The Heart of a Cowboy (formerly published as Creed’s Honor)
New York Times and USA Today Bestseller
Conner Creed knows exactly who he is: a hardworking rancher carrying on his uncle’s legacy in Lonesome Bend, Colorado. Maybe a small-town cowboy’s life isn’t his dream, but he owes the man who took him in as a kid. Until the identical twin brother he’s been estranged from for years reenters his life.
Conner struggles with identity issues as he gets to know his wilder brother. And then he meets Tricia McCall, a beautiful woman who knows a thing or two about living someone else’s dreams. Together, they just might find their own dreams right here in Lonesome Bend….
Lonesome Bend, Colorado
Tricia McCall was not the type to see apparitions, but there were times—especially when lonely, tired or both—that she caught just the merest flicker of a glimpse of her dog, Rusty, out of the corner of one eye. Each time that happened, she hoped for the impossible; her heartbeat quickened with joy and excitement, and her breath rushed up into the back of her throat. But when she turned, no matter how quickly, the shepherd-¬Lab-setter mix was never there.
Of course, he wasn’t. Rusty had died in his sleep only six months before, contented and gray-muzzled and full of years, and his absence was still an ache that throbbed in the back of Tricia’s heart whenever she thought of him. Which was often.
After all, Rusty had been her best friend for nearly half her life. She was almost thirty now, and she’d been fifteen when she and her dad had found the reddish-brown pup hiding under a picnic table at the camp¬ground, nearly starved, flea-bitten and shivering.
She and Joe McCall had debugged him as best they could, fed him and taken him straight to Dr. Benchley’s office for shots and a checkup. From then on, Rusty was a member of the family.
“Meow,” interrupted a feline voice coming from the general vicinity of Tricia’s right ankle.
Still wearing her ratty blue chenille robe and the pink fluffy slippers her best friend, Diana, had given her for Christmas many moons ago as a joke, Tricia looked down to see Winston, a black tom with a splash of white between his ears. He was a frequent visitor to her apartment, since he lived just downstairs, with his mistress, Tricia’s great-grandmother, Natty. The separate residences were connected by an inside stairway, but Winston still managed to startle her on a regular basis.
“Meow,” the former stray repeated, this time with more emphasis, looking earnestly up at Tricia. Translation: It’s cat abuse. Natty McCall may look like a harmless old woman, but I’m being starved, I tell you. You’ve got to do something.
“A likely story, sardine-breath,” Tricia replied, out loud. “I was there when the groceries were delivered last Friday, remember? You wouldn’t go hungry if we were snowed in till spring.”
Winston twitched his sleek tail in a jaunty, oh-well-I¬-tried sort of way and crossed the small kitchen to leap up onto Tricia’s desk and curl up on a tidy stack of printer paper next to the keyboard. He watched Tricia with half-closed amber eyes as she poured herself a cup of coffee and meandered over to boot up the PC. Maybe there would be an email from Hunter; that would definitely lift her spirits.
Not that she was down, exactly. No, she felt more like someone living in suspended animation, a sort of limbo between major life events. She was marking time, marching in place. And that bothered her.
At the push of a button, the monitor flared to life and there it was: the screensaver photo of her and Hunter, beaming in front of a ski lodge in Idaho and looking like—well—a couple. Two happy and reasonably attractive people who belonged together, outfitted for a day on the slopes.
With the tip of one finger, Tricia touched Hunter’s square-jawed, classically handsome face. Pixels scattered, like a miniature universe expanding after a tiny, silent big bang. She set her cup on the little bit of desk space Winston wasn’t already occupying and plunked into the chair she’d dragged away from the dinette set.
She sat very still for a moment or so, the cup of coffee she’d craved from the instant she’d opened her eyes that morning cooling nearby, her gaze fixed on the cheer¬fully snowy scene. Big smiles. Bright eyes.
Maybe she ought to change the picture, she thought. Put the slide show of Rusty back up. Trouble was, the loss was still too fresh for that.
So she left the ski-lodge shot where it was. She and Hunter had had a good thing going, back in Seattle, in what seemed like a previous lifetime now even though it had only been a year and a half since the passion they’d been so sure they could sustain had begun to fizzle.
As soon as she sold the failing businesses she’d inherited when her dad died—the River’s Bend Campground and RV Park and the decrepit Bluebird Drive-in theater at the edge of town—she could go back to her real life in the art world of Seattle. Open a little gallery in the Pike Place Market, maybe, or somewhere in Pioneer Square.
