Gone Country Page 16


He remained there, not watching TV, just thinking about Rielle’s sweetness and fire. A potent combination. And he’d started to realize he wasn’t such a patient man after all.


Gavin had been expecting Vi Tuesday afternoon, but the doorbell chiming like the clang of a dinner bell startled him.


He opened the door and saw she held a big box. He immediately took it from her. “I could’ve carried this in for you. There’s fresh coffee in the kitchen.”


She unbuttoned her wool coat and unwound a vibrant scarf. “It is so damp out today. Coffee sounds heavenly.”


After he dumped the box in the dining room, he saw Vi sitting at the breakfast bar, poking buttons on her cell phone.


The glob of dough on the marble countertop hadn’t magically transformed itself into pie crust. He grabbed the rolling pin, determined to get the damn crust to roll out evenly before his snarky daughter returned home.


When the rolling pin squeaked, Vi glanced up and scrutinized the mess. “You’re making a pie?” she asked with surprise.


“Attempting to make a pie is more like it.”


“Why?”


“I lost a bet. Sierra challenged me to bake a pie and I had to swear that I wouldn’t get Rielle to help me.”


She drummed her fingers on the counter. “What kind of pie?”


“Cherry. I don’t have to make the filling from scratch. I’m having a hard enough time with the crust. The dough is sticky.”


“It gets that way after it’s been at room temperature for a while.”


“So it’s not necessarily my bad technique?”


She laughed. “No. Throw it in the freezer for a few minutes and it’ll be fine.”


“Thanks.” When Gavin turned around, Vi was giving him a thorough inspection. “Do I have flour all over my clothes or something?”


“No. Sorry. It’s just…we’ve never been in the kitchen together like this and I wondered if your…if Grace taught you to cook.”


“Not really. I learned in a helluva hurry when my ex wouldn’t touch the stove and Sierra’s first word was McDonald’s. Did you teach your sons to cook?”


“I cooked for the all the boys growing up. I figured their wives would cook for them after they got married. That worked for Quinn since he and Libby tied the knot pretty young. Chase…I suspect he ate fast food all the time he was on the road. Now he and Ava have a personal chef, which boggles my mind.” Vi fussed with her ruffled shirtsleeves. “However Ben is a good cook. He grills a mean steak. Sad to say he didn’t learn that from me. I tend to char meat to the point it’s inedible if I cook it over an open flame.”


“Same here.” Gavin removed the dough from the freezer. He reached for the rolling pin, trying not to feel self-conscious that Vi—who was probably a blue-ribbon-winning pie maker—scrutinized his every clumsy move. When the dough gummed up yet again, he was tempted to whip the blob into the sink and flip on the garbage disposal, conceding defeat.


“Gavin, would you be offended if I offered to help you?”


“God no. I’d be grateful. And Sierra only said Rielle couldn’t help me, so that leaves us both in the clear.”


Vi snorted and pushed up her sleeves. After she washed her hands, she tackled the dough like a pastry chef, expertly rolling out two perfect dough circles. “Is the filling ready?” She peered over the tops of purple zebra print eyeglasses. “I assume Little Miss wants a double crust pie?”


Little Miss was an apt description. “Yes, although technically, I think that should count as two pies.”


She snickered and transferred the dough into the pie tin.


Gavin opened a can of cherry pie filling. Before he dumped it into the shell, Vi placed a hand on his arm. “You know what would jazz that up? Almond flavoring. I’ll bet there’s almond liquor in the bar.”


He returned to the kitchen with a bottle of amaretto. She handed him a measuring cup and he stirred the liquor into the pie filling, then spooned the mixture into the pie shell and slid the pie tin across the counter.


He found her pie-making skills fascinating. His mother had never baked. Vi stretched the dough over the top, slicing away the extra and pinching the edges together. She brushed egg wash over the dough and cut three long slits in the top before popping it in the oven. “I know I’m not supposed to covet things, but I really want an oven like this. And as long as I’m making confessions, I haven’t made my own piecrust in years. I buy the frozen ones. No one knows the difference.”


Gavin grinned. “Your secret is safe with me.”


