The Secret Child & The Cowboy CEO(4)

By: Janice Maynard

Bryn smiled, though her aunt couldn’t see her. “Allen deserves a share of the wealth. And I’ll put it in a special account for his college education and whatever else he might need down the road. It will give him a secure future, and that’s important. I’ll be home in four weeks. Don’t you worry about me.”

They chitchatted a few more minutes, but then Allen demanded Aunt Beverly’s attention. Bryn clicked the phone shut and blinked rapidly to stave off a wave of loneliness and heartache. She had never been away from her baby more than a night or two.

Allen would be fine. She knew that. But she felt like she’d been given a life sentence without parole.

She changed into comfortable jeans and a petal-pink sweater. It was time to check on Mac.

She tiptoed as she neared his room. He needed his rest desperately. Fortunately, this entire wing of the house was quiet as a tomb, so maybe he was still sleeping. Everything in his luxurious but masculine suite was designed for comfort, so as long as his medication was relieving any pain, he should be recovering on schedule.

But she knew as well as anyone that grief manifested itself in serious and complex ways.

Her foot was moving forward to enter the room when she realized Trent was sitting on the side of his father’s bed. She caught her breath and drew back instinctively.

Trent murmured softly, the conversation one-sided as Mac slept. Bryn couldn’t make out the words. Trent stroked his father’s forehead, the gesture so gentle a huge lump strangled her throat.

The old man was feeble and frail in the large bed. His eldest son, in contrast, was virile, strong and healthy. Seeing Trent show such tenderness shocked her. He had always been a reserved man, self-contained and difficult to read. Striking and impressive, but a man of few smiles.

His steel-gray eyes and jet-black hair, dusted with premature silver at the temples, complemented a complexion tanned dark by the sun. Despite the years he’d been gone from Wyoming, he still retained the look of one who spent much of his time outdoors.

She swallowed hard and forced herself to enter the room. “When is his next doctor’s appointment?”

Though her words were soft and low, Trent snatched back his hand and rose to his feet, his expression closed and forbidding. “Next Tuesday, I think. It’s written on the kitchen calendar.”

She nodded, her voice threatening to fail her. “Okay.” She tried to step past him, but he put a hand on her arm.

Trent was raw with grief over the loss of his brother. He could barely contemplate the possibility of losing the old man so soon after Jesse’s death. How could Bryn still turn him inside out? His grip tightened. Not enough to hurt her, but enough to let her know he wouldn’t be a pushover.

He put his face close to hers, perhaps to prove to himself that kissing her was a temptation he could withstand. “Stay out of my way, Bryn Matthews. And we’ll get along just fine.”

This close he could see the almost imperceptible lines at the corners of her eyes. She was not a child anymore. She was a grown woman. And he saw in one brief instant that she had suffered, too.

But then she blinked and the tense moment was gone. “No problem,” she said, her voice quiet so as not to wake her patient. “You won’t even know I’m here.”

Trent strode outdoors blindly, feeling suffocated and out of control. He needed physical exertion to clear his head. A half hour later, he slung a heavy saddle over the corral rail and wiped sweat from his forehead. Working out at the gym in Denver wasn’t quite the same as doing ranch labor. The chores here were hard, hot and strangely cathartic. It had been a decade since Trent had played an active role in running the Crooked S. But the skills, rusty as they might be, were coming back to him.

He had repaired fences, mucked out stalls, hunted down stray calves and helped the vet deliver two new foals. Up until yesterday, his brothers, Gage and Sloan, had done their part, as well. But they were gone now—for at least a month—until one of them returned to relieve Trent.

A month seemed like a lifetime.

Trent’s father employed an army of ranch hands, but in his old age, he’d become cantankerous and intolerant of strangers—reluctant to let outsiders know his business. He’d fired his foreman not long before Jesse’s death. The tragedy had taken a toll on all of them, but Mac had aged overnight.

Even now, eight weeks after Jesse’s death, Trent was blindsided at least once a day by a poignant memory of his youngest brother. The coroner’s report still made no sense. Cause of death: heroin overdose. It was ridiculous. Jesse had been an Eagle Scout, for God’s sake. Had someone slipped him the drug without his knowledge?

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