She was highly unnerved with the conversation. It was disconcerting to be praised for something she hadn’t yet done, when she knew it’d be a miracle if she made it through the next four hours, let alone the next four months.
“And now that I’ve made you uncomfortable, let’s talk about something else.” Ice rattled as Skylar fiddled with her tea glass. “Why didn’t you stick around for the bouquet toss last night at Keely’s wedding?”
“It would’ve been awkward since it was Luke’s family’s event. Plus, I’m not eager to get married again. Especially not after being blindsided with proof of my husband’s infidelity.” And she’d been doing so well keeping a lid on the whining. “Who caught the bouquet? Ramona West? I think she might’ve actually brought a catcher’s mitt.”
“No. Some family friend from down by Casper’s section of the ranch. She seemed to know Dalton.
I’ve never seen her before. Sorry, but I don’t remember her name.”
“That’s okay.” Jessie stood. “I should be going. I appreciate you taking time out of your day off to talk to me, Sky.”
“Like I said, anytime. Kade meant it too. Anything you need, just ask us. Not because I’m your boss but because you’re family.”
Now that Brandt was waiting on his brothers to show up, he’d begun to have doubts. Maybe Tell and Dalton wouldn’t want to help out with Landon. God knew they were scarce as soon as the workday ended and they spent most Monday mornings sharing the down and dirty details of their wild weekends.
You ain’t exactly a saint. You’ve ripped it up plenty. Especially in the last ten months.
Landon’s face turned red, he grunted and the odor chased the air from Brandt’s living room. Sighing, Brandt grabbed a diaper and had just finished changing Landon when his brothers burst in.
Tell and Dalton stopped inside the door, noses wrinkled. “I don’t know what the hell you’ve been eatin’, bro, but it’s nasty…” Dalton’s voice trailed away when Landon scampered off the couch.
Before the little devil could make a break for the open door, Brandt snatched the back of his overalls.
“Whoa, not so fast there, partner.” To Tell, he said, “Would you please shut the damn door?”
“Ah. Sure.” Once the latch clicked, Brandt released Landon.
But the boy stopped, apparently scared by the two bigger men. Tell and Dalton topped Brandt’s five feet ten by a good four inches, and while he’d hated being the shortest of his brothers, he’d never considered their height imposing. But then again everything probably seemed enormous when you were only two feet tall.
They stared at one another in silence, but Dalton or Tell were focused solely on Landon.
Dalton cleared his throat. “Uh, Brandt, you wanna tell us what’s goin’ on? Why you’ve got a kid here that looks exactly like—”
“Luke,” Tell finished.
“No, I was gonna say like a mini-version of Brandt.”
Tell strode over and crouched in front of Landon. “Hey, buddy. You don’t gotta be scared.”
Landon blinked those McKay blue eyes at Tell and shrank against Brandt’s leg.
Brandt rubbed his hand over Landon’s head. “This is Landon. He’s Luke’s son.”
“For sure?” Tell asked.
“Yeah. Did the paternity test and everything.”
Dalton whistled. “I’ll be damned.”
“How long have you known about him?” This from Tell.
Both sets of his brothers’ eyes zoomed to him.
“Look. Samantha, Landon’s mother, contacted me. Fed me this story about her and Luke…which turned out to be completely true. But I didn’t believe her, not at first, which is why I insisted on a paternity test before I told you guys.”
“Jesus. You’ve worked with us every goddamn day for a freakin’ month and you couldn’t let us know this was goin’ on?”
Brandt held Dalton’s angry gaze. “No. First of all, it’s been a rough month anyway, with Dad bein’ a first class jackass about how bad we—I—fucked up by lettin’ the north pasture stay fallow this year. I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up about Landon in case it was bullshit. Second, because Samantha asked me not to.”
“I don’t think she gets a say in nothin’ since she’s kept Luke’s kid a secret from us,” Dalton shot back.
“Chill out, Dalton,” Tell said. He pinned Brandt with a hard look. “Start from the beginning.”
By the time he’d finished, Dalton had plopped in the easy chair and Tell had coaxed Landon into sitting on the floor with him.
“Well, Mom and Dad are gonna shit bricks.”
“Ya think? That’s why I need you guys to go over there with me when we break the news about their first grandchild.”
