Shoulda been a cowboy, p.25
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       Shoulda Been a Cowboy, p.25

         Part #7 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
Page 25


  “Yeah, sorry, I spaced out. The leg is good. ”

  “You still running?”

  “Ten miles, every day. ”

  “But you haven’t tried one of those carbon fiber legs with the funky S-shaped foot yet? Man, I saw a guy who’d had both legs blown off in Afghanistan, and he could haul serious ass when he had those babies strapped on. He was a regular bionic man. ”

  Cam snorted. “He’d have to be the six million dollar man to pay for it, because those super high tech prostheses are serious bank. ”

  Brock looked at him quizzically. “You telling me the VA isn’t ponying up cash for the latest advances in prosthetics for our injured war veterans?”

  “That’s exactly what I’m telling you. And since I’m a low-paid public servant, I ain’t rolling in dough neither, so I’ll be wearin’ the leg I’ve got for a long damn time. ” Cam changed the subject. “Anything you’re burning to do today?”

  “Since a tumble in the hay with your sexy cowgirl sister ain’t in the cards, I’m up for other suggestions. ”

  “You hungry?”

  “Nah. ”

  “Been a while since I’ve taken the four-wheelers out. ”

  “Sounds good. ” Brock hefted the strap of the duffel bag over his shoulder. “Lemme dump my gear. ”

  They grabbed jackets before loading up. Gracie hopped on her usual place on Cam’s ATV and Brock shook his head.

  “You spoil her. ”

  Cam ruffled the fur between Gracie’s ears. “She deserves it. She’s a good girl, aren’t ya, Gracie?”

  Gracie barked twice.

  “I worry about you sometimes, McKay, out here alone in Wyoming, a dog as your only companion. You need a woman. And a whole houseful of kids. ”

  Cam revved the engine, cutting off Brock’s diatribe about how Cam needed to start “living” again. Wouldn’t his buddy be shocked to hear how Cam had been spending his nights? Relearning how to be the sexual man he’d been in the past?

  Except it’s not all about sex with Domini.

  Was that why he was hesitant to tell Brock about her?

  Putting such girly thoughts out of his mind, he gunned it through the pasture, following the rutted tracks. Since there were plenty of paths to choose from, Cam picked one that zigzagged from the hills and the plains to the valley marking the end of McKay land.

  They rode in silence, as was their custom. Brock’s life as a soldier didn’t allow much time for quiet contemplation. Everything Brock did had specific purpose—usually as a result of a direct order. When Brock was on patrol in the sandboxes of the world, he sure as hell wasn’t enjoying the scenery. So Cam knew aimless wandering appealed to him.

  A bank of clouds covered the sun and Cam shook off an odd feeling of…foreboding.

  Brock shouted, “Up there?” breaking Cam’s reverie. Cam nodded and dropped behind Brock’s ATV.

  They detoured to the top of the ridge and parked. Brock practically ran up the last hill. Cam lumbered to the ledge and let his gaze encompass the area.

  A valley spread out below. The tall grass was mostly burned away from the summer sun; what remained was bleached out and trampled down. Outcroppings of boulders in shades of pewter and russet popped up across the rock-strewn field. No water ran in the empty riverbed, it was merely a deep gouge in the landscape. Scrub oaks and cedar brush sporadically lined the hillside. Clumps of sagebrush and yucca were scattered here and there. The wind blew, as it always seemed to do in Wyoming. Bugs and birds and critters were conspicuously absent.

  “I forget how damn beautiful it is here. ”

  “Hell, I live here and I never get used to it. ”

  Brock swigged from his water bottle, staring across the vista. “Tell me, Cam. Are you happy? Living around home?”

  Weird question, but if Brock asked it, he needed an answer. “Most days I guess I’m pretty content. My job isn’t bad. I respect the hell out of the guys I work with. And they don’t give me much shit for fulfilling the county’s ADA quota. ” Cam paused. “Why?”

  “I’ve gotta decide whether to re-up in the next couple months. ”

  “Is that why you’re headed to Seattle? To see if you could live around your family on a permanent basis?”

  “Yeah. Lemme ask you something else. If you hadn’t gotten injured, would you be here right now?”

  Cam didn’t hesitate. “Nope. I’d still be a soldier. ”

  Brock nodded.

  No further explanation was necessary.

  A cold, damp wind whipped up from the canyon and they headed back. They’d crossed the halfway point when the skies opened and drenched them. Gracie couldn’t stay on the back of the vehicle with muddy paws, so Cam had no choice but to let her run home. He kept turning around to check on her, ignoring Brock’s taunts, “She’s a dog! She’s supposed to run!”

