Tied up, tied down, p.17
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       Tied Up, Tied Down, p.17

         Part #4 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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Page 17

 

  Skylar stared. Good God. Was every single one of the blasted McKay men so sinfully good-looking? No question this man was related to Kade—same dark hair, same vivid blue eyes.

  But Cord only had eyes for AJ. Hungry eyes. “Hey, baby doll. I was lookin’ for you. ”

  “And you found me. ”

  “Appears you found your way to the babies again,” he murmured and angled over her shoulder to examine Eliza.

  “I can’t help it. Isn’t she the sweetest thing?”

  “Yes, she is. Least that’s what her daddy says. ” Cord’s eyes met Skylar’s, almost in challenge.

  Sky’s mocking look challenged him back. “Kade is a sucker. He’s already promised to buy her a pony. ”

  “I imagine so. ” He thrust out his hand. “I’ve seen you around, and I know India, but we’ve never been introduced. Cord McKay. ”

  She shook his hand. “Skylar Ellison. Do all you McKay cousins and brothers look alike?”

  “The wonder twins notwithstandin’, I don’t see the resemblance, but other folks do. I imagine we all oughta wear name tags tomorrow, so you don’t get us mixed up. ”

  “What’s going on tomorrow?”

  “The big rodeo. Kade and Colt are competin’. Everybody’s talkin’ about it. I figured you’d be there so Kade could show off the baby. ”

  “He hasn’t mentioned it, but he’s been pretty scarce the last couple days. ”

  An awkward moment followed.

  “Well, I’m sure Kade’ll tell you about it when he finds time. ” Cord set his hand on AJ’s shoulder and squeezed. “I came to remind you we gotta get Ky pretty quick. ”

  AJ stood and handed the sleeping baby to her mother. “Thanks for letting me have my baby fix. See you tomorrow. ”

  The couple barely cleared the backroom when AJ gasped and a low masculine laugh answered. The connecting door slammed.

  “Those two. I swear they’re always doin’ it in her studio. I think it’s the only chance they have to be alone without rambunctious Ky underfoot. ”

  “Kids do have a way of messing up the best laid plans. ”

  “Sounds like you have some experience with that?”

  Rather than respond, Sky wandered. She was too restless to sit and half-afraid if she quit moving Eliza would wake up. Her thoughts wandered to Kade.

  Why hadn’t he told her about the rodeo? Because he’d planned on taking Eliza, but not her? Because he expected come Saturday she’d pass on his intriguing offer and that part of their relationship would be over? They’d be friends, Eliza’s parents and nothing more to each other? That thought made her sort of ill.

  “Sky? You okay?”

  “Not really. Something’s been brought to my attention and I’m asking for your honest opinion. ”

  “Shoot. ”

  “Do you think I’m controlling?”

  “Do you mean in control, or manipulative of others?”

  “In control. ” Sky faced her sister.

  “Yes, you are in total control, at all times, of all things. ”

  “Is that bad?”

  India shrugged. “Not necessarily. Unless you’re unwilling to bend a little, to loosen up once in awhile. We both know that’s not in your type-A personality, especially given your past association with jerk-off men. Why do you ask?”

  “Kade mentioned he thinks I have control issues. ”

  “He’s right. ”

  India’s automatic agreement jarred Sky. “You’re siding with him?”

  “I’d never side against you, Sis. Never. I am really proud of you for being such a great mom, even if I’m surprised you aren’t more controlling and psycho when it comes to Eliza. ”

  “What?”

  “I honestly was scared you’d become one of those mothers who obsesses over every little thing. ”

  Sky’s stomach pitched. “You saying I don’t care?”

  “No. You love Eliza fiercely, but it’s not an insane I-need-to-control-every-minute-of-this-kid’s-life kind of love that I expected from you. ”

  “I’m really like that?”

  “With most things, especially your business. Case in point: you’ve finally hired an office manager after I nagged you incessantly, but do you let her manage? No. You still do it all, which drives me batshit. How long will Annie have to work for you before you decide to give her more responsibility?”

  “I—”

  “Let me finish. I know you weigh pros and cons from every conceivable angle. You never jump headfirst into any situation. ” India cocked her and challenged, “How many baby books did you read when you were pregnant?”

  Forty. “Where is the relevance in that question?”

