“I never meant to hurt any of you.”
“But you did.”
“I know you are. And I forgive you even when I still want to paddle your butt.” She kissed his forehead. “But it needed to be said.”
He owed her more than a perfunctory I’m sorry. He owed his entire family more than that.
“Being kicked around by my family when I’ve been down today has been a good thing, believe it or not.” He smiled at Domini. “I don’t want to go back to being the man I was because some changes are for the better.”
“That’s good to hear and I’m happy for you, son. Let us share in your happiness, okay? Let us get to know the different man you’ve become.”
“I meant it when I said you’re welcome at our house any time, Carolyn,” Domini said. “You too, Carson.”
Carolyn squeezed their joined hands. “That means a lot. Cameron’s been back in Wyoming for a while but it took you to really bring him home to us. Thank you.”
His dad just patted his shoulder and then Domini’s. Twice. Then he slipped his arm around his mother’s waist and murmured to her as they walked off by themselves.
As soon as his folks were gone, the screen door slammed.
Keely wrapped her arms around Domini from behind, setting her chin on Domini’s shoulder. “Relax, I’m not gonna choke you for ordering me away from my own brother. I deserved it. I just wanted to ask if you’re glad you took my naked advice?”
Domini blushed when Cam lifted an eyebrow at her. “Very glad. The best advice I ever had.”
“Good, because I’ll be honest, Domini, I wasn’t sure if you were…assertive enough to handle my tough-as-nails brother.”
Sometimes his sister had the tact of an ape. “Keely, what the hell is wrong with you?”
“No, it’s okay, Cam, let her finish,” Domini said, running her hand down his forearm.
“See? That’s why you two fit so perfectly.” Keely leaned into Domini. “You’re quiet and sweet, but that’s deceiving because you have an inner core of pure steel. I always thought Cam would need a woman who is as hardheaded and tenacious as he is. But Cam needs someone like you, a woman who gives him a soft place to land as well as quiet strength. You understand him in ways none of us ever have.” Keely’s eyes filled with tears and Cam felt himself tearing up. “I will always be grateful to you for that. And I am so happy you found each other.”
Domini murmured in Ukrainian.
“What? Are you swearing at me after I spilled my guts?” Keely demanded.
She laughed. “No, I just remembered a Ukrainian proverb: she who weeps with joy for others will find joy in return.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get married. Being around these McKay males, I have very high standards for a man and no man has ever come close.”
Anton and Gracie bounded over.
“I wouldn’t mind having kids though. Just girls.” She smirked. “You guys gonna join the McKay baby parade soon?”
Cam said, “Nah. We’ve already got a jump on our family.” He ruffled Anton’s hair. “One kid is plenty, right?”
Gracie barked in agreement.
“Since the boys had such a great time today I thought I’d offer to take Anton for an overnight. Ky’s coming. So are Gib and Thane. It’ll be fun.”
Cam looked at Anton. “You interested?”
“I dunno. Do you want me to go?”
“I thought maybe we could chill out at home. Pop some popcorn, check out that Transformers movie so I can see why Ky and Thane and Gib were all fired up about me having robot parts.”
Anton grinned. “That’d be cool.”
“There’s your answer, sis. We’re goin’ home. But if Domini and Anton are okay with it, maybe sometime soon we could have the family over for a barbecue.”
“Just as long as you’re not cookin’,” Anton said.
“Amen to that,” Keely said and low fived him.
Domini helped him to his feet. They inched their way to his truck, Anton on one side, Domini on the other. The pain made him dizzy. Domini held him up, she held him up in so many ways. His wife. His sweet, strong, perfect miracle.
No man—cowboy or otherwise—had ever had it so good.
One year later…
“Hang on,” Cam yelled over his shoulder. He flipped the burgers and shut the lid on the grill, praying they wouldn’t catch fire the second he turned his back. Although he’d drastically improved his cooking skills, they all preferred Domini’s food to his. But the woman deserved a night off now and then, so he’d bucked up and learned the basics.
