No surprise Deck wouldn’t let it go.

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“She’s just like the song, ain’t she?” Deck called out. “Georgie Porgie kissed the boys and made them cry. Wasn’t there a line in there about bein’ a coward and running away? That fits you, McKay, don’t it?”

Against his better judgment, Tell wheeled back around. “You are a fucking moron. But if you really want me to beat your face in, keep it up. I’ve been waiting for this for years. We’ll see if you’re tough when your buddies aren’t holding me down so you can beat on me.”

“You ain’t man enough to take it. Never have been. Never will be.” Deck took a blatant step forward. “Are you?”

Deck didn’t expect the first punch so fast. The second punch knocked him off-balance. The third punch sent him sprawling in the dirt.

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Tell pounced on him, his fists connecting with flesh and bone. He let fly with years’ worth of pent-up rage.

Deck didn’t defend himself at all.

Unfortunately, Tell didn’t get many licks in before he was rudely ripped away from pummeling Deck’s face.

“What in the world is goin’ on here?” the man demanded.

Tell fought the adrenaline rush and jerked out of the man’s hold. All he cared about was Georgia. Who was crouched in the dirt next to Deck. Her hand on his arm. Her angry glare aimed right at him. At him. Not at Deck.

All the breath whooshed out of Tell’s body, along with that tiniest bit of hope.

“What has gotten into you?” she hissed. “Why did you attack him?”

Just out of Georgia’s line of sight, Deck’s lips lifted into a greasy grin that showed blood on his teeth.

The fucker had won. Georgia had chosen Deck again.

Tell stepped back.

When Deck opened his big, fat mouth, Tell turned and walked away.

Georgia had an overpowering sense of loss as Tell disappeared into the crowd.

She shook her head to try and clear the confusion. She’d been right there and she had no idea what’d just happened. Tell and Deck had been arguing about some past slight and then they were on the ground, Tell throwing punches that Deck hadn’t attempted to defend.

Something was wrong with that picture.

“You gonna go running after McKay now? Dry his tears? ’Cause guaranteed the loser is crying. He always does.”

She looked at him “Why would he cry? You didn’t even land a punch.”

“Not this time.” He wiped blood from his smirking mouth.

“What do you mean, not this time?”

“You think that’s the first occasion me’n him have locked horns? Nope. But I always beat his ass down.”

“Always? When was the last time?”

“End of senior year.”

All the blood drained from her face. She remembered Tell had come to school a complete wreck. He’d claimed the damage was from getting thrown off a bucking horse. “Those bruises on his face were your doing? You went after him? Why?”

“Because he gave you a ride home and he knew better than to touch what didn’t belong to him.”

“You stranded me at school. He drove me home. That was it.”

Deck shrugged. “Not according to him. He tracked me down, said you were miserable and cryin’ because of me and that you deserved someone better, so I oughta leave you alone.”

She backed away. “I had no idea.”

“Of course you didn’t. Even McKay ain’t stupid enough to brag about getting the shit kicked outta him.”

Georgia wasn’t talking about the fight. She was shocked that Tell had stood up for her years ago. A girl he barely knew.

“Seeing that look on McKay’s face when I told him you weren’t sticking around? Priceless.”

God. She felt sick to her stomach and as confused as ever. “Why do you hate him so much?”

“I don’t hate him. I just like putting him in his place.”

So it hadn’t been about her. Just another example of Deck getting his kicks out of being a bully. And Deck knew she’d take the side of the guy on the receiving end of punches, not the side of the guy throwing them. She’d played into his hands perfectly.

“The committee can hold on to my check for another week or so, right?”

Georgia refocused on her asshole ex-husband. “I guess. Why?”

“Me’n Tara-Lee are movin’ to New Mexico.”

“What? When did this come about?”

“As soon as Robert gave me money from the sale of the hog farm.”

“Is my dad going with you?”

Deck snorted. “No. Why would he?”

“Because he’s been like a father to you.”

“Whoa. Robert ain’t my dad. And it’s always been a little creepy how he acted like he was.”

But only up to the point where it benefited Deck, when Robert forked over a pile of cash to a guy he’d considered his son. “After all my dad did for you? You’re just gonna take the money and run?”

