“Channing, come back here.”
“No,” she tossed off over her shoulder.
“I’m warnin’ you, girl, you don’t want to make me mad.”
“Tough shit, tough guy. Suck it up and walk it off.”
People around them stopped and stared, nudged each other and chuckled, giving Colby a wide berth.
“Last chance,” he yelled.
Channing flipped him the bird without turning around. In fact, she ran away from him like her boot heels were smoking.
He was going to paddle that sassy little ass but good.
“Too bad you didn’t bring your piggin’ string. She sure is fit to be tied.
You tryin’ to keep her on a short rope or something?”
“Shut the f**k up, Cash.”
“What’s the problem?”
“None of your goddamn business.”
“Trouble in paradise already? Is this about why you’re makin’ her sit by herself instead of in the VIP stand?”
“I didn’t make her do nothin’.”
“Really? I saw her up there, all alone, lookin’ sad and lost, poor thing.”
Colby clenched his teeth together.
“I never pegged you for that kind of guy.”
“What kind of guy?”
“The kind who’s afraid what snotty comments the other fellas’
womenfolk might say to her about travelin’ with all three of you.”
“Hell no, I could give a shit about that.”
“Then what’s goin’ on?”
“What I do, or don’t do, to her or for her, ain’t your concern. She knows—”
“No, she don’t know nothin’ about behind-the-scenes rodeo protocol for contestants and their families, and that, my friend, is your fault. After being treated like Jared’s dirty little secret, maybe you oughta make it clear you don’t expect to treat her the same way, eh?” Cash sauntered off as regal as a Lakota elder.
Shit. Colby kicked a clod of dirt. Hard.
Colby wended through the crowd, dodging kids, horseshit and the rhinestone sparkle of low-cut blouses as several buckle bunnies vied for his attention. A stolid woman and small boy all but tripped him to get him to stop. “Hey, are you Colby McKay?” the youngster asked.
“Oh wow, can I get your autograph? Please?”
“Sure thing.” He hunkered down and snagged the program from the boy’s grubby little hand along with the proffered pen. “Who do I make this out to?”
“You a big rodeo fan, Mitchell?”
He nodded somberly. “Some day I’m gonna be the number one All-Around Cowboy, too.”
Colby didn’t have the heart to tell the kid he was currently stuck in the number two position. Again. “Good plan. Good luck. See you on the circuit someday.” Colby smiled and patted him on the top of his blond head. When he looked around for Channing, he wasn’t surprised she was long gone.
Damn fool woman.
Didn’t want people to know they were together. Embarrassed by her.
Right. The little hellcat had even flipped him off! He seethed and knew there was only one way to handle this.
That woman was in a whole mess of trouble. He’d show her exactly how he dealt with breaking in headstrong fillies.
Edgard was slumped against the wheel well on the right side of the horse trailer, eating sunflower seeds. He straightened up when he saw Colby barreling toward him.
“Is she in there?” Colby snapped.
“Yeah. So is Trevor. She seemed pretty upset. What did you do to her?”
“Nothin’ compared to what I’m gonna do to her.”
Laconic Edgard vanished and he shifted lightning fast to block Colby’s access to the living quarters.
“Move it, Ed, unless you plan on helpin’ with Channing’s punishment.”
His left eyebrow winged up at the word punishment. “Maybe, amigo, you should walk it off and let Trevor calm her down first before you go busting in there like an angry bull.”
“The f**k I will. Move.”
“You’re startin’ to piss me off, Mancuso.”
“Yeah? Well, you know what? I don’t like the look in your eye, McKay.”
“So, I think I will help you after all, just to make sure you don’t get carried away.”
“Yeah, you. Miz Channing is a lot more delicate than you give her credit for and sometimes your punishments are just plain mean. And maybe she ain’t the only one who oughta be reprimanded.” Edgard spun and flung open the door.
Stung by the truth, Colby muttered, “Great,” and followed Edgard inside the dark trailer.
Channing’s arms were folded over her chest and her haughty little butt rested against the kitchen sink. She jumped when Colby slammed and locked the door behind him.
“What’s going on?” Trevor asked.
“Strip,” Colby said to Channing.
“I said strip. Now. Don’t make me tell you again. You really don’t want to add another punishment to the one you’ve already earned, do you darlin’?”
She swallowed hard but the look in her golden eyes was decidedly defiant. “Punishment?”
“What in the hell are you talkin’ about, Colby?” Trevor demanded.
Colby pointed at Channing. “Not only does Little Miss think we’re embarrassed to be seen with her, when I tried to talk to her outside the gates, she got smart with me and stormed off. So, since she don’t want to talk, the time for talkin’ is over. Start strippin’.”
“Channing, girl, you didn’t do that, did you?”
She nodded warily at Trevor.
Trevor stood and stretched. “Ah, this is gonna be an interestin’
afternoon. What do you want me to do?”
“Find the ropes and that set of clamps.” Colby flashed his teeth at her. “Lube would be good, too.”
“You’re helping him?” Channing said to Trevor.
“Yep. We ain’t gonna listen to nobody talkin’ you down, least of all you doin’ it to yourself. And when Colby or I or Edgard want to talk to you, it’d be in your best interest to listen up. You’ll learn there will be consequences. You heard him. Strip.” Hiding the devilish twinkle in his eye, Trevor unlocked the door separating the living quarters from the horse stalls, and rummaged around in the tack closet.