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Long Time Gone

Lorelei James

  Chapter One

  Calvin McKay wasn’t a fan of weddings.

  But since his twin brother Carson was getting hitched in two days, he had to slap on a smile and deal with all the crap that went along with it.

  At least there wasn’t a bachelor party. It wasn’t Carolyn, his brother’s bride-to-be, who’d put the kibosh on that, but the groom himself. Carson claimed everything leading up to his nuptials had been one long-ass bachelor party, and Cal didn’t disagree.

  From what he could tell, the ceremony would be a small, simple affair. Nothing like Cal’s buddy Joey’s wedding. Such pomp and circumstance. He’d expect something like that for the president, the queen, or the pope—not for a sheep rancher from Hulett marrying a hairdresser from Cheyenne. But the bride’s daddy owned the largest western clothing store in Wyoming and he’d spared no expense for the wedding.

  But by the day’s end, Cal had pitied Joey. His wife’s family was a bunch of assholes. So he couldn’t help but wonder… Had Joey overlooked that because he loved her?

  Cal had already been asked to overlook the shitty things Carolyn’s family had done to his brother. That hadn’t sat well with him, but he’d agreed not to make waves. So he’d rather be anywhere else than headed to meet another member of the West family.

  Although if this sister looked anything like the beautiful Carolyn, it wouldn’t be a chore to stand across from her on the altar on Sunday afternoon. It’d be a bonus if she had those same great tits. Cal shot his brother a look and bit back a smirk. He’d have two black eyes if Carson had a clue what he’d just been thinking.

  “I need some alone time with Caro to talk about some stuff,” Carson said. “So you can entertain the kid sister for us, right?”

  Kid sister. Great. “Sure.”

  By the time they pulled up, Carolyn was already waiting for them outside the ice cream shop. Alone. Maybe her sister had decided not to come.

  Cal knew he couldn’t be so lucky. He had a strange feeling about this.

  Carson bailed out of the truck so fast he’d left the keys in the ignition and the driver’s door open. Cal opted not to watch his brother stake his claim on his fiancée, right there in the damn parking lot. After he shut his brother’s door, he ambled to the front entrance and waited for them to end their reunion.

  The happy couple finally unclenched their mouths and strolled toward him, arms still wrapped around each other. Seeing Carson acting so possessive with Carolyn just meant it was ten times more fun to watch him blow his top when he thought someone was horning in on his territory—even his own brother.

  Carolyn said, “Hey, Cal.”

  “Hey, Carolyn, You’re lookin’ good today.” He pushed off the wall and moved in closer as if he planned to hug her. He swore he heard Carson growl. “You sure you wanna marry this guy?” He jerked his thumb toward his twin. “He’s kinda bossy. I’m much more laid back.”

  “I’m gonna lay you out flat if you keep tryin’ to steal my woman, jackass,” Carson snarled.

  He shrugged, then offered Carson a conniving smile. “She’s fair game until you say them vows, so I just want her to be sure.”

  The way Carolyn looked at Carson, her face shining with adoration, and said, “I’m sure,” gave Cal a little pang of envy.

  “Your loss.”

  Carson muttered something about Cal losing his teeth as he led the way into the Ice Cream Palace.

  The first person Cal saw was her.

  One look at the tiny blonde standing in the middle of the room and he knew he was in trouble.

  Big trouble.

  Life-altering trouble.

  He’d never thought that bolt of lightning shit would ever happen to him, but it had. He wondered if anyone else smelled ozone.

  “Sweet mother of god, I think I’m in love.”

  “Oh, for Christsake,” Carson muttered beside him.

  “Please tell me that’s your sister,” Cal said to Carolyn.

  Cal’s focus remained so intently on the hot little number not-so-innocently licking an ice cream cone that Carolyn had to snap her fingers in front of his eyes to get his attention. “Hey, McKay, focus.”


  “Yes, that’s my younger sister. She’s sixteen. Do you hear me? Six. Teen.”

  Cal managed to tear his gaze away from the curvaceous blonde, giving Carolyn an ornery grin. “Well, darlin’, she ain’t always gonna be sixteen.”

  The blonde sauntered over, those big blue eyes focused entirely on him.

  Sweet heaven, she packed a powerful punch.

  She said, “Please tell me you’re not my future brother-in-law?”

  “I’m not. But darlin’ girl, I’m damn near certain I’m your future husband.”

  She peered at him from beneath lowered lashes. “Then maybe you and me better get acquainted…?”

  “Calvin McKay. You can call me Cal. Better yet, call me anytime you want.”

  “Jesus, Cal,” Carson complained. “Give it a rest.”

