Long Hard Ride / Page 21

Page 21


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Author: Lorelei James


“You must travel a lot, then.”


“Yep. It’s fun at first. Rodeo folks are the best in the world. It’s like a big ol’ family reunion. Then about halfway through the summer season we just wanna get back home, have a normal life, if that’s possible with a kid and a ranch to run.”


“Where are you from?”


“Buffalo Gap, South Dakota. What about you?”


Channing tensed up. “Outside of Boston.”


“Oh.” Mary frowned. “Whoa. How did you hook up with Colby?”


“Pure luck.”


“I’ll say.” She clapped her hands over Callie’s ears and said in a low voice, “He’s a wily one, but man, I’d take him for a test ride any time.”


Channing didn’t know whether to be jealous or flattered.


“Not that he’d pick me without me twisting his arm. Despite gossip to the contrary, the real word is he’s very choosy. He don’t usually bring a woman along in his travels. Ever.” She winked. “You plan on sticking around the circuit for awhile then?”


“Until Cheyenne.”


“Well, good. I guess we’ll be seeing you at the dances and whatever.


You going to the Wild Bronc tonight? We could toss back a couple of shots.”


“Maybe. Depends on how Colby does today.”


Mary rolled her eyes. “Don’t I know how men’s attitudes depend on how they done in the arena. Pray you don’t have to know how Colby reacts when he gets hurt. But at some point they always get hurt.


Always. ” She shivered. “Come on Callie, let’s get you washed up before it’s Daddy’s turn in the box.”


“Bye-bye, China bear.” She giggled and raced off.


Channing smiled. Well, at least she wasn’t a total pariah.


She sat impatiently through the steer wrestling—Mike Morgan had the fastest time—and barrel racing. She was as curious to see how Colby would do in the bull riding as she was nervous.


What had possessed her to strike such a deal with him? Had she been delirious, still giddy from the amazing sex the previous night?


No, you made the deal because you want this. Even though it makes you edgy, it keys you up. And you do feel safe with him.


She snuck out and drank a beer before the last event began, convincing herself it was not liquid courage.


The family section wasn’t covered with a canopy. The sun beat down on the metal and concrete making it as constricting as a sardine can. Not a breath of wind stirred. Sweat coated her skin and plastered her hair to her head beneath her hat. Most other supporters of the contestants had already left for cooler pastures.


Through a quirk of fate, Colby was the last bull rider. He’d drawn One-eyed Jack, another rank bull that’d been unridden in two dozen outs, according to Cash. But the last time he had been ridden, the rider had scored a record ninety-two.


At Colby’s request Cash had ventured into the stands to share the information about what Channing might expect—although in Channing’s mind it was Colby’s way of gloating.


However, One-eyed Jack was also a notorious chute fighter—which posed a danger for the rider.


Channing cringed as the twenty-five contestants struggled to cover their bulls. The buck-off rate was damn near one hundred percent.


Finally, Colby’s name and stats were announced along with the bull’s owner and rating. She moved down from the bleachers and hung over the railing, trying to get a better view on what was going on inside the chutes.


As usual Trevor was helping Colby get ready, standing behind him, holding the rope straight, parallel to Colby’s body while Colby rosined up the rope in long pulls. It didn’t look like the bull was putting up much of a fight. Because of the heat? Channing’s hope that the two-thousand pound animal was lethargic had nothing to do with the bet and everything with keeping Colby safe.


Colby’s free arm was wrapped around the metal gate. He scooted side to side, bobbed his hat at the gate master, and man and beast rolled out.


Evidently One-eyed Jack had saved his antics for the arena, not the chutes. All four black legs were out of the dirt from the get-go, then a quick switchback and the animal was nearly vertical. Colby hung on.


Another hard spin to the right, right into Colby’s riding hand, but he stuck tight, even as his h*ps tilted sideways. Three more vertical high jumps, another lopsided spin, followed by a fast reversal, four quick spins, one last perpendicular kick and the buzzer sounded.


He’d made it all eight seconds.


Colby did a quick release with his rope, liberating his hand, and hit the dirt ass first. The bull made a play for him, but the bull fighter distracted ol’ One-Eyed Jack, allowing Colby to run to safety. Even before he squinted at the screen to watch his performance, by Colby’s expression, he knew he’d ridden well.


When a score of ninety-one was announced, confetti flew in the grandstand, the crowd roared approval and he tossed his hat high in the air with a loud whoop and grabbed his bullrope.


Then he made a beeline for her.


