Murphy Reynolds knew he would never see Callie McKenna again unless she was coming home to put her father in a grave—which was why he wasn’t surprised when he watched her pull up to the big house in a rented SUV at one o’clock in the morning.
He’d heard Parker say something earlier in the day to Teresa, the housekeeper, about getting Callie’s room ready. That’s when he’d braced himself for the inevitable.
He wasn’t surprised she was staying with Parker. She and Liz had been on the outs for some time, and even though she had her childhood room in the new house, the times she’d been home since she left, she’d stayed with Parker. Probably to avoid most of the rest of the family.
She was good at avoidance.
Standing in the doorway of his apartment over the barn, he knew she couldn’t see him as she made her way toward the house. He purposely stood in the shadows, his porch light off. She wore a suit—short skirt and jacket, heels. Damn, red spiked heels. He wondered if she’d come directly from work. She was older, of course, and more womanly. Not the teenager who left the ranch and rodeo behind ten years ago for college in Ohio.
In a word, sophisticated.
But she was tired, he could tell. Her shoulders slumped and her gait slow. She moved across the porch and he watched her enter the house—her sister and brothers silhouetted by the big ranch-house door inside, until she closed it behind her with a sharp smack of wood-on-wood.
He stood there a little longer, feeling almost like a voyeur, watching them through the large back window.
It did not appear to be a pleasant discussion.
Not good. He headed back inside his apartment and silently shut the door behind him.
The old man was going to get his girl back home, one way or another. Death sure had a way of bringing family together under one roof. For a while, at least.
He didn’t figure Callie would stick around long after the funeral.
Murphy didn’t want to predict bad things, but James McKenna wasn’t going to make it. He knew the second he’d laid eyes on him earlier in the week, when they’d found him lying next to the fence. Parker had turned the old man’s body over. Murphy saw the ash-gray of his skin, the blank look in his dilated eyes, and noticed the slow and shallow breathing in his chest. He was barely there then, four days ago.
He was holding on now only by wires and tubes.
God, how he hated that the family was going to have to make that decision. He also hated to see the old man go. James McKenna had taken him under his wing and given him a job when it seemed no one else in the state of Montana wanted to take a risk on him. But he’d laid low, worked hard, and stayed loyal—and James kept giving him raises and more responsibility. He’d do anything for James McKenna. Give up anything he could to save him, if he could.
He loved the man that much.
He’d loved Callie, too. Probably still did.
She was a whip-smart cowgirl who set his insides on fire every time their eyes met. He could watch her for hours practicing her runs, hugging those barrels like no other. He loved her spirit, her tenacity, and her spunk—which got her in trouble more than once with Liz and even her father—but she knew what she wanted and went after it.
Unfortunately, what she wanted, wasn’t him. She wanted out.
He dreamed every night of taking her into his arms and making her his, forever. Loving her so much he could convince her to stay. But he’d been older, rougher around the edges, and unsure of himself. He’d been in trouble with the law. He’d come from white trash on the other side of the tracks. She was so much better.
He never really acted on his feelings—until the one time he felt it was safe enough.
She’d just turned eighteen. He’d waited for that day. But then—
Well, she’d made it damned clear.
That night was a turning point. The night he’d locked up his heart and thrown away the key.
For ten long years it was easy to put it all aside while she was gone. He tried to move on and find someone else—there was no other woman out there to measure up. Like Parker, he decided to take a go at life alone. Live a life he was in control of, right there on the ranch.
Safer that way.
When she’d come home for an occasional holiday, he’d conveniently made himself scarce. Too bad he hadn’t had time to do that today, but even if he’d known, he wouldn’t have left. He needed to be here to see the old man off to a greater place.
Even if it meant seeing Callie.
Shouting made him jerk his head back toward the door. He opened it just as he heard Callie yell, “You are not the boss of me!”
Shaking his head, he stepped out on the deck and watched as Callie started the truck. She backed up and whipped the vehicle around the barn, throwing up dust and gravel in her wake. She flew up the road toward the dark mountain.
He glanced down to Parker, who stood hands on hips, watching her taillights.
“I’ll go,” he shouted.
Parker looked up and shook his head. “No, I’ll do it. I’d let her go if it weren’t for those damn wolves. I’m not sure how much ranch sense she has any more.”
Murphy snorted. “Go back in with the rest of them. Get some sleep. I’ll make sure she’s okay.”
Parker nodded. “You sure? I don’t think I can deal with one more thing today.”
Murphy knew it. These past few days had taken their toll on all of them, but he knew Parker was feeling the stress mighty deep. Even though he didn’t show it. “I’m sure.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish