Branded as trouble, p.12
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       Branded as Trouble, p.12

         Part #6 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 12

 

  “That’s your first mistake. Never show ’em fear. ” Colt gave Eliza a smacking kiss on her cheek and she giggled. “You wanna color at the table while Auntie Indy and me feed your sisters?”

  “Yay!”

  He looked at India over Eliza’s head. “The coloring books are…?”

  “All over the floor in the living room. There’s some on the stairs I think. ”

  Colt swung Eliza around for a piggyback to the living room and she squealed with delight.

  India tried to put Shannie in her high chair, but Shannie arched her back and held tighter to the big hoop earrings in India’s ear. The kid was part crow; mesmerized by shiny objects. India took out two jars of pureed green beans and two jars of carrots and put them in a shallow pan of water already on the stove.

  “Okay, Eliza, here you go. Your colors and your favorite ‘My Little Pony’ coloring book. Make me something purty as you. ”

  India turned and Colt was right there. In her face. Close enough to kiss.

  He cringed when he saw Shannie’s death grip. “Holy crap—”

  “Holy crap,” Eliza repeated.

  “She’s got hold of your earrings good, doesn’t she?”

  “Usually I don’t wear jewelry around the girls, but I forgot today until it was too late. Eliza’s the reason I let my lip piercing grow shut. ”

  “I’d wondered about that. Damn shame. It was sexy as hell. I spent lots of hours wondering what it’d be like to kiss you with that. ” He held out his hands. “Hey, baby girl. Come see your uncle. ”

  Shannie flashed a gummy grin, let go of India’s earrings, and practically dove at him.

  “Do all females fall into your arms so easily?”

  “Not all. ” Colt granted her a molten look. “Some take a little more coaxing. And that’s when the fall is so much sweeter. ”

  Now India didn’t know which was worse; dealing with three screaming kids, or one scheming man.

  But damn, what a man. If she pressed her lips together, she could still feel the surety of his mouth on hers as he’d leveled her with a steamy kiss last night.

  “Need a bib?”

  Crap. Was she…drooling? Her back snapped straight. “Why in the hell would I need a bib?”

  “The hell,” Eliza mimicked.

  “Not a bib for you, for Peyton. ”

  “Oh. ”

  Colt smiled and popped Shannie in her high chair. He chatted at both baby girls, as well as Eliza. His ease with the kids didn’t surprise India; that was why she’d called him.

  Bibs on, food warmed, India grabbed the rubber-coated baby spoons from the dishrack. “Which one do you want?”

  Without looking away, Colt said, “Eliza, does Shannie still spit her food everywhere?”

  “Uh-huh. ”

  “Then I’ll feed Peyton. ”

  “Chicken,” India taunted.

  “A chicken says, bawk bawk,” Eliza offered.

  India and Colt both laughed.

  Shannie managed to eat half her jar of beans, the rest she sprayed all over India. But Peyton wasn’t a picnic; she cried and rubbed carrots in her eyes, which made her scream.

  “I’ll give Peyton a quick bath if you watch Shannie and Eliza. ”

  “Deal. ”

  By the time India undressed the fussy baby, ran the bath water, scrubbed her, rinsed her, dried her, diapered her, clothed her and returned to the kitchen, half an hour had passed and Shannie was crying in her high chair.

  India said, “Trade ya,” handing Peyton to Colt and lifting Shannie out. She shot a look at an entirely too quiet Eliza…who blinked at her impishly as she bit into a cookie. In fact, Eliza had a whole stack of cookies in front of her.

  “Colt! Where did Eliza get—”

  “We were counting them, and since she’s bein’ so good and such a helpful big sister, entertaining Shannie Banannie, I let her have a couple extras, right, cookie monster?”

  Eliza giggled.

  “You are a s-u-c-k-e-r, Colt McKay. ”

  “Mmm. Totally when it comes to these darlin’ girls. ” He rubbed his cheek over Peyton’s head. “Babies smell so great after a bath, don’t they?”

  Seeing Colt’s softer side always made her melt a little. Where else did he show such sweetness?

  He shows it with you all the time.

  “What now?” he said.

  “Will you heat up two bottles while I bathe Shannie?”

  “Sure. ”

  Thud. Eliza stood in front of her, cookie crumbs all over her face and clothes. “Innie?”

  “What, sweetie?”

  “I wanna baf with Shannie. ”

  “Okay. But no splashing. ”

  Serious contemplation occurred before Eliza grudgingly said,

  “Okay,” and flounced up the stairs.

