Her eyes focused on his cheek. “You’re bleeding.”


“Your face. Come inside with me and I’ll clean it up.”

Brandt shook his head. “I’m sure it’s just a scratch.”

“Made by a rusty nail. When was your last tetanus shot? Just let me take a quick look—”

“No,” he practically bellowed. “Don’t you understand? I cannot be around anyone right now.”

Her face registered surprise, then hurt. “Why not?”

His entire being quaked and words poured out a stilted mess. “I hate that he still has that much power over me. I hate that he can get a reaction out of me when no one else can. I hate it’s a test to see if I’m strong enough to fight this…fucking rage I inherited from him. I’ve tried so hard not to end up like him. So fucking hard and when I act this way, I’m exactly like him and I hate it. I hate myself.”

Her eyes overflowed with pain, not tears, which was harder for him, because he suspected she’d cried herself out over the years.

“You’re nothing like him, Brandt. Nothing. Don’t ever give yourself an excuse to act like him by saying it’s inevitable that you will end up like him, because it’s not. You’ve chosen to be different. Even when you’re like this you’re different. Remember that.”

For the millionth time he wondered how this caring woman had coped with Casper McKay’s bitterness for so many years.

“Anyway, I thought I’d give you a heads up about Jessie, so you can, you know…”

“Get it together before I see her?”

She nodded.

“Thanks. I’ll be right there. Just give me a minute.”

“Don’t take too long, because she will come looking for you first thing.”

Not an accusation; a fact.

She left.

Despite the agony in his arm and the muscles screaming in his back, he lifted the sledgehammer. But it was a half-hearted swing at best.

He wasn’t calm, but he wasn’t in that dark place either. He snagged his coat off the floor and walked outside, breathing in the fresh air to cool him down.

Jessie waited for him by the steps, wearing an anxious expression.

He couldn’t muster a smile, but he went on the offensive. “Didn’t you get my text?”

“Yes. That’s why I’m here.”

“Because I said I was gonna be late?”

“No, because I knew something was wrong.”

“You got that from my text message?”

Jessie placed her hand on his chest. “I had a feeling something wasn’t right, and seeing you, I see my gut instinct was dead on.”

Far as he knew, no woman ever had a gut feeling about him. Certainly no woman had never cared enough to follow through with it and make sure he was all right. He held her face between his gloved hands and kissed her. “Jess. I’m fine. Now let’s go inside. It’s cold out here.”

“Then how come you’re sweating?”

Woman was too damn intuitive for her own good. Brandt pressed his lips to hers, bestowing several soft smooches. “Because you’re so hot, baby, just lookin’ at you makes me sweat.”

She smooched him back. “I don’t buy it, cowboy charmer. I’ll let it slide for now, because I’m sure your mom is anxious to get home.”

“I highly doubt that,” Brandt said dryly. He took Jessie’s hand and led her inside.

His mother put her finger to her lips. “Landon just went down a half hour ago. I know it’s late for a nap, but he had so much energy today. I tried to get him to lay down with me on the couch, but he wasn’t having any of it.”

“I know how that goes, so no big deal,” Jessie said.

“Thanks for watchin’ him today, Mom.”

“I enjoy him. He reminds me so much of you.”

“Me? Not Luke?”

“In looks he’s nearly identical to his father.” Joan slipped on her coat. “But in temperament, he could be your son.” She leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Take care of yourself, Brandt. If you need anything, call.”

Brandt ditched his outerwear and headed to the refrigerator. Might as well have a beer if he was sticking around until Landon woke up. But he hadn’t been here much the past few weeks and he was out of beer.


Nah. In his mood that’d lead to trouble.

He exited the kitchen and said to Jessie, “If you wanna head home, I’ll hang out until kidzilla awakens.”

“You trying to get rid of me, Brandt?”

“No. But I’m not the best company right now.”

She sauntered forward. “So maybe we shouldn’t talk.”

Brandt didn’t move. “Not a good idea, Jess.”

“You’re tense. I have a remedy for that.”

“I’m not in the mood.”

Jessie lifted a brow. “Never heard that from you before.”

And likely she wouldn’t again. “Look. I appreciate the offer, but—”

“Offer?” she repeated. “Like you’d be doing me a favor by doing me?” Her face shuttered. “Screw that. I’m outta here.” She turned so fast her coattails whapped him on the knee.

