Gone Country Page 6


“Your bus is always in the middle. I’m jealous. All the good people ride on your bus. That’s the one everyone wants to be on.”


Sierra wondered what good people meant.


Marin smiled. “You’ll see. Perverts ride on my bus. Always trying to cop a feel. And the grade school boys are the worst.”


“So the school secretary wasn’t bullshitting my dad? Everyone in high school really rides the bus home every day?”


“Not everyone, not every day. Like the jocks have practice after school. But everyone else? Pretty much.”


Bizarre. Didn’t any of these people have cars? In Arizona everyone she knew had a car and no one rode the bus. She didn’t think her school district even had buses. “What if there’s a drama club meeting or something?”


“If there’s an activity or a club meeting, it’s held after supper, not after school, if it can be helped.”


“Why?”


“The school is big on parental involvement and that means scheduling stuff when adults are done with work. Most the kids who ride the bus have chores to do after school anyway.”


Chores. Such a foreign concept to her. After school let out in Arizona, she’d flopped on her bed and napped or watched TV until her dad got home from work.


“That’s why there’s no morning bus service,” Marin continued. “Gotta get them early chores done. So what’re you doing when you get home?”


“I’m sure my dad will grill me on how my second day of school went. If I made new friends. What I had for lunch. If I have homework.”


“That’s better than cleaning the chicken coop.” Marin pointed to the open door. “This one is yours. You’ve got my number. Call me later if you want.” She raced off.


Sierra reached the top step on the bus and the driver stopped her. “You’re Sierra?”


“How did you know?”


The older lady laughed. “Darlin’, I know every kid on this bus and have for years, most their parents too. So it’s nice to see a new face.”


“Oh. Which stop am I supposed to get off at?”


“Third to last stop.” Then the driver’s eyes were on the mirror, watching someone behind her. “Jimmy Dale, don’t you be messing with Liesl on the ride home, you hear me? Or I’ll make you sit up front.”


“Yes, Mrs. Craftsman.”


Sierra walked down the aisle. Little kids sat up front. A guy wearing a gray hoodie had claimed the last seat on the right. His athletic shoes hung off the end of the seat and he radiated a “back off” vibe. She chose a spot four seats up on the left.


Two girls from her history and math classes nodded at her they passed by, sliding into the seat opposite the hoodie wearer. A junior high couple sat two seats ahead and immediately started making out. Four guys she recognized from the lunchroom pushed and shoved each other, tossing out, “Hey, baby, we love you,” all the way to the back of the bus.


At least the spot next to her had stayed empty.


When the bus pulled out, she slipped in her earbuds and cranked her iPod, the universal leave-me-alone sign, focusing her attention out the window.


Maybe that wasn’t an obvious signal in Wyoming; she felt a tap on her shoulder.


She ignored it.


Less than thirty seconds later, a more insistent tap was followed by a loud, “Hey! I’m talkin’ to you.”


Sierra met the blue eyes of the dark-haired boy, about twelve, draped over the edge of the seat in front of her. He motioned for her to take out her earbuds. “What? Am I in your seat or something?”


“Nope. Man, you’re hot. Like really hot.”


Awesome that the elementary set thought she was dateable. But if this kid tried to cop a feel like Marin had warned, she’d deck him.


“Bet you can’t guess who I am?”


Her mind supplied a pain in the butt, but she said, “I have no idea.”


“Guess.”


She shook her head.


“Come on,” he cajoled. “Just one time.”


“Look, kid, I—”


“One guess,” he repeated stubbornly.


“Leave her alone, Ky,” came from the back of the bus.


Who had warned this kid off? She slowly turned.


The hoodie guy had removed his hood and was staring straight at her.


Oh hello, gorgeous. The guy was hot…beyond words actually, with long brown hair that nearly brushed his wide shoulders and dark scruff on his cheeks. He certainly didn’t look like he belonged in high school.


“Shut it, Boone. I wasn’t talkin’ to you,” the kid in front of her retorted.


Boone? Now that was a western name.


The kid tapped her shoulder again and she forced herself to quit gawking at the beautiful Boone. “What?”


“Now do you know who I am?”


“Not a clue, little dude.”


He scowled. “I’m not that little.”


