Colt couldn’t move. It felt like a thick rope was wound around his body from his shoulders to his knees.
Where was he? At the ranch? He heard laughter. Smelled dust and coffee. He stomped his feet. It wasn’t dirt beneath his boots but concrete.
Strong hands grabbed him by the arms and dragged him. His heart nearly beat out of his chest. “Okay, enough of the rough stuff.
Or are you givin’ me back some of what I gave to you? I said I was sorry.”
The blindfold was ripped from his eyes. He blinked until Bert’s face came into view.
“Bert? What are you doing here? Where’s India?”
“The time has come for you to face your fears.”
“But I have faced them. I haven’t had a drink in years!”
Colt looked around. He was in the middle of a circle. The circle of trust, just like the A.A. meetings. Except this circle was composed of his family, Cord, Colby, Carter, Keely, his mother, his father, his uncle Harland, his cousins Dag West, Quinn and Bennett McKay, not his fellow A.A. members.
He looked at Dag. Then Uncle Harland. “But you’re both dead.”
They just stared at him with vacant eyes.
“You ready, Colton West McKay?”
“Ready for what?”
“To let go.”
His gaze zoomed around the circle. Where was Kade? Cam?
Chassie? Trevor? Edgard? Buck? The people he counted on?
Where the hell was India? The one person he trusted most in the whole world?
She’s not here when you need her. She’s just like the rest of them. She will let you down.
“He’s not ready yet.”
Colt’s head whipped around because every other part of his body was immobilized.
Blake West grinned at him. “But I’ll give you a little push in the right direction, cuz, to get you started.”
“I don’t trust any of you!”
Blake shoved him hard.
Without the use of his arms or legs, Colt braced for impact, knowing not one person in the circle would jump to catch him.
They’d just let him fall. Like they always had.
He jackknifed up, throwing his hands in front of his face to protect himself and connected with nothing but air.
His eyes opened. He was in his bedroom. The alarm clock read four a.m.
It took a second for him to get his heart rate back to normal and realize it’d just been a dream. A weird fucking dream, but a dream nevertheless.
Rather than dwell on all the hidden meanings any counselor would have a field day with, Colt focused on one thing: India. She was missing from the dream, missing from his life and he missed her something fierce. He needed to talk to her as soon as possible.
The next day, India’s Ink had a customer. Not India’s favorite person by any stretch, but she was so bored and lonely she welcomed the diversion.
“So where’ve you been, Cat? I haven’t seen you around.” India lined up the ink cups and wiped an alcohol pad across the faded pink rose tattoo on Cat’s ankle.
“Oh, I had family stuff in Denver. Then I worked in Canyon River while Macie was flitting off to another one of Carter’s art shows. I can’t believe she’s pregnant again. Three kids in five years is crazy.”
India didn’t point out her sister had three kids in three years and she didn’t find it crazy in the least.
“Sometimes I wonder if Carter doesn’t keep her pregnant because Macie will wake up and leave his poor artist’s ass if she wasn’t tied to him in some permanent way.”
Not a flattering comment for Cat to voice about her friend and boss. “It’s a good thing Domini fills in for you.”
“A good thing? Right. I’m lucky she doesn’t lock the damn door and hide in the storage room when I’m gone.” She sighed dramatically. “Dommy is sweet and all, but she should not be Branded As Trouble
allowed out of the kitchen. I can’t believe Macie made me train her for front work. What a waste.”
India figured Cat’s pronunciation of “Dommy” as dummy wasn’t accidental. “I still think it’s lucky for you or else you couldn’t flit off to Denver every month.”
“My great aunt was in the hospital. That hardly counts as flitting off,” Cat huffed.
Cat’s weeklong trips to Denver had been going on for over a year. Who picked up the slack? Domini.
Domini complained to India, well, as much as Domini complained about anything, which was almost not. Since Domini grew up in a different culture, making waves as a lowly employee had been frowned on. So India’s suggestion that Domini take her concerns to Velma and Macie was met with a horrified and vehement no.
“My aunt had knee replacement surgery. There were orthopedic patients up the wazoo. She said some were diabetics there for amputation. Yuck. Which makes me glad Cam McKay keeps his fake leg covered up, because I’d barf if I ever saw it. I mean, can you imagine? Eww.”
