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Did Dalton really believe that she didn’t give a damn about him?


This was about fun times and sex games—didn’t you remind yourself of that fact every time things became serious? Self-preservation, remember? This isn’t only about your relationship; this is about your livelihood. And now he’s fucking with you on both levels. Why are you surprised?


Because there was more to it than that. And she wanted—she deserved—some answers.


Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you barged in here spewing accusations.


Before she cleared the doorjamb completely, Dalton said in a hoarse voice, “I’ll be out of town for the next two days. We can talk about this when I get back.”


Rory spun around. “What? Why are you just telling me this now?”


Those hurt blue eyes hooked hers. “I’d planned to tell you tonight over dinner. But now… Anyway, I didn’t want you to think I was running away again.”


Then Dalton shut the door in her face.


He’d given her no choice but to back off and process everything that’d just happened. Dammit. She wanted to beat on the door and resolve this now. She hated fighting with a lover. Hated it.


As Rory drove home, the reality of the situation hit her. What did it mean that she was more upset about what this meant for their relationship than how this might affect her job performance?


Dalton figured his brothers would need a day or two to cool off so he was surprised to see them on his doorstep Monday evening.


“Can we come in?” Tell asked.


“Depends on if this is an ass-chewing session or a rational discussion. I’ve had enough shit flung at me today that I’m feelin’ like a monkey.”


They both looked at him blankly.


Guess his sense of humor sucked too. “Yeah, come in.”


“Nice place,” Tell said after they’d trooped into the kitchen.


“It’s getting there.” He gestured to the table. They sat and he rested his back against the countertop. “I’d offer you guys a beer but I’m out. You want coffee or something?”


“Nah. Just wanted to come over and clear the air after the bullshit that happened yesterday. You took off pretty damn fast,” Brandt said.


“Not that we blame you,” Tell added. “It’s just…the whole elk farm thing caught us off guard.”


“And you wonder why I didn’t tell you about my plan before I blabbed to the whole family?”


Brandt and Tell looked at each other and nodded.


“The reaction from the family yesterday was what I expected.” He frowned. “With the exception of Gavin’s comments. But I needed to make sure you guys were surprised by it too, so our cousins couldn’t accuse either of you of not tellin’ them about something that affects the ranch. Or could possibly affect it. Nothin’ is guaranteed except the State of Wyoming cashed my five hundred dollar check for the permit application.”


“Gavin was the only one makin’ sense. And I hated how fast Cord, Colby and Colt turned on anyone who didn’t agree with them.” Brandt scrubbed his hands over his face. “Been goin’ on a while and we’ve sorta let it slide, but seein’ that Kade and Kane feel the same way, I reckon it’s time to take Uncle Carson’s kids to task.”


“About this?”


“Not only this,” Tell said. “But they oughta know that we’re supporting you no matter what happens.”


Dalton tried not to let his shock show.


But it must have, because Tell said, “Why in the hell does that surprise you?”


“Maybe because you haven’t always thrown in behind me.”


Brandt snorted. “If you’re talkin’ about the years you spent getting in bar fights, I’ll remind you that me’n Tell backed you plenty of times.”


“Any time we had a problem with you or what you were doin’ or what you weren’t doin’, little bro, we told you. And if you really think about it, us getting in your face about shit didn’t happen all that often.”


He couldn’t argue with that.


“Besides, the last couple years you were here workin’ on the ranch, after Dad got sober and Mom left, we had no idea what you were doin’ with yourself in your off-the-ranch hours. You slammed that door in our faces whenever we asked. So we stopped askin’.”


Dalton couldn’t argue with that either.


“We might’ve gotten concerned you had a gambling problem if we’d known how often you were playing poker during that time. But when you told us that you paid cash for the Fox family’s land…well, we couldn’t exactly chew your ass for bein’ a successful card player, now could we?” Tell complained.


“So we think it’s bullshit, whatever stick you’ve got up your ass about this. About us.” Brandt’s jaw tightened. “One thing we’ve always been able to count on is the three of us stick together. No matter what. That ain’t changed just because you have.”


At least they recognized he had changed. But he hadn’t found the balls to give them the real reason for his fear that they’d change toward him. So he deflected. “You’re both on board with my plans?”


