No extra cars were parked at the Boars Nest, just Kane’s and Dag’s trucks.


Great. He hadn’t seen his cousin since he’d inadvertently seen way more of Dag’s nocturnal activities that night he’d moved out. If he was lucky, maybe Dag’d be passed out and he wouldn’t have to deal with another fucked up situation with one of his cousins.


Colt managed to stumble into the house on his own. Kade still felt some perverse responsibility to make sure his brother was all right. After he checked on Kane and found him snoring in bed, he noticed Dag sat in the darkened living room, drinking cheap whiskey straight from the bottle.


“Evenin’ cuz.”


“Evenin’ Dag.”


“You pissed I moved inta your room?”


“No. Just wondered why you skipped out on your dad.”


Dag snorted. “He don’t need me. He’s got his hired hand and Chassie’s squeeze, Trevor to whip the West homestead into shape.” He saluted with the bottle. “Fuckin’ place is rundown. None of the damn equipment works, and somehow the old man sees that as my fault. Even when I ain’t been around for years.”


“Maybe that’s why he’s blamin’ you, Dag. He’s old. He ain’t been able to take care of that place for a long time. Since way before your mama died.”


“He don’t wanna take care of it. He ain’t never wanted to be a rancher. He wanted to be a damn mechanic. But rather than stand up to granddad, he knuckled under. And instead of lettin’ me pursue my dream of pro rodeo, he done the same damn thing to me.”


Dag took another swig. “Makin’ me quit the circuit to come home to tend to forty lousy cows and two hundred acres. I could hate him for that alone.”


“You don’t mean that.”


Dag sighed. “I probably don’t. It’s just…I didn’t ask for this. Ain’t my fault I was born first, the only male. I ain’t like you and Cord. I don’t wanna spend my life a slave to the land.”


Kade bristled. “So instead you’re just gonna be a drunk? Carryin’ on about your glorious past rodeo days? Don’t you think there are times Cord and I wanna walk away?


Say fuck it and do something easier?”


“No, I don’t. You’ve both got too much of that goddamn McKay pride my daddy warns me about.”


“What the fuck does that mean?”


“Why do you think my dad didn’t want his sister—your mother—to marry a McKay? Because they don’t care about no one but themselves. You ain’t neighborly.


You ain’t aware of nothin’ that goes on outside the borders of the all important McKay Ranch.”


“Drunk talk. That ain’t true.”


“It is. You’ve all got too much pride.”


“I’d rather have some pride than none like you.”


“Fuck you too.”


Here was the opening he’d been looking for. “No thanks. But I didn’t know you swung that way until I got an up close and personal view of some of your nighttime activities.”


“What’re you talkin’ about?”


“Don’t pretend you don’t know.”


“I don’t. I can’t remember shit about anything.”


“You’ve been drinkin’ so much you’ve been blackin’ out?”


“So?”


“So, do you ever wake up with a sore mouth, a sore dick and a sore asshole with no clue of how you got it?”


A hint of wariness crept into Dag’s bloodshot eyes.


“I don’t care if you’re gay, Dag. But if bein’ gay and bein’ afraid to come out is causin’ you to drink too much, you need help on a couple of different levels, cuz.”


“Me? Gay? I ain’t gay. Is this some kinda joke?”


Kade shook his head. “I came home one night and found you in bed with not one, not two, but three guys. At first I thought you were drugged and I was gonna step in and break it up, but you appeared to be enjoyin’ suckin’ Max off, while Leroy fucked you in the ass. Didn’t catch the name of the guy suckin’ you off. Then you mentioned you’d fucked and sucked both the guys before. Multiple times.”


Dag’s face went ghostly pale.


“Like I said, I don’t care if you’re gay. I do care if you’re so drunk you don’t know what the hell you’re doin’. I do care if you put my brother or our cousins in danger because you’re habitually drunk. You are out of control, Dag. Bad.”


He swallowed hard several times. “You ain’t kiddin’? You saw me?”


Kade nodded.


“Who knows about it? Have you told my dad what you saw me doin’…with another man?”


“You mean men?”


“Jesus. Men. Who knows? Kane? Colt? Trevor?”


“I don’t know. I haven’t told anyone, Dag. It ain’t my business to do so.” Kade stared at his cousin, who was looking more than a little forlorn.


A long pause hung between them.


