The Return of Brody McBride Read Download or Online

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The Return of Brody McBride

The Return of Brody McBride Read Download or Online

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30. Chapter One

BRODY WOKE WITH a start, gasped for breath, his hands pressed to his heaving
chest where the bullet had slammed into his bulletproof vest months ago,
severely bruising his ribs. Used to sleeping in some of the most hostile places in
the world, he took in his surroundings with a quick sweep of his gaze. All safe.
Adrenaline racing through his veins, he checked his first instinct and stilled his
hand, reaching beneath the pillow for his gun. He wished he could shake off the
nightmare and memories as quickly as he had sleep.
Alert, he now remembered arriving at the old cabin late last night. Clear Water
Ranch. He and Owen should rename the place Mud. Nothing pristine about the
blood running through his veins. His father sullied it, along with the McBride
name.
Just the thought of being on the ranch again set off a barrage of memories,
most of him and Owen running wild. He couldn’t pick out one, or grasp the
prevailing feeling that went with them. A mixture of happy and sad times,
frightening things better left forgotten but relived in Technicolor nightmares, and
anger stored up over years, like a river cutting its path until a deep gorge
separated them. Instead of spending the last eight years rebuilding bridges, he’d
let the gap grow wider.
His stellar military career came with its own kind of horrors, right up until a
roadside bomb took out three of his friends and left him wounded, ending his
third tour in Afghanistan and his stint with the Army Rangers. He’d stowed them
away with the other bad memories.
Two months of rehab under his belt, he returned home to pull the tattered
pieces of his life together and mend them into something of a happy future. Hell,
he’d settle for dull and normal.
He’d have exceptional if he won Rain back.
He’d blown it with her and let love slip through his fingers. Back then, he had
nothing to offer her. Now, he was a different man, the man she always saw inside
of him.
Her trail might be cold, but he’d track her, and before she knew it he’d be hot
on her tail. That’s exactly where he planned to stay until he convinced her his
days as a selfish prick were over. He wanted to put the past behind him, prove to
himself and everyone else he could be a different kind of man than his father
was, and find that all-American dream he’d spent years protecting for others. So
long as Rain was part of it, he’d find that elusive happiness.
Judging by the sunlight streaming in the windows, early morning greeted him.
A soft breeze filtered up to the loft from what could only be the open door
downstairs. Papers rustled, then everything went quiet. Company. His brother
had come calling. Time to face his past.
COFFEE IN HAND, Owen had the radio cranked up along with the heat as he drove
to his law office on autopilot, his mind on the day ahead. He passed the split in
the road that led to the old cabin and spotted the new green truck parked out
front. Instinctively, he stomped on the brakes and came to a jarring stop, almost
losing his coffee along with his good mood. Eyes narrowed, he glared at that
truck and the cabin and knew. Brody was home. Unannounced and unwelcome.
Quickly thinking of what he should do, what he could do, he backed up and
took the long driveway to the cabin. Not much changed since he’d come out and
put the new padlock on the front door to keep teens from partying and the
occasional drifter out. The grass was several feet high. His truck bounced and
thudded over the deep ruts and potholes. Garbage, beer cans, and bottles littered
the yard. The cabin looked neglected and sad against the backdrop of the
Colorado mountains.
Rain had turned sad after Brody walked out on her, just as he’d walked out on
this place and left it to the wind and time. With nothing and no one to help,
neither was living up to their potential.
With that in mind, Owen walked right in the busted front door and stood in the
ruin. This wrecked place suited Brody and the life he’d left behind for others to
clean up. Namely him.
Setting his coffee on the rickety kitchen table, he sorted through the contents
of his brother’s open briefcase.
Shocking. The thought raced through his mind. He had a few friends in the
right places, which made it easier to track Brody over the last couple years.
Brody found his calling in the military’s elite Ranger unit. He’d been on some
dangerous missions and served his country in two consecutive tours in Iraq and
three more in Afghanistan. He didn’t know what several of the medals were for,
but the Purple Heart made the reports he’d received all too real.
