Sorrows and Lace
In every bad boy hides a good man.
Will the hero die for a second chance?
A cowboy on the run…
A secret son…
A second chance romance that can destroy more than one family…
When Robbie returns for his share of the ranch, he finds his heart never left. He’s brought back more than bitterness and regret. The secrets following him are more than dangerous, and he has to prove he’s more than his past to survive.
How does Amelia forgive Robbie for abandoning her and their son? Will she have a chance to see his side before she’s taken hostage? Or will she die wondering what might have been?
Face the gang after Robbie and ache with Amelia when he returns!
Ride into the sunset with the cowboys of Clearwater County.
Betrayal bit sharp through the alcohol-induced haze. Ronan tilted his crystal, hand-blown snifter, staring at the amber liquid inside. He’d been nursing the damn drink since Robbie MacAllister left.
Peering at the ornate, walnut grandfather clock, Ronan shut his eyes against the dizzying effect of the roman numerals blurring and blending. Who the hell cared what time it was anyway? He groaned and set his glass down harder than he anticipated, nearly sloshing the potent concoction over the side.
He’d been offered an ultimatum. By a MacAllister. The very fact curdled his insides. No one had ever had anything he’d wanted enough to work for it. Everything revolved around the land. His life, his love, his actions, his happiness.
The ultimatum guaranteed he’d keep Lacey Caverns, if he got married within the month.
Robbie dropped his feet from the edge of his ebony-inlaid walnut desk and rested his forehead on the cool surface. All he’d ever wanted was an heir. An honest-to-goodness child of his own. A family that he could have all to himself.
He lifted his head and raised the glass to his lips, taking a healthy mouthful and swallowing. He pulled the brim away and peered at the alcohol. “When did I switch to brandy?” He pushed his tongue around in his mouth. Ronan had never been a fan of the over-sweet liquor.
Pushing up from his seat, he swayed to the left and then the right. Placing one foot in front of the other, Ronan stared at the mini-bar a mere six feet from his desk. On the floor, an empty whiskey bottle greeted him, light glinting off the rounded glass like it mocked his liquor alternate. And his choices.
Damn MacAllisters. And damn his soon-to-be-ex-wife for trying to screw him over. Again and again. And according to Robbie, succeeding.
Just the thought of the three babies he could’ve had brought tears to his eyes. He hung his head, chin to his chest. That stupid…
A knock on his study door brought him around, brandy splashing over the brim of the glass, onto his fingers. “What?” He growled.
Tim, the physician’s assistant who stayed at Lacey Caverns in his own apartment, poked his head around the edge of the door. “Mr. James, I’m heading into town. One of the women just went into labor and it’s my on-call weekend.”
Ronan waved his hand at the door and returned his gaze to his sickly sweet drink. He glanced up. “Wait. Town?” Hell if he’d drink anymore of the sugary crap when he didn’t have to.
Tim cocked his head. “Yeah, she’s at the clinic, waiting for me.”
Slamming his glass onto the desk, Ronan strode toward Tim. “I’ll catch a ride. I have something I need to do and I’m not… in the condition to drive right now.” And Tim couldn’t say no. Hell, Ronan paid him more than twice his salary at the clinic to be available at all times for Ronan’s ranch hands. With a ranch as large as Lacey Caverns, more men were sometimes better. And, more often than not, more men meant more accidents.
“Okay. I’ll be out in the truck.” Tim didn’t wait for his boss and disappeared down the hall.
Ronan glanced at the abandoned brandy as he grabbed his favorite dark brown Stetson. Shrugging on the dark suit jacket, Ronan adjusted his plaid shirt over his dark blue jeans. He’d never been into dusters like Robbie, something about them seemed inconsistent. Ronan was a businessman and wore suits, even incomplete ones at times.
Boots thudding on the hardwood floors, Ronan blinked hard and steadied himself by running a hand along the contours of the log walls.
He’d be damned before he’d hunker down in his own house and lick his wounds. Robbie had given him an out – and a pretty damn good one, at that – and Ronan wasn’t going to waste another minute. He’d find himself a damn wife that night, if he had to.
