“Aw, for Christsake, you two are adults. Get a freakin’ room. Don’t make me arrest you for lewd behavior.”
Keely didn’t acknowledge Cam. Neither did Jack.
Getting no response out of them, Cam stalked off in a huff.
They grinned at each other. Then Jack brushed his lips over hers until her mouth opened and he teased her with a flirty kiss. He tasted like beer. And Jack.
“How much longer does this go on?” he murmured.
“That kiss could’ve gone on a lot longer as far as I’m concerned.”
He gently bit her bottom lip. “I meant this event.”
“Mutton bustin’ is next. It’s the last event because it’s the most popular. Gib and Braxton are entered.” She smooched his chin. “Come on. It’s probably about to start.”
They held hands and made their way back into the stands.
Cord and Cam were sitting with their wives. Both Dimitri and Oxsana sat on Cam’s lap while Cord held Foster on his. Liesl had inserted herself between Domini and Cam. Ky and Anton were hanging over the Plexiglas partition, trying to see into the chutes.
A number of kids stayed on and rode their sheep, but the only one who crossed the finish line was Gib.
“That kid is a natural bull rider. Channing ain’t gonna keep him outta the chutes when he gets old enough to ride bulls,” Cord said.
Anton piped up, “Just wait ’til you see me’n Ky ride bulls. We’re gonna be world champs.”
Domini shook her head. “No way am I letting you get on the back of a bull, Anton McKay.”
“Aw, but Mom, if I get hurt Aunt Keely can fix me up, can’t ya?”
Way to put her on the spot. “Wow. Look at the time. And you guys have school tomorrow.” Keely pushed up and threw her arms open. “Who’s givin’ me some love?”
Liesl was the first one in line for a hug. Followed by Ky and Anton. The twins were cranky and refused to let go of Cam, but sweet Foster peppered her face with kisses. She reluctantly handed Cord his youngest son. When Keely looked over at Jack, he wore the oddest expression.
Colby and his boys were waiting at the bottom of the stairs. After more congratulations were passed around to Gib and Braxton, Colby said, “Keels, you still on for tomorrow night?”
“Yep. I’ll be there with bells on.”
“Come on, boys, let’s get your brothers so we can go home and see how Mama is farin’ in an empty house.”
Everyone dispersed. Keely and Jack were stopped a dozen more times as they walked through the crowd. They finally reached Keely’s truck and Jack leaned against it with a long-suffering sigh.
“You hated coming to the junior rodeo that much?”
“No. You know everyone in town, don’t you?”
“Uh, yeah. I have lived here most of my life, Jack.”
“I can’t imagine how you kept purchasing the Brewster Building under wraps. Not only from the community, but from your entire family. From what I’ve seen, the McKays live in each other’s pockets.”
Did that bother him? “It isn’t like we don’t have secrets from each other within the McKay family, but we do spend a lot of time together.”
Keely bumped him with her shoulder. “Yes, by choice. I’ve always hero-worshipped my brothers, even when they weren’t around. For years we followed our own paths, but it’s no surprise our paths converged back here. They drive me crazy sometimes and treat me like I’m twelve, but it’s fun even when it’s total chaos with all the kids.
“I love bein’ the cool aunt who takes them to the park. Or brings them to my place for a sleepover. Or buys them gifts that annoy their parents. I pinch hit as a babysitter whenever they need me. But I mostly like being around them all the time. Watching them grow and change. Watching how marriage and parenthood has changed my brothers. Seeing them happy…” Her voice caught and she turned away. Jack wouldn’t understand the struggles her brothers faced to wind up where they were. How thrilled she was every damn day she got to watch them living their lives and being a part of it.
“Are you happy, Keely?” he asked softly.
“I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long time. Most days I don’t think about it. Why?”
“No reason. Wondered if you’d heard that biological clock ticking.”
“I’m not exactly over the hill.”
“I know. I’m curious. Since your brothers have so many kids, does that mean you want a bunch of your own?”
“I don’t know. Do you?”
He shrugged. “I like kids. I just never really thought about having them.”
“Maybe that’ll change when you find the right woman.”
Jack gave her that odd look again. He pushed off the truck. “I’ll see you back at the apartment.”
Weird dismissal. But nothing new when it came to Jack’s moods. She’d just opened the door, when Jack said, “Keely. Wait.”