A grunt and moan carried down the stairs. Concerned, he glanced up to where
his brother slept restlessly, caught in a nightmare. He didn’t go up, wanting to
put the confrontation off as long as possible. Rifling through the other stuff in his
brother’s briefcase, he listened to the disturbing noises coming from upstairs,
ending with a sudden gasp before all went quiet.
Brody padded down the stairs. Owen set down one of the bottles of pills on
the table and caught sight of his brother for the first time in more than eight
years. Immediately, he was taken back to summer days when they’d run down
the dock, feet bare, shirts off, the sun hot on their backs as they took a flying
leap into the lake. Brody’s hair was that same golden blond, his skin tan—and
riddled with scars old and new. Taller, broader, and something else. The way he
carried himself. A mix of confidence, watchfulness, and ease. His eyes had
changed. Gone was the sparkle of mischief always just below the surface.
Replaced by a steady alert gaze that took in everything around him in one long
sweep. A few more lines bracketed his eyes, but he still had that same strong
jaw, the muscle working even now as Brody’s gaze narrowed down at him.
“Sleeping pills, anti-anxiety meds, painkillers.”
“I thought you were a lawyer, not a pharmacist,” Brody snapped, a defensive
note to his words.
“I’ve defended enough users to know what these drugs do to people when
abused.”
“The sleeping pills are nearly full. The others are necessary, and I take them
according to the directions so clearly written on the bottle.”
Brody moved forward looking larger than life. He’d gained a good twentyfive
pounds—all muscle. This Brody was lean and mean. The bad blood between
them not forgotten, or even pushed to the back burner for their first encounter.
Well, Owen could be just as stubborn and ornery. Hell, he’d taught Brody a thing
or two about being obstinate over the years. They’d gotten into a shitload of
trouble, usually with Owen in the lead. Brody followed willingly. They both had
that same wild McBride streak in them.
“How’s the leg?” Owen tossed out, hiding a smile when Brody’s eyes
narrowed, the muscle in his jaw flexing again.
“Checking up on me, big brother? Is that coffee for me?”
“You refused to return my calls. The coffee is mine.”
“I didn’t have anything to say. You went your way. I went mine.”
Owen had to admit, at first he’d needed the distance from their father, Brody,
this town, from a past he couldn’t forget or change. The things he’d done and
couldn’t change. But after everything was said and done, this place always called
to him. Good or bad, sometimes miserable, a few times happy, usually
somewhere tenuously in-between, it was always home. He wondered if that’s
how Brody felt. Was it the reason he’d finally stopped trying to get himself
killed and come home?
“And the leg?”
“Fine,” Brody said through clenched teeth.
“According to these military papers, they honorably discharged you due to
medical reasons.”
“I’m no longer fit to send off to be killed. You’ve got to be a hundred percent
for that kind of work.”
“Is that all it was? Work?” Owen hoped it was something more. That Brody
had finally found a direction in his life. Maybe Brody had stopped listening to
the recording in his head of their father telling him he was worthless, stupid, and
good for nothing and no one. It took a lot of hard work for Owen to shut that
voice up. He hoped Brody had managed the same.
“I needed something to do,” Brody evaded. “Seemed like a good idea at the
time.”
“When are you leaving again?”
“Who says I am?”
“You haven’t been back in more than eight years.”
“I’m here now.”
“Which begs the question, why now?”
Until that moment, Brody wanted to tell Owen to go to hell. But that was the
old him, the one who didn’t answer to anyone, carried around a chip on his
shoulder the size of the big Colorado sky and was belligerent just to be a dick
and get a rise out of anyone standing in front of him.
With a heavy sigh, he said, “Hi, Owen. Long time no see. How are you?”
Owen crossed his arms over his chest and warily went along. “Hi, Brody.
Long time no see. I’m fine. How are you?”
