“You’ve got to be f**king kiddin’ me. Celia is in the damn hospital because of some stupid bet? Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Because I agreed with her and tossed in a hundred bucks of my own to teach those pompous pricks a lesson,” Tanna shot back. “Celia drew the short straw to ride first.”

Kyle caught a whiff of Tanna’s boozy breath. “Christ. How much had you guys been drinkin’?”

“Some.”

Unbelievable. “How’d you get to the hospital?”

“The bulldoggers dropped us off. Celia said she was fine and walked in on her own, so I don’t think her injuries are life threatening.”

“Celia would tell you that even if she had two broken arms, two busted legs, and her eyes were bleeding. Damn stubborn woman.” But he hoped Tanna’s assessment was right.

The emergency room doors opened and Kyle glanced up as a nurse approached Tanna. “You’re with Celia Lawson?”

Kyle intercepted. “Yes. How is she?”

“She’s had a chest X-ray and a CT scan. You can come back and wait with her if you’d like.”

They followed the nurse to the end of a wide hallway. He stepped around the curtain.

Celia was on her back, her lower half covered with a blanket. Her slim torso appeared fragile, swimming in the floral-patterned hospital gown. Her lips were a flat line. Her eyes were shut. Kyle’s gut clenched when he saw the bandage on the upper left edge of her forehead and the bruises on her cheekbone. His gaze traveled the long, thick blond braid lying beside her on the bed; the end of it brushed the middle of her thigh.

Ridiculous, probably, to watch the rise and fall of her chest to assure himself she was breathing.

On impulse, he placed a soft kiss between her eyebrows. When he lifted his head, he found himself staring into her eyes.

Those smoky gray eyes narrowed very quickly. “Kyle? What the devil are you doin’ here?”

“I called him,” Tanna said, scooting in to squeeze Celia’s hand.

“Why?” Celia demanded.

“Because you asked for him,” Tanna replied softly.

Celia’s startled gaze quickly hooked Kyle’s. When he smirked, she said, “Don’t go getting that look or I’ll wipe it right off your face.”

“Sure, you will.” Kyle smirked again. “Just as soon as you’re not flat on your back in a hospital bed, knocked loopy.”

Tanna laughed. “So how are you feeling, bulldoggin’ queen?”

“Sore. Pissed I lost a hundred bucks.”

“You don’t remember they paid up?” Tanna asked. “I guess if you bleed you win by default.”

Celia snorted.

“Has the doctor been in?”

“To give me stitches and to give me hell,” Celia grumbled. “He poked me, muttered a lot, and then shipped me off to X-ray. I tried to tell him my ribs are just sore, not broken. Guess he didn’t believe me.”

“You’re a few years short of a medical degree to be makin’ a diagnosis,” Kyle said dryly.

“This ain’t my first rodeo,” she retorted. “I’ve been hurt before.”

“What ever possessed you to tangle with livestock when you’d been drinkin’?”

“It wasn’t like we were shit-faced, Kyle. We each had one shot.” She frowned. “No, two shots.”

Tanna held up four fingers.

“Four? Really? Huh. Didn’t seem like that many.”

“How’s your head?”

“Hard, but you knew that. The doc was worried about a concussion, so they X-rayed my melon too.” Once again those icy gray eyes zipped to him. “Not a word about them finding my head empty, Gilchrist.”

He’d had enough of her tough-girl attitude. “Knock it off. I get that you’re scared.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because, kitten, you hiss and claw when you’re afraid.” Kyle picked up her hand, rubbing her cold fingertips against his jaw. “So hiss and claw at me. I can take it.”

“You need to shave,” she snapped, jerking her hand back. “And I’m not scared. I’m annoyed.”

The curtain fluttered and Devin McClain strolled in, although the country music star was barely recognizable in a ratty ball cap and sunglasses. “Hey, brat. Whatcha gone and done to yourself now?”

“Devin? How did you…?” Celia blinked at him in confusion.

“Kyle called me in a complete panic. Had me thinking I’d find you on your deathbed. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me here to hold your hand or his.”

Kyle muttered, “Shut it, ass**le.”

Devin raised his eyebrow, peering over his shades at Celia. “Seems you’ve had a miraculous recovery.”

“Why won’t anyone believe that I’m fine? I just got the wind knocked out of me.”

“Darlin’, you were knocked out cold,” Tanna drawled. She offered her hand to Devin. “Nice to finally meet you, Devin. I’m Tanna Barker. I’ve heard lots about you from Celia, bein’s you’re a family friend and a Muddy Gap homeboy.”

“A true pleasure to meet you too, Tanna. Great run last night.”

“Thanks.” She blurted, “Omigod, I can’t believe I’m standing here with Devin McClain! I’m such a huge fan. Your song ‘Chains and Trains’ is one of my all-time favorites.”

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