Evidently Brandt hadn’t been successful in keeping his voice down. Landon’s eyes popped open and he wiggled until he was sitting on Brandt’s lap.

Jessie stood. “I’ve said my piece, you’ve said yours. Can we just move onto the next thing? Because there’s plenty of other stuff we have to deal with today.”

“Yeah.” He squinted at the clock. “I need to get goin’. I’m supposed to meet my brothers at my place in an hour.”

“I’ll call Skylar and give her a heads up, but it’d probably be best if I drove out there and talked to her.”

“True.” He reached for Landon’s coat. “Come on buddy. Let’s ride.”

Jessie insisted on meeting Skylar face to face because she had the overwhelming urge to put distance between herself and Brandt.

Don’t you mean between you and Landon?

What’d happened to her backbone? She’d sworn last night she’d say no. She’d said it out loud. Hell, she’d screamed it. No one in the world would blame her for washing her hands of the situation. In fact, now she’d have the exact opposite problem. People in the community would think she was a masochist or a martyr.

But when she’d seen that sweet little innocent face…something shifted inside her. Something big.

Something beyond pity or a sense of duty. Something she was afraid to put a name to.

She turned off the highway and bypassed the Sky Blue manufacturing plant. Seemed strange to drive past it and through the gate that divided the manufacturing plant are from Kade and Skylar McKay’s private residence. As handy as it was for Skylar to have her business so close to her home, she kept the two buildings separated.

Girls and dogs raced up as soon as Jessie parked.

“Miss Jessie,” Peyton exclaimed. “Mama said you were comin’ here.” She stood on tiptoe and peered around Jessie.

“Someone else you’re looking for, Peyton?”

“She’s checkin’ to see if you brought the llamas, which is just stupid,” Eliza drawled.

“I’m tellin’ Mama you called me stupid,” Peyton shot back.

“Go ahead.”

Shannie stepped between her warring sisters. “Stop or Daddy won’t take us ridin’.”

“’Cause you’ll tattle,” Eliza said.

“Yeah,” Peyton added. “You got us all in trouble last night.”

Three dogs sniffed Jessie as three girls argued.

The screen door slammed and Skylar started down the steps, followed by Kade.

The girls’ fighting ended immediately and they lined up, all sweet smiles, the pictures of innocence.

Jessie bit her cheek to keep from laughing.

“Hey, Jess. It’s good to see you, but you didn’t have to drive out here.”

Maybe she was interrupting some family thing. “Oh, if this is a bad time, I can go.”

“No,” Skylar assured her, “it’s fine. Actually, I’m happy to see you.”

Kade set his hands on Skylar’s shoulders and spoke to his daughters. “You girls get the tack ready for the horses and I’ll be right there.”

“’Kay. Bye!” All three girls took off, boots clomping on the gravel, pigtails flying as they raced each other to the barn.

Before Jessie uttered a word, Kade demanded, “What’s this I hear about Luke havin’ a kid?”

“Kade,” Skylar murmured.

“No sense in beatin’ around the bush, Sky.”

Jessie jammed her hands in the pockets of her vest. “Obviously it was news to me too, but Brandt has been dealing with the boy’s mother for the last month.” She relayed the story, knowing she’d better get used to telling it, even when the news would spread through the McKay family like wildfire.

Both Kade and Skylar were quiet, yet Jessie could sense some silent communication between them.

Kade sighed. “Hell, Jessie. I don’t even know what to say. I’m sorry none of us can kick Luke’s ass for what he done. But I’d be lyin’ if I didn’t tell you I wanna kick Brandt’s butt for even suggesting that you be a party to takin’ care of this kid.”

“I’m pretty sure you’d have to get in line. Not to mention how Casper…”

“Casper can shut his big goddamn mouth, as far as I’m concerned. He’s never—”

“Kade,” Skylar said, stopping his tirade. “This isn’t helping. Go hit the trail with the girls. They’re waiting for you.”

“All right.” Kade held Jessie eyes with a sympathetic look from beneath his gray cowboy hat. “If you need anything at all, just ask.”

“Thanks, Kade. I appreciate it.”

Kade kissed his wife and sauntered off.

Skylar grabbed Jessie’s shirtsleeve. “I made iced tea. Or maybe you’d prefer something stronger?”

