Tied up, tied down, p.20
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       Tied Up, Tied Down, p.20

         Part #4 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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Page 20

 

  “I tried calling you, but Uncle Cal said you were already gone. Is he coming?”

  “I expect him any time now. ”

  “Oh wow, is this who I think it is?”

  “Yep. This is Eliza Belle. Isn’t she a doll?”

  “Absolutely precious. ” Chassie bent closer. “We girls are few and far between so we gotta stick together. Man. She does look like Kade. Bet he’s struttin’ around like cock of the walk. ”

  “That he is. ”

  Chassie straightened. Her liquid brown eyes sparkled, and her sweet, wide grin was infectious. “Ah. You’d be the vessel who brought forth the long-awaited McKay girl baby?”

  Skylar smiled. “Aptly put. ”

  “Skylar Ellison, this is my niece Chassie West. ”

  “It’s Chassie Glanzer now. ” She wiped her hand on her jeans before she offered it to Sky. “Nice to meetcha, Skylar. Congrats on the wee one and welcome to the family. ”

  “Thanks. ” Chassie wasn’t much bigger than Kimi and Sky felt positively Amazonian next to the petite, skinny women.

  “Chassie just got married in February. She and her husband Trevor took over Harland’s ranch after he passed on. How you doin’ today, honey?”

  Chassie’s smile faded. “It’s weird being here without them. I keep expecting to see Dag hanging on the fence behind the chutes, waiting to ride. Or Daddy standing in line for a beer. ”

  Her look of sadness prompted Sky offer, “I’m so sorry for both your losses. ”

  “I appreciate you sayin’ so. ”

  “What all is Trevor competing in today?” Kimi asked.

  “Everything. Poor delusional man thinks he can win the all around title. I know he’s doin’ it in Dag’s memory, which is unbelievably sweet, and yet stupid, because he’s going up against hungry pups in their late teens. ”

  “It’s not like Trevor is old. ”

  “True. And I ain’t gonna complain about seein’ him in tight chaps, sexy rodeo gear, swingin’ a rope and buckin’ hard. ” Her brilliant smile reappeared. “But they’re still gonna kick Kade and Colt’s ass in team roping. ”

  “Yeah? Wanna bet?”

  “I’d hate to take your money, Aunt Kimi, but I will. Twenty says Cash and Trevor win. ”

  “You’re on. ”

  Chassie cocked an eyebrow at Skylar. “Not gonna bet on your man?”

  Was Kade her man? A possessive little voice piped up with a firm yes, so Sky said,

  “Bring it. Twenty on the McKays. ”

  Kimi whooped, “That’s my girl. ”

  “You heading to the reunion, Aunt K?”

  “Yeah. We’ll see you in there. ”

  They wound their way through the crowd, stopping on the edge of the bleachers.

  Kimi passed Eliza back to her and fussed with the collar of Sky’s shirt. Smoothed a flyway strand from her cheek. Acted very motherly, which just made her like Kimi McKay all the more. “You are pretty as a picture. You ready?”

  Skylar blushed. “Ready for what?”

  “To meet the West family. ”

  “But I thought we were meeting the McKay family?”

  “That’s later tonight and tomorrow. Lucky you gets a double whammy this weekend.

  This is my side of Kade’s family, the West side. You’ll probably recognize some McKay family members, since my sister Carolyn married Carson McKay, Calvin’s brother, making our kids double cousins. ” She grinned. “Confused yet?”

  “Yes. No wonder Cord said you should all wear name tags. ” Skylar squinted at the large cluster of people milling beneath a big tent. “Maybe you should point out which ones are family members. ”

  “Honey, they’re all family members. ”

  There had to be at least fifty people in there. “Oh. My. God. ”

  “Smile. And when Genevieve West starts talking about quilting, run like hell. ”

  Talk about being in a fish bowl. Skylar wished Kade would’ve been there, helping her navigate the waters. Faces blurred. She’d never remember all their names. And this was only half of Kade’s family.

  After an hour passed, a feeling of panic started. A sense she was an interloper, even when everyone was friendly and went out of their way to include her. She and Kade and Eliza must’ve gotten fifteen invitations to dinner. Several women promised to check out her Sky Blue products. It was unusual in that…no one thought it was strange to automatically embrace Skylar and Eliza as part of their family. Their immediate acceptance made her feel humbled. Grateful. Swamped by so many conflicting emotions, Sky feared she’d break down, and wouldn’t that leave a great first impression? Instead, she reverted to her normal behavior, keeping a polite distance as her eyes searched for an escape route.

  Then Kimi was by her side again, soothing her, rescuing her. “Looks like you could use some fresh air, sweets. ”

  “Yes, I could. Thank you. ”

  Outside, Kimi said, “What happened? Did Janet harangue you about you and Kade livin’ in sin?”

