“Can I feel it?” Tell asked.
Jessie placed his hand off to the left side. “He’s too big to show off his soccer-player imitation, but he gives me plenty of knee and elbow action.”
He couldn’t believe how hard and tight the skin stretched over her belly was. Then he felt something move beneath his palm. “I know you’re tired of bein’ pregnant, but this is just so damn cool. Yours and Brandt’s baby is in there.”
She set her hand over the top of his. Tears filled her eyes. “Thank you. When I’m feeling bloated and I can’t stretch my maternity shirts over this massive bump and I can’t put on my boots and just want it to be over, I forget this is a miraculous thing. And I’ve wanted it for so long.”
“I suspect things will settle down once the little bugger makes his appearance,” Dalton said.
“I hope so. Thanks, guys. Now I know Brandt’s tension wasn’t just my pregnancy paranoia. I just wish there was something I could do for him short term that would relax him.”
“I know one thing that will relax him completely. Guaranteed. A b—”
Tell shoved his younger brother. “Really, Dalton? That’s how you help, by suggesting Jess gives him a blow job—”
“Whoa. No! I was gonna say a big tumbler of whiskey! Sheesh.” Dalton shoved him back. “Perverted much, bro?”
Jessie giggled. “I have a hard enough time getting out of a chair, say nothin’ of getting down on my knees.”
“And with that…we’re sending you home to your husband.”
They followed her back to the house—still weird to think of it as Brandt and Jessie’s place. After Casper sobered up, he’d announced he wasn’t returning to live in Sundance and handed over his house to Brandt and Jessie. They’d hired Chet and Remy West for a complete remodel. Happy as he’d been for his brother and sister-in-law to have the family homestead, the place he’d grown up in wasn’t his home any longer.
On the way to drop Dalton off, Tell asked, “Is it poker week?”
“Got postponed since everyone is scattered. Cam and Domini took their kids to Disney World. Colby is testing new stock at Cash Big Crow’s, which means Cord and Colt are swamped. Kane and Kade are checking out a bull sale in Montana. Quinn and Libby and their kids are in Arizona at Gavin’s, which means Ben’s up to his ass. Keely and Jack are on some tropical vacation.”
“Won’t be long before the poker games end altogether.”
“You’re probably right.” Dalton tipped his hat back. “You think Ben told anyone in the family about our card skills?”
“I doubt it. I will say that it does suck, pretending that we’re lousy players.”
“I remember someone talking about us havin’ bad poker faces.” Dalton laughed. “I wanted to prove them wrong, until I realized I was proving them wrong and they didn’t have a clue.”
“You never said if you won or lost in Deadwood.”
Dalton cocked his head. “I didn’t, did I?”
And he didn’t intend to, either. “Asshole. Looks like you’re gonna get that nap after all since we’re done early.”
“Thank God. What are you gonna do with yourself?”
“Make sure the baler is working. Ben said something last week about double-checking every piece of equipment before we get to haying. So I might swing by his place after lunch to see what he needs help with, since I doubt Brandt will remember to do it.”
Dalton peered over the tops of his sunglasses. “Word of caution—never just drop by Ben and Ainsley’s house.”
Tell frowned. “Why? Because they’re newlyweds?”
He emitted a strangled laugh. “Yeah, that’s it.”
Georgia looked forward to her date with Tell, hoping that tonight he’d put his bold declaration that they’d be lovers into action.
She’d tried to work after he dropped her off yesterday, but her thoughts kept drifting to back to him. Starting with when she’d seen him in the park on Saturday. She’d watched him for a while before approaching, hesitant to interrupt the fun time he’d been having with Landon.
But Tell’s happy demeanor changed when his father entered the picture. Tension rolled off him so thickly Georgia felt it on the other side of the park. She’d left soon after; she wouldn’t want Tell to witness a dustup between her and her family.
As the afternoon had worn on and she hadn’t accomplished a damn thing, she’d dug out her high school yearbooks.
Georgia had no interest in seeing pictures of her size-two self, not because of the twenty extra pounds she carried, but because when she saw at pictures of that young girl, her gut twisted thinking about all the losses facing her. The disappointments to come. Shaking off the morbid thoughts, she scanned the index for mentions of McKay.
There were tons of entries for Chase McKay and Keely McKay. A couple for his brother Brandt. Three listings for Tell. He’d kept a low profile their sophomore year. Then again, Georgia remembered both Chase and Keely had ruled the school that year—easy to be overlooked even if your last name was McKay.
