Kissin' Tell: Rough Riders, Book 13 (3 page)

Maybe Tell had turned into a player. Wouldn’t be much of a stretch, given his good looks and the wild reputations the McKay men had built up over the years.

“You know, he could solve a major problem for you.”

She glanced up. “What major problem? That I need to get laid?”

Stephanie laughed. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to hearing you talk like that, G. Anyway, maybe this will be a two-fer in the problem-solving department for you: you’ll get laid and score a date to our ten-year class reunion.”

“Uh. No. I’ll take the sex but I’m not going to the reunion.”

“Bullshit.”

Georgia started to retort but Stephanie cut her off.

“You
are
going. You
cannot
not show up at our class reunion, Georgia. Especially when people find out you live here. Especially not after you and Deck were voted class couple
and
prom king and queen.”

“Those titles worked out so well since we’ve been divorced for seven years,” she retorted.

“Which is why you have to go. Don’t let Deck have the upper hand. Plus, you know he’ll be there with Tara-Lee.”

She scowled. “All the more reason to skip the damn dog and pony show.”

“You really don’t care if Deck badmouths you?” Stephanie asked. “Because you know he will if you’re not around to defend yourself.”

“I dealt with the Deck drama a lifetime ago.”

“That’s why you have to show up at the reunion on the arm of a gorgeous cowboy. It’d give you cred. It’d give Tell cred because you’re still the hottest woman from our class. Add in the fact Deck and Tell were rivals in rodeo club? Sweet, sweet revenge.”

That would be a way to prove she’d moved on. That she no longer had that purity ring around her neck like a noose.

No. She could not possibly be considering the idea of attending that farce of a reunion. “Who are
you
taking to the reunion?” she asked Stephanie.

“No one. I’m going stag.” Stephanie held her hand up again. “And before you blow a gasket, let me remind you that you were in the thick of things during high school. I was very happily in the background, observing.”

“You’re still observing.”

“So make it interesting for me. Show up and show off. The introverted high school girl you were wouldn’t dare ask Tell to go to the reunion with her. That’s exactly why you
should
ask him.”

“What if he says no?”

“I think you’re more afraid that he’ll say yes.”

Chapter Two

Landon calmed down immediately when Tell walked through the door. The four-year-old crawled onto Tell’s lap with his dinosaur blanket and promptly fell asleep.

“He prefers you, even to Brandt.”

Tell glanced at his younger brother. “Only because Brandt hasn’t spent much time with him, Jessie bein’ pregnant and all.”

Dalton shook his head. “It’s more than that. I think Landon is drawn to you because you two look so much alike—like Luke.”

Total bullshit, in Tell’s opinion. His nephew had been born several months after their brother Luke’s death. No one had known about the kid’s existence until the boy was almost a year and a half old. Having a piece of Luke had been a catalyst for change in their family—some good, some bad. But it’d become important that Landon grow up around his family.

Tell was aware that he most closely resembled Luke—at least in physical appearance. In temperament he was light-years away from his hotheaded oldest brother. Every time he dealt with a frustrated Landon, Tell was reminded that he’d been the one to calm Luke down when his temper had gotten the best of him.

“I could use a beer, since my night of drinkin’ was cut short.”

Dalton brought back two bottles of Bud Light. He gulped down a mouthful before he said, “You’re probably gonna need more than one when I tell you that Dad called.”

“What’d he want?”

“To see Landon.”

“Bullshit. He just wants to see if Mom’s boyfriend will be along when she picks up Landon tomorrow.”

“Probably.”

“So what’d you tell him?”

“That you’d be at the park in Sundance tomorrow afternoon.” Dalton shrugged and took another drink. “He probably won’t show.”

“I can hope.” Tell let his head fall back on the couch cushion and closed his eyes. He did not want to think about the fucked-up family shit now when he’d have to deal with it again tomorrow.

