Dalton took the garbage from her and flung it on the counter. Then he grabbed her upper arms. “Spend every waking hour that you’re not workin’ with me.”
“What? No. That’s ridiculous. I—”
He cut off her retort with a steamy kiss that made her wonder why she didn’t mouth off to him all the time.
After he thoroughly scrambled her brain, Dalton rested his forehead to hers. “If you would’ve said yes, then I wouldn’t need to buy a damn TV.”
“You are going to drive me crazy with this need to prove you’ve changed, aren’t you?”
“Something worth doin’ is worth doin’ well. And make no mistake, I’m doin’ it right with you this time.” He touched her face with the back of his hand. “Question is: will you let me?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“So flip,” he murmured. “You scared it might work?”
“So confident,” she shot back. “You scared you can’t convince me?”
Rory held up her hands. “Enough for one night. Please. I need to go home.”
Dalton helped her with her coat.
When she spun around to say something, he put his finger across her lips.
“Give me a chance. That’s all I’m asking.”
Day two in the rehab hospital sucked ass.
Dalton didn’t know why he and his brothers were sitting in an overheated bedroom with a bitter man who didn’t want them there. The one time when he’d made eye contact with Casper, he’d seen that mean gleam—as if the asshole was remembering the last conversation they’d had three years ago that’d resulted in Dalton leaving.
The TV blared behind him as Casper flipped between twenty-four hour news channels. At least the noise cut the tension in the room.
How long did they have to stay?
The respiratory therapist came in and Casper made that frantic motion that he wanted them out.
The three of them wound up in the reception area. Listening to the constant ding ding that indicated a resident needed assistance. The phone at the receptionist’s desk rang constantly. A couple of people in wheelchairs parked outside the reception area stared at them with vacant eyes. One guy waited by the door, intent on making a break for it.
The sights, sounds and smells overwhelmed him, but didn’t seem to bother his brothers at all.
Tell flipped through a newspaper. He read interesting tidbits out loud. Then he said, “Whoa, check this out.”
“What?” Brandt said.
“Remember last year when the legislature revised that law about elk farms?” Tell asked.
“Elk farms aren’t allowed in Wyoming,” Dalton said.
“True, but they passed a bill that allowed for privatization of a few elk farms on a trial basis. That last brucellosis outbreak with the Yellowstone herd fucked up the brucellosis-free status for cattleman too. Which pissed off the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association. They demanded policy changes with the state’s wildlife management plan, but I know this ain’t what they had in mind. There’d been talk of privatization, but no one really believed it’d happen. No one wanted it to happen, but now it has happened. They’re takin’ applications. Only four permits will be issued.”
“What areas are included on the list?”
“Everywhere in Wyoming with the exception of the two areas where the state is already feeding wildlife—in Yellowstone and the Tetons.”
Years ago when he and Tell had discussed putting in a livestock feedlot adjacent to the land Gavin Daniels owned, Dalton had researched the wildlife end of it as an alternative, mostly thinking they could get into the buffalo business if the feedlot idea didn’t pan out.
When the feedlot hadn’t looked feasible, he’d gone so far as to check out privatized wildlife farms in Colorado and South Dakota to check the topography and containment and find out what type of acreage was needed for how many head.
Dalton hadn’t bothered checking the regulations for elk farms because they weren’t allowed in Wyoming. But now…this changed everything.
He needed something to do and a way to prove to Rory he intended to stick around. The section of land he owned might be a perfect fit for the program. Chances were slim his brothers had done improvements. After he checked the regulations and determined whether his land fit the criteria, he’d send in an application. No one would have to know until the applicant’s names were made public. Then he could offer Rory proof that he’d applied right away so she knew he was serious about staying in Sundance since she’d chosen to settle back here. He’d deal with any fallout with his family after the fact.
“Dalton? You okay?” Tell asked.
He glanced up. “I’m fine. Why?”
“You’re wearing an evil smile.”
“Because I’m planning ways to escape this hell.” He rested his elbows on his knees. “How long we stayin’ here?”
“Why? You got someplace else to be?” Brandt asked.
Anyplace besides here. “Casper don’t want us around. And I’ve grown past sticking around someplace where I’m not wanted.”
Tell and Brandt exchanged a look.
“Do you really need us to point out how selfish and unsupportive that statement is?” Tell asked and tossed the newspaper on the table.
