When Ginger Paulson’s horoscope hinted she’d take an unexpected trip, she hadn’t anticipated tripping down a flight of stairs.
The wool scarf muffled her shriek as she became airborne. Everything happened in slow motion, yet lightning fast. She twisted her body, colliding with the ground in a bone-jarring thump. Her left shin smacked into the cement step. Heat bloomed as that section of her skin ruptured. Her right leg collapsed; her knee went one direction, her ankle the other. Burning pain shot through her as the cartilage in her right shoulder popped. Screaming in agony wasn’t an option—the impact had knocked every bit of air from her lungs.
Can’t breathe, can’t breathe, oh God, I’m dying.
Dots swam in front of her eyes. First black, then white, then gray, then nothing.
No sight. No sound. No feeling.
Was she dead?
Immediately her pain receptors came back online, kicked into overdrive and she gasped in lungfuls of air.
Oh shit. Oh holy mother of God every inch of her body hurt.
Time blurred as Ginger lay at the bottom of the stairs in pain, stunned. She needed help.
Yeah, good luck with that one. You never ask for help.
This time, she had no choice.
As Ginger tried to roll to her right side, using her left hand to push herself upright, she lost her balance. The heel of her left palm skidded across the coarse pavement, grinding off her skin, clear down to the bone—or so it felt as a new stinging sensation assaulted her.
Goddammit. Her vision blurred, her ears rang, her body throbbed. She wanted to curl into a ball and weep.
Think. Crying won’t solve the problem. Call for help.
Call. Right. If she could just reach her cell phone… Not an easy task, considering her right arm was useless. Despite the bloodied skin on her left palm and the pain pounding from every molecule of her body, she managed to snag the cell phone from her right jacket pocket.
Breathing hard, hurting, mortified and feeling a little loopy, Ginger used her thumb to dial 911.
“Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”
“Help me. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
Ginger managed to relay the basic information of her whereabouts without cackling hysterically about the “I’ve fallen” line until after she’d hung up. She laughed and laughed until her stomach muscles hurt.
Huh. Maybe she had hit her head harder than she’d thought.
Sundance, Wyoming wasn’t exactly a metropolis. The wait for the ambulance wouldn’t be long. The bitterly cold wind whipped snow crystals around her. Since she couldn’t move, she laid flat on her back on the icy pavement, staring at the bleak winter sky.
The tears she’d been holding in finally poured out and froze to her cheeks.
Kane “Buck” McKay had just pulled the plastic sheeting from his Hungry-Man Salisbury steak dinner when his cell phone rang.
“Sonuvabitch.” Fingers smarting from the steam burn, he flipped his phone open with a curt
Kane’s flash of temper mellowed and his lips formed a genuine grin. “Hayden. I’m surprised you’re callin’ me on a school night. What’s up?”
The little boy babbled a mile a minute and Kane’s smile dried.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa there. I can’t understand a word you’re sayin’, buddy. Come on. Take a deep breath and start over.”
Hayden spoke a little slower, but not much.
By the time Hayden finished, Kane had his coat and his boots on. “Okay, Hayden, calm down. You’re gonna get your breathing outta whack if you don’t take it easy. Slow and steady. That’s good.” He waited, listening to the wheezing silence on the line as he shoved his wallet in his back pocket, grabbed his keys and plunked his hat on his head. “You’re at home with your grandpa?”
“Lemme talk to him.”
Urgently whispered words sounded in the background and then, “This is Dash Paulson.”
“Dash? Kane McKay. Hayden called and said Ginger had some kind of accident?”
“I don’t know why in the devil the boy called you.”
There’s gratitude for ya.
Pause. “But I’m glad he did. Evidently Ginger fell down the stairs at the office and that’s all I know.
She called about an hour ago from the hospital, told us not to worry and she’d keep us updated. We’ve heard nothing since. It’s frustrating not able to go to her and see for myself what’s up.”
Dash Paulson was wheelchair-bound, which put him in a shitty situation because he was also housebound. “How about if I head to the hospital and see what’s goin’ on?”
“I’d appreciate it,” Dash said.
“Sit tight. Lemme talk to Hayden again.” Before Hayden could ask a million questions, Kane cut him off. “I’m goin’ to check on your mama. It might be a bit before I know anything, so in the meantime I want Raising Kane
you take your grandpa’s mind off his worryin’. Play chess or work on that five-thousand-piece puzzle. Stay off the phone.”
