“That parcel of Charlene’s land.” Dalton reached into his back pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “Got her notarized intent to sell. We didn’t get it as cheap as I would’ve liked. Five hundred acres with highway access. Plus she’s giving us the option of buying some of the corrals and equipment.”

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Tell just stared at his younger brother, a mix of pride and fear filling him. “But how?”

A sheepish grin stole over his face. “I’ve been takin’ advantage of your workhorse ways as much Brandt has. But it’s paid off for all us. We’ll own that land free and clear.”

“Free and clear? Where’d you get the money?”

“From poker tournaments. When you stopped goin’ with me, I upped my bets and stopped playin’ it safe. In the last year and a half I…ah—” he laughed self-consciously, “—been flyin’ to Vegas in addition to hitting all the big tournaments around here. And I’ve done well.”

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Tell frowned. “But you didn’t take money out of our joint account.”

“Yes I did. I took out half over a long weekend. Used it as seed money and doubled it in three days. So I returned the money and have been usin’ the profit from that to gamble with.” Dalton held up his hand. “No, I ain’t addicted to gambling. It was a tool to get us what we needed. And a way to prove myself.”

“Dalton. You’ve gotta know…” How did he say this without getting his brother’s back up? “I never expected that from you.”

“Which was why I needed to do it. Look, Brandt is the oldest, you’re the smartest and I’ve always been the youngest. That’s how everyone sees me.” He kicked a clod of dirt. “I needed to prove to myself and to you guys that I could contribute something to the running of the ranch besides manual labor. Money is something we always need.”

“Amen to that.” Tell elbowed his brother. “Ya little lyin’ sack of shit. How much money you got squirreled away?”

Dalton grinned. “Plenty. Even after buyin’ the land. We’ll bring Brandt in on the plans for the feedlot, but I think we’d better keep it from everyone else until it’s a done deal.”

“I hear ya. But I gotta ask if Rory Wetzler has anything to do with your reason to keep it on the down low?”

“Partially. I just don’t want our cousins to get a jump on our new enterprise. But I did hear an interesting bit of gossip from Ben yesterday morning. I guess Rielle is scrambling to find another place to live because Gavin got sole custody of Sierra and he’s movin’ to Sundance. In the next couple weeks before school starts.”

“Holy shit. Really? That’s a shocker. It’s gotta make Ben and Quinn happy though.”

“We’ll see. Gavin ain’t exactly a McKay—in more ways than one. I guess Sierra has been runnin’ with a bad crowd and Gavin has had it.”

This was the opening Tell had been looking for. “Speaking of running with a bad crowd… I heard an interesting rumor about you awhile back.”

Dalton looked him in the eye as he swigged from the water jug. “What did you hear?”

“You were havin’ some sort of gang bang in a motel in Hulett, where you were the bang-ee. Rumor says you had thirteen women with you, and you fucked every single one while the other women watched.”

He rolled his eyes. “Christ. No wonder the McKays have such a bad reputation for bein’ man-whores with a taste for multiple partners. Not that them rumors weren’t partially based on fact. But the facts get distorted. Big-time. Yes, I was with some women in a motel room. But it sure as fuck wasn’t thirteen. It was only three.”

“Only?” Tell repeated.

“This is gonna sound really weird, but two of the chicks were lesbians.”

“And the third?”

“The woman I’d been seein’. Willa.”

Tell frowned. “This is the first time you’ve mentioned her.”

Dalton focused on digging a rock out of the dirt with the toe of his boot. “That’s because I ain’t exactly proud of her. I met her and her friends in a strip club. That right there shoulda been my tip-off they liked T and A a little too much. Willa had just gotten out of a relationship and was lookin’ to have some fun. Right up my alley. She pitched this foursome idea to me. The horny bastard that I am, I agreed.

“It was fuckin’ bizarre, bro. After I was with each one of them, then they were with each other. Doin’ stuff I ain’t ever seen even in porn. And then it was like I wasn’t even in the room. Willa dumped me Saturday night. I shoulda let it go but I didn’t. That’s when she told me she was goin’ back to her ex. Her ex-girlfriend.”

“No,” Tell breathed.

“Yep. Evidently I’m so fuckin’ bad in bed that I can turn a woman back into bein’ gay.”

“Come on. You don’t really believe that.”