“Quit bein’ a pain in the ass, cuz. She don’t wanna play your game.”


Next thing she knew, hot Boone from the back of the bus plopped in the seat across from her and smiled.


Oh. My. God. He had a killer smile. Pure bad boy. With dimples.


“Hey. I’m Boone West. Who’re you?”


Sierra blinked.


“See? She don’t wanna talk to you neither,” the kid in front of her sneered.


That’s when she realized she hadn’t answered. “I’m Sierra.”


“Sierra…?”


“Daniels.”


“But she’s really a McKay,” the kid crowed.


“What?” echoed from about twenty people on the bus.


Great. Were they looking at her with scorn? Or envy?


“It’s what I was tryin’ to tell you. You’re my cousin.” He grinned. “I’m Kyler McKay. You can call me Ky. There are lots of our cousins on this bus.”


Wait. Boone had called Ky cuz. So did that mean… God no. Please don’t let me be related to him. She glanced at Boone.


He was looking at her curiously. “You’re a McKay? I thought you said your last name was Daniels?”


“It is. It’s a weird story. My dad found out a few years ago that Charlie and Vi McKay are his birth parents.”


“Ah. The long lost McKay son. I’ve heard about him.”


“You have?”


“Yep. Sundance is a small town, becomes even smaller with the West and McKay family connections.” His stunning topaz eyes roamed over her face. “But no one told me about you.”


Sierra blushed crimson.


“Well, I knew you were gonna be on the bus. My mama told me to keep an eye out for you so you didn’t get off at the wrong stop,” Kyler said.


“Mine did too.” Another boy the same age as Ky scooted next to him and leaned over the seat.


“And who are you?” Sierra asked.


“Anton McKay.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Our cousin Hayden is up there with the little cousins.”


“How many McKays are there?”


Kyler tapped his fingers. “On the bus? Me, Anton, Hayden, Eliza, Liesl, Peyton, Shannie, Gib, Braxton, Miles. So ten.”


“Holy shit.”


Boone laughed. “There are at least that many McKay kids that don’t go to school yet.”


Sierra blurted, “So am I related to you?”


He shook his head. “I’m related to two branches of the McKay family tree because these guys’ grandmas were Wests. But you and me? Not even distant kin.”


Thank God.


When Boone flashed her that mega-watt smile she about died. Had she really said that out loud?


“So what year are you?” he asked.


“Sophomore. You?”


“Senior. I didn’t see you around today.”


“That’s probably because you were in the principal’s office,” Ky said with a snicker.


“Don’t make me pound on you, boy. You remember the last time you mouthed off to me.”


Ky scowled at him. “Didn’t hurt that bad.”


Sierra bit back a smile.


Anton rallied to Ky’s defense. “What’re you doin’ up here anyway, Boone? Finding third graders to beat up?”


“Or smart-mouthed sixth graders. I’m makin’ conversation. Now turn around or I’ll tell Mrs. Craftsman you were looking down Daphne’s shirt.”


Anton blushed. But he turned around.


“So how long have you been here?” Boone asked. “I haven’t seen you around town.”


“Just since Saturday. We moved from Arizona.”


“You here for good?”


I hope not. “Probably.”


Boone rested his forearms on his thighs and leaned closer. “You don’t seem too happy about that.”


“It’s not that. It’s just…I don’t know anyone.”


“You will soon enough, trust me. Half the school will wanna get to know you a whole lot better.”


She wasn’t sure how to take that.


The bus started to slow down. Boone tapped Ky on the shoulder. “You’ll make sure Sierra gets off at the McKay bus stop?”


“Duh.”


“The McKays have their own bus stop?” Sierra asked Boone.


“The McKays could have their own bus.” Boone stood and slung his backpack over his shoulder, flashing that dimpled grin again. “See ya around, McKay.” On his way down the aisle he lightly tapped his younger cousins on the back of the head. They all complained, but she could tell they were happy to have his attention.


Aware that Kyler’s and Anton’s eyes were on her, Sierra tried really hard not to check out Boone’s butt.


Maybe this riding the bus home thing wouldn’t be so bad.


Chapter Six


September…


“Now that Sierra has started her second week at school and you have everything unpacked, what will you do this week?” Rielle asked him.


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