One Night RodeoLorelei James
Las Vegas, Nevada
“Son, your father is dying.”
Kyle Gilchrist pulled his cell phone away from his ear, staring at it as if it had grown horns. “Ma. What the hell are you talkin’ about? You’ve always told me I was an immaculate conception. Or that you found me in the cabbage patch. Or that you were hit by a sperm donor truck.”
“Kyle Dean Gilchrist, for once in your life don’t be sarcastic. You need to come back to Wyoming as soon as possible. He wants to see you.”
“Who?” he demanded.
“All of a sudden I have a father? Who is he?”
“I can’t tell you.” A tiny sigh sounded. “Look. He wants to meet face-to-face. Talk to you in person. Explain a few things.”
Kyle’s resentment flared and he attempted to keep his tone even. “So why didn’t he call me himself if he’s suddenly all fired up to take on his daddy responsibilities to a grown man?”
“He doesn’t feel you two oughta hold this conversation over the phone. Plus, he’s on a respirator.”
“And why should I give two shits about him? Isn’t like he ever gave a damn about me.”
“Believe it or not, he does care about you. He always has.”
“Why should I believe that?” He couldn’t keep the skepticism from his tone.
She blurted, “He’s leaving you an inheritance and he wants to discuss it with you.”
Kyle’s beer stopped halfway to his mouth. “Come again?”
“He’s leaving you everything: the land, the cattle, the buildings, whatever cash is left over. Everything is yours. He had no other children. You’re his only heir.”
His father. An inheritance. This was beyond surreal. And Kyle had thought last night was an epic mindblower.
“Son? You still there?” his mother said, prompting a response.
The hotel door opened and she sauntered in. His pulse skipped a beat, or seven, as it always did whenever he saw her.
She stopped by the bed and asked, “Kyle? Is everything all right?”
He shook his head, still trying to wrap his brain around the bizarre news.
His mother demanded, “Who’s that with you?”
“My wife,” Kyle drawled, keeping his eyes focused on the woman wearing his ring.
“Your wife? Since when do you get married and not tell me?”
“Don’t go there, Ma. Not when you’ve dropped a bombshell about my alleged father.”
“Who is she?” His mother again demanded an answer.
“I’ll make you a deal: I’ll give you her name if you give me my father’s name.”
“That’s what I thought. I’ll be in touch soon. Bye.” He hung up and tossed the phone aside, never breaking eye contact with the woman standing next to him.
“You gonna tell me what that was about? Especially blabbing the my wife part to your mother?”
“You are my wife, and it looks like we’re goin’ to meet the family sooner than we expected.”
“Oh no. Oh hell no.” She cocked her hands on her hips and glared at him. “We both agreed this Vegas marriage was a drunken mistake and we’d get it annulled as soon as possible.”
Kyle gave her a very slow, very thorough once-over, letting the heat in his eyes serve as a reminder of their wedding night. “You know, I’ve had time to think, and I don’t wanna get this marriage annulled.” He toasted her with his beer. “So pack your bags, kitten. We’re headed home to Wyoming. Tonight.”
Twenty-four hours earlier…
Kyle raced down the hospital corridor until he spied the woman pacing across from the emergency room doors. “Tanna?”
She whirled around. “Kyle. Thanks for coming.”
He loomed over her. “Thanks? That’s the first thing you say to me? Jesus. I’ve been out of my fuckin’ mind the last twenty minutes. How could you call me to get my ass to the hospital and not give me a single damn detail about what happened to her?” He had visions of her in surgery or in traction. Bloodied up and unconscious. Broken in body and spirit.
The feisty barrel racer jabbed him in the chest with her finger. “Don’t you snap at me first thing, Kyle Gilchrist.”
“Then start talkin’. Now.”
“I told you on the phone. She fell off a horse.”
Kyle frowned. “Her horse Mickey ain’t even here.”
“Not her horse. A horse. She landed on the steer cockeyed after she launched herself at it. I think she ended up with a hoof or a horn to her head ’cause…ah…there was some blood.”
“What the hell was she doin’ with a goddamn steer?”
“Bulldoggin’.” Tanna’s eyes darted away.
Somehow he kept a lid on his temper. “Still waiting to hear the full story.”
Her defiant brown gaze met his. “You know how Celia is, Kyle. Someone tells her that she can’t do something and she goes out of her way to prove them wrong.”
