Oh mama. The second Colby’s name was announced, her whole body flushed with desire and pride.
Colby looked powerful and in command and supremely sexy as he rode his bronc to a seventy-five. He finished third overall and won a decent amount of money.
With it being the last day of the rodeo, the events were longer, because the short go was held right after the individual competitions ended.
The betting became sporadic as contestants’ significant others left the stands. It’d be a long day for her. Suddenly alone, Channing regretted she’d forgotten her notebook in the horse trailer.
Two tugs on her hair. Before she could turn to see who it was, Callie hopped down in front of her. “Hey, China bear.”
“Hey, Calamity Jane.”
She clapped her hand over her mouth and giggled.
“Where’s your mom?”
“Helpin’ the hazer wrap up the back legs on his horse before Daddy goes bulldoggin’.”
With her soft Midwestern accent, bordering on a twang, and big eyes, the kid was cute as bug. “Is the horse okay?”
She shrugged. “So’s your stomach and your head hurt as bad as Momma’s does this mornin’?”
Channing choked on her iced tea. “No.”
“I’m glad, because she is the one who’s a bear today, not you,” she confided with a serious face.
Beat-up brown boots covered in dirt slid into view. “I heard that Calliope Jane Morgan.” A sluggish Mary eased next to Channing. “I’d like to say she’s full of it, but the truth is, my head is pounding and I feel like I could barf. Been that way since the moment I got up.”
She could tell Mary was scrutinizing her from beneath oversized pink sunglasses.
“Here I was hopin’ my partner in crime from last night felt just as poorly as I do. But damn, you look positively chipper today.”
Channing chuckled. “Remind me why you were drinking last night?”
“Showing you how to celebrate Colby’s big ride. It just didn’t seem like I drank that much to feel this bad.”
“Momma. You always say that.”
“Pipe down, pipsqueak. You’re giving Channing a bad impression of me.”
Channing hid a smile as she sipped her tea. “So are you guys going to Valentine?”
“Yep. We’re off to love city as soon as Mike’s event ends. What about you?”
“We’re heading that way, too.”
Callie skipped across the seats to check out the vendors hawking their wares.
“Can I ask you something?” Mary said. Channing nodded. “Ain’t it kinda awkward travelin’ with Colby and Trevor and Edgard? I mean, Mike and me saw you and Colby take off last night. And Trev was so wasted Cash had to help him out of the bar at closing time. But this morning Cash said Trev wouldn’t stay in his room and he must’ve slept in the horse trailer.”
Channing tried to act nonchalant, dreading the remainder of the question.
“So how does that work when you and Colby want alone time? Do you guys gotta sneak off and git ‘er done before Trevor or Edgard bust in on you?”
Channing blushed. No doubt her new friend would be scandalized if she admitted the sleeping arrangements. But when she really thought about it, she literally had slept only with Colby in all the nights the four of them had been together.
“Well, Trevor and Edgard make themselves pretty scarce. We switch off and take turns—” somehow she managed not to wince “—one night we’re in the horse trailer, the next we’re in the motel room.”
“Oh.” Mary seemed about to say something else but Callie interrupted.
“Momma, I’m hot.”
“I know, baby. We’ll be out of the sun soon.”
“So can I have one of them little fans to cool off?” She pointed to the vendor wandering through the stands selling souvenirs.
“How about a necklace?”
“Then can I have a whistle? They ain’t very expensive.”
“No, Callie. Lord, stop beggin’ me for every damn thing you see.”
Callie sighed. “So can I at least have a snow cone?”
“Fine.” Mary dug out a couple of bucks and slapped it in Callie’s outstretched hand. “But come right back here, no fooling around.”
Talk about diversionary tactics. Callie shot Channing a triumphant look that said she’d wanted a snow cone all along.
Cheeky little thing.
The steer wrestling started. Bets were placed. Channing lost ten bucks because Mike won not only the second round, but also the final go-around. Mary and Callie took off and promised they’d see her in Valentine.
Next up was team roping. Trevor and Edgard were the second competitors. The steer raced out and Trevor’s rope came up short. They ended up with no time. They were out of the money except for the modest amount they’d won the previous day.
Channing squinted, but from where she sat she couldn’t gauge their individual expressions. Their body language didn’t lie; they were both stiff, coiling their ropes in angry, jerking motions. Ignoring the announcer’s run down of their bad run of luck again. Ignoring each other. She wondered if Colby was waiting for them back in the chutes to talk to them or if he’d leave them to misery. Their moods would be sour tonight.
After another half an hour of sitting by herself, she was hungry and needed a break from the sun. She wolfed down a hot dog from the concession stand and sucked down an icy-cold beer. Ooh. That made her woozy. She glanced at the clock. It would be at least an hour before the bull riding started, plenty of time for her to grab her notebook and jot down a few observations.
The dusty parking lot was mostly empty of the usual line of horse trailers and campers. The timed events were nearly over and the contestants had already packed up and moved on to the next town. It was weird to see Trevor’s trailer parked so far away. The horses weren’t tied to the sides. They were probably still in the paddock waiting to be loaded until after Colby’s last event.
A hot wind swirled the trash littering the grounds. Channing dug out the key from her front jeans pocket and slid it in the lock. As she stood below the pop-out metal step, she heard a loud thump inside the living area of the trailer. She waited and heard it again, but this time a grunt, another thump and loud male cursing followed it.
Crap. Were Edgard and Trevor in there beating the hell out of each other for their poor showing? She didn’t have time to track down Colby; she’d have to handle this herself. Channing quickly twisted the key and quietly slunk inside, softly clicking the door shut behind her.