He kicked a clump of clover. “I don’t know what to believe anymore. And as long as I’m confessing shit, you oughta know… I had a pretty good lyin’ streak goin’ there over the years about how many chicks I banged. Pretending to be a McKay stud who knew everything about sex backfired on me big-time. I ain’t gonna go into details about what happened, ’cause it’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done and I have been forgiven by the person involved. In the meantime, I’ve been tryin’ to get all the sexual experience I’d been pretending to have. Which is how I ended up doin’ it with three lesbians. I should just stick to poker. I’m one helluva lot luckier in cards than I am in love.”

Seeing his little brother so dejected and his face so red from embarrassment, Tell attempted to lighten the mood. “So Dalton and three lesbians walk into a strip club…”

Dalton said, “Fuck you,” but he smiled. “That brings me to the next point. I was at the Golden Boot Saturday night. Georgia saw me make a drunken idiot of myself and she took my keys.”

“You were gonna drive?”

“I guess. She took me to her place to sleep it off.” Dalton looked him in the eye. “I take back the shitty things I said about her. She didn’t have to help me; she coulda let me sleep it off in my truck. But takin’ in a stupid cowboy like me showed her generous nature. That’s not the type of thing a user does. She’s sweet and fierce and smart and loyal. She is something special.”

Don’t I know it.

“You’re a lucky guy, bro. She’s perfect for you.”

“Did she say anything about me?”

“Just that you’re the greatest guy she’s ever known. She seemed sorta sad. Did I miss something? Why weren’t you guys together Saturday night after the rodeo?”

“No. We had a big blow-up when I found out she never intended to stay here permanently.”

Dalton raised his eyebrows. “You’re just gonna let her go?”

“It’s not like I’ve got a choice.”

“Bullshit. Don’t be a dumb-ass, Tell. Convince her to stay. Wow her with some of that McKay mojo I’m lacking.”

He snorted. “Right. Like that’ll work.”

“Then maybe you oughta tell her the truth.”

“Which is?”

“Christ. You’re really gonna make me say it? Tell her that you love her and can’t live without her.”

It couldn’t be that simple. Could it?

It was worth a shot.

Tell grinned at his brother. “Thanks, bro. You know, you’ve got a romantic streak. There may be hope for you yet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m goin’ to get my woman.”

Tell cleaned up and dressed in better clothing than he normally wore on a Monday afternoon. On the drive into town, he cautioned himself not to ask what the hell she’d been doing whoopin’ it up in the bar after the shit that’d gone down between them at the rodeo Saturday afternoon. He composed snappy comebacks—a mix of charm, snark and wit. Then he practiced keeping his face a blank mask when he imagining her saying it was a fling, I’m returning to Dallas and never coming back, but he knew he’d never pull it off because he’d be crushed beyond repair if she left.

So what would he do to get her to stay?

What would it take for him to follow her?

He’d never considered that option. Could he seriously pull up stakes and leave his family and everything he’d ever known? Just to be with a woman?

Yes. If that woman was Georgia.

Whoa there. Before he started packing his shit and looking for cowhand jobs in Texas, he’d better find out if that was something Georgia wanted.

Tell fought a massive wave of anxiety as he knocked.

The door swung open and Georgia froze.

His heart began that slow, sad tumble to his feet until Georgia threw herself into his arms and squeezed him so tightly his heart stopped beating entirely. “Cowboy hottie, I am so happy to see you. If you wouldn’t have come to me today, I was gonna drive out to your place.”

“That right?”

“Yes.” Georgia tugged him into the living room and shoved him on the couch. “I didn’t call you because I had some important things to deal with first, not because I was waiting to hear from you first. We’re beyond that behavior, aren’t we?” She perched on the edge of the coffee table, facing him.

“I hope so. What’s goin’ on?”

“I know we need to talk about a lot of stuff. But before we get all this out in the open, I have to ask you one thing.” Her eyes searched his. “Did you mean it when you told Deck that you wanted me for keeps?”

With all my heart. With everything I am. “Yep.”

“You sure? This thing with us was supposed to be a fun diversion with some smokin’ hot sex thrown in and it turned into so much more than that. I don’t think either of us was prepared for how fast everything changed. Although it’s pretty obvious it never was casual. It’s always been something special between us. Something I’ve never felt.”

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