Tied up, tied down, p.6
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       Tied Up, Tied Down, p.6

         Part #4 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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Page 6


  He passed through another wide-open gate, which separated the Sky Blue factory from Skylar’s private residence. The old ranch house was blocked from view by a row of scraggly trees.

  Unlike most Wyoming residents, her front door was locked. Kade set his bags next to the staircase in the cool, dark foyer. He looked at the pictures lining the hallway, a mish-mash of snapshots, artwork, formal studio poses and old-time sepia toned groups of photos from a century past.

  The items on the opposite wall were hand-stitched family samplers. Mini-quilts, needlepoint, delicate doilies; all fussy female handiwork encased in glass and gilded frames. He wouldn’t have pegged Skylar’s decorating taste as old-fashioned, Western and homey.

  He didn’t snoop beyond checking out the rooms on the main floor. Baby stuff had overtaken the antique dining room table. Didn’t look like Skylar did much entertaining, which filled him with an odd sense of relief.

  The formal feeling of the front room—matching floral couches, heavy velvet drapes, tasseled pillows, elaborately carved antique end tables—was completely overpowered by more baby paraphernalia. A swing. A stroller. A half-barrel shaped thing camouflaged with a lace canopy. Piles of pastel-colored clothes were stacked on the coffee table next to every baby book imaginable.

  Kade cringed when he finally caught sight of the tiny TV shoved in the corner by the dust-covered piano. After a year of no television, a big screen would be his first contribution to the household.

  On impulse he picked up a pink, fuzzy one-piece outfit with snaps from the top down to the feet holes. The scent of soap and baby powder wafted up and his stomach clenched.

  It smelled like Eliza, clean, soft and powdery-sweet. As much as he’d loved just holding her, he couldn’t wait to do all the corny things like count her fingers and toes, blow raspberries on her stomach and rock her to sleep.

  His cell phone trilled in his shirt pocket. No big mystery who was pestering him.

  “Hiya, Grama. Look, I know you wanna see Eliza, but you hafta give Skylar and me time to work some things out first. ” He held the phone away to keep it from blistering his ear.

  “No, I don’t know how long. I’ll be drivin’ to and from the ranch everyday startin’ on Monday. Absolutely not. Kane and Dad can handle it for a couple days without me.

  Because I’ve been gone a year and they’ve done fine. Three more days ain’t gonna make a difference. I’ll keep in touch. ” He clicked the phone off. She’d be too busy bragging about her granddaughter to everyone in Crook County to call him back, for at least a day, and sad to say, few others had his new number.

  He glanced at the grandfather clock. Skylar and Eliza would be home in roughly two hours. Picking up a stray blanket, he returned to the kitchen.

  Kade unfolded the blanket on the table and placed the twenty-pound bag of russet potatoes in the center. He stared at it for a good long time before he sighed and wrapped the fleece around it. “Goddamn I hope nobody sees me doin’ this. ”

  The potato baby didn’t answer.

  Gently, Kade picked up the bundle and tucked it in the crook of his arm. He paced the first floor from room to room, keeping hold of the spud baby, bouncing it, rocking it.

  Performing all the motions he’d seen women doing with their infants—short of crooning a lullaby. He felt like a darn fool, slinking around, hugging a plastic bag that smelled like dirt, but he was determined Skylar wouldn’t know just how much of a greenhorn he was when it came to holding babies.

  A loud crash out by the barn startled him. He tripped on the rug in the foyer and right before he hit the ground, his “baby” squirted out of his arms like a slippery bar of soap.

  The bag busted open and potatoes flew everywhere.

  Damn. That didn’t bode well. His face burned with shame as he gathered up the potatoes. First thing he’d do was confess his ineptitude in the baby arena rather than risk hurting Eliza because of his stupid pride.

  An hour later the front door slammed. Thundering footsteps echoed down the hallway. Before he turned around, an angry female voice demanded, “What the fuck are you doing in my sister’s house?”

  Kade tossed in a can of beans in the enamel pot. “I’m makin’ supper. ”

  “You think that’s funny?”

  He shrugged.

  “Who the hell are you?”

  Kade spun, giving his accuser a once over. Definitely a stunning woman, despite her unnaturally colored scarlet-tipped black hair. Despite her irate posture and angrily tapping a combat-booted foot. The motion rattled the chains attached to her purple leather mini-skirt. His gaze swept her colorful arms. Whoa. Was that tattoo circling her wrist a flesh-colored snake? Or a very large, very erect cock?

  “Eyes off the ink, buddy. Who are you?”