Which he had to.
Maybe Nurse Shelley would be available for nuptials.
Tim slammed the door shut and rounded the vehicle. He tilted his head at Ronan. “I don’t know how long I’ll be. She wasn’t having her contractions too close when she called. If you need a ride, I won’t be ab—”
“I can get a ride, Tim. I’ll call one of the guys and have them come get me. Good luck.” Ronan patted the PA’s shoulder. Ronan’s soft side only displayed itself when he had a significant amount of alcohol on board. And if memory served, he’d had at least a bottle, but maybe more? Hell, he couldn’t remember much of the last couple of hours.
Except for Robbie’s visit. He couldn’t forget that.
Would never forget that.
Spring slowly but surely made its way to the northern Montana town. Weeds disguised as flowers poked from cracks in the concrete. Evening sunlight dimmed as the sun dipped beneath the mountains just past Lacey Caverns and Lonely Rivers. Ronan’s shadow stretched in front of him, leading the way.
The cooler air did wonders for his balance. He stared at the planking of the sidewalk. The town of Colby had never changed to cement except for patches like in front of the clinic and the bank – which he owned. If he had spurs on his boots, no doubt they’d clink with each echoing step on the wooden boards toward the saloon.
Okay, so it was a bar, but the sign still read saloon and as far as Ronan cared, saloon made it appear a little classier. He’d hate to tell his kids one day that he met their mother in a bar. So tacky. Saloon sounded at least a step above. And the James clan was nothing, if not a step above.
He pushed through the dark wood door. Smoke combined with the stale stench of beer and cheap wine slapped him in the face. Guaranteed the bar wouldn’t have his grade of whiskey, but they’d have something that resembled it, helping replace the aftertaste of brandy clinging to his mouth. Ronan would consider paint stripper the cloying sweetness was so strong.
The swarthy bartender and owner of the Saloon arched his bushy black eyebrow when he focused on Ronan. Conversation died down like the parting of the Red Sea until only the jukebox in the far back corner crooned a Tim McGraw classic.
In his inebriated state, Ronan took a moment to place the song – Indian Outlaw. The lyrics slammed him back to the last time he’d seen Kelsey and out of habit, he searched the room for her.
He couldn’t focus. Couldn’t remember why he’d come to town. The music, the ambience, the decided-change-of-class in his surroundings added to his confused drunken state.
All eyes on him, Ronan ignored the majority of the occupants in room. He moved toward the stools and one of the patrons caught his eye. Sitting at the bar, with his shoulders hunched, Big Red ignored Ronan’s entrance, making him stand out worse than his Salish heritage in a roomful of Caucasian men and women.
The final notes of the upbeat song faded, releasing Ronan from his stupor. He changed course and approached the man who had never liked him, had actually threatened to kick his ass if Ronan ever hurt his sister.
The Redbirds took family loyalty to a level even the James clan couldn’t reach.
Big Red – whose name was actually Thomas Redbird, III – knocked back the shot sitting in front of him and tapped the scarred wood that passed miserably for a countertop. He belched then said. “Hit me, Gus.”
Gus pulled a white-ish towel from the pint glass in his hand. He waved the towel in the air somewhat close to the vicinity of his customer’s face. “No way, Red. You owe me too much as it is.”
Red didn’t even glance from the ringed napkin in front of him. “I’ll pay you as soon as I can. I need this.” His mumble barely reached Ronan who had moved to stand inches from his side. The odor of unwashed body wafted over him. Stomach roiling, Ronan swallowed.
Disbelief marred Gus’s already-less-than-credible features. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”
Ronan held up two fingers. “What he’s having and move his tab to mine. You can send me the bill tomorrow.” He didn’t spare another glance at Gus who owed Ronan – or rather Ronan’s bank – more money than the damn business was worth. The bartender scuttled to the other side of the bar to the higher shelf items. Nobody in town would dare serve their crappy products to a James. It was always the best available. Always.
“Great.” Red mumbled. He turned on the stool, away from Ronan and slid to his feet. “Never mind, Gus. I’d rather not.”
