“Can’t say as I’ll be unhappy to see the ass-end of high school.”
“Is the West family throwing a graduation party for you?”
“I told them no way and if they did I wouldn’t show up. I don’t even want to walk with my class. I can’t fucking wait to walk away from my class.”
“Are your parents coming to the ceremony?”
Boone closed his eyes and leaned his head back into the couch. “Gives me a headache thinking about it. In fact, I’ve had a low-grade headache all day.”
Almost without thought Sierra reached out, and her fingers brushed away the thick hank of hair that perpetually fell in his eyes. She flattened her palm on his forehead. He didn’t flinch, or ask why she was touching him; he made a low groan.
“Your hand is cold, but it feels good.”
She seized the chance to study his beautiful face up close. Starting with the wide span of his jaw and the dark razor stubble that reached the hollow of his cheeks. He’d said his nose had been broken twice, but it looked straight to her. Her focus drifted to his mouth. She’d spent hours imagining the fullness and softness of his lips on hers.
Boone’s long lashes slowly lifted.
Her belly jumped. But she didn’t back away. This close she could discern the various shades of brown that swirled together to create his striking eye color. His eyes were so expressive. But she had no idea what he was thinking right now.
He’s thinking you’re a pervert and you need to get your hand off him.
She casually brushed his silky hair back and retreated.
“Thanks. It actually feels better.”
“Any time.” Seriously. I can put my hands on your face any time you need it.
“You know something?”
“This is the first time I’ve been here and you haven’t offered to feed me.”
So much for a personal moment. She smiled. “Let’s scrounge up food so you’re not sorting through piles and piles of papers on an empty stomach.”
He leveled that bad boy grin at her. “You are a taskmaster, McKay. But a promise is a promise, right?”
“Right. And I hold everyone to their promises.”
Gavin and Rielle hammered out details on the housing situation. She agreed to her name being put on the title to the house, but they’d opted to keep their original land split. Rielle retained her forty acres; Gavin kept his one hundred acres.
He’d been prepared to deal with backlash from her when he mentioned leaving the land unimproved seemed like a waste of resources. But she’d confessed part of the reason it’d remained fallow under her ownership was she hadn’t the time, money or drive to make improvements. Since he now owned it, she didn’t much care what he did with it as long as his plans didn’t encroach on her growing space.
During the spring he’d been so busy he hadn’t revisited his conversation with Dalton about future land usage possibilities. Thinking back, Gavin hadn’t gotten the impression Dalton was scheming to undercut potential lease and land expansion for his closest McKay relatives. Now that he’d received the green light from Rielle, he needed to broach the subject with his brothers.
Ben had offered to tour the area with him, but Gavin found himself calling Quinn instead. Quinn showed up with the two horses. They saddled up and began to explore, picking their way through overgrown scrub cedar, weaving around scraggly pine trees and dodging the multitude of rock outcroppings. The piece of land was small, but it took them over two hours to forge a path to the creek.
Quinn dismounted and held the reins as he led his horse through the mud to the water. “I gotta say, you’re doin’ much better on horseback, Gavin.”
“Riding at least,” Gavin said. “Saddling shouldn’t be the hardest part.”
“Neither one would be hard if you rode every day.”
Gavin followed Quinn, and Duchess didn’t fight him as much as she used to. He just hoped she didn’t try to bolt when he released the reins to let her drink. He squinted at the stream flowing in front of them. It ran higher in the spring, so it’d be harder to cross now, but not impossible. He couldn’t tell where the land Dalton, Tell and Brandt had leased started on the opposite bank.
“I figured you’d have a horse of your own by now,” Quinn commented.
“Why would I do that when all’s I have to do is call you and you bring the horses and the tack right to me?”
Quinn laughed. “True. I’m makin’ it too easy on ya. Sometimes because of your greenhorn status I have to remind myself you’re my older brother, not younger.”
“Does it bother you that people are calling me Charlie and Vi’s oldest son?”
“No. Why would it? You are their oldest son.”
Matter of fact—that was Quinn.
“Besides, I’ve never put much belief in them rules about birth order determining anything. Bunch of mumbo-jumbo if you ask me. We’ve already broken them rules by not bein’ raised together. Would we be different people if we had? Yep. But we weren’t.”