  After Carolyn elbowed Carson in the ribs, he offered the woman his hand. “Kimi? Glad to meet you. Caro has told me a lot about you.”

  Kimi. The name suited her. Short and cute.

  “Likewise.” Kimi’s gaze left Cal’s and her eyes narrowed on Carson. “Make my sister happy or I’ll gut you like a trout.”

  “Kimi!” Carolyn exclaimed.

  But Kimi ignored her sister, and focused on Cal again with such intensity his dick got hard. “Let’s leave the lovebirds alone and you can tell me why such a handsome man as yourself is still single.”

  “Because I was waitin’ for you.” Cal slipped his arm around Kimi’s shoulder. As he steered her toward the back booth, he said, “Your ice cream is melting, sweetheart. You’d better eat up.”

  “Would you like a taste?” she said.

  “Of you? Absolutely. I don’t give a damn about the ice cream.”

  Kimi laughed. “You are bad.”

  “Nope. I’m just testing the waters to see if you are.”

  When Cal tried to scoot next to her in the booth, she shoved him back out. “Not so fast, partner. Sit on your own side.” She raised an eyebrow. “And put your hands on the table where I can see them.”

  Cal grinned. So the little flirt wasn’t a pushover. “So let’s start with the basics.”

  “Okay. Like what?”

  Like I want you to tell me everything about you.

  Maybe he’d better take a broader approach. “I don’t know much about your family. I sure had no idea that Carolyn had such a luscious—I mean lovely—little sister.”

  She rolled her eyes and kept nibbling on her cone.

  “I do know there’s some long-standing feud between the Wests and the McKays. When your brother Harland found out about Carolyn datin’ Carson, he beat the shit out of him.”

  “Classy of him, doncha think? Who else gets a welcome to the family like that?” she said with complete sarcasm. “Carolyn said my other brothers were just as bad with threats and crap.”

  “All of them were except for Thomas. He was decent.”

  Kimi looked over her shoulder and then back at him. “Between us? I think Thomas will end up giving Carolyn away since my dad ain’t gonna show for the wedding.”

  “You think your sister knows that?”

  “Yeah. I just don’t know why it matters to her if he does or doesn’t show. It’s not like they’ve ever been close.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because our mom sent Carolyn away to Catholic school when she was still a girl. Then I pitched such a fit about missing my sister that I got sent away a year later. We only come home for the holidays and half the summer.” She frowned. “Except this year, after Carolyn graduated, my dad said there was no need for
me to come home at all. This was after my parents couldn’t be bothered to come up to Billings for Carolyn’s high school graduation. I hated how disappointed Carolyn was. I know she’ll be facing that disappointment on Sunday and once again there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.”

  Cal didn’t know what to say to that. Carson had given him the bare bones story about the West girls being sent off to school, but he’d never understood why. “I doubt our dad will show either. But Carson couldn’t give a damn.”

  Kimi smirked. “That’s where Carson and I are alike. Speaking of alike…you and Carson are twins.”


  “I wasn’t kidding about coming after him with a knife if he hurts my sister.”

  “I didn’t think you were.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “But you don’t need to worry. Carse has been all about Carolyn since the moment he saw her.”

  Kimi studied him. “What about you?”

  “What about me?”

  “Did you have your eye on my sister too? And Carson beat you to the punch in asking Carolyn out?”

  “Why would you say that?”

  “Because my sister is very pretty.”

  Cal reached out and smoothed one of Kimi’s curls behind her ear. “Must run in the family. She ain’t got nothin’ on you, Kimi West.”

  She didn’t so much as crack a smile. But she didn’t push his hand away either. “Carolyn’s a good girl.”

  “I’m sure she is. She’s good for Carson. He needs a woman like her to balance out his wildness. Carolyn seems to understand the kind of man he is.”

  “That she does. And she’s marrying him anyway.”

  Cal fought a frown.

  “Are you as wild as your twin, Calvin McKay?”

  “Why? You lookin’ for that?”

  Kimi’s answering smile hit the mark between sweet and sly.

  That grin did funny things to him. He needed to feel that smile against his lips. “What are your plans while you’re here?”

  “None besides getting my sister married off. Even after only bein’ here a few hours I’m happy me’n my aunt leave the day after the wedding.”

  “Why? Aren’t you glad to be home?”

  Kimi shook her head and sadness filled her eyes. “Wyoming doesn’t feel like home.”

  “But Montana does?”

  “No. I’d rather be there than here, though.”

  “Why? Isn’t your school like a nunnery?”

  “Yeah. But I know what to expect there. I know what to expect when I’m living with my aunt. Here…I walk on eggshells from the moment I step into the house. And it’ll make me sound like a brat, but I hate that when I’m here, I’m supposed to just keep my mouth shut and do as I’m told.”