“Doing better. I just got out of a veteran’s rehab center. The reason for the
pills.” He grabbed a bottle and removed a pill from that one and another from a
second bottle, popping them into his mouth, downing them without water. “I got
caught by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan a few months back. Lost three of my
men, another got hit pretty bad by shrapnel. He suffered some burns.”
“You took shrapnel and got burned.”
“Yeah, well, shit happens. I lost three men. Friends. They had wives, kids.
People who loved them waiting for them,” he said tightly.
He’d been living his life on the edge, no one to care whether he lived or died.
That roadside bomb had been the last straw in a line of near misses for Brody.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” Owen conceded.
Brody figured his changing attitude and Owen’s confession were as close to
an apology as they’d get. At least, right now.
“I know it. And now, I’m here. Home to stay.”
“To stay,” Owen repeated, amazed and something else. Brody couldn’t put his
finger on it.
“Look, Owen, I know you’re pissed. I was when I left, too. It’s been years.
The old man is dead and gone. Can’t we let bygones be bygones?”
“You’re my brother. If I had the time, we could take this out into the yard and
settle a few old scores.”
“I’m ready whenever you are,” Brody returned with a cocky grin. Owen
wasn’t really pissed about the past between them. Not if a quick tussle would put
the past to rest. Maybe that gaping ravine was just a pissy creek and Brody had
been too stubborn to see it for what it was.
No, something else was going on here. Something making Owen angry and
edgy.
“I did what you asked. I had the old man cremated,” Owen backtracked. “I
still have the ashes.”
“I told you to dump his ass in a hot fire and let him burn.”
“Yeah, well, I thought you might like to be here for that. We could crack a few
beers, cuss the man out for being a shitty father . . .” Owen stopped talking and
appeared to go somewhere else.
“Man, what is with you?”
“You never answered me. Why are you here now?”
Brody ran both hands through his close-cropped hair, scratched the back of his
head, and wished desperately for a cup of coffee and some hot food. He should
have stopped before reaching the cabin and picked up a few provisions.
“Listen, Owen, my military career is over. I’ve got this business thing, but
someone else runs the show.”
“Silent partner?” Owen guessed.
“Something like that. Anyway, I’ve got my disability from the military and
some savings. The business is doing well, and I can live a comfortable life doing
what I want.”
“What is it you want? You thinking of turning this place back into a working
ranch?”
“I might get a few horses, but other than that, I haven’t really thought about it.
I have something else I need to do first.”
“And what is that?” Owen asked, his voice hard and deliberate.
“I need your help with something.”
“Spit it out. Why are you here?” Taking a step closer, Owen fisted his hands at
his side.
“I need to find Rain.”
Owen cussed, paced back and forth, and rubbed his hand across his jaw.
“I thought about asking Eli where I can find her, but I thought better of it.”
“You bet your ass you should think better of it. He’ll likely kill you as look at
you.”
Brody laughed. Small-town people had long memories. After leaving Rain the
way he did, and the things he’d done in those last few days, he wasn’t expecting
a warm welcome from most people, but especially Rain’s father, Eli.
Still pacing, Owen went off like a machine gun again. “Why do you want to
find her? What? You want to tell her you’re sorry for what happened?”
“Man, get a grip. Yes, I want to make things right.”
“What does that mean? Do you know?”
Brody narrowed his eyes. “Know what? Did something happen to Rain? Is she
all right?”
Owen took a deep breath and paced again. “You don’t know,” he said
absently.
“I haven’t spoken to her since the day I left, but you have.” Brody’s suspicions
rose along with the hairs on the back of his neck. “What happened to her?”
“Is she the only one-night stand you’ll look up while you’re in town? Or is
Roxy on your list of women to find?”
Brody grabbed Owen by the lapels of his suit jacket and hauled him up to his
loafer-covered toes. Their faces inches apart, he said very calmly, “Rain was not
a one-night stand.”
