When Dalton opened his mouth to protest, Brandt sent him a death glare.
Ben did call Quinn. He was pissy, in that silent, simmering silent way of his, which bothered Ben far worse than if Quinn had yelled and screamed.
The Wetzlers’ place was in view and against his better judgment, Ben pulled into the drive.
The trio of dogs yapped, but he shooed them aside, as he started up the porch steps.
Rielle stepped outside, and leaned against the porch support, her expression a mix of annoyance and wariness.
“I thought we had a deal, Rielle.”
“We had no deal.” She folded her arms over her chest. “I thought what we talked about was confidential.”
“Then how come your McKay cousins showed up, all charming cowboy smiles, with the aw-shucks, we’re all just neighbors attitude as they were mentally leveling my goddamn creek front and trying to decide how many cows they could run?”
“I’m not my cousins, Ree. You know that. I thought we were friends.”
“I thought so too.” She tossed her head, trying to keep the wind from her face. “But you have enough friends these days. New friends.”
“Don’t play that game. I know you’re sleeping with Ainsley Hamilton. I’ve seen her car at your place several times in the last few weeks. And isn’t it a coincidence the bank she runs wouldn’t lend me the money I needed to keep my land? But I’ll bet she was more than happy to loan money to you so you could buy it.”
“So you’re what? Punishing me?”
“This isn’t about you, McKay.”
“I didn’t get you into the financial mess you’re in,” he retorted hotly, “and you don’t honestly believe I had dishonorable intentions when I offered to help bail you out of that situation.”
Rielle shivered. “I didn’t know what to believe. That was the problem.”
“Who’d you sell to?”
It appeared she wouldn’t answer and then she said, “I sold it to Gavin.”
Ben’s mouth nearly hit the porch slats. “Gavin? As in my brother Gavin?”
“Yes. He made me an offer…the same day you did, actually. I told him the same thing I told you. I’d think about it. Your cousins coming by last week made my decision. I called Gavin, we came to a verbal agreement and he paid off my note, that day, in its entirely, in cash. He’s having his real estate lawyer draw up the terms of sale.”
“Jesus. And you just trust him? You don’t know him, Ree. Not like you know us.”
She glared at him. “I’m not stupid, Ben. I’ve hired my own attorney to look over the agreement, and you can bet your ass that lawyer is not Ginger McKay.” Rielle shook her head. “Sorry. That was uncalled for. You have no idea how hard this has been on me.”
“Didn’t hafta be.”
Her eyes connected with a point over his shoulder. “Did I ever tell you the last thing my daddy said to me? Don’t sell the land to the McKays.”
“But you did anyway.”
“No, I sold it to Gavin. That man is about as far from a McKay as you can get.”
Stung by her cutting words, he shot back, “Sorry we’ve been such horrible neighbors for the last thirty years. Bet you won’t miss that.”
“Don’t say that,” she implored. “This is just business.”
Hadn’t Dalton and Tell said the same thing?
“Besides, I’m not going anywhere.”
“What?” Ben stared at her suspiciously. “You’re not moving out and Gavin is moving in?”
“No. Gavin agreed to divide the land. The creek front is mine so eventually I’ll be able to build on it. Since he’s not sure of his plans, long-term or short-term, I’ll continue living in the house just like I’ve been.”
“So nothin’ has changed for you,” he said dully.
“Everything has changed for me.”
Ben was at a loss. Feeling betrayed on many levels, by his cousin’s accusations, by his longtime friend, and by his brother. And since he didn’t know what to say, he turned and walked away.
Rielle’s shouted offer to finally pay him for the beds fell on deaf ears.
So he’d called his father to share the love. “Ben. What’s up?”
“My curiosity mostly.”
“Well, your tone don’t match your words. You sound mad as hell, son.”
“I am.” He counted to fifty. “I just left Uncle Casper’s house where I had to keep Brandt, Tell and Dalton from beating the tar outta Colt.”
“And you don’t seem particularly surprised about that.”
“Not much surprises me these days.”
“It sure shocked the shit outta us,” he snapped.
“Before you chew my ass, lemme say Casper’s private business is not mine to share with you or with them.” A pause and Ben heard the squeak of his dad’s office chair. “So I take it Casper’s boys just found out?”
