Page 27

“No. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn.”

“True. And as much as I ‘preciate you wantin’ to help out, I’m fine.

This ain’t the worst hand injury I’ve ever had. Hell, it’s not even the worst one I’ve suffered through this year. I’ll put ice on it when we get settled in Nebraska, okay?”

“Nice try, but you’ll take care of it now. Neither Trevor nor Edgard competed in six events today, Colby. They sure as shit can drive while you rest.” He opened his mouth but she made it snap back shut with a fiery look. “Don’t push me on this issue.”

From behind her Edgard said, “She’s right. You can’t drive with that hand. Besides, it ain’t no big deal. I’ll drive. Trevor can navigate. You might as well crawl in the horse trailer and sleep it off. You look dead beat, McKay.”

Channing watched as a sense of relief crossed Colby’s face. No one else probably caught it, but she did.

“Fine. I ain’t gonna argue when it’s two against one.” He cradled his sore hand to his waist and moved to block their conversation from Edgard. In a low tone he said, “Since I’m not drivin’, you gonna keep me company?”

“If you promise you’ll actually rest instead of expecting me to fool around with you for the next few hours.”

He bent down and whispered, “Aw, darlin’, that ain’t no fun at all.”

She readjusted his hat so she could peer in his eyes. “I can guarantee you won’t have any fun with me at all for days if you don’t rest up.”

“You threatenin’ to hold out on me?”

“Damn straight.”

Colby sighed. “You ain’t a pushover, Miz Channing, but neither am I so I’ll make you a deal.”

Her heart rate increased, thinking about the last “deal” they’d struck.

“Which is?”

“If I promise to get a little shuteye, will you promise to mess around with me later? After I get my strength back.” He rubbed his cheek against hers and murmured, “Damn, but I missed you today, Chan. The day seems like it’s been a week long. Seems like it’s been forever since I held you in my arms. Kissed that mouth until kisses are no longer enough and clothes start flyin’ and we’re rollin’ around between the sheets.”

Channing refused to get distracted by his sweet-talking. “I know. I missed you too, cowboy. Now get your ass up in that bed. I’ll be right there to tuck you in.”

“Bossy thing.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet. Don’t make me break out the ropes.”

Colby lifted a dark brow. “Now that could be downright interestin’.”

He ambled off, his gait more measured than usual.

Channing watched him until he disappeared inside the horse trailer and then she blew out a frustrated sigh.

“You okay?” Edgard said.

No. “I’m fine. I’m going to get him some ice and then we can take off.”

Edgard snagged her hand and turned her around. “Trev and I are concerned about what happened a while ago—”

“Don’t be. My only concern right now is making sure Colby gets ice on his hand and that he gets some rest.”

“You really do care about him, don’t you, chica?”

“Yes.” She studied Edgard’s face. He seemed just as tense around her as he had been this morning. She’d hoped maybe things would be a bit easier between them now. “Are you surprised?”

“No. I’m happy. And truth be told, I’m a little jealous.” He brushed his lips over her knuckles. “You are good for him. Take care of him and we’ll take care of the driving and everything else.”

Channing managed to track down some gel-pack cold compresses from the first-aid tent, as well as a big bag of ice. The door was open when she returned to the trailer. With her hands full, she tripped over Colby’s rigging bag, which was plopped in the middle of the floor.

Trevor caught her. “Whoa, there. Let me help you.”

“Thanks.” She tossed everything on the table and looked at Colby sitting rigidly in the chair by the bathroom door. His eyes were squeezed shut, his mouth was a flat line and it was obvious he was in pain. He still wore his hat, his chaps, his jeans, his boots, and his vest. Her anger surfaced. “Why aren’t you undressed and in bed, Colby McKay?”

No answer.

Trevor said, “I don’t think he can get undressed by himself.”

She whirled on Trevor. “Then why didn’t you help him?”

“Because I don’t want his help,” Colby snapped.

Trevor shrugged.

Take a deep breath, don’t yell at him. He’s hurting and he doesn’t want you to know it. And he doesn’t want to look weak in front of his friend.

In a breezy tone, she said, “Touched as I am that you want me to undress you personally, I’m not exactly well-versed on how to get you out of those sexy chaps.” She paused and walked to him to touch the pulse throbbing in his neck, then skimmed her hand up to rest on his cheek.

