“For Christsake, Colt, that’s the dumbest damn thing I ever heard. I’m a little old to be defendin’ my honor, let alone yours.”

“Kade’s got a point.”

“Shut the fuck up, Buck.” Colt grinned. “I gotta admit I’m likin’ the way your new name rhymes.”

Buck gave him the finger.

“Maybe I didn’t mean honor as much as I meant I don’t wanna get shown up,” Colt said.

“Shown up by who?”

“Quinn and Bennett are competin’.”

“So? They been travelin’ the circuit team ropin’ on a regular basis?”

“Nah. But that don’t mean they ain’t been practicin’ together down at the south end of the ranch when we’ve been up here workin’ on our separate sections. If you’ll remember, they whupped our butts but good last time.”

“That was damn near seven years ago.”

“Hey, ain’t that the time Cam and Carter teamed up?” Buck asked.

“Yep. Folks were laughin’ at my brothers attempts at ropin’ and wrestlin’, instead of laughin’ at the damn rodeo clown,” Colt grumbled. “So it is about honor. The honor of kickin’ our cousins’ sorry butts in front of the whole county.”

Kade loosened his grip on the reins and patted Colby’s old rodeo horse on the neck.

“Didja think that maybe folks’ll be laughin’ at us instead?”

“Nope, because we’re gonna win and make ’em choke on our dust.”

Buck snorted. “You know Trevor Glanzer and Cash Big Crow are competin’? And they were both professional rodeo cowboys. If any team’s got a leg up, it’s them. Or Dag’s old partner, Jess Barton.”

Silence cut through the dirty air. It’d be the first year without Dag or Uncle Harland.

“Like I said, it’s about honor.”

Kade realized Colt’s insistence on participating was a tribute to their cousin. That put the whole thing in a different light. “Only way we’re gonna beat them guys if we keep practicin’.”

“Works for me. Load up another calf, Buck.” Colt spurred his horse back to the chutes and Kade returned to his side.

After the team roping practice, Buck nagged Kade into hazing for him while he attempted to steer wrestle. But none of the taunts from either of his crazy relatives would convince Kade to climb on the back of a bull at tomorrow’s rodeo.

Two hours later, dusty, sore and tired, Kade, Buck and Colt were sitting on the tailgates of their trucks, drinking iced tea out of mason jars. The sun hung low in the purple sky.

Talk turned from rodeo competition to cattle to ranch business to women. The conversation wasn’t nearly as raunchy as it’d been in years past. Kade didn’t know whether it was because they weren’t liquored up, or because they’d all grown up.

“You bringin’ that baby of yours to the rodeo?”


“Ma says everybody’s gonna be there.”

“That don’t surprise me.” It occurred to him Skylar hadn’t talked to him about anything the last couple days. Maybe she didn’t want to hang out with his kin at the rodeo. After his I-control-all-the-sex-and-you’ll-give-it-to-me-anyway-I-want-it ultimatum, maybe she didn’t want to hang out with him.

His conscience piped up. Can you blame her?

He shoved aside that guilty thought. He was trying to help Skylar access a side of herself that scared her. He was trying to give them both a shot at real intimacy without barriers. He’d never do a blasted thing to hurt her and she knew it. She was just being stubborn. And controlling. Which brought him back to square one.

“Been a real baby explosion around here.”

“The McKay name ain’t gonna die out any time soon.” He smiled. “Except for our line, bein’s I have a girl.”

“So what’s it like, havin’ a kid?” Colt asked.

“Weird. Cool. Cool as hell, actually. Eliza is a lot of fun. She’s growin’ every damn day, which is a kick to watch. But she’s a lot of work, feedin’ her, changin’ her, and holdin’ her all the time. Mostly it don’t feel like work. I like doin’ it. When she looks at me…it’s like I want to do everything in my power to protect her and make her happy.”

Funny. That’s how he felt about Skylar too. Still, at that honest admission, Kade braced himself for his brother and his cousin to rag on him about being baby-whipped, but they didn’t make a smart ass remark.

In fact, Colt said, “We gonna be hearin’ weddin’ bells soon?”

“They ain’t gonna be ringin’ for me.” He chugged the rest of his tea and passed the empty jar to Colt. “Later.” He climbed in his truck and went home.

The house was quiet. Skylar didn’t wait supper on him, although she’d left a plate in the refrigerator, which was so damn sweet it gave him a funny tickle in his chest. He ate the beef and mashed potatoes cold, barely tasting it. Damn lonely eating by himself. He’d gotten used to his family’s company in the last three weeks.