“You never had any qualms about me just showing up? What I might want? What I might do? The problems my existence caused?”
“I wasn’t worried you’d insist on havin’ a piece of the ranch as your birthright. I’m a good judge of character and yours has always been sound. I’ll admit some…concern when we first found out about you, what level of involvement you’d have with us—but that was more concern for our folks. I didn’t want Mom or Dad feelin’ less than, if that makes sense.” He shrugged. “You’re here now. You’re part of the family. We’re all glad for it.”
“I am too.” Gavin watched Quinn urge his horse back from the creek. “Now that you’ve seen this piece of dirt, what do you think?”
Quinn pushed up his hat. Then he smirked. “Honestly? I think you probably overpaid for it. By a lot.”
Gavin laughed, but he withheld additional comment, wondering if Quinn had as good a poker face as Dalton.
“Look, I know the initial purchase of this place caused a rift between you and Ben, and I’m glad you two got it sorted out. I didn’t take sides, mostly because I never understood the big push for havin’ access to this section anyway. Probably just a McKay pride thing, since it wasn’t in McKay hands, or a competition thing between Dad and Uncle Casper. If I brought Dad out here now, he’d shake his head and consider us better off for not payin’ taxes on land we can’t use for nothin’.”
A harsh assessment. “So this section doesn’t have any redeeming value?”
“I didn’t say that,” Quinn said evenly. “It just doesn’t have value for us.” He gestured to the overgrown trees along the creek bed. “It’d take one helluva lot of work to get it remotely useable. Since it’s just me’n Ben runnin’ our ranch since Dad retired, I don’t see takin’ that workload on as any kind of long term benefit.”
“You think Ben would feel the same way?”
“Probably now he would. The time of the failed land deal he was in a whole other mindset. He’s got a different life these days and his extra time is spent with Ainsley or on his furniture business. Ben won’t wanna spend months clearing brush when we’ve already got enough goin’ on to keep both of us busy fulltime. And I’d rather be with my darlin’ wife and kids than wasting time tryin’ to improve something that ain’t gonna give us much in return.” Quinn’s eyes narrowed on him. “What’s up with all the questions?”
Gavin shrugged. “Like you said, this piece of land has been a point of contention. I thought I’d gauge your interest in it now that you’ve seen it up close.”
“Fair enough. I’d put it at zero.”
“I appreciate your honesty. Between us, Dalton and Tell have some interest so I might hear them out.”
“Be interestin’ to hear what they come up with.”
And that was that. He could discuss partnership possibilities with Dalton, Tell and Brandt without guilt.
Hanging out with Quinn was very low-key. Almost peaceful. He didn’t fill the silence with meaningless chatter. Quinn was so different from Ben—yet, in some ways they were exactly alike, and strangely enough, Gavin had many of the same characteristics of his brothers. Gavin was starting to believe he had a place in this family besides being an object of curiosity and regret.
They mounted up and skirted the inner section in favor of following the fence line that ran on flatter land.
Once they returned to Gavin’s place and dealt with the horses, he handed Quinn a beer and sat next to him on the tailgate of Quinn’s truck.
“So I have to ask you something a little random.”
“That’s a scary start to a conversation, but go ahead.”
“The first time I showed up here and we had the meeting? Vi got upset telling her story and Charlie told her to calm down because of her high blood pressure.”
After lowering his beer bottle, Quinn looked at him curiously. “That is a random thing to remember. What’re you askin’?”
“How bad is Vi’s blood pressure?”
“Better than it was. Mom ain’t the type to talk about it. She don’t wanna be seen as anything less than Teflon-coated.”
That did fit with Gavin’s impression of Vi.
“Me’n Ben did get Dad to tell us that the doc had put her on high blood pressure meds and ordered a change in diet. But after a year, she lost weight, they switched meds and her health is a lot better.” He raised his bottle again and drank. “Why?”
Gavin swung his feet. “I was diagnosed with high blood pressure a few months after that meeting.”
“Surprised me too. I was a little overweight, but not bad. So I wondered if high blood pressure is hereditary, and on which side. The McKays or the Bennetts.”