“Not hate, she’s scared, Colt. We all are. Then there’s the situation between you and Cord.”


Colt’s eyes opened. “What situation?”


“You got into a fistfight with him at the Golden Boot.” When Colt continued to have that same blank stare, Kade filled him in on everything else up through last night.


His head drooped to his chest in absolute shame. “I’m sorry. I’m so fuckin’ sorry.”


His deep baritone was scarcely above a whisper. “What the hell has happened to me? I don’t remember nothin’,” he repeated.


Kade didn’t answer. He just let Colt soak it all in.


After a while Colt stood and shuffled to the bathroom.


Half an hour later Colt propped himself against the doorway to the kitchen. He cleared his throat. “I need help.”


Kade didn’t offer anything.


“I need help in a bad way. No more drinkin’. No more druggin’. No more whorin’.”


When Colt met his gaze, Kade wasn’t the least bit surprised to see Colt’s tears.


“I know I don’t got no right to ask you, but will you help me? Will you take me some place to dry out?”


“You want me to call your brothers?”


“No. They have enough shit to deal with. Call Keely. Have her find a place in Denver. Someplace away from here.”


“You sure?”


“Yeah.”


“Okay. But I’ll hafta tell the family why I ain’t gonna be able to help out the next coupla days. The truth about you goin’ in for treatment oughta come from you, cuz, not me.”


Colt nodded and took Kade’s cell phone and disappeared into the kitchen.


Kade McKay to the rescue again. While he waited for Colt, he took stock of his own situation.


His life was a screwed up mess. Living with his parents. He’d try like hell to get Skylar to forgive him and give him another chance, but he figured with his luck, he’d already lost her. Not that he blamed her. He’d done a stupid thing by not telling her the truth and now he was paying for it. Just like Colt was.


Losing a woman like that seemed a damn steep price to pay. He hoped Cord was smart enough to not make the same mistakes he had. One of them deserved a shot at happiness that didn’t have a goddamn thing to do with the fucking ranch.


Ten minutes later Colt shouldered an overnight bag and trudged past Kade to his truck without another word.


They’d have plenty of time to talk on the road, if Colt wanted to. But Kade wouldn’t be surprised if the trip to Denver toward sobriety was completely silent.


Chapter Thirty-one


Three days later…


“Daddy, how come Gran-gran is so sad?”


“Because Uncle Colt made some bad decisions and he had to go away. Gran-gran misses him like I missed you.”


“Did he go away like Dag went away?”


Cord looked up from buttering toast. “Not the same, Ky. Dag ain’t comin’ back. Colt will be back next month.”


“Okay. Is that how come you’re sad too?”


“Yeah.” But Cord couldn’t help feeling relieved that his brother finally acknowledged a problem and had taken control of his life. They’d deal with the changes when Colt returned.


“I know what’d make ya happy.”


AJ. Seeing AJ would make him very happy. “What?”


“Playin’ Go Fish.”


“You know, that’d probably do it. We’ll play a game first thing when I get home later this afternoon.”


“How come I gotta go to Gran-gran’s? Why can’t I help you?”


Cord counted to ten. “As I’ve already explained three times, I can’t be worryin’ about you today while I’m changin’ out the pump. And Gran-gran missed you bad. Don’t you wanna cheer her up?”


“No.” The spoon in the cereal bowl clattered. “I wanna stay with you. Why are you sendin’ me away? I wanna stay in my own house and play with my own tools and be with my own daddy—”


Ky launched himself off the barstool, coiled himself around Cord’s legs and blubbered. He’d been clingy too—another thing Cord hadn’t dealt with before. He hoisted his son up and tried to calm him.


When Ky quit sobbing, Cord finally understood what Ky had been saying over and over— I don’t wancha to die too.


No way could he leave the kid today. No way.


He called his folks’ house. “Ma. No, we’re not runnin’ late. He’s not comin’ over today. Because he needs another day with me, and I could use another one with him.


Yeah, I know we’re short-handed. So? The pump will keep another day. I’ll call you later.”


Ky finally stopped shuddering and peeked out from where he’d hidden his teary face in Cord’s neck. “Is she mad?”


“Nah. Disappointed, but not mad.”


Cord gazed down into Ky’s somber blue eyes. The kid looked so much like him it was like looking back in time.


“You mad at me now, Daddy?”


