Ginger smiled at Hayden when he skidded to a stop in front of her. “It’s okay. You can hug me. Just don’t squeeze too hard.”
He buried his face in her neck and heaved a deep sigh.
She placed her forehead on the top of his damp head, breathing him in. The scent of her little boy, baby shampoo beneath the hint of sweat and the cold tang of the outdoors. “I missed you, baby.”
“I’m not a baby.”
“My mistake.” She smooched his crown before he squirmed back. He never used to try and escape her hugs, but from the day he’d turned eight, he’d gotten stingy with maternal affection. She looked over at Kane, lounging in the doorway.
Good thing she wasn’t hooked up to a heart rate monitor.
Holy buckets the man looked commanding, even leaning nonchalantly against the doorjamb. Commanding and an utterly striking example of masculine perfection. Scuffed black boots crossed at the ankle anchored the long line of his denim-clad legs. He wore a shaggy sheepskin coat and folded his arms over his broad chest. His ever-present black cowboy hat shadowed his face—a shame really, because Kane McKay had a beautiful face. Sharp angles defined his strong jawline. The neatly trimmed dark mustache and goatee framed those perfectly kissable lips. And his eyes. Lord have mercy on her soul. She could lose her train of thought in a heartbeat, gazing into those dark blue depths.
Don’t you mean you could lose your panties in a heartbeat?
The man epitomized rugged cowboy, down to the inscrutable way he looked at her, so she wasn’t quite sure what he was thinking.
Which was probably why she’d never made a move on him.
Well, that and it was against the rules of the Big Buddies/Little Buddies program for them to fraternize.
And man, she’d thought about fraternizing with him naked a whole lot. Ever since the night last year that she’d gone out and found trouble with his assorted McKay cousins’ wives at the Twin Pines. Not only had she ended up drinking too much, she’d found herself in the middle of a bar fight, and coming home in the backseat of a cop car, courtesy of Deputy Cam McKay. She’d panicked to see Kane’s truck parked in her driveway, fearing something had happened to Hayden, but Kane had calmed her down immediately… And then he revved her back up, with his sexy whispered, “How about if you let me take you to bed?”
Feeling guilty about her impure thoughts, she said, “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” to Hayden and then shot a questioning glance at Kane.
Kane shrugged. “I wanted to swing by and tell Libby you were goin’ home, so I just picked him up early.” His gaze moved over her at a snail’s pace and she shivered. “You ready?”
“I signed myself out. Got my cache of drugs. Just waiting on the wheelchair.” She scowled. Seemed an unnecessary rule in her opinion.
Hayden’s eyes grew big. “You have to be in a wheelchair?”
“No, sweetie. They’ll wheel me out in one, that’s all.”
“Too bad. I thought maybe you and Gramps could have wheelchair races.”
“He’d beat me for sure. He’s pretty speedy.”
Hayden crouched over the pink plaster. “Buck said you had a cast. Can I sign it?”
“First thing when we get home.”
The nurse wheeled in the chair and Kane left to pull his pickup around. Hayden didn’t say a word as the nurse helped Ginger into the chair. At least they’d removed the full bandage on her left hand so she wasn’t a total invalid.
Face it. You are completely helpless for the next few days.
Once they reached the patient pickup area, Ginger debated on how she’d climb into Kane’s monster truck. Hayden had no such qualms; he clambered into the back seat like a monkey. Good idea. Maybe she should just go for it. She attempted to stand and Kane was right there, gently shouldering aside the nurse.
“Thanks.” He smiled at the nurse. “I got it from here.” He put his mouth on Ginger’s ear. Tingles ran from neck to her midsection, tightening everything in its wake. “Trust me?”
“On three I’m gonna lift you.”
His arm slipped behind the bend of her knee. He gently cradled the right side of her body to the hard strength of his. “One. Two. Three.”
Then she was airborne, efficiently being stuffed in the front seat of Kane’s truck. “You’re lucky you didn’t wind up in the hospital yourself, McKay, with my weight straining your back.”
“Nah. I’m used to movin’ around heifers.”
She would’ve snapped at him if not for the twinkle in his eye and the smirk curling his lips. “You are a regular riot.”
“So you can take a joke,” he murmured. “I’d wondered. Besides, you smell way better than heifers and you didn’t try to knock me on my ass. That’s always a plus.”
“There’s always next time,” she said sweetly.
“Lookin’ forward to it.” He fiddled with the seatbelt. “I’m thinkin’ we’d better put this strap behind your head so it don’t strain your shoulder and only use the lap belt.” The intimate way Kane’s fingers straightened the belt across her abdomen sent her heart galloping and a small gasp escaped.
Mr. Twinkling Blue Eyes was right in her face. “Shit, sorry, I thought I was bein’ careful. Did I hurt you?”
He squinted at her. “Then what’s wrong?”
I just discovered my whole body goes haywire from your slightest touch. “Ah. Nothing. I’m just anxious to get home.”
He smiled. His damn smile was as sexy as his teasing eyes. “Once we get there, don’t bail outta the truck on your own. I’m here to help you, and that includes carryin’ you into the house if I have to, understand?”
“And if I don’t?”
“Red, you might learn firsthand exactly how good I am with ropes.”
Kane grinned and spoke to Hayden. “All buckled in?”
“Good. Let’s get your mama on home, hmm?”
Hayden filled the air with chatter, which Ginger mostly tuned out due to the reappearance of a vicious headache.
Once they’d reached her house, she couldn’t wait to crash in her own bed and sleep. She depressed the seatbelt locking mechanism and turned toward the door.