“A couple of bulldoggers from Nebraska. Cocky bastards, talkin’ shit to us about how easy barrel racin’ is compared to bulldoggin’. The next thing I knew, Celia was ponying up a hundred bucks to prove that steer wrestling ain’t that hard. Then the bulldoggers got permission from the event staff so we could have us a little race.”
“You’ve got to be fucking kiddin’ me. Celia is in the damn hospital because of some stupid bet? Why didn’t you stop her?”
“Because I agreed with her and tossed in a hundred bucks of my own to teach those pompous pricks a lesson,” Tanna shot back. “Celia drew the short straw to ride first.”
Kyle caught a whiff of Tanna’s boozy breath. “Christ. How much had you guys been drinkin’?”
Unbelievable. “How’d you get to the hospital?”
“The bulldoggers dropped us off. Celia said she was fine and walked in on her own, so I don’t think her injuries are life threatening.”
“Celia would tell you that even if she had two broken arms, two busted legs, and her eyes were bleeding. Damn stubborn woman.” But he hoped Tanna’s assessment was right.
The emergency room doors opened and Kyle glanced up as a nurse approached Tanna. “You’re with Celia Lawson?”
Kyle intercepted. “Yes. How is she?”
“She’s had a chest X-ray and a CT scan. You can come back and wait with her if you’d like.”
They followed the nurse to the end of a wide hallway. He stepped around the curtain.
Celia was on her back, her lower half covered with a blanket. Her slim torso appeared fragile, swimming in the floral-patterned hospital gown. Her lips were a flat line. Her eyes were shut. Kyle’s gut clenched when he saw the bandage on the upper left edge of her forehead and the bruises on her cheekbone. His gaze traveled the long, thick blond braid lying beside her on the bed; the end of it brushed the middle of her thigh.
Ridiculous, probably, to watch the rise and fall of her chest to assure himself she was breathing.
On impulse, he placed a soft kiss between her eyebrows. When he lifted his head, he found himself staring into her eyes.
Those smoky gray eyes narrowed very quickly. “Kyle? What the devil are you doin’ here?”
“I called him,” Tanna said, scooting in to squeeze Celia’s hand.
“Why?” Celia demanded.
“Because you asked for him,” Tanna replied softly.
Celia’s startled gaze quickly hooked Kyle’s. When he smirked, she said, “Don’t go getting that look or I’ll wipe it right off your face.”
“Sure, you will.” Kyle smirked again. “Just as soon as you’re not flat on your back in a hospital bed, knocked loopy.”
Tanna laughed. “So how are you feeling, bulldoggi
“Sore. Pissed I lost a hundred bucks.”
“You don’t remember they paid up?” Tanna asked. “I guess if you bleed you win by default.”
“Has the doctor been in?”
“To give me stitches and to give me hell,” Celia grumbled. “He poked me, muttered a lot, and then shipped me off to X-ray. I tried to tell him my ribs are just sore, not broken. Guess he didn’t believe me.”
“You’re a few years short of a medical degree to be makin’ a diagnosis,” Kyle said dryly.
“This ain’t my first rodeo,” she retorted. “I’ve been hurt before.”
“What ever possessed you to tangle with livestock when you’d been drinkin’?”
“It wasn’t like we were shit-faced, Kyle. We each had one shot.” She frowned. “No, two shots.”
Tanna held up four fingers.
“Four? Really? Huh. Didn’t seem like that many.”
“How’s your head?”
“Hard, but you knew that. The doc was worried about a concussion, so they X-rayed my melon too.” Once again those icy gray eyes zipped to him. “Not a word about them finding my head empty, Gilchrist.”
He’d had enough of her tough-girl attitude. “Knock it off. I get that you’re scared.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because, kitten, you hiss and claw when you’re afraid.” Kyle picked up her hand, rubbing her cold fingertips against his jaw. “So hiss and claw at me. I can take it.”
“You need to shave,” she snapped, jerking her hand back. “And I’m not scared. I’m annoyed.”
The curtain fluttered and Devin McClain strolled in, although the country music star was barely recognizable in a ratty ball cap and sunglasses. “Hey, brat. Whatcha gone and done to yourself now?”
“Devin? How did you…?” Celia blinked at him in confusion.
“Kyle called me in a complete panic. Had me thinking I’d find you on your deathbed. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me here to hold your hand or his.”
