“Stay with me?” he asked gruffly.
“For as long as you want,” she whispered. She pulled the flannel sleeping bag over them and rested her head beside his chest, drifting off to the solid, steady beat of his heart next to her ear.
A loud clank woke her from a light sleep. Channing opened her eyes and realized the trailer was bumping up and down like a logging truck, which meant they were still tooling down the highway.
She lifted her head from where it’d been resting beside Colby’s bare chest. She looked up, expecting to see him sleeping, but his eyes were open and he was staring at her.
He smiled gently. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself. How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been run over by a buckin’ bull and a wild bronc.”
Channing kissed his left pec. “You were run over by a bull and a bronc today.”
“Well, no wonder I’m feelin’ it.” Colby absentmindedly twisted a section of hair around his finger. “Thanks for stickin’ around.”
“You’re welcome.” She pushed up. “I probably need to get some more ice for your hand.”
“My hand is fine.”
“Do you need—”
He pulled her back down. “I need you to stay snuggled up to me like this. It’s makin’ me feel much better, shug.”
“Of course, I’d feel even more like my old self if you took off the rest of your clothes.”
Channing rolled her eyes. “One thing at a time, okay?”
“Okay. Scoot closer. I like havin’ your softness and warmth wrapped around me. It’s like heaven, bein’ with you.”
They stayed cocooned together in companionable silence. Colby dragged the fingers of his left hand up and down her spine.
Finally, he said, “I guess you found out about Trevor and Edgard, huh?”
Her stomach did a little flip. “Yeah.”
“Kinda shockin’ to see them like that, ain’t it? That’s how I found out.
I walked in on them. Wanted to gouge my eyes out with a hot poker afterward.”
“And it doesn’t bother you? I mean, you’re still traveling with them.
You haven’t gotten them blackballed to the ‘gay’ rodeo circuit or anything. Especially if people do find out, they might assume you’re just like them.”
He snorted. “I ain’t gay. Or bi. I gotta be honest, I don’t understand it, wantin’ to be with another guy.” A small shiver worked through him.
“Trevor never once made advances toward me like that or I’da busted him in the chops—and he and I have had our share of threesomes so there’s been ample opportunities. Damn. It’s just plain weird. I think it must be something about Edgard alone that he’s attracted to. Trev and I have been friends for our whole lives. We’ve been damn near as close as brothers. I always jokingly said that he’d fuck anything that walked, only I didn’t know how true that actually was.”
“Aren’t most cowboys highly homophobic?”
“Yeah. If it would’ve been somebody else I’d seen doin’ that…I might not have been so understandin’. Then I think about if someone else would’ve discovered them before I knew about it. How they might’ve started vicious rumors to get them blackballed from the circuit. Bugs me because I ain’t like that.
“What they do is their business. Besides, Trev is with women just as often as I am. Or as I was before you. I don’t think many people—even folks who know them well—would believe that he and Edgard are more than ropin’ partners.”
For the first time she thought there might be another reason why Colby had been eager to have her ride the circuit with them. “So having me traveling with you guys is good for everybody? A cover story for them, so to speak? The girl willing to do all three cowboys, when in fact, two of the cowboys are content just to do each other?”
Colby didn’t say anything.
Channing raised her head and looked at him. “What?”
“I didn’t ask you to come along for them, Channing. I asked you to come along for me. I want you here.”
“Because something about your fire and sweetness called out to me.
From the first time I saw you, Chan, I knew you were just as lonely as I was. Stubborn about it, too.” He closed his eyes. “Can we talk about this later, darlin’? I’m getting tired again.”
She wanted to demand they finish the conversation now. Instead, she waited until he was dozing and untangled from his embrace. No way could she go back to sleep after that.
Colby was still out by the time they reached Valentine. The motels were full, so it appeared they’d all be sleeping in the horse trailer at the rodeo grounds for at least a night.
While Trevor took care of the horses, Channing and Edgard made a run for food. They didn’t talk, letting the country music on the radio fill the void in the truck.
