Branded as Trouble (Rough Riders 6) - Page 9

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“Fine, you’re embarrassed. So I’ve got nothing to lose by asking you to tell me the truth.”


“How long has it been since you’ve had sex?”

Thump. His heel hit the floor as he got the left boot on.

“A year?”

Colt laughed.

“Two years?”

“Try three years.”

India stared at him with confusion, then understanding dawned.

“You mean, you haven’t—”

“Had sex since I went through treatment? Nope. I’ve been celibate as long as I’ve been sober.”

“By choice?”

How the hell was he supposed to answer that? “I hardly remember the last time I had sex. I was drunk. Or high. Or both. So I guess you can say I hardly remember what sex is like or what I’m supposed to do besides come in my pants like a teenage boy.”

“Why haven’t you talked about this at meetings?”

“Because it’s not anyone’s goddamned business but mine.”

“Okay. But you could’ve talked to me. One on one. We’re friends.”

Colt laughed again, but it held a bitter edge.

“That wasn’t meant to be funny!”

“Which is why it is.” He grabbed the plastic grocery bag that held his toothbrush, iPod, extra clothes and started downstairs.

“You’re just leaving?”

Was that a regretful note in her voice? He didn’t turn around until he reached the landing at the bottom. “Do you want me to stay and finish what we started?”

India actually backed up a step. A look of surprise—or was it horror?—crossed her face.

Enough. Her expression told him everything he needed to know: it was time for him to move on, much as it pained him.

“But you could stay and we could talk about it.”

“Nothin’ left to say. See you around.”

Halfway home Colt realized he never did get a cup of coffee.

That harsh dose of reality had been enough to kick start his day.

Thursday evening in the gym, Colt and Cam were sweating and grunting, trying to outdo each other. The best five-mile running time went to Colt, but he admitted there was little victory in beating a man with half his leg gone.

Cam out bench-pressed Colt by almost fifty pounds. Their sets of crunches were declared a tie, by the Kewpie-doll manning the desk, who couldn’t keep her jailbait eyes off either of them.

As was their post-workout ritual, they’d toweled off and sat on the wooden bench in the locker room. Colt downed half his water bottle in one gulp. “So, anything interesting happen in the world of law enforcement today?”

“Nope. How about in the world of the McKay gas baron?”

“Fuck you. No one’s ever gonna let me live that down.”

“Why would you want to? Christ, Colt, you’re the one makin’ the rest of ’em look dumb.”

Colt mopped the sweat from his forehead. “Yeah, well it was pretty much dumb luck.”

Years ago Colt had purchased a small tract of land from a little old ranch widow. At the time it’d taken all his money and some fancy talking to the banker to fund what his family called his “pity”

venture. He figured he’d hold onto the acreage and figure out if improvements would make it suitable for grazing, if not, he’d sell it.

A few years passed and a surveyor approached him about testing for methane gas. Colt agreed only because it cost him nothing and he’d managed to retain all mineral rights from the original seller, that sweet old lady, who’d since passed away.

The surveyor made a startling discovery. Methane gas, in a place where methane gas was not supposed to be. So Colt signed off for a hefty chunk of the profits, and let the company set up a drilling site.

They hit Wyoming gold.

After his initial bragging about his cash windfall, and faced with his family’s resentment that the land wasn’t part of the McKay Ranch, hence they got no cut of the profits, he’d taken great pains to downplay his income. Within six years of purchasing the crappy land no one had wanted, Colt earned enough money to survive on his own without his portion of the McKay Ranch or the earnings from it.

Round about that time, his brother Colby returned to Wyoming after a rodeo career-ending injury. At first, Colt was excited to have his brother back helping with the ranch. But that excitement dimmed when their father gave Colby a large chunk of the responsibilities that’d belonged to Colt.

Rather than see it as an easing of his workload, Colt saw it as an indictment of his abilities. He began to spend more time in the local honky-tonks. Drinking, chasing women, trying to build a reputation to rival his brother’s and cousin’s.

It worked, but not in a good way. Colt couldn’t remember exactly when things had spiraled out of control. The year between his younger brother Carter’s wedding, and his cousin Dag’s death, Colt had alienated his family. He worked on the ranch when he felt like it, because he didn’t need the money or the hassle. He drank, started doing drugs, and slept with whoever offered.

What did his loving brothers do when he’d started that downward spiral? Not a damn thing. Part of him wondered if they wanted him to die—because he was worth far more to them dead than alive.

The weight machine clanged in the other room, drawing his attention back to Cam who was saying, “…ain’t been in town.”

“Sorry. I spaced out. What’d you say?”

“Wondered what was keeping you busy at your place because you ain’t been in town all week.” Cam wiped the sweat dotting his neck. “India mentioned you missed the Tuesday night meeting.”

Unreal. He’d been sober three years and missed one meeting in the last two and a half. “And here I thought that was supposed to be confidential information.”

“It is. She told me you’re not returning her phone calls.”

“So? She ain’t my keeper.”

“She’s worried about you.”

“She drop any hints on whether you knew if I’d fallen off the wagon or not?”


“That’s good. Where’d you see her? At the diner?”

“I haven’t been in the diner since Friday night.”

“Why? They stop givin’ law enforcement officers free coffee or something?”

“Or something,” Cam muttered.

“What’s up?”

Cam braced his elbows on his knees and pointed his face to the floor. “Evidently Domini saw me giving Doc Monroe a ride home Friday night after your unplanned piercing. The arctic princess blasts me with an icy glare if I so much as step foot on the welcome mat in Dewey’s. Then she starts cursing at me in Ukrainian and stomps off.”

Tags: Lorelei James Rough Riders Billionaire Romance