More brazen with an Irishman’s amount of alcohol on board, Ronan grabbed Red’s elbow and pulled the larger man his way.
Red’s long black ponytail swung as he spun. He pulled his fists up, his stance wobbly. “C’mon, Ronan. I’ve wanted to kick your ass for a while now. Let’s do this.” He squinted at Ronan, intent on doing damage.
Unsteady as well, Ronan’s normal confidence in holding his own during a fight lacked definite luster. He held up his hands. “Hey, I just wanted to buy you a drink. Old time’s sake. No big deal. You don’t have to.” He slid onto the stool beside Red’s abandoned seat and picked at the questionable basket of pretzels waiting beside the belligerent man’s empty glass.
Frankly, Ronan didn’t give a damn if Red joined him or not. His reason for coming to town and the saloon resurfaced in his memory. He needed a wife. Searching the inhabitants of the bar proved Colby didn’t have much to offer for bride contestants in the Ronan’s New Wife game.
Gus placed two shots in front of Ronan and nodded. He moved to the other side of the bar, distancing himself from his debtor which Ronan preferred.
Thick smoke haloed above them. Ronan tried ignoring the sticky counter-edge beneath his forearm. The entire place made him want to gag. No wonder Gus couldn’t pay him more than the absolute minimum each month. The place was a dump.
Another moment passed.
Red reclaimed the seat at Ronan’s side. He grunted and downed the shot, returning to his slumped position.
Defeat wasn’t something Ronan had a lot of experience with, but from the rumors around town, Big Red and his family had faced a lot.
News of Kelsey ran scarce and rarely reached Ronan. His list of confidants and friends were few in town… hell, anywhere. People from the James clan didn’t need anyone but their own kind. That’s why they paid for information. It ensured accuracy and less hearsay.
Not to be outdone by the burly man, Ronan tilted back his head and drained his shot. The bar’s best alcohol scraped the bottom of the list of the worst, in Ronan’s opinion, but shitty whiskey was better than the best brandy any day. He swallowed the ounce of hard alcohol and wished for a jug.
Clearing his throat, Ronan took a chance, something he normally wouldn’t do if he was sober. He recognized the risk in his question, but he had to know. At least right in that moment he did. “How’s Kelsey?”
Big Red jumped from his seat faster than any man of his size should be able to – especially drunk – and thrust the stool back into the center of the floor. The piece of furniture knocked over two other chairs and jostled an empty table. Red thrust a finger inches from Ronan’s nose. “You bastard. Like you don’t know.”
“Know what?” Ronan blinked hard. He had to focus. Far from a light weight, the amount he’d consumed would have dropped a normal man, but he could handle it. He just had a little bit of work to do to keep his vision from creating two or maybe three Reds? He couldn’t be sure.
Balled fists at his sides, Red huffed and puffed. His shoulders rose and dropped with each inhale and exhale. A shiny layer of sweat lined his brow and his bloodshot eyes glared violently at Ronan. “You sonuvabitch. You ruined my sister. Ruined her! She married Sonny Caracus after you ditched her. Sonny Caracus! That bastard. The things he did to h…” Shaking, Red licked his lips which dripped spittle.
A fine chill sent shivers up the back of Ronan’s calves, past his hips and to his shoulder blades. Sonny Caracus. “I didn’t know. How is that going?” Holy crap, his own recent experience with the Caracus gang left a bitter taste in his mouth. If Kelsey had married one of them, what then had become of her?
Red hissed. “She almost didn’t make it. The first dozen times she just had to go to the hospital in Missoula, but last year she was Medevac’d to Seattle.” He hung his head, wiping at his cheek. “You didn’t have to do what you did.” He lifted his face, pure hatred mottling his face. “You didn’t have to make her hate herself… and us.”
Kelsey tapped her Rage-Red-French-Tipped nails on the green felt of the card table. Sighing, she glanced at the clock above the door. “Seriously, Steve, you need to decide, would you like another card or will you hold?”
Bleary-eyed, the longtime customer peered at her through the smoky haze of the casino. He returned his gaze to the two cards she’d dealt him and then what she’d dealt herself. Chewing the worn toothpick, he continued studying his hand.