“You tossed her away like she was just another piece of ass.” Owen didn’t
fight the hold Brody had on him.
Brody shoved Owen away and crossed his arms over his chest. He took a
moment to remind himself that half the battle to win back Rain stood in front of
him. Owen knew how to find Rain, and he’d tell him, or Brody would beat it out
of him. The thought held a lot of appeal, but he’d come home to make amends,
start a new life, not pound Owen into the mud.
“It wasn’t like that.”
“No. It wasn’t like that. It was worse. You went to Roxy behind Rain’s back.
Snuck into her bed after leaving Rain.”
“It wasn’t like I went from Rain’s bed to Roxy’s. Rain and I weren’t sleeping
together.”
“Only because you broke things off with her and pushed her away for no good
reason. You two had been friends for years—more than that, for months. She
was eighteen, in love with you, and you decided you’d sleep with that bitch,
Roxy, instead of a great girl like Rain.”
“Is that what you really think?” Brody asked.
“It’s what the whole town thinks. It’s what Rain thought.”
“Don’t you think I know that? The thing is, my explanation wasn’t enough to
make her change her mind.”
This time, Brody paced, then stopped to face Owen and his past.
“Dad ran up a substantial bar tab. He was drunk . . . Well, more drunk than
usual and about ready to drive home. Roxy called and told me to come and get
him.”
“She’d done that a hundred times,” Owen pointed out.
“Yep, but this time I went into the bar and sat beside him, miserable I’d
broken up with Rain. I tried to obliterate her memory from my mind and drink
away my anger over the old man dragging me down again. Five shots of
whiskey later, Roxy comes by the table and asks to speak to me alone. Bad idea
all the way around. I thought she’d give me shit about the amount of money the
old man owed her. I prepared to tell her what an idiot she was for letting him run
up such a big tab and refuse to pay for his stupidity and hers. Instead, she pulled
me into her apartment and everything went to shit.”
“She had a thing for you for a long time,” Owen conceded. “She was a
notorious flirt, but she chased after you with a compulsion.”
“Yeah, well, I always blew her off. Don’t get me wrong, she was every man’s
wet dream. She might have been especially hot for me, but she was hot for any
guy who walked through the door. I like my women willing, but not like that.
Roxy was trouble with a capital T. I got myself into enough trouble all on my
own. The two of us together were TNT.”
“Yeah, and you took out Rain with the blast.”
Brody didn’t deny it. He knew exactly what he’d done, why he’d done it. No
excuse for his behavior.
Brody sighed. “Rain was different, everything I never thought I could have. I
held on to her for as long as I could, praying one day she wouldn’t wake up and
see what everyone else saw. I was a badass McBride, not good enough for her,
not smart enough, or kind enough. Rain didn’t think any of those things, but I
sure as hell proved her wrong.”
Owen remained quiet and watchful, waiting for him to finish his confession.
“So, there I am in Roxy’s place and feeling miserable for pushing Rain away.
Roxy asks me why I’m drinking alone instead of out with Rain. Stupid drunk as
I am, I tell her we broke up. Next thing I know, she’s a second skin on me and
she whispers in my ear, ‘I’ll make you forget pretty little Rain.’”
Brody could still hear Roxy’s voice notch down a few octaves, feel her tongue
slide over his earlobe. Even now, his gut twisted and he felt . . . dirty.
“The thing is, nothing and no one could ever make me forget Rain.”
“But you still slept with Roxy.”
“I closed my eyes, gave in to Roxy’s attempt to prove she could make me
forget, and pretended that for a moment I had Rain. Worst mistake of my life.”
“That’s the fucking truth.”
Brody recognized his mistake the second he opened his eyes and saw the
wrong woman under him. He zipped his fly and buttoned his jeans and stormed
out of her place, hating himself for what he’d done.
Rain showed up at his door two days later, said she refused to give up on
them, and jumped into his arms and proceeded to show him why they were so
good together. Like he needed to be shown. Nothing ever felt as good as when
he was with Rain—no matter what they were doing together.
