“Son of a—” Ethan bit off the last word, the sound of his wrench hitting the corrugated metal wall satisfying what was left of his curse.
“Whoa.” Zane’s voice echoed through the large, open space, and Ethan turned to face his younger brother. “Someone piss in your Wheaties this morning?”
“Fuck off,” Ethan growled, hopefully low enough for Zane not to hear him while still giving him the satisfaction of saying the words.
“I heard that,” Zane said with a grin. “You got any coffee in this place?”
“You don’t drink coffee,” Ethan retorted as he went to pick up the wrench he’d launched across the room.
“No, but you could use a cup,” Zane declared. “Or ten.”
Zane muttered the last two words, but Ethan heard them loud and clear. He clamped his jaw shut to keep from saying anything. His mood was bad enough; he didn’t need to let Zane get to him right now. And truth be told, he really could use some coffee.
And maybe a personality transplant.
“Where’s Blake?” Zane asked as Ethan followed him into the small office that Ethan occupied from time to time. Zane had previously used the office as well when he had worked for Walker Demolition. Since he had moved on to run one of the clubs at Alluring Indulgence Resort, Ethan was the only one who spent any time in there, and even that was limited.
“He quit this morning.” One of the main reasons Ethan had resorted to throwing tools so early in the day.
“What the fuck, man?”
Ethan looked up at Zane, pausing in his pursuit of coffee. As he slid the pot out from the coffeemaker, he rolled his eyes. “Sorry, didn’t realize you needed a translator.”
“Shut it. Why’d he quit?” Zane asked, dropping into the chair and leaning far enough back that it looked like he would tip over at any second. Maybe he would, and then Ethan could laugh for the first time that day.
“He’s moving on,” Ethan answered, trying to be politically correct. He’d rather say “Because he’s an asshole,” but that would sound personal.
“What are you going to do now?”
Ethan finished pouring his coffee and carried it over to the desk cluttered with papers and parts. Lowering himself into his chair, he lifted his ball cap and scratched his head before dropping it back in place. “I’m gonna work. What the hell did you think I was going to do?”
“You know what I mean. You can lay off being a dick. I’m not here to give you a hard time.”
“Why the hell are you here, then?” It wasn’t like any of his brothers stopped by just to shoot the shit. Granted, Ethan saw them several times a week, but that was usually at his parents’ house or at Moonshiners.
“Oh, yeah, that.” Zane smirked. “Zoey’s in labor.”
“What the hell!” Ethan bolted up out of his chair, knocking over his coffee cup in the process. “Son of a fucking bitch.”
“Chill, bro. You need to calm the fuck down, you know that?”
Ethan was too busy grabbing napkins and throwing them at the spill to respond. Probably a good thing for Zane too because Ethan wasn’t in the mood to put up with his cocky-ass attitude. It was only eight thirty in the morning, and he’d been working for three hours already. He was tired, and yes, he was in a foul fucking mood.
Once he mopped up the mess, he grabbed his keys and his wallet from the desk drawer, took his Stetson off the hat rack on the wall, and tossed his ball cap on the desk. “What the hell are you waiting for? Are they at the hospital?”
“Yup.” Zane grinned as he got to his feet slowly, obviously testing Ethan’s patience.
“You coming?” Ethan asked, not bothering to look back at his younger brother. If he weren’t so damn tired, he’d put Zane in a headlock and take him to the ground like he’d done more times than he could count when they were kids. They were pretty well matched in height and weight now, but Ethan was confident he could do it. The idea put a smile on his face for the first time that day.
“Meet you there,” Zane hollered over his shoulder as he raced to his Jeep. “Don’t worry, we’ll be there when your slow ass gets there.”
Ethan would’ve responded with a “fuck off,” but Zane was jumping in his Jeep and peeling out of the gravel lot before he had the chance.
As soon as he was behind the wheel, Ethan grabbed his cell phone and hit Zane’s number. When his brother picked up, he said, “What hospital are they at, jackass?”
He was answered by a rumbling chuckle. “St. David’s in Round Rock. Need me to wait for you?”
“I’ll see you there,” he snarled and hung up the phone. And yes, Ethan had to give Zane credit, he did have another smile on his face. Brief, but visible.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER, Ethan’s mood had darkened once again. That’s what happened when he was left with too much time to think.
With a forced smile on his face, he strolled into the Labor and Delivery waiting room, searching for a family member. Any family member. He spotted Travis, Gage, and Kylie first. They were sitting on a couch on the far side of the room against a wall of windows, looking like the loving, attentive threesome that Ethan knew them to be. Odd how they appeared to be cast with halos from the sun shining in behind them.
You’re losing it, Walker.
Trying to ignore the irritating voice in his head, Ethan headed in their direction. As he made his way over, he caught a glimpse of Zane standing in a corner beside V, who was sitting in a chair talking to Beau Bennett.
