Long Hard Ride / Page 35

Page 35

Author: Lorelei James

“No problem. Is everything okay?”

“We’ll know more tomorrow. As it sits now, Mike has a torn ACL

that’s gonna require surgery. We’re heading off to Omaha in a little bit for X-rays and tests. And probably a trip to the operating room.”

It sounded so serious. So permanent. Everyone knew—but nobody said out loud, that this could be a career-ending injury for Mike Morgan.

“Is there anything I can do?”

Mary bit her lip. “I haven’t really thought it through until now, but it’s occurred to me we can’t take the horse and the horse trailer along with us to Omaha.”

Colby moved in behind Channing. “Don’t worry about it, Mary. Take care of your family. We’ll get your horse and trailer back to your ranch somehow.”

Relief crossed her face and she hugged Colby. “Oh thank you. You guys are our family, too. I’ll get the truck unhitched and get the trailer keys. I’ll be right back.” She leaned over to whisper to Mike before she and Callie hustled out.

Channing whirled around right into Colby, hovering behind her. She frowned. “Why are you still here? Aren’t you going to help Mary?”

“Nah. I’d just get in the way. Besides, Mary has hitched up that trailer more times than any guy on the circuit.”

She rocked to her tiptoes and got right in his face. “Yeah, but unlike most guys, she is pregnant. And I don’t think hefting that hitch in her condition is the best idea, do you?”

“Shit.” He vanished.

Outside the contestants’ gate she heard the announcement for the start of the barrel racing and saw Gemma and Cash arguing.

“—and I’m tellin’ you, it ain’t your fault.”

“How so? That was my bum steer, Cash. And I’ll be goddamned if I’ll sit here and do nothin’ when I could be helping them.”

“Hey, guys,” Channing interrupted. “What’s the problem?”

Cash’s handsome face was distorted into a full scowl. “The problem is that Wonder Woman here feels guilty and thinks she needs to take the Morgan’s horse and trailer back to South Dakota. By herself.”

A heated pause sparked the air like fireworks.

“If you’re just worried about her going alone, I could go with her,”

Channing offered.

Gemma awarded Cash a smug smile. “See? Problem solved.”

“Except for one tiny detail. You don’t have your big horse haulin’

truck here, Gem. Your foreman needs the big diesel to pull the trailer for the stock. There’s no way you can pull that monster rig of Morgan’s with your small block Ford.”

“But you have a big enough one?”

Cash grinned slowly.

“I’ll knock that grin clean off your face, Cash Big Crow, if you don’t get rid of it right now.”

His smile didn’t dim one iota.

“Fine. Yours is bigger. I doubt you’ll let me touch it. So are you volunteering to drive your big, bad machine to Buffalo Gap? That mean you’re just gonna abandon your horse and trailer here? For at least a day?”

“No. I hadn’t thought it through that far.”

Trevor sauntered over. “What’s the commotion?”

While Cash and Gemma stared at each other, Channing gave Trevor a brief rundown.

“Okay. Here’s what we’ll do. Hook up Cash’s truck to the Morgan’s trailer and take Mike’s horses to their ranch. Then you two will turn around, come back here and pick up Cash’s empty horse trailer on your way to Cheyenne. Because I will have driven Gemma’s rig, loaded with both of your horses to Cheyenne.”

They looked at each other. Cash shrugged. “Works for me.”

Gemma snapped off, “Fine. But if you wreck my truck, Trevor Glanzer—”

“I’ll ride along with him and make sure he obeys all traffic laws,”

Channing said. “Then I’ll watch your trailer until you get there.”

“Good. Let’s get everything loaded up.”

Trevor caught Channing’s arm. “Why are you doin’ this? Wouldn’t you rather ride with Colby in my truck?”

“Between you and me? No. I need some time to clear my head.” When Trevor balked, she added, “Your part in last night’s festivities had nothing to do with it, okay?”

He nodded. “I sure understand needin’ some time to clear away the cobwebs. I’ll pass the information on the change in plans to Edgard. He can help Colby with our horses. Unless you’d rather tell Colby yourself?”

“No. I know he still has the bull-riding event to get through. But I’d like to get out of here as soon as possible because he’s liable to make a big scene.”

Or worse, Colby might not care at all that she was gone.

Chapter Seventeen

Cheyenne, Wyoming, was all abuzz for Frontier Days, for the “Daddy of ‘em All”, one of the oldest rodeos in the country. During the ten-day run, four hundred thousand people visited the town, which had a population of fifty thousand on a good day.

