The boys paid no attention. They rolled around on the floor. Dodging punches and punching back. Yelling. Crying.
The baby girl suddenly let loose a loud wail.
“Come on, McKenna baby, not you too.”
Georgia gathered her stuff, thankful they’d concluded business before the tantrums started.
The door chime jangled, but that didn’t end the chaos.
A wolf whistle pierced the air. Then a man separated the boys. “Hey, hey, you two. No hitting.”
“Just in time, Colt,” India said.
The younger boy clung to the man’s neck when he stood. Colt settled the kid on his hip and smoothed the older boy’s hair. “You wanna tell me what’s goin’ on?”
Hudson shook his head.
Then the man briefly looked at Georgia. And she just about choked on the puddle of drool forming on her tongue. This guy… Wow. Yeah, the kids had definitely inherited his amazing looks.
But then he only had eyes for his wife. “Sorry to interrupt, Indy. I’ll get the boys outta your hair.”
“That’ll work. But you should meet Georgia Hotchkiss. Georgia, this is my husband, Colt McKay.”
“Georgia. As in Tell’s Georgia?”
And she thought the people in Sundance were gossipy? They had nothing on the McKay family.
India elbowed him. “Sometimes there’s a disconnect between your mouth and your brain. Yes, this is the Georgia who knows Tell. No, she doesn’t belong to him, caveman McKay.”
Colt grinned. “Nice to meetcha, Georgia. I’m gonna hafta rib my cousin, because he’s dating way out of his league.”
India bent down to hug Hudson. Then she stood and kissed Ellison’s cheek. “Be good for Daddy today, boys.” She turned away.
“Hey, Mama. Where’s my kiss?”
She sighed and stood on tiptoe to reach his lips for a quick peck. But Colt wrapped his hand around the back of her neck and held his wife in place as he gave her a very thorough kiss.
Georgia felt like a voyeur, seeing the intimate connection between these two, surrounded by their rambunctious kids, but existing only in the moment with each other.
Would she ever allow herself to have that kind of deep connection with a man? Or would she always pull back?
Like you’re pulling back with Tell? Like you’ve pulled back with everyone since RJ died?
She shoved everything into her briefcase. The tattoo art on the inside of the glass case caught her eye. Some designs were really cool, especially the memorial tattoos. Some were portraits, some were just dates, some were crosses, or some were a combination of all three.
“See anything you like?” India asked.
“Are all these your designs?”
“Most of them.”
“They are amazing.”
“Thank you. Were you considering a memorial tattoo?”
Georgia looked up. “I never have before now. But it seems…”
India patted her hand. “It’s hard to mark a sad event. But if you decide to do it, I can design anything from gaudy to discreet.”
“I’ll definitely be back.”
That night as Georgia wrote her sales report for her boss and mapped out her plan for the businesses in Moorcroft the following day, she kept sneaking glances at her cell phone. Checking it like some smitten teenage girl, wondering if her phone was somehow…broken because another day had gone by and she hadn’t heard from Tell.
So call him.
Right. After hearing his family’s concerns that she was some sort of femme fatale heartbreaker? Now she was uneasy enough about the situation that she wouldn’t call him first. Not out of pettiness; out of self-preservation.
Early Thursday morning, Tell glanced at Dalton, standing on his left. Man. His baby brother looked like roadkill. Then he noticed Brandt yawning. They were a lively bunch.
Cord had called a meeting at the sorting pens, which was neutral ground and the center of the ranch.
Pickups were parked in a lopsided circle. His cousins were spread out in groups of brothers. Kane and Kade were in a deep discussion. Colby, Cord and Colt were laughing about something. Quinn and Ben were standing together, not talking at all.
He spoke to Brandt. “You have any idea what this meeting is about?”
“Nope. Wish I’d brought more coffee. I am draggin’ ass today.” He yawned again. “Tucker cried all night. Woke us up every hour.”
Brandt offered a small smile. “Oh, it ain’t so bad. It’s just frustrating when we can’t figure out why he’s cryin’. The only thing that calms him down is bein’ held, so me’n Jess take turns.”
Dalton leaned closer. “Either of you got any Tums? I’m about to blow chunks after way too much drinkin’ last night.”