After a quick nod of acknowledgment, he made a point not to look their way again. With the smirk on Zane’s face, Ethan knew his little brother was still trying to piss him off. That’s what Zane did. It irritated the shit out of him. Still, every time Ethan thought about the pain in the ass he knew his brother aimed to be, Ethan was still glad to have Zane back to his old ornery self. After the attack that Zane endured a year ago, Ethan had promised himself—and God—that he would be as tolerant as possible as long as Zane would pull through.
“Hey,” Ethan greeted Travis quietly as he approached. “How is she?”
“All is good,” Kylie assured him with a grin. “A nurse came out a few minutes ago. She said it shouldn’t be long.”
“Where’s Mom and Dad?” Ethan asked Kylie, since she seemed to be the only one in a chatty mood.
This time Travis was the one to answer, with a swift tilt of his chin toward the other side of the room. Looking back over his shoulder, Ethan saw his parents sitting side by side in an alcove, his father’s arm around his mother’s slender shoulders. They were huddled close together laughing as they flipped through what appeared to be a photo album. Probably Kaleb’s, if he had to guess.
Ethan scanned the room looking for the twins and Sawyer, but he didn’t see any of them. As he was turning back to face Travis, he couldn’t resist the urge to look at Beau. They made eye contact, and there was that damned rush of adrenaline that lit Ethan up from the inside.
He tried not to notice how imposing Beau looked, just sitting innocently in a chair talking to V, muscles relaxed. Or how good he looked with that black Stetson tipped low on his head, blond hair peeking out from behind his ears, angular jaw and slightly crooked nose making his face as beautiful as it was rugged.
Promptly turning away, he ordered his brain to focus on the reason he was here. It damn sure wasn’t to ogle Beau. Ever since New Year’s Eve at the resort, he had managed to successfully put distance between them, seeing Beau only when absolutely unavoidable. And after all that hard work to stay away, he would definitely not be going there again.
He was there for more important things. Like the new baby that Zoey and Kaleb were about to have.
Holy fuck, he was going to be an uncle.
Oddly, the idea of becoming an uncle was the equivalent of being told he’d just been elected president. He felt bigger all of a sudden, like he could take on the world, and he had no idea why.
Ethan knew his brother Kaleb was excited as well, if not a little overprotective. Okay, so Kaleb was a lot overprotective, but still, Ethan somehow felt like he understood him.
A baby. The most precious gift they could’ve been given.
There was no way to rationalize what he was feeling or even why, but Ethan was anxious to become an uncle. Maybe because he knew he would never have children of his own, and at twenty-eight, he had actually come to accept that fate. After all, he had to commit to a relationship before he would commit to a family. Since that wasn’t about to happen, Ethan would settle for spoiling some nieces and nephews if his brothers were willing.
It was too bad he would never be able to find what some of his brothers seemed to be finding these days. It wasn’t that it wasn’t possible; Ethan just didn’t see it happening anytime soon or in the future. As tempting as the idea had become in recent months, he knew it was just out of his grasp. The reward not quite worth the risk.
Speaking of risk . . .
His mind drifted to the argument he’d had with Blake earlier that morning. As soon as Blake showed up at the shop—late, of course—Ethan had been irritated with him. Specifically, the ill-timed ultimatum that Blake had offered him. As it would seem, Blake wasn’t in agreement with Ethan’s way of thinking. At all.
Yes, Ethan was gay. Blake hadn’t been telling him anything he didn’t already know when he felt the need to rant at Ethan first thing in the morning. Ethan accepted who he was. Had accepted it since he was young and confused, knowing full well he was different from his brothers, but not able to control his feelings.
Had it not been for the small town that he lived in, and the hell he’d already lived through, Ethan might’ve actually been able to live his life openly as a proud gay man. But in the rural town of Coyote Ridge, he didn’t have that luxury. Hell, he had never even come out and told his parents, although he knew they weren’t oblivious to what was going on around them. Ethan didn’t doubt for a second that they would support him wholeheartedly if he ever had the desire to open up to them, but he wasn’t willing to put them through it.
Living in a small town, his parents were a vital part of the community, and he had already experienced hell on earth, the least of which were the hateful, bigoted comments he endured on nearly a weekly basis. As long as he had a say in the matter, he was not putting his family through it, too.
People weren’t as open-minded as they claimed to be. Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at it—he’d learned his lesson early on. Knew exactly the sort of mistakes he wouldn’t make again. And, dumbass that he was, he had thought Blake understood that. Had actually believed they were on the same page.
Shit, they weren’t even in the same book.
“Walker family?” a sweet yet authoritative voice called from behind him, and there was a rustle of activity as most of the occupants in the waiting area shuffled toward the nurse standing in the doorway with a huge smile on her face.
“The doctor is still in with baby and mom, but dad asked me to come out and tell you that everything is fine.”
