“You deserve the best, K. We’d do anything for you, don’t you know that? I feel so damn guilty because Jack is my friend. I brought this on you—”
Keely wrapped her arms around him and whispered, “No, Carter, you brought him to me. Thank you.”
He pecked her on the cheek. “In that case, you’re welcome. And tell him I’m sorry about his jaw.”
She didn’t even ask what the hell that was about.
Her heroic, but slightly misguided brothers loaded up in Cord’s truck and were gone. She didn’t move until after the dust settled.
The fire had died down. Keely stoked it, gathering her thoughts before she wandered to where her dad and Jack sat, speaking in low tones.
Jack wouldn’t look at her. His elbows rested on his knees. He’d aimed his face at the ground.
“Daddy, how did you know—”
“About your brothers goin’ all vigilante? I didn’t. ’Cause I sure wouldn’t’ve condoned it. Jack called me earlier this morning and admitted he’d screwed up with you big time. He asked if I’d help him find you.
Evidently, before I made it to your apartment, the boys showed up and took matters into their own hands.
AJ called me because she knew something was up.”
“She also felt guilty because she told Cord where she thought I might be hiding out, huh?” Keely asked.
“That too.” He sighed. “Look. I’ve given Jack a hard time since you came home wearin’ his ring. I stopped questioning how he felt about you after he asked me to see to getting up a teardown party for your building.”
She froze. “Jack set that up? Not you?”
“Yep. He didn’t want credit. He just wanted it done and wanted you happy. That told me a lot about the kind of man he is.”
“I know a little about picking good men, since I’ve been surrounded by them my whole life.”
“I never doubted how you felt about him, punkin, I just never thought he could handle you. Now I see he handles you just fine.”
Keely heard Jack snicker.
“And I also realize you ain’t a little girl and I oughta butt out of your life.”
“Whatever you did, you did out of love, Daddy, not spitefulness, not meanness. I hope the day never comes that you butt completely out of my life.”
He smiled. “Never thought I’d hear you say that.” He looked over at Jack. “Takes a big man to admit his mistakes and ask for forgiveness, Keely. Remember that. Jack might be dense, but he ain’t dumb.” He gathered her in a fierce hug and whispered, “Does he make you happy?”
She whispered back, “When he’s not making me crazy.”
“Then I reckon everything will turn out fine.”
Carson McKay climbed in his truck and roared off, leaving her and Jack alone.
Her nerves were strung tight as she erased the distance between them.
Finally, Jack lifted his chin and looked at her.
Keely’s heart turned over with love and her belly knotted with pain. She dropped to her knees in the dirt in front of him. “Holy hell, GQ. What did they do to your beautiful face?”
“Carter punched me.” Jack ran his fingers across the lump that hurt like a motherfucker. “Hit me hard enough to knock me out so I don’t know what the hell else the McKay posse did to me while I was at their mercy. I will say it took all five of them to take me down.” His eyes searched hers. “Is it bad?”
Keely’s soft fingers traced his stubbled jawline. “No. You’re a sight for sore eyes, Jack Donohue.”
He circled his hand around her wrist and kissed her palm. He touched her cheek. “Keely. I love you.”
She didn’t move. She didn’t appear to breathe. Neither did she look away.
“I’m sorry. I had no right to yell at you for telling me the truth about my shortcomings, personally and professionally. I had no right to blame you for anything. Or to embarrass you. I don’t know if I can ever apologize enough.”
Cowgirl speak. She was nervous, which surprised him, because he was nervous as hell too. “You were right about so many things. I never should’ve gone after the Milford project. I was compromising who I was to make a lousy buck.” He smiled and winced when it hurt. “Okay, it was a lot of lousy bucks. But my personal life should have no bearing on whether I measure up in the restoration arena. I’ve been living in that shadow of bitterness and one-upmanship for years. But you’ve taught me it doesn’t matter as long as I can look at myself in the mirror every morning and be happy with the man I see. At the risk of sounding incredibly fucking sappy, when I look in your eyes, I see the man I’ve always wanted to be.”
Keely didn’t bother to hide her tears.
“So, as sorry as I am that we went through all that fake engagement stuff so I could make a deal, I’m not one bit sorry because it led me to you.”