“So who did I pull you away from at the bar that’s put that crabby look on your face?” Dalton asked.

The thought of Georgia snapped him out of a potentially sour mood. He raised his head. “Georgia Hotchkiss. Remember her?”

Dalton whistled. “Of course I remember Hot Lips Hotchkiss. You had it bad for her.”

He felt his cheeks heat. “I did not.”

“No need to lie, bro. You let her run roughshod over you. But damn, I might’ve let her roll over me, too. She was all that and a bag of chips. A little stuck-up, though. She still that way?”

“No idea. You called right when I started talkin’ to her. I haven’t seen her since a week after graduation.”

Dalton gave him a considering look. “Weren’t you friends with her twin brother, RJ?”

“I knew him, pulled a couple pranks with him, but we weren’t friends since he ran with Deck.”

“You weren’t around the summer he was killed. Sad deal.”

Landon stirred.

Tell stood, carrying him to the spare bedroom and slipping the kid into bed. He pulled the blanket up and smoothed back the boy’s hair. Then he returned to the living room, plopped back on the couch and stretched out with a sigh.

“I take it you’re staying tonight?”

“Yep.”

“What if I had plans?”

Tell quirked a brow. “At ten o’clock when we gotta be up at five?”

Dalton sighed. “I wish I had plans. Been awful damn hard getting back into the swing of havin’ a social life after calving. Don’t know if I’ll ever catch up on sleep. Man. Was this year brutal or what?”

“We added an extra hundred head and Brandt is uptight and so, yeah, it was rough.”

“Glad it’s not just me bein’ a whiny pussy.”

“That’d make me one too.”

“Now I feel better.” Dalton drummed his fingers on the chair arm. “I heard something that might interest you.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s all over for Jim and Charlene Fox—’cept for the fightin’.”

Tell frowned. “Why would that interest me?”

“You dated Charlene, right?”

Dated. More like he banged her a couple times and then she married someone else. “Yeah. Like six years ago. Why?”

“She remembers your time together fondly. Hell, I think she remembers every man fondly, which is probably why her marriage is on the skids.” Dalton smirked. “But she told me—in confidence—that when it gets down to the wire with Jim, she wants to sell off everything and move to Austin to live with her sister.”

“When did Char spill her guts to you, D?”

“She stopped by here yesterday when me’n Landon were outside. Something about a cute kid makes a woman go all soft and talkative. Anyway, if we play our cards right, we could get first crack at it.”

That caught his interest. “First crack at everything?”

“Yep.” Dalton’s face turned into pure business. “The land is already divided into two parcels. That larger section wouldn’t be a bad investment. Especially if you were serious about starting a feedlot in a few years.”

“I am serious. But given land prices, there’s no way we can afford it. Even if she gives us a friends and former lovers discount, even with what we’ve got saved up.“

“There’s no way we can afford to
pass up
this opportunity, even if it takes us a few years to get the feedlot up and running. This time we wouldn’t have to rely on someone else to run interference for us. We could handle the details ourselves and no one would know until after the fact.”

They both had a bad taste after a land deal had fallen through a year and a half ago. “I don’t know. I’d hate to get my hopes up again. We’ve been talkin’ in abstracts. What if I’m wrong and a feedlot isn’t viable?”

“You’re not wrong. You’re the smartest person I know, T, and if anyone can make it profitable, you can show us how. You’ve done more than talk in abstracts. You’ve already studied up on the regulations.”

His brother’s faith in him was humbling.

“And wouldn’t it be sweet to stick it to Little Miss Know-It-All-Ecologically-Sustained-Agriculture after what she done to us?”

He spit out his beer at hearing Dalton refer to sweet Rory Wetzler in such a way. “Hey, you’re the one who got drunk with Rory and spilled the beans about us wantin’ to buy her mom’s land so we could turn it into a gigantic feedlot.”

Dalton sighed. “Yeah, that wasn’t smart of me, especially since we managed to keep that part of our plan even from our cousin Ben.”