He grabbed her out of reflex. “Whoa. This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen.”

“Congrats. You made it happen anyway.”

He hauled her against his chest, imprisoning her in his arms.

“Let me go.”

“No. You started this, Jess, not me.”

“What is wrong with you?”

He pressed his mouth to the shell of her ear. “I want you, okay? Fuck. I always want you. But I’m on edge in a big way today, and it’d be better if—”

“You shut me out? Wow. Like I’ve never dealt with that from a McKay man before.”

Once again, she’d pushed the wrong button. In a flash, he crowded her against the living room wall.

“You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into by taunting me.”

Jessie lifted her chin. “Show me. You won’t shock me.”

“Don’t bet on that, sweetheart.”

Then she shocked him by wreathing her arms around his neck and whispering, “Trust me. Please.

Don’t shut me out. Let me in. I’m here for you however you need me.” Her cool fingers settled on his nape.

Damn. Her touch felt good, soothing him and stirring him up. “I don’t have a lot of control right now.”

“So you admitting that Brandt McKay, the almighty gentleman cowboy, is showing me that he’s not always as even-keeled as he projects?”


“That’s a start.” Jessie crushed her lips to his, inhaling him with a take-no-prisoners kiss and ground her pelvis against his. When he stupidly tried to pull away, she held him tighter, kissed him harder and he was done fighting her. Done fighting himself.

Brandt wrested control, frantic to touch her everywhere, her throat, her breasts, her belly, between her thighs. Letting his desire for her burn up any residual anger. Letting her help him take the edge off. Letting her in.

She writhed against him. When Jessie dropped her hand over his fly to unzip his jeans, he growled and ended all body contact.

He stepped back. “Clothes off.”

Moments later, she was completely naked.

He turned her around. “Put your hands flat on the wall.”

Jessie didn’t hesitate.

She wasn’t being obedient for his sake, because he wanted it this way. She wanted it this way. Her breathing had become erratic. Her body rippled with that fuck me now tremor that kicked his lust into the danger zone. He let his mouth tease her ear. “You sure you want this? Me fucking you, only thinkin’ about how good it’ll feel when I’m buried balls deep in your tight cunt? You really want me to use you hard?”

“Yes. God yes.”

Brandt slipped his fingers between her thighs and found her soaked. A primitive yowl in his head had him jerking his shirttails free from his jeans. Belt unfastened, zipper undone, he removed his jeans only to the tops of his boots because he was obsessed with getting inside her and couldn’t wait to get completely undressed.


Please don’t say stop. “What?”


His cock slapped his belly before he impatiently shoved it between her legs and impaled her with one greedy push.

Her full body quiver was followed by a low-pitched, “Yes.”

Brandt curled his hands over her hips and pulled her back, completely controlling her movements. His pelvis smacking her ass made a discordant slap slap slap sound that was almost as satisfying as Jessie’s guttural moans bouncing back to him.

He reached around until his finger breached the soft nest of curls, gliding down to where their bodies were joined at the mouth of her sex. Then he slid his wet finger back up her slit to stroke her slippery nub in a gentle motion that countered the ferocity of his cock surging into her. But in this position he couldn’t get deep enough. He widened his stance, but his strokes became even shallower, so he stopped moving.

Jessie turned to look at him. “Brandt? Why did you—”

“I need more of you. Lean back.” She emitted a shriek when he lifted her, balancing her ass on his pelvis like she was sitting on a chair. “Tuck your feet around the outside of my boots.” Soon as she did, they both groaned, because damn, that one little change immediately brought him deeper. He angled her body forward, flattening her palm on the wall, wrapping her left arm behind his neck before he slapped his left hand on the wall across from hers. With his chest plastered to her back, he gritted out, “Hang on.”

Fucking her this way was a rush, not only because of the slant and position of their bodies, but because there was no finesse. No sweetness. Just desperation. Just need. His hips bucked as he kept his free hand cupped over her mound to tease her clit. He closed his eyes, losing himself in the sensation of Jessie pressing back against him as he pressed into her tight heat. Knowing there was nowhere on earth he’d rather be. Knowing her acceptance of this side of him would only cement his determination to have her as his.