  Bathing two kids took twice as long, especially when the older one insisted on “helping”. The living room was quiet when the three of them trooped back downstairs.

  The TV was on low. Peyton’s bottle was empty. She was sound asleep and drooling on Colt’s shoulder. Colt didn’t mind. He wore a look of contentment India had never seen, nor expected to see. The thought he’d make a terrific father flashed through her mind, and she tamped down envy for the lucky woman who bore his children because he’d make a terrific husband too.

  Eliza bounded over and jumped next to him on the couch.

  Right next to him.

  Peyton stirred and Colt gently rubbed her back.

  “You want me to put her down?”

  “Nah. I’ll do it. Shannie’s bottle is in the pan. ” He stood and Eliza immediately scooted into his spot. “I’ll read you a bedtime story when I get back if you pick a book, cookie monster. ”

  “Huh-uh. I not sleepy. ”

  But Eliza didn’t last long. Both she and Shannie conked out at the same time. Colt tucked her in while India laid Shannie in her crib and grabbed the baby monitor.

  India flopped on the couch and closed her eyes. A few minutes later the floorboards creaked. “Man, this parenting stuff has me whupped. ”

  The couch cushions moved slightly as Colt sat beside her.

  “How long did you sign on for?”

  “Today and tomorrow. Sky and Kade will be back late tomorrow night. ” She sighed. “It’s weird. I see the girls for a couple of hours every week and I think they’re all sweet smiles and cute clothes. But then, I see what it really takes to take care of them every day…”

  “And what? It seems like too much work?”

  “No. The exact opposite. It seems like the only kind of work that’s worthwhile. ”

  Neither one spoke, but it wasn’t an awkward silence.

  Finally, Colt said, “You see yourself havin’ kids some day?”

  “Sometimes I think I’m ready now if I find the right man, but yeah, definitely some day. A couple. Or more. ” Pause. “How about you?”

  “I can’t wait to have kids. I feel like I’m finally at the time and place in my life where I’m ready for them. ”

  “Is that why you asked Fallon out? Because she’s wife and mother material?”

  Colt didn’t say a word.

  “Look. I’m sorry. None of my business who you date. ”

  “Maybe it should be your business. ”

  A funny tingle started in her chest but she still didn’t open her eyes.

  “I’m sorry I dragged you into a pile of shit last night. I swear to God I didn’t bid that high to embarrass you. ”

  “Why did you?”

  “Because people in this town have no fuckin’ idea how talented you are. It pissed me off. ”

  A beat passed. “That’s sweet, but since you have so much credit with me, that means I’m going to be pushing for the starburst nipple design. ”

  He laughed softly.

  India wasn’t about to let him o
ff the hook. “As far as Fallon?”

  “She was a mistake. ”

  “Then why’d you ask her out?”

  “I don’t know. ”

  “Come on, Colt, that’s crap. Why’d you ask her to the community center dance where everyone could see you two were on a date?”

  “Because she wasn’t like you. ”

  “Gee. Thanks. ”

  “You took that the wrong way. ”

  “How else am I supposed to take it?”

  “Listen, I thought if I was with someone who wasn’t like you in any way, I wouldn’t…compare. ”

  That hurt. She might’ve actually winced. Then she felt him move next to her and his breath fanned her cheek.

  “Dammit. I’m doin’ this all wrong. Look at me. ”

  She turned her head and opened her eyes.

  Colt was right there, with his head next to hers on the couch.

  “Every single woman comes up short when I compare them to you.

  And before you ask, I ain’t talkin’ about you bein’ short in stature. ”

  “You know me so well. ”

  “I do. And that’s what this crazy week has proven to me. I don’t want to watch you datin’ other guys. I don’t want you to watch me datin’ other women. I don’t want to have to drag you into a supply closet to kiss you and then apologize for doin’ it. ”

  “Colt—”

  “I don’t want to be just your friend any more, Indy. ”

  “Why not?”

  “Because I think we can be so much more. ”

  Her heart beat a mile a minute. She took a chance and blurted,

  “I want that too. ”

  “You do?” Colt’s eyes searched her face. “Since when?”

  “Since that night I shot you with the nail gun. ”

  He smiled. “So I guess I can quit bitchin’ about that, huh?”

  They stayed like that for a long time, not touching, just looking at each other, and just breathing the same air.

  “So what do we do now?” she asked.
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