Stretching her neck by turning her head to the left and then the right, Kelsey stifled a yawn. Graveyard shifts sucked. But she needed the money – worse than she needed sleep or even food. Top that off with the fact that she didn’t have to be at home with her parents and graveyard turned out to be tolerable.
The pit boss, Todd, caught her eye, arching his eyebrow and tilting his head toward the break room.
Shaking her head, she looked away. Damn idiot had been trying to get into her pants since she’d returned to work for her dad. He didn’t take hints well either. She’d take a damn break when she was good and ready.
Steve cleared his throat and tapped the felt surface twice – hard. “I’m ready.”
With a nine of diamonds and a ten of spades, Steve wasn’t making the best choice. She flipped the ends of her thick, straight black hair over her shoulder. As many times as Kelsey had been warned about coaching the customers, she muttered. “Steve, think about it. The odds are not in your favor. I think foldi—”
She froze, staring at the double-door entrance.
She’d know that damn cocky-ass-too-good-for-anyone stance anywhere. Recovering quickly from a memory from her past, Kelsey glanced down and slapped another card onto Steve’s. “Oh, too bad, Steve, a four. Well, I guess you’re out for the night. I’m done, too.” She slid her cards to the side, held up her hands palms down with fingers splayed and turned them over and then back. One hard and fast rule of the industry, show your hands to prove you take nothing with you or bring anything to the table. Security cameras watched everything.
Stepping out of the dealer box inside the table, she jerked a nod toward the pit boss. Hitching his belt under the overbearing stomach commandeering the majority of his girth, Todd sauntered toward her. Taking his sweet time.
When he reached the table beside Kelsey’s, about six feet away, she declared. “I’d like to switch to roulette, Todd. I’m burnt out on twenty-one.”
Nothing could keep her from glancing at the doors.
Ronan had disappeared. She spun in place, her dark hair whirling around her. Everywhere she looked only confirmed her location, a reservation casino. Rundown, tired truck drivers with stained ball caps and worn-out flannel shirts slumped over card hands, defeat in their blood shot eyes. Even at three in the morning, seating availability was at about fifty percent.
She spun back to face Todd, wild with confusion and fatigue.
Todd leaned against a pole decorated as a totem and half-shrugged, flicking a crumb from his too-short, paisley tie. “I don’t know, Kelsey. I’m the boss. You were supposed to go on break a while ago. Now, it might be too late. Why don’t you make it worth my while?”
Punching her finger at the floor, Kelsey stepped toward him, her face tight. Through her teeth, she tried yelling with a whisper but hissed instead. “Dammit, Todd, that’s harassment. Change me out. Now.” All vestiges of fatigue disappeared as her adrenaline rose.
Glancing again around the immediate vicinity, Kelsey then faced Todd whose mouth gaped open in aghast.
Rubbing her fingers over her makeup-less eyes then down her cheeks centered Kelsey. She breathed in and out. “I’m sorry. I need a coffee break. I think I’m losing it. Over forty hours this week and there’s still three days to go.” She offered a half-hearted smile, desperate to get a damn break.
Previously absent, Todd’s professionalism resurfaced and he straightened his back and adjusted his glasses. “Like I said, you’re about due for a break. Go ahead. I’ll find someone to spell you.” Abruptly, he turned away before she could thank him.
Had she imagined it? Ronan James hadn’t been in her thoughts for a while. Okay, bull crap. She hadn’t thought about him since right before her shift when she slammed back a shot in the bar. Being the owner’s daughter had some perks – even if they were few and far between.
Why did he have to show up right then? On one of the days when she felt like shit and had to look it? Her heart ached. She’d never stopped loving him and suddenly there he was? She must be going into shock or something, because her pulse sped up and she broke out in a fine film of perspiration.
Stop lying, Kelsey, you’re sweating like one of those truck drivers!
Leaving the pit, she crossed over the brick red carpeting and slipped into the discreet metal door marked with a small plaque reading, “Employees Only”. Concrete stairs ate up her footfalls as she bounded down the steps to the lower break room. She just needed to get her head on straight.