  Cam’s concern for Gracie meant he wasn’t watching out for his own safety. Brock’s warning shout about the sinkhole was too late. The front right tire of Cam’s ATV hit the hole, bouncing the vehicle up and ejecting Cam out of his seat. He crash-landed on his ass right in a puddle of mud.

  “Fuck!” That smarted. The kill switch from the ATV hung from his wrist and the vehicle was silent, flipped on its side. He shoved Gracie from licking his face with a stern, “No. ”

  Brock parked close and slogged over. “Buddy, you okay?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “Need help up?”

  “Nah. I got it. ” Cam pushed to his right side and rolled up. But he’d misjudged the angle of the hill. Once he was upright, all his weight was on his left side. He heard that familiar sickening pop and the suction broke, separating the socket from his stump. He fell into the mud again.

  “Jesus fucking Christ!” He wasn’t hurt so much as he was embarrassed and pissed as hell. This was what he fucking hated. He hated being helpless. He hated that someone had seen him helpless. He grabbed onto his useless leg and pulled. Nothing happened. “Fuck!” He yanked harder but his prosthetic foot was lodged in the mud. Great. Not only was he sitting on his ass, not even the sheer brute strength of his upper body would move the goddamn useless thing.


  “I said I’ve got it,” Cam said through clenched teeth.

  “Don’t be so goddamned stubborn. Let me help you. ” Brock crouched. “It’s me, remember? We’ve been down this ‘I don’t need your fucking help’ road before and the result is always the same: you do. ”

  “You are one fucking pushy-ass bastard, Tennyson. ”

  “You can try and kick my ass for it later. ” Without asking, Brock gently worked the prosthetic out of the mud. Even though it’d mostly detached from Cam’s stump, he still felt a sting of pain.

  He hissed.

  “Up you go. ” Brock clasped Cam’s hands and hauled him upright. He wrapped an arm around Cam’s back, steadying him as Cam bunny hopped to the vehicle. Brock’s focus stayed on Cam’s lower half, not the blush discoloring his face, and for that Cam was immensely grateful.

  “Now, Hop-along, we’re both gonna have to ride side saddle on the four-wheeler. ”

  Cam lurched toward the ATV. He was sweating, muddy and livid he was gasping for air after walking ten fucking steps. Once his lungs weren’t failing him, he forced words out through his compressed teeth, “Thanks. It’d be easiest if I sat on the left side so I can brace myself with my right leg. ”

  “That’ll work. ” Brock waited until Cam situated himself before he climbed on the four-wheeler. “Ready?”

  “Let’s go. ”

  Brock drove like a little old lady. They bumped through the field so slowly that Gracie—who’d raced ahead—was napping on the back deck by the time they’d returned to the house. Cam fought another burst of temper while Brock trudged inside for his crutches.

  At least Cam could hobble into his house under his own steam. He’d barely cleared the w
elcome mat when Brock spoke behind him.

  “If you don’t need my help, I’ll run back and get that other four-wheeler. ”

  “Run? It’s like five miles in,” Cam said.

  “I haven’t done PT today so it’ll be good for me. ” Brock’s pearly whites flashed. “Plus, it ain’t often I get a chance to run in the rain and sling mud from the tires. ”

  “Have a ball. ” Truthfully, Cam needed time to put himself back together. Literally.

  A few hours later, after Cam and Brock cleaned up, they were glued to an MMA event on the big screen. Things were back to normal, placing bets and shouting insults about the opposing competitor. Cam’s work phone buzzed in his pocket. “Shit. ” He hit mute on the TV. “McKay. Uh-huh. No. It’s okay, I know exactly where it is. I’ll be there in a bit. ” He shut the phone.


  “Deb can’t find a file and since Sheriff Shortbull is in the office, she doesn’t feel comfortable picking the lock on my desk to get it. So I have to go in. Won’t take long. ”

  Brock’s gaze fell to Cam’s left side. “You sure you’re up for it? You did crash today. Maybe you should tell them—”

  “I’m fine. ”

  “Then you’d better get some beer while you’re out. I’ll just hold down the couch—ooh, Jesus that had to hurt. ”

  Cam rolled his eyes. Brock was obsessed with MMA; he probably wouldn’t notice Cam was gone.

  Brock shouted, “Hey, pick up some food too. I’m starving and neither of us can cook worth a shit. ”

  Domini had driven out to return Cam’s shirt, which she’d washed, pressed and hung up. But Cam’s truck wasn’t around and a cute red sports car sat next to the garage.

  And yes, maybe she wanted to meet the guy who hadn’t given up on Cam in Iraq. But Cam hadn’t invited her over. Maybe Cam didn’t want his friend to know about her.
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