Channing’s breath stalled in her lungs as Colby clambered up the fence, the metallic fringe on his chaps fluttering behind him. He hadn’t even taken off his riding glove. With one hand secured on the railing, he used his free hand to jerk her close and he planted a wet kiss on her.


Right in front of everyone. He did it again, with a little more flair, amidst the wolf whistles and another round of clapping.


He grinned and pressed his lips to her ear. “Time to pay up, darlin’.”


Chapter Eleven


Rather than dragging Channing through the muck behind the chutes, Colby sent his saddle with Cash, grabbed his equipment bag and met her out front by the contestants’ gate.


She smiled. Nervously?


He knew his answering grin was just a shade shy of wickedly smug.


“You ready?”


“Umm. Yeah. How about if we have a beer first?”


“Thirsty?”


“It’d be nice to suck down something cold and wet. You look hot. I thought you might want one to celebrate. I’ll even buy.”


“Mighty thoughtful of you, Chan.” When he placed his hand in the small of her back she jumped. He whispered, “Relax. I ain’t gonna bend you over the picnic table right now.”


Channing rubbed her lips along his jaw. “I didn’t think you were. I just really want a beer. Don’t you usually kick back after a performance?”


“Not here.”


“Why not?”


“You’ll see.”


She sauntered up to the beer stand. The minute he was alone he was swarmed. Buckle bunnies. Kids. Rodeo enthusiasts eager to offer congrats on his ride. He dropped his equipment bag and signed programs and anything else that was shoved in his face, including a pair of tits popping out of a neon pink tube top.


It looked like Channing planned to wait for the crowd to disperse before interrupting him. Hell, the beer would be warm by the time that happened.


Colby motioned her over. The second she stood beside him, he draped his arm around her neck. A couple of disgruntled bunnies got the hint and went looking for action elsewhere. After taking a long pull off the cold brew, he sighed. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Thanks for wettin’ my whistle, darlin’.”


“You’re welcome, sugar.”


He nearly choked at the sarcasm in her tone.


One brassy-haired buckle bunny bulled her way forward and demanded, “Are you two together?”


“Yep,” he said dismissively. He chatted for a few more minutes as he finished his beer. “Well, I appreciate ya’ll comin’ out today. I’ve gotta get a move on. Hopefully, I’ll see ya’ll tomorrow.” He hefted his bag over his shoulder and kept Channing close as they exited the grounds.


“See? As much as I appreciate the fans, I’d be stuck there all damn day, which is why I usually kick back elsewhere after I’m done.”


“Does that mean you’re interested in going to the Wild Bronc tonight to kick back and relax with your buddies?”


Colby frowned. He didn’t like it that she acted afraid to be alone with him. “Maybe. Why? Do you want to go?”


“Possibly. I met a woman in the stands today and she asked if I’d be there later.”


“Who’d you meet?”


“Mary Morgan. And her daughter Callie. Do you know her?”


“A little. Her husband Mike is a nice guy. He made it in the top twelve last year at the NFR. Damn good bulldogger.”


They’d reached the horse trailer. No sign of Trevor, Edgard or the horses. He unlocked the back and threw his bag in the small tack area, and motioned for Channing to precede him into the living area.


Channing immediately tensed up as she passed by him.


He seized her around the waist, spun her about and pressed her against the wall. Then he dropped his mouth over hers and kissed the living shit out of her. After he’d had his fill of her sweet lips, he pulled back and stared into her face.


“I ain’t gonna start nothin’ with you until I know we can finish it without gettin' interrupted. So lose the deer-in-the-headlights look. This ass is mighty fine, but I can wait a few hours yet before I make it mine.”


Channing swatted him on the butt. “You sweet talker.”


“Damn straight. I need to shower. After that you want to grab a bite to eat before we go honky-tonkin’?”


“Sounds good. I saw a steakhouse up the road.”


“A hearty helpin’ of meat and potatoes. You’re a woman after my own heart.”


Something liquid and sweet, like pleasure sparked the gold in her eyes. “Should we wait to see if Trevor and Edgard want to come along?”


He almost said “Why?” but caught himself. For the briefest minute, he hated his traveling partners and he hated that he’d agreed—hell, he’d suggested they share this woman. But after four days, he wanted Channing all to himself.


But that wasn’t what Channing had signed on for. She wanted the wild adventure of multiple partners. Even though it’d like to kill him, Colby would give her that. He suspected he’d give her damn near anything she wanted. After that, maybe he could convince her he was all she needed.


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