Kyle muttered, “Shut it, asshole.”
Devin raised his eyebrow, peering over his shades at Celia. “Seems you’ve had a miraculous recovery.”
“Why won’t anyone believe that I’m fine? I just got the wind knocked out of me.”
“Darlin’, you were knocked out cold,” Tanna drawled. She offered her hand to Devin. “Nice to finally meet you, Devin. I’m Tanna Barker. I’ve heard lots about you from Celia, bein’s you’re a family friend and a Muddy Gap homeboy.”
“A true pleasure to meet you too, Tanna. Great run last night.”
“Thanks.” She blurted, “Omigod, I can’t believe I’m standing here with Devin McClain! I’m such a huge fan. Your song ‘Chains and Trains’ is one of my all-time favorites.”
“I never get tired of hearin’ that. Thank you.”
When Devin granted Tanna that million-dollar smile, Kyle could have sworn the rowdy Texas cowgirl swooned.
“So what’s the diagnosis?” Devin asked Celia.
“Still waiting for the X-rays to tell us.”
“Have you called her brothers?” Devin asked Kyle.
Immediately Celia grabbed a fistful of Devin’s sweatshirt, grimacing as she pulled herself upright. “No. And I swear to God I will beat you bloody if you do.” She leveled the same venomous look on Kyle. “That goes for you too.”
“But, Celia, they need to—”
“No. Do you hear me? Janie is in the last two weeks of her pregnancy and I won’t upset her or Abe for anything. And Hank and Lainie are leaving for Boulder for the consult for Brianna’s eye surgery. They need to focus on her and each other, not me. Promise me you won’t tell them.”
Surprised by her tears, Kyle bent closer. Sweet, fierce Celia wasn’t upset about being beat to shit; she was just worried about her family’s reaction to it. “I won’t tell them as long as you promise to call them within a day or two.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
He raised an eyebrow. “No arguing with me? Really? That’s one for the record books.”
“I don’t always argue with you.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t.”
“See? You’re still doin’ it.”
“You started it.”
“As much as I’d like to stay and hear another round of your bitchy sexual foreplay—not—I need to get ready to ride tonight,” Tanna said.
“Now that I know you’re recovered enough to bicker with Kyle,” Devin said, “I’ll head back to the event center for final sound check.”
“Would it be too much trouble to drop me off at the arena?” Tanna asked Devin. “I’m without a vehicle.”
“No problem at all.”
“You’re both just leaving me?”
Tanna rolled her eyes. “You keep insisting you’re fine, remember? Besides, Kyle will take better care of you than I have today.” She squeezed Celia’s arm. “I’ll see you later.”
“So, brat, you still comin’ to the concert tonight or what?” Devin asked.
Kyle said no at the same time Celia said yes.
“Good luck with this argument. We’re outta here.” Devin held the curtain for Tanna and they disappeared.
“Don’t give me that look, Kyle.”
Kitten, you’d blush to the tips of your toes if you’d noticed how I’ve been looking at you the last two years.
“The bossy one.”
“Tough, because I have every intention of bossing you tonight.”
The curtain rolled back and a young male doctor stopped at the end of the bed. “Good news. No concussion. No broken or cracked ribs. No ruptured organs. You’ll be sore for a few days, and I imagine more bruises will appear. My advice is to take it easy, alternate ice and heat with the sore spots. But I’m well aware you rodeo-ers don’t often follow medical advice. So the best I can do on a medical front is to prescribe painkillers.”
Celia shook her head. “I hate the groggy way they make me feel.”
“That’s how you’re supposed to feel. Like you oughta be laying down resting,” Kyle pointed out.
“That’s rich coming from the bull rider who’s ridden with a sprained thumb, a sprained wrist, a sprained ankle, a pulled groin muscle, and a mild concussion…all in the last year. You refused pain meds and I didn’t see you resting any of those times.”
He had no response for that. Mostly he was surprised she’d taken note of his injuries.
“I’m writing you a scrip for pain meds. Up to you if you fill it,” the doctor said. “The stitches need to come out in a week. Any other questions?”
“Good. No more mixing bulldoggin’ with drinking Mad Dog whiskey, okay?”
“If you insist.”
The doctor laughed. “You can get dressed. The nurse will be in with your discharge papers shortly.”
Celia sat up and kicked away the blanket, dangling her legs off the bed.