  Cal watched as she finished her ice cream, wishing they could get back to the easy way they’d started out. After she wiped her mouth, he reached for her hand. “Since Carson already broke the rules by fallin’ for a West, it probably won’t be as big a deal if I take you out while you’re here.”

  “You’d knock on the front door, look my dad in the eye and tell him you’re there for me?”


  “While that is bold as brass, and I appreciate you bein’ willing to get the shit kicked out of you, that can’t happen, Calvin.”

  The breathy way she drew out his name was sexy as all get-out. It nearly escaped his notice that she’d said…no. His eyes narrowed. “You turnin’ me down, darlin’?”

  She placed her small hand over the top of his and traced the rough edges of his knuckles. “Good lord. Look at how big your hands are.” Then she trailed her fingers over the back of his hand and up his forearm. “How do you get such ropy muscles?”

  Since she’d touched him first, Cal cupped her cheek with his other hand, tilting her face up to meet his gaze. “Answer the question, Kimi.”

  Looking completely flustered, she said, “Can you repeat it?”

  “Will you go out with me?”

  “I suppose… But you can’t pick me up at my parents’ house.”

  While he waited for further explanation, he feathered his thumb across her cheekbone. “Why not?”

  “Carolyn is an adult so there’s nothin’ my folks could’ve done about her dating a McKay. I, on the other hand, am not of legal age, so they can keep me from seein’ you.” She smirked. “If they find out about it.”

  “So you’re sayin’…?”

  “I’ll go out with you, but only if we can meet someplace.”

  Cal wasn’t the type to sneak around. But as he looked at her, touched her, he knew he’d break all the rules for the chance to spend time with her. “I’ll agree, if you’re sure there’s no other way.”

  Kimi’s gaze roamed over his face. Whatever she saw made her smile and Cal felt like he’d passed a test. “There isn’t any other option. So how about if we plan on doing something after the wedding? I’ll have my mom’s car and none of my family will question what I’m doin’ on that day once the reception is done.”

  “Sounds like a date.” He slid his hand down and outlined her lips with the pad of his thumb. “Fair warning, darlin’. I’m gonna have my mouth all over yours as soon as we’re alone.”

  Her breath caught.

  He murmured, “You ever been kissed?”

  “Yes. Lots of times.”

  Jealousy speared his gut. “By school boys,” he scoffed.

  “So?” She attempted to retreat.

  But Cal held steady, his gaze firmly focused on that pouty mouth of hers. “So get ready to understand the difference between havin’ a boy kiss you and havin’ a man devour you,” he said with a gruff edge.

  On the next pass of his thumb across the center of her lower lip, Kimi opened her mouth and sank her teeth into the knuckle below his thumbnail. Then she pulled his hand away from her face and returned it to the table. She leaned in. “Fair warning, darlin’,” she mimicked, “I’m gonna expect a kiss that blows my hair back.”

  They were close enough that he could plant his mouth on hers and level her with a kiss so hot not only would it blow her hair back, it’d blow her skirt up too.

  A shadow fell across the table.

  “Break it up,” Carson growled. “Come on, Cal, we gotta git.”

  Cal kissed the inside of Kimi’s wrist before lowering her hand to the table. “See you Sunday, sweetheart.”

  “Keep the groom outta trouble,” Kimi said to Cal without looking up at Carson. “No strip clubs. And he’d better not be hung over when he pledges his life to my sister or I’m holding you responsible, Calvin McKay.”

  Like he had any control over his wild brother. But Cal knew Carson would be on his best behavior—at least until Carolyn bore his last name. “I’ll make sure of it.”

  Chapter Two

  Holy crap.

  Holy, holy crap.

  After Cal and Carson walked out, Kimi kept it together. But her knees were still weak when she climbed into the car. She pulled out a cigarette and hoped her sister didn’t notice how badly her hands shook as she struck the match. Besides, who’d believe one encounter with Calvin McKay had the power to affect her that profoundly? She wouldn’t have believed it herself half an hour ago.

  Carolyn slammed the door and turned to look at her accusingly.

  As usual, Kimi bristled. “What?”

  “What happened between you and Cal?”

  “Nothin’.” Such a lie. I think the man just changed my life. “We talked. Why?”

  “Well, the phrase ‘struck dumb’ doesn’t apply because Cal did more than stare at you and mumble. He was really forward.”

  “Forward?” Kimi snorted. “For godsake, Carolyn, you sound like Aunt Hulda. And maybe Cal’s actions are a McKay thing since it sounds like Carson has been pretty forward with you.”