Raising Kane Page 31

“Chase, you gonna be around in two weeks?”

He shook his head. “Hitting the event in Memphis.”

“Good luck.”


After he picked up trash and shoved the remaining beer in the fridge, he plopped on the couch. Too early to hit the hay. He snagged the remote and started flipping through channels. About ten minutes into mindless surfing, his cell phone trilled. He looked at the caller ID. It read: private caller.


Kane answered on the fifth ring. “Hello?” His smile dried. “No, it’s okay. I told you to call me. I’ll be right over.”

By the time Brandt reached Jessie’s trailer on the outskirts of Moorcroft, he’d lost the edge of rage his clueless brothers’ comments had invoked.

Few people knew about his temper. Brandt took great pains to keep it hidden, as it was an embarrassing trait he’d inherited from his father. He scowled. He’d rather have male pattern baldness than sudden bouts of fury with no outlet besides taking it out on the people he cared about.

He sat in his truck and counted to one hundred before he got out.

Jessie answered the door in pajamas. Not sexy ones. Flannel. No lace. No frills. Which described Jessie to a “T”. She still looked damn sexy. It made Brandt feel like a fucking pervert to wonder if Jessie had worn skimpy lingerie in the two years she’d been Luke’s wife.

“Brandt. Thank God you’re here.” She stepped aside and waited for him to remove his outerwear and boots before heading down the hallway. “It’s in the bathroom. I turn on the taps for the shower and nothing happens.”

“How long has it been like this?”

“It worked fine when I showered yesterday.”

“Got water in the kitchen?”

“I did for a while, but now it’s tapered off to nothing.”

Brandt scratched his chin. “To be honest, it sounds like a major problem. If the entire system is frozen, you’ll have to crawl under the trailer and see what section froze up and try to thaw it with a torch.

Chances are good if it’s broken and leakin’, it’s caused more freeze ups down the line.”

“Oh.” Her pretty face fell and she absentmindedly batted a stray strawberry-blonde hair from her face.

“Would it help if I held the flashlight when we crawled under there?”

Jessie just assumed he’d crawl under her trailer? At ten o’clock at night? With the temp stuck at three degrees?

Not likely. Not even for her.

She’s using you. She’s using your guilt about Luke.

“Whatever’s wrong is gonna have to wait until mornin’ and you can get a plumber or another qualified professional out here to take a look.”

“I assumed you could fix it.”

“I can’t fix everything, Jess.” Brandt sidestepped her and returned to the living room.

He paced in front of the pictures—dozens of them, all of Jessie and Luke. The room wasn’t a shrine, but as far as he could tell, it was awful damn close. Thing was, he didn’t blame her. He dropped onto the couch, too keyed up to relax into the puffy cushions.

“Would you like a beer?” she offered.

“Soda, if you’ve got one, bein’s I have to drive back.”

Jessie handed him a Diet Coke.

It didn’t help matters that she sat close enough to him he could reach out and touch her. He cleared his throat. “So, you heard anything from your dad lately?”

She frowned. “He called me from some podunk rodeo in Oklahoma. We didn’t talk long. Why?”

“Just curious. Chase is back for a spell and it reminded me that your dad is still traveling the circuit.”

“Chase does a lot better as a professional rodeo cowboy after just a few years than my dad has in his entire rodeo career.”

Brandt sipped his soda. “How’s your mom?”

“Good, I guess. She’s working at a coffee shop in Riverton.”

“Pretty place, Riverton.” Lame, Brandt.

“She invited me to visit.”

“You should go.” Pause. “So, you guys busy at Sky Blue? Or is January as slow there as it is everywhere else?”

The space between her eyebrows puckered with confusion. “What’s up with all the questions, Brandt?”

He bristled. “What? I can’t ask you about your family? Or your job?”

“It’s not that… it’s just—”

“You prefer to keep the conversation focused on my dead brother? Or whatever chore or ‘favor’ you require of me?”

Her face turned as red as a radish and Brandt felt like a total heel. But his brothers had been right about one thing: it was time to fish or cut bait where Jessie was concerned.

“If you hate helping me out so much then why are you here?”

Brandt locked his gaze to hers. “You know why I’m here.”

