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He placed a gentle kiss on the back of her head. “Thanks for lettin’

me be rough and raunchy with you this morning. Most women hate it.”

Immediate silence. “Shit. Sorry. I’ve got a big mouth. Sometimes I’m not tactful at all, talkin’ to you about other women, right after we’ve…never mind.” He lifted his hips and pulled out of her body.

The room reverberated with tension.

Channing rolled over. Colby had a sheepish expression on his face, like he expected her to chew him out for his overzealous amorous behavior. Feeling oddly protective of him because of the vulnerability she’d glimpsed, she grabbed the back of his damp neck, bringing her mouth to his for a steamy kiss.

“I’m not like most women, Colby McKay. I like the raunchy side of you. I like the fact you don’t treat me like a china doll and want me to show you my wild side, too.”

He grinned shyly and smooched the tip of her nose. “You’re sweeter’n ten pounds of sugar. Get dressed or I won’t be responsible for what happens next. We’re already runnin’ late.” Whistling off-key, he disappeared into the bathroom.

Voices drifted out the back end of the horse trailer.

“No. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with this rope. Leave it be.”

“Come on, Edgard, it’s a frayed piece of crap. Either you toss it in the garbage or I will.”

“This rope is not what’s causing the problems, amigo.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You think it’s my fault that you can’t get a bead on anything that moves faster than my crippled-up grandma?”

“I’m going to make you pay for that, Trev. One way or another, easy or hard—”

Channing cleared her throat. “Knock knock.”


“I know you guys are in here, I heard you arguing. Hell, everyone in Limon heard you arguing. Am I interrupting something?”

“Yes,” Edgard said at the same time Trev said, “No.”

“Oh, well…I won’t be long. I just need to eat some breakfast and then I’ll get out of your hair and let you get back to it.”

The trailer shook as Trevor stomped out. Another round of heated words was exchanged outside, followed by harsh silence.

Edgard climbed into the living quarters and watched Channing dump Raisin Bran into a bowl and pour milk over it.

She looked up at him and smiled warily. Good god. He was magnificent even when he scowled. “Want some?”

“Sure. If it is no trouble.”

“Not at all.” She slid the bowl at him and motioned for him to sit at the dinette. And she sat across from him and dug in.

“I didn’t hear Trevor come back to the room last night. Were you guys beating the shit out of each other or something?”

Edgard’s spoon froze halfway to his mouth. “No. Why would you say that?”

“Seems like you guys are always fighting.”

He shrugged and resumed eating. “It goes with the territory.

Especially when things aren’t going well.”


“We’ve lost our rhythm and we’ve dropped in the standings in the last two weeks. No money. Tempers are short.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It happens.”

Channing stirred her cereal, half-tempted to abandon it and this awkward conversation.

Edgard sighed. “What?”

She met his dark gaze. “You don’t want me here, do you?”

A heavy pause weighted the air as he considered his answer. “What makes you think that?”

“Besides the fact I’m a sure thing who’s supposed to fill your every forbidden fantasy and you haven’t so much as held my hand?”

He smiled but it didn’t reach his coal black eyes. “Not exactly the shy, retiring type, are you, chica?”

If he only knew she usually cowered in the corner. “Am I too forward?

Is that why you don’t like me?”

“Channing, I like you fine. I’ve just got a lot on my mind that has nothing to do with you, okay?”

“Okay. So I don’t disgust you?”


“I thought Colby said you three shared everything.”

“Not everything.”

“But even if I’m…not your type and you’re not attracted to me or whatever, I’d…oh forget it.”

He sighed again. “No. Spit it out.”

“I’d still like to be your friend, because like it or not, you’re stuck with me for the next week.”

A ghost of a gentle smile. “You clicked with Colby pretty fast, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” She wanted to ask him why he didn’t mention she’d also clicked with Trevor—with everyone besides him.

Edgard snagged her hand and gave her knuckles a quick kiss. “No wonder Colby calls you shug, you are very sweet.”

She blushed.

“Are you coming to the performances this afternoon?”

“I planned to. Why?”

“I’m hoping that now that you’re traveling with us, our luck will change.” He stood, went to the sink and rinsed his bowl and spoon. “I’ll see you later.”

