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BRADLEY


“What the hell do you mean, he isn’t coming?” 
I perched the shavings fork against the wall and turned to face my sister. It amazed me that after all these years, my heart still pinched slightly at the sight of her. There was no doubt in my mind if I pulled the tattered photo of our mother out of my wallet and held it up next to her face, the resemblance would be uncanny.
Talia spread her arms wide and pulled her shoulders to her ears. “He said he wasn’t interested in the position anymore.” 
I rolled the inside of my cheek between my teeth to stop the curses from breaking free. With a heavy sigh, I pinched the bridge of my nose. “And he couldn’t have called us, say, a damn week ago?” 
“Yeah, the timing sucks.” With a shake of her head, she added, “By this time tomorrow, the cabins will be full.”
Lifting my Stetson, I raked my fingers through my hair. “Can you finish up in here? I gotta talk to Dad.”
In answer, Talia stepped inside the stall, grabbed the fork, and continued where I left off a few minutes ago. “I’ve got this.”
As I hurried back to the house, my mind attempted to offer different solutions to our problem. None of them appealing in the least. Not having the extra pair of hands meant longer hours for everyone. And since we already worked from sunup until sundown, I couldn’t see how we’d manage.
I’d made it all of three steps before I came to an abrupt halt. Because, holy shit, that had to be the finest damn ass I’d ever laid eyes on. Since she was bent over the backseat of her little car, I couldn’t see the rest of her. But I’d bet my left nut she was gorgeous.
With an ass like that, she had to be.
If this was the woman coming to visit Mavis, our housekeeper slash surrogate mother, the next few weeks just got a whole lot more interesting.
She wiggled from side to side, clearly struggling with something. Cocking my head, I stood with my hands on my hips and enjoyed the show. The more I watched her though, the more tempted I was into sliding up behind her, digging my hands into her hips, and— Right…Not the best train of thought to have when you’re about to go see your father. Shaking my head, I continued to the house.
Once inside, I headed straight for my father’s office. As I knew I would, I found him seated behind his desk, staring out the window. Careful not to startle him, I gently tapped my knuckles against the open door.
His attention shifted from the view to me; his lips curving into a slight smile. Straightening in his seat, he motioned for me to come inside. After closing the door behind me, I sank into the wingback across from him.
“We have a problem.”
My dad’s head slowly bobbed up and down. “Yes. It’s unfortunate.”
Scratching my chin, I countered, “It’s a bit more serious than that, Dad. Come tomorrow we’re going to be up to our eyeballs in work.” An exasperated sound puffed over my lips. “We can’t possibly ask Sawyer, Beckett or any of the other hands to pull longer hours.”
“I know, son. I know.” It might’ve been my imagination, but his eyes—the same shade of blue as my own—seemed duller. The lines around them deeper, more prominent.
I was slightly taken aback by the sight.
For as long as I could remember Bradford Walker had been an unmovable rock. He had to step up for us when our mother had decided her wanderlust was more important than being a wife and raising two kids.
Sure, it had been for my father to fill the role of both parents. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it had to be to offer emotional support when your heart had been ripped out of your chest.
I understood that.
Would never fault him for that.
“Everything all right with you, Dad?” 
He nodded slowly but refused to meet my eyes. Instead, he glanced back at the window behind him. “Just tired.” 
It was a lie, but I wasn’t about to call him out on it. Sitting around and talking about our feelings wasn’t what we did. Over the years Talia had found a confidant in Mavis, and as happy as I was for my sister, I was perfectly fine with keeping my emotions to myself.
Nobody needed to know my mother’s abandonment still sat like an anvil on my chest. That I couldn’t look at a woman and imagine a future with her because I knew, in the end, she wouldn’t stay.
No one ever did.
With a firm shake of my head, I pushed those thoughts away and focused on my father again. “We could always get in touch with—”
“Already did,” my dad interjected on a sigh. “He has moved on to another ranch.”
I fell back against the chair with a mumbled, “Well, shit.” My father’s gray eyebrow arched, and I quickly added, “Sorry.”
Leaning forward, he balanced his chin on top of his steepled fingers. “Let’s try to get through today. My gut is telling me everything will be just peachy.”
“Your gut, Dad?” It was my turn to raise my eyebrows. “It was because of your gut that we offered the job to Mr. No-show even though the other guy was better suited for the job.”
He ran a palm over his beard, his lips curving upward into an easy smile. “My gut had an off day.” His gaze met mine, and I was relieved to see whatever had ailed him earlier seemed to have dissipated. “Won’t happen again.”
With a chuckle, I pushed to my feet. “I’m holding you to it.”

 
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