Ronan James. The man had a way of sinking his teeth in and never letting go. In six years, one failed marriage, and more stress than she cared to think about, Kelsey still couldn’t get him out of her head… or heart.
Damn men, anyway.
Maybe she’d see if anyone was in her dad’s office. He always kept a bottle of spirits under his desk. He’d never know if she nipped some for her cup o’joe.
Rubbing lotion in her hands as she made her way back to the pit, Kelsey didn’t even bother scanning the place. Why should she? She didn’t care about the twilight regulars and her vision from before had been a hallucination manifested from long nights and days with little to no sleep. She’d been there more than once.
She curved her lips reassuringly at Todd when she let herself through the small wooden gate separating the gamblers from the dealers. “Okay, thanks, I needed that. Where do you want me?” Please, roulette. Nobody stayed for long at the table and regulars hated it. There was no “skill” and it was all chance. Poor fools. All gambling was chance. Or house tipping the scales. Hell, Kelsey could’ve sworn her dad weighted the wheel, but she’d never been able to prove it.
Come on, roulette.
“How about roulette? You mentioned you wanted it earlier. Plus, Candy is getting bugged by a few regulars and she’s too nice to tell them where to stick it.” He glanced at his clipboard, maintaining a bland expression. “We both know you’re good at telling guys where to shove it, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer but turned to yell at another card table. “Hands down, count the call.”
Kelsey shrugged. He’d picked up on her cues at least.
She tapped Candy’s shoulder, just beneath her bobbed blonde hair highlighted with a pink swath. “Girl, I’m taking your place. Talk to Todd about where you’re going, ‘kay?” She backed up as Candy did the same hand clearing with the cameras and stepped away.
Inside the square beside the long table, Kelsey shot a cool smile around to the five men who eyed her chest in the slightly lower button-up shirt and black vest – the female dealer uniform. A man on the end nudged his friend and murmured loud enough for the table to hear. “Hank, this one’s got boobs and she’s the real deal.”
Oh, fun. Drunk-perverted-bigots. Her favorite kind. She arched her eyebrow. “I’ve got boobs that are the real deal? As opposed to what’s in your pants?”
Over the loud guffaws shooting around the table, Kelsey calmly said. “Make your bets, gentlemen. I don’t wait long.” She shifted her stance and watched as they placed chips on different squares and numbers. She didn’t really care what they did or bet on. She didn’t like bastards who tried to make her feel less than what she was. While she was of the proud Salish tribe, they were lowly unknown-origin-bastards, not fit enough to lick her shoes. Her grandfather was an elder of the tribe and they were what? Drunks.
Ignoring the fact that she drank a lot, Kelsey at least was able to admit to herself that she’d never let them know she begrudged them their white skin and pale eyes. Her life would be extremely different, if she’d only been born with different genetics.
“All bets in.” She spun the wheel and dropped the ball.
Quietly, the man who had made his rude comments tapped the wooden side rail as the ball whirred round and round. He spoke as if just making a random comment. “Red-skinned bitches can get their mouths sewn shut, if they’re not careful.” His eyes burned with loathing. “Isn’t that how you savages like it? Rough?”
From behind him, a dark velvety voice made everyone at the table freeze. “Threatening cowards can have their balls cut off, if they’re not careful.”
The man spun, facing the mirage Kelsey could have sworn she’d concocted. But there he was. His shoulders broad, his jaw hard.
His damn eyes!
Even remembered every night in her dreams, they captivated her.
Even in the dim lighting of the casino and under the protection of the wide brim of his hat, his eyes exuded a magnetic resonance that pulled at her insides. Her heart pumped a little faster and moisture licked at her palms.
“You need something, mister?” The bigot balled his fists at his sides, pushing his butt on the table.
Ronan lifted his chin once, eyeing the man like a pile of dog shit. “Yes. I need you to get the hell out of here.” He leaned forward, into the man’s personal space. The brim of Ronan’s hat touched the man’s forehead. “Tell you what. You leave… now… and I won’t chase your ass with my pistol. Do you understand me?” So much more than threats passed between them. A covenant of what would come. For good measure, Ronan’s weapon peeked from the inner belt under his suit coat.
