A Dark & Stormy Knight: A McKnight Romance (McKnight Romances)

BOOK: A Dark & Stormy Knight: A McKnight Romance (McKnight Romances)
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A
Dark & Stormy Knight
by
Susie
Quint

 

A Dark &
Stormy Knight

Copyright 2014
by Suzie Quint

All rights
reserved

 

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and events are the product of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or
individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

My undying gratitude to Ashley Lyn
Willis, writing buddy extraordinaire. Without your input, this wouldn’t be half
the story it is. Thanks for keeping me honest and not letting me skate.

I can’t begin to express my gratitude to
Rebecca Birch. When I was struggling to nail down Georgia’s driving force, your
timely and insightful observation that parents will do things for their
children they won’t do for themselves was the key I needed to understanding Georgia. Without you, Rebecca, I might still be floundering.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my core
group of online writing buddies, Rachelle Ayala, Racquel Reck, and B. Baxter
who, along with Ashley, laughed in all the right places. Thanks as well to
Stephanie Berget, who over lunch one afternoon, gave me insights into the world
of barrel racing. I hope I got it right.

Always and forever, thanks to my best bud,
Ella, who has been my first reader (and second and third and
ad infinitim
)
since before I knew what I was doing.

Thanks to Valerie Tibbs for always creating
my beautiful covers and to my editor Andrea Howe for being so wonderfully anal
retentive about punctuation and grammar and pointing out my inconsistencies. In
spite of Andrea’s best attempts to get me to toe the straight and narrow, I
have on occasion sacrificed the technically correct in favor of remaining true
to the characters’ voices (yes, even in narrative, where the author’s and
character’s voices blend.) I accept the blame for anything that offends the
purist’s eyes and ears.

Special heartfelt thanks to Randy
Simpson, DVM, for walking me through the things I needed to know about bowed
tendons. Any errors are mine alone. Your friendship warms my heart, Randy.

 

 

Chapter One

 

“Promise me.”

“I promise.” Even though her sister
couldn’t see it, Georgia shifted the phone to her other hand, so she could
sketch an
X
over her left breast. “We’re leaving in the morning.” Then
she hedged. If the past eleven years of motherhood had taught her nothing else,
life was never one hundred percent predictable. “Nothing short of a trip to the
hospital for broken bones or copious bleeding will keep us inside Houston city limits one minute past eight o’clock. Eight thirty at the latest.”

“Broken bones. Bleeding.” Bethany made a snicking sound as though she was reluctantly considering. Not that she had
much choice. As the mother of three, all of whom were more apt to suffer
self-inflicted injuries than Georgia’s daughter, Eden, Bethany knew the
realities as well as Georgia. “Okay. But those are the only acceptable excuses.
And they only cover a delay.”

Georgia
laughed. It was like negotiating a peace treaty in the Middle East. “Don’t
worry. I’ll be there tomorrow to relieve you. You’ve done your duty this past
month and earned your R&R.”

“Rest and relaxation, my ass. I’ve gotten
so far behind at home, it’ll take me all summer to catch up. You have no idea
how demanding Mama and Daddy are, but you will. If it weren’t for the comic relief
Grams provides, I’d be going home in a straitjacket.”

While her sister talked, Georgia hiked her shoulder to hold her cell phone to her ear, freeing her hands to fold the
shirt she was packing. It didn’t work of course. The phone slithered out of the
not-so-effective vise and bounced on the bed. She snatched it up in time to
hear Bethany say, “And you’ll have it worse because you’ll be here 24/7. At
least I get to go home at night.”

The past month had been tough for Bethany. She was a stay-at-home mom, but when you were a rancher’s wife, that didn’t mean
you got to sit on the couch eating bonbons. Top that with three kids, who were
a handful on their best day, and Bethany’s life was tightly scheduled.

She’d gallantly stepped out of those
daily routines two months ago after their mama’s stroke.

Taking care of Mama also meant taking
care of Daddy since their parents had an old-fashioned marriage where the man
brought home the bacon—and in this case, that meant everything from building
the pig sty right up to slaughtering the pigs—and the woman did everything
else.

And then there was Grams, who couldn’t be
trusted to boil water without risking a house fire. Add Mama’s
three-times-a-week therapies and all the emotional buttons their parents had at
their disposal, and it was a wonder Bethany hadn’t chucked it all and run away
from home.

Now summer had officially arrived, and Georgia was commitment free until school started in the fall. It was her turn to take care
of their parents. Even without the husband and three kids waiting impatiently
at home, Georgia was pretty sure she’d be dreaming of a white-sand beach in
some faraway locale in about a week—maybe less.