  “You asked for an opinion, I’m giving you mine. So knowing how you are, how you’ve always been, it really blew my mind when Kade came back into the picture and you trusted him with Eliza from the start. No second-guessing his parenting abilities. No

  ‘trial period’ for him to prove himself to you or your daughter. You just flat-out accepted him. ”

  That was an atypical reaction for her, and Sky admitted, “He’s taken to fatherhood in a way I could only hope for. He is so great with her. Better than I am at times. ” Like today.

  “So, how did the topic of you being controlling come up with Kade? Does it have to do with Eliza?”

  “No. It’s more…personal. ”

  India’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sleeping with him?”

  “You mean sharing a bed? Or—”

  “You know what I mean, Sky. ”

  “Yes. I’m sleeping with him. ”

  “Has he asked you to marry him again?”

  Surprised, Sky said, “How did you know about that?”

  “When I stopped in at your place, I ah…grilled him about a couple of things, he told me he asked you, and you said no. ”

  “Well, the only reason he asks me is because of Eliza. ”

  “Asks?” India repeated. “As in he’s asked multiple times?”

  Skylar nodded.

  “You’re one hundred percent certain that the only reason Kade McKay is with you is because of your daughter?”

  “Most likely. ”

  “Hah! I think you’re wrong. And here’s where I’m gonna piss you off. You’re using Eliza as an excuse. After all the shit that’s happened to you with men, you don’t believe any man would want you without an ulterior motive. ”

  Skylar snapped, “Excuse me, but that has been the case in every goddamned relationship I’ve ever been in. ”

  “Does Kade know about Ted?”

  “Do you really think I want to share that humiliation with him right off the bat?”

  “No, but he needs to know. ” India softened her tone. “Would it really be so bad to open yourself up to Kade? To trust him? To let down your guard? And yes, let him have a little bit of control in your relationship?”

  For the first time since Eliza’s birth, Sky wondered if she’d ever be able to break that sheet of glass she kept between herself and the rest of the world. Why did the wall of defense she’d built feel like a prison rather than self-protection?

  “Sis?” India prompted.

  “It terrifies me to think of giving Kade control even temporarily. Part of me worries he’ll keep it and I’ll never get it back. I’ve been there, Indy. I’ll never make that mistake again. ”

  “But you’re making another mistake, maybe a worse one, by not giving Kade a fair shot at proving he won’t abuse your trust. By holding yourself back from what could be the best thing that ever happened to you. ” India pointed at Eliza and got in Skylar’s face.

  “Oh, I know you say Eliza is the best thing that’s ever happened to you, but without Kade, there wouldn’t be an Eliza. So in my mind, that makes him the best thing that’s happened to you. Think about it. ”

  The chimes jingled out front and India left.

>   Chapter Eleven

  The late afternoon sun burned across the dirt, reflecting off the metal fence at the back of the corral. Been an eternity since Kade spent time in the chutes and barn behind the Boars Nest. Seemed a lifetime ago he’d called this place home.

  His brother and his cousin had been busy beavers in the last twelve months. Hauling away broken down equipment, replacing fences, painting outbuildings. The old place looked like a ranch, rather than a rural slum.

  “Getcha head in the game, cuz. ”

  “Colt, we flat-out suck at this. Even another week of practice wouldn’t help us none,” Kade hollered over the stall.

  “Kwitcher belly-achin’. Watch the barrier this time. ”

  Kane—aka newly self-christened as Buck—whooped, “Gentlemen, start your horses!” and dropped the orange rope. The calf took off out of the chute in a red blur, Colt and Kade hot on its heels.

  Dirt flew, saddles creaked, ropes twirled in the hot, dusty air. Both men let their ropes loose at the same time; Kade aimed for the head; Colt for the back feet.

  Each rope hit the mark and the calf jerked to a stop. The horses knew the drill, backing up in opposite directions until the rope was pulled taut and the calf was stretched between them like a Chinese finger-pull.

  Kade wiped his forehead as he waited the four seconds the calf had to be down for their time to even count.

  “Time!”

  Buck raced into the paddock and untied the calf. “Seven point eight seconds. Not bad. ”

  Colt coiled his rope after Buck released the calf. “Least we didn’t break the barrier. ”

  “Least we caught the goddamn thing,” Kade said. “That piss-poor time ain’t gonna win us a dime tomorrow. ”

  “Ain’t about money. ”

  Kade squinted at Colt. “What the hell are we competin’ for then?”

  “Honor. ” Colt spit out a wad of chewing tobacco.
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