“You’re just saying that because I don’t fight over the remote with you the way Jenn does.”
“What does she see in those blasted reality shows?”
“Beats me.” AJ smoothed the bedcovers and straightened the stack of Western Horseman magazines. “You need an extra pair of socks?”
“Stop fussing, child. Lord, you’re as bad as me. Now I understand how smothered you must’ve felt all those years.”
AJ looked up. “What years?”
“When you were growing up, but your daddy and I couldn’t help it, sugar. We were just so thrilled to have you in our life, our surprise baby, my early menopause gift. And how did we repay you? By slavin’ you during your teen years.” Her mother’s eyes teared up behind her glasses.
“Mama, you trying to make me cry?”
“No. Just feeling like an old fool. You finally get off the ranch to start your life and now you’re back here again, stuck taking care of me.”
She handed her a Kleenex. “My life didn’t ‘start’ when I went to school in Denver.
My life has always been right here. So stop feeling guilty or I’ll gorge on all the brownies to comfort myself.” AJ kissed her crinkled brow. “Stuck. As if. Glad I still have you to take care of.”
“I know. I miss your daddy every day too.”
Jenn’s minivan zipped up the driveway.
“I imagine you’ll be off now?”
“I promised Liza I’d swing by and look at a couple of wedding things.” A white lie.
Better than the truth of Cord McKay having his wicked way with her.
Her eight-year-old niece, Krista, shuffled in followed by her six-year-old nephew, Mason, and four-year-old Ariel. They plopped on the couch without a word—which was not normal.
“Guys? Why so glum?”
“Because I left Alan,” Jenn said from the doorway.
AJ glanced up. Jenn’s face resembled a puffer-fish. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying.
“Why don’t you guys eat the ice cream bars I brought outside while I talk to Grandma and Aunt Amy Jo.”
The kids escaped out the porch door.
“You left Alan?”
“It’s not like he hasn’t left us first.” Jenn snagged a tissue and dabbed her eyes. “I’m tired of him being on the road all the time. Alan told me if a dispatch position opened up he’d take it. The money is better and he’d be home every night. Guess what? I found out he turned one down. Last year. He didn’t even talk to me about it.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Me too. So is it okay if the kids and I stay here for awhile, Mama?”
“Absolutely, you know this is your home.”
“Thanks.” Jenn said to AJ, “Will you help me unload some of the stuff from the van?”
“Sure.” AJ looked at her mother. “Will you be okay for a bit?”
“I’m fine. Send in my babies with some of that ice cream. We’ll snuggle up and have some Disney therapy.”
Once they were outside, Jenn collapsed against AJ and sobbed.
AJ wanted to cry along with her, but she’d have to be the strong one in the family.
Again. She should be used to it by now.
Jenn pushed back and wiped her face. “Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about.” AJ unloaded suitcases and boxes. “Where is everybody gonna sleep?”
“I thought I’d take Mama and Daddy’s room since she’s not sleeping in there. I’ll put Krista and Ariel upstairs next to you, and Mason in the spare room, okay?”
“That’s fine.” They carried everything into the house.
“I need a drink.” Jenn opened the liquor cabinet. “Wanna get drunk with me? I can give you all the reasons why you shouldn’t ever get married.”
AJ glanced at the clock. “Look, sis, I have something I need to do tonight. It’ll take an hour, hour and a half tops.”
“You’re leaving? But…” Jenn’s eyes filled with tears.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can. I promise. Then we can stay up and talk as late as you want.”
She nodded and knocked back a slug of Jim Beam.
AJ grabbed her purse and was out the door.
Took ten minutes to reach Cord McKay’s place.
AJ parked in front of the big house and stayed in the car, telling herself she was admiring the stunning structure, but in truth, she was scared. How would Cord react when she told him she couldn’t stick around tonight? After she’d bailed last night? She couldn’t stand it if she’d waited all this time only to have him change his mind because their damn schedules didn’t mesh.
After she knocked on the screen door, he yelled, “It’s open.”
She hesitated in the foyer. “Cord?”
He poked his head out and pointed to the receiver next to his ear and gave her the five-minute sign.
AJ wandered into the kitchen. She’d been in this gorgeous house many times, but never when Ky wasn’t underfoot. The place was huge and she knew from listening to Keely that Cord’s ex-wife had demanded he build her a brand new log house with all the amenities when she’d agreed to relocate to Wyoming. The house boasted a formal living room and dining room, a family room, a huge master bedroom and bathroom, five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a state of the art kitchen and an outdoor hot tub. But even the ostentatious house hadn’t been enough to keep her around.
How could she walk away from the spectacular vista of gold and green fields against the backdrop of the pine-covered hills spread out beyond the sliding glass door? The view was more amazing than the house, in AJ’s opinion.
Bootsteps on the wooden floors stopped behind her. “Sorry. I was talkin’ to Ky.”
“How’s he doing?”
“Seems to be all right. They’re goin’ on a boat ride in the sound tomorrow, so he’s pretty excited.”
“How’s Dad doing?”
“Miss the squirt like I lost my right arm.”
She continued to stare out the window. “This is such a beautiful view.”
“The one good thing about this damn monstrosity.” Cord placed his hands on her shoulders. She jumped. “Relax. What’s got you so tense?”
“Family stuff. Jenn and the kids showed up, which I expected. I didn’t expect her to tell me she’d left her husband.”
Cord’s hands fell away.
Was it an automatic reaction because it brought to mind the demise of his own marriage? “I’m not surprised, things have been bad for awhile. Alan is constantly on the road driving truck. When he is home he’s not much of a husband or father. Jenn’s always pretended things’d get better, but she found out he lied to her and she’s fed up. She and the kids are moving in with us while she makes some decisions.”