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Bucking Bronc Lodge 04(4)

By:Rita Herron

But it was the blank look in his eyes that sent a wave of cold terror through Miles.

Timmy might be alive, but he was in shock.

He stooped down to Timmy’s level and dragged him into his arms, but his son felt limp, as if the life had drained from him just as it had his mother.

Three weeks later

JORDAN KEYS WATCHED the busload of new campers arrive at the Bucking Bronc Lodge, her heart in her throat. The troubled kids ranged from ages five to sixteen.

Her brother had fit in that category. But he was gone now.

Because she hadn’t been able to help him.

She fisted her hands, silently vowing to do better here. She’d read about the BBL and how hard the cowboys and staff worked to turn these kids’ lives around, and she wanted to be a part of it.

If she saved just one kid, it might assuage some of her guilt over her brother’s death.

A chilly January wind swirled dried scrub brush across the dirt and echoed through the trees. She waved to Kim Woodstock, another one of the counselors and Brandon Woodstock’s wife, as she greeted the bus, then Jordan bypassed them and headed straight into the main lodge to meet with Miles McGregor and his five-year-old son, Timmy.

Apparently Miles also volunteered at the BBL, but this time he’d come because he needed solace and time to heal from a recent loss.

So did his little boy, who they believed had witnessed his mother’s murder.

A thread of anxiety knotted her shoulders as she let herself in the lodge. The empty spot where the Christmas tree had stood made the entryway seem dismal, but truth be told, she was glad it was gone. The holidays always resurrected memories of Christmases past, both good and bad memories that tormented her with what-ifs.

Shoving the thoughts to the back of her mind, she grabbed a cup of coffee and made her way back to the wing Brody Bloodworth had recently added to serve as a counseling and teen center.

The moment she stepped into the room, she sensed pain emanating through it. Like a living, breathing entity smothering the air.

Little Timmy, a dark-haired boy who looked scrawny and way too pale, sat in the corner against the wall, his knees drawn up, his arms locked tightly around them as if he might crumble if he released his grip. The poor child didn’t even look up as she entered, simply sat staring through glazed eyes at some spot on the floor as if he was lost.

For a moment, she couldn’t breathe. What if she failed this little guy, too? What if he needed more than she could give?

Inhaling to stifle her nerves, she pasted on a smile, then glanced at the cowboy standing by the window watching the horses gallop across the pasture. His back was to her, his wide shoulders rigid, his hands clenching the window edge so tightly she could see the veins bulging in his broad, tanned hands.

She cleared her throat. “Mr. McGregor?”

The subtle lift of his shoulders indicated he’d heard her, then he hissed something low and indiscernible between his teeth and slowly turned to face her. Dark brown hair like his son’s, except his was shaggy and unkempt, framed a face chiseled in stone. His jawbones were high, his face square, his eyes the color of a sunset, brown and orange and gold, rich with color, but...dead.

That was the only word to describe the emptiness she saw there.

He removed his Stetson, then walked toward her and held out a work-roughened hand that looked strong enough to break rocks. Everything about the man, from his muscular build, his towering height, his broad shoulders and those muscular thighs, screamed of masculinity.

And a raw sexuality that made her heart begin to flutter.

But anger also simmered beneath the surface of his calm, anger and something lethal, like a bloodthirsty need for revenge.

She didn’t know all the details about his relationship to Timmy’s mother, but she understood that anger. She also knew where it led...to nothing good.

“I’m Jordan Keys,” she said, finally finding her voice. “Nice to meet you.”

“There’s nothing nice right now,” he said in a gruff voice.

Jordan stiffened slightly. Obviously he was in pain, but did that mean he didn’t want her help? A lot of men thought counseling was bogus, for sissies...beneath them.

“Maybe not, but you’re here now, and I see you brought your little boy.” She gestured toward Timmy, who still remained oblivious to her appearance. “So let’s talk.”

He worked his mouth from side to side as if he wanted to say something, but he finally gave a nod. “Brody filled you in?”

“Briefly. But I’d like to hear the details from you.”

“Of course. We’ve seen doctors—”

“Not in front of Timmy,” Jordan said, cutting him off. “Let me talk to him for a minute, then we can step outside and discuss the situation.”