“It’d kill my dad…to know I swing both ways. He’s got a dream of me settlin’ down with a local gal and raisin’ a passel of kids on the home place. Like Colby done. That ain’t me Kade. It ain’t never been me. When I was on the circuit I was the real me.


Happy. Doin’ what I loved. Now, I’m stuck. I got no skills beyond rodeo. No place to go.


I’m livin’ a lie and I fuckin’ hate it.”


“Booze isn’t the answer. It ain’t gonna make any of this go away. It’ll just make you more reckless and bitter.”


“What would you do?”


“Ah, hell, Dag, how am I supposed to answer that?.”


“No. I’m serious. If your life was a mess, what would you do?”


“Sober up, first. Then tell Uncle H how you feel about ranchin’. If he’s a jerk, have him leave the responsibilities to Chassie. Move on. As hard as it is for me to imagine leavin’ here, leavin’ my family, I’d do it in a fuckin’ heartbeat if I was as miserable as you.”


Another bout of silence stretched.


“Thanks. I’ll think on it.” Dag gulped the last of the booze in the bottle.


“You do that. Any time you need to talk, you call me.”


“Can I ask you somethin’?”


“I guess.”


“How come you ain’t married?”


That’d come out of left field. “Haven’t found the right woman yet.” Kade thought of Skylar. Even though he’d only know her for a short time she felt…right.


“So, as much as you disapprove of what me and Colt and Kane have been doin’, it ain’t any worse than endin’ up like Cord.”


Dag didn’t offer any additional explanations as he shuffled off to bed.


And Kade knew Dag was actually right about one thing. He’d been using his responsibilities to the ranch as an excuse to keep his life stuck in a holding pattern. He just didn’t have a clue as to how to go about changing it.


He climbed in his truck and headed home.


Chapter Sixteen


AJ stopped at the C-Mart for a Diet Mountain Dew and ice before she drove to Cord’s place.


No yard lights were on when she started down the long driveway. She wondered if he’d be embarrassed about her offer and grouchy to be the bearer of bad news to the rest of the McKays about Colt.


Why did the responsibilities always fall on his shoulders?


Keely had had major concerns about Colt’s behavior for a long time. Her intuition when it came to her family was largely unrealized in the McKay clan.


Last year at Carter and Macie’s wedding reception, Keely had informed Colt he’d find happiness when he stopped looking for it in the bottom of a bottle or a condom box.


Colt had laughed and patted her on the head—which was a typical response to her from her big, burly brothers and a reaction that drove Keely insane.


AJ shot a quick glance at Cord’s dark house and dialed Keely’s cell number. She answered on the first ring.


“Hey, BFF, you okay?”


Keely sniffed. “No. Colt is such a dumbass. I can’t believe he’d do that to Cord. He worships Cord. We all do.” She sniffled again. “Did you see what happened?”


“Most of it.”


“Was it awful?”


“Yeah. I’ve never seen Cord so mad. Not his usual quiet, dangerous mad. It was his—”


“—I wanna rip someone’s head off and watch me do it with one hand, kind of mad.


I’ve only seen it once and that was enough.”


AJ listened to Keely’s quiet cries. “I wish I was there, K, because I know how much this stuff freaks you out.”


“Thanks. But it’s more important you’re there for Cord. He told me you were coming over.”


“He did?”


“Yeah. But I knew you’d go to him. I knew you wouldn’t let him hurt alone.”


Keely’s voice dropped to a whisper. “He is hurting, AJ, not just where Colt punched him.


Don’t let him push you away. Be there for him. Someone needs to be. Call me tomorrow.”


AJ followed the curved walkway to the front door. She stepped inside. No sign of Cord in the living room. After putting the ice in the freezer, she heard the shower running upstairs.


He’d left the door to the master bathroom open a crack. “Cord? Just wanted to let you know I’m up here so you don’t think I’m an intruder and shoot me.”


No answer.


She saw the pile of clothes in front of the dresser. Not her place to wash them, but Cord didn’t need a bloody reminder of the evening’s events. She jammed them in the overflowing hamper and faced the bed. Not ideal, but it’d work. She peeled back the comforter and ripped away the top sheet, shoving the pillows to the floor.


AJ made a quick trip to the kitchen for supplies. She was arranging everything on the nightstand when the bathroom door squeaked and he limped out.

***

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