“Dad! Seriously, look at this!” Anton shouted.
Cam felt that catch in his heart and in his gut. His eyes got a little damp whenever Anton called him Dad. He’d get used to it eventually—the word was still new even if Cam’s paternal feelings for the boy weren’t.
The change from Cam to Dad happened gradually, not in some sappy Hallmark moment. At the school’s fall open house, Anton had introduced them to his new teacher as his mom and dad. Poor overwhelmed Domini had hidden her face against Cam’s chest and cried. Cam managed to man up—barely—he’d been pretty bowled over himself.
There were times in the last year they’d all struggled to become a real family, not just on paper, but in their hearts and everyday lives. When Anton had taken that last step on his own, Cam knew the struggle had been worth it. They truly were a family now—by choice, not by circumstance.
He leaned over the deck rail. “Okay, son, I’m watchin’.”
Anton’s black cowboy hat was almost as big as he was. He adjusted the rope, started twirling it above his head, and let fly. It landed in a perfect loop on the practice horns on the sawhorse. Then he quickly cinched the rope tight and let out a whoop. Gracie barked happily at his bootheels.
“Lookin’ good. You’re gonna give Ky a run for his money at the junior rodeo tomorrow.”
Anton beamed…and returned to practicing. The kid was obsessed.
“You know he’s going to be a total cowboy,” Domini said, behind him.
“Hard not to be one, growin’ up in Wyoming.”
“It’s not Wyoming that’s his influence, silly man, it’s you.”
“Me?” Cam cocked his head at her. “Princess, I’ll remind you I’m not a cowboy.”
“I disagree. You might not be wearing chaps, riding a horse, roping steers and showing off all those external cues.” Domini moved into his arms and placed her hand over his chest, over his heart. “But inside? Where it really counts? You’re all cowboy, Cameron McKay.”
She briefly laid a finger over his lips. “You’ve always done the right thing, whether you were a ranch kid, or a soldier, or a cop, or a member of the notorious McKay clan, or now as a husband and a father. That’s who you are, that’s who I fell in love with.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him lightly on the lips. “A true cowboy.”
This woman had quite a bit of cowboy in her too. He curled his hands around her face and rested his forehead to hers. “I love you so damn much.”
The moment was sweet… And short-lived when Anton sicced Gracie on them.
Domini laughed and shooed the dog away. “Before I forget, you’re supposed to call Remy back.”
“He say why? Is there a problem?”
“Everything is on schedule, worrywart, he just wanted to go over a few things about taking care of Gracie before we leave on Monday.”
Cam glanced at the markers surrounding the new concrete slab, as well as the skeletal walls and ceiling trusses. His cousins were adding on a new section to the house that’d double the size of their current living space.
Which made sense, since he and Domini were about to double the size of their family. His stomach fluttered when he considered the next step in their lives together. Adoption. Anton would officially become a McKay the same time as his new siblings. It’d all happened so fast. Normally adoption took forever, so they were surprised when everything fell into place in record time. They’d taken it as a good sign.
“So, are we all set for the trip?”
“Yes. We’re meeting them Thursday. If all the paperwork is at the orphanage and the embassy, which Ginger assures me it is, then we should have them out of Romania and be back in Wyoming within two weeks.”
Cam smoothed her hair behind her ear. “You nervous?”
“It’s not too late to back out.”
“Domini, I don’t want to back out. I already think of them as ours. I have since the first time we saw their pictures.”
“Plus, Anton is looking forward to bein’ a big brother. And it kills Ky that his cousin is getting a brother and a sister all in one shot.” Fourteen-month-old twins. Yeah, he and Domini would be hitting up everyone in his family for parenting advice.
“How do you think Anton will do on diaper duty?”
“Horrible. Just like me. But just like everything else we’ve done in this family, we’ll learn together.”