“Skylar doesn’t need saving in the same way, but she needs you. Don’t let her fears chase you away, Kade. Fight for her.”

“I’m a little tired of fightin’ at the moment.”

“I can imagine.”

Kade stared at Skylar’s front door before he faced India. “You ever heard the phrase

‘nice guys finish last’? It’s true. Been true my whole life. So, maybe it’d be nice for me for a change, if someone thought I was worth fightin’ for.”

He climbed out of the car leaving India in stunned silence.

Chapter Twenty-five

Heeding Kade’s advice about her impetuous behavior, Skylar didn’t race down the porch steps when a set of headlights appeared at the end of the driveway. She paused in the doorway until she recognized India’s car. What was her sister doing here at eleven o’clock at night? Then Kade’s truck pulled up, but Kade didn’t jump from the cab. Colt McKay did.

What the heck?

The sight of Colt helping Kade out of the passenger’s side of India’s car finally spurred Sky into action.

“What’s going on? Omigod, Kade, you’re bleeding!” Her heart rate kicked up, her stomach lurched as she looked at his battered face. “What happened?”

“Can we get him inside first?”

“Oh. Right.” She held open the door.

Kade shrugged off Colt’s help. “I can walk.”

He passed by without looking at her and headed to the kitchen.

She followed him, even when it was apparent he didn’t want her to.

Colt said, “If you’ve got a first aid kit, please get it.”

“Okay.” She turned but India snagged her arm. India’s eyes searched Sky’s face.

“Please don’t be stupid. This man is hurting and not just because he was in a fight. He needs you tonight. Forget whatever else happened today, be there for him—”

“Indy?” Colt called.


By the time Sky brought the kit, a bag of ice rested on the upper right half of Kade’s face. She scrutinized his swollen mouth, the bumps and bruises on his jaw, the deep gash above his eyebrow. Her gaze tracked the splotches of dried blood on his cheek and the long line of brownish-red trailing down his neck.

Don’t cry, be strong. She inhaled slowly and was amazed her voice didn’t shake.

“Does it hurt?”

No answer.

“Let me see.” Sky’s stomach made a seesawing sensation as she inspected the deep cut. “I take it you opted for no doctor and no stitches.”

“Didn’t seem that bad.”

“Well, it sure isn’t good.” She brushed a bloody clump of hair from his forehead, over and over, at a loss for what else she could do to fix this for him. “I probably need to clean it before I can put on a bandage.”


Colt dropped Kade’s keys on the table. “Since you’re in capable hands, we’re gonna head back to town.”

“Thanks. Both of you. I appreciate your help.”

“No problem.” India turned to Sky. “Is Eliza sleeping?”

“She’s upstairs in our room, if you want to take a peek.”

“I will. Don’t worry, I won’t wake her.”

“I’ll wait outside,” Colt said.

Sky ripped open an antiseptic wipe and lowered the ice pack. She winced. His eye was completely swollen shut and his eyebrow had a deep gash, which was still oozing.

She dabbed around the area. “What happened to you?”

“A guy jumped me outside of the Golden Boot. He thought I was someone else. And before you ask, no, I wasn’t drunk and pickin’ fights.”

“I wasn’t going to ask that.” But Sky wasn’t surprised Kade was defensive. She’d taken him to task on his violent behavior earlier in the day and she knew he wouldn’t appreciate her apology now. “What’s the other guy look like?”

“Not a scratch. He caught me off guard. I’d be in much worse shape if Colt hadn’t come along when he did. My cousins showed up at the end.” He hissed. “Shit that stings.”

“Sorry.” Sky wiped the area three times before she was satisfied it was clean. She attached the bandage. “It should stop bleeding now. You want something for the pain?”

“Nah. I’m good, thanks.”

She used a warm washcloth to gently clean his face and neck. Rather than relax into her touch, he tensed up. “I’m trying not to hurt you, Kade.”

“It’s pretty much a given that you will, even when you don’t think you are.”

Her hand froze. Was he referencing something besides his injury? “Kade, please listen to me. Can we talk about this? I’m so—”

“Forget it. That’s probably good enough anyway.”

Stung into silence, Sky dumped water out of the Ziploc, adding more ice, and rewrapped the cold pack in a clean kitchen towel. “Here. This should help with the swelling.”