“I earned every penny of that money for the years I slaved at that hog farm,” he retorted hotly. “Robert and I are friends, Georgia, but mostly we’re business partners. Now the business is sold, we’re parting ways.”

“Business partners?” she repeated. “You’ve always been much more than that.” Hadn’t they?

Deck shook his head. “I like Robert. He’s a great guy. I know you need someone to blame for how things ended up with your father after RJ died, but your dad didn’t choose me. Your mom left. You left in mind and spirit months before your body did. Robert didn’t have anyone else but me. I never tried to take RJ’s place, Georgia. I never tried to take yours, either. Robert’s been a broken man for a long time. Maybe it’s time you step up to the plate and help put him back together.”

Deck’s accusations settled in and he walked away for good.

Georgia had a weird punch of anxiety when she pulled up to the house she hadn’t seen in years. The house she’d fled from and never looked back.

It’s concrete and wood. Neither the structure nor the memories contained within have power over you.

As she started up the sidewalk, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She saw her father sitting on a pile of tires, staring at the house. Even from a hundred feet away, an aura of defeat surrounded him.

“Dad?”

He turned his head toward her as she erased the distance between them. “Georgie?”

Her retort, “Does anyone else call you Dad?” came out a little harsh.

“Nope.”

“I saw Deck at the Devil’s Tower Rodeo. I’m a little shocked he’s just up and moving to New Mexico.”

He grunted.

“Were you surprised he’s leaving?”

“Nope. Deck’s been restless and lookin’ for an exit since he knocked up Tara-Lee. After nearly nine years, we were both ready to move on.” He spit a stream of tobacco juice on the ground and squinted at her. “What brings you here?”

“I came to see if you’re okay.”

“I see you’ve still got that sweet streak you inherited from your mother.” He sighed. “I’m not okay. Haven’t been for quite a while. I’m tired. Some days it’s just too much. And now… It ain’t like I’ve got anywhere to go.”

Georgia didn’t know what to say. Her father was the most closemouthed person she’d ever met. So he must really be in distress if he was opening up to her.

“Things between you and Mom…?”

“Irina ain’t invited me to live with her in Boulder if that’s what you’re asking. I’d go in a heartbeat if I thought there was a chance she’d take me back. But I’m sure you don’t wanna hear about that.” He squinted at her. “Today was the last rodeo for that PR company you work for?”

Who had he heard that from? She hadn’t told him and it wasn’t common knowledge. “Yes.”

“So when are you going back to Dallas?”

The idea of getting in her car, leaving Tell and Wyoming, made her stomach hurt, her eyes burn and her heart heavy. Her life had changed these past months. Changed for the better. Although if she talked to Tell, she doubted he’d see any change in her at all, since she’d kept the truth from him again.

“Maybe the question oughta be are you going back to Dallas?”

“I don’t know. My time here has turned out differently than I imagined.”

“Has Tell McKay played a part in that?”

No reason to lie now. “A big part.”

“He’s a good man. I saw him…makin’ sure you were okay on the anniversary of RJ’s death.”

She stared at him in shock. “Tell never said anything about you being at the cemetery.”

“I wasn’t there for you any more than you were there for me. It’s a day I’d like to forget, but I can’t seem to, no matter how hard I try.” He pointed to her tattoo. “Your brother would like you done that in his memory.”

Georgia saw his expectation—he wanted her to say something poignant, but the words wouldn’t come.

“Look, I’m sure whatever you decide about stayin’ here or returning to Dallas, Barbara will understand. She’s a tough old broad, but she’s able to look at things from different angles. It’s why she’s been so successful.”

The hair on the back of Georgia’s neck stood up. “Whoa. Are you telling me you know Barbara Wyrelinski?”

Her father nodded.

“How long have you known her?”

A pause. A heavy sigh. “Forty-some years. She’s the sister of my army buddy who got killed in Vietnam. She sorta adopted me as her big brother. We both had interest in the western lifestyle and we stayed in touch.”

“Why didn’t I know that?”

“I’ve been around the world and I’ve got lots of friends you aren’t aware of,” he said tightly.

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