“What would you rather read?”
“Erotic romances.” Keely winked. “As far as other activities? I’m on the volunteer list for the community center and fill in when someone’s sick or on vacation. Oh, and I like to dance.”
Jack wondered if her excessive social calendar was because she didn’t like being alone. “You don’t ever stay home and relax? Kick off your boots and stay a while?”
“Sure. But my idea of relaxing and yours are way different.”
Why did he bristle? “Meaning what?”
“I relax when I’m asleep. Reclining in front of the TV as a way to relax? No thanks. I’d rather do things with real live people instead of pretending what happens on a sitcom or dramedy or reality show matters. Connections matter to me. And there’s nothing more relaxing than laughing with family and friends.” Keely buttoned the last button of the India’s Ink dart league shirt.
For Christsake. This woman played in a dart league sponsored by a tattoo shop. She had tattoos. She drove a dirty pickup. She had fifty different colored pairs of shitkickers. She had a social life to rival Paris Hilton’s. Did he have a single thing in common with her besides phenomenal sex?
Yes. You need each other to get your careers on track.
Sometimes Jack forgot the big picture. Sometimes he forgot their relationship wasn’t real. What really pissed him off was sometimes he even forgot Keely wasn’t his type.
“Speaking of families. Last night Channing dropped the bomb she’s having a girl! No one tells me anything important these days.”
“Well, it’s important you don’t make plans for tomorrow night because we need to talk about the Milford trip.”
“But Thursday night is my night to—”
Jack held up his hand stopping her protest. “I don’t care if it’s your night to shoe horses or to craft quilts or to can pickled beets. I need you here.”
“Fine.” Keely brushed past him. In the doorway to the bathroom she turned. “Have fun with Carter.
But don’t wait up for me.”
Don’t wait up for me.
Jack ground his teeth together. Three hours had passed and her parting shot still rankled.
“Jack? Buddy? You’re gonna have an embolism if you keep scowling like that. So tell me what’s up.”
“Your sister drives me fucking crazy.”
“And that’s news?” Carter laughed. “The fact you two haven’t killed each other by now is newsworthy. Never in a million years would I have predicted you two as a couple.”
“Join the club.”
“So tell me…what did my little sis do to piss you off? Earlier at the jobsite you guys were goin’ at it hot and heavy. I thought my dad was gonna get the hose out and spray you down.”
Jack scraped his hands over the razor stubble on his jaw. “I don’t understand why she has to be doing something all the time. Why can’t she just stay home? It’s like she can’t stand to be by herself.”
Carter didn’t say anything.
At first, Jack wondered if he’d overstepped his bounds. Then he worried Keely had kept something important from him. “What?”
“Keely didn’t tell you how she’s spent the last five years?”
Jack squirmed. He should’ve kept his mouth shut. He should know all about his fiancée’s past. If he showed his ignorance, Carter would get suspicious.
He shook his head.
“It figures she didn’t fill you in.” Carter signaled the waitress for another round.
When Carter didn’t start talking, Jack got both worried and pissed off. “You can’t drop something like that into conversation and leave it there to fester, McKay.”
“It’s not festering, Donohue. I’m debating.”
That blue gaze identical to Keely’s pinned Jack in place. “On if I should keep my big mouth reputation in the family and just flat out tell you, or if I oughta let it fester so you’re forced to ask Keely about it. Part of me thinks if she would’ve wanted you to know, she would’ve told you herself. But part of me thinks it’s your right to know.”
When the waitress swung buy with more beer, Jack ordered two shots of Wild Turkey.
Carter leaned back in the booth. His posture wasn’t lazy, but challenging. “If you think getting me drunk will make me spill my guts, you’re barking up the wrong tree, pal.”
What was up with this family and the colorful colloquialisms? “The shots are for me, not you.”
The silence stretched between them until the waitress brought the whiskey shots. Jack drained one and set the other aside.
“You’re a lot like her, you know.”
Jack’s gaze shot to Carter’s. “Keely?” He snorted. “Right. Talk about oil and water. Fire and ice.
Concrete and glass.”
His comment must’ve alleviated Carter’s misgivings. He set his elbows on the table. “If I tell you this, Jack, I need your word that you will not tip off Keely that you know.”