She half-turned toward him, hating his face was obscured by shadows. “What?”
“Don’t ever change. Not for your family. Not for your career. Not for the community. Not for a man.
Definitely not for me. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
How had Jack beat her home?
Because you sat in your truck for a good fifteen minutes trying to figure out what Jack meant.
Was that little speech Jack’s way of telling her he liked her? Or worse, he respected her even when she wasn’t his type?
Pointless to fret about now. She trudged up the stairs, not knowing which Jack she’d find. Angry?
Demanding? Sweet? Aloof?
The apartment was dark. No TV. No blue glow from his laptop. She wandered to the small bedroom, wondering if he needed alone time. She honestly couldn’t blame him; her family was overwhelming, especially to a loner like Jack.
Nope. Not there either.
Her bedroom was pitch black. He’d even closed the curtains, cutting off the lone sliver of light from the streetlights at the front of the building.
No answer. Rather than risk waking him by turning on a light, she rummaged in her pajama drawer in the darkness and grabbed the first thing she’d found. She stripped and yanked on the oversized T-shirt. As soon as she’d crawled between the sheets and situated herself, Jack spoke.
“You’re as wiggly as a worm.”
Keely spooned behind him. “You’re as hot as a furnace. You feeling okay?”
“Just feeling a little…melancholy. No big deal.”
Wow. Stoic Jack confessed a crack in his emotional armor. “Was it something I did?”
“No.” He sighed. “I don’t even know how the hell to explain it.”
Keely kissed the middle of his back. “Try.”
He didn’t say anything for the longest time. Finally, he said, “Being around your family makes me miss my dad. Mostly it reinforces my regret of all we missed out on. Granted, we never had an easy relationship, but I thought we’d have time to change that. Your family makes it look so effortless.”
“It’s not. In fact it’s hard living so close. Seems I’m always overstepping boundaries. Or they’re overstepping mine. I hated when my brothers were gone and I can’t imagine only seeing them once a year.
But sometimes I wonder if distance isn’t better. Makes the heart grow fonder and all that jazz.”
“Can you really see yourself living someplace else?”
Keely’s non-response spurred Jack on.
“See, that’s where we’re different, Keely. I never saw myself living on the farm permanently. Not even as a kid. I couldn’t wait to get out and establish my own identity.”
“Was it that awful growing up there?” she asked.
“I hated the constant backbreaking work. I watched my dad toil, year in year out. For what? He and my mother lived hand to mouth. It wasn’t like he spent quality time with us. He liked his whiskey and he liked his quiet. He didn’t have a great relationship with us kids because he couldn’t be bothered to make the effort. So as I watched your brothers, with their kids, how they’re all such great fathers, I wondered if I’d inherited my father’s worst qualities. If I was ever lucky enough to reproduce, if I’d be a shitty father because that’s all I know.”
She had to tread lightly, since this was the first time Jack had opened up to her. It was as enlightening as it was heartbreaking.
“I never wanted to be like my dad. It’s sobering when I consider I am just like him. I’m not a farmer, but what I do for a living is my personal measure of who I am as a man.”
“But even now, I don’t make the effort with my mother. Or Justin. Or anyone else. I’m stuck in this fucked-up cycle and can’t seem to change it.”
“Do you want to change it?”
His body stiffened. “Look. Just forget I said anything and go to sleep.”
Ooh. Dismissed again. Luckily she’d gotten used to mood swings when she lived with Cam. Keely pushed away from his warmth and sat on the edge of the bed.
Jack rolled over. “Sorry I snapped. You don’t have to go. Stay.”
Keely ignored his assumption she’d leave when he finally reached out to her. No way. She was sticking. She was annoying that way. She rooted round in her nightstand drawer until she found the pouch at the back. Palming it, she slid back between the sheets. “I’m not goin’ anywhere.” She traced the frown lines on his forehead. The rise of his sharp cheekbones. The tensed line of his jaw. The grooves bracketing his sinful mouth. When he closed his eyes and sighed, she knew tonight he needed her to soothe him.
She straddled his pelvis and knocked the pillows aside, pinning his arms above his head.
His eyes flew open.
“Stay still.” Keely urged his lips to part, allowing her to direct the openmouthed kisses she craved.