She thumbed back through the pages. The first shot was of Tell in the lunchroom, mugging for the camera with his buddies Thurman and Ned—the trio called themselves TNT. The second pic was of rodeo club—not surprising he wasn’t standing by Deck, but he wasn’t next to his cousin Chase, either, who was front and center. The last entry was Tell’s sophomore class picture. The kid in the pic was scrawny. His dark hair was brutally short and no hint of smile lingered on his lips or brightened his eyes. She honestly didn’t remember this somber version of Tell at all.
Georgia flipped open the next yearbook. Five mentions of Tell during their junior year. A picture of him at the first football game of the season. One of him in the buckin’ chute as he got ready to ride. Another picture of him in rodeo club. A shot of him filling balloons for the junior/senior prom. And his junior class picture. At least he’d smiled in that one.
Guilt rolled over her, seeing the picture of Tell standing beside the helium tank. After being assigned the tedious task by Denille, the head cheerleader, she’d asked Tell to help. He’d made her laugh all the time in English class, so she figured he’d make even a crappy chore fun. But when Deck had found out who she’d asked to help her, he’d told her dad. And her father refused to let her spend time alone, unsupervised, with a godless, wild McKay boy. She’d been too mortified to explain why she had to back out, and poor Tell had gotten stuck doing all the work.
Come to think of it, that had happened more than once over their high school years.
If Tell was the vengeful type, agreeing to take her to the reunion and then standing her up would be a perfect way to get back at her.
The beautiful evening was impossible to resist, and Georgia sat on the front steps, basking in the sun’s last rays as she waited for Tell to pick her up. She’d probably overdressed in capris, a sleeveless yellow shirt patterned with tiny daisies, and wedge sandals, given the fact they’d played basketball on their first date.
Her heart skipped a beat as she watched Tell saunter up the sidewalk. He wore that sexy grin and his usual cowboy finery that made him look smokin’ hot, so she was glad she’d taken extra time with her appearance.
“You make such a damn pretty picture, sittin’ out here with the sun shining on your hair, making it look like black gold.”
“Listen to you, Tell McKay, talking so sweet.”
As soon as she was upright, he tugged her into his arms. Then his mouth was on hers, reminding her that he knew how to kiss. Georgia’s head was pleasantly muzzy by the time he pulled away.
“I like hearing that happy little hum when I kiss you. Gets me all kinds of curious about what other noises you make when you’re turned on.”
Georgia laughed softly. “Don’t get my hopes up that you’ll find out tonight.”
Tell frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Where we going?”
“To Bill’s Burger Shack in Hulett. Best burgers around. Been there yet?”
“No. But first ice cream? And now burgers? You’d better have a plan to help me work off these extra calories, Tell McKay.”
“Which is…?” Should she mention sex burned a lot of calories?
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.”
“I don’t like surprises.”
“So I gathered. Come on. Let’s go.”
The drive was beautiful. The years away from this area had allowed her to forget just how spectacular the scenery was. Had she ever really appreciated it?
They scored the last table in the burger joint. Between bites of an oversized burger, Tell asked about scheduling for upcoming rodeos. She responded as best as she could, but each event had different parameters and she hadn’t memorized the details.
That didn’t make him happy. She knew he was anxious to get scheduled to judge, but he’d brought it up on the drive back to her house after the trip to DQ too. Was that all he cared about?
Did he think she only cared about the reunion?
Maybe. To prove she had interest in his life, Georgia asked about his day. He mumbled about Dalton being hungover, his sister-in-law Jessie having a short fuse and broken fences that don’t fix themselves.
Then he clammed up and this slid into awkward date territory.
Tell didn’t talk to her but he sure didn’t have a problem talking to anyone else—or everyone else that stopped by their table. When Tell introduced her, a few people remembered her; mostly they remembered her brother RJ.
While Tell chatted with yet another person she didn’t know, she was reminded of her biggest mistake after moving to Sundance the beginning of her sophomore year: letting her high school boyfriend become her everything.
Deck’s interests, activities and friends took priority over hers. Cheerleading was the one activity she could claim as her own. Being back here was a harsh reminder that she’d spent her high school years as arm candy. Virginal arm candy. Silent, virginal arm candy. A girl so sweet and demure sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth. A girl whose opinions were considered as fluffy as a bag of cotton candy. She snorted. There was a past persona to be proud of.