Long hard ride, p.13
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       Long Hard Ride, p.13

         Part #1 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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Page 13


  Let’s hope this steer from Martinson Brothers out of Rapid City gives them an opportunity to win some money. Both these cowboys are the real deal folks. Edgard’s family owns a large cattle operation in his native Brazil, and everyone recognizes the name Glanzer. Trevor’s father, Tater, was world champion header twenty years ago. And…they’re off!”

  Trevor’s horse, Chess, put on a burst of speed as the rope circled above Trevor’s head. He hooked one horn and, lickety-split, Edgard caught the back legs and the steer went down. The crowd cheered.

  But the scoreboard flashed NO SCORE because Trevor had broken the barrier. Channing saw the disappointment and frustration on both their faces as they waved stained work gloves to the crowd and followed the pickup men through the back gate and around the outside of the arena.

  Trevor and Edgard were out of the money again. It’d be interesting to see what their mood would be like tonight. They were sniping at each other before they’d lost.

  Colby was first up in the tie-down roping.

  Again the announcer rattled off Colby’s stats. She wondered if he listened or if his focus was solely on the job at hand.

  Channing remembered overhearing Colby being interviewed by a cub newspaper reporter in one of the first small towns they’d visited on the circuit. How he’d told the woman the reason he competed in three events, rather than two as most All-Around Cowboy contenders preferred, was because his real job—ranching—demanded he could accurately rope runaway steers and have no problems riding a variety of horses, which was why he picked saddle bronc and tie-down roping as his main events.

  Then when she’d asked why he’d take a chance on bull riding, he’d grinned and said bull riding was just for fun, because in real life on the ranch no one was stupid enough to tangle with a bull.

  Channing was closer to the action at this end of the arena and didn’t need the binoculars. The black calf cleared the barrier and Colby’s horse, King, hunkered down, dirt clods busting beneath the flying hooves. With his rope circling the air, Colby caught the calf. He launched himself off the horse with his piggin’ string clamped between his teeth, knocked the calf to the ground, and flipped him on his side. The rope in his hands was a blur as he tied and then threw his hands in the air. The clock stopped.

  King backed up, pulling the rope taut as Colby stood, and heaved himself back in the saddle, waiting the requisite six seconds so the judges could verify the tie held.

  The calf squirmed but stayed down. The time read 4. 7 seconds. The crowd whooped and hollered, and Colby waved as he reined King around and out of the arena.

  Channing flipped open her program and wrote the times down next to the rest of the competitors. So far, Colby’s time held the top spot. She knew that almost more important than the money were the points accumulation, which would keep his position in the All-Around race.

  Edgard’s time was 8. 7 and Trevor ended up with no score.

  Barrel racing was the next event. She recognized some of the women.

  Cowboys loved real cowgirls, especially when they looked like rodeo queens but could ride and rope as well as a man. Channing also knew that gossip about who was riding who outside the arena ran rampant on the circuit. Few of the participants in the “wholesome family values”

  events of pro rodeo were squeaky clean. Musical horse trailers seemed to be the game of choice to stave off boredom.

  As Tara Reynolds, reigning barrel racing circuit champ, cemented her first place in the standings by an 11. 9 run, Channing tried to recall whether she’d heard gossip about Colby or Trevor taking Tara and her tiara for a tumble.

  Finally, the bull fighters came out and loud rock music blared from the speakers. The excitement of the crowd increased, beer vendors zipped through the stands more frequently. And from where she sat, it appeared more guys hung out by the chutes.

  The bulls shut out the first ten competitors. Colby was up and he’d drawn Black Bart, a nasty bull, who’d gone unridden in the last seventeen outs. Channing remembered Jared getting tossed on his head right out of the gate when he’d tried to ride Black Bart. She leaned closer, not realizing she was chewing her lip until she tasted blood.

  She had to calm down. The rodeo season was long and injuries were plenty. She had to trust Colby knew what he was doing.

  Trevor was behind the chute helping Colby get situated on the bull, holding the bullrope while Colby rosined up his glove. Trevor’s foot came over the barrier and he pressed down on the bull’s hind end in an effort to get him to stand up. It must’ve worked because Colby’s free arm gripped the metal bar. A couple of solid shifts on the bull’s back, he nodded his head rapidly at the gate man and the gate flew open.