Channing stared after him for the longest time, not entirely understanding what had happened, or if anything had changed.

Chapter Six

The afternoon was scorching hot in the rodeo stands. Channing had coated her bare arms with sunscreen and was glad her lightweight and light-colored cowboy hat deflected the worst of the sun’s rays and allowed the slightest breeze through the finely woven straw to cool her head.

She sipped her iced tea and shifted, yanking down her yellow skirt.

Her legs stuck to the wool blanket she sat on, but it was better than the back of her thighs getting seared like raw steaks by the metal bleacher seats.

Edgard, Trevor and Colby had paid their entry fees, pinned their numbers to their backs and gone off to prepare to rodeo, leaving her free to explore the grounds before the action started. Since she didn’t know any of the wives or girlfriends on the circuit, she had no choice but to sit by herself.

The rodeo announcer’s voice boomed from the loudspeakers. “Next up in saddle bronc riding is Colby McKay, the Wyoming cowboy from Sundance. Colby is currently ranked eighth in saddle bronc riding competition in the Mountain and Plains Circuit, with 8,712 cumulative points. He’s also in the number two position this week in the All-Around standings. Ooh, and looky here, rodeo fans, Colby’s draw today is the three-year-old named Elway, a bronc from the Sutliff Rodeo Stock Company out of Livingston, Colorado.”

Channing focused the binoculars on the chutes across the arena. The gatekeeper waited in front of the metal gate, rope in hand, watching for Colby’s signal. From this distance the only thing she could see was the top of Colby’s brown cowboy hat. Then his free arm flew up, the gate opened and out he came, holding on for dear life as Elway tried like hell to buck him off.

But Colby was beautiful, sheer poetry in motion as he dipped and glided with every hop and bounce of the horse. His feet spurring, the red metallic fringe on his chaps fluttering. His counter movements were synchronized, almost as if he sensed what direction Elway planned to go before the horse himself even knew.

Colby stayed on the full eight seconds. He untied his hand and launched himself onto the pickup man’s horse, just as smooth as if he’d done it a million times.

Not a million, but thousands, and that probably wasn’t much of an exaggeration. The crowd applauded. Colby waved his hat in acknowledgment as he sauntered back to the holding pens, squinting at the scoreboard, studying his ride on the big screen.

Channing held her breath and waited for the score—half for the horse’s performance, half for the rider’s. Finally a red 78 flashed to another smattering of applause and the next rider was announced.

The score put Colby in second place. As he was the sixth rider out of twenty, there was a good chance he’d get knocked down even farther in the standings. With this being a one-day rodeo, he had no chance to return tomorrow for a second go-round and the short go directly after that. Only the top five finished in the money.

She knew he wouldn’t dwell on his performance. Unlike the other competitors, he wasn’t finished with his events. He still had to compete in tie-down roping and bull riding. Trevor and Edgard both competed in tie-down roping but not bull riding.

Although bull riding tended to be the most exciting part of rodeo, it was also the most dangerous. And she remembered that like lots of other older competitors, Colby hadn’t embraced the facemask equipment so many of the younger riders used. He wore the protective vest that would shield him from getting gored by the bull’s horns, but he refused to put his face in a cage.

Why hadn’t the potential dangers bothered her when she watched Jared ride?

She dug out her notebook and jotted down her observations as she waited through the other events, bareback riding, steer wrestling—also known as bulldogging—and the event Trevor and Edgard were entered in, team roping.

Trevor was the header, which meant he was out of the gate first, and his job was to rope the steer either around the horns or around the neck.

While Edgard’s job was to catch the steer’s feet in his rope. If they were successful and caught the steer properly, then they had to face each other on their respective horses and the steer had to stay on the ground for the judge’s call.

Team roping was tricky. If the horse took off before the steer broke the barrier, then they received no score. Not to mention the difficulties in the speed of the various steers and the ability to hook both horns and feet—without missing.

Channing leaned forward when she saw Trevor and Edgard in the holding pens, working their ropes, circling the area on their individual quarter horses. Finally, it was their turn.

The rodeo announcer said, “Next up, Edgard Mancuso and Trevor Glanzer. Trevor is currently twelfth in the standings, down from his high point of third last month. These guys have had a run of bad luck lately.