  “No. Nothing like that. ”

  “Then what?”

  Before she schooled her tongue to stay still, Sky blurted out, “I’ve never met so many genuinely nice people in my life and it was like they were happy to meet me, not giving me the evil eye wondering who the hell I was crashing their party. ”

  Kimi chuckled. “Not used to that?”

  “No. I’m used to people ignoring or sucking up because they want something from me. ”

  “I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like growing up, always questioning people’s ulterior motives. Must make it hard to trust not only yourself, but everyone around you. ”

  “It does. ”

  “Whatcha see is what you get with us, honey. ” Kimi tucked a loose hair behind Skylar’s ear and murmured, “I’ll be damned. You are a little shy, aren’t you?”

  “About some things. ” She studied Kimi’s kind eyes. “Is it obvious?”

  “Only to me. ”

  Skylar gave her a skeptical look and Kimi cracked.

  “Okay, it’s partially mother’s instinct, and partially Kade making me promise to look out for you because he can’t be with you. He’s worried about leavin’ you alone to deal with our crazy family. ”

  That man embodied sweet and something undeniably warm moved through Sky.

  Kimi squeezed Sky’s shoulder. “Even knowing that, and as much fun as we’re having, I’m afraid I’ve gotta leave you to your own devices for a bit. The rodeo is about to start. You better get settled and I’ll meet you later. ”

  Skylar climbed the stairs in the grand stand. Clouds covered the sun, blocking some of the heat. She secured her sleepy baby in the Snugli, strapping it to her chest and stood next to the railing. The noise or the crowds didn’t bother Eliza. Sky took a minute to breathe it all in. The scents, the sights, the sounds of rodeo. Nothing like it in the world.

  Saddle bronc riding ended and the steer wrestling—bulldogging—was set to begin.

  She listened to the announcers extolling the qualities needed to be a great bulldogger, and couldn’t fathom why any man would throw himself off a moving horse onto a moving horned animal.

  “Skylar?”

  Startled by someone calling out her name, she looked down and saw Chassie grinning up at her.

  “Hey. You wanna come sit with us?” Chassie pointed to a small group of people by the bottom railing.

  Yes. “Oh. I wouldn’t want to impose. ”

  “Nonsense. You’re family and we’d love to have you. ” Chassie winked. “I’m always lookin’ for a leg up on McKay gossip. Plus, it’ll be fun. I promise. Nothing like the chaos in the tent at the West family reunion. You were lookin’ a little goggle-eyed. ”

  “I was. ” Sky followed Chassie and listened while she made introductions.

  “Everyone, this is Skylar Ellison, and the sleeping babe is the infamous Eliza
Belle, who proud papa Kade’s been braggin’ on to everyone within spittin’ distance. So who’s next?

  Name and family affiliation to make it easier on Skylar since she’s already been subjected to the West family today. ”

  “I’m Macie McKay, we’ve met at your store a few times. ”

  They had met, but for some reason Sky hadn’t connected her to the McKay family.

  “You run Dewey’s?”

  “Oversee it since we live in Canyon River half the time. ”

  “Cat does a great job. The food is wonderful and the place is so homey. ”

  Macie beamed. “Thanks. Is India here?”

  “No. She’s holding down the fort. I hope we get lots of traffic because of the rodeo. ”

  A long, lean man with McKay blue eyes and a riot of unruly curls waved. “Carter McKay of the Carson McKay branch. I’m Kade’s cousin. Macie’s my wife, and our son Thane is a couple months older than Eliza. They’ll have a lot of fun growin’ up together. ”

  “Raising hell together you mean. Thane and my twins, Rider and Ella, are napping in the camper under Velma’s watchful eye. ” The older blonde woman, who appeared to be pregnant, thrust out her hand. “I’m Gemma Big Crow. No relation to these McKay yahoos, except by marriage. My husband Cash, is team roping with Chassie’s husband Trevor, and sorry to say it, hon, but they’re gonna kick some major butt today. ”

  “You wish,” Carter said. “Kade and Colt are on fire. ”

  “Huh-uh. Dad and Trev rule. ”

  Chassie leaned over. “FYI, Macie is Cash’s daughter from a previous relationship.

  Carter is Colt’s younger brother. ”

  “I’m never going to keep all this straight. ”

  “It takes time, but you will. Despite their surface similarities they’ve all got distinct personalities. ”

  Sky thought of Kade’s comment about feeling interchangeable with not only his twin, but his male McKay cousins and felt a punch of sympathy. If she didn’t know him, she’d probably be like everyone else and lump him in with his family.
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