Long hard ride, p.41
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       Long Hard Ride, p.41

         Part #1 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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Page 41

 

  Gemma’s eyes froze into chips of ice. “You’re just gonna take off like nothing’s happened? Like it don’t matter he’s laying unconscious and beat up and practically dead in a hospital bed?”

  Channing winced at Gemma’s hard slap of words. “No. But maybe you’d like to give me a chance to explain myself before you go jumping to conclusions. ”

  “Fine. I’m listening. But even you gotta admit things are different now. ”

  “Yeah, they’re probably worse, Gem. ” Channing leaned against the concrete wall and resisted beating her head into it. She closed her eyes.

  “How long is Colby going to be in the hospital? A week? Two? When he’s well enough to leave, he’ll have to return home to the ranch because he won’t be able to take care of himself. His family will expect to do that, as they should. You really think they’ll want me—a strange woman from the East Coast—around?

  “Do you think Colby will want me underfoot? God. When he was injured in Greeley he’d get all pissy whenever I fussed around him. The man is stubborn. And proud. He didn’t want me to see him as weak so he took chances he shouldn’t have. That injury wasn’t nearly as serious as this one is. He’ll have months of physical therapy, months of being dependent on others. So if I drop everything in my life and move to Wyoming to help take care of him, he’ll resent me. I know he will. I couldn’t stand that, Gemma. He’s too important to me. ” Her voice broke.

  Gemma pressed Channing’s head to her shoulder and let her cry.

  When the worst of the jag was over, Gemma smoothed the hair from Channing’s damp cheek. “You know, I’d like to argue with you and say you’re wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion you’re exactly right. ”

  “I wish I wasn’t. ”

  “Me too. ” Gemma handed her another Kleenex. “I’m sorry I was hard on you. ”

  “That’s what friends do, Gem. ”

  They stayed locked in silence for a while. Gemma sighed and scooted away. “So what are you gonna do, girlie?”

  “Same thing I’ve been doing, I guess. Hide out until Colby’s family leaves and then I’ll sneak in to see him. After that, I have some things to deal with at home that I’ve been putting off. ”

  “You gonna stay there? Back on the coast where your folks live?”

  Probably not. “I don’t know. ”

  “Remember, my door is always open. If things don’t work out for you with your family or your job, look me up. I can always use another set of hands to muck out horse stalls. The company would be nice too, Chan.

  I’m gonna miss you. ”

  Channing actually smiled for the first time in hours. “Thanks. ”

  “No problem. This whole situation sucks all the way around. ” Gemma stood. “Call my cell when you’re done here and I’ll come get you and take you to the airport. ”

  Channing nodded.

  Hours passed. Trevor, Cash, Edgard and several other cowboys on the circuit came and went. She watched from the shadows at end of the corridor. No one paid any attention to her. She’d spent her whole life blending into the background and she was damn good at it.

  Around five a. m. Channing was jostled awake. She blinked up into Keely McKay’s curious blue eyes.

  “Channing, right? Gemma told me to keep an eye on you. My folks are gone. Colby isn’t awake, but he is alone if you want to see him. ”

  “Thank you,” she whispered.

  The room was small and filled with a medicinal stench. A ghostly sound of Colby’s breathing apparatus echoed, as well as the constant beep beep of the machines keeping him alive.

  Channing bit her tongue hard to stop a gasp from escaping.

  His leg was in a cast. Most of the rest of his body was covered up with blankets. He had tubes in both arms. He didn’t look frail; he looked…like a wounded warrior.

  She approached the side of Colby’s bed, curling her fingers around the metal railing. Her tears fell. “Oh, cowboy. Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes. ”

  No response.

  She brushed her fingertips across the scraped-up knuckles on his hand and studied his unconscious face for the longest time, hoping for a sign of some kind.

  Increased activity in the hallway signaled it was time for her to go.

  Channing kissed his forehead and moved her lips to his ear. “Get better soon. When you’re back on your feet, cowboy, come looking for me because I’ll be waiting. No matter where I am or what I’m doing I’ll be waiting for you. For as long as it takes. And I’ll say the words you were so hell bent on hearing from me last night. I love you, Colby McKay. Don’t you ever forget it. I’ll say it again. I love you. ”

  Walking away from him was the hardest thing she’d ever done, even when she knew it was for the best. For now.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  One week later…

  Trevor sipped his fourth beer and watched Edgard loading the last of his tack in his luggage. “You sure you don’t wanna take that saddle? It’s awful damn nice. Nicer than mine. ”

  “No. You can have it. Or you can sell it. I don’t care either way. ”

  Pause. “Maybe I’ll keep it around for when you come back. ”

  Edgard sighed, but he didn’t look up from zipping his soft-sided suitcase. “I already told you, Trev. I’m not coming back. ”

  Trevor ignored the stab of pain near his heart. He drained the lukewarm brew and reached for another.

