He grinned. “Spaghettios. And canned peaches for dessert.”
“Tempting, but I wouldn’t want to intrude.” She crouched down by Landon and straightened the seam on his footie pajamas. “So, I’ll leave the books here, but tomorrow night, I’m thinking we’ll start having story time before bed. Does that sound good?” When she smoothed his damp hair from his brow, he looked at her with those enormous blue eyes. Then he crawled closer and held his arms out for her to pick him up.
Definitely gonna break my heart, kid.
She planted a kiss on his sweet-smelling cheek before handing him to Brandt and going home.
Jessie was surprised to see Brandt’s truck pull in the next day around noon. She hung the bucket on the fence and walked to his rig as he finished carting Landon’s stuff into the house.
“What’s going on?”
“My mom’s cousin died yesterday. Of course, my dad has refused to take her to the funeral in Nebraska. And since she doesn’t want to go by herself—”
He rubbed his gloved hand across his forehead, knocking his hat askew. “Yes. I’m sorry. I know I seem to be sayin’ that to you a lot lately, but short of takin’ Landon with me—”
“No. We’re trying to set a routine for him, so it’s best if he stays with me.”
“Positive. Plus it’s not like you have any other choices besides me.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“The funeral is Tuesday afternoon. We’ll leave right after and be home late Tuesday night, so Mom wants to go to the family memorial tonight. We’re takin’ off in about an hour.”
How was it that after only spending a week together she already knew she was going to miss him?
She reached up and fixed his hat, which pleased him, by the way his eyes softened.
“Brandt. It’s okay.” She skirted him and released Landon from his carseat, propping him on her hip.
She forced a smile and said, “Drive safe.”
Day two of Landon screaming was more than Jessie could take. She knew it wasn’t Brandt’s fault that he’d had to leave, but it was little comfort when she’d been up half the damn night with a cranky toddler.
All Landon wanted was to be held. But not held while she was sitting down. No, she’d paced the floor with him in her arms because constant movement was the only thing that soothed him. She’d begun to suspect he was cutting molars, the way he constantly gnawed on his blanket.
She’d had no choice but to bring him to work with her. The other kids in the daycare didn’t seem to mind that Landon clung to Jessie like a monkey and screeched like one if she set him down. Everyone would’ve been better off if she’d been able to stay home. But that wasn’t an option. How did single mothers handle all this by themselves? Juggling work and a sick kid?
Around noon Skylar came in to have lunch with her girls and she kept stealing glances at Landon.
What if Landon really was sick? And by bringing him here she’d somehow infected all the other kids? Flu and colds spread like wildfire in daycare. They took every precaution to prevent it, but kids’ immune systems weren’t fully developed. No matter how much bleach, hand sanitizer and Lysol they used, regardless of how many times hands were washed after runny noses were wiped, there was bound to be germs passed around.
So how was she supposed to know when it was something serious and not just the effects of teething or a cranky toddler?
She didn’t. Despite the fact she spent her days taking care of kids, this child health stuff was a mystery. Parents told her when their kid was sick. She rarely had to make that determination on her own, which made her feel even more helpless when she looked at Landon and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the poor little boy.
After Skylar finished lunch, she took Jessie aside. “I thought we were through his adjustment phase.”
“I’m sorry. He started getting fussy Sunday night and I thought maybe it was because Brandt wasn’t around. But yesterday it got a little worse. He was fussier than normal. Last night after I took him home?
He was awful. Upset. Crying all the time. I think he’s teething. He hardly slept. I hardly slept.”
“Brandt didn’t get up and help you?”
“He wasn’t there. He had to take his mom to a funeral in Nebraska. He got back at three in the morning and he’s trying to play catch up at the ranch today. He’ll be around to help me tonight. If I survive that long.”
Skylar frowned and placed her hand on Landon’s forehead. He didn’t jerk away. “Have you taken his temp?”
“Not since this morning. It was around ninety-nine point four, which is not that far from normal.”
“He feels hot to me. How long has he been tugging on his ear like that?”