“By the way, I ran into Sol’s mama
yesterday,” Bethany said.

“How is Ruth?” Georgia opened the nightstand
drawer and rummaged for her Bluetooth headset. It wasn’t there. Eden had probably swiped it again. No, wait. There it was. She put it on and went to the
dresser for jeans.

“She’s good. She mentioned Sol’s riding
at the Gladewater rodeo Friday night.”

“She just happened to mention that, did
she?” Georgia wasn’t sure if the annoyance she felt was because he was riding
or because Bethany was butting into things that didn’t concern her.

“Well, I did ask her what Sol was up to
these days. That’s not an unreasonable question. He is Eden’s daddy after all.”

“Yes, you’re right.” But the suspicion
her sister had an ulterior motive for mentioning this didn’t disappear.

“You know, you could go down to
Gladewater and see him ride. Maybe go out to a honkytonk afterwards.”

“Now why would I want to do that?”

“You did say you were going to ask him to
take Eden out to the ranch for the summer. So maybe you should make nice before
you ask him.”

Resenting someone for being right was
childish, yet Georgia still resisted. “That doesn’t mean I have to go all the
way to Gladewater.”

Bethany
exhaled her exasperation. “It’s only an hour’s drive. Come on, Georgia. Show the man a little support. Go to his damned rodeo, cheer him on, have a drink
with him afterward at the local watering hole before you ask him for a favor. I
know you don’t like rodeos, but showing up would tell Sol you’re willing to
meet him halfway.”

“I don’t dislike rodeos.”
Liar.
“In
point of fact, I went to the Gladewater rodeo last year.”

“Really?” Bethany sounded surprise. Then
her tone changed, becoming skeptical. “Why?”

Georgia
sighed and confessed. “The daughter exchange.” Which was what they called it
when Eden went back and forth between her and Sol.

“Did you enjoy it?” Bethany asked, her
tone clearly saying she expected a negative response.

“Parts of it,” Georgia admitted. It had
helped that she’d run into a couple of friends from high school. Still, she’d
made sure she was at the concession stand when Sol rode, so she wouldn’t have
to watch.

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, it’s not that much fun to go
alone—”

“So call a friend to go with you.”

“And,”
Georgia stressed the word, “if I’m going to a bar after the
rodeo, I’d have to leave Eden alone with Mama and Daddy.”

“She can spend the evening with us. I’ll
bring her home before the folks go to bed. I’ll even take care of Mama’s
nighttime routine. Now what other excuses do you have?”

“Would you stop bullying me?” She could
hardly believe Bethany wanted her to go badly enough to step back into the
breach so soon.

Bethany
laughed then, in her poor-dumb-bunny voice, the one Southern women used when
they said, “Bless her heart, but she’s too stupid to breathe on her own,” she
said, “Oh, honey. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The past month with Mama has
honed my bullying skills to a fine edge.”

Great. “Okay, I’ll
think
about
going to Gladewater. Does that make you happy?”

“For now,” Bethany said, smug now that
she’d gotten her way.

Georgia
heard the apartment door open followed immediately by the sound of muffled voices.
“Eden’s home. I gotta go.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. Before
noon, God willing.”

Georgia
hung up and went to greet her daughter. Eden was crouched at one end of the
couch, peering behind it. At the other end, her BFF, Deanne, mirrored Eden. Deanne’s father, Daniel, watched the two girls, an amused smile on his face.

“Come on, Tink,” Eden cajoled.

Georgia
smiled a greeting at Daniel. “Eden, there’s tuna salad in the fridge. I bet
Tink will come out for that.”

As Eden went for the tuna, Georgia turned to Daniel. “That cat is too smart. She saw me get out the cat carrier this
morning.”

“I told you, you should’ve gotten a dog,”
he said.

“Dogs don’t purr,” Eden yelled from the
kitchen.

Georgia and Daniel exchanged amused
looks. Eden loved animals, but if the choice was between dogs and cats, she
came down hard as being a cat person, but even that was a comedown from the
horse of her own that she really wanted.

Georgia
held her hands up in a what-can-you-do gesture. Then she tipped her head toward
the kitchen, inviting him to accompany her. She turned sideways in the doorway
as Eden came barreling out, a plastic tub of tuna in her hands. “Don’t give all
of that to the cat,” Georgia said, “or your lunch will be a bread sandwich.”

Daniel followed her into the kitchen. “Everyone’s
deserting me all at the same time,” he said mournfully. “I don’t know what I’m
going to do with myself.”