He tried to cleanse his body and soul with the only woman who’d ever really
cared about him. She’d always had a way of making him feel clean and good and
worth something.
Too bad making love to her couldn’t erase the worst mistake of his life.
“So, you gave up Rain for a cheap fuck.”
“Wasn’t cheap.” Brody planted his hands on his hips, lowered his head and
shook it, the sadness welling up his throat. With no more than a whisper, he said,
“Cost me Rain.”
Brody looked around the ravaged room, a reflection of the mess his life had
been in all these years. He wanted a clean slate, but he needed to clean up the
past in order to get it.
“That woman cost me a hell of a lot. The old man still ended up wrecking his
truck after leaving her bar years later. Killed a perfectly good deer in the process.
Who knows, given time away from that place, maybe the old man would have
sobered up one day, found religion and some good humor. Maybe I’d have just
gotten older and wiser and decided his life wasn’t mine. I’ll never know because
I fucked her and my life. Tossed it all away because I was pissed at the old man
and myself for believing I wasn’t good enough for Rain. Hell, I was pissed at the
fucking world. Why? Because I had a fucked-up childhood. Couldn’t pull my
head out of my ass long enough to see if I wanted something I had to work for it,
earn it, be willing to accept whatever came my way. Doesn’t matter now.”
“Roxy’s a hell of a lot worse than you know.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me at all.” Not much surprised him these days. “Roxy
thought she was better than everyone because she knew everyone’s dirty little
secrets. Most of it was drunken lies told to her chest. Lord knows, her tits were
the most interesting thing about her. She is what she is. I made my choices. Paid
for them and a hell of a lot more. I’ve done a lot worse than get drunk and have
sex with Roxy to scratch an itch.”
“Then why did you come back, knowing that’s what you left behind?”
“I told you, I want to find Rain.”
“To what end? How do you know she’ll even talk to you?”
“Won’t know, unless I try. I’ve seen a lot of bad shit, done even worse. The
only time I can remember being happy, truly happy, was when I was with Rain. I
want that back.”
“You can’t go back,” Owen snapped. “It’s been a long time since you saw her.
Things change. People change. Hell, you changed her when you did what you
did, and left,” he shouted the words.
Brody smiled. “You know where she is.” Owen’s eyes didn’t meet his.
“You’ve seen her. Has she come back to town a few times to see Eli? Where
does she live now? San Francisco? Did she stay there after college?”
“You still haven’t answered the question. Why do you want to find her?”
“You don’t make it easy on a guy.” He tossed up his hands and let them fall
with a slap against his legs. “She’s the one that got away. The one I pushed away.
But it’s always been her. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, Rain is there with
me. She got me through Iraq and Afghanistan. She got me through grueling,
agonizing rehab.”
“And now you want to just find her and say, let’s let bygones be bygones.”
“I don’t think it will be that easy.” Half a smile quirked up his face. In for one
hell of a fight with Rain, he actually looked forward to it. Rain in a temper was
only matched by her passion in bed. Which only proved what a colossal fool
he’d been to let her go without a fight.
Hell, he’d made it easy by leaving her before she left him.
That gem of an epiphany hit him while he lay burned and bleeding on a
stretcher right after the roadside bomb nearly took his life. Rain had been ready
to leave town, take her scholarship and make a real life for herself. He didn’t
have a single thing to offer her besides more of the same life she was desperate
to escape. She had plans, an opportunity to make something of herself, and he
didn’t fit into those plans. At least, that’s what he thought at the time. When the
opportunity came to screw everything up royally, knowing it would cost him
Rain and any chance to have a life with her, he took hold with both hands. The
same thing he’d always done. If you were going to screw him, he’d screw you
first. If his old man wanted to get on his case, Brody made damn sure he had a
reason. If he was going to lose Rain anyway, he’d sure as hell make sure she
knew he didn’t need her.