Beside her, Winston unfurled his tail so the end of it brushed the back of Tricia’s hand, rolled it back up again and then repeated the whole process. Gently jolted out of her reverie, she watched as wisps of black fur drifted across her line of vision and then settled, with exquisite accuracy, onto the surface of her coffee.
Tricia shoved back her chair, the legs of it making a loud, screeching sound on the scuffed linoleum floor, and she winced before remembering that Natty was out of town this week, visiting her eighty-nine-year-old sister in Denver, and therefore could not have been disturbed by the noise.
Muttering good-naturedly, she crossed to the old-fashioned sink under the narrow window that looked out over the outside landing, dumped the coffee, rinsed the cup out thoroughly and poured herself a refill.
Winston jumped down from the desktop, making a solid thump when he landed, as he was a somewhat rotund fellow.
Leaning back against the counter, Tricia fortified herself with a couple of sips of the hot, strong coffee she knew—even without Natty’s subtle reminders—she drank too often, and in excessive quantities.
Winston had been right to put in his order for break¬fast, she reflected; it was her job to feed him and empty his litter box while her great-grandmother was away.
“Come on,” she said, coffee in hand, heading toward the doorway that led down the dark, narrow stairs to Natty’s part of the house. “I wouldn’t want you keeling over from hunger.”
You’re not even thirty, commented a voice in her head, and you’re talking to cats. You seriously need a life.
With a sigh, Tricia flipped on the single light in the sloping ceiling above the stairs and started down, careful because of Winston’s tendency to wind himself around her ankles and the bulky slippers, which were a tripping hazard even on a flat surface.
Natty’s rooms smelled pleasantly of recent wood fires blazing on the stone hearth, some lushly scented mix of potpourri and the lavender talcum powder so many old ladies seemed to favor.
Crossing the living room, which was stuffed with well-crafted antique furniture, every surface sporting at least one intricately crocheted doily and most of them adorned with a small army of ornately framed photo¬graphs as well, Tricia smiled. At ninety-one, Natty was still busy, with friends of all ages, and she was pretty active in the community, too. Until the year before, she’d been in charge of the annual rummage sale and chili feed, a popular event held the last weekend of October. Members of the Ladies’ Auxiliary—the organization they’d been auxiliary to was long defunct—donated the money they raised to the local school system, to be used for extras like art supplies, musical instruments and uniforms for the marching band. And while Natty had stepped down as the group’s chairperson, she attended every meeting.
Natty’s kitchen was as delightfully old-fashioned as the rest of the house—although there was an electric stove, the original wood-burning contraption still dominated one corner of the long, narrow room. And Natty still used it, when the spirit moved her to bake.
Without the usual fire crackling away, the kitchen seemed a little on the chilly side, and Tricia shivered once as she headed toward the pantry, setting her coffee mug aside on the counter. She took a can of Winston’s regular food—he was only allowed sardines on Sundays, as a special treat—from one of the shelves in the pantry, popped the top and dumped the contents into one of several chipped but still beautiful soup bowls reserved for his use.
Frosty-cold air seemed to emanate from the floor as she bent to put the bowl in front of him. Tricia felt it even through the soles of those ridiculous slippers.
While Winston chowed down, she ran some fresh drinking water and placed the bowl within easy reach. Then, hugging herself against the cold, she glanced at the bay windows surrounding Natty’s heirloom oak table, half expecting to see snowflakes drifting past the glass.
A storm certainly wouldn’t be unusual in that part of Colorado, even though it was only mid-October, but Tricia was holding out for good weather just the same. The summer and early fall had been unusually slow over at the campground and RV park, but folks came from all over that part of the state to attend the rummage sale/chili feed, and a lot of them brought tents and travel trailers, and set up for one last stay along the banks of the river. The modest fees Tricia charged for camping spots and the use of electrical hookups, as well as her cut of the profits from the vending machines, would carry her through a couple of months.
Some benevolent soul could still happen along and buy the properties Joe had left her, but so far all the For Sale signs hadn’t produced so much as a nibble.