“But you didn’t dispute the truth of it. Look, maybe you guys have had reconciliation time with him. I haven’t. I haven’t seen the man in three years and I sure as fuck didn’t miss him.”
Brandt’s gaze sharpened. “Why’re you bein’ so hostile about this?”
Two fucking days back here and Dalton was slipping into old patterns. Be enough to make him roar with outrage if he hadn’t gotten a handle on that former tendency too. “I’m not hostile. I’d like to know why it was so all-fired important for me to be here when it’s obvious he doesn’t want me here.”
“You wondering why he don’t want you here?”
No. I already know.
Brandt blew out a frustrated breath. “Look, he’s mentioned over the years he don’t think it’s right that you just up and left your ranch responsibilities to us.”
Dalton shoved his anger down, way down deep. After the mean bastard had all but chased him out of town, he had the fucking balls to talk smack about him to Brandt and Tell?
You’re surprised? He always tried to get you and your brothers to turn on each other.
Pointless. All of it. And he wouldn’t get sucked into an unproductive fight with his brothers because Casper had orchestrated it. He stood and gathered up the newspaper. “You’re right. My hostility, veiled as it may be, is causing problems. So I’ll go. I wouldn’t want to impede Casper’s recovery process.”
Maybe a small part of him was disappointed when his brothers didn’t try and stop him from leaving.
Tell stared at the door that’d banged shut after Dalton’s abrupt departure. “What the fuck is goin’ on with him?”
“Hell if I know,” Brandt said.
“I hate this.” Tell forced himself to flex his fingers, which had balled into fists. “Why won’t he talk to us?”
“I wish I knew.” Brandt got up and started pacing. “I never understood why he took off like he did after the thing with Addie. Something else happened. Something he didn’t tell us then and he ain’t tellin’ us now.”
Tell agreed. He’d gone over that last conversation between Dalton, Brandt and himself a million times. Still made his chest tighten when he remembered how fast it’d happened and everything in their lives had changed.
He and Brandt had shown up at their little brother’s trailer five days after the wedding fiasco at Dalton’s request. He’d taken his lumps for being a runaway groom and the three of them exchanging the good-natured barbs they always did. Then he’d tossed them the keys to his trailer and announced, “Thanks for coming by. Just a heads up that I’m leavin’.”
“What? Why?” Brandt had demanded.
“I don’t fit this place anymore.”
“Bullshit. It’s just a kneejerk reaction,” Tell said.
“I assure you it’s not.” Dalton pointed to his pickup. “I’m packed.” He pointed to the house. “It’s cleared out. Propane is shut off. They’re coming to cut the electricity Monday. The water is turned off. I wanted to say goodbye before I take off.”
Tell had watched as Dalton’s gaze swept the land he’d worked on, cursed at and been part of his entire life. “Anywhere but here.”
“No need to do nothin’ rash because of the Addie situation,” Brandt said. “It will blow over. We’ll help you figure something out that makes more sense than you running off.”
“Look, I appreciate the offer but my mind is made up.”
“Just like that? You didn’t come to us about any of this?” Tell demanded. “You just handled it on your own, like you do everything else? Fuck that, Dalton. You don’t get to leave.”
“Tell, that ain’t helpin’,” Brandt warned.
“I don’t care. This has been building for a while and we all know it. I thought if you settled down with Addie, things would go back to normal between us.”
“Normal…how?” Dalton asked.
“Don’t be a smart ass.”
“I’m not. I’m dead-ass serious,” Dalton said, trying to keep his tone even. “Things haven’t been normal around here since Mom and Casper split up and he got hit by the Jesus stick. We lost our family unit—shitty as it was. We’ve lost out on land. We’ve bought land. We’ve made plans to do something different in agriculture to expand our income base beyond what we’re makin’ as part of the McKay ranch. But I realized it’s all talk.” Dalton held up his hand when Tell started to protest. “Not laying blame. Just stating facts. The feedlot ain’t gonna happen. We’ve got extra acreage but we’re not running more cattle. Haying it does save us feed costs, but I didn’t charm Charlene Fox to become a damn hay farmer.” He paused. “And I get it, all right? You guys have wives and families of your own and you’re settled in. Those plans don’t mean as much to you now as they used to. But I sure as hell can’t implement any of those plans on my own, so I’m gonna take my cue from you two, let it go and move on.”