“Promise you’ll call?”
“I promise, sport.”
Kane jammed his hands in his gloves and patted his dog’s head before he climbed in his truck. He tried to focus on something—anything—besides his mounting worry on the drive to Sundance. Not only was Ginger Paulson a single mother, she was also her father’s caretaker, and she maintained a law practice.
Ginger. Just the mention of her name stirred something inside him. She’d captured his interest like no other woman he’d ever met. She redefined the term stacked—six feet of curves, curves and more curves. A red-haired, hazel-eyed beauty whose Amazonian size was only topped by her Amazonian intellect.
Too bad Ginger was way out of his league. And since she’d enrolled her son in the Little Buddies program, she was strictly off limits, which was a damn crying shame.
Out of loneliness and boredom, Kane had signed up as a volunteer for the Big Buddies/Little Buddies program, a program that paired young boys without a male influence with local male mentors. Once Kane had completed the training, he’d received his first Little Buddy. Problem was, the boy’s mother was looking for a husband for herself, not a mentor for her son. When Kane rebuffed her advances and requested the boy be removed from his mentoring, she’d claimed to the program director that Kane had hit on her, resulting in Kane almost getting kicked out of the program in his very first month. That’d chapped his ass. Big time.
No one had expected him to stick with the program. So he’d worked damn hard to prove he had what it takes to be a good example to young boys. He’d had hits and misses.
Then he was paired with Hayden Paulson.
It’d been a rocky start. The boy was painfully shy, small for his age and freakishly smart—none of those descriptions had ever been applied to Kane McKay. After the first month, Kane wondered if he and Hayden would ever find common ground. But Kane saw something special in Hayden and forged a mentorship based on friendship.
Over the course of the last two years, he’d managed to coax Hayden out of his shell. Hayden was more outgoing, more confident in his own interests, plus he was eager to try new experiences. One of Kane’s proudest moments came when the kid out-fished him on a camping trip. Spending time with the little boy with the big brain was the highlight of Kane’s week.
The bonus? Mama hung around whenever Kane showed up on their doorstep. And sometimes he lingered, chatting her up, trying like hell to charm her, while Hayden impatiently tugged at him to get a move on.
But damn. Ginger Paulson was something else. That amazingly hot body, that amazingly expressive face, those amazingly tasty lips. The woman had turned him inside out and upside down since he’d given into temptation and taken the kiss she’d offered.
How much farther would it’ve gone if he hadn’t done the right thing for once and backed off?
All the way.
Keep thinking about the hot mama and prove your indecent thoughts by showing up at the hospital with a hard-on.
Still…Ginger intrigued Kane on several levels. After she’d relocated from southern California to take over her dad’s law practice, she’d involved herself in the community, but she didn’t date. Ever. A fact he’d learned directly from her son. On occasion she whooped it up with Libby McKay and Dr. Monroe, but mostly she handled her family responsibilities and kept a low profile.
That’s where he and Ginger had boatloads in common. Wild Kane McKay, part of the infamous bad boy McKays, once the terror of four Wyoming counties with his boozing, brawling and babes, was no more. He’d foresworn the love ’em and leave ’em lifestyle after his cousin Colt had entered rehab. Since his twin brother Kade’s marriage, a matrimony epidemic had consumed most of his hell-raisin’ McKay cousins. Kane really had no one to party with anyway and surprisingly, he hadn’t missed it at all.
His late nights were few and far between unless he counted the poker games he hosted for his remaining single McKay cousins. Kane didn’t spend much time with Kade in their off-the-ranch hours.
Same went for his cousin Colt. Both men were married, with families. Sometimes Kane longed for the life they’d led at the Boars Nest. Not the nonstop partying, or the orgies, but the camaraderie they’d shared.
Everyone had grown up and moved on, it seemed.
Everyone but him.
Or so people thought.
Because he wasn’t married with two-point-five kids, the consensus, even among his own family members, was he didn’t want to grow up. But admitting his loneliness seemed fucking pathetic, so he hadn’t done a damn thing to change those misperceptions.
The truck had warmed up by the time he’d reached Sundance. January was always miserable in the cattle business and in Wyoming in general. They’d positioned their calving season for early spring. Spring snowstorms were always a threat to the health of the cows and the calves, but he’d take wet and muddy over bone-chilling cold any day.