Gone Country Page 62


“I know you love me. You know I love you. But things can change so fast.”


“Not this.” He kissed her knuckles. “Years down the road, I want to look at you and remind you of this moment and do a little I-told-you-so dance.”


She laughed softly. “Now, that is something I can’t wait to see. Do we tell Sierra about the change?”


“I like that you said we.” He liked it a lot. “I don’t know that it requires a sit-down discussion. The melding of our lives has been a gradual shift over the last few months, and she’s accepted those changes. If she asks, then we’ll address it.”


“All right.”


“There is one thing I want to do to prove that I’m serious about permanently tying our lives together.”


“What?”


“Putting your name on the title to this house. Before you automatically say, no, no way, I’m not taking that gift from you, I’ll point out it’s not a gift. You’ll have to pay half the property taxes. And I’ll want you to start kicking in more money for utilities because those ovens of yours are a serious electrical suck.”


Tears filled her eyes.


“Shit. Ree, honey, I was kidding about the utilities.”


“I know that, dumbass.” She sniffled. “It’s just more than I ever expected. You…this…everything.”


God, he loved this woman.


“For me too.”


April…


“Boone. Check this out.”


Sierra aligned photocopies from the Crook County Monitor newspaper on the coffee table.


“What did you find?”


“This newspaper went out of business in the early decade of the nineteen hundreds but here’s mention of a land transfer from Ezekiel West to Silas McKay in 1898.” She squinted at the blurred text. “I can’t tell how much land, but I bet that’s the land the McKays supposedly ‘stole’ from the Wests.”


“Huh. Did it say anything in Dinah McKay’s journal about it?”


“Not that I’ve come across, but she detailed just about everything else, so I’ll look closer. Although, she didn’t start chronicling her life as a ranch wife until she married Jonas McKay in 1901.”


“Wait. Who is Silas McKay?”


“Jonas’s twin brother. And you’re not the only one who hasn’t heard of him.” Sierra slumped back into the couch, her eyes aching from trying to read old, faded text.


“Something wrong?” Boone asked, concern on his face. “Where does it hurt?”


“Just a twinge. I’m fine.” Boone constantly fussed over her, but she liked it so sometimes she let him soothe her pains—phantom or not. After her car accident and all the hours he’d helped her with homework and her research project, they’d become even better friends. She liked him, liked spending time with him. They both had an offbeat way of looking at things and they shared the same strange sense of humor. If friends were all they ever were, she was good with that. But she’d be lying if she didn’t admit part of her would always hope for more.


“Earth to Sierra.”


“Sorry. What was I saying?”


“Something about Jonas and Silas McKay.”


“Right. How can the McKays be so proud of their family name and lineage and not know their basic history? I talked to my Aunt Kimi—”


“Our Aunt Kimi,” he corrected with a quick smile.


She stuck her tongue out at him as she always did when he reminded her of their shared family connection. “Our Aunt Kimi told me in the years she knew Jed McKay, he refused to speak of his father’s twin brother. He said they’d paid good money to ensure the past was left buried in the past.”


“Cryptic. Did Kimi ever ask her father about it?”


“I guess he expressed his displeasure that two of his daughters married into a family of thieves and murderers.” Sierra absentmindedly tapped her pen. “Kimi said not even the gossip about her and Carolyn marrying into the McKay family revived the old scandal, whatever it might’ve been. How can it be such a big secret?”


He wore a reflective look. “The Wests and the McKays have been settled in Crook and Weston counties longer than any other existing families. With coal mining, railroads, oil production and agriculture, people constantly moving in and out of the area, not only in the last fifty years, but the last hundred years…things that happened, even scandalous things, would get lost in the shuffle, Sierra.”


“I get that. Our families have forgotten the actual event that caused the feud in the first place, but they’ve kept the hatred for generations? I don’t buy that. There’s a cover up on one side or both sides.”


“I agree.” Boone pushed his hair out of his face. “I can’t believe that neither Aunt Kimi nor Aunt Caro knows the West family history besides that all the Wests have always hated all the McKays and always will. Caro and Kimi are the most gossipy, in-the-know women in the area.”


