The fluttery sensation in her stomach solidified as the baby gave her a good swift kick.

Chapter One

Nine months later…

The door slammed hard enough to shake the whole house.

“Kade West McKay. I want to talk to you right now.”

Kade sighed. He wondered what he’d done to invoke his mother’s wrath this time.

Left the toilet seat up? Parked in her spot? Forgot to wipe his boots? Did she know how mortifying it was to be treated like a naughty eleven-year-old boy, rather than a thirty-two-year-old man responsible for running a ranch the size of Rhode Island?

A thirty-two-year-old man who was living at his folks’ house. Again. Temporarily, he silently amended. He’d been back from the yearlong grazing experiment for just two days, and it felt as if he’d gone back in time twenty years.

All five-feet-one inches of Kimi McKay barreled around the corner into the living room. Whenever she got her mad on, he and his brother Kane snickered and called her the blonde tornado—behind her back, of course.

Nothing about the mean glint in her eye invoked his secret chuckle today. Something serious had put the starch in her spine. Out of reflex, he sat up straighter. Rather than risk saying the wrong thing, Kade said nothing.

She bent close to him, her face a mask of fury. “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you. I raised you better than that.”

“Better than what?”

“Don’t you get smart with me.”

Count to ten. “I’m not.”

“Don’t you lie to me, neither.”

“Ma. Calm down. Lie about what? What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong? Your behavior is what’s wrong.”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“I’m talking about you being such a…” She tossed up her arms. “A McKay!”


“I never pegged you as the love ’em and leave ’em type, Kade. I’d hoped you were different.”


“Why is it so damn hard if you can’t keep your damn pants zipped to remember to wear a damn condom?”

Baffled, he just stared at her as she ranted and swore a blue streak.

“So you were caught up in the moment of passion, I understand that. But I expected you’d do the right thing, Kade, not walk away. Or run away as the case may be.”

“Have you lost your mind? What in the hell are you babblin’ about?”

“You—” she drilled his chest hard with her index finger, “—neglecting to tell me you’d knocked up a woman and then flitted off to the north forty of the McKay ranch, leaving her to deal with the pregnancy and the baby all alone.”

“What woman? What baby?”

Kimi McKay snapped upright. Her pale blue eyes searched his. A mixture of surprise and resignation replaced the anger on her face. “Oh, good Lord. You really don’t know, do you, son?”

“Know what?”

“Know that you’re a father.”

“What? Run that by me again.”

“You heard me right. You’re a father.”

Kade remained calm in light of his mother’s delusions. “Remember where I’ve been the last twelve months. I’ve barely seen a woman in that long, let alone touched one.”

Why don’t you just brag about your lack of a sex life to your mother of all people?

“Which fits, because that baby is over three months old.”

Kade’s heart damn near stopped. His mouth dried up like a summer stock dam as he did the math in his head. Last time he’d had sex was last year with Skylar. In their single, spontaneous, passionate bout of lovemaking, they’d forgotten to use a condom.

Not that they’d talked about the “oops” incident afterward. She’d been livid when she learned of his duplicity; he’d resigned himself to losing her for good after she wouldn’t return his phone calls. He’d left town within two weeks. Kade realized—for the first time—it was entirely possible that he might’ve gotten her pregnant.

Oh yeah? If that’s true, then why didn’t she contact me after I sent her that letter?

Whoa. Talk about acting like a surly eleven-year-old.


“You saw Skylar?”

“Aha!” She shook her finger in his face. “You aren’t denying it?”

“No, but you’d better start at the beginnin’ and tell me exactly how you came across this information.”

“Fine. I popped into Sky Blue in Sundance for a bottle of hand cream. India always helps me. So imagine my surprise when I see the owner working the cash register.

Imagine an even bigger surprise when I see a sweet baby nestled in her arms. And that baby sports a shock of black hair and looks at me with blue eyes, McKay blue eyes. I’ve seen my share of McKay babies in the last thirty-six years and there wasn’t any doubt I was lookin’ at one.