“Oh hell no. I ain’t gonna pretend I knew anything about this. You know how dad is, Brandt.”
“Which is exactly my point. We’ve gotta show him we’re united on this, on doin’ what’s best for Landon.”
“Given the fact Luke is dead, if this Samantha chick is goin’ to jail, then Dad will wanna sue for permanent guardianship,” Tell pointed out.
“I won’t allow that to happen. Before you argue that turnin’ Landon over to Mom and Dad is the best option, I’ll remind you this is a temporary situation. And if we show Samantha we want Landon to be part of our lives, without the threat of takin’ him away from her, the better it’ll be for everybody in the long run.” Brandt glanced down at Landon, surprised the rambunctious kid was sitting still.
“You so sure Samantha will want her kid back when she gets outta jail?”
No. Brandt wasn’t surprised his brothers had voiced the same question Jessie had. “I’ve got no choice but to believe it.”
Dalton and Tell traded a skeptical look before Tell spoke. “Fine. We’re with you on this. But how in the hell do you plan to baby-sit this kid for the next four months? We’ve got a ranch to run. I’ll remind you the workload has increased since Luke died and Dad ain’t doin’ diddly anymore.”
“It’d be really shitty if you expect Mom to watch Landon all the time and then in four months just snatch him away from her like he didn’t exist,” Dalton added.
That option wasn’t any better for Jessie, either. “I know. Which is why I’m gonna suggest Mom watches him one weekday, and then the three of us could rotate and take over on the other weekday and I’d have him on weekends.”
Tell frowned. “And what about the three other days during the workweek?”
Brandt said, “Jessie has agreed to take Landon to Sky Blue daycare those three days,” and braced himself for their reaction.
“Jessie knows about this?”
“I told her last night after the wedding reception.”
Dalton launched himself out of the chair. “You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me! You not only blabbed to Jessie about Luke’s bastard child, you asked her to help you take care of him?” He stomped closer and loomed over his older brother. “Is this your way of makin’ sure she hates you so you can stay the hell away from her for good?”
Tell didn’t jump to Brandt’s defense either. “I’m with Dalton on this. It’s goddamn selfish of you to expect anything from Jessie except a knee to the balls.”
“Yeah? Then how come Jessie agreed to help out?” Brandt demanded. “If I’m such a flaming fucking asshole who doesn’t give a good goddamn about how she feels then why did she call Skylar and explain the situation? Why did she agree with me that it’d be better if I stayed overnight with her during the week instead of us dragging Landon back and forth between our places? Why did she—”
“I don’t know!” Dalton bellowed. “Was she drunk?”
“Fuck off, Dalton.”
Tell said, “Guys—”
“This is why we wanted you to stay away from Jessie, Brandt. You two keep hurting each other over and over and neither of you even realizes you’re doin’ it! Goddammit, do you know what it’s like for us to have to watch you both miserable—”
Landon started to wail, scared by the raised voices. Before Brandt could pick him up, Tell pulled the boy onto his lap. “Hey, it’s okay. We’re just a little freaked out by you and this whole situation. But we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure your needs are met above anyone else’s.”
No surprise Tell looked right at Brandt when he said the last part.
Tell said, “I don’t know if you’ve got some warped version of happily ever after floating in your head, bro, but even if you and Jessie do spend all this time together in close quarters taking care of Luke’s kid, you do know she ain’t gonna fall in love with you, right?”
Hurt, resentment, denial swelled up inside Brandt to the point he thought he might explode. But he tamped it down; refusing to lash out at Tell or give into the hair trigger temper he’d inherited from their father.
“More likely than not, when it’s all over, she’ll hate your guts for forcing her hand.”
The thought of Jessie hating him had bile crawling up Brandt’s throat.
Dalton added, “Hate to agree with Tell, but I don’t see it endin’ up any other way, Brandt.”
Then Tell, the peacemaker, said, “What was up with Uncle Carson givin’ Keely and Jack some land as a wedding gift?”
“Think Dad knew about it?” Dalton said.
“Probably. Typical that he didn’t tell us. But it doesn’t fit that he ain’t throwing a shit fit about it. He’s always insisted the McKay land trust won’t allow for pieces just to be handed out. Not even to the next generation. It has to be a unanimous decision.”