  Man and bull burst out in a cloud of dust. Black Bart spun hard to the left, then countered with a spin to the right. Colby bumped along, his free arm high above him, but on the last switchback, Black Bart’s hips canted to the right and Colby slid over sideways, catching air as he sailed from the bull’s back.

  He hit the ground hard on his shoulder, spun around to his feet to see where the bull was, and raced pell-mell to the fence as Black Bart charged him, weaving around the bull fighters, horns down, aiming for Colby.

  But realizing his prey was gone, Black Bart stopped abruptly. His balls and jowls shook with anger and long streams of white snot flew from his nose as he trotted over to the livestock pen.

  Colby reached out for his bullrope and watched his ride on the big screen. The clock had stopped at 5. 2 seconds. He climbed over the railing and disappeared.

  She wondered if he was commiserating with other riders who’d eaten dirt? Was he having his shoulder checked out in the medical tent?

  Now they just had to wait for the payouts. Then they’d be on the road headed to Greeley for the two-day event there.

  Channing didn’t know if she was supposed to head back to the horse trailer or wait in the stands. Jared had never wanted her around his rodeo pals or sponsors, now she knew why.

  But things were different with Colby and Trevor at least. Except the devil on her shoulder whispered maybe they’d prefer she’d stay in the background, too. After all, she was scarcely above buckle-bunny status.

  As she debated, Cash Big Crow spotted her and lumbered up to where she stood.

  “Hoka hey. How come you’re up here by yourself, pretty lady?”

  She laughed. “Where else am I supposed to be? What are you doing?”

  “Nothing much. ”

  “Nice ride, by the way. Did you finish in the money?”

  He scratched his head. “I think so, that’s why I’m hangin’ around. ”

  He peered over her shoulder to the commotion in the parking lot behind her. “You know who Gemma Jansen is?” Channing nodded. “Have you seen her lately?”

  “Yesterday. She was headed home. ”

  Cash’s eyes narrowed. “Home? Why?”

  “She said something about her foreman not doing his job at her place. Then I think she planned on taking bucking horses to Cody before she headed to Valentine. ”

  “Alone? Goddamn her. That woman’s got no business travelin’ all over half the damn country by herself—”

  “Unlike you. You’re perfectly entitled to do whatever the hell you want, right?”

  He grinned guiltily. “Sorry. I really ain’t a chauvinist. It’s just she’s so damn stubborn she won’t ask for help from nobody. ”


  She whirled around and saw Trevor hanging on the fence.

  “Colby’s been lookin’ everywhere for you. Time to go, girl. ”

  “Be right there. ” She smiled at Cash. “See you in Greeley. ”

  Colby paced back and forth. Grumbling to himself. Would it be too goddamn much for her to be around when he needed her?

  “Colby? What’s wrong?”

  He slowed his angry breathing as he stalked to where Channing ha
d paused by the contestants’ entry gate.

  “You have a pained look on your face. Are you hurt?”

  “No. Where the hell have you been?”

  She frowned. “In the stands watching the rodeo. ”

  “Just off enjoyin’ yourself?”

  “Yes. Why? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”

  “No. ”

  “No? What’s the matter with you?”

  Colby grabbed her arm and bent down until they were nose to nose.

  “Why weren’t you in the spectator stands with the other wives and girlfriends enjoyin’ the rodeo from there?”

  “What? Because I-I—”

  “I searched for you after every goddammed event. You should’ve been there. That’s were I expect to see you from now on, do you understand?”

  Channing threw off his hand. “Then maybe you should’ve given me a ticket, because I sat by myself on the other side of the arena like I always do. ”


  “Yeah, always. What’s the big deal?”

  “The big deal is me wonderin’ why don’t you want to sit where you’re supposed—”

  “Supposed to what?” She speared a finger into his chest. “You took off and left me the minute we hit the check-in booth. I’ve never been here. I’ve never been to any rodeo with you, remember? What was I supposed to do? Stand around like some floozy and wait for you to make up your mind on whether I was good enough—”

  “Stop talkin’ right now. ”

  “No. You don’t get to order me around when you abandoned me. I don’t know why the hell I’m surprised that you don’t want people to know you’re with me. ”

  He was too pissed off to speak.

  She blithely continued, “I’m used to being the cause of embarrassment. I am aware I rank well below the rest of the more knowledgeable buckle bunnies trailing after you like lovesick calves—”

  “I’m warnin’ you, Channing, stop chatterin’ like a goddamn magpie and listen up right now. Didn’t Jared—”

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