“I’ve known you since you were in diapers, boy, don’t you dare smart mouth me,” Opal retorted.


Yep, riding the range alone, dealing with animals that didn’t talk back…some days Cam regretted not taking the offer to join the family cattle business. His gun dug into his hip as he shifted off his bum leg to reach his cuffs.


“Opal. Leave the poor deputy alone,” the man behind him snapped.


“Why ain’t you arresting him?” Opal demanded. “He started it!”


“I did not, you crazy old bat.”


“See? He’s calling me names again.”


Cam glanced at the gray-haired man holding an ice pack to the goose egg on his forehead. “Now, Ralph, you know I won’t tolerate that kinda talk.”


“Hah! Told you he’d be on my side,” Opal said gleefully.


Ralph muttered.


“There are no ‘sides’ here, Opal. I haven’t made an arrest. Yet. Not until someone tells me what happened.”


“She—”


“He—” the couple said simultaneously, and started arguing simultaneously.


Cam tried to listen to the heated exchange, but the accusations flung back and forth had nothing to do with the issue at hand: Opal Stancil smacking Ralph, her husband of five decades, with her umbrella. Why Opal had an umbrella handy when Crook County had suffered from severe drought for the last ten years remained a mystery.


Domestic disturbance calls weren’t a mystery or all that unusual. Most incidents were cleared up fairly quickly once the participants were forced to talk to each other in front of an unbiased third party.


It also helped that Cam wore a gun.


But Opal and Ralph were too busy shouting to listen to each other, let alone him.


Cam let loose an ear-piercing whistle. “I’m out of patience. Ralph, since you’re injured, you can ride up front with me. Opal, I’m gonna have to cuff you and you’ll ride in the back.”


More silence. Then a meek, “You mean, you’re gonna arrest us? Both of us?”


“Yep.” Cam waited. Rumor in the Crook County Sheriff’s office was Opal and Ralph repeated this same row on their anniversary, every summer, going back fifty-four years. But as there were no arrest records, none of his fellow officers would confirm or deny. They’d just laughed when the call came in on his rotation.


“I can’t stomach the idea of her goin’ to the hoosegow.” Ralph lowered the ice pack and dropped his double chin to his chest. “Aw, Opal, you know I didn’t mean it when I said I wished I woulda married Marion Lutter. She ain’t never held a candle to you in the looks department.”


“And she can’t cook worth a damn either,” Opal said.


“Makes you wonder how she’s so gol-durned, fat, huh?” Ralph peeped at her, wearing a hangdog look.


Opal cackled. “You’re so bad, C-bear.”


“I’m sorry, snooker-pie. I shoulda stayed outta the whiskey on our special night,” Ralph said.


C-bear? Snooker-pie? Sweet baby Jesus. He’d rather jam sticks in his ears than listen to geriatric foreplay.


“Good thing my aim ain’t what it used to be.”


“Amen to that.” Ralph squinted at Cam. “I reckon you can let her go now, Deputy, since I ain’t pressing charges.”


“You sure?”


“Yep.” Ralph patted the floral couch cushion. “Why don’t you come on over here, my bee-yoo-ti-ful blushin’ bride, so we can kiss and make up proper?”


Opal blew Ralph a kiss. “Give me a minute to see him out.” She practically shoved Cam off the porch. “Sorry to trouble you, Deputy. Say hello to your folks from us.”


Then she slammed the door in his face.


Stunned, Cam stood on the steps. But when giggles, grunts and the sounds of slapping flesh drifted through the living room window, he practically ran to his patrol car.


Dust kicked up behind him as he drove away. Fast. His radio crackled before he’d gone too far. “McKay.”


“Deputy, this is dispatch. Do you need backup for…snooker-pie and C-bear?” Deep belly laughs and kissing noises echoed in the background.


Assholes.


Mindful of being on the radio where anyone with a scanner could hear his response, Cam said, “That’s a ten-four,” rather than his usual, “Fuck off.”


“One other thing. This just came in.”


“What?”


“There’s a situation over at the Twin Pines.”


“What kind of situation?”


“Looks like a bar fight.”


It figured. Nothing cowboys liked better than a good fight. “I’m on it.” Cam spun a U-turn. Maybe he’d stick around for a stiff drink after he broke up the brawl. God knew he needed one now.


***


“Let’s toast.” Keely McKay held her bottle of Bud Light to the center of the table. “To Hudson McKay, the newest addition to the family. The darling boy of Colt and Indy. He’s beautiful and healthy, but damn, do I wish one of ya’ll would birth me a niece.”


