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The party was in full swing by the time Ross got there. He stood out on the porch of the damned bunkhouse his mom had built for her ranch hands, fist raised to knock. The place belonged to his buddy Brodie now, and Brodie was fixing to get married. Ross wouldn't miss that for the world.
Even if he was half-dreading the whole thing.
"Uncle Ross!" Before he could even knock, Ken's kids came tumbling out, just whooping and hollering and hugging on him. Damn, they'd grown in the time he'd been gone, just wandering around the country.
He scooped up Katie and hugged her tight. "Hey, kiddo. You remember me, huh?"
"I don't know why she should, stranger." That came from Brodie, who walked out of the house and reached out to shake his hand.
He hadn't really been nervous about seeing Brodie again, but the handshake eased him anyway, strong and friendly as it was. He had to shift the kidlet to one side to do it, but they ended up sharing a sort of man-hug.
"Good to see you, buddy," Ross said. "Congratulations."
"Thanks." A bright grin split Brodie's usually solemn face. "Wait until you meet the bride. You'll be jealous you didn't find her first."
"Nah." Ross allowed himself a tiny smile. "I'm good."
His mom came out then, and after that it was Ken and Mandy and Jed and Eli, all pounding him on the back and laughing. Hell, they were all standing around in the cool, Colorado night air, grinning like fools and cussing him for not coming home sooner.
"We could move inside," his mom said. Nancy Thatcher was a fine looking woman still, and she gave Ross a strong hug, scented with cigarettes and wood chips. "Come on, baby. I missed you andwe need to catch up."
"Sure, but..." He dug in a little with his boot heels.
"No buts. Look at you. You look just like your daddy, all cowboy-ed up."
"Yeah. Come on, man. We need to catch up for sure." Jed tugged at his sleeve on the opposite side. "What's your deal?"
Ken snorted. "You can get your shit out of the truck later."
Sighing, Ross broke free. "That's not..."
"Uncle Ross?" Ken's oldest piped up. "Who's that?"
One kiddie finger pointed at the tall figure standing in the shadows at the far end of the porch. The big guy shifted from foot to foot before stepping out into the light.
Ross grinned, rolling his eyes a little at the man he'd been living with for the better part of a year. "That's Tank," he said. "My lover."