“After Cam and Domini got married we were all together for some family holiday. The kids were watching a movie in the family room, the babies were asleep and it was just adults around the dining room table, which rarely happens. We’re bullshitting, teasing one another, like we always do, when someone, I don’t even remember who, tossed off a comment about Cam not pulling his weight with the ranch—a total joke, right? I mean, we’d just gotten Cam interested in being part of the family again and none of us wanted to fuck that up. So they start picking on me and I volleyed it back, and the next thing we were all ragging on Keely.
“Even before she’d moved into Domini’s apartment she’d disappear for days—sometimes weeks on end. As far as we knew, she worked part time at the VA in Cheyenne a couple days a month and that was her only job. We wondered if she had a guy on a string keeping her away from home. So we teased her about being too busy chasing tail to get a real job, or to help out at the ranch. I’ll admit we were total dicks to her, bringing up stupid shit she’d done in the past. Treating her like she was a bratty preteen.
Questioning her work ethic after living in the big city. Normally Keely would fire insults right back, but she got quieter and quieter. We were so busy ribbing her we didn’t notice.”
Jack’s gut knotted—not from the shot of whiskey.
“Eventually we pushed her too far. Keely stood up and said the reason no one in our family knew what she’d been up to during her trips to Cheyenne was because we were all a bunch of self-absorbed pricks and hadn’t bothered to ask about her life. We all sort of looked at each other in shock and realized she was right.
“When she wasn’t working at the VA or private hospitals in Cheyenne and Ft. Collins, she was moonlighting on the rodeo circuit as a sports med tech for extra cash. The reason she didn’t have energy to expend on her measly portion of the testosterone ranch was because she was exhausted.”
“Measly portion of the ranch?” Jack repeated.
Carter stopped to sip his beer. “Long, involved legal gibberish I won’t go into.”
But Carter did detail the personal sacrifices Keely made for Cam to get him back on track after his discharge from the army. Putting her schooling on hold, keeping her assorted relatives at bay at Cam’s request, even angering them and shouldering the blame. Jack was beyond stunned, listening to the depth of Keely’s commitment to her family, hearing about her generosity and her determination—to the exclusion of fulfilling her own dreams.
“The hell of it was after we all compared stories, we realized as well as Keely knew all of us, we didn’t know her as an adult at all. That’s what hurt her the worst.”
“I imagine it did.” Jack knocked back the other shot, struggling to control his emotions, mostly his admiration for the woman who acted out of love with no expectation but to be loved in return. It was damn humbling to realize he’d never had that deep connection with any one person, let alone the sheer number of people Keely connected with on a daily basis. The sheer number of people who benefited just from having Keely McKay in their lives.
What would it be like to be on the receiving end of such devotion? Or to have the balls to give it back in return without fear?
“Jack?” Carter prompted. “What’s wrong?”
Everything. “Nothing. Just trying to wrap my head around all this about Keely. AJ didn’t know what she was up to? What about Chassie? Or Ramona?”
“My guess is Ramona knew what Keely was doing. AJ and Chassie are wrapped up in husbands and kids, whereas Ramona is single and probably understands Keely’s drive.”
“So what happened afterward?”
“We groveled. Big time.”
Jack laughed softly. Even when his heart broke a little for the woman who gave so much.
“She cried a lot and called us names, but she forgave us because she’s just that way. Girl’s got a heart as big as Wyoming.” Carter rubbed his chin. “My point is, you are more like her than you realize, Jack.
You both work hard to keep your personal and professional lives separate. I figure she’s entitled to be out every night of the week if it makes up for all the years she didn’t get to have fun.”
“Fun? Weren’t you the one who told me she was such a wild child?”
“In high school,” Carter scoffed. “That was a decade ago. She might’ve mixed it up a little when she first went off to college in Denver, or cut loose when she came home, but her life changed after Cam was injured.”
That made sense. But why hadn’t Keely shared any of this? Didn’t she trust him? Especially after he’d opened up to her about his family issues? He took a deep breath, trying to relieve the tension distorting his muscles. “I appreciate you telling me.”
But Carter wasn’t paying attention to him. His focus was beyond Jack’s shoulder. He muttered,