Tricia sighed, watched Winston eat for a few moments, then started for the stairs. Yes, it was early, but she had a full workday ahead over at River’s Bend. She’d already let the seasonal crew go, which meant she manned the registration desk by herself, answering the phone on the rare occasions when it rang and slip¬ping away for short intervals to clean the public showers and the restrooms. After the big weekend at the end of the month, she would shut everything down for the winter.
A lump of sadness formed in Tricia’s throat as she climbed the stairs, leaving the door at the bottom open for Winston as she would the one at the top. As a child, she’d loved coming to River’s Bend for the summers, “helping” her dad run the outdoor theater and the camp¬ground, the two of them boarding with Natty and a series of pampered cats named for historical and/or political figures the older woman admired.
One had been Abraham; another, General Washing¬ton. Next came a redoubtable tabby, Laurel Roosevelt, and now there was Winston, for the cigar-smoking prime minister who had shepherded England through the dark¬est hours of World War II.
Tricia was smiling again by the time she reached her own kitchen, which was warmer. She was about to sit down at the computer again to check her email, as she’d intended to do earlier, when she heard the pounding at the back door downstairs.
Startled, Winston yowled and shot through the inside doorway like a black, furry bullet, his trajectory indicating that he intended to hide out in Tricia’s bedroom, under the four-poster, maybe, or on the high shelf in her closet.
Once, when something scared him, he’d climbed straight up her living room draperies, and it had taken both her and Natty to coax him down again.
The pounding came again, louder this time.
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” Tricia grumbled, employing a phrase she’d picked up from Natty, tightening the belt of her bathrobe and moving, once more, in the direction of the stairs. She followed the first cliché up with a second, also one of Natty’s favorites. “Hold your horses!”
Again, the impatient visitor knocked. Hard enough, in fact, to rattle every window on the first floor of the house.
A too-brief silence fell.
Tricia was halfway down the stairs, steam-powered by early-morning annoyance, when the sound shifted. Now whoever it was had moved to her door, the one that opened onto the outside landing.
Murmuring a word she definitely hadn’t picked up from her great-grandmother, Tricia turned and huffed her way back up to her own quarters.
Winston yowled again, the sound muffled.
“I’m coming!” she yelled, spotting a vaguely familiar and distinctly masculine form through the frosted glass oval in her door. Lonesome Bend was a town of less than five thousand people, most of whom had lived there all their lives, as had their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, so Tricia had long since gotten out of the habit of looking to see who was there before opening the door.
Conner Creed stood in front of her, one fist raised to knock again, a sheepish smile curving his lips. His blond hair, though a little long, was neatly trimmed, and he wore a blue denim jacket over a white shirt, along with jeans and boots that had seen a lot of hard use.
“Sorry,” he said, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, when he came face-to-face with Tricia.
“Do you know what time it is?” Tricia demanded.
His blue eyes moved over her hair, which was probably sticking out in all directions since she hadn’t yet brushed and then tamed it into a customary long, dark braid, her coiffure of choice, then the rag-bag bath¬robe and comical slippers. That he could take a liberty like that without coming off as rude struck Tricia as—well—it just struck her, that’s all.
“Seven-thirty,” he answered, after checking his watch. “I brought Miss Natty a load of firewood, as she wanted, but she didn’t answer her door. And that worried me. Is she all right?”
“She’s in Denver,” Tricia said stiffly.
His smile practically knocked her back on her heels. “Well, then, that explains why she didn’t come to the door. I was afraid she might have fallen or something.” A pause. “Is the coffee on?”
Though Tricia was acquainted with Conner, as she was with virtually everybody else in town, she didn’t know him well—they didn’t move in the same social circles. She was an outsider raised in Seattle, except for those golden summers with her dad, while the Creeds had been ranching in the area since the town was settled, way back in the late 1800s. Being ninety-nine percent certain that the man wasn’t a homicidal maniac or a serial rapist—Natty was very fond of him, after all, which said something about his character—she stepped back, blushing, and said, “Yes. There’s coffee—help yourself.”
“Thanks,” he said, in a cowboy drawl, ambling past her in the loose-limbed way of a man who was at ease wherever he happened to find himself, whether on the back of a bucking bronco or with both feet planted firmly on the ground. The scent of fresh country air clung to him, along with a woodsy aftershave, hay and something minty—probably toothpaste or mouthwash.
Tricia pushed the door shut and then stood with her back to it, watching as Conner opened one cupboard, then another, found a cup and helped himself at the coffeemaker.