Jessie glanced down. Sure enough, Landon had a chunk of the blanket jammed in his mouth, but he also had his finger hooked just inside his ear. “I don’t know.” She looked at Skylar with utter confusion.
“Should I know?”
“Probably not. I doubt you could see it. I watched him from the lunch room and noticed it.” Skylar smoothed her hand over Landon’s hair. “It might be teething. It might be an ear infection. But I definitely think it’s worth a trip to the doctor to find out.”
Jessie must’ve appeared dazed because Skylar said, “Call Brandt. He’s been in contact with Landon’s mother, he’ll have the information on what doctor to take him to.”
Would they give him a shot? Take blood? How could she watch them poking him when he was already in so much misery?
“Out here in the wilds of Wyoming it’ll probably take the rest of the day, once you actually get an appointment at the clinic.”
“But I can’t be gone from here—”
“Jess. Go. I’ll handle the daycare.”
She stared at Skylar, feeling mountains of regret as well as gratitude. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Kids get sick. You know that. And while I’m on the subject…if Landon does have an ear infection, it wouldn’t be from something you’ve done or not done regarding his care. You know that, right?”
“I do now.” She set her chin on top of Landon’s head. The poor kid was burning up. “Thank you. Not only for being so understanding, but for the advice.”
“None of this parenting stuff comes naturally, no matter what anyone tells you. It’s live and learn.
And usually, the first baby ends up being the guinea pig. Poor Eliza, huh?” She smiled. “Go call Brandt.
Let me know what you find out from the doctor.”
For some reason it made Jessie feel better that Brandt exhibited the same initial panicked reaction she had. He called Dr. Monroe and set up an appointment, then called Jessie back, promising he’d meet her at the doctor’s office in Sundance after he cleaned up.
By the time she finished a couple things, got Landon loaded, and traveled the less than ideal road conditions, she figured Brandt would beat her to the doctor’s office.
Sure enough, he jumped out of his truck the second he saw her. He didn’t look in the rear cab, at Landon. He cupped his hand over Jessie’s cheek. His eyes roamed her face. “Honey, no offense, but you look like hell.”
Jessie gave him equal scrutiny. “You don’t look one hundred percent rested yourself, Brandt.”
She sensed something else was bothering him. “What happened?”
“Funerals suck. I didn’t know my mom’s cousin, but she was really close to him at one time. It was weird, bein’ around those people, who are just as much my relatives as the McKays, and I know nothin’
about any of them.”
“Did it make you sad?”
“No. It made me aware.”
“What it might be like for Landon in the future with us.”
Jessie bit back the next question—how far Brandt would go to ensure Landon wouldn’t be a stranger in the McKay family.
Brandt’s thumb arced over her cheekbone, beneath her eye, in such a loving move she had no idea how she resisted the temptation to lean into his gentle touch. It’d been so long since she’d been touched. So very long.
Landon cried out and the moment ended.
The three of them trooped into the doctor’s office. Which was completely full. Completely full of people she knew.
She held Landon on her lap while Brandt filled out the paperwork. Finally Brandt gave up on deciphering the Title IXX forms and agreed to pay cash for the visit, since Landon didn’t have health insurance.
Brandt tried to take Landon from her, to give her arms a break from constantly holding him, but Landon shrieked and wouldn’t let go of her.
This brought the attention of the whole room their way. Whatever buzz their appearance generated that’d kept people gossiping amongst themselves for twenty minutes ended.
A woman Jessie recognized as one of the local bar rats with half a dozen kids from half a dozen husbands sidled in front of them. Her gaze flicked from Landon to Brandt. She smiled. “Brandt McKay.”
“I haven’t seen you in Ziggy’s for a while.”
“Been busy. You know how that goes.”
Her gaze zeroed in on Landon. “I guess you have been busy. I didn’t know you had a kid.”
The way she cooed it, as if she was considering him as father material for her kids, set Jessie’s teeth on edge.
“I don’t. This is my nephew. He’s sick.”
Most people would’ve gotten the hint and left. Not this woman. She switched her curiosity to Jessie.
“I know you. You used to come in to Ziggy’s once in a while with—”