“Exactly what I said! So I’ll admit I was a little…pushy with Kimi, especially since Jed McKay lived with her and Uncle Cal and I think she was dodging my questions. But I’m interested in the real story, dammit.”


“Maybe you oughta be a reporter. Or a private eye.” Boone nudged her. “So how did Aunt Kimi react to a pushy non-McKay acting like a pushy McKay?”


She nudged him back. “She asked me when I was officially changing my last name to McKay so it accurately reflected my overbearing genes.”


“Is that a possibility? Your dad changing your last name to McKay?”


“He’s never mentioned it. But that’s how everyone introduces him—Gavin Daniels, Charlie and Vi McKay’s oldest boy.” Sierra shuffled the papers in front of her. “I wouldn’t have an issue if he did want the change. Some people—” she knocked her knee into his, “—already call me McKay, so it wouldn’t be such a big shift for me. But it would be a big deal for my dad. Anyway, I’m just frustrated with the lack of information.”


Boone covered her restless hand with his. “You’ve done your report. Why are you still combing through these old papers?”


His touch—even casual—caused a hot jolt of awareness. She stared at his rough-skinned knuckles and the smattering of dark hair across the back of his hand. She wanted to run her fingertips across the rugged texture and memorize every inch.


“Sierra?”


“What?”


“Why does this matter?”


“Maybe to show my dad that I am invested in my family. I know it probably sounds weird, but I’ve never had this type of connection. I don’t know anything about my mom’s side of my family, except that she cut off all contact with her dad after he left her mother for another woman. Then her mom died when she was in college. I’ve never had cousins, or aunts and uncles and now I’ve got so many I can’t keep them all straight.


“I’m also interested because Dinah went to all the trouble to keep records for future generations of McKays. These archives haven’t been touched in years and someone needs to care, to bring it to life, so it might as well be me.” She sighed. “My Grandpa Charlie said after his mom died his father boxed up all her things, shoved them in the attic and warned his sons if he ever caught them messing up there, he’d tan their hides.”


He whistled and sank back into the sofa, breaking their handhold. “Yeah, I wouldn’t take the chance and go poking around either.”


“But I want to know what the damn scandal was. It had to be big. It had to be documented some place in these papers.”


“I’ll remind you half the papers jammed in the boxes were worthless.”


“But there’s got to be more information somewhere that we don’t have.” She had a thought. “Small town newspapers—especially back then—detailed the lives of people in the community by calling local gossip news. So and so went for supper at so and so’s house. So and so won the pie-eating contest at the church social. Ellie Mae was seen dancing with Tom, Dick and Harry at the street dance.”


Boone laughed. “Ellie Mae? Is that name from what I think it’s from?”


“Yes, I watched every episode of The Beverly Hillbillies on classic TV at least three times.” Sierra poked his arm. “What old TV show was your guilty pleasure?”


“Guess.”


She groaned. “You know I hate guessing games.”


“Yep, but if you guess, I’ll help you scour these pages and we’ll dissect the library archives piece by piece until we break the news of the hundred-year-old scandal.”


That perked her up. Boone’s appearance today had shocked her since she’d finished the history project last week. And if he promised his help, she’d still get to hang out with him. “Even if I guess wrong?”


“Yep.”


“The Love Boat.”


Boone laughed. Hard. “God, McKay, you are so freakin’ hilarious sometimes.”


She buffed her nails on her chest. “But I guessed right, didn’t I?”


“No. Guess again.”


“The Adventures of Daniel Boone.”


“Seriously?”


She blinked innocently. “What? Am I wrong?”


“Do ya think?” he half-snarled. “I was saddled with this ridiculous name because of that man. And my ditzy mother named her other son Crockett, after Davy Crocket.”


“No lie?”


“No lie. She named her daughter Oakley. After Annie Oakley. Who does that to a kid?”


“You’re off topic.” She jabbed his chest with her index finger. “Tell. Me. Your. Favorite. Old. Show.”


“The Dukes of Hazzard.”


“Funny.”


“I’m serious. And for me it was all about Daisy Duke and those short shorts. Man. She was something.”


Seeing the dreamy look on Boone’s face…now she knew exactly what pieces to add to her summer wardrobe. Speaking of summer…she’d wondered how to bring this up. “So can you believe there’s only a month left of school?”

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