Long Hard Ride / Page 37

Page 37


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Author: Lorelei James


“Of course, I never could share that little secret fantasy with Steve. To be the focus of the attention of two men? Yeah, sign me up.”


“Hello?” Cash said through the screen door. “I hear voices, you guys in here?”


Gemma froze. Her panicked gaze flew to Channing’s. Had he been eavesdropping on their conversation?


“Yeah. Come on in, Cash,” Channing said.


He sidled in, pausing just inside the door, practically wringing his black Stetson in his rough-skinned hands.


“What’s up?”


“Just wonderin’ if you gals were thinkin’ about goin’ to the opening dance tonight?”


Gemma opened her mouth to object but Channing shot her an arch look. “Yes, we are. Why?”


“Colby had two tickets and he sent me over here to give ‘em to you.”


Channing bit back the urge to ask if Colby had given Cash the two tickets because he didn’t plan on attending tonight with her. “Thanks.


Are you going?”


“I reckon I’ll pop in for a bit.” Cash stared hard at Gemma. “You will be dancin’ with me, Gem. Don’t try to hide because I’ll track you down.”


And he disappeared.


Gemma said, “Shit,” and drained her beer.


“Well, looks like our night just got a whole lot more exciting.”


Chapter Eighteen


Live country music twanged through the speakers. Hundreds of people were talking at once. Four fights had already broken out and he’d spent the last thirty minutes fending off the most persistent buckle bunnies he’d ever met.


It was only eight o’clock and Colby considered getting really drunk.


Especially when he looked over at the table where his family held court and the “surprise” his father had brought along.


A surprise by the name of Amy Jo Foster. The young woman whose family had been neighbors of the McKays for forty years. The young girl his father had stupidly decided might be a good candidate as Colby’s future wife.


Lord. And Amy Jo was just a girl of nineteen. She’d actually blushed when they’d been talking and his arm had accidentally brushed her breast.


His little sister Keely didn’t seem too thrilled Amy Jo had been invited to Frontier Days either. Even though Keely and Amy Jo were the same age and lived five miles apart, they’d never been best friends. Keely claimed Amy Jo was a goody-goody—the worst kind of insult hell-on-wheels Keely McKay could level on another person.


Colby studied his mother’s face from beneath his hat brim. Had Carolyn McKay been in on this surprise, too? Probably not. His dad had been browbeating him, claiming Colby needed a good woman to settle him down. His mother had assured Colby he’d want to settle down when he met the right woman.


His gaze strayed to Amy Jo. It wasn’t like she was ugly as a mud fence. She was pretty in a coltish way. Reed thin, all long arms and legs.


Long white-blonde hair and a pink complexion, near as he could figure because she blushed all the damn time. Enormous blue eyes the vivid color of the Wyoming sky. When she wore her hair in a pair of pigtail braids, she reminded him of the Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa girl. Or more accurately, her younger sister. Much younger sister.


Colby sighed and glanced at the clock again. He missed Channing.


They hadn’t had a chance to talk about his stellar as**ole performance from the other night. He’d been too much of a chickenshit to call her cell phone as he’d driven Trevor’s rig to Cheyenne last night. Some things had to be done in person. Especially apologies. Then last night after they’d pulled into the campground at the opposite end of town from Frontier Park, they had to set up, take care of the horses and, by the time he and Edgard finished, it’d been damn near two in the morning.


Too late to call her. This morning he had to register for his events, pay his fees and he’d spent the afternoon with his family, leaving no time for him to wander over to Gemma’s campsite.


So…maybe if he played his cards right tonight, they could sneak outside and kiss and make up. Then he could get up the gumption to tell her all the things that’d been weighing on him before she left him for good.


“Hey, cowboy. Buy me a drink?”


Colby turned slightly. Yep. Another buckle bunny trying her luck. He shrugged and didn’t respond, hoping she’d get the hint.


She didn’t. Long scarlet nails inched up his shirt. She crowded in so he was enveloped in silicone, rhinestones and a cloud of perfume.


“Maybe you’d rather dance?”


“Maybe you’d like to get your paw offa him or I’ll bust it off, starting with those ugly fake claws,” a striking brunette said as she wrapped her arm around Colby’s waist.


“Run along, little girl,” the bunny hissed.


“Darlin’,” she cooed sweetly to Colby, “you want this washed up old hag, or would you rather have a young hottie like me rockin’ your horse trailer?”


