Thomas roared and grabbed the front of Carson’s shirt. Then they were nose to nose. “Just like that? You walk—hell, you f**king ran away from my sister because they told you to?”

Carson pushed him back. “Shut up.”

“I saw what you did to her tonight. Acting like you were with someone else. I just hope she made it home okay because she was crying so damn hard—”

“I said shut up.” Carson stared at him, seething, thoughts of Carolyn driving into a ditch flashing in his brain.

“So it is true. What my dad has always said. The McKays are scared of the Wests.”

Cal got in Thomas’s face. “Bullshit.”

“There’s your proof.” Thomas pointed to Carson. “Your brother is running scared. Being a jackass to my sister, breaking her heart because that’s what my older brothers want. What about what you want?” He gave Carson a sneering once-over. “I saw you beat the crap out of five guys tonight, McKay. Because you thought some guy insulted you. But you’re just gonna lay down like a whipped dog for my brothers after they gave you the ultimate insult? They told you that you aren’t good enough for Carolyn? So you’re going to prove it? You won’t take them on and fight for my sister?”

“Why do you care? I thought you’d be happy. Ain’t you the one tryin’ to get her to move to Denver or Chicago instead of bein’ stuck livin’ here?”

“I never wanted to make that decision for her; I just made sure she knew she had options.”

“So I’m an option?”

Thomas stared at him. “You were.”

Fuck this “were” shit.

“You screwed up bad tonight,” Thomas said. “You hurt her. I wanted to bust your balls for that alone. But I’m not like my brothers. Beating the crap out of you and threatening you…that’s not what Carolyn would want. And I’m only doing this for her.”

“Doin’ what?”

“Helping you. And before you get that ‘fuck you I don’t need your help, you piece of shit West’ look, listen up: you do need my help. You want to be with her, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Prove it. You’ll have to grovel, bare your heart and soul and all that embarrassing, romantic crap women love, and f**king mean it for her to even talk to you. Words can only go so far.”

Probably not a good idea to say that getting her naked would be the best way to prove it.

Cal said, “So he’s supposed to march up to your front door and say, ‘Fuck you all, I don’t give a shit what threats you made or what you think, I’m takin’ Carolyn out on a date and you’d better get used to seein’ me around’?”

“Yes.”

“No way,” Cal said hotly. “He’ll have to show up armed with your brothers gunning for him.”

“That’s your solution? He walks into my goddamned house armed?” Thomas shot back.

“There’s no other way I’m letting my brother walk into a roomful of Wests.”

“I’ll do it,” Carson said softly.

“Carse—”

“Cal. I’m not walkin’ away from her.” He looked at his brother. “Thomas is right. I’m actin’ like a pu**y. I backed down because I thought…” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “That’s the problem. I wasn’t thinkin’ straight. I am now.” He locked his gaze to Thomas’s. “Think your dad sent his sons after me instead of comin’ for me himself?”

“No. I don’t think my brothers have told our dad about you or I doubt Carolyn would’ve been allowed to leave the house tonight.”

“She’s an adult. She’s been responsible for herself since she was twelve.”

“It’s screwed up, okay? Our mom sent her away because she wanted something more for her. Yet when Carolyn comes home, things go back to her doing everything for us. I guarantee our father won’t be happy when a McKay shows up for his daughter.” Thomas’s eyes searched his. “Did you know that my dad and your dad crossed paths years ago?”

“No. What happened?”

“Words were exchanged, fists were involved and my dad put your dad in the hospital.”

“Christ. I didn’t know about that.”

Thomas shrugged. “I wouldn’t have known either if I hadn’t asked my dad’s friend Roscoe about it. My dad goes ballistic whenever the McKay name is mentioned.”

“Any idea what prompted the fight between your old man and mine?”

“Word is it doesn’t take much for the McKays to get pissed off and come out swinging. So I’m guessing, like father like sons—no offense.”

“Fuck you. I am offended because I didn’t start this one; your brothers did. Who’s to say your dad didn’t jump my dad back then?” Carson demanded.

“Seems like attack and retreat is the Wests’ style,” Cal said with a sneer.

“You wanna stand here and speculate about shit that happened before any of us were born?”

Carson shook his head. Motherfucker hurt.

“Good. I’ve got a couple of ideas on how to get back in Carolyn’s good graces.”

“What’s your suggestion?

He zeroed in on Carson. Then he rattled off what he saw as the best course of action.

As Carson listened to Thomas’s suggestions, the perfect way to prove his intent occurred to him. He was mired in thoughts on how to pull it off, when he realized Thomas was speaking to him again and he refocused.

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