“There’s some in the glove box,” Brandt said. When Tell gaped at him, he said, “What? Jess ate Tums by the handful when she was pregnant. I kept ’em in my truck since I was her chauffeur.”
“That ain’t what surprised me. It was the fact you didn’t go all ‘you’re a dumb-ass’ on our little brother.”
“I’m too fuckin’ tired to care.” Brandt shot him a smirk. “And I’m practicing not bein’ a dick.”
Cord stepped forward and all conversation ended. “We haven’t had a formal shareholders meeting since around this time last year, so I figured we’d get it out of the way.”
“So we’re doin’ this without the previous McKay generation in attendance?” Quinn asked.
“Technically, they’re shareholders, but they gave up voting rights when they passed us the reins.”
It went unsaid that none of them wanted to deal with Casper after what’d happened last year. An endless prayer followed by an endless litany of criticism and complaints.
“I don’t gotta go over the financials because you all got copies relating to your shares. We all had a record year last year and so far it’s lookin’ like this one might be even better.”
“That said, we’ve gotta replace a lot of equipment, and that’s expensive, but since it’s equipment we all use it, the purchase will come out of the main ranch account.”
“We’re payin’ cash?” Ben asked.
“That’s what we need to vote on,” Cord said. “Whether we wanna take out a loan or use the cash reserves.”
Colt spoke up. “I’d rather we used some of the cash, say thirty or forty percent, and finance the rest. If we’ve still got a solid amount of cash this time next year, then we can look at payin’ off the remaining amount. Or extending the loan another year.”
“I agree,” Kade said. “Who knows what the economy, the price of feed and the livestock market will do in the next twelve months? Better to play it safe.”
“Any other comments or suggestions?” Cord asked.
Ben raised his hand. “At the risk of ruffling some feathers, I suggest we make sure we’re getting the lowest rate from Settler’s First Bank before we commit to borrowing money from them.”
“Sez the competing bank president’s husband,” Tell said dryly.
“I agree with Ben,” Brandt said. “It wouldn’t hurt to talk to American West Bank to see what they’ll offer to get some of our business.”
“And just to be clear, I won’t be involved one way or the other. I just wanted to mention it,” Ben added.
“So, show of hands on usin’ a partial down payment?”
All hands went up.
“Good. Show of hands on me, Kade, Brandt and Quinn finding the lowest loan rate?”
All hands went up.
Cord stroked his goatee. “Motion passes and all that shit. What’s next?”
Kade said, “As long as we’re talkin’ about joint expenses, something’s gotta be done with that bunkhouse. Over the last few months, me’n Colby found a ton of beer cans inside and outside. All the wood we had stockpiled has been burned, so someone has been livin’ there. Or more likely, kids have been usin’ it as a party house.”
“Once it becomes party central, it’s gonna be hell to get them kids to stop goin’ there,” Colby added.
“And Cam can’t patrol that area all the time because it’s abusing his position,” Colt pointed out. “Any ideas on how we oughta handle it?”
“I say all ten of us sit inside. When the little shits show up, we reinforce with ten loaded shotguns that they’re trespassing on private property,” Dalton suggested.
“I vote for burning it down,” Tell said. “Ain’t like we use it all that much anymore anyway. Not during calving season, and we haven’t played poker there in well over a year.”
Everyone looked at Tell like he was holding a can of gasoline and a blowtorch.
“Jesus, Tell, can’t you be serious for one fuckin’ second?” Kane demanded.
Tell hated how his face heated. “I am serious. It ain’t like we can move it, since we poured concrete footings. We used cheap materials to build it and we haven’t been takin’ care of it, so it is gonna fall into ruin. Better we torch it ourselves than to wait for some dumb fucking teenagers to accidentally light it on fire, as well as the damn grass surrounding it.”
“Just torch it?” Kade said. “Seems wasteful.”
Discussion broke out. Tell knew nothing would be decided today. He whistled and everyone stopped talking. “I believe there are two options on the table. Cord? Let’s vote.”
Cord cocked his head. “You’re pushy today, Tell. What’s up? Got someplace to be?”
“Maybe he’s volunteered to walk a group of senior citizens across the street,” Colt said.
“Or maybe he’s gotta polish up his comedy routine for Wyoming’s Funniest Person contest at Cheyenne Frontier Days,” Colby quipped.