“Ah ah ah. My threats ain’t idle, sugar, so stay put.”
The man lifted her out and wrapped his arm around her waist, holding her tightly to his side.
“I can manage.”
“No, you can’t,” he argued with entirely too much cheer.
Glaring at him didn’t cause his sexy smile to slip.
“You’re gonna have to learn to lean on me.” They took three steps. “There you go. See? That ain’t so hard.”
“Yes, it is.” But Ginger wouldn’t admit the hardest part was being pressed against Kane’s muscular body and feeling the need to surrender to his raw magnetism.
Definitely loopy from the drugs.
Kane stopped on the top step. “You okay?
“Sleepy. Sore. Starving. And crabby about being all three to be real honest.”
“That’s totally understandable. Let’s get you inside.”
In the kitchen, she sagged into a kitchen chair. “Give me a minute.”
Ginger heard the soft squeak of her dad’s wheels on the wood floor and looked up.
This aged version of her father caught her by surprise. During her childhood, this soft-spoken man had loomed larger than life. Tall, slender, with a shock of red hair. Now that red hair had turned white. His frame had shrunk, leaving his shoulders hunched, his arms and legs slightly shriveled. The arthritis confined him to a wheelchair, destroyed his body, but not his will, and his mind was as sharp as ever.
Ginger had always adored him. Even when her mother used lies and manipulation to keep them apart. He’d given up his position as a federal prosecutor in California and retreated to Wyoming after the demise of his marriage to Ginger’s mother. Although they both regretted the years they’d lost, she was grateful they’d worked to build a new relationship.
She attempted a smile. “Hey, Dad.”
“Dearest daughter.” His shrewd eyes took in every injury and assessed it before moving on to the next. “You all right?”
“I’ve been better.”
“We’ll talk about what happened after you’ve rested.” He tapped his fingers on the arms of his chair. “Maybe it’s none of my business, but who’s going to help you get undressed?”
Ginger hadn’t thought about that. She’d left the hospital wearing the camisole top she’d worn under her suit jacket and a borrowed pair of baggy scrubs-type pants. She’d only needed one shoe, so the nurse outfitted her with a pair of shower shoes, covering both her feet with socks and surgical booties to protect her from the cold.
“That young McKay has been quite a help, but I’m not comfortable with him…helping you get your clothes off, even though rumor around town is he’s helped plenty of women out of their clothes. Plenty of women,” he reiterated.
“Dad. That’s not fair.”
“I suppose you’re right. But I’d feel better if you had a female around to help you do those types of things.” He pinned her with a paternal look. “It’s what you insisted on for me, remember? The male nurse who comes every other day to help me?”
“Fine. I’ll call Libby. Or maybe Joely can swing by.”
“Good.” He rolled toward the living room.
“Your dad have that opinion of all McKays? Or just me?” Kane asked tersely from the hallway.
Ginger glanced up and saw a hard glint in Kane’s eyes. “Since your family has been my dad’s clients for thirty years, I’m betting it’s just you.”
“At least you didn’t sugarcoat it,” he drawled. “Come on, let’s get you to bed.”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
“Careful, a man could take that the wrong way.”
She stood too quickly and swayed, but Kane was right there to catch her. He snarled and practically carried her to her bedroom, leaving her no time to protest.
You don’t want to protest. You like his take-charge nature and all that big, strong, blustering manly goodness.
Ginger didn’t dissect her reaction. She sighed when her back hit the mattress. How sweet was it that Kane set an extra folded fleece blanket next to her? Knowing she was always cold?
Hayden ducked around Kane and curled up beside her. “I could stay and keep you company.”
Her heart swelled with love at her son’s sweetness and concern.
But Kane shook his head. “Sorry. Maybe later. Your mama needs to rest.” When Hayden’s face fell, Kane amended, “Tell you what. I am gonna force her to eat so she can take her pain pills. You wanna make her a couple of slices of toast?”
“Sure.” He raced off.
She sank into her pillows, too tired to argue with Kane about his use of the word force, too tired to keep her eyes open. “I don’t need the pain meds right now.”
“You will in about an hour. I’d hate for the pain to wake you up.”
“True.” The bed shifted as Kane sat next to her. Ginger didn’t open her eyes.
“Look, I understand your dad’s concerns about me, but if you need help changin’ outta these clothes, I could probably keep it…umm, clinical.”
“Probably?” she asked lightly.
Pause. Then soft laughter. “Ah, hell, who am I kiddin’? If I get even the barest glimpse of your nekkidness, my thoughts would be impure enough to warrant your daddy getting out the shotgun. So scratch that goddamn temptation.”
Ginger’s eyes flew open.
Kane stroked his closely trimmed mustache and stared at her breasts, spilling out the sides of the lace camisole. His avid gaze didn’t return to her face for several long moments.
When Kane did look at her, the lust raging in his blue eyes caught her completely off guard. She blurted, “You’ve never—”
“Acted as if I’ve thought about takin’ you to my bed and keepin’ you there for a solid month?”
“Oh. Umm. No.”
“I have, sugar. Have I ever. It’s an impulse I’ve ignored because I’m supposed to provide ‘moral character’ for your son. So I feel guilty as hell when I see you and imagine all the immoral things I’d like to do to you.”
“What types of things?” she breathed.
Kane traced the length of her bare arm with the tip of his index finger. “Things that’ll make you stammer and blush.” He smiled when goose flesh broke out across her skin from his touch. “And shiver like this.”