Long Hard Ride (Rough Riders 1) - Page 52

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The clank of D-rings against the metal barrier filled the silence.

Gemma grunted and slapped her hands on her jeans. A cloud of dust rose up. “Well, that was downright sappy. And we ain’t even drinkin’.”

She looked at Channing, lifted her brows and smirked. “Yet.”

They parted ways. Gemma went to check on her small group of steers and her stock foreman behind the chutes and Channing headed to the main entrance to pick up her a ticket at the box office.

In the family area, Callie stood and waved her over. It made her feel ridiculously happy they’d saved her a seat.

Channing hefted her bag and slid across the wooden bench, already feeling her muscles getting sore from the horse ride. And from Colby’s hard riding last night. “Morning. How are you guys?”

“I’m fine.” Callie smiled brightly. “But momma ain’t feelin’ so good this morning.”

Mary scowled at her can of 7-Up. “Thanks for sharing that with the world, Cal.”

“You whooping it up again last night, Mary?”

“No. I was tucked in bed and sound asleep by nine.”

“Hmm. That’s too bad. Maybe you’ve got the flu or something.”

“Or something.” Mary dug out five bucks from the front pocket of her Rockies and passed it to Callie. “See that lady selling drinks?” Mary pointed to the vendor loitering at the top of the staircase. “Please get me another soda, and some juice for yourself. But don’t buy nothin’ else, Callie. And come right back here when you’re done. I mean it.”

“Sure, Momma.”

The second Callie disappeared Mary leaned closer. “It’s not the flu.

I’m pregnant.”

“Wow.” Channing didn’t know what else to say. Was Mary was thrilled about the pregnancy?

“Me and Mike have been trying to have another baby for a while. A couple of years actually. It just didn’t seem like it ever was gonna happen. Looks like it did.”

“Congratulations. Does Mike know?”

Mary smiled. “I told him right after I barfed up breakfast again and decided to pee on the stick. That man’s got a shit-eatin’ grin on his face a mile wide. We haven’t told Callie yet. The girl can’t keep a secret to save her life.”

“She is only four, Mary.”


The saddle bronc competition started. Channing held her breath when Colby’s name was called. He bucked off within three seconds. She scrutinized him as he sauntered off the dirt, putting on a macho show for everyone, acting like he was just fine.

Damn foolish man.

An hour later Cash and Edgard posted good times in the calf roping.

Colby didn’t fare so well. He ended up with no time. He hadn’t even made it off his horse.

A sick feeling settled in the pit of Channing’s stomach. Colby wasn’t fine. She had no choice but to sit in the stands for a few more hours, fretting. Luckily, Callie’s constant chatter distracted her.

The steer wrestling competition began. Mike Morgan was scheduled second. Mary and Callie yelled advice from the stands as the steer raced out.

It happened so fast Channing nearly missed it. Mike threw himself at the steer as the animal reversed direction and came right at him. Man and beast ended up in a dusty pile in the middle of the arena with Mike on the bottom. Dazed, the steer wobbled to its hooves and bounced toward the gate. The bulldogger didn’t move.

Mary stood up. “Omigod. What happened?”

“Momma? Why’s Daddy layin’ on the ground?”

“Ssh, baby. I don’t know.”

Two officials trotted out and crouched down beside Mike. After a discussion, one of the guys gestured for another official. Another discussion. He in turn signaled for the sports medicine team.

“What in the hell is taking so long?” Mary said.

They all watched in horror as a stretcher was hauled out.

Mary swayed forward over the railing and Channing caught her.

“Hey. Take a deep breath, Mary. Don’t pass out on me.”

She nodded and breathed deeply, squeezing Channing’s hand until Channing lost all feeling in it.

They carried Mike away to a smattering of applause and the announcer’s assurance that updates on Mike Morgan’s condition would be made available as soon as possible.

“I have to go,” Mary said. “I have to see if he’s okay. Oh God. What if he’s not?”


Mary looked at her daughter, torn in two directions. “Maybe it’d be best if she didn’t come with until I know more—”

“You go on, Mary. Callie and I will stay right here. Hanging out.

Eating junk food. Checking out all the vendors to see what new trinkets they’re selling today, won’t we, Cal? You go.”

“You’re sure?”


Mary sprinted up the stairs two at a time.

The minute her mother was gone stoic Callie started to cry.

Channing pulled the little girl on her lap and let her bawl. Several of the other wives and girlfriends came over to offer help, but Callie wanted nothing to do with any of them.

Not once during the hour that passed did Callie beg for cheap toys.

Or sugar-laden snacks. Nor did she demand to know where her mother was. Or if her father was all right. Or why they couldn’t leave. She just curled into Channing and clung to her like a scared monkey.


She spun around to see Colby limping down the bleacher stairs.

“Colby? What are you doing here?”

“Mary Morgan sent me.”

Channing couldn’t read in his eyes whether it was good or bad news.

“She wants you to bring Callie to her.”

“Okay.” She looked down in Callie’s frightened eyes and tried to gently pry her arms from around her neck. “Hey, Calamity Jane. Gather up your stuff. Let’s go see your mom.”

But Callie wouldn’t let go. Finally, Channing just carried her out.

Colby led them through a cordoned-off area to a small, airless room underneath the main grandstand. Inside, Mary hovered next to Mike, who was awake but on a stretcher with his knee heavily bandaged and his wrist in a sling.

Callie squirmed out of Channing’s arms and launched herself at Mary, sobbing, “Momma you didn’t come back and didn’t come back and I thought my daddy was dead!”

Channing felt like she’d been kicked in the solar plexus. That poor little girl. Acting so brave when she’d been torn up inside. How many other rodeo kids went through this on a regular basis? How many wives and girlfriends and mothers and fathers? How did they deal with it, day in, day out? Year after year?

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