“Be sure and ask Jack about it when you see him.” Keely winked and sauntered off, feeling…guilty. It was dirty pool dragging his sweet mother into their warring ways.
“Keely, sweets, can I see you for a second?”
She plastered on a smile to hide her guilty look before she faced her mother. “Sure. What do you need?”
“Follow me.” Her mom led them to a small office down the hallway from the main room. After she closed the door, she sagged against the metal desk.
“Ma? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Carolyn McKay sighed. “That’s not true. With all the party preparations I haven’t had time to talk to you alone.” She pinned Keely with a probing look. “I’d be lax in my mothering duties if I didn’t ask if you’re sure about marrying Jack.”
Keely’s stomach clenched. “Why?”
“It doesn’t exactly seem to be a love match, and when you’re together…”
“Mom. You haven’t seen us together except the one time we told you we were engaged.”
Her gaze narrowed. “Maybe that’s why I’m concerned.”
Damn. Redirect. “We’re both busy. He’s been gone—”
“That’s another thing that worries me. I’m selfish enough to want you to live here with the rest of our family, but I’m enough of a realist to understand that might not be possible with Jack’s job. He’ll be your husband. You’ll need to be with him, wherever that is, and I doubt that’ll be in Wyoming.”
How was Keely supposed to allay her mother’s fears when they were groundless? “My clinic is here.
My life is here. My family is here. I’m not going anywhere.”
“As much as it pleases me to hear that, promise me you won’t marry Jack if you’re not absolutely sure he’s the right one.”
Keely frowned. “Why do you say that?”
Her mother brushed the hair from Keely’s cheek. “Because contrary to popular opinion in our family, you are not impulsive. This engagement blindsided everyone. I recognize the wild look in your eyes, Keely.
I wore that same fearful look when I became engaged to your father. Since you were a little girl I’ve worried you’d never find a man who’d measure up to the pedestal you’ve placed your brothers and your father on.”
“You don’t think Jack measures up?”
“Sweetie, you oughta be asking yourself that question, not me.”
A knock sounded and a second later her dad stuck his head in. “People are startin’ to arrive, Caro.
Who’s on meet and greet detail?”
“AJ and Channing.”
“Have any idea where they are?”
“No. Hang on, I’ll be right there.”
He nodded and closed the door.
“Snoopy damn man,” her mother muttered. “Last thing, I promise. Hold out your arm.” A silver bracelet dangled from her fingertips. She wrapped it around Keely’s wrist and fastened it. “My mother gave this to me when I became engaged to your dad and now I’m passing it on to you.”
Between each crystal bead was a steel link giving the bracelet a strength that belied the delicate look.
Keely’s eyes swam with tears. Her throat tightened. “Oh, Mama, thank you. It’s beautiful.”
“So are you. You’re welcome. I hope it brings you good luck.” She kissed Keely’s forehead. “I love you, girlie. Be happy with Jack. If that means you’ll be living with him in Denver or the Congo, so be it.
Happiness in your own life is all I’ve ever wanted for you.” Her mother shuffled out.
Confused by the myriad of emotions, Keely hid in the office for another ten minutes. When she’d stalled long enough, she ventured out. She and Jack entered the main room at the same time.
Oh. My. Freakin’. God. Talk about being on a pedestal. No, the man was in a class by his handsome self. He wore a black suit that looked casual but the cut and fabric screamed expensive. No tie. He’d left the last button on his pristine white shirt undone, exposing the thick column of his throat. Keely had the uncontrollable urge to run to him, press her lips to the vulnerable spot above his collarbone and taste his skin.
But Jack didn’t flash her the smile that turned her knees wobbly. He scowled at her. Scowled. At her.
At her own damn engagement party.
Indifferent to their audience, Keely strolled across the room acting like she couldn’t give a crap he’d finally shown up. Which would tick him off.
Still, his heated eyes never left hers.
She latched onto his lapels, using them to draw herself to her tiptoes. “Perfect suit for a funeral, GQ.”
She smashed her mouth to his for a brief, hard kiss.
Jack’s hands circled her upper arms. He appeared to be hauling her closer, when in actuality, he was pushing her back. “You determined to piss me off first thing?”
“Yep. Is it working?”
“You have no idea how much.”
