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“After a few years, we started having you boys and… Well, my life was busy. Good. Happy. But I never forgot about that sweet baby boy I held in my arms for one short hour. Not a single day went by that I didn’t wonder about him. Pray his life was good. Pray he was loved.”


Gavin’s eyes were on the shot glass he rolled between his fingers.


“So I was shocked when your Aunt Kimi confronted me after your grandpa Jed died. She said one night Jed was loopy on pain meds and he told her that my father told him that I was pregnant. My father bragged to Jed I’d rather give the baby up than have it raised in a godless home as a McKay. Which was a total lie, but Jed must’ve believed it. After Kimi told me that, I finally understood why Jed never liked me and why he refused to live with us.”


“Aunt Kimi never told Uncle Cal?” Chase asked.


“No. But she told your Aunt Carolyn.”


Gavin said nothing.


“When did you tell Dad?” Ben asked gently.


“Right after Quinn and Libby got back together.” She looked at Quinn. “The day you told me to butt out of your relationship and said my meddling wasn’t appreciated and wouldn’t be tolerated, I realized I’d been acting just like my mother. It shamed me, the things I’d said, some of the things I’d done, including keeping such a big secret from Charlie.”


“Vi. Honey. Take a break. This ain’t good for your blood pressure.”


She shook her head. “I have to see this through. When I told your father what I’d kept from him, I was scared to death he’d tell me to pack a bag. I expected his fury and everything in my life and my marriage to be over, and I knew I’d deserve whatever I got. But he didn’t leave me. My Charlie…forgave me and…” The stalwart ranch woman Chase had seen cry maybe half a dozen times in his entire life completely broke down.


What was equally shocking? Witnessing the loving side of his father. How he automatically pulled her into his arms and soothed her. Maybe it was another sign of Chase’s self-absorbedness that he’d never noticed their connection beyond their parental roles. Watching them now, he saw romance. He saw unconditional love. Given the situation, there had to be a whole lot of unconditional forgiveness between them too.


That’s what Chase wanted. A lifetime with Ava to learn the ins and outs of love. To be with her every day so they could face whatever curveballs life threw at them together. And he’d do anything and everything to make that happen.


Chase leaned closer to stroke his mother’s arm, the exact same time Quinn and Ben reached out to her too. That made her cry harder and blubber.


No one realized Gavin had stepped out until after she’d calmed down.


Gavin hadn’t gone far. His back rested against the porch support pole. He stared across the field, hands in the front pockets of his dress pants. He spoke without looking at them. “Sorry. Got to be a little much. It’s a lot to take in. I’m still not convinced coming here was the best idea.”


“So that’s the question, isn’t it? What made you seek out your birth parents now?” Ben asked.


When Gavin faced them, Chase was struck by the familiarity of Gavin’s features. Same blue eyes. His build was much like their father’s. His square chin, like Quinn’s. His mouth and nose were the same shape as Ben’s. Gavin’s hair was dark brown like their mother’s, not black like the majority of the McKays.


“I was an only child, and my mother made me promise I’d track down my birth parents after she died.” Gavin briefly glanced down at his loafers. “She wanted me to connect with my family.” His gaze moved from Quinn, to Ben, to Chase. “I hired a private detective to deal with the adoption records and tracing the whereabouts of the man and woman who gave me up. Didn’t take him long to track them since they were in the same place. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d find out my biological parents got married and had three other sons together.”


Quinn asked, “How old are you?”


“I just turned forty-one.” Gavin crossed his arms over his chest. “I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’m divorced and have joint custody of my fourteen-year-old daughter, Sierra. My father was a real estate developer and I went to work for him after I graduated from ASU with a business degree. He had a massive heart attack a year after my daughter was born and I inherited the company. My mother passed away a year ago.”


“I hate to be Mr. Obvious, but what happens now?” Chase asked.


“I don’t know. No offense, but this has fucked with my head in so many ways.” Gavin expelled a quick puff of air. “Don’t get me wrong, your parents seem like nice people.”


“But?” Ben prompted.


“But that’s just it. I see the genetic similarities to them and to you guys, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel when I see it.”


How did any of them respond to that?


Ben, the peacemaker, changed the subject. When they’d exhausted conversation about weather differences and job descriptions, Chase wished they’d brought the bottle of whiskey outside with them.


