“You mind tellin’ me what you’re doin’ slinkin’ out of my son’s room?”
Her first thought was to lie.
Carson stared her down. Letting his gaze wander to the love bites on her neck Colby had given her that hadn’t faded yet. Judging her.
Appearing to find her lacking. Just like her own father. Just like everyone else in her old life.
Her back snapped straight. “Your son invited me into his room. You can ask him what we were doing, but since he’s a gentleman, I doubt he’ll kiss and tell.”
No response from Colby’s father. Just another cold hard stare.
“You’re wastin’ your time with him. I know my son. He ain’t—”
“Maybe you don’t know your son as well as you think. And if he chooses to waste his time with me, then I don’t see how it is any of your business. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Somehow she managed to walk away instead of running like a scared rabbit.
Gemma’s trailer was empty. Channing had a few hours to kill before the rodeo started so she wandered through the vendor stands and the midway. She cruised through the gift shop. Studied the bronze statue of the late Lane Frost for a long time. A reminder that even the best athletes in the world succumbed to forces beyond their control.
Frontier Park was huge, the biggest outdoor rodeo arena in the world.
After the Air Force paratroopers sailed in, and the state rodeo queens in attendance were announced, and a barbershop quartet from Riverton belted out “The Star Spangled Banner”, it was time to rodeo.
With so many competitors at Frontier Days Rodeo, the individual events were spread out, instead of all the events running one after the other like at other venues. Rough stock riding was interspersed with timed events. Colby ate dirt on his saddle bronc ride. He posted a decent score of 4.5 in tie-down roping. Unlike other rodeos where bull riding was always last, here they were sprinkled throughout the afternoon.
As she waited, she began to wonder just what his plans were for later. Anticipation made her heart race and she almost missed his name being called.
The bull, Nobody’s Business, hadn’t been ridden in twelve outs.
Channing perched on the edge of her seat, expecting a good match up.
The chute opened to the roar of the crowd. Colby looked spectacular as he rode, synchronized to the bull’s movements like he’d ridden him every day. The buzzer sounded. He’d made it the full eight seconds.
For some reason instead of watching the first instant replay on the big screens, she kept her gaze on Colby. He’d gotten hung up. Not his hand in his bullrope, but his spur was twisted around the flank strap.
The bull fighters were trying to get him loose, but the bull hopped and jumped. The next scene seemed to happen in slow motion, Colby’s body sliding under the bull when the bull lunged sideways. Both the bull’s back legs came down on Colby’s left thigh. Then the bull hooked Colby’s vest and tossed him in the air.
The crowd gasped.
Channing leapt to her feet.
Even in the upper tier of the grandstands she could hear one bull fighter screaming for the sports medicine team, while the others chased the bull away. Colby’s leg was bent at an odd angle and he was prone on the dirt.
A dozen people milled around on the arena floor. It wasn’t long before the far gate opened and an ambulance zoomed in, kicking up dust. Colby was loaded on a stretcher, shuttled in the back end of the ambulance and whisked out amidst wailing sirens and nearly complete silence in the arena.
Stunned, she just stared at the churned up patches of dirt where Colby had fallen. How long she stayed motionless, she didn’t know.
Finally, people behind her yelled, “Sit down!”
She made her deadened body move and she exited the stands in a daze.
Channing had no idea where they’d taken him. She knew if she tried to sneak back in the contestants’ area without a pass, she’d get escorted out by security. She wandered along the fence—for how long, she didn’t know. Someone shouted her name.
She whirled around and saw Cash barreling toward her. He grabbed her in a bear hug. “Have you heard anything about what happened to him?”
Channing shook her head.
“You saw it, right?”
“Okay. The bull landed on his leg and broke the femur in his left thigh. A bone fragment caused a rupture in his femoral artery. Very serious stuff. I ain’t gonna lie, Channing; it is life threatenin’, so they rushed him to emergency surgery. They also were talkin’ about a collapsed lung where the bull hooked him.”
“Omigod.” She was glad Cash held her upright because her knees gave out.
“His family is already gone. I’ll drive you to the hospital.”
The truth hit her and she began to shake harder. “Cash, his family isn’t going to want me there. They don’t even know about me.”
Cash placed a gentle hand on her cheek. “It don’t matter if they want you there, Channing. Colby will want you there.”
She nodded and ducked her head to hide her tears.
Gemma ran up, out of breath. “What are you doing out here? You’re up in about five minutes. They’re looking for you behind the chutes.”
“I’m gonna have to forfeit this go. I’m driving Channing to the hospital.”
“I’ll take her.” Gemma’s arm circled Channing’s shoulders. “Colby would be pissed if you didn’t ride on account of him. So get back there and cover that bull. Meet us there later.”
Cash nodded and reluctantly trotted off.
Channing was absolutely numb. She let Gemma lead her into the parking area. The heat from the blacktop nearly scorched her lungs. She didn’t remember anything about the ride to the hospital, as she was too busy praying that Colby would still be alive when she got there.
Eight excruciating hours later the surgeons gave the news to the family. The doctors had stopped the hemorrhaging, which was their first concern. Then they’d fixed his collapsed lung. After that, they began surgery on his leg and inserted an intramedullary rod down the center of Colby’s thighbone.
Colby was in intensive care in stable condition. With physical therapy he’d walk again. Even ride a horse. But the doctor’s prognosis for Colby continuing his rodeo career even part-time wasn’t good. Colby had a long road of therapy ahead of him. Months.
Channing heard all of this information secondhand from Trevor and Edgard. And Gemma. And Cash. She’d hidden herself away in a tiny lounge off the main family waiting area. Not wanting to intrude on the McKays. For her own self-preservation she would not insert herself in a situation already rife with trauma.