“And promise me you won’t do anything until you’ve talked to me first.”
The swinging door from the back set of stairs swung open. “I should’ve eaten before I showered because the—” Gavin stopped and looked from Ben to Rielle. “I’m sorry. Am I interrupting something?”
“No. I actually came by to talk to you since we didn’t get a chance yesterday. Rielle insisted I eat while I waited, and well, I’ll never say no to good cookin’.”
“Spoken like a bachelor.” Gavin helped himself to a cup of coffee. “But that doesn’t explain why it appears Rielle’s has been crying.”
She laughed a tad too cheerfully. “It’s from chopping onions for the quiche we’re having for lunch.”
Gavin looked like didn’t believe her, but he smiled at her anyway. “Good to know. I’d hate to have to pound on Ben if he somehow maligned your muffins.”
Rielle rolled her eyes. “Ben would never do that. He’s a good guy, honest as the day is long.”
Ben made a gagging noise.
“Plus, he knows what side his muffin is buttered on.” She winked. “If you need anything else, holler. I’ll be in my office.”
Gavin refilled his coffee and loaded his plate with a muffin and a banana.
“You seem to get along with Rielle,” Ben remarked.
“This is the third time I’ve stayed with her.”
Like that explained it. “So how long you staying?”
“I leave at six tonight on the direct flight out of Rapid City to Phoenix.” He cut the banana into precise quarters. “I’d like to stay longer, but my ex-wife can’t handle our daughter for more than a weekend so I have to be back to take Sierra to school tomorrow.”
“Don’t have a friendly relationship with your ex?”
Gavin separated his muffin into four equal sections. “If friendly fire counts, then, yes, it’s friendly.”
Ben laughed. “Sorry, you probably didn’t mean that to be funny.”
“So little is amusing about the situation that I’ll take laughter when I can get it.” He chewed and swallowed a piece of muffin, followed by a piece of banana.
“Tell me about—” my niece, “—your daughter.”
“Sierra is a typical teenage girl. Lots of drama and angst in her daily life. Her mother just adds to it by refusing to be Sierra’s parent—she prefers to be Sierra’s shopping buddy and confidante. So when Sierra comes to my house after a weekend with my ex, she argues incessantly, breaks the rules and drives me so fucking crazy I want to send her to boarding school.”
“No offense, but I’m glad I don’t have kids.”
“Ah. Therein lies the rub. After a couple days, Sierra is back to being my sweet, funny, wonderful, only slightly annoying, typical daughter.”
“At least she isn’t bratty all the time.”
Gavin ate a third bite of the muffin and banana combination. “That’s what Rielle tells me to focus on. Since she survived her daughter’s teen years, I’m hoping to survive it too.”
Ben couldn’t help but stare at Gavin as he shoved his hand through his short hair. That was the most obvious difference between him and his brothers—they all had the almost black hair color from the McKay side. But Gavin’s hair was brown and slightly curly, like their mother’s. And it was sort of freaky, to realize he had facial characteristics of Quinn, Chase and their father, almost in a perfect blend, so he didn’t look exactly like any of them, but like all of them.
“You’d think I’d be used to such scrutiny after last night.”
“Sorry. How was your portion of the dog and pony show anyway?”
“Chase was the Thoroughbred and I was the mutt they dragged home that everyone expected to do awesome tricks. I was most likely a severe disappointment.”
Whoa. That was a harsh assessment.
Gavin sighed and looked at Ben. “That was uncalled for. It’s just… Can I be blunt? I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here. It’s all still pretty surreal, this, hey, you’ve got a whole ’nother family. Especially last night. I felt like I was standing in front of one of those small clown cars, and more and more people kept pouring out, and I’m somehow related to all of them.”
The McKay family overwhelmed Ben sometimes and he’d grown up around them. He couldn’t imagine how Gavin felt. “Did anyone give you a hard time?”
“Not really. Keely was the most obviously curious. But she disappeared fast when Jack and I started talking business.”
“Keely might come on strong, but she’s fiercely loyal to all her McKay cousins. Just because you don’t have the same last name, you have the same blood, so she considers you hers too now.”
“Great. She isn’t by chance the mother of the ringleader of the McKay kid posse?”
“No. You’re probably talkin’ about Kyler. Keely is his aunt. Why?”
“That kid cornered me and asked if I was rich.”