“Oh joy, my life is complete.” She spoke against his throat. “If you would’ve pulled a no-show, I would’ve tracked you down and castrated you, Jack- off.”
“I guarantee if you ever put your hands on my junk again, chopping it off will be the last thing on your mind, buttercup.”
She snorted. “Cocky much?”
“Only when it’s warranted.” Jack kissed her temple and nuzzled his face against her head. “Don’t fucking push me, Keely, I’m not in the mood.”
“Aw. And I so give a flying fuck what kind of bad day you’ve had when I’ve been here alone for the last three goddamn days, fielding questions about our supposed relationship.”
“For Christsake, it wasn’t like I was on vacation. I’ve been in Iowa. In cornfield hell.”
“Did you say you got cornholed in Iowa?”
Jack actually growled.
She grinned. Keely one; Jack zero.
Anyone who watched them would see lovers embracing in a private moment. Not the nip Keely placed on his jaw or the answering bite he gave the top of her ear. She sucked in a harsh breath at the sharp pain. “Bastard.”
“Did you miss me?”
“Like I’d miss an oozing canker sore.”
Jack laughed and released her. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to track down my mother.” He pivoted on his dress shoe and sauntered to the kitchen.
Damn frustrating man. She headed the opposite direction even when she wanted to follow him to see what he was up to.
The second Jack disappeared from Keely’s line of vision he closed his eyes and collapsed against the wall. Pulse racing, cock hard, mouth dry.
Dammit. That smart-mouthed cowgirl would be the death of him yet. Jesus. Did she have to look so goddamn fantastic? One look at Keely’s sinfully curvy body in that skintight porn-star-meets-country-girl dress, and any objectivity sailed right out of his lust-addled brain. He couldn’t think beyond stopping her insults with his mouth. His lips. His teeth. His tongue.
Get control for fuck’s sake.
“Got a minute, Donohue?”
Startled, Jack’s eyes opened. How had Cord McKay snuck up on him so fast?
You were stuck in a fantasy featuring your sexy fiancée, a woman who’d rather spit on you than swap spit with you.
“Sure, Cord. Glad you could make it to the party.”
The man planted himself in front of Jack, arms crossed, menace in his posture. “Here’s where I’m comin’ from. If you do a single damn thing to hurt her, I will gut you.”
Jack waited, expecting Cord to grin and say, “Just kiddin’, man, welcome to the family.”
But Cord’s fiery blue eyes, identical to Keely’s, refused to break contact. “Understand?”
“Good.” Cord walked past without another word. But slow enough that Jack glimpsed the knife case attached to Cord’s belt.
This was going to be one goddamn long night.
For the next hour, while friends and family mingled, Jack and Keely stayed as far away from each other as possible. No one noticed, and for the first time Jack was grateful for Keely’s large family.
But he watched her. Constantly. She had a dark-haired, dark-eyed baby girl cocked on her hip as she talked to her cousin Chassie. Two men—Chassie’s husbands—approached, and each kissed Keely’s cheek.
Trevor plucked the grinning baby girl from Keely’s arms while Edgard rubbed Chassie’s belly and murmured to her. A blond boy streaked through their circle before rejoining the roving gang of kids—which looked to be about twenty strong.
More family members joined the group and Jack tried to place them all.
Why? It’s not like it matters if you know their names. This is a charade, remember?
He listened to two older women speculating on how wild Keely’s bachelorette party would be. He refilled his cup for the third time, wishing someone had spiked the punch.
The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Jack slowly turned around. Great. McKay number two.
“Colby. Nice to see you.”
Colby grunted. He looked around and leaned in. “Consider this your one and only warnin’, Donohue.
You ever hurt her, I’ll gut you.”
Jesus. “So noted.”
“Just wanted to be up front.”
“I appreciate it.”
Without another word, Colby strolled back to his sweet-looking wife and rowdy kids.
Jack indulged in small talk with a couple of ranchers who’d worked with the McKays for years. But as he listened politely to talk of drought, high feed prices, low returns and government interference, his gaze continually sought Keely out. She laughed and flitted from group to group, the lovely embodiment of a free spirit. Then he noticed her hand was clenched into a tight fist at her side. Was she looking to punch someone? Who?