“Let me finish. I love you. I’ve been happier these last two months than I’ve ever been in my life. For the first time in my life, my happiness doesn’t have a damn thing to do with work. It has everything to do with you. Being with you has changed me. Changed my life. You are my life, cowgirl.”
She kissed him in a fiery melding of lips that made his mouth ache. Wait. His mouth really did ache.
He pulled back and whispered, “Careful.”
“Just be gentle, okay? I’m a little more fragile right now than I’m used to.”
Keely placed tender kisses on his swollen lips. The bump on his jaw. The scrapes on his neck and cheek. She leaned back to look in his eyes. “I oughta kill my brothers for messing up this pretty face I love so much, but I’m glad they brought you to me.”
“Is it just my face you love?”
“No. It’s all of you I love. Your smart side. Your smartass side. Your sweet side. Your sour side. Your take charge side.”
“Good to know.”
“And as much as you’ve had time to reflect, so have I. I want to be with you, Jack, no matter where you are. If that means a move to Denver, then so be it.”
“I’d never ask you to move away from your family, Keely. I know how big a of part of your life they are. I love that they’re part of your life. They’re a very large part of who you are.”
“You are my life now, Jack. Remember when I said anywhere you are is my home? I meant it.”
Jack was almost more choked up about Keely’s willingness to follow him anywhere than he’d been when she’d told him she loved him. “You’re finally achieving your dreams here; I won’t yank you away from them. We’ll figure it out. It’ll take lots of compromise, but I admit…I’m finally seeing the appeal of living in Wyoming.”
Her eyes lit up. “Really?”
“Yes. But you’ll never get me in a pair of cowboy boots. Never.”
Keely smoothed her hand up his thigh. “I’d love to see you nekkid except for a pair of fringed chaps, GQ.”
“Ditto, cowgirl mine. Come up here.” His muscles protested when he lifted her and settled her on his lap. Her legs dangled behind him on the log.
“Did my brothers really beat the shit out of you?”
“No. I beat up on myself. I was frustrated about how I mishandled everything and I worked out to the point of muscle exhaustion. Which is probably why I didn’t defend myself when Carter came after me. I couldn’t even lift my damn arms.”
“Poor baby. I’ll give you a deep tissue massage.” Keely toyed with his hair. “So since Chet and Remy overheard our fight, does everybody know our engagement wasn’t real?”
Jack shook his head. “If they overheard that part of our conversation they didn’t say anything to anyone. Trust me, your brothers would’ve brought it up when they were grilling me. For hours.” He smiled with pure male cockiness. “But I didn’t break. I just told them to butt the fuck out and let us work it out ourselves.”
“Have we worked it out?”
“Yes, except for one thing.” Jack curled his hands around her face. “Will you marry me? For real this time?”
“Did you ask my dad?”
“Yep. He grumbled about being the last to know important shit, which strangely enough reminded me of you, but I think he’s okay with it now. Because he did give me his blessing.”
“Well…seein’s we’ve already had the engagement party, you bought the ring and everyone already thinks we’re in wuv, twue wuv, I suppose it’s inevitable.” She gave him a smacking kiss on the mouth.
“Plus, I love you like crazy, Jack-ass.”
“Same goes, buttercup, same goes.”
Two months later…
Keely suspected she resembled a ghost more than a bride.
She leaned closer to the lighted mirror and scrutinized her reflection. Scratch that. Maybe the Bride of Frankenstein. Yikes. Why had they gobbed so much gunk on her face? Especially when her face was completely covered? She batted at the frothy white veil, knocking the headpiece off-center. Again.
“Stop fidgeting,” Chassie hissed, smoothing the gossamer fabric back in place.
The door to the bedroom opened. Women scurried forward in case Jack might try to sneak in.
Keely smiled, hoping he would attempt to infiltrate the inner sanctum and cart her off.
But a collective sigh echoed as the minister waltzed in and asked, “Has anyone seen the ring bearer?”
“Which one? I have six.” Keely had drafted her oldest nephews for the wedding party. They’d drawn straws to decide which unlucky sucker got stuck carrying the “girly” satin pillow.
“I’m looking for the ring bearer with the rings.”
“Gib is missing?”
No one answered. Maybe because no one had heard her over the din of giggles and gossip?
Seizing the opportunity to escape, Keely muttered, “I’ll find him.” She tried to stand; her butt was firmly shoved back down on the tufted velvet chair.