For the first time on this journey, Channing had time to gaze out the window and take in the scenery. As she and Trevor drove across the Sandhills of Nebraska, she marveled at the endless space of the Wild West. Big, blue sky. Sagebrush and groves of squat, twisted trees. The rocky buttes and the clean, dry air. Wyoming was just as rugged as she’d imagined. She wondered if Colby’s ranch looked anything like this slice of heaven.

Trevor checked them into Gemma’s assigned spot and began the feeding and exercising process for the horses. He didn’t turn down Channing’s offer of help. She was pleased about how much she’d remembered from following Gemma around while she’d done chores.

Even Trevor didn’t tease her too much about being a greenhorn.

Gemma’s campsite was on the other end of town from where Trevor and Colby had reservations. Channing was beginning to think she should crash with Gemma. Motel rooms were booked solid around Cheyenne for fifty miles. All four of them bunking in the horse trailer would be just a little too close for comfort on more levels than she could name.

Plus, she liked Gemma. Not only did they have fun together, Channing knew she could talk to Gemma about anything and Gemma wouldn’t pass judgment. It was heartening because she’d never connected with anyone so quickly.

Except for Colby.

Damn. Why did everything always come back around to that man?

Because you’re crazy in love him.

No. That wasn’t it. What she felt for Colby was lust, plain and simple.

Maybe a little trust. So he made her feel safe. He made her laugh. He made her twist and writhe with pleasure. He also made her mad enough to spit nails. Still, he had a silly, sweet side as well as a domineering side that was hot as hell.

Before Channing began checking off his fabulous physical attributes, she had to face facts: she’d fallen for the cowboy.

So the question was, what did she do about it? They’d started this… thing with a clear end in sight. She’d known from day one it’d never work out and they’d part company—not only because of the clichéd differences between a country boy and a city girl.

Besides, she’d never fantasized that Colby was going to slip a ring on her finger and promise his everlasting devotion. The only thing he was devoted to, near as she could tell, was the rodeo.

Which brought up another issue. After seeing Colby’s injuries, and then Mike’s arena crash, she didn’t know if she could stomach Colby getting beat to crap on a regular basis. Year in, year out. He might not keep aiming for the upper tier in the NFR, but she suspected he’d never give up rodeo for good.

A soft rap sounded on the door. Her stupid heart skipped. Too soon for Colby to have made it to Cheyenne. “Come in.”

Trevor stepped inside.

“I just wanted to let you know I got the all clear from Gemma to take her truck tonight. So you’ll be without wheels.”

“Where are you going?”

“To meet my family. They’ve taken some time off from the ranch and they’re in town for a couple of days to watch me compete.”

“Cool. That sounds like fun.”

His thoughtful gaze caught hers. “Do you want to come along? You could pretend to be my girlfriend.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Other than fact Trevor wouldn’t want his family to know about his boyfriend.

“If it comes up, it’d explain why you’re traveling with us. Rodeo is a small world, Chan.” He looked away, a bit sheepishly.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“You know Colby’s family is gonna be around, too?”

She nodded, not entirely sure she wanted to hear what he was about to tell her.

“Well, I’ll warn you not to get your hopes up that he’s gonna introduce you to them.”

“Why not?” slipped out before she could bite it back.

He rubbed the furrow between his eyebrows. “Honestly? Because you ain’t the type of girl that Carson McKay wants his son to get involved with. He’s already havin’ to deal with Colby’s older brother, Cord, and that mess. He’d hit the barn roof if he found out Colby was doin’ the same thing.”

Why hadn’t Colby mentioned his family problems to her? They’d only talked in generalities. Now that she thought about it, she’d mostly talked about her life. “What mess?”

“Cord married a gal from Seattle. Marla, his ex-wife now, thought she wanted to be married to a real rancher. Live out west. When she found out bein’ a rancher’s wife was lots of hard work and not horse rides at sunset like in them romance novels, she kept threatening to return to the big city. She lasted two years. About six months ago she followed through with the threats and left Cord with their year-old son, Ky. Cord’s been pretty messed up by the whole situation, which is why this is Colby’s last chance on the circuit.

“So, we all know this gig with Colby is temporary, Chan. Colby ain’t gonna risk upsettin’ his dad by introducin’ you, when not only are you a city girl, you won’t be around much longer anyway.”

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