Branded as Trouble (Rough Riders 6) - Page 66

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Screw him. It’s his fault you’re in this state anyway. Get in your car and drive to the package store. No one will know. Don’t you miss it? Don’t you remember? The tart taste of white wine on your lips? The bubbly feeling of beer on your tongue? The fiery burn of tequila sliding down your throat?

India’s mouth watered.

A mental snort sounded as voice number two reappeared. You might as well throw yourself down the stairs. Drinking again is suicide. You know that. Colt is not to blame. And if you use him as an excuse for a relapse, you’ll never have the chance to repair this misstep in your relationship, because part of you will always fault him, even when it’s not true nor his fault. You’re stronger than this.

Goddammit, she was stronger than this. But she didn’t have the strength to ride out the voices alone. She needed help.

Wasn’t that what she always reminded fledgling A.A. members? No one is ever cured of alcoholism. Some days are easy; some days are hard. No matter if you’ve been sober a week or two decades, there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it.

There wasn’t. But there’d be a whole lot of shame if she gave in to temptation.

India rolled to her back and stared at the ceiling. Squinted at it mostly, because her eyes were so swollen and bleary from crying.

She suffered from the mother of all headaches. Her mouth was as dry as the Wyoming prairie. She was exhausted. Heartsick. Her body hurt. Her mind was scrambled. But she knew if she laid there wallowing in self-pity another second she’d never get up. Or she’d give in.

One step at a time.

She slowly pushed to her feet. Shuffled into the kitchen.

Poured herself a glass of water. Once she’d accomplished those simple tasks, she was ready for the hard one. She scrolled through the contact list on her cell phone. When his number flashed, she selected it and hit dial. He answered on the fourth ring.

“Hey Bert. It’s India. No, I’m not doing so good. Yeah, I realized I’m not invincible. Do you have time to talk to me? Face-to-face?” The tears came again. “Thank you. Come on up, the door is unlocked. I’ll put on the coffee.”

Chapter Twenty-four

Colt’s head spun every which way. When he parked in front of his empty house, he realized it was the last place he wanted to be.

Running wouldn’t fix anything, but time away might give him a different perspective.

He called Cam and left a message. “I’m droppin’ off the grid for a couple days, bro. Don’t round up a search party for me, I’ll be fine. And if anyone in our family asks, let ’em know I ain’t on a three-day bender. Later.”

Next he called Chassie’s. “Hey Trev. How’s Chass? Yeah, well you knew she was ornery when you married her. It’s funny that it takes both you guys to handle her. Look, I’m leavin’ for a couple days and I wondered if you and Ed would keep an eye on my place?

Nothin’s wrong.” Colt sighed. “That ain’t entirely true. Just some shit I need to sort out on my own. I appreciate the offer. You guys are great. Thanks.”

Food packed, gear packed. Two rods, one tackle box, zero cell phone.

When things got tough…the tough went fishin’.

Two days later…

India burst into Dewey’s when she noticed the sheriff’s department cruiser parked in front. She stalked over to Cam, who was sitting at his usual space in the back booth. “Tell me where he is.”

“Who? Colt? I haven’t the foggiest idea.”


“I’m serious, India. He left me a message saying he was leaving for a few days, and not to worry because he wasn’t on a bender.”

India winced.

“You wanna tell me what’s going on?”

“Domini didn’t tell you?” After India talked to Bert, she’d called Domini. Usually India relied on Skylar for personal problems, but she was dealing with two sick babies and an equipment breakdown at the factory. The last thing Skylar needed was more stress.

So India had sobbed on Domini’s shoulder for half the damn night. In addition to being a great listener, Domini gave practical advice. Which was why India had allowed a cooling off period before she set about making things right…only to realize Colt had all but disappeared.

“No, I haven’t talked to Domini, besides when she swings by to refill my coffee. She’s been a little busy around here.”

“Why? Did Cat take off again?”

“Huh-uh. Cat got fired.”

“What! When?”

Cam beckoned her closer. “You didn’t hear this from me. But after Domini’s, ah, talk with you the other night, she was furious.

She got Macie and Velma on a conference call and gave them what-for. Said she was sick of covering for Cat’s incompetence and sick of not being able to keep employees because no one wanted to work for, or with, Cat.”

“Holy crap. What’d Macie say? She and Cat are old friends, aren’t they?”

“Were friends. Evidently Cat said some crappy things when she was in Canyon River and Macie was already upset. Coupled with the fact sweet Domini tossed out the ultimatum of keeping Cat and losing her, they fired Cat. Domini is the new manager.” Cam grinned. “I’m so damn proud of her. I knew there was fire beneath that ice.”

“I’ll congratulate her later.” Her eyes searched Cam’s face for clues. “So you really don’t know where Colt went?”


“I’m worried about him. Really worried.” She held up a hand.

“Not that he’s crawled inside a bottle, but I hate thinking he’s hurting alone.”

“Me too.” Cam considered her over his coffee cup. “Did you cause that hurt?”

India looked him straight in the eye. “Yep. I’m not proud of it.

But since I caused the hurt, I intend to heal it.”

“I think you already have.”

That was a weird statement. “So what’s your advice?”

“Talk to my mother. She may have an idea of where he’s gone off to. But don’t call her,” he warned. “Face to face is always best with her.”

“Thank you.”

Right. Talk to Carolyn McKay. Their last conversation had gone so well. But this wasn’t about Carolyn. This was about Colt.

He was all that mattered.

She closed the shop and drove out to the McKay homestead.

Her bravado faded a bit when Carson McKay greeted her on the front steps. “Mornin’, India. Something I can do for you?”

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