What an enormous lie. He did need Rain.
“I think it’ll take a lot of groveling.”
“What if she doesn’t want to see you?”
“I’ll change her mind.”
“If you can’t?”
“Can’t isn’t an option,” Brody bit out.
“You’ve got it bad for her. Is that what you want me to believe?”
“Believe what you like. With or without your help, I will find her. And when I
do, I will convince her to make a life with me.”
“What if she’s already married?”
“If she was, you’d have told me that ten minutes ago when I asked about her.
You’d have thrown it in my face the minute you realized I came back for her.
Because even I know I deserve it.”
Brody walked to the open door and stared out at his sorry yard. With his hands
braced on each side of the doorframe, he pleaded, “Please, tell me where she is.”
Owen shoved Brody out the door and followed him out. “I’ll be in court most
of the day. Whatever you do, don’t come into town. I don’t have time to defend
Eli against murder charges. Give me today to talk to him before everyone finds
out you’re back.”
“Just tell me where she is, Counselor.”
Owen stopped and held on to the door of his truck before getting in. “Make
me a promise.”
“What?”
“Stay out of town today. In the morning, I’ll tell you where she is.”
“You’re going to call and warn her I’m looking for her.” Brody had a pretty
good idea she wasn’t as far away as he’d originally thought. That would only
make things easier. Not that he wouldn’t go to the ends of the earth to find her.
“Absolutely.” Owen gave him a cocky grin.
“Still playing dirty,” Brody said, feeling nostalgic.
“Giving her a fair chance to decide on her own what she wants without you
showing up unexpectedly and catching her off guard. A lot has happened since
you left. She’s not the girl you remember. She has a whole new life.”
“Is she happy?”
The play of emotions on his brother’s face left him confused. Owen stared out
across the yard to the lake beyond. It took him a minute to answer. “There are
times she is. Yeah, I guess for the most part she’s made the most out of . . . Well,
she’s fine.”
“What the hell kind of answer is that? I thought you’d been in contact with
her.”
“I have. She’s living her life the best she can. What more do you want?”
“For you to stop fucking around and tell me where she is.”
“Tomorrow. If you need supplies . . . And garbage bags,” he said, scanning the
yard disgustedly, “go to Solomon. Twenty-four hours. That’s all I’m asking.”
“You ask for a hell of a lot. I know she’s either in town or close by. Why not
just say so?”
“Eli, number one. And she deserves a heads-up. If she doesn’t want to see
you, you will leave her alone.”
“Never going to happen.”
“Don’t make me give into my urge to pound you bloody.” Owen’s knuckles
went white where he held the truck door.
Owen’s odd behavior made Brody agree. “I’ll give you today. Tomorrow, you
either tell me where she is, or I’ll take my chances with Eli.” He let that hang for
a minute, then added, “I’ve got my own contacts. One Internet search, and I’ll
find her.”
“Shit! Then why did you ask for my help?”
“Rain isn’t the only one I wanted to see.” The truth of the matter, Brody
thought using Owen to find Rain would be a good way to bridge the gap
between them.
“Who are you, and what have you done with my hard-ass brother?”
“Well, Counselor, you aren’t the only one who decided to change which side
of the law he landed on. Like everyone else, I’ve changed.”
Owen eyed him for a moment before shaking his head. “I’ll see you tomorrow.
Stay out of town.”
“You aren’t taking the day off to help me clean up this mess?”
Owen stepped away from the truck and planted his hands on his hips.
“Whether you realize it or not, I’ve been cleaning up your mess for years.” He
looked at the yard and house a bunch of teenagers had trashed during what had
to amount to several rowdy parties at the deserted cabin. “This one you get to
fix.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“You’ll see. You left a hell of a lot more behind than just Rain and me.” Owen
gunned the engine and took off.
Owen’s final words rang in his ears. His past was coming back to bite him on
the ass.

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