Keely yelled, “Ben? You decent?”
“Yeah. Come on in.”
“I need you to help me carry stuff in.”
The back end of Keely’s black Escalade was open. She handed him a cardboard box containing two Crock-Pots. “Damn, cuz, this smells good. What is it?”
“There’s a lot of it.”
She slid her rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses on top of her head. “I know how much you guys eat.”
Ben smiled. “None of us are gonna complain there’s too much food, Keels.”
“I’m counting on that because I don’t wanna take this home.”
“Jack doesn’t eat leftovers?”
“Jack is out of town for the next week,” she said, a pout in her tone.
Four trips later his kitchen counter was covered with containers of all sizes. Keely bustled about, transferring food from one dish to the next.
He brought her a Bud Light from the bar and a Moose Drool for himself. “Need me to do anything?”
“Nope.” She took a swig of her beer and hopped up on the counter. “I wanted time to catch up with you.”
Catch up. Right. She intended to grill him until her brothers arrived and forced her to stop. “What’s on your mind?”
“Your mysterious older brother Gavin.”
Ben leaned against the opposite counter. “What about him?”
“Is he keeping in contact with you guys?”
“He’s called me and Quinn a couple times. When the PBR was in Arizona he went to see Chase ride. He met Ava too.”
“Any idea when the rest of us get to meet him? It’s bizarre that Aunt Vi had Uncle Charlie’s baby and gave him up for adoption. And then they ended up getting married years later anyway?” She shook her head with disbelief. “I hoped Gavin’s status as an only child in his adoptive family meant he’d be curious about all of us.”
He tried to find an answer that wouldn’t offend. The McKay family was overwhelmingly large, especially with the influx of babies in the last few years. From the few times Ben had talked to Gavin, the man defined cautious. It made sense he’d test the waters with his newly discovered siblings before he plunged into the gigantic McKay gene pool.
After Gavin showed up on their parent’s doorstep a few months back, announcing he was their firstborn son, Ben figured Gavin had satisfied his curiosity about his birth parents and that’d be the end of it.
So it’d shocked him when Gavin called. They’d been exchanging emails since then. Ben kept it casual, waiting to see if Gavin was only maintaining contact out of some level of guilt. But they had more in common than Ben had initially believed. Gavin liked working with his hands and had experience remodeling the rental properties he owned in Arizona. They were both single, although Gavin had joint custody of his fourteen-year-old daughter. But during their conversations, Gavin never mentioned coming to Wyoming and Ben wasn’t the type to push.
You had no problem pushing Angel last night.
“Earth to Ben,” Keely said.
He looked at her. “Sorry. He’s asked about our cousins. It’s a lot to absorb.”
“Spoken in the diplomatic tone I expected. Bennett McKay, the peacemaker.”
He flipped her off.
Keely grinned. “On to the next thing I want to harass you about—I mean talk to you about. You know how much I adore the log bed you made us. It’s big enough that I have my own space, in theory anyway—” she snorted, “—if Jack would ever let go of me at night. The damn man is stuck to me like Velcro.”
“You’re not really complaining.”
“True. But I didn’t know you’d talked to him about specific modifications to the original bed design. And I’ve gotta say. Very sneaky, Ben.”
“Don’t play dumb. You built the bed with hidden hook-and-eye thingies so that depraved man could tie me to the bed any way he wanted.”
He smirked. “And again, little cuz, you ain’t really complaining.”
“Yes I am! Why didn’t you tell me so I could tie him up? I’m your cousin, your family, your flesh and blood. How could you let him have the advantage over me?”
“First of all, the submissive is always the one in control, regardless if she’s bound by rope or by her dominant’s word. Second, those are not special modifications Jack asked me for. But I knew if I added them, he’d put them to good use.” Ben pointed his beer bottle at her. “Because I suspect there are plenty of times you need to be trussed up to get your butt paddled.”
Keely wore a calculating expression. “I knew it!”
Probably pointless to deflect, but Ben tried it anyway. “Hey, Jack noticed the hardware before you did, when we assembled the bed.”
“I’m not talking about that. I’m actually good with GQ learning the ropes, so to speak. I’m talking about you. Tossing out that dominant and submissive lingo like a pro.”
Ben shrugged. “Never devalue opportunities offered by good porn.”