Torn between mortification at being caught in her robe with her hair going wild, and stunned by his easy audacity, Tricia didn’t smile. On some level, she was tallying the few things she knew about Conner Creed—that he lived on the family ranch, that he had an identical twin brother called Cody or Brody or some other cowboy-type name, that he’d never been married and, according to Natty, didn’t seem in any hurry to change that.
“I’m sure my great-grandmother will be glad you brought that wood,” she said finally, striving for a neutral conversational tone but sounding downright insipid instead. “Natty loves a good fire, especially when the temperature starts dropping.”
Conner regarded Tricia from a distance that fell a shade short of far enough away to suit her, and raised one eyebrow. Indulged himself in a second leisurely sip from his mug before bothering to reply. “When’s she coming back?” he asked. “Miss Natty, I mean.”
“Probably next week,” Tricia answered, surprised to find herself having this conversation. It wasn’t every day, after all, that a good-looking if decidedly cocky cattle rancher tried to beat down a person’s door at practically the crack of dawn and then stood in her kitchen swilling coffee as if he owned the place. “Or the week after, if she’s having an especially good time.”
“Miss Natty didn’t mention that she was planning on taking a trip,” Conner observed thoughtfully, after another swallow of coffee.
The statement irritated Tricia—since when was Conner Creed her great-grandmother’s keeper? All of a sudden, she wanted him gone, from her kitchen, from her house. He didn’t seem to be in any more of a hurry to leave than he was to get married, though.
And he was using up all the oxygen in the room.
Did he think she’d bound and gagged Natty with duct tape, maybe stuck her in a closet?
She gestured toward the inside stairway. “Feel free to see for yourself if it will ease your mind as far as Natty is concerned. And, by the way, you scared the cat.”
He flashed that wickedly innocent grin again; it lighted his eyes, and Tricia noticed that there was a rim of gray around the blue irises. He had good teeth, too—white and straight.
Stop, Tricia told her racing brain. Her thoughts flew, clicking like the beads on an abacus.
“I believe you,” he said. “If you say Miss Natty is in Denver, kicking up her heels with her sister, then I reckon it’s true.”
“Gee, that’s a relief,” Tricia said dryly, folding her arms. Then, after a pause, “If that’s everything . . . ?”
“Sorry about scaring the cat,” Conner told her affably, putting his mug in the sink and pushing off from the counter, starting for the door. “Truth is, the critter’s never liked me much. Must have figured out that I’m more of a dog-and-horse person.”
Tricia opened her mouth, shut it again. What did a person say to that?
Conner curved a hand around the doorknob, looked back at her over one of those fine, denim-covered shoulders of his. Mischief danced in his eyes, quirked up one corner of his mouth. “If you wouldn’t mind let¬ting me in downstairs,” he said, “I could fill up the wood boxes. There’s room in the shed for the rest of the load, I guess.”
Tricia nodded. She had an odd sense of disorientation, as if she’d suddenly been thrust underwater and held there, and on top of that had to translate everything this man said from some language other than her own before his meaning penetrated the gray matter between her ears.
“I’ll meet you at Natty’s back door,” she said, still feeling muddled, as he went out.
She stood rooted to the spot, listening as the heels of Conner’s boots made a rapid thunking sound on the outside steps.
Winston crept out of the short hallway leading to the apartment’s one bedroom and slinked over to Tricia, purring companionably while he turned figure eights around her ankles.
Wishing she had time to pull on some clothes, fix her hair and maybe even slap on a little makeup, Tricia went back down to Natty’s place, bustled through to the kitchen, turned the key in the lock and undid the chain, and wrenched open the door.
Conner was already there, standing on the porch, grinning at her. After looking her over once more in that offhand way that so disconcerted her, he shook his head slightly and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand.
“Thanks,” he said, his tone husky with amusement. “I’ll take it from here.”
Tricia felt heat surge into her cheeks, spark in her eyes. He knew she was uncomfortable and not a little embarrassed, damn him, and he was enjoying it.
“I’ll come back in a few minutes to lock up behind you,” she replied, ratcheting her chin up a notch in hopes of letting Conner know he wasn’t getting to her.
Well, maybe he was, a little, she admitted to herself, terminally honest. But it wasn’t because of the invisible charge buzzing around them. She wasn’t used to standing around in her bathrobe talking to strange men, that was all.