The man didn’t cast a glance toward his friends. He darted from his spot to the doors.
Kelsey didn’t spare another thought for him. She watched Ronan claim the now-empty position, waiting for him to acknowledge her.
But he didn’t – at least right away.
He studied the wheel. Calculated the varying bets. Eyed the other gamblers.
And then finally, after what could have been three lifetimes, his eyes met hers. And his lips curved into that damn smile that had melted her underwear way back when. “Kelsey Redbird. Some exciting job you have.”
She lifted her chin. Hell would melt her shoes before she’d admit she was shocked he was there. She wet her lower lip and drawled. “If you only knew.”
Oh, but Ronan did know. Of course, Kelsey would be hotter than when they’d dated. She’d grown into her thin height with soft, molded female curves. The cinnamon tone of her skin glowed in the low lighting. Damn woman even had her hair down the way he’d always liked, the dark edges of her layers flipping here and there.
If Ronan weren’t careful, he’d remember how much he’d wanted her, loved her, needed her.
He had fiddled with a few chips he’d bought while waiting for her to return from what must have been a break.
He was so glad he’d waited. Ronan couldn’t look away from the almond shape of her dark eyes and thick lashes. Everything about Kelsey screamed woman, especially her strong Native American heritage his parents had objected to.
The four men stood around, waiting for the ball to find its spot.
Kelsey leaned over, calling out the winning combination. “Red-twenty-one. No winners.” Raking up the last of their chips, she watched them turn and grumble as they stumbled from the casino area. She waved. “Since you’re all losers, I suggest you follow your friend and don’t come back.”
She didn’t face Ronan. Instead, she busied herself by cleaning up the chips from the table and rearranging the tools at her spot.
Drawing out the silence between them, Ronan didn’t move from his position. He took perverse pleasure in her discomfort, maybe because he couldn’t stop fuming over how the douche bag had just treated her. Or the fact that his desire for her – and maybe his feelings for her – had never faded.
Another moment passed and Ronan peered closer at Kelsey. Surprised to see her jaw tight and her eyes with an extra sheen to them, he leaned forward. “I’m sorry, Kelsey. I forgot how that shit gets to you.” And why wouldn’t it? They’d just slandered her in her own work place. Anger swelled in his chest. “I’m tempted to chase their asses down and teach them what a true savage would do.”
She huffed, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, ‘cause the good-ole-perfect-Ronan-James knows how to be a ‘savage’, right? Your mommy and daddy know you’re slumming it, white boy?”
He froze. The alcohol he’d consumed had burned off on his hour-and-a-half drive up to the Salish reservation in a dang taxi. A taxi. Okay, so it was more like he’d called one of his ranch hands to drive him up, but still, it might as well be a damn taxi. Ronan had sat in the back with all kinds of planned scenarios running through his mind.
Her bluntly mentioning his parents hadn’t been one of them.
“What? Did you swallow your tongue or something?” Kelsey tilted her head, thrusting her jaw to the side. The move cast the strong angles of her cheeks, nose, and chin into startling contrast which only enhanced the beauty of her features. She became strikingly attractive in her moment of defiance.
Which irritated Ronan further. He dropped his stack of chips on the sidebar of the table, leaned his hands on the curved edge and bit out. “My parents have been dead for a few years, Ms. Redbird. Thank you.” He turned.
Speaking with her brother in the bar had brought his guilt to the forefront. He’d never had such an extreme reaction to alcohol before where his emotions ran along the melancholy and his plans tore through his memories. Maybe with the destruction of his reality via the truths told to him by MacAllister about Bethany and the abortions, his sentimental side was having its way with him.
Maybe the return of Robbie MacAllister, as well as the happy little couple the doctor and Slate MacAllister had become, worked on him. Revealing how truly lonely his soon-to-be-ex-bitch-of-a-wife had made him.
No matter. His lesson from the whole thing would be to stay away from alcohol. He obviously couldn’t control its effects.