  He met her angry gaze head-on. “I’m Kade McKay. ”

  She actually stumbled back a step. “Holy shit. You’re Eliza’s father. ”

  He nodded, noticing the woman’s arched eyebrow was pierced, as was her nose and her lower lip. Both ears were weighted with a variety of sparkly stones and shiny hoop earrings.

  “She looks just like you. ”

  “I know. I saw her today for the first time. ”

  “For the first time? She’s over three months old!”

  “Yeah, I heard. ”

  “You heard? How could you abandon my pregnant sister, you worthless piece of shit?”

  “First off, no more name callin’. ” He soldiered on despite the woman’s mulish look.

  “Secondly, who are you?”

  “Skylar’s sister, India. ” India crossed her arms over her chest. “Sky knows you’re here?”

  “Who do you think gave me a key?” Kade’s eyes narrowed. “Do you live here?”

  “Not anymore. I did while Sky was expecting, since the jerk-off loser who impregnated her vanished and someone needed to keep an eye on her out here in the middle of nowhere. ”

  “Before you keep rippin’ on my character, let me assure you that I didn’t know Skylar was pregnant. If I had known, no way would I’ve left her. No. Way. ”

  “So where’ve you been that she couldn’t call you up and tell you the news about her bun in the oven?” With mock sweetness, she asked, “Prison?”

  “Funny. ”

  “No, really, what were you doing?”

  India was a nosy thing, but Kade appreciated she was protecting Skylar. “Ranchin’.

  We bought new grazin’ lands about forty miles northwest of our place. Rugged country.

  No phone, no Internet, no satellite TV. Don’t have electricity in the cabin half the time.

  Closest town is sixty miles further north up into the mountains, and the road leadin’ to it is damn near impassable from the end of October to the end of March. I volunteered to stay to see if it was viable to keep a year-round cattle operation up there. I returned home two days ago after havin’ been gone for a year. Today I find out that Skylar and me have a baby girl. ”

  India stared at him for the longest time. “You said your last name is McKay?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “You related to all the McKays living around Sundance?”

  He resisted the urge to deny it. “Yeah. ”

  “Those McKay men have reputations as wild men and womanizers, boozers and brawlers and I cannot believe my straight-laced sister would get mixed up with one of them. ”

  Story of his life. “I’ve been out of the loop, so I have no earthly idea what some of my rowdier cousins might’ve been doin’. ”

  India cocked her head. “My first thought when Sky became an unwed mother, was that she was embarrassed by who knocked her up, so that’s why she didn’t want anyone to know. ”

  Very evenly, Kade said, “Did you ask her who the father was?”

  “Repeatedly. Can’t say I blamed her on keeping mum. I made no secret I’d planned on tracking down the lowlife to
beat him within an inch of his life. ”

  “There you go with the name callin’ again. ”

  “If the spur fits. ” She smiled nastily. “Far as I know, she didn’t tell anybody else either. I didn’t even know she’d been seeing anyone, so her pregnancy was a complete shock. ”

  “Hell, I didn’t even have time to get used to the pregnancy; I gotta wrap my head around my baby. ” Kade sighed. “And like you said, my family has quite the reputation.

  Maybe she was embarrassed. Can’t say as I blame her since I wasn’t around. ”

  “What really happened between you two?” India shifted from boot to boot.

  Her nervous energy set Kade on edge. “I did a dumb thing, she broke it off when she found out, wouldn’t let me explain, and I ended up leavin’ because of it. I wasn’t happy, but she’d left me no choice but to let her be. ”

  “She’s good at pushing people away. ”

  “I sorta figured that out,” Kade said dryly.

  “Tell me this. If the misunderstanding between you two would’ve been cleared up, would you have left?” He shook his head. “Does she know that?”

  “Not yet. ”

  “When do you plan on telling her?”

  “When the time is right. ”

  “You play your cards pretty close to the vest, McKay. ”

  Kade thought that was better than wearing his heart on his sleeve.

  An uncomfortable moment followed.

  “Fine. ” India threw up her hands. “Pull that strong, silent cowboy crap. So what happens now?”

  “If you’re askin’ if my intentions toward your sister are honorable, I asked her to marry me today. ”

  “She immediately said no, didn’t she?”

  He frowned. “Yeah. How did you know?”

  “Because she’s been…” India shook her head. “Because I don’t think she has a spontaneous bone in her body. She’s always been that way. So, in addition to her all-pro status of pushing people away, Skylar excels at taking an eternity to make a decision, any decision. She’s meticulous. She weighs every opinion, thought, word, action and deed from every conceivable angle before she really gets down to the nitty-gritty of making a final determination on a course of action. ”