“Fine with me,” Conner answered, lifting the collar of his jacket against a gust of wind as he turned to descend the steps of Natty’s back porch. His truck, large and red, with mud-splattered tires and doors, was parked alongside the woodshed.
Possessed of a peculiar and completely unreasonable urge to slam the door behind him, hard, Tricia instead shut it politely, turned on one heel and fled back upstairs to her apartment.
There, in her small bedroom, she hastily exchanged her robe and pajamas for jeans and a navy blue hooded sweatshirt, replaced the slippers with sneakers. Advancing to the bathroom—she’d had larger closets, she thought, flustered—Tricia washed her face, brushed her teeth and whipped her renegade hair into a tidy plait.
Intermittently, she heard the homey sound of wood clunking into the boxes beside Natty’s fireplace and the old stove in the kitchen.
She nearly tripped over Winston, who was lounging in the hallway, just over the bedroom threshold.
“That,” Tricia sputtered, righting herself, “is a great place to stretch out.”
“Meow,” Winston observed casually, flicking his tail and giving no indication that he planned on moving anytime soon. He was quite comfortable where he was, thank you very much.
Tricia took a moment to collect her wits—why was she rushing around as though the place were on fire, anyway?—smoothing her hands down the thighs of her jeans and drawing in a deep, slow breath.
Consuming a carton of low-fat yogurt for breakfast, she stood on tiptoe to look out the window over her kitchen sink, which afforded her a clear view of the backyard.
And she forgot all about reading her email.
After he’d filled Miss Natty’s wood boxes, making sure she had plenty of kindling, Conner unloaded the pitch-scented pine—a full cord—stacking it neatly in the shed. With that done, he could check the delivery off his mental to-do list and move on to the next project—stopping by the feed store for a dozen fifty-pound bags of the special mix of oats and alfalfa he gave the horses. When he finished that errand, he’d head for Doc Benchley’s office to pick up the special serum for the crop of calves born that spring. Doc had served as the town’s one and only veterinarian since way back.
Unlike a lot of people in his profession, Hugh Benchley didn’t specialize. He treated every animal from prize Hereford bulls to Yorkshire terriers small enough to fit in a teacup, and had no evident intention of retiring in the foreseeable future, even though he was well past the age when his fellow senior citizens preferred to spend their days fishing or patronizing the flashy new casino out on the reservation.
“I won’t last six months from the day I close my practice,” Doc had told Conner more than once.
Conner understood, since he thrived on work himself—the more physically demanding, the better. That way, he didn’t have time to think about things he wished were different—like his relationship, if you could call it that, with his twin brother, Brody.
Dusting his leather-gloved hands together, the last of the wood safely stowed for Miss Natty’s use, he started for the driver’s-side door of his truck. Something made him look up at the second-story window, a feeling of prickly sweetness, utterly strange to him, and he thought he saw Tricia McCall peering through the glass.
Wishful thinking, he told himself, climbing into the rig.
He’d seen Tricia lots of times, usually at a distance, but close-up once or twice, too.
How was it that he’d never noticed how appealing Natty’s great-granddaughter was, with her fresh skin and her dark, serious eyes? She had a trim little body—he’d figured that out right away, her sorry bathrobe notwithstanding—and just standing in the same room with her had put him in mind of an experience when he and Brody were kids. Nine or ten and virtually fearless, they’d dared each other to touch the band of electric fence separating the main pasture from the county road that ran past the ranch.
It had been raining until a few minutes earlier, and they were both standing in wet grass. The jolt had knocked them both on their backsides, and once they’d caught their breath, they’d lain there laughing, like the pair of fools they were.
Because any memory involving Brody tended to be painful, the good ones included, Conner avoided them when he could. Now, as he shifted the truck into gear and eased out of Miss Natty’s gravel driveway, his thoughts strayed right back to Tricia like deer to a salt lick.
He signaled a right turn at the corner, heading for Main Street, and the feed store.
As a kid, he recalled, Tricia had spent summers in Lonesome Bend with her dad. Shy, she’d kept to her¬self, sticking to Joe’s heels as he went happily about his business. Even then, the run-down drive-in theater, with its bent screen, had been a losing proposition, and the campground hadn’t been much better.