“For being a kid? Not on your life.” He kissed the top of his head. “But I will be ticked if you beat me at cards, boy.”


Ky giggled and wiggled to be let down.


Cord felt like one piece of his life clicked back in place. Oddly enough, he still felt like another piece was missing.


***


AJ’s cell phone rang at nine o’clock and she knew it was Cord before she saw the caller ID. “Hey. What’s up?”


“Ky’s in bed. And I haven’t seen you in over a week.”


No small talk. Not a surprise. “You wanted this ‘deal’ to end when your son returned.”


“I know.”


Silence.


“So? Why’d you call me?”


“To see if you’d come over.”


Why? Because you missed me? Or missed the sex?


Did it really matter? She was leaving in a couple of days. Hadn’t she wished for a chance to be with him again?


“AJ?”


“Yeah. Give me half an hour.”


A sense of displacement and sadness rolled over her as she looked at the empty walls. Nothing remained of the years the Foster family spent here besides memories and the boxes stacked in the kitchen. Where would Macie and Carter start making changes?


Plenty of repairs and updates dogged this old ranch house—repairs the Fosters hadn’t the skill or the money to implement. She doubted Macie would see the charm in leaky faucets, drafty windows, doors that stuck, a cellar with an uneven floor and an unreliable heating system.


Speaking of…she wiped her sweaty brow. Why was it so damn hot in here? She’d shut off the window air conditioner because it kept shorting out, and she’d closed the windows because of the bugs. But it shouldn’t feel like the damn furnace was running.


Stupid coal heater in the cellar was acting up again.


Nothing she could do about it now and it wouldn’t be her problem much longer anyway. Day after tomorrow the movers would load up everything and take it to the storage facility in Billings. Then she’d make a final walk through with the McKays and the banker and be on her way to Denver to finish school.


It was weird to think she wouldn’t see her mother until Christmas. Not as weird as imagining Christmas wouldn’t be here, at home, in this house, ever again.


Pull up your bootstraps, girl. Life goes on.


That it did. AJ had cried at Liza and Noah’s wedding ceremony as they’d begun their life together. As she’d cried for Dag West, his life cut short too soon. It’d served as a reminder that things could be much worse in her life than moving away from home and unrequited love.


She grabbed her purse and drove to Cord’s. He waited for her on the front porch swing. After a prolonged kiss, without saying a word, he took her hand, led her upstairs straight to his bedroom and locked the door. He stripped her bare. The need on his face ripped straight into her soul.


His clever hands and hungry mouth were everywhere and attempted to set her skin on fire. He perched her on the edge of the bed and fell to his knees, nudged her thighs wide and bent to taste her. A few teasing swirls and he latched on to her clit and sucked.


The intense concentration on that bit of flesh and nowhere else launched her into orgasm like a rocket booster.


While she attempted to return to sanity, Cord kissed his way up the center of her torso, tickling her nipples with his lips. “Roll over onto your stomach.”


Cord’s rough fingers caressed her arms, the sensitive backs of her thighs and calves as he placed her exactly how he wanted her—butt in the air, arms stretched above her head. He lapped her spine from tailbone to the nape of her neck, sending another wave of shivers across her body.


He maneuvered his cock inside her on a slow smooth glide. “Every bit as good as I remembered. So goddamn good.” When he layered his muscled chest over her back to drag kisses over her shoulder, she arched, craving the contact of his warm male skin on hers. While he drove into her, he straightened up and curled his hands around her hips.


AJ looked over her shoulder at him and her heart nearly stopped. Her fantasies paled in reality to this man, so ruggedly beautiful lost in passion. Eyes squeezed shut, jaw clenched. Lips full and soft from kissing her. Sweat gleamed on his torso. The veins in his arms bulged.


Cord sensed her staring at him and opened his eyes.


AJ didn’t say a thing. His restraint snapped. He slammed into her over and over. She half expected to feel the bite of his teeth on her throat like stallions did during mating.


A guttural groan burst forth from Cord as she felt the end of his cock twitching, and her interior muscles contracted around the rigid shaft and sent her flying into an orgasm that stole her wits.


AJ collapsed face first on the bed. Firm lips feathered up her calves. He used his tongue on the back of her knees. More lingering kisses up her thigh. Then the other leg.


On her butt. Cord spent a lot of time kissing, licking and nuzzling her lower back. Equal treatment to her arms and shoulders and by the time he flipped her over, she was shaking.

***

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