“Cam McKay is a decorated war hero. Eww, doesn’t exactly come to mind when I see him.”
“He is a total hottie, too bad he’s a cripple.”
A cripple. India’s tongue would be bloody by the time she finished this job. Why had she taken it?
Right. Rent was due. Again. And she was short of funds.
“Anyway, I can’t get past how icky it’d be to get naked with him and see that…stump. And he’s missing part of his hand.” She shivered. “It’s uncomfortable since he has a thing for me because he’s always in the diner.”
Talk about cocky. Cam had a thing for Domini.
“I’m just re-inking this tat, right?”
“Yes. I debated on having you do it at all, since it is a Kat Von D design. The guy who originally did it worked with Kat before she became famous.”
Please. If she had a buck for every time she’d heard that line in the last few years, she’d be flush with cash. After dipping the needle gun in black ink, she stepped on the pedal and her hand started to vibrate. She gently set the needle on Cat’s skin.
India was grateful conversation stopped for a few minutes, even when she knew it wouldn’t last.
It didn’t. Cat chattered on about her life. What she did, who she did. All gossip, all mind-numbingly boring to India, but Cat didn’t notice. She must’ve taken India’s silence for rapt attention because she kept going.
She mostly tuned her out until she heard Cat say, “So rumor around town is you’re dating Colt McKay.”
India slid her hand a fraction of an inch to thicken the outline.
“Who’d you hear the rumor from?” She concentrated on keeping the line the same diameter and not letting the black bleed into the pink.
“Macie. Is it true?”
“That Colt and I are dating? Yes.”
“Friends with bennies now, huh?”
India’s grip tightened on the tattoo gun.
“Macie said you came to a McKay family dinner at the big house. I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed. Very few people get invited into the sacred McKay family realm if you’re not married to one.”
“I’ll remind you my sister, Skylar, is married to a McKay.”
Cat gave her a droll stare. “And I’ll remind you about the number of McKay shindigs you’ve been invited to because of that association. Zero. Am I right?”
“Can you turn your leg a little?”
“It shocked me to hear you and Colt were together.” Cat laughed. Not a nice laugh, a mean laugh. “A few of us around here wondered if you weren’t gay.”
“Come on. With the bull dyke swagger, the piercings and the excessive tats, not to mention the motorcycle, the addiction issues, the funky haircut and the tough girl attitude?” She slurped her Diet Coke. “Granted, single men are slim pickin’s unless you’re in the market for a dumb cowboy.”
A loud click echoed in the room. India sat up and heard it again. She scrutinized her tattoo gun. Did it seem overly hot? She smacked it on her hand. It’d be just her luck if the damn thing died on her. She stepped on the foot pedal, let go, and waited for the noise to sound again. Nothing. Weird.
“Is everything all right?” Cat asked.
“Just fine. I’m switching ink colors.”
“As long as you’re not changing colors.”
India wished she could change customers.
“When I heard you and Colt were ‘dating’,” Cat made quotes in the air, “I thought as your friend, I should warn you. Don’t get suckered in by his charms, because that cowboy talks sweet. And before you know it, you’ll be watching him doing the same sweet-talking routine on another woman as soon as he gets bored with you.”
“You telling me you’ve dated Colt?”
Cat attempted an innocent look. “Would you be upset if I said yes?”
Yes. No. Lie. If you say no she’ll get pissy and clam up. India settled for, “Maybe.”
“I didn’t ‘date’ him, but I did sleep with him a couple of times.”
“When was this?”
“Right after I moved here…maybe three and a half years ago.
We were dancing at the Golden Boot, one thing led to another…and we ended up back at his place.” Cat paused. “Then a week or so later we were at a party and ended up in somebody’s bedroom again. Anyway, he fucked me and never called me. What kind of man does that?
“My friend Mimi went to a party at the Boars Nest, his old house, like a month later, and Colt was fucking some stripper, right in front of everyone! And when he finished with her, he passed her off to another guy.”
Yeah, and then Colt probably passed out. Those drinking escapades were a thing of the past, in Colt’s past, and had no bearing on their future.
Still, India had to concentrate on keeping her hand from shaking. “Why are you telling me this about Colt if it happened years ago?”