That’s when Georgia knew she’d do whatever it took to keep the happiness she’d found here. Taking such a scary leap made her stomach roil, but if she didn’t have faith in her ability to choose her own path, she still was letting everyone else pull the strings. And she was done with that. Starting now. At least if she fell flat on her face this time, she’d know exactly who tripped her up.
She glanced up and saw Stephanie grinning at her.
“I knew you’d make the right choice. I’m here for you, whatever you need. Now go get your man and start your happily ever after.” Stephanie hugged her and left.
As Georgia headed toward the door, she caught a glimpse of a black-haired man on the outskirts of the dance floor. Her heart skipped a beat. Had Tell shown up looking for her after all?
But after watching the guy, she realized he was a McKay, just not her McKay.
It was Dalton. A drunk Dalton. He’d sway one way, catch himself, and snap his body straight. He was trying to pay attention to a slender brunette giving him the mother of all lectures.
He reached out to stroke the woman’s hair and she dodged his hand. When that motion sent him falling forward, she grabbed the front of his shirt and jerked him upright.
That’s when everything went to hell. Dalton trapped the brunette’s face in his hands and kissed her. Not a gentle peck, but a tonsil-scratching kiss.
She broke his hold and pushed him. Dalton’s arms flailed and he landed hard on his ass. She stepped over him before stomping away. A couple bar patrons helped Dalton to his feet, but he angrily waved them off and staggered down the hallway to the back door.
Concerned, Georgia followed him outside.
Dalton wasn’t leaning against the building or lying in a heap on the ground. And in the state he was in, he couldn’t have gotten far. She saw him standing beside a white pickup.
Surely he didn’t intend to drive home?
Despite three-inch heels, she ran. He had the driver’s-side door open by the time she reached him, but he’d dropped the keys on the ground.
She swooped down and plucked them up. “Looking for these?”
“Yeah. They musta fallen outta my hand.” He swayed and kept one eye shut as he looked at her. “Georgia! Hey. It’s the hot chick banging my brother, that lucky bastard.”
“So nice of you to point it out,” she retorted.
“You still got my keys?”
“Yep. But I’m keeping them because you are not driving.”
“Fuck that. I’m fine ta drive.”
He loomed over her. “Gimme my goddamn keys.”
She lost her mind on him. She shoved him against the cab and stood on her toes to get in his face. “You don’t get to do this. It would destroy your brothers if something happened to you. You’re a fucking idiot to even think about getting behind the goddamn wheel when you’re drunk.” She stepped back, her breath coming in hot, angry bursts. One fist clenched around the keys, one fist ready to knock him the fuck out if he made a move for them.
“Shit.” Dalton’s belligerent stance vanished. He dropped his chin to his chest, probably to hide his embarrassment. “Sorry. I don’t know what I was thinkin’. I’d never…”
“You’re right you’d never. Get it through that thickheaded McKay skull of yours: you are not driving. I’ll call Tell to come and get you.”
Dalton’s head snapped up. “No. Keep my family out of it. I don’t want them to see me like this.”
He shook his head. “Like a fuckin’ chump.”
Confused, Georgia stared at him. “Dalton. Honey. You’re kind of a mess. Will you let me drive you home?”
“Really? You’d do that?”
“Because of Tell?”
“No. Because of RJ.”
Another moment of silence passed between them, broken by the shouts of partyers exiting the bar.
He said, “Thanks. I’ll take you up on that ride.”
She eyed him. “I walked here from my place, so I don’t have my car. You’re a big guy and there’s no way I can help you into the cab of this monster truck.”
“S’okay. I can get in on my own.” He hoisted himself up. Then he slid across the bench seat to the passenger side.
Georgia had driven her fair share of pickups, but this one was jacked up, tricked out, and she could barely reach the pedals. With her luck, Dalton would pass out before he told her where he lived. Driving aimlessly around rural Wyoming at eleven o’clock at night with a brokenhearted drunk wasn’t her idea of fun.
So call Tell.
No. Dalton had asked her not to. Which left her with one choice.
She parked his rig at the curb in front of her house because she feared she’d take out the neighbor’s bushes if she attempted to park in the driveway.