  Thud. Edgard’s last bag hit the floor.

  The silence between them was deafening.

  Edgard said, “When are you going to Cody?”

  “Tomorrow. Early. ”

  “Who’re you going with?”

  “Cash and Brian. Colby’s cousin Dag. ”

  “Good luck. Dag’s a great heeler. ”

  “Thanks. ” He fiddled with the metal tab on the beer can. “You sure you don’t want me to take you to the train station?”

  Edgard laughed softly. “That wouldn’t be wise, amigo. ”

  “It ain’t like I’m gonna make a big scene, Ed,” Trevor scoffed.

  “I know. Maybe I would. ” Edgard briefly shut his eyes. “Shit. I’m not gonna do this. I can’t do this anymore. ”

  Edgard ran his hand through his hair. A gesture of frustration Trevor had come to recognize in the last two years he and Edgard had been together. Off and on. In secret. He knew it wasn’t fair to either of them.

  Trevor wanted to get up, walk over and smooth Edgard’s dark hair back in place. He ached to soothe him and tell him everything would be all right. But mostly he wanted to wrap his arms around Edgard and beg him not to leave.

  But Trevor did none of that. He just steadily drank his beer, waiting for the numbness to settle in and ease his sorrow.

  Edgard opened the door and tossed out his luggage. Then he closed the door again and braced his shoulders against the wall.

  Automatically Trevor stiffened.

  “Don’t worry. I’m not going to make you uncomfortable by telling you how I feel. You already know. I just wish things could be different. ”

  Trevor swallowed a drink and the lump in his throat. “Me too. ”

  “Take care of yourself, meu amor. ”

  “You too. ”

  A truck horn honked outside.

  Without another word Edgard turned and walked out of his life.

  Trevor stayed seated until he heard Gemma’s rig drive away. Then he slowly stood, shuffled to the door and locked it.

  He shoved the rest of the case of beer up in the sleeping compartment and crawled across the mattress. He cracked open a fresh can, lay flat on his back and let the tears come.

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Eight weeks later…

  Colby McKay sat on the front porch of his parents’ house with his leg propped on a folding chair and scowled at the darkening sky. Fucking clouds. If it was gonna be cloudy, at least the d
amn things should be rain clouds. They needed the moisture in a bad way.

  A dry autumn breeze drifted through the eaves, rattling the wind chimes. He’d been home for two months. A doctor ordered bed rest after his leg had been busted up like a cheap 2X4, and his lung had seeped air like a leaky balloon.

  As glad as he was not to be pissing in a colostomy bag or wheeling himself around in a chair for the rest of his life, it stung his pride that his family was forced to take care of him at the family homestead for the time being. For six long goddamn months.

  Oh, they didn’t seem to mind. His mom was happy to have him home in any capacity, happier yet he was done with life on the road. He was still shuffling around on crutches with a brace on his leg like a gimped-up old man, but at least he wasn’t flat on his back.

  Still, there was something mortifying about his mom or his sister doing his physical therapy exercises with him every damn day. That little sadist Keely liked inflicting pain on him. He’d warned her paybacks were a bitch and he’d invited Amy Jo over to keep him company on occasion.

  But he suspected the only reason Amy Jo showed up was on the hope she’d run into his brother Cord.

  Colby felt useless. He couldn’t stay by himself in his beloved log cabin on the other side of the canyon. His mother claimed she didn’t trust him not to do too much, too soon. Helping Colton with chores was out, too.

  His dad had told him there’d be plenty of chores waiting for him when he’d healed up properly. Next spring. Even Cord gave him pitying looks, and Cord’s life was even more fucked up than his.

  But mostly Colby sat around wondering what the hell he was gonna do now that his rodeo career was history. Sure, he’d known at the end of this season he’d have to scale back and compete locally only on weekends. So it’d come as a complete shock when the surgeons warned him if he started riding bulls or broncs again, he could end up in a wheelchair permanently.

  Not a chance he was willing to take.

  For the millionth time Colby’s thoughts turned to Channing. He knew that wasn’t why she’d bailed—because he was no longer a rodeo cowboy, now that injury had forced him into being just an ordinary Wyoming rancher. He doubted she’d skipped back to her old life after she’d had her sexual adventure of traveling the rodeo circuit with a trio of cowboys.
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