His driver would be outside waiting, or had better be. If Ronan found his ass in the casino after he was —
A hand gripped his bicep and Ronan paused, lowering his foot mid-step. He looked over his shoulder directly into Kelsey’s deep brownish black eyes. Regret lowered her voice and she released her hold on his arm. “I’m sorry for your loss, Ronan. I didn’t mean… well, I did mean to disrespect you, but had I known, I certainly wouldn’t have done it that way.” She offered a sad side smile. “Did Amelia take it hard?”
He shifted his stance, not allowing her to move away. “I don’t know. She doesn’t live with me. She’s staying with the MacAllisters. Has a kid with Robbie.” Disgust curdled in his stomach, but whether it was for himself or the situation he couldn’t quite figure out. His strong animosity toward Robbie had shifted when Robbie had offered so much to Ronan the night before – the truth and a way to fix what Bethany worked to destroy.
Kelsey blinked, long and hard, followed by a quick succession of rapid blinks. When she finally spoke, she pierced him with her gaze. “What? Amelia had a baby? I…” She clamped her mouth shut and swallowed, dropping her gaze to his neckline. The barest shake of her head and then she said. “Th-that’s great. Congratulate her for me, will you? I think I’m done for the night.” She nodded once his way and pushed past him, not even stopping as a large portly man called after her from the pit.
Unsure what his role had been in the emotional turmoil he’d just witnessed, Ronan’s next step wasn’t clear. Which pissed him off. He liked being in charge, preferred it actually.
Ronan didn’t wait around to see if Kelsey would seek him out. He had bigger issues on his saddle than what upset her. No, he didn’t have any idea what had happened to her that made her so emotional, but hell if he’d feel guilty over something he didn’t do, or didn’t intend to do.
Sighing, he had to admit to himself that he cared more than he wanted to, felt guilty over whatever he’d done to upset her. Sometimes he could be an asshole – he knew this. Worked at it, actually.
He moved silently across the plush carpet to the revolving doors opposite the casino, closer to the restaurant. He’d asked his driver to park the car and wait for him. The parking lot swung around to the side in a large L-shape.
His breath gusted white as he breathed into the near-freezing night air. Ronan searched the lot for his car. He’d asked the ranch hand to leave the truck at home and bring his more comfortable, classier ride, a nineteen-forty Marmon-Herrington Ford four-by-four Woodie Wagon. He collected badass cars and the Woodie was nothing but scary and old-school mean. He’d probably drive the beautiful car home, since he didn’t have any alcohol onboard anymore.
The doors turned behind him and Kelsey spilled into the evening. Tears streaked her face and she had yanked her hair into a sloppy bun atop her crown since she’d left him. She teetered on the top step, wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand.
Ronan reached out, grabbing her at the last possible second before she tumbled down the numerous cement steps to the pavement below. She fell into his arms, struggling as he enfolded her against his chest. Even as tall as she was, as regal as she always held herself, the exact moment her forehead tucked under his chin, Ronan returned to the afternoon so many years ago when he’d broken things off between them… and the tears she’d shed then.
She’d curled into his arms then, too. Heartbroken, they’d both comforted each other, but Ronan had already begun to pull away. He’d hardened himself against the pain not being with her caused. And why shouldn’t he? He would have lost Lacey Caverns, if he stayed with her. His dad always kept good on his promises.
Breathing in her personal perfume, Ronan couldn’t believe it’d been years since he’d seen her, held her, talked with her. For the space of two heartbeats, if he could’ve gone back in time and reversed his decision to follow his parents and be with Kelsey, he would’ve.
But then he remembered where he was, and who he was, and most importantly, who he was with.
With over-exaggerated care, Ronan set Kelsey away from him, steadying her with an arm at her elbow. He ducked his head to see under her bent head. “Are you going to be alright? Can I do anything to help you?”
She peered at the lot, searching up and down the driveway. She groaned. “No, thank you. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine.” She grabbed the railing set far enough to the side it was more of a hindrance than a help and staggered down the steps.
What exactly did Ronan have to do to get her to accept his help?