Like all his friends, Conner had gone swimming at River’s Bend every chance he got, but he didn’t re¬member ever seeing Tricia so much as dip a big toe into the water. She’d sit cross-legged and solemn on the dock, always wearing a hand-me-down swimsuit, with a towel rolled up under one arm, and watch the rest of them, though, as they splashed and showed off for each other.
At the time, it was generally agreed that Tricia McCall was a little weird—probably because her parents were divorced and lived in different states, an unusual situation in those days, in Lonesome Bend if not in the rest of the country.
Since his older cousin, Steven, split his time between the ranch and a mansion back in Boston, neither Tricia nor her situation had struck Conner as strange—she was just quiet, liked to keep to herself. He’d been mildly curious about her, but nothing more. After all, she always left town at the end of August, the way Steven did, turning up again sometime in June.
Drawing up to the feed store, Conner pulled into the parking lot and backed the truck up to one of two loading docks. He shut off the engine, got out of the rig and vaulted up onto the platform to help with the bags, stacked and waiting to be collected.
And still Tricia lingered in his mind.
As a teenager, Tricia continued to visit her dad every summer, and she went right on marching to her own private drumbeat, too. The popular girls had declared her a snob, a snooty city girl who thought she was too good for a bunch of country kids. But she was wearing some guy’s class ring on a chain around her neck, Conner recollected, and he’d steered clear because he figured she was going steady.
And because he’d been bone-headed crazy about Joleen Williams, the platinum blonde wild child with the body that wouldn’t quit.
Somebody elbowed Conner, and that brought him back to the here and now, pronto. Malcolm, Joleen’s half brother and a classmate of Conner’s since kindergarten, grinned as he pushed past with a bag of horse feed under each arm. “Clear the way, Creed,” Malcolm teased, his round face red and sweaty with effort and a penchant for triple cheeseburgers and more beer than even Brody could put away. “People are trying to work here.”
Conner grinned and slapped his friend on the back in greeting. The day was cool and crisp, but the sun was climbing higher into a sky blue enough to make a man’s heart catch, and the aspen trees, lining the streets of Lonesome Bend and crowding the foothills all around it, were changing color. Splashes of bright crimson and gold, pale yellow and rust, and a million shades in be¬tween, blazed like fire everywhere he looked.
“How’ve you been, Malcolm?” he asked, because in small towns people always asked each other how they were, even if they’d seen each other an hour before at the post office or the courthouse or the grocery store. Moreover, they cared about the answer.
“I was fine until you showed up,” Malcolm answered, tossing the feed bags into the bed of the pickup and turning to go back for more. “What kind of fancy horses are you keeping out on that ranch these days, anyhow? Thoroughbreds, maybe? This stuff costs double what the generic brand runs, and I swear it’s heavier, too.”
Conner laughed and hoisted a bag. “Maybe you ought to sit down and rest,” he joked. “It would suck if you had a heart attack right here on the loading dock.”
“It would suck if I had a heart attack anyplace,” Malcolm countered, continuing to load the truck. “Hell, I’m only thirty-three.”
Conner, sobered by the picture the conversation had brought to mind, didn’t answer.
“You heard about Joleen?” Malcolm asked, when they’d finished piling the bags in the back of the truck.
Conner jumped down to level ground and put up the tailgate on his rig with more of a bang than the task probably called for. He’d been over Malcolm’s sister for years, but any mention of her always stuck in his craw. “What about her?” he asked, looking up at Malcolm, who stood rimmed in dazzling sunlight on the loading dock like some overweight archangel.
“She’s coming back to Lonesome Bend,” Malcolm answered. His tone was strange. Almost cautious.
“No offense, Malcolm,” Conner replied, “but I couldn’t care less.”
Malcolm was quiet for a moment. Then, in a rush of words, he added, “You want this feed put on your bill, as usual?”
“That’ll be fine,” Conner said, opening the door of his truck and setting one booted foot on the running board, about to climb behind the wheel. “Thanks, Malcolm.”
Halfway into the rig, Conner ducked out again. Malcolm had shifted his position, and his features were clearly visible now. He wasn’t smiling.
“What?” Conner asked.
Malcolm sighed heavily, swept off his billed cap and dried the back of his neck on one shirtsleeve. “She’s with Brody,” he said, as though it pained him. “I guess they’ve been—seeing each other.”
Everything inside Conner went still. It was as if the whole universe had ground to a halt all around him.
Finally, he found his voice. “I guess that’s their business,” he said, flatly dismissive, “not mine.”