“I know.” She opened a cupboard and
started pulling out cans of cat food. “I wish we didn’t have to go, but if I
don’t relieve Bethany soon, I’m afraid she’ll be tempted to hold a pillow over
Mama’s face while she sleeps.”

“Your mother can’t be that bad.”

She turned, cans of cat food in both
hands, to look at him. Not quite six feet tall with light brown hair he kept
cut short, he was a nice-looking man. In the past three years since their
daughters had become joined at the hip, this divorced dad had also become Georgia’s best friend. For reasons he was totally unaware of, she would have given a lot to
be able stay in Dallas with him this summer.

In her most innocent voice, she asked, “Have
I mentioned how manipulative my mama is?”

Daniel smiled. “Maybe a time or two.”

“And how negative she can be?”

He chuckled. “Only every time you talk to
her.”

“Good. You were listening.” She set the
cans on the counter and pulled out several plastic grocery bags. “I know you’re
going to miss Deanne, but it’s a good thing your ex has finally given up
drinking and wants to see her daughter. Right?” She glanced at him, catching
not just his nod of agreement but the grim cut of his mouth that told her how
left out he felt. “Kids need both parents in their lives,” she reminded him as
she bagged the cat food.

Generally true, she thought. Teaching
third grade had tuned her in to how important involved parents were. While most
of the children at the private school where she taught came from intact
families, she’d gotten so she could tell pretty reliably by the end of the
first week of school which kids had an absentee parent.

Whether the presence of Daniel’s ex would
be a blessing for his daughter, Georgia wasn’t so sure. Parents could also do
tremendous damage to their children. She recalled the conversation she’d had
with the school nurse a couple of weeks earlier after a bullying incident in Georgia’s class. Repetition compulsion the nurse had called it after they’d met the bully’s
father. Georgia had learned it as a child in Sunday school as a Bible verse.
Exodus 34:7:
And the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons and
the son’s sons unto the third and fourth generation.

No matter how it was phrased, it meant
the children learned by example. Whatever their parents did, whether bullying
or marrying an abuser or having illegitimate babies, each generation repeated
the pattern they saw.

Unless they made a conscious decision to
change it, which was something Georgia had been thinking about a lot since her
conversation with the school nurse.

“I know girls need a woman around,”
Daniel said. “The easy years are almost over. Soon Deanne’s going to need advice
on things I don’t know anything about—and don’t want to know about. I’m very
happy with the finer points of bras and feminine hygiene products remaining a
mystery.”

She laughed. Daniel was such a guy.

“Anyway,” he continued, “you’ve been
doing such a good job as a stand-in mom, I was hoping I could ride your
coattails for the next few years at least.”

“Anytime. Deanne’s a good kid.” Georgia had liked her from the first time she’d met her, back when Eden had invited Deanne for her
birthday slumber party.

“Thanks,” he said, taking the compliment
as an endorsement of his parenting skills.

Georgia
smiled to herself. Single parents always hungered for assurances they weren’t
screwing up their kids past the point of no return. “And the girls will turn
buying their first bras together into an adventure. It’ll be fun.”

Daniel’s sigh sounded relieved, as if he’d
sidestepped a minefield. “I wish you and Eden were going to be around after
Deanne leaves. What am I going to do here all by myself?”

“You’ll be fine,” Georgia said. “You’ve got a week to enjoy your daughter before you send her off, and you’ve been
griping that you need to work on your backstroke before your company golf
tournament.”

“So that’ll eat up a few hours on the
weekend.”

“You’ll think of something to keep
yourself occupied.” Several loud thumps came from the living room followed by
the sound of running feet. “If they ever catch her, you can always play with
Tink.”

Daniel peeked into the living room, but
whatever he saw didn’t create any parental angst because he let the door swing
closed. “Your cat’s not that amusing. Plus, she thinks my leg’s a scratching
post.” Then his voice dropped. “I’m going to feel like a bachelor again.
Divorced father is bad enough, but I didn’t do bachelor all that well the first
time around.”

“Well then.” Georgia took a breath before
saying, “Maybe this is your chance to brush up on some of those bachelor
skills.” Had he heard the pause while she’d worked up her courage to step onto
that dangerous ground? Until two months earlier, their friendship had been one
hundred percent platonic. Then, for the first time in four years, Daniel’s ex
wanted to see her daughter. The girls had both gone to a group sleepover, so he’d
come over to talk about it. They’d had a few beers. Then out of the blue there’d
been kissing. And groping.

BOOK: A Dark & Stormy Knight: A McKnight Romance (McKnight Romances)
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