The Secret Child & The Cowboy CEO(3)

By: Janice Maynard

Remembering Jesse at this particular moment was a mistake. It brought back every single moment of torment Trent had experienced when his baby brother started dating the woman Trent wanted. The situation had been intolerable, and only by keeping himself in Denver, far away from temptation, had Trent been able to deal with it.

But in his heated fantasies, during the dead of night, it was Bryn, always Bryn. He’d told himself he was over her. He’d told himself he hated her.

But it was all a lie….

Bryn didn’t have the luxury of locking herself in her room and giving way to the storm of emotions that tightened her throat and knotted the muscles between her shoulder blades. Why couldn’t Mac’s son Gage have been here…or Sloan? She loved both of them like brothers and would have been happy for a reunion        . But Trent… Oh, God, had she given herself away? Did he know now she had never gotten over her fascination with him?

She couldn’t allow herself to think about what had just happened…refused to acknowledge how she enjoyed the way his hard, naked chest felt beneath her hands. Had she pushed him away or leaned into him?

Don’t be a fool, Bryn. Nothing can come of going down that road but more hurt.

When Bryn was sure Mac was napping, she went out to the car to retrieve her suitcase and carry-on. Trent had disappeared to do chores. Bryn was grateful for the respite from his presence.

She stood, arms upraised, and stretched for a moment, shaking off the stiffness from the long flight and subsequent drive. She had forgotten the clearness of the air, the pure blue of the Wyoming sky. In the distance, the Grand Tetons ripped at the heavens, their jagged peaks still snow-capped, even in mid-May.

Despite her stress and confusion, after six years of exile, the familiar Crooked S brand entwined prominently in the massive wrought-iron gates at the end of the driveway felt like a homecoming. The imposing metalwork arched skyward as if to remind importunate visitors, “You’re nobody. Trespass at your own risk.”

The four boys used to call it the “Crooked Ass Ranch.” Mac hadn’t thought the irreverence funny.

Before going back inside, Bryn studied the house with yearning eyes. Little had changed since she had been gone. The sprawling two-story structure of timber and stone had cost millions to build, even in the mid-seventies when Mac had constructed it for his young bride.

The house rested, like a conqueror, on the crest of a low hill. Everything about it reeked of money, from the enormous wraparound porch to the copper guttering that gleamed in the midday sun. The support beams for the porch were thick tree trunks stripped of bark. Flowering shrubs tucked at the base of the house gave a semblance of softness to the curb appeal, but Bryn wasn’t fooled.

This was a house of powerful, arrogant men.

Back inside, she picked up her phone and dialed her aunt’s number. Even though the Sinclair’s ranch was in the middle of nowhere, Mac had long ago paid for a cell tower to be built near the house. With enough money, anything could be bought, including all the trappings of an electronic society.

When Aunt Beverly answered, Bryn felt immediately soothed by the familiar voice. Six years ago her mother’s older sister had taken in a scared, pregnant teenager and had not only helped Bryn enroll in community college and find a part-time job, but when the time came, she had also been a doting grandmother, in every sense of the word, to Allen.

Bryn chatted with a cheer she didn’t feel, and then asked to speak to her son. Allen’s tolerance for phone conversations was limited, but it comforted Bryn to hear his high-pitched voice. The family next door had two new puppies. Aunt Beverly was taking him to the neighborhood pool tomorrow. His favorite toy fire truck had lost a wheel. “Love you. Bye, Mommy.”

And with that, he was gone.

Beverly came back on the line. “Are you sure everything is okay, sweetheart? He can’t make you stay.”

Bryn squeezed the bridge of her nose and cleared her throat. “I’m fine…honestly. Mac is weaker than I expected, and they’re grieving for Jesse.”

“What about you?”

Bryn paused, trying to sort through her chaotic feelings. “I’m still coming to terms with it. He didn’t break my heart. What we had was more hormones than happily-ever-afters. But he nearly destroyed my world. I never forgave him for that, but I didn’t want him dead.” Her throat thickened, making it hard to speak.

Beverly’s gentle words echoed her strength. “We’ve gotten by without the money all this time, Bryn. It’s not worth losing your pride and your self-respect. If they give you trouble, promise me you’ll leave.”

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