His mother’s sob of joy had everyone turning to look at her. Instinct kicked in, and Ethan immediately moved to her side, putting his arm around her at the same time his dad did.
“When can we go in and see them?” Curtis asked gruffly, his booming voice the equivalent of yelling in a canyon, which meant everyone probably heard him for miles.
“Just as soon as we get them all settled. But I suggest you go down to the nursery first. In a few minutes, we’ll take the baby in and get him all cleaned up.”
They had been told the baby was a boy, but hearing the nurse confirm sent a rush of excitement through Ethan. He had a nephew.
Another delighted sob slash chuckle from his mother, and the group laughed, turning to congratulate each other as though they actually had something to do with the blessed event. Ethan grinned like a fool. He couldn’t help himself. Hearing that the baby was doing well and they wouldn’t have to wait much longer to finally meet him, he felt something loosen inside of him. Don’t ask him why he’d been anxious lately, but he had.
He joined the chaotic excitement, returning the brotherly embrace from Zane, then from Travis and Gage. But when Ethan came face-to-face with Beau, he froze. Turning, Ethan hugged Kylie and then moved out of the group as fast as his legs would carry him.
“What’d I miss?” Sawyer’s voice thundered from behind them as the group dispersed.
“Where are the twins?” Ethan asked. They should’ve been there for this.
“On the way. Brendon had to stop and get something,” Sawyer explained, a suspicious smirk on his face.
As though that was the cue, Ethan’s attention was snagged by a bushel of color coming in through the door to the waiting room. What the hell is that?
A round of laughter erupted as they all realized Braydon was hidden behind a wall of balloons and trying to squeeze through the doorway. More balloons than Ethan had ever seen in one place. Bright jewel tones—red and green and blue and yellow—hovered above Braydon’s head like a cloud.
“What the fu—” Travis muttered, the curse word cut off when Kylie placed her hand over his mouth.
“There is no way you’re gonna get all of those balloons in that little room,” Kylie informed them with a beaming smile as the twins made their way toward the middle of the waiting area, where everyone was now milling about.
Braydon looked up at his collection, then back to Kylie, a grin forming. “No problem.”
Pulling off one of the strings, he handed a single green balloon to Kylie. When he went to hand one to Travis, the oldest of them all simply frowned at Braydon.
“No? None for you? Fine.” From there, Braydon started going from one person to another—even complete strangers—handing out balloons. There obviously weren’t enough people in the waiting room, but that didn’t seem to stop Braydon; he just made his way out into the hall. Ethan knew he’d have all the balloons handed out in no time. The guy was crazy.
“What are you doing?” Another familiar voice sounded from the hallway. A strangled laugh was then followed by “No. I don’t want a damn balloon.”
As he watched his cousin Jared Walker—also known as the new man in charge of Walker Demolition—make his way into the waiting room, he considered escaping while everyone’s attention was diverted. Ethan prepared himself for the confrontation that he expected to come.
When Jared looked his way, Ethan nodded in acknowledgment but sent up a silent prayer that his cousin wouldn’t stop to chat. He didn’t have anything to say to the guy. Especially after the last couple of conversations they’d had.
Granted, Ethan respected the fact that Travis had hired Jared to come in and manage Walker Demolition now that he was fully immersed in the new resort, but that didn’t mean Ethan liked the guy. Okay, so he liked the guy; he just wasn’t fond of the ass-chewing he had received on Blake’s behalf.
Technically, up until that morning, Blake had been an employee of Walker Demolition, and Ethan didn’t understand why he had to be the one to take the heat every time Blake fucked up. Which had been frequently, Ethan knew.
Blake wasn’t the most reliable, didn’t usually come into work on time, and sometimes disappeared for a couple of days without bothering to even call and let Ethan know where he was. And despite the fact that Ethan had been dating him—for lack of a better term—he wasn’t his keeper. Nor was he his boss. Not that Jared seemed to understand that. So, needless to say, they’d butted heads since the day Jared showed up right around the first of the year.
Now that Blake wasn’t working for them, Ethan wondered if that would help the strained relationship that had started to develop since the first week of January when Jared had shown up out of the blue. There was a story behind his cousin’s relocation to Coyote Ridge, but out of respect to Jared, Ethan had never tried to get to the root of it. Watching as Jared shook hands with Travis and then Curtis, Ethan started to wonder why he hadn’t put forth the effort.
It wasn’t like Ethan had wanted anything to do with running the family business. He had more than enough to do in the mechanic shop, and that’s actually where he wanted to stay. He liked being out of the limelight, staying in the shadows and not having to deal with any of the political bullshit. Jared seemed to be suited perfectly for the job, although Ethan knew for a fact that if he needed his cousin to get his hands dirty and help out in the shop, he’d be capable of doing that as well.
Hmmm . . . he certainly wasn’t going to tell Jared that Blake quit, that was for damn sure. The last thing he needed was some nosey family member getting all up in his business.