Dalton staggered out of his pickup and into her house on his own. She directed him to the living room couch.
He yanked off his boots out of habit and flopped on the sofa with a weary sigh. He draped his arm over his eyes. “I’m gonna be payin’ for my damn pity party the rest of the night and most of tomorrow. Christ. My head is spinning like a fuckin’ tornado.”
“Do you want coffee?”
“Nah. Thanks. I’m just gonna sleep it off.”
She brought him a pillow and a blanket. “The bathroom is down the hall, across from the kitchen.”
“I ain’t gonna puke, if that’s what you’re worried about. I can hold my liquor.”
“Well, I’d prefer you didn’t pee on my sofa either. So you know where the toilet is in case you need to use it.”
He snorted. “You’re funny. And sweet. Not at all what I thought you’d be.”
Georgia perched on the edge of the coffee table. “I’m afraid to ask what Tell has told you about me.”
“Nothin’, really. That says a lot.”
“If my brother ain’t talkin’ about you, it means there’s something there to talk about.”
That made no sense.
“You ain’t playin’ him, are you?” Dalton said softly. “He deserves better.”
“Tell deserves the best because he’s the best man I’ve ever known.”
“Have you told him that?”
“Not yet. But I intend to.”
Dalton groaned. “Good. But fuck. I’m really gonna be the last single McKay standing, ain’t I?”
Yes, if Georgia had anything to say about it.
She froze. “What did you say?”
“Nothin’. Drunk talk. Me’n Tell and Brandt and Luke always pretended it was stupid the way the Waltons said goodnight to everyone at the end of the show. But we really thought it was kinda cool ’cause we never did that in our family. So we started doin’ it as a joke.”
“You know what’s weird? RJ and I did the same thing. ’Cept he always wanted to be John-Boy.”
“So did Tell. Bastard made me be Mary Ellen.”
Georgia laughed. “Night, Mary Ellen.”
“You and Tell are two peas in a pod.”
By the time she asked, “What do you mean?” she saw Dalton’s breathing had slowed and he’d passed out.
Sunday morning, Tell feigned sickness and skipped helping with chores.
He’d spent Saturday night after the rodeo dozing off between shitty reality shows on the Discovery Channel. Point for him that he hadn’t drunk until he passed out. His mind had just shut down on its own and his body followed. He wondered if this was how his days and nights would be if Georgia was out of his life for good.
He couldn’t live like this. He couldn’t go back to the way he’d been. Well, he could, but his heart wouldn’t be in it, not since Georgia took ownership of that motherfucker before she’d stomped the piss out of it.
This brokenhearted shit sucked.
Being without Georgia sucked.
The rest of the day and all of the night sucked too.
Monday morning, Tell and Dalton started and finished chores without talking, which wasn’t unusual. Sometimes they’d go as long as a week without discussing anything besides ranch work. Working with the same people every day, and knowing that would continue for the rest of his life, made it easy to shove things aside, figuring they’d have lots of time to talk.
But that didn’t hold true with Luke, did it?
“So you didn’t get to help out with the bonfire yesterday,” Dalton said.
Tell’s gaze snapped to him. “What are you talkin’ about?”
“Colt, Kane, Ben and Brandt torched the bunkhouse yesterday morning. “
That floored him. “What? When was that decided?”
Dalton shrugged. “Spur of the moment. Colt showed up to do his check of the place and found a dozen kids passed out in there. Was the same kids everyone’s been seein’. Guess they got mouthy. Colby found trees they’d cut down and a fire pit out in the middle of the damn field. Appears everyone’s had enough. Kane and everyone else are kicking themselves because we shoulda listened to you sooner. They were gonna let you do the honors, but Brandt said you were sick and he’d take care of it.”
“Huh. Well, I‘m glad to hear they don’t think I’m always jokin’ around and they take my suggestions seriously sometimes.”
“None of ’em think you’re a clown. It was just an extreme solution to the problem. So points for you, bro, in the McKay hierarchy.”
Tell rolled his eyes. “Were you there yesterday morning?”
“For a little while. Then I had something else goin’ on.”
The way Dalton fidgeted, Tell knew something was up. “Spill it, D.”
“We got it.”