Kade stood. “Thanks for patchin’ me up. I’m tired and I’ve gotta be up early so I’m headin’ to bed.”

While Sky paced alone downstairs, pretending to clean the kitchen, wondering why she was such an idiot about this relationship stuff, she heard Eliza fussing on the baby monitor. After she picked her up, she realized Kade wasn’t in their bed. She wandered into the hallway. The door to the bathroom was open, but the door to the spare bedroom was closed.

So, he’d opted not to sleep with her tonight.

Can you blame him?

A loud thump sounded from inside the room. What if he’d hurt himself because he had too much pride to ask her for help?

You would know about being too proud.

The stupid voices in her head always offered advice way too late.

She took a chance and knocked. “Kade? You okay?”

“Fine. Hang on a second.”

Eliza squawked.

Kade opened the door. His gaze landed on Eliza and he smiled softly. “Hey, baby girl. What’s the ruckus?”

At the sound of his voice, Eliza turned her head.

“She’s probably hungry. She didn’t finish her last bottle.”

“Sorry I didn’t hear her. She okay? Not sick or anything?”

“Not as far as I can tell, besides her crying jags the last couple days. I think you were right. I think she’s teething.”

“I’d offer to take the midnight shift, but I thought she’d shriek if she caught sight of my ugly, beat-up mug in the middle of the night. And to be honest, I’m in more than a little pain right now.”

Sky didn’t respond; she was too busy staring at the duffel bags next to the bed. He stiffened when he realized she’d seen them. Somehow, she swallowed the lump in her throat and asked, “What’s going on?”

“I’m gonna be busy at the ranch for a few days.” He shuffled his feet and looked anywhere but at her. “After what happened earlier today, and now with this, I decided we could both use a break.”

You decided? What about me? Don’t I get a say? Don’t we? Her hold on Eliza increased.

“You can reach me any time on my cell. I probably won’t check my messages until late, but if it’s an emergency, you can call my mom and she’ll track me down.” Kade stroked Eliza’s cheek. “Gonna miss you bad, sweet thang. Be good for your mama, okay?

I’ll see you soon.”

“You aren’t going to try and take her with you?”

“No.” His pain-filled eyes searched hers. “I’d never take her from you, Skylar.”

Oh no. What was going on with them? When had they returned to polite strangers?

“I thought…”

“I know what you thought and you were wrong. Some things that were said in the heat of the moment shouldn’t have been said at all.”

Immediately she wondered, things like , marry me?

Eliza protested her hungry state and Skylar took a step back. “I, ah, need to feed her.” She started down the hallway. The door closed softly, but it echoed in her head as loudly as if he’d slammed it.

After Skylar got up with Eliza again for her two o’clock feeding, she couldn’t go back to sleep. She paced in the hallway outside Kade’s room, wondering if it was the best thing for him to be sleeping alone. What if he had a head injury? Weren’t you supposed to check on concussed patients every few hours? Rather than risk waking him by knocking, she quietly opened the door and tiptoed into his room just to double check on him.

Kade was splayed in the middle of the bed. His right hand held the bag of ice on his right eye.

Sweat beaded on his skin. She leaned over to place her hand on his forehead. Damn.

His skin was hot to the touch. The poor man was burning up, no wonder he was completely naked. Sky went to the bathroom and returned with two wet washcloths.

She perched on the edge of the bed, which woke Kade up. “Skylar? What’s goin’ on?”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I came in to check on you and your whole body is feverish. How do you feel?”

“Like I got the crap kicked out of me.”

“You did. I thought you might like it if I cooled you down a little.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I know. I want to. Please. Let me do this for you, okay?”

No answer.

Well, he hadn’t barked no. That was a good sign. “Do you feel nauseous?”

He shook his head and groaned. “Except when I do that.”

“Then don’t do that,” she half-chided. “Hold still. I’m going to move this ice bag aside for a bit.” She sucked in a harsh breath and it froze in her lungs. Oh man. He was on track to a serious shiner.


“Nothing. Just relax. This cloth might be cold at first.”

Skylar began with his forehead. Avoiding his swollen eye, she sponged the sharp planes of his face, cheekbones, temples, his generous mouth, lingering on his strong jawline. She wiped the long line of his neck.