The front door opened and his mother hustled out with his nephew Ky cocked on her hip. She pitched Colby the portable phone. “We’re out of milk and diapers. I’m running to the store. Do you need anything while I’m in town?”
Colby shook his head. He’d drifted into that dreamy state right before sleep when the phone rang. He snapped, “Hello?”
“Colby McKay, you sound like a bear with a sore paw. How you doing?”
He relaxed. “Getting better every day, Gemma. And you?”
“I can’t complain. Hey, is your dad around?”
“No. He and Cord and Colton are sortin’ cows with the cattle broker.
Why? What’d you need?”
“Hang on.” A rustling sound crackled on the line as she moved the receiver on her end. “No, Channing, those don’t go there. Put ‘em in the sun porch.”
Colby froze. Then his heart raced. “Gemma? What the devil is goin’
“Sorry ‘bout that. What did you say?”
“Did you say Channing is there? At your ranch?”
“My Channing is at your ranch?”
Colby practically growled. “How long has she been there?”
“She’s been here almost six weeks. Where’ve you been?”
“Right here! Why in the hell didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t you tell me, Gemma?”
“Not my place.”
“Goddammit. I don’t know whether to take a horsewhip after you or her.”
“I don’t like the direction this conversation has taken, Colby McKay.”
He breathed deep, trying to calm himself. “Sorry. It’s just…I’ve spent the last month tryin’ to find out where she is!”
“So now you know. My question is: What are you gonna do about it?”
Gemma hung up.
A shaft of sunshine spilled across the porch railing. Colby glanced at the sky. The gray clouds had cleared out, revealing a radiant blue horizon.
A sign that he’d finally get a chance to clear up some of the issues that’d been clouding his mind?
He grabbed his crutches and his keys and he was gone.
Meanwhile, back at Gemma Jansen’s ranch…
“You always make me do the shitty jobs,” Channing half-complained.
“That’s part of learning the ropes and working on the ranch.
Somebody has to do them.”
“Yeah? I wish you would’ve told me this before I packed up and moved here.”
Gemma leaned on the pitchfork, her face serious. “Do you have some regrets about shucking life in the city for shucking corn?”
Even covered in horse shit and hay dust Channing couldn’t hold back a big grin. “Not a single one.”
“Good.” She pointed to a mound of golden hay. “Spread that around.
I’ve got to make a call. I’ll be right back.”
While Channing shoveled hay, she considered the idea that she might have some regrets.
After she’d left Colby in the hospital, she’d flown home. It’d taken less than a week for her to realize she couldn’t fathom spending her life living up to someone else’s expectations. Contrary to her parents’ accusations, she hadn’t changed. She was finally ready to accept that who she was on the inside was who she wanted to be on the outside. All the time. Not just for a week during rodeo season.
So Channing had quit her job before she’d even started it. She’d sold the few things she’d owned—including her BMW—bought an old Dodge truck, packed up and had driven across the country to the wilds of Wyoming.
It’d been the best decision she’d ever made, besides hooking up with a sweet rodeo cowboy who made her laugh, made her mad and made her scream. The last time she’d seen him, lying in that hospital bed, he’d made her cry.
So far her only regret was that she hadn’t found the guts to personally visit that cowboy. The couple of times she’d called his folks’
place, his father had said Colby was resting. She figured she’d give him another week of recovery time before she took a road trip and tried her hand at wooing him face to face, Western style.
Gemma kicked a stall door shut on her way back into the barn.
“Who’d you call that put you in such a bad mood? Cash?”
“Why in the world would I call Cash Big Crow when I haven’t seen or heard from him in over two months?” Gemma’s face turned bright red whenever Cash’s name was mentioned.
Channing shrugged. Not her business. They’d either figure it out, or they wouldn’t. It made her sad to think that Trevor was too much of a chicken to buck his family’s expectations and had let Edgard go back to Brazil alone. “Hey, you want to shoot some pool tonight at the Lantern?”
“Nah. We’ve got too much to do. Let’s stick around here.”
“Great.” Channing quit leaning on her pitchfork and got back to work.
An hour and a half later, Gemma disappeared again while Channing finished in the barn. She heard a vehicle zooming up the driveway and gravel crunching as it came to an abrupt halt. A metal door slammed.
“Channing Kinkaid, get your butt out here right now.”
Colby? Was here? She tossed her leather work gloves on the wooden tool bench.
“That was your first warnin’, shug,” he yelled.
Channing sucked in a deep breath and stepped into the sunshine.
She shaded her eyes with her hand and caught a glimpse of Colby hunched over a pair of crutches beside a dirty black pickup.
Her heart absolutely soared with joy. He was a little battered, a little thinner, but he was there.
And mad as the dickens.
“What in the hell is wrong with you? You’re livin’ in Wyoming now?
Less than two goddamn hours away from me and you can’t be bothered to let me know?”
Channing swallowed the lump in her throat. “I did let you know. I called out to your parents’ place a couple of times and talked to your dad.” She froze about twenty feet from him when the truth hit her. “He didn’t tell you I called, did he?”
A muscle in Colby’s jaw flexed. “No. He didn’t. I’ll deal with him later.
Right now I wanna paddle your behind for thinking I’d ever—”
She held up her hand. “Stop right there. I thought when we saw each other again you’d at least sweet-talk me a little, cowboy. Seeings you’re so good with that silver tongue. But instead—”