His face was clammy. “So, will you let Trevor help me do that much and then I’ll take care of the rest of your pesky clothes all by my little lonesome?”

Heavy silence.

Finally, Colby nodded.

“Good. Boots off first.”

Between them, they unhooked Colby’s spurs, yanked off his boots, unbuckled Colby’s chaps and peeled them down his legs. Trevor took the dirty, sweat-dampened chaps and hung them in the tack room before he said goodbye and returned to the truck cab.

Channing had noticed Colby wincing when they’d jerked on the strap between his hips. She unzipped his vest and eased him out of it, an arm at a time. Then she unbuttoned his soggy cotton shirt, keeping her eyes on his until she had to strip the material down his riding arm.

Once he stood bare-chested in front of her, she saw the bruises on his ribcage, under his ribs and everywhere across his upper torso. Purple and black splotches that looked like smears of dirt, but she knew were smudges of blood and broken tissue—a “rodeo tattoo” courtesy of rough stock.

“It ain’t as bad as it looks,” he said softly.

She couldn’t say a word, lest she start bawling. As she rolled down his jeans, Colby sucked in another harsh breath. She realized he had another half-moon-shaped bruise the size of a softball on his inner left thigh. And a contusion by his knee.

“Channing, darlin’—”

“I am trying very hard not to yell at you, so don’t you Channing darlin’ me.”

Colby pointed to the bag on the table. “If you’re determined to fix me up, there’s liniment and wraps in there.”

“Good.” Channing rummaged around until she found the half-empty tube. “So, stubborn man, can you crawl up in bed by yourself, or do I need to get Edgard and Trevor back here to give you a boost?”

“I ain’t a cripple,” he grumbled. With painstaking weariness he shuffled up the ladder, his boxers hanging low off his slim hips and perfectly round little ass. Besides his underwear, he wore only his grungy gray athletic socks and his dusty cowboy hat. At any other time she might’ve snickered at the funny picture he made, but at that moment laughter was the furthest thing from her mind.

A loud male grunt and he stretched himself flat on his back and didn’t budge again.

Channing busied herself getting an icepack ready for his hand, knowing she’d need to use the compresses for his ribs—whether he liked it or not. She rummaged in her bag until she found a bottle of Tylenol with codeine. Then she climbed up beside him. Her stomach roiled to see such a virile man so vulnerable.

Sweat coated his skin, yet he was shivering like a naked baby. His mouth was set, like that tough, determined action alone could drive away the pain.

Right. Maybe it had worked in the past, but she wasn’t going to let it slide on her watch.

“Listen up, McKay. You’re taking these pain pills. Then I’m icing up your poor hand and your ribs and spread this stinky junk all over you.

Once I’ve got you doctored up, you’re going to sleep. And you’ll stay up here, resting up and healing up until I say otherwise, understand?”

Surprisingly enough, he didn’t argue. He merely nodded and winced when she removed his hat. Lord. If just taking off his hat hurt him, how would she get through the rest of this?

Only after she’d finished carefully tending his injuries, did she allow herself to give him the type of lover’s comfort she sensed he needed from her. Her fingertips swept the damp hair from his brow. Repeatedly, she smoothed the back of her hand over the five-o’clock shadow on his rigidly set jaw. “Are you comfy enough so you can rest?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“No problem. Is there anything else I can do?”

“Yeah. Kiss me, darlin’. When you’re kissin’ me I forget about everything else but how good your sweet mouth feels on mine.”

“You didn’t hit your head hard enough to injure that silver tongue of yours, did you, cowboy?” she murmured.

“Not hard enough to knock any sense into my fool head, either.” He looked at her; his blue eyes were stark and needy. “Please.”

“I’d say no if it weren’t for the fact you can still charm the hell out of me while you’re flat on your back and frozen in pain.” She ran her thumb over the dark circles under his eye, noticing a mouse high on his cheekbone. “But I’m finding I can’t deny you a damn thing, Colby McKay.

So c’mere and let me lay a big, sloppy, wet kiss on you.”

Channing rubbed her lips over Colby’s, infusing him with all the sweetness and joy and heat he usually gave her. He melted deeper into the mattress, and let her have total control of the kiss. Of him. His surrender was as rewarding as it was arousing.

It was a long time before either one of them could speak after their mouths reluctantly parted.