Kade showered. Checked on the baby and wandered downstairs. Skylar dozed on the couch. The baby monitor sat on the coffee table and the TV droned in the background.

For some reason, an odd sense of peace filled him at the domestic scene. He snagged the remote and settled on the floor, not wanting to disturb her rest.

An hour or so later Sky stirred behind him.

“Hey. How long have you been home?”

“Couple hours. Before you ask, she’s fine. She’s still sleepin’.”

“I’m that predictable, huh?”

“No, you just think about her first. You’re a good mama, Sky.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen me earlier today.”

Kade turned around. Sky’s face was blotchy. Her usually sparkling eyes were a red-rimmed and sad. “Why? What happened?”

“Eliza screamed. I mean she really screamed. Literally for hours. I didn’t know what to do.” Skylar explained in such detail Kade found himself wincing at her obvious anxiety. She finished with, “When I fed her right before I tucked her in bed, that sweet baby girl just looked at me with those big blue eyes, like she was…disappointed in me for being such a bad mom.” A small hiccupping sob punctuated her distress.

“Ah, sweetheart. C’mere.” He crawled next to her on the couch, bringing her into his arms. Skylar curled her body into his and cried softly. He let her, even when it broke his damn heart. After she’d calmed down, he brushed his lips across the crown of her head.

“Sorry you had a rough day. I expect Eliza Belle will give us both more than a few of


She nodded against his chest.

As Kade ran his hands up and down her spine, he realized Skylar hadn’t granted him much opportunity to just hold her. To soothe her. She hadn’t shown her vulnerable side to him. Ever.

Now that she’d finally lowered her guard, his earlier demand of her total sexual submission made him feel like a fucking heel. Maybe if he didn’t bring it up again, she’d forget about it, allowing him to gentle her like he’d do with a skittish horse. Oh, he still craved her succulent body nine-ways-’til-Sunday, no doubt about that, but he wanted her heart too.

And that took time.

Good thing Kade was a patient man.

He closed his eyes and breathed her in, matching his exhalations to hers and floating off to sleep.

Hours later a wailing cry startled them both. Skylar groaned.

“Stay put, I’ll get her.” Kade fed Eliza and rocked her back to sleep. He couldn’t drum up the energy to climb the stairs so he nestled her in the bassinet. Then he snuggled behind Skylar on the couch, covering them with a blanket. He waited for Sky to wake up and protest, but she just burrowed deeper into his body and sighed.

Skylar woke with a start.

“Easy.” The warm body next to hers shifted. The very hard, very warm male body.

“What…Kade?” She blinked at the sun peeping through the lace curtains. “Why are we in the living room?”

“Must’ve fallen asleep.”

“You’ve—we’ve been here together? All night?”

“Mostly, yeah. I ain’t surprised you don’t remember. You were pretty wrung out last night when I got home.”

No kidding. Sky remembered feeling alone and inept after returning from Sundance.

Crying herself to sleep on the couch, missing Kade like crazy, wondering why she kept pushing the man away when she wanted him around.

When she woken up and saw Kade, she’d been so relieved, she’d blurted out every sordid detail of her bad day with Eliza. In the face of her complete meltdown, Kade had been amazingly sweet, not judgmental. He’d made her feel safe. And competent. And cared for. Sort of…loved.

So how had she repaid his kindness? By blubbering all over the poor man and clinging to him all night so he couldn’t escape to his own bed.

Her cheeks heated and she tried to wiggle free.

“Hey now, what’s the rush?” His voice was gravelly with sleep. “I gotta admit I like wakin’ up with you in my arms, Sky. I’ve missed you the last couple of days.”

A pregnant pause hung between them, as if he was waiting for something from her.

The truth, probably.

After all this man has done for you, he deserves your honesty. Face it: you deserve to be honest with yourself.

She relaxed into him and simply said, “I missed you too.” She felt him smile against the top of her head.

“Good to know.”

They stayed embraced in easy silence for a good long time.

Kade’s hand lazily traced her spine. “So what time you comin’ to the rodeo today?”

“What rodeo?”

“The Devil’s Tower Rodeo outside of Sundance. You know, the one me’n Colt are team ropin’ in? Seems my whole family is gonna be there, and everyone is chompin’ at the bit to meet Eliza. It’s gotten to be some kinda crazy big deal with a family reunion.”