Vi arranged the extra scraps of dough on a cookie sheet and sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on each piece. “This will make a good afterschool snack. I know Sierra doesn’t need the information for her history project for a while, but I thought I’d bring it over early. If she wants more information on the McKays, she can ask Carson and Carolyn. They have all the family archives, dating back to when the McKays bought the first piece of land in Wyoming in the late eighteen hundreds.”


His eyebrows rose. “The McKays have been here that long?”


“Yep. The McKay ranch is one of the oldest working ranches in Wyoming. Of course, the original land is a tiny cow pasture compared to what they own now.”


He and Sierra shared the same love of history. She’d been itching to get her hands on documented family history. “I’m sure Sierra will be in touch if she has any questions.”


“There wasn’t a whole lot to give her on the Bennett side. We moved a lot and my father was very clear on the evils of material goods because you couldn’t take them to heaven.”


“I remember you mentioned your father was a preacher.”


“He preferred the term man of God.”


“Sounds like you had a rough upbringing.”


“I did.”


“I’d like to hear about it.” That wasn’t so hard to admit.


“Well, then I’ll need something stronger than coffee to have this conversation.” She poured a shot of amaretto into her coffee cup. “Elmore Bennett was a Baptist minister. We didn’t travel to exotic locales spreading the word of God—although Wyoming seemed exotic after living in the South. My father was a difficult man.” She tossed the booze back. “Correction. My father was a pious man, but verbally abusive. He utilized the fire, brimstone and punishment part of religious teachings to keep us in line.”


“What was your mother like?”


“The perfect preacher’s wife. I don’t think she had a thought in her head except for the ones my father put there. She loved me and my brother and sister, but she’d always save her own skin first when it came to dealing with my father.”


“I take it he’s dead?”


“They both are. Daddy died of a heart attack when Quinn was two. Mama lived with her sister in Mississippi after that. She wasn’t in good health. I went to her funeral when Chase was a baby. I haven’t seen my siblings since. I’m the black sheep of the family.”


Hard to believe. Vi McKay looked like a sweet-faced grandma, but there was an aura of tension surrounding her. A tension that Gavin suspected had a lot to do with him. “Why are you the black sheep?”


“I was a young, unwed teenage mother who gave her baby up for adoption. I turned my back on the church I was raised in. Then I married a man my father hated.” She waggled the empty glass. “And I like to drink. It’s taken me years to learn to deal with much of this stuff. But some of it…I’ll never come to terms with it.”


Ask her. Here’s your chance to get answers to all the shit that’s been bothering you since you found out the truth about your birth parents.


But he couldn’t force the words past his tightly closed lips.


“I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, Gavin, but I’m so happy you’re here. And I won’t push for more than you’re willing to offer. I just…thought you should know.”


“I appreciate it, Vi. This is still overwhelming for me.”


“I imagine it is.” Vi smiled sadly and slid from the chair. “On that note, the rest of the McKays are asking about you and Sierra. Now that you’re settled in, would you consider hosting a get together?”


“I don’t know…that’s not really my thing.”


“I understand. But it’s something to think about. You could have them all over here for a few hours and be done with it. Now I need to get home. I have an urge to bake Charlie a pie.”


“I hate this class.”


Gavin glanced up from Kiplinger’s magazine and looked at Sierra, sitting at the dining room table with papers spread out. Strange to see her there. She always did her homework in her room, music blasting from behind the closed door. “Which class?”


“Anatomy. Why do we have to memorize all the stupid muscle groups? It’s not like I plan to be a doctor or anything.”


“Anything I can do to help?”


Sierra puckered her lips with distaste. “Not unless you wanna take the test for me.”


“Sorry, sweetheart. There’s no way I’m prancing around pretending to be you, wearing sweatpants with Juicy written across the ass.”


“Ooh. You said ass. I remember when you never swore around me.”


“I’d be happy if cussing was the only bad habit you pick up from your parents.”


“True.” Sierra tapped her pencil on her notebook. “Have you heard from Mom?”


Speaking of someone with bad habits… “No. Have you?”


“Yeah. She called me at like three in the morning. Said she ‘forgot’ about the time difference.”


Gavin waited for her to continue, understanding why she’d chosen to study outside her room.


“That’s such a load of bull,” she sneered. “She just doesn’t care about anybody’s life but hers.”


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