“Look, Gavin, you wanna come over to my place and have a beer with us?” Ben asked.


Gavin seemed to struggle with his answer, but shook his head. “Thanks for the invite, but I really need to get back to my room and finish some work I brought along.”


“Understood. We’ll see you tomorrow?”


“Most likely.”


Gavin wandered to his car and drove off.


“I don’t know about you guys, but I need a fuckin’ drink,” Ben said.


Chase returned inside to tell their parents they were leaving. But they weren’t in the dining room and their bedroom door was shut, so he left them alone.


As soon as they’d bellied up to the bar at Ben’s house, Chase said, “A brother.”


Quinn kept sliding his coaster on the bar top. “No shit. Never saw that one comin’. Not in a million goddamn years. It’s like, Christ. I don’t even know Mom. I can’t imagine her just handing her baby over to a stranger and goin’ on with her life.”


Chase knew Quinn was imagining life without his kids after he and Libby tried for so long to have a child. “Can you even fathom how Gavin feels? Finding out your birth mother gave you up, but went on to have three other kids with the same guy?”


“Maybe we shoulda checked to see if he had a clubfoot,” Ben joked.


“What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Chase demanded.


“History books claim if firstborn sons had any kind of physical defect, the baby would be abandoned. Back then, even a clubfoot would get you a one-way ticket to the woods. The family hoped the next baby would be perfect.”


“You’re fuckin’ morbid,” Chase said. “Christ. That’s not even funny. Where do you come up with this shit?”


“Try reading something other than Hustler some time,” Ben shot back.


“Boys,” Quinn warned. “Here’s where I’m at. I have a hard time believing Aunt Kimi and Aunt Carolyn didn’t blab to Uncle Cal and Uncle Carson about this.”


“I disagree. Without sounding like a freakin’ girl, women keep other women’s secrets. Especially when it comes to family stuff,” Ben said.


“So do you think they’ll break the news to the rest of the family about the forty-one-year-old secret McKay baby?” Quinn asked.


“If it’s up to Mom and Dad? Yes. Gavin? No.”


Chase sighed. “Think Gavin will…hell. Sounds stupid.”


“Will what? Want to be part of our family?” Ben supplied.


“Yeah.”


“No.”


Quinn and Chase looked at each other, then Ben. “Why not?”


“Was I the only one who noticed he doesn’t seem happy? And that didn’t have a damn thing to do with him coming here? He’s a bunged-up corporate guy.”


“I got that impression too,” Quinn admitted.


“He’s never had siblings. Can’t miss what you don’t have. He’s satisfied his curiosity, done his duty to his late mother, and he’ll move on.”


“So you sayin’ he’s done with us? After one meeting?”


Ben passed out another round. “One of us, or all of us, will try and develop this meeting into something. Communication is two-way. Be interesting to see if Gavin reciprocates, or if he’ll blow us off.”


“That’s a fuckin’ sad scene you’ve created, Ben.” Scene. Made him think of Ava, always setting the scene.


Ben shrugged. “Calling it like I see it.”


Quinn asked, “You think Mom has her heart set on us all bein’ a big, happy family?”


“She made her peace long ago. I think she’d like for us to get to know him and vice versa. But she won’t push it.”


“Dad might. If only for her.” Ben lifted his bottle. “To the bright side of today. Neither Mom or Dad havin’ cancer.”


Bottles chinked together.


Chase raised his bottle. “This is fuckin’ sappy as shit, but I just gotta say it. To us. Gavin don’t know what he’s missing, havin’ you guys as brothers. His loss if he walks away because you guys are the best.”


Neither Quinn nor Ben gave him shit for being sentimental, probably because Chase never was.


The conversation shifted, but it eventually flowed back to the shock of the day. Chase clammed up when Quinn or Ben asked questions about his future with the PBR or with Ava.


Quinn went home. Chase was surprised he’d stayed as long as he had. Maybe his brothers missed hanging out with him.


But the sleepless night, long drive, and the stress caught up with him. He couldn’t keep his eyes open. He mumbled to Ben about finding his cell phone, stumbled to the guest bedroom and crashed.


Chapter Thirty-Two


“I can’t believe you’re watching this,” Hannah said. “Why torture yourself?”

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