“Bullshit. I think—”
“I think this is a conversation I never wanna have with you, Keely. So drop it.” The way she froze, Ben realized too late he’d used his Dom voice.
“Does that tone always get you immediate obedience?”
“Not with you, apparently,” he said dryly.
Keely laughed. “Look, I don’t give a rat’s ass what consenting adults do behind the bedroom door, but I’ve gotta ask: is your…proclivity why you go to Gillette?”
Proclivity. Diplomatic way to put it. He studied her, debating on whether to give her a piece of the truth or to lie. The odd thing was, he trusted Keely. She might be a chatterbox, but he’d never heard a whisper of her being a blabbermouth. “Yeah, I suppose it is.”
“Huh.” She seemed to be deep in thought. “I know someone who hung out at the Rawhide Bar. She’d never tell me why the place had such a pull on her. She was awful secretive. Like it was a private club or something.”
Somehow, Ben kept from choking on his beer. “What’s her name?”
He couldn’t help but smile. “I know Annaliese.”
Her gaze sharpened. “How well?”
He knew the petite blonde loved to give head after being flogged until she came. “Well enough.”
“Ah. Evasion. I’m beginning to understand why your motto is gentlemen don’t kiss and tell. I’m also beginning to understand why you aren’t interested in dating anyone from around here.” Keely cocked her head. “Although Jessie told me you went out with her coworker Simone a couple of times.”
“I went out with her once. Why? She badmouthing me or something?”
“No. You knew within a single date she wasn’t your type?”
“Simone was…” Too abrasive. He preferred his women docile. Like Annaliese. Like Angel last night.
“Simone was…what?” Keely prompted.
“Suffering from baby fever. She’s lookin’ for a man to be her husband only so she can get knocked up and experience the joys of motherhood. That sets off my warning bells.”
“What? A woman who wants to settle down?”
“No. A woman who’s only interested in getting pregnant. I doubt she’d be focused on me or the marriage, since she’s already fixated on babies.”
“So you expect your woman to devote all her energy to you? Make you the center of her existence?” Keely demanded.
Ben shook his head. “But I watched my sister-in-law Libby’s single-minded focus on having a baby nearly destroy her marriage to Quinn. I hated watching my brother suffer. I hated seeing everything they loved about each other become unimportant. They were lucky and fixed their problems, but that’s a rarity because the divorce rate is so damn high. So I ain’t gonna sign on for something for the rest of my life knowing ahead of time it ain’t what I want.”
She started to retort when two raps preceded Quinn walking in. He cast a glance at the dogs snoring in front of the woodstove. “Did you drug my usual welcoming committee?”
“No. They spent the weekend in the barn, pacing, missing their cushy life inside the house, snoozing by the fire. You want a beer?”
“Sure.” Quinn placed a tinfoil-covered plate on the counter. “Libby made brownies.”
“Ooh. Yum.” Keely moved dishes around to make space.
Ben slipped behind the bar and popped the top on a bottle of Coors Light, nudging it toward his brother. “Before we get overrun with family, what’s up with Dad? I called him on the way home today and he said he couldn’t talk. He was figuring something out.” Ben winced. “Christ. Please tell me that ain’t married man code for him and Mom havin’ sex?”
Quinn laughed. “Nope. He was lookin’ at airline schedules.”
“Why? They goin’ to see Chase and Ava in California?”
“Nope. Gavin invited them to Phoenix.”
“Really? That’s…good. Isn’t it?”
“I hope so.”
His cousins streamed in. Kane and Kade. Cord and Colby. Colt and Cam. Brandt, Tell and Dalton. They all gave Keely a rash of shit before bellying up to the bar. He handed Colt a Coke. Then he set out the beer and popped the tops.
“Man, how do you remember everyone’s favorite beer?” Dalton asked.
“Must be the time he’s spending in the bar in Gillette,” Cord said. “Do you have an owner’s stake in it?”
I wish. “Nope. Cody and Trace own it. I help out when I can, but I mostly just hang out.”
“I don’t see why you don’t hang out in the bars around here,” Dalton said.
“Because the bars around here suck, dumbass.” Tell took a drink of his Coors.
“Maybe sometime me’n Tell will head that way since you like the place so much.”