Laughter rang out as bottles and glasses chinked together.


“The last thing we need is another wild McKay girl,” Skylar said dryly.


“But nine boys in a row? Ten, if I count Chassie’s precious Westin? Come on. There’s something in the water in Sundance for sure.” Keely skewered her sisters in law, Channing, Macie and AJ, with a look. “Maybe ya’ll oughta grab your collective spouses—my beloved brothers—and head over to Moorcroft for a night or two when you plan on getting knocked up again.”


“Bite your tongue, Keely McKay,” AJ replied haughtily.


“Uh-huh. We’re done for a while,” Macie said. “A long while.”


Channing piped in, “Us too.”


“Right. If you three aren’t pregnant again by the end of the year I’ll kiss a pig.”


“Is that a challenge?”


“Yep. Remember not all pigs are of the bovine variety.” Keely grinned and downed her beer.


Domini sipped her rum and Coke, secretly pleased to be included in the first annual “Cowgirl’s Night Out”, the brainchild of wild child Keely.


Keely had arranged the shindig at a semi-private table in the back room, inviting her brother’s wives, Channing, Macie, AJ and India, as well as her cousin Kade’s wife, Skylar. Domini didn’t know Quinn McKay’s wife, Libby, or Luke’s wife, Jessie. Poor Jessie appeared as wide-eyed as Domini felt.


In addition to Keely’s cousins, Chassie West Glanzer and Ramona West, the group included Ginger Paulson, a local attorney who was pals with Libby and Dr. Joely Monroe. Domini was grateful the chatty doc sat on the other side of the table. The woman had rubbed her the wrong way from the first time they’d met.


Wrong. You’re just jealous because you think she’s been rubbing on Cam McKay, not in an official medical capacity, even when he claims they’re just friends.


Yeah, Cam was friends with everyone it seemed.


Cam. He’d rocked her world with that stunningly passionate kiss months ago. Since then? Nothing. Deputy McKay still showed up at Dewey’s every day, friendly as ever. Her own hide-in-the-kitchen reaction bothered her more than his nonchalance. Why couldn’t she just buck up and proposition him?


Because you made the first move last time and he scampered away like a scalded cat. Obviously he’s not interested in you. Get over it and move on.


Stupid voice of reason. She scowled at her drink, wishing it were pure rum.


India warned, “Slap on a happy face, Domini, or Keely will whip out the party games.”


“Oh no.”


“Oh yes. Keely and Carolyn have this bizarre fixation on forcing everyone to play games at family gatherings. God save us from suffering though another round of ‘pin the dick on the cowboy’.”


“They really play that?”


“If Keely’s in charge we do.”


Domini beamed a totally fake smile at India. “Better?”


“Uh-huh. Just keep it up.”


“Who are you guys conspiring against?” Macie demanded.


“No one. Just having a rip roarin’ good ’ol time,” India answered.


Domini’s toothy grin widened and she gave Macie two thumbs up.


“I don’t care what you two are up to. This is fun.” Macie downed her drink. “It’s been ages since I’ve been out with adults.”


“In a place without placemats to color on and balloons bobbing everywhere,” Channing added.


“Oh pooh, you guys wouldn’t have it any other way,” Keely inserted. “Am I right?” She elbowed AJ, who’d just knocked back another shot.


“Totally. I love my guys, but I forced myself not to skip out the door because I was so looking forward to this girl’s night. Damn this is good. What is it?”


“A cherry bomb. Blake got me hooked on them over at the Rusty Spur.”


“Does Blake like living in Nebraska?” Doc Monroe asked Keely.


“Yep. He’s bought into his buddy’s bar. He’s head over heels in love with Willow. She’s a real firecracker. When he returned to load up his stuff, I’ve never seen him more…content. He deserves it.”


“Amen,” Ramona West said, lifting her glass.


Keely ordered another round in Blake’s honor and insisted everyone but India drink up.


Everyone bowed to Keely’s will. Keely McKay was a force to be reckoned with, a whirlwind of fun, a woman who seized life by the balls and did whatever struck her fancy. Not for the first time Domini wished she could be more like Keely. Freer. Looser. Bolder. Willing to go after what she wanted.


Willing to go after Cam.


Right. Like that’d ever happen. Domini had overcome many things in her life; unfortunately, shyness wasn’t one of them.


Someone cranked the music. They all got up and danced, the booze and the laughter flowed freely as they cut loose. But even a semi-private room didn’t stop every cowboy in the place from sauntering over to flirt with Keely, who flirted right back. Easily. With complete confidence. Domini could hate her if she wasn’t so much fun.

***

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