“Keely McKay? We hung around for a while during dart league season last year.”
When the woman’s eyes took on a mean glint, Jessie realized this bar wench probably knew more about Luke’s nocturnal activities than she did. “No. You used to come in with your husband. Luke, right?
Although I’ll admit he came in by himself frequently.”
“Yeah, well, I doubt he’s been in recently since he’s dead.”
Brandt stilled next to her, shocked by her smartass response.
Jessie was sick of feigning ignorance about Luke’s blatant infidelity. Better to go on the offensive than to cower in the corner because she’d done that for years and she was finished with the timid routine.
But Francie kept digging for dirt. “So is this your son?” she asked sweetly.
“No. But he is Luke’s son. My dead husband’s secret love child, who I had no idea existed until recently. And yes, I am taking care of him while his mother cleans up her act in jail.”
Francie was dumbfounded, not only by Jessie’s tart response, but by the biting edge to her tone.
“Any more ridiculously invasive questions? No? Good. But you’re more than welcome to fling this really juicy piece of gossip around the bar tonight to get your fair share of free drinks.”
Dismissed, Francie stomped off.
A solid minute passed before Brandt drawled, “Have I mentioned how much I like your new ‘screw you’ attitude? I didn’t think you had it in you, Jess.”
His opinion meant more than she wanted to admit. “I didn’t think I had it in me either. I wouldn’t have done that a year ago. I wouldn’t have wanted to draw attention to myself.”
“You’ve definitely got my attention.”
“But then again, you’ve always had it.”
Jessie faced him. Her pulse spiked when she realized how close their heads were. She could make out every one of his absurdly long black eyelashes. She could see the imperceptible flecks of green in Brandt’s deep blue eyes. She noticed the bump in his nose where it’d been broken in his younger years. She could feel his every quick exhale teasing her lips. She wanted so badly to drop her gaze and leisurely take in the full measure of his mouth, but she didn’t dare. Because for some crazy, mixed-up reason, probably due to lack of sleep, she doubted she’d be satisfied with just a peek at his lips. She’d want a taste. A full taste.
“Jess?” he murmured.
“What’s happening between us?”
“I don’t know, but it’s twisting me in knots.”
“But unless you wanna add more fuel to Francie’s fire, you’d better stop lookin’ at me like that.”
“Like you want…well, mostly like you don’t hate me.”
“Brandt, I don’t hate you. I’ve never hated you. It’d be easier if I could. But I can’t. Not by a long shot.”
Whispering to him while staring into his eyes created an odd sort of intimacy.
When he didn’t say anything, just continued gazing at her with those compelling eyes, she felt that pull between them get stronger.
“Landon McKay?” the nurse said from the doorway.
Another untimely interruption, but Jessie didn’t dwell on it, nor did she bother seeing where all the curious looks were coming from in the waiting room. She stood, wincing when she shifted Landon to her left side. She thought she’d built up a strong set muscles from working with horses and hauling hay bales, but holding a toddler for hours on end used a whole different muscle group.
Brandt noticed. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve been holding Landon nonstop since Sunday. My arms are sore. My back is sore.”
“I’m sorry. I wish—”
“It couldn’t be helped.”
“Let me take him.” Landon was so exhausted he went into Brandt’s arms without fussing.
The wait for Doctor Monroe to appear was remarkably short. She bustled into the room. Frowned.
“Has the nurse been in yet for a height and weight check?”
“Gotta do that first. Strip him down and Fiona will be right in.” Then she left.
Landon hated getting naked. So by the time they’d undressed him down to his diaper, he was screaming mad. He wouldn’t stand so the nurse could measure him. They ended up using the baby scale to weigh him. He was fighting Brandt at every turn, giving Jessie such pitiful eyes, that she had to look away.
Which made him madder yet.
Doctor Monroe bustled into the room. Brandt gave up and let Landon run to Jessie, screaming,
“Mama, mama, mama,” throwing himself at her.
Jessie froze. The tension in the room doubled. “That’s the first time he’s called me that.”
“I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before. To some extent, given the circumstances, the women in his life are interchangeable,” Doctor Monroe said.
“Like father like son,” slipped out before Jessie could stop it.
Doc Monroe ignored her, but she felt Brandt’s probing gaze.