“You should’ve expected Rory would blab to her mom right away, which is how Rielle ended up selling to Gavin so fast. Both Rielle and Rory have that hippie attitude and don’t want any changes to the land.”

“Well, they’re getting their wish since Gavin hasn’t done shit with it.”

They chewed on that in silence.

“You be all right doin’ chores Sunday morning alone?” Dalton asked. “There’s a poker tournament in Deadwood. The pot is twenty grand.”

“Go for it. Get drunk, get laid and win the pot. I’ll need payback next weekend.”

“Where’s the rodeo?”

“Buffalo. Friday and Saturday night.”

“Deal.” Dalton stood. “Night, John-Boy.”

“Night, Mary Ellen.” Tell snagged the afghan off the back of the couch and let sleep overtake him.

 

 

The next afternoon after Tell got Landon cleaned up and fed, they headed to town. It was one of those perfect Wyoming days—the sun shining above an enormous, cloudless blue sky. Just enough bite of cold in the air to remind him winter had ended but summer wasn’t here yet.

Landon exuded energy and ran from the swing set to the jungle gym to the sandpit and every place in between before he decided to shinny up the monkey bars.

Tell chased the boy, ran when Landon chased him, and let himself be caught and tickled. Finally Landon settled into the sandpit to dig—an activity that’d keep him occupied for more than five minutes.

Tell rested in the grass, letting the sun warm his face. It’d been a cold, snowy and gloomy winter. Seemed the sun hadn’t shone at all, so he basked in the warm glow like a fat barn cat when he had a chance.

Not long after he hit that perfect relaxation point, a shadow fell across him. He inhaled a slow breath, expecting to open his eyes and see his father looming over him.

But Georgia Hotchkiss’s beautiful face swam into view.

He grinned at her. “Well, it’s my lucky week if I’ve seen you twice in as many days, sweetness.”

“It is you. I wasn’t sure.”

“What threw you off?”

Her gaze moved along his body from his Merrell hiking boots up to his face. “Might’ve been that ball cap you’re wearing instead of a cowboy hat.”

Just then Landon skidded to a stop, spraying Tell’s legs with sand. “Watch me!” The boy jumped over Tell and sped around the perimeter of the sandpit, making racecar noises.

“Pity the kid doesn’t have any energy to burn off,” Tell said dryly.

“How old is he?” Georgia asked.

“Four.”

“What’s his name?”

“Landon.”

“Great name. Your son looks a lot like you.”

Tell pushed to his feet. “Whoa. That’s not my kid. That’s my brother Luke’s kid.”

“Oh. Sorry. I just assumed…” She cleared her throat. “So are you babysitting for Luke or something?”

“Or something.”

Georgia gave him a strange look. “Sounds cryptic.”

“You probably haven’t heard the story since you’ve been gone. Luke died a few years ago. Before he died, he’d stepped out on his wife and knocked up this chick he met in a bar. She didn’t come forward until Landon was sixteen months old. So, as weird as it is, we’ve got an informal custody agreement with Landon’s mom, Samantha.”

Horror widened Georgia’s eyes. “Oh my God, Tell. I had no idea that Luke had died… I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks.” He kicked a clump of sand. “I’m sorry about RJ. Losing a brother sucks ass.”

“Yes, it does. I would’ve loved to have a surprise nephew or niece show up in my life.” She scowled. “But that’s an impossibility since my dead brother’s girlfriend is now married to my ex-husband.”

Tell laughed. “That situation is familiar. My brother Brandt married Luke’s widow, Jessie.”

Georgia smiled and Tell’s heart skipped a beat. Goddamn. She still had that goofy smile. He was happy to see she hadn’t perfected a fake, polite grin over the years. “What are you doin’ at the park?”

“I’m out for a walk, enjoying this beautiful day.” She tipped her head toward Landon. “Do you have him all weekend?”

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