“Stop touching me when I said to get your goddamn hands off me.”
“You really don’t want that, sweetheart.”
A frustrated scream tore from her throat. “Yes I do. Let me go right f**king now.”
“You’re a lying son of a bitch and I want you to let…me…go!” she shrieked, hating the way he’d immobilized her. Chassie drummed her bootheels into his shins, trying to bruise his body as badly as he’d bruised her heart. She’d twisted so violently against his iron hold that her hair had come loose from her ponytail and swirled around her head. A few strands stuck to her tear-stained face.
“Fuck, that hurts, you little hellcat.”
“Good!” Anger renewed her determination to inflict pain on him. As she screamed and cried and kicked she knew she was completely out of control. But fighting back was her only option. Her mind and body relived the absolute desolation she’d felt upon seeing the man she loved with another, seeing the longing and apparently long-denied need as Trevor had kissed Edgard like he was everything Trevor had ever wanted, everything he’d ever needed, and she was just a second-rate substitute.
“Chassie. Please. Stop. I’m beggin’ you, baby, seein’ you like this is breakin’ me into a million f**kin’ pieces and I…” He paused. “Please. I need you to understand.”
The raw pain in his voice gave her pause. She quit struggling. After a minute or so, Trevor sighed and gentled his hold, even as it seemed to strengthen him.
Neither one said a word.
Her rapid exhalations stirred her hair. Her blood pulsed angrily and her skin actually hurt. Her eyes smarted from hot tears. Her skull pounded like she’d taken a 2X4 to the head. But that was nothing, nothing compared to the ache spreading inside her, leaving her both heavy-limbed and strangely hollow.
“Thank you,” Trevor whispered against her crown.
“Let me go.”
“If I do will you talk to me? Give me a chance to explain?”
Chassie managed a pitiful laugh. “What’s to explain? You married me when you were in love with someone else.”
“Baby, it’s not what you think.”
“I don’t have to think. I know what I saw.”
The silence was broken by Edgard’s approach. Trevor’s whole body tensed.
But Chassie wasn’t about to back down. She wasn’t in the wrong. She blew the hair out of her eyes and met Edgard’s baleful stare dead on.
Edgard said, “I’m sorry. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“It did happen and if you want him so goddamn bad, you can have him. I’m done with him. For good.”
Rather than snap off a nasty comment, Edgard did the unexpected: he cupped Chassie’s face in his hands and wiped her tears. “You don’t mean that, Chassie. You’re angry. You should be. But you need to listen to Trevor.”
“I’ve heard enough.”
“No, you haven’t heard the important part.”
“And what part would that be, Edgard?”
“The part that concerns you.”
Her scathing comeback dried up.
“Don’t throw away everything because of a stupid mistake. Or your pride.” Edgard smoothed his cold thumbs over her hot cheeks. “Nothin’ happened between Trev and me besides some angry words and some frustrated kisses.”
“You wanted something to happen.”
Edgard nodded. “But it didn’t.”
Chassie searched his eyes for a sign of regret or smugness but all she saw was pain.
“Talk to him, Chassie. Don’t walk away.”
“Why shouldn’t I?” she half-whispered.
“Because if you do, you’ll give me exactly what I want.”
“Which is what?”
Without waiting for Trevor to dispute the statement, Edgard hefted the saddle on his shoulder and disappeared into the barn.
And without asking, Trevor released her.
It took every ounce of Chassie’s nerve not to crumple into a pile and weep. She started toward the house, not caring if Trevor followed, even when she knew he would.
Her fingers fumbled as she removed her boots, coat and gloves, numb in body, soul and spirit.
In the kitchen she went straight for the liquor cabinet. After downing two shots of whiskey and nursing a third, she faced her husband.
A ghostly pallor replaced Trevor’s usual rosy glow. He snagged the decanter, swigging the alcohol directly from the bottle. One. Two. Three solid mouthfuls.
A million questions tumbled in Chassie’s head but one pushed front and center. “Are you g*y?”
“Did I not just see you in a lip lock with your former male ropin’ partner?”
“Yes. Before you ask, I ain’t bi either. It’s just…” He gestured helplessly. “It’s just Edgard.”
Chassie couldn’t look at him, his mouth swollen from Edgard’s kisses, his cheeks reddened from razor stubble, the agony burning in his eyes. She needed to remain in control and keep the gut-wrenching emotions in check. She spun back to the window, but focused on the amber liquid in her shot glass.
“Don’t tune me out, Chass. Please.”
“I’m not. I’m just tryin’ to figure out a way to ask if you ever had sex with Dag.”
He sucked in a harsh, surprised breath. “God, no.”
Once again Chassie had that overwhelming sense of betrayal. “Does everybody suspect the truth about you and Edgard? Am I a laughingstock in the whole rodeo community? Everyone knew you took pity on poor Chassie West and married her because she was naïve and no one else wanted her?”
“No, baby, it ain’t like that. Not at all.” Trevor made a rough sound, a cross between a frustrated sigh and a snort. “You know how goddamned hard it is to keep a secret in that community. So if there’d have been rumors about me’n Ed, you’d’ve heard ’em.”
True. There’d been whispers about Dag’s sexual preferences for years, but she’d suspected her brother’s proclivities before she’d heard the gossip. “How long were you and Edgard…?”
“For two and a half years.”
“And during that time no one suspected?”
“Why would they? Edgard and I were together because we were travelin’ and ropin’ partners. And it wasn’t like all of a sudden I stopped chasin’ women. There were always plenty of women around.”