Ben’s knuckles turned white on the steering wheel. “Yeah. Kane called me to run interference and keep fists from flying.”
“That responsibility always seems to fall to you, don’t it? Bein’ the one to smooth things over and calm them hotheads down.”
He was surprised his father had noticed.
“Look, none of us have been on the best terms with Casper, especially in the last year. But he is my brother. You know you’d keep your brother’s secrets too.”
“Some of my brothers are better at keeping secrets than others, aren’t they,” he snarled. “Did you know?”
“Do I know what?”
“Don’t play stupid, it just pisses me off.”
“Like you calling me, throwing accusations left and right is pissin’ me off? Why don’t you just spit it the hell out.”
“Did you know Gavin bought the Wetzler place?”
“What? Gavin? Wait. Since when has it been for sale?”
“It wasn’t.” Ben explained what’d gone down. His dad stayed silent for so long Ben wondered if they’d gotten cut off. “You there?”
He cleared his throat. “Yeah. I’m just stunned. Gavin hasn’t said a word about it to me or to Vi.” Ben’s relief was short lived, however, when his dad said, “But I’m takin’ this as a good sign.”
“You consider it a good sign that Gavin would purposely fuck us over?”
“I’m gonna ignore that smartass remark bein’s you’re not acting at all like yourself. What I meant was I’m takin’ this as a sign that Gavin wants to be closer to us. He’s interested in becoming part of the family.”
“Family doesn’t do shit like this to each other, and if he’s that type of guy, then I sure as fuck don’t want him as part of my family.”
A deep paternal sigh. “You don’t mean that. Have you talked to Gavin about any of this?”
“No. I don’t care if I ever talk to Gavin again.”
“Don’t tell me I don’t mean it, because I do. This day has been a clusterfuck of epic proportions and I need a goddamn drink. Later.” He hung up.
When Ben reached his house, his temper had pegged overload. Needing to blow off steam, he roughhoused with his dogs. He chopped and stacked firewood. After a long, hot shower, he’d calmed down and poured himself a hefty shot of Pendleton whiskey.
Ace and Deuce dozed by the woodstove. Ben had always kept his shit moods to himself, dealt with them himself. It worked for him.
But wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to share this with? Someone to listen to you, verbally soothe you and then you could lose yourself in the heat, softness and surrender of her body to yours?
Just another fucked up situation in his life. Taking out the damn loan in the first place is what had caused him to lose Ainsley. All because he wanted to do something good, something helpful for his family. All his family saw was the loss of the land. There’s no way he could make them understand he’d lost something far more valuable.
Grabbing the bottle, he flopped in front of the TV and flipped the channel to Wheel of Fortune. But he’d gotten so used to watching the show with Ainsley in the last month, it felt pathetic sitting by himself, guessing the puzzles out loud.
Halfway through the program his phone buzzed. He didn’t recognize the number, but he answered it anyway. “Ben McKay.”
“Don’t hang up. Please hear me out.”
“Start that fast talking bullshit you do so well, cause you’ve got about thirty seconds.”
“Charlie called me, mad as hell, and chewed my ass. I assure you I didn’t want any of you to find out this way.”
“What way were we supposed to find out? The McKays are a big family in a small community. Word gets around.”
“Look, I overheard your conversation with Rielle the morning after Chase’s event. You made her a fair offer.”
“But you swooped in and made her a better one.”
“Yes. But not for the reason you think. I bought it as an investment.”
Ben laughed harshly. “So you’re giving up life as an Arizona real estate tycoon to run a B&B in nowhere Wyoming?”
“Not hardly. I’m not big on repeating others mistakes. I’ve seen Rielle struggling with the B&B since I first stayed with her. When she asked for advice I gave it.”
“Big surprise that your advice to her was to sell…to you.”
Gavin sighed. “I’m in real estate. I make decisions like this all the time. It’s nothing personal.”
“It’s goddamned personal to me. My family has been tryin’ to buy that for three decades and once again it’s in a stranger’s hands. Now you’re giving my folks the impression that you’re moving to Wyoming, changing your last name to McKay, which we both know ain’t true.”