Branded

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Authors: Laura Wright
never got to know him like that. Be recognized as a son to him.”
    She smiled sadly. “You just were.”
    Those incredible blue eyes went soft.
    â€œNow, what are you going to do about it?” Mac shrugged. “Walk away? Or help save what we’ve called home for longer than we can remember? Save Everett’s legacy?”
    With a weighty breath, Blue dropped one arm around her and turned to look out over the land. “He was a damn coward.”
    Mac’s stomach clenched. “Maybe.” She didn’t want to think about that. Or what else Everett might have hidden from them all. She had a ranch to save. “But there’s one thing I know for certain.”
    â€œWhat’s that?” Blue asked.
    She let her head fall onto his broad shoulder. “You’re not.”

Five
    Deacon leaned against the porch railing and watched Mackenzie with the cowboy. Watched her head fall to his shoulder and remain there as Blue’s arm snaked around her waist. They looked like a postcard for River Black, Texas. The attractive, young couple on their ranch, the fertile landscape, the waning sun, all spread out promisingly before them. For a brief moment, Deacon wondered if his parents, back in the early days of their courtship and marriage, had stood on the same hill and surveyed their new land. If they’d had grand hopes for their future. Or if Everett Cavanaugh had already stepped out on his wife, maybe even spied a beautiful young woman in town named Elena Perez.
    His father’s affair didn’t anger him exactly. It did make him curious, though. When? Where? How long? Was there anyone else? And were there any other brothers or sisters running aroundhe should know about? That last bit made his gut tense. There was a part of him, which had a tendency to take over, that wanted nothing whatsoever to do with his family. He loved his brothers—it wasn’t that—but they represented a time in his life that had nearly destroyed him. And every time he looked at them, it came back, all hot and ready to squeeze the blood from his heart. Or what remained of that sorry muscle, anyway. He knew Cole and James probably felt the same. He knew it was why they’d all gone their separate ways and barely kept in touch.
    But this new development, it had shifted something inside of him. Did he want Blue to get his spurs into the Triple C? Hell no. But he did want to know the truth.
    Deacon pulled out his cell phone and punched in some numbers. His eyes still pinned to the pair on the hillside, he spoke in a deadly calm voice when a man answered. “Evening, Billy.”
    â€œMr. Cavanaugh.” The PI on the other end of the line was quick to inquire, “What can I do for you, sir?”
    â€œI need everything you can find on a Blue Perez. River Black, Texas. Early twenties, I believe. Mother’s name is Elena Perez.”
    â€œAnd the father?”
    â€œUndetermined. That’s the second thing I need.”
    â€œYes, sir?”
    â€œDNA testing. Best you can find. I want them here.”
    â€œOf course.” There was a furious tapping of fingers on a keyboard, then, “I should have this for you in a few days.”
    â€œTomorrow,” Deacon said, then ended the call.
    Mackenzie had broken away from the cowboy, who remained staring out at the sunset—or maybe what he thought he was about to inherit—and was walking back toward the house, her shoes dangling from the fingers on her right hand. The late-afternoon sun blazed red and pink behind her, making strands of her dark hair flash copper as it whipped in the wind. Her hips swayed in her gray dress as she walked, and her long legs and bare feet had his mind conjuring up country songs he hadn’t heard or thought about in ages.
    It was damn unfortunate how beautiful she’d become. Granted, he was pretty exceptional at resisting the things that were bad for him. But in that moment, he

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