I’m sorry I didn’t try harder to include you in my life with Channing either. All Gib could talk about on the way home from dinner last night was you.”

“He’s a great kid.”

“And I’m really fuckin’ sorry you’ve borne the brunt of the work in your sobriety while I was workin’ banker’s hours because I’ve got a wife and kids to go home to.

“Bottom line is Cam was dead on and it pisses me off I was too stubborn to see it. I didn’t believe you could change, even when the proof was right in my face for the last three years. And it sucks that if Cam didn’t have the balls to speak the truth, we all probably would’ve gone on like this for years, huh?”


Another moment of silence.

Cord shifted his stance. “I ain’t got much to add. Colby pretty much said it all. But I will say I’m just as much a sorry sonuvabitch.

Maybe more. Christ, Colt, I’m so fuckin’ sorry. It never shoulda gotten to this point. We all know the strained relationship Dad has with Uncle Casper. As the oldest kid I swore it’d never happen to any of us. I’ll be damned if I didn’t sit back and let it happen.

“When you sobered up I wasn’t sure it’d stick. Hell, I watched you strugglin’ that fall when you returned from treatment until you found an A.A. meeting. And what did I do the instant AJ and I got married? I quit hangin’ out with you. I even went a step farther than Colby; I justified my actions by convincin’ myself you were better off with A.A. support than with ours.”

“Look, I ain’t gonna lie. I needed A.A. I wouldn’t have survived the first year if it hadn’t been for A.A.” If it hadn’t been for India. “I dealt with a lot of shit I didn’t want any of my family to know about. So blame on the ‘backing away’ response is equal.”

“I’m supposed to tell you from Carter that although he ain’t around as much as he’d like, he feels guilty,” Colby said.

“Especially since all of us banded together and knocked some sense into him when he needed it. Must’ve seemed like we couldn’t be bothered to do that for you.”

Colt looked back and forth between his brother’s hangdog faces. “Lemme ask you something. Did your wives put you up to this?”

“Nope. AJ’s been worried,” Cord said. “But she’s been feelin’ too crappy to do much but yell at me for knockin’ her up.”

“Same with Channing. Though, I gotta say, if either one of them were in top form, along with Macie, they woulda thrown their lot in with Keely and kicked all our asses. Keely knew what was up.

Might’ve saved us all some grief if we woulda listened to her.”

“What about Ma? Any of this her doing?”

Colby shook his head. “I’m pretty sure Ma’s in worse denial than the rest of us. First thing she said after Cam blew up was she raised us to treat each other better.”

“That’s it?”

“Uh-huh. And Dad…”

“You don’t gotta explain nothin’ to me about Dad,” Colt said.

Both Colby and Cord smiled.

This time the silence wasn’t filled with tension.

Colt said, “I appreciate you guys comin’ by and bein’ up front with me. It’d been easier to ignore it.”

“No lie there.”

“So we okay?” Colt asked.

“I reckon. Except Colby and I would like you to help us draw up a more structured distribution of ranch duties.”

“Jesus. Dad’ll hate that.”

“Tough shit. That ain’t his decision,” Cord said. “This ain’t a monarchy.”

Wow. Bucking Carson McKay’s iron rule about “doin’ what needs done” and receiving apologies from both his brothers? This was shaping up to be a damn fine day. The family changes would take some getting used to for all of them, still, Cord and Colby had taken the first step to making things better and Colt admired that. He could work with that.

But they could all use a little levity. “So, do we give each other a big group hug now, or what?”

Cord said, “I vote for the ‘or what’ option.”


“Let’s dick with Cam. I’m beginnin’ to think our little brother feels left out of our family dramas.”

Colby scratched his chin. “You know, we have been treatin’ him with kid gloves since he settled back here. Maybe it’s time we…”


“Take the gloves off,” Cord and Colby finished together.

Colt grinned. “I’m in.”


Colt returned home hours later to find the light on his answering machine flashing. Probably a telemarketer. Most everyone he wanted to talk to called his cell. He hit play anyway.

Two messages.

“Colt. It’s India. Look, I’m going to be really busy the next couple of days. I hope you understand it’d be best if we just did our own thing until the weekend. I’ll call you then.”


He hit pause on the machine and dialed India’s cell. She picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”

“What the hell is this? You’re too busy to see me all week?”

“I explained in the message.”

“Like hell you did. What’s really going on, India?”


“I know you’re there.”

“I need a break.”

“From me?”

“From you, from us, from this…”

“How long is this break gonna last? Or is it a permanent break?”

“No! God no. I swear to you, I just need some time alone to think.” She paused. “Don’t you ever need that?”

Yeah, he did. Didn’t mean he liked it. “So do you have an end date in mind for this moratorium on seein’ each other?”

“How about Thursday?”

He bit back a growl. “Fine.”

“I won’t be at the meeting tomorrow night either.”

There went that plan. “Can I at least call you?”

“No. Thursday is not that far away, Colt, I think you’ll survive not talking to me for two days.” Softly, she said, “I’ll miss you.

Take care,” and hung up.

“Goddammit.” He hated this. Especially since he didn’t know what’d sent her into full retreat.

His family? Maybe.

Or maybe…he’d spooked her by his intent to tell her he loved her last night, before she’d stopped him. Why would that scare her?

She had to know how he felt.

Guess he’d have to wait until Thursday to find out.

The message light still blinked. He hit play. “Hi, Colt, it’s Ginger Paulson. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met a couple weeks back at the community center? My son Hayden was in a class and we talked when I picked him up? Anyway, if you could call me back, I’d appreciate it. There’s something I’d like to discuss with you.” She rattled off the number and he scrawled it on the scratch pad by the phone.