Once Landon was seated on Jessie’s lap, he was fairly docile. He let the doctor poke and prod him, all the while she kept up a light chattering tone that soothed him. When the doc checked his ears, she sucked in a sharp breath. “Kid’s got an ear infection all right. Poor thing.” She rubbed his bare back before she rolled away to jot down notes. She addressed Brandt. “Did Landon’s mother tell you if he’s allergic to penicillin?”
Doc Monroe looked at Jessie. “Was Luke allergic to penicillin? The allergy tends to have genetic properties.”
“No, far as I know Luke wasn’t allergic.”
“In that case, I suggest a shot of penicillin. Sometimes I treat this type of infection with amoxycillin but the shot works faster. Plus, you won’t have to mess with trying to get him to take his medicine, since he seems a little strong willed.”
“No surprise—he is a McKay,” Jessie muttered.
Doctor Monroe shut the file folder. She smiled at both of them, but it was strained. “Kids heal quickly. He’ll have to stick around for twenty minutes or so after the shot to see if he has an allergic reaction. If he’s not better after forty-eight hours, bring him in right away.”
Jessie got the feeling that Doctor Monroe disapproved of this situation with Landon and she gave them both an odd look before she left the room.
“I see what you’re thinkin’,” Brandt said. “And yes, she argued with me about askin’ for your help with Landon.”
She frowned at him. “How did she know you intended to ask me?”
“I told her. I brought Landon in for a checkup after hours the week Samantha went to jail. She grilled me on how I planned to take care of him so I asked her opinion. She said I was self-serving and stormed out of the room after she signed off on the physical documentation for temporary guardianship.”
Doctor Monroe had performed the D&C after Jessie’s miscarriage. She’d recommended the yearlong wait before they attempted another pregnancy, and by that time, she and Luke were having problems, so she’d stayed on the pill. But the doc knew how devastated Jessie had been about losing that baby. It gave her a rush of gratitude that the doctor knew losing another child, albeit not one from her womb, might cause her sorrow.
Would it? Or will you be glad to hand this boy back to his mother?
The nurse came in. “He gets this one in the butt, so you’ll need to take his diaper off.”
Brandt plucked Landon from Jessie’s lap, turned the kid over his knee as he pulled back the diaper tape, exposing Landon’s left buttock. He held the squirming boy firmly as the nurse swooped in with—holy crap—a really big needle and jabbed Landon’s tiny butt cheek.
Landon screamed bloody murder.
The nurse was fast. She pressed on a Spider-Man bandage on the spot and Brandt had the diaper refastened in a hurry.
Landon practically jumped into Jessie’s arms. Her stomach clenched, seeing him so scared. She slipped his clothes on, trying to calm him. When she looked up, Brandt had the oddest expression. “What?”
“Don’t get mad, okay? But you’re good with him. Better than I thought you’d be.”
Jessie didn’t snap off a smart comment, it’d serve no purpose. She hefted him up onto her hip. She winced.
“I’ll get him, Jessie.”
“I’m fine. I’ll wait here with him. Just pay the bill and I’ll meet you back at my house.”
“No, Mom. I understand you wanna see him, but he won’t be much fun with an ear infection. Okay.
I’ll ask her. Yes, I promise. Bye.”
Brandt tossed his cell on the seat and rubbed his eyes. Jesus, he was tired. It’d been a long couple of days. Traveling, a funeral, the guilt of leaving Jessie alone with Landon. He wanted to drink a couple of beers, watch TV and crash. But that probably wasn’t in the cards tonight.
Plus, he had a surprise for Jessie. Things had been going great between them today, up until the point she pushed him out of the doctor’s office. Her text requesting items they needed from the store had been curt, but texts often were, so he wondered what kind of mood she’d be in. He grabbed the grocery bags and headed inside her trailer to find out.
First thing he noticed was the quiet. And the heavenly smell.
Jessie tossed a quick glance over her shoulder. “How were the roads?”
“Need a beer?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” He set the bags on the kitchen table. “Landon sleeping?”
Brandt moved in behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, which were hunched up by her ears. She immediately relaxed a little. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here the last couple days. Especially since Landon has been sick.” She hadn’t shrugged him off, so he kept his hands right where they were. “Tell me something, Jess. Have you thought about backing out of this deal?”