Jessie blushed even more furiously. She started to get up but Brandt clamped his hand around her thigh, keeping her in place.

“Are you drunk?” she demanded.

“No. Are you blind?” he countered.


“Why do you think I run right over here every damn time you call me? Because I love fixin’ wiring or haulin’ shit around in my truck? No. I come here to see you. And the only time I can get your attention is when I’m helpin’ you.”


“We can talk about this later. At my place.”


“No buts. You’re out of water. I want you to come home with me tonight.”

Awareness of the strings to his offer flashed in her eyes. The color drained from her face. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because it’s past time, Jessie.” He brought her hand to his lips. “I care about you.”

“That’s what you came all the way out here to tell me?”

“No, I cut short my poker game because you called me and begged me to come. I had time to think on the way over. Time to get up my courage to ask about you and me…if there is a you and me. Or even a chance for a you and me in the near future.”

Her eyes fairly shimmered with tears. “You thought that you and I…” She swallowed hard. “Brandt, I think of you as my brother.”

Holy fuck that stung.

“I couldn’t imagine us being…”

Jesus, Jessie, just say the fucking word.

But she didn’t.

Brandt snapped, “You can’t imagine us bein’ lovers?”

She shook her head. Vehemently.

Direct hit. She could imagine him crawling under her goddamn trailer house, but couldn’t fathom him crawling into her bed?

Grief, so raw and debilitating, nearly doubled him over.


After what seemed an eternity—but was probably only a minute—Brandt managed to stand. He didn’t say a word to her as he slipped on his boots and outerwear.

“I’m sorry,” Jessie blurted. “I just don’t want to give you false hopes.”

Too late.

“It’s not you, it’s—”

He whirled on her. “If you say it’s not you, it’s me, I swear to fuckin’ God I’ll punch a hole in this cheap-ass paneling.”

Jessie was taken aback by his violent outburst. “I wasn’t gonna say me. I was gonna say…it’s Luke.”

“He’s dead.” And again, Brandt felt like a fucking heel for making her flinch.

“I know. But even after more than a year, neither one of us has really let him go, have we?”

Brandt froze.

“You’re upset, I understand. I’ve spent the last year and a half upset.”

“Jessie, I’m—”

“Sorry? Yeah, me too. Go home, forget about this, and we’ll talk later, okay?”

He wanted to tell her it was all or nothing. He couldn’t be just friends and her errand boy anymore.

The words stuck in his throat.

“Drive safe, Brandt. I’ll call you.”

And Brandt knew she would. Probably tomorrow.

But he also knew the next time Jessie’s number flashed on his phone, he wouldn’t pick up.

Chapter Fourteen

Kane made it to Ginger’s house in record time. Hayden stood at the door waiting for him, his face pale.

“She’s awful sick and I thought she’d get mad if I called 911.”

“Where’s your grandpa?”

“He’s having one of his away weekends…” The boy’s voice broke and his chin trembled.

“Hayden. It’s okay. You did the right thing callin’ me.” Kane shed his winter clothing. “How long’s she been sick?”

“Since she came home from work yesterday. She got up when the senior bus picked Grandpa up this morning. And after he left, Mommy went back to bed.”

Hayden had been fending for himself since this morning? “What’ve you been doin’ all day?”

Guilt colored his cheeks. “Playing Xbox.”

At least the kid didn’t lie. “Tell you what. How about if you let me check on your mama and then we’ll figure out what to do.”

“Okay.” But instead of staying in the living room, Hayden clutched Kane’s hand and followed him down the hallway to Ginger’s bedroom.

Kane didn’t bother knocking. Ginger was sprawled in the middle of the bed in a skimpy nightgown, but he didn’t allow his gaze to linger on her generous, nearly naked attributes. The tangled covers were an indication she hadn’t been resting peacefully. He glanced at the window. She had to be feverish to crack the window open when it was nine degrees outside.

“Is she gonna be okay?”

“If she needs to go to the hospital I’ll take her myself. We’ll both take her.”

Hayden leaned against him, pressing his face into Kane’s rib cage.

Poor kid. Kane gave him a one-armed hug and moved to sit on the bed. He placed his hand on Ginger’s forehead. Damn, she was burning up. “Do you know where your mama keeps the thermometer?”

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