The skinny boy’s frame had become lean and muscular. Glow-in-the dark blond hair had toned down some but Ryan noticed it still had a tendency to curl at the ends even though his brother kept it cut short. Sean had been thirteen when Ryan left. He’d grown into a man Ryan scarcely recognized.
Sean’s tension visibly drained. His smile started slowly, in his eyes first, then spread to his mouth, where it bloomed into a full grin.
“Ry!” In two long-legged strides, Sean was in front of him. “Oh man, it’s good to see you!”
In a move too sudden for Ryan to dodge, Sean folded him into a bear hug and lifted him off his feet, his carefree laughter driving out the last vestiges of Ryan’s uncertainty.
…showed his brother up:
“Lost your touch with horses there, big brother?”
Ryan spun around. Sean leaned indolently in the doorway.
“Horses? No.” Ry shook his head. “I can still handle a horse. That?” He jerked a thumb at the stall behind him. “Is not a horse. That is a demonic replica of a horse.”
Sean pushed off the doorjamb and sauntered toward his brother. Inside the stall, the agitated snorts of the big roan continued but the kicking had stopped.
“Domingo? This guy’s a sweetheart. You just gotta speak his language.” He held up an apple.
“You mean you have to bribe him,” Ryan said flatly.
Sean smiled and held out his free hand for the lead rein.
Ryan stood well back when Sean eased open the stall door and stepped inside, apple first. When the horse took the apple, Sean clipped the lead to the halter.
…took his brother out on the town:
Ryan took a second look at the other girl. “Whoa! Is that little Melanie Mitchell?” he asked his brother.
Sean nodded, an eager grin splitting his face. So that’s the way it rolled.
Ryan whistled appreciatively. “She sure grew up well.” The poke in the ribs went a long way toward making him feel like a big brother again.
…told his brother the hard truth:
Ryan winced. “I didn’t think Dad ever understood any of it. I figured he’d have tried to stop us so I never gave him the opportunity, never told him much.”
Violence born from sixteen years of hurt and loneliness guided Sean’s punch into the wooden beam, so close Ryan felt the whoosh of air passing. Sean’s green eyes registered satisfaction when Ryan flinched away from the blow next to his head.
“You don’t give Dad enough credit,” Sean grated.
…had his brother’s back:
He was propelled on waves of obvious aggression, his obedient wife trotting in his wake, as though on a short leash. Sean stepped into Brody’s path, but the old man brushed him off, his eyes never leaving Ryan.
Sandy bit her lip. Brody MacKay had always made her a bit uneasy. Seeing him now, with obvious malevolent intent on his features, her sense of uneasiness increased tenfold. Somewhere in his fifties, he was a formidable antagonist, as big as his son but with a coldness that never failed to chill Sandy to her core.
Ryan made a barely perceptible hand motion, warning Sean to stay out of it. The younger McGee stepped back, but he didn’t go far. He had his brother’s back.
…and gave his brother support:
A Styrofoam cup of something hot was pressed into his hand. Ryan looked down at the coffee then up to Sean’s troubled face. His brother shoved a sandwich into his other hand.
“Mel and Charlie brought food.” Sean closed his hand over Ryan’s shoulder, giving a little shake. “You have to eat, Ry, just a couple of bites. You’re a liability if you’re running on empty.”
He didn’t think he’d ever be able to look at another frog anywhere without thinking of Melanie Mitchell’s underwear.
Why he’s talking about names:
When he noticed everyone was now eyeing him expectantly, he realized he’d have to say something. “Ah, um . . . well, I’ve always been partial to Grace.”
How he handles difficult topics of conversation:
“Are you and Mel doing it?” Embarrassment leaked like cherry-colored paint to stain the kid’s freckled face.
How he handles stress:
Her lips, so warm and welcoming, her body so soft and his for the taking. He’d never felt more alive than he did as he pinned her against the bar and lost himself in the passion that always hovered between them like an ion-charged storm, ready to erupt with thunder. She went limp in his arms with a moan as he claimed the affirmation of her life that he needed for his own to continue.
And why he’s about to make the biggest mistake of his life.
Lifeline Echoes, currently on sale for $1.99