“It’s your land, Dalton. You can do whatever the hell you want with it. You get that permit, well, then we’ll talk.”


“All of this might be a moot point anyway. I found out the hard way that not only is the Crook County branch office of the WNRC in charge of processing applications, they also determine who’s granted the permits.”


Tell’s eyes widened. “Oh shit.”


“Yeah. I knew Rory had been assigned a special project at the WNRC, but she wasn’t allowed to talk specifics. And I kept my application on the down low for obvious reasons. So guess whose application came across Rory’s desk today?”


“Yours.”


“Yeah.” Dalton ran his hand through his hair. “She showed up here a few hours ago and lost her mind on me. Rory and I have a tangled history, some of it not pretty. Needless to say, she thinks history is repeating itself and that I was just usin’ her to get a fuckin’ permit. Jesus. That burns my ass because she knows better. I’m not fuckin’ around with her this time.”


Brandt looked skeptical. “You two are involved, seriously involved from what I’ve seen, and neither of you had any idea what the other one is doin’ outside of the hours that you spend together?”


When Brandt put it that way…it sounded unbelievable.


“Maybe it’s because you two ain’t doin’ a whole lotta talkin’?” Tell wiggled his eyebrows. “I remember them days.”


“That could be part of it. She’s pissed and I’m pissed and we’re cooling things off for a few days.”


Tell pointed at the duffel bag against the wall. “Is that why you’re goin’ somewhere?”


“No. I talked to my buddy Boden last night. I left some stuff undone since I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone when I left. So I’m leavin’ for Montana in the morning.” Or maybe he’d just take off tonight.


“When’re you comin’ back?”


“Thursday.”


“Don’t suppose you’re gonna stop by the rehab hospital on your way outta town?” Brandt asked.


Dalton shook his head.


“Been a while since you’ve been there.”


“Has he made any improvements?”


“No. But that don’t mean—”


He held up his hand. “I don’t want to talk about Casper.” Ever. “If you need me to check cattle or fix fence or babysit your kids while you’re visiting him, I’m more than willing to help out. But it is not helpin’ out sitting in Casper’s room and letting him glare at me. I’m done with that.”


Neither of his brothers responded. They weren’t happy, but at least now maybe they’d stop bugging him about it.


Brandt stood. “Well, drive safe. Let us know you made it up there okay.”


“Will do.”


Tell clapped him on the back. “Fair warning. I’m totally takin’ you up on the free babysitting offer.” He dug in his jacket pocket. “Before I forget…” He handed Dalton a wad of bills. “You forgot the jackpot, so me’n Brandt picked up for you.”


“Thanks.” Dalton pretended to count it.


“You don’t think it’s all there?” Tell demanded. “You are one suspicious motherfucker.”


“Nope. Just checking to see if you added the hundred you owed me for the side bet.” He smiled. “Is it included in here?”


“No.”


Dalton held out his hand. “Pay up, bro. Fair’s fair.”


Brandt laughed and said, “Told ya he’d remember.”


Chapter Twenty-One


Rory yelled, “Come in,” after two knocks sounded on her office door Thursday morning.


“Hey, Rory.”


Her jaw might’ve actually hit the desk when she saw Dillon Doland, her ex-fiancé, in the doorway. “Dillon? What are you doing here?”


“I’m in the area for business. Thought I’d stop by and say hello.”


Remembering her manners, she gestured to the chair in front of the desk. “Please. Sit down.”


“Thanks.” He pinched the crease of his khaki pants after he sat.


At their first meeting, Dillon’s fussiness with his clothes made her wonder if he was gay. After their less than spectacular sex life when they dated, she still wondered that.


Not nice, Rory.


Dillon bestowed his movie-star bright smile. “You look great.”


“Same goes for you.”


“You still part-time here?”


“Technically? Yes. But I’m on special assignment so I’m fulltime until that ends.”


“What’s the special assignment?”


She winked. “Super duper secret.” She’d been so mad at Dalton she’d just blurted out that information and she shouldn’t have. Wouldn’t it be her bad luck if he blabbed to everyone…just like he used to? What would happen if the director found out?

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