Good thing Cord hadn’t heard that or he would’ve kicked his son’s butt. “What’d you say?”
“I told him no and asked if I could borrow five bucks.”
Ben laughed. Gavin had a better sense of humor than he’d given him credit for. But he could just tell by looking at him that the man was stressed out. “What else is goin’ on, on the family freak-out front?”
“I’ve enjoyed spending time with Charlie and Vi. Here and when they came to Arizona. It was great going to the PBR and watching Chase ride and meeting Ava. I spent yesterday morning over at Quinn’s and he gave me a tour of the ranch. Libby’s definitely got her hands full with those two kids. But as far as the rest? Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I get what you’re saying. You’re tryin’ to figure out where you fit in just our lives, and then you get thrown a hundred other puzzles pieces.”
“Do I sound like a whiner?”
“No, you sound like a man who ain’t about to get railroaded into doin’ something you’re not ready for.”
Gavin leveled a serious look at him. “I hope your family appreciates your insight, Ben. I know I do. I’d intended to swing by your place this morning to catch up, but you beat me to it.”
That mollified Ben some, although he was aware of being the last on the list since he was the least interesting of his brothers.
A muffled ringing sound became louder as Gavin pulled a cell from his front pocket. He said, “Give me a second.” Then, “Hey, sweetheart. Why are you up so early on a Sunday? Uh-huh. No. I didn’t know. Sounds like you had a good time. What’re you doing today?” He was silent for a minute and his face turned red. “No. Absolutely not. Stop. Right now. Don’t threaten or bribe or try to sweet talk me because it won’t work. My answer is no. I don’t give a sh—damn what your mother thinks. Because you are fourteen years old! Put her on the phone. Now.”
Ben wondered if he should leave the room.
A pause. “You listen to me, Ellen. If you sign the consent form, I’ll be at my attorney’s office first thing tomorrow morning, filing for sole custody of Sierra, without visitation rights. Because she doesn’t need to get her goddamn eyebrow pierced! Or her nose or her lip or her belly button. Don’t try that bullshit argument with me. End of discussion. And I’d better not see one fucking piercing on her body anywhere when I pick her up tonight, we clear? Put her back on.” Gavin paced. “Hey. No, honey, slow down. Sierra-bear, you know how she gets. It’s all right. I’m glad you called me. Of course. I miss you too. See you tonight.” He calmly shut the phone and braced his hands against the counter, letting his head hang down.
That was unexpected from Mr. Calm and Refined.
Gavin took several deep breaths, before he glanced up at Ben. “Sorry. Sometimes my ex’s sheer stupidity still astounds me. I try and get my frustration out of my system before I’m around Sierra.”
“So that wasn’t…directed at Sierra?”
Gavin looked appalled. “God no.”
“Oh.” Ben had no idea what to say.
He sighed heavily. “Great impression. Not only have I showcased my whining and sarcastic side, I’ve proven I have a quick fuse, a bad temper, a love of curse words and…”
“And?” Ben prompted.
“That’s it. Isn’t that enough?”
“Nope. I’d like to see how you act when you’re shitfaced. I bet that’s when you really let fly.”
He laughed. “I could use a shot of tequila right about now.”
“You’re in luck. It just so happens I have a great selection of tequila at my place.”
“I’ve heard all about the house you built. Charlie is really proud of you.”
His dad had been bragging on him? That was weird. But cool. “We could head over there now if you’ve got time.”
“I’d like that.” Gavin picked up his dishes and rinsed them in the sink.
That surprised Ben too. He assumed a rich guy like Gavin was used to having maids around and people picking up after him all the time.
And what would Gavin assume about you?
He was hoping the time for assumptions was a thing of the past.
After his monumentally shitty day, Ben didn’t bother going inside his house. He headed straight to his woodshop, needing to connect with a part of his life that gave him joy. An activity that was solely his, a talent that owed nothing to the ranch, or to his family or even the club.
He tried not to think about Rielle’s evasion when he’d asked her where she was in the decision process. He shoved aside his worry he’d somehow fuck up this land deal and his cousins—no, his whole family—would blame him. He tamped down his resentment that Dalton and Tell didn’t balk at all when he’d shared the amount of cash they’d need to get Rielle’s loan current. When had he become the poor relation? And why the hell did that bother him so much?