Colby tried not to laugh as he dropped a kiss on her temple. “I’ll take you, sweetheart.”


The buckle bunny spun on her ugly high-heeled boots the color of raspberry Kool-Aid and disappeared into the crowd.


Colby looked down at his sister and grinned. “Thanks, Keely.”


“You’re welcome. Although it totally creeps me out to have to ask you this. Are they always all over you like flies on shit?”


“Nice visual,” he said dryly. “But yeah, pretty much.”


“Dude. That sucks.” Her face brightened. “Hey, maybe there’s a way you could keep them away tonight. Pretend you’re madly in love with Amy Jo. Dance with her. Sit with her. Hold her hand and stare into her eyes. Normal nice, boring courtin’ shit that’d make me gag. But I know she’d totally go for it.”


Keely’s steely blue eyes were a bit too gleeful. “And this would be solely for my benefit?”


“Absolutely.” She ducked out of his embrace. “Ooh. I’m bailing before that hot bull fighter I’m chasing thinks I really am with you.” Keely shuddered. “Later, bro.”


Colby watched his sister saunter off and the trail of young bucks hot on her heels. Keely McKay was smart as a whip, as beautiful and unrefined as a wild horse, and held a razor sharp tongue that’d stripped the skin off of more than one unlucky cowboy. With an independent streak as wide as her stubborn streak, she considered raisin’ hell her God-given right. Woe to the man who wound up trying to tame her and win her heart.


What would Channing’s family say about their daughter? Did they even know her heart? Her wild streak? Her secret desire to be tamed and inflamed?


As Colby made his way back to his family table, he ran into Trevor, who appeared eager to get away from his own family. “Where you goin’?”


“To the bar. And if I don’t come back, don’t tell them where I went, okay?”


“Okay. Have you seen Channing?”


“Ah. No.”


Panicked, he grabbed Trevor’s arm. “Something happened to her?”


“Nope.” Trevor dropped his gaze. “I just haven’t seen her since last night.”


Colby recognized his guilty expression. Jealousy roared through him like a raging forest fire. “You son of a bitch.”


“What?”


“Did you f**k her when you saw her last night?”


Trevor’s stubborn chin rose a notch. “So?”


Somehow he’d expected Trevor to deny it. Or Colby had hoped that Channing knew he’d been serious about his threat that no other man touched her besides him. “That’s all you’ve got to say to me is so?”


“What’s the big deal? Isn’t that why she’s travelin’ with us? For a little variety?”


Colby loomed over his friend and growled, “I am gonna kick your sorry faggot ass right f**king now.”


Trevor didn’t back down. In fact, he stepped up. “Back off, McKay.


I’m warnin’ you. I’m in a piss-poor mood, half-drunk and rarin’ to beat on someone. Since you’re in my face it can just as easily be you.”


“You prepared to bleed for her?”


“Probably more than you are.”


“What the f**k does that mean?”


“Aren’t you the one who told me you wouldn’t be jealous if Channing and I spent time alone together? And now you are? Since when do you think you have the right to freak out about anything concernin’ her?


Especially when we both know the minute Channing shows up here tonight you’re gonna pretend you don’t even know her.”


“Low blow, Trev.”


“Yeah? Well, nothin’ happened between me and Channing last night anyway. Not that it matters. You and I are both good at lyin’ to ourselves and neither of us is in a position to be makin’ promises to no one. Our families have pretty much seen to that, ain’t they?” He angled his hat toward the McKay table. “Is Amy Jo the one your dad picked for you?”


Colby was livid and snapped off the first thing that came to his mind.


“It ain’t none of your business.” He turned and walked it off.


He hated this whole situation, mostly because he hated that Trevor was exactly right.


Or were he and Trevor both wrong? If they couldn’t make changes in their own lives, who could?


When Colby reached the table, he granted Amy Jo a big smile and offered his hand to her. “How about if you and me dance? There’s a couple of things I’d like to talk to you about.”


Channing and Gemma had fortified themselves with a little liquid courage before they headed to the big dancehall blowout. Luckily, their campsite was within walking distance of the building, so if they knocked back too much beer, they’d have no problem stumbling back to the horse trailer.


Seemed everyone in Cheyenne had shown up. The place was loud and crowded. The tables were all full. Boots stomped. Shiny shirts and belts sparkled. Laughter rang out. Booze flowed.


Gemma knew tons of people and introduced her to everyone.


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