But Channing couldn’t stand it any longer. She’d keep the conversation neutral, but dammit, they were going to talk to each other and stop playing this avoidance game. She said, “Tell me how a Brazilian ended up team roping and tie-down roping on the American rodeo circuit.”
Edgard turned down Reba McIntyre’s “Fancy” . “My mother came to America as a foreign exchange student when she was in high school. She met my father at a rodeo when she was seventeen. She ended up pregnant and they got married. About a year after I was born, my birth father died in a car accident.
“My mother was only eighteen, a widow, a foreigner with a baby and no way to support herself. So she returned to her family in Brazil. A couple of years later she married the man I consider my real father. But she kept in touch with my birth father’s parents. After I graduated from high school, I came to the US for a few months to meet them. I’ve been coming here on and off for about ten years.”
“Where do they live?”
“Outside of Laramie, which is where I met Trevor. Anyway, because I was raised on a ranch in Brazil, I realized I could make big money here on the rodeo circuit.” Edgard shot her a dark look. “Here’s where you could point out I’m not making big money now, chica.”
She scowled. “But I’m not like that, Edgard. I’ve got enough things in my own life that need fixed before I’ll pass judgment on other people’s problems, financial or otherwise.”
“Sorry. That was a cheap shot.” He sighed. “At one time I did earn money through bull riding and bulldogging, enough that I bought a ranch in Brazil about an hour away from my parents. It is so beautiful.
Lush and green and secluded. I miss it.”
“So how come you’re not there?”
Edgard tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he brooded out the window. “I’m beginning to wonder that, too.”
“Trevor doesn’t know what to do about you being in love with him, does he?”
He whipped toward her, his mouth open. “How did you know?”
“I guessed.” Channing held up a hand at his immediate protest. “It’s not obvious to other people. But because our circumstances—you know, the supposed free-for-all sex, and you not really being into it at all, and then seeing you guys together today…”
Edgard brooded some more. “Have you talked to Trevor?”
“No. I won’t either. You can trust me. But I want to ask you something.”
“Trevor doesn’t consider himself gay. So there’s no way he’ll let you two be together, as a real couple, ‘out’ in a relationship, right?”
“So why are you still here in the US? Following him and the rodeo circuit instead of being at the ranch you love so much?”
“Because I love him more. Or at least I thought I did.” Edgard parked the truck and leaned his head back into the headrest. “At the beginning of the year, Trevor hinted around he might be interested in coming to Brazil. Permanently. Living with me. Helping me raise cattle on the ranch. And he made it sound like he wouldn’t keep pretending we were just roping partners. That maybe we could be partners in the truest sense of the word. No more hiding.”
“But first he wanted to spend another year trying to get to the NFR in the team roping. Trying to make his father proud. Trying to prove himself.”
“I sense another ‘but’ coming.”
“But as I’m here, spending another summer with him, chasing his dream, getting our asses beat on the circuit every damn day, I’ve begun to realize he is too afraid to be with me the way I need him to be. That my dreams don’t matter to him, maybe they never have.” He laughed bitterly.
“I don’t even mind the women. I’ve known since the first time we were together that he really is bisexual. I’m not. I never can be. I’ve never wanted to be.” Edgard gave her an embarrassed smile. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for being who you are, Edgard.”
“Thank you for that. Trevor’s family is very traditional. He’d be disowned if his family knew about us.”
“And your family?”
“My family knows I’m gay. They’ve accepted it and accepted me. So when I’m there, I have a hard time understanding why Trevor can’t just be what he is and not care what other people think. When I’m here, in the US, I have to pretend to be something I’m not. And Trevor can’t seem to make up his mind what he wants either way.”
“Is it worth it?”
“I don’t know. Being with him is like a drug. When we’re competing together, it’s like we’re really a team. When we’re fucking it’s like we’re really in love. Every other time it sucks, like coming down off a really great high. And lately, the highs have been few and far between.” His body went rigid for a second. “Shit. Sorry. Probably more than you wanted to know, eh?”