Jessie shook her head. “Tea would be fine. I think if I start drinking I won’t stop and that won’t help anyone.”

After they settled in wicker rockers in the three-season porch, Skylar sighed. “I thought the girls would sleep in this morning after their late night at the wedding reception, but they were up at the crack of dawn, as usual. They definitely take after their father in that respect.”

How would Landon take after Luke? Just in looks? Or in temperament?

Jessie braced herself for more questions because Skylar wouldn’t pull any punches.

“I hope you don’t think I’m taking advantage of the situation, but there’s something else I needed to talk to you about anyway.”

That didn’t sound very good. “Am I in trouble?”

“No. Not even close. Despite the circumstances that brought you to Sky Blue, Jessie, I’m thrilled to have you working for me.”

“But?” she prompted.

“But it seems the dynamic in the daycare has changed in the last year. I’ve always had the daycare for just my employee’s children, but with those kids growing up we’ve got vacancies. Even my girls aren’t around fulltime anymore.”

“You thinking of opening up the daycare for non-employees?”

“Just family. You, naturally, for as long as Landon needs it. I know India has been dropping Hudson off occasionally and taking Ellison with her to the shop. Ginger needs to go back to work soon, but she doesn’t want to put the burden of caring for twins on Kade and Kane’s mother Kimi, although Kimi has volunteered.” Skylar smiled. “Grama Kimi loves her grandbabies. She’d happily take all three of our girls and all three of Kane and Ginger’s kids every day.”

Kimi McKay was the mother-in-law Jessie wished she’d had. Vivacious, caring, fun, fiercely protective of her family, yet the blonde spitfire didn’t take any crap from either of her twin sons or her husband or the rest of the McKay clan.

“Ginger and I talked last night at Keely’s wedding reception, she weighed her options, and I sort of volunteered the daycare at Sky Blue.”

“Of course you did, she’s your family. And it’s your business Sky, you can do whatever you want.”

“True. I just don’t want to take advantage of the situation, or you, especially now that Landon will be part of the mix.”

Jessie was quiet for a minute or so while she considered the options. “To be honest, it’d be easiest for everyone if we could arrange it so the twins and Landon weren’t there the same days.”

“Ginger plans to work four days a week. Have you given any thought to what Landon’s schedule will be?”

“Brandt and I discussed having Landon come on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”

“So it’s okay if I tell Ginger Tuesdays and Thursdays work best? The babies won’t start coming for another two weeks.”

“Sure. Thanks, Sky, you have no idea how much…” Don’t cry because once you start you won’t be able to stop. Jessie sipped her tea and tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

“Okay, now that we’re done with the business portion of this conversation, Jess, tell me how you’re really doing.”

“I’m…” A mess. “Handling it. Yes, I’m in shock. Yes, I’m pissed off. Really pissed off at Luke on so many levels I don’t think I’ve even discovered them all yet. And this probably will sound horrible, but right after Brandt told me about this kid, I wanted to hate him. Before I ever laid eyes on him. I thought I could look at him and not feel a goddamned thing.

“But when I saw him? I didn’t see a dead ringer for Luke, or a kid who should’ve been my son. I saw a lost little boy. A kid who wouldn’t have anyone to see to his basic needs if not for Brandt stepping up to the plate. But Brandt is smart enough to admit he can’t do it alone. He’s also smart enough to know that if he left Landon’s future in his father’s hands, Casper would take legal action to ensure the boy’s mother never saw her son again. Landon doesn’t need that. None of us needs that. What Landon needs is the stability Brandt and I can provide until his mother cleans up her act.”

When Jessie looked up because Skylar hadn’t made a peep, her gut constricted at the tears rolling down Sky’s face.


“I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.” Skylar swept her fingertips under her eyes. “And I agree with Kade. I was tempted to track Brandt down, grab a two by four and beat him over the head for acting so much like his father.” She shook her head. “But between your call and you showing up here, I’ve had time to rethink my original response, and Brandt’s head is safe.”

“Because you’ve come to the same conclusion everyone else will?” she asked tightly. “That I’m a spineless twit?”

Skylar’s eyes filled with shock. “God no. I think you’re closer to a saint.”

Jessie scowled. “I’m far from that, Sky, trust me.”

“Listen, I understand why Brandt asked you. Not because you’re spineless. Not because you’re a sucker. But because you’ve got the biggest heart of anyone I know,”