“When Skylar saw the name on my check, she stammered and couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. I knew that baby had to be yours. Or Kane’s.” A pause. “But Skylar is too classy and ambitious to be Kane’s type. Then something triggered my memory. Kane mentioning after Dag died you’d suffered a bad break-up with a woman. Is she the reason you were so eager to disappear last year and take a job in the boondocks that no one else wanted?”

“Partially, but I sure didn’t know she was pregnant because I never woulda left.

Never. You know that, Ma.” This was so unbelievable he was having a devil of a time focusing. “Did you ask her if…?”

“Of course I didn’t ask her.” She leaned forward again. “Do you know how hard that was? To see that darlin’ little girl baby, all pretty in pink ribbons and bows, smilin’ and cooin’ at me, knowin’ she was my granddaughter?”

“Skylar had a girl?”

“Yep. Only the second McKay girl born in a hundred and twenty-three years. And she’s yours.”

His. He had a baby daughter. “Holy shit.” If Kade hadn’t been sitting down, he’d’ve been falling down. He repeated inanely, “A baby? Skylar had a baby? I’m a father?”

“It appears so.”

“What’s her name?”


Eliza. Pretty. His head spun. “Why didn’t she tell me?”

“I don’t know, son, but I suspect you’d better find out.”

Kade heaved himself out of the chair. “Damn straight.” He snagged his hat off the coat rack and stormed out to his truck.

Chapter Two

On the drive into town, Kade replayed his first meeting with Skylar Ellison. He’d thought of her and his dumb mistake in the endless days he’d lived alone up on the most remote part of the McKay ranch. He’d obsessed about her to the extent he’d memorized every damn word of every encounter. Every kiss, every touch.

That afternoon from last summer floated into his mind in perfect detail.

As Kade had stood on the sidewalk debating on whether to eat lunch before heading home, click click had sounded and he’d turned to see a woman in heels hustling down the sidewalk.

Mercy. She was all curves: hips, ass, thighs, and breasts. He loved women who looked like women and not a skeleton with skin. Her straight brown hair had a hint of red in the bright sunlight. Kade tipped his hat to her and stepped out of her way, figuring she’d pass right on by.

But Miss Sexy Curves bumped her pointy-toed purple shoes against his shit-covered boots and glared. “You were a total jerk to me the other night, Kane McKay. I don’t appreciate you ditching me at the restaurant. What kind of shithead—”

“Whoa. Wait a second. I’m not—”

“—the least bit sorry, yeah, I can tell. Why are you here? Trolling for a new woman who’ll give you a piece of ass on the first date since I wouldn’t?”

That fucker Kane was such an asshole. At times like this it plain sucked they were identical twins and few people could tell them apart. This woman must be Kane’s date from the other night.

His brother was an idiot too. He’d just up and walked away from such a smoking hot firecracker?

“Got nothing to say, McKay?”

A really good idea occurred to him on how to make this right.

No. It was a bad idea. A terrible idea, his conscience warned.

The devil on his shoulder screamed, Do it. You and Kane used to switch places all the time. You’re not misleading her; you’re protecting the McKay name from another round of nasty gossip

Big surprise the pitchfork side won the battle .

“Actually, I do have somethin’ to say to you.” What the hell was her name again?

Something hippyishly weird. Aha. “Skylar.”

“I’m listening.”

“I’m sorry. I lost your number or I woulda called to apologize for bein’ a first class jerk. But I’d…ah…taken some allergy medicine and did it do a number on me. Normally I don’t act like that. Not that I remember a whole helluva lot besides goin’ home and crashin’.”

Skylar stared at him skeptically.

Crap. She wasn’t buying it. “Can I make it up to you? Buy you lunch? I swear I won’t run out again.”


“How about now?”

“Sure. You don’t mind vegetarian?”

Fuck. Kade slapped on a fake smile. “Not at all.”

She laughed; it made him think of bells. “You are such a liar. Your family raises cattle. You probably shoot vegetarians.”

“Only if they’re part of PETA protestin’ inhuman treatment of our stock. That pisses us off.”

“I can imagine.”

“Besides, I eat salad. Not crazy about tofu. Or beans ground up and passed off as burgers. A burger is supposed to be meat. Beans are only good in tacos and chili.” Kade looked up. Damn. He’d been babbling.