Trevor continued to nuzzle and kiss her mound, as she came down from such sharp, sweet pleasure. After she peeled her eyes open, she smoothed his wild hairdo back into place and sighed. “Better?”
His smile lit up her world, reminding her he was her world. And she’d do anything in the world to keep him. “Yeah. That was—”
“Not enough.” Trevor grabbed her, flipped her on her back on the floor and levered his body over hers. “Never enough when it comes to you.” His hand shook as he pushed a section of hair behind her ear. “Chassie, I love you. You know that, right?”
“Yes.” She turned her head and kissed his palm. “Forget everything else and show me.”
The unhurried pace, a dreamy reconnection of bodies and hearts and souls was exactly what they both needed. Yet even after they climbed into their marriage bed, curled around each other, offering lovers’ words of reassurance and devotion in the darkness of the night, Chassie knew everything had changed, and she wasn’t sure if either of them were fully ready to deal with the emotional backlash.
There was no time the next morning for awkward moments or uncomfortable lags in the conversation. Edgard knocked on their door at five a.m. after he’d found a problem when checking on Meridian.
Trevor dressed and raced out with Edgard while Chassie started a pot of coffee. It was damn cold out—the thermometer read a frigid twelve degrees—and they’d need to warm up after they dealt with whatever ailed the horse. She pulled her hoodie more tightly around her head as she buttoned her coat.
As she crossed the yard, her breath puffed out in a white cloud, freezing her nose.
She slid the barn door open and snuck inside.
No grunting animal sounds or encouraging human voices. By the time she saw the grayish light of the stall door open to the outside corral, she knew it was too late.
Wordlessly, Edgard and Trevor backed away so Chassie could climb up and peer over the slats.
She didn’t want to look. But she did.
“Baby, I’m sorry. I know how much she meant to you.”
Tears welled as she stared at the beautiful dead mare outside in the small pen. Her foal was dead, half in/half out of the birth canal. “How’d Meridian get outside?”
Edgard said, “She was restless when I first got here. I opened the door, thinking she might calm down if she could move better. She wouldn’t let me near her, it was dark and I didn’t realize where the foal was until it was too late.”
She’d seen her share of livestock deaths and animal stillbirths, but this one hit her hard. “Oh, damn, girl. I’m so sorry.”
Strong hands squeezed her shoulders.
Chassie found her voice. “If I would’ve checked on her in the middle of the night like I was supposed to—”
“Don’t matter. Nothin’ even the vet could’ve done.”
“That don’t make me feel better.”
“Don’t change the facts, Chass, regardless of how it makes you feel.”
“No kiddin’.” She hated this cold, tough side of Trevor that reminded her of her father. She hopped down and faced her husband. “What happens now? We can’t afford—”
“You think I don’t know we just lost three grand overnight, not includin’ what that foal woulda brung? You think I don’t know we can’t afford to replace her?” Trevor spun around as if to punch the wooden slat. “Jesus, Chassie, I’m not stupid.”
She slapped her hand over her mouth to keep from berating him for his jerkish behavior.
“That’s not helping,” Edgard snapped.
“Know what will help, Ed? Find me a goddamn place to put Meridian’s carcass that ain’t by the herd and where the ground ain’t frozen solid. Least that stubborn mare had the good sense to die outside so I can get to her with the farmhand and I don’t have to use the machine to tear apart the damn barn.”
Chassie’s tears fell on the cold hay-strewn floor as Trevor fumed and paced and muttered.
“Know what else’d help, Trev?” Edgard’s tone was measured. “If you’d shut the hell up and walk it off.”
Harsh, cold silence lingered.
Edgard’s gentle hands boosted Chassie’s chin and wiped the wetness from her face.
“I’m sorry about Meridian.”
She blinked. Some hard-as-spurs ranch wife she’d become. While her husband and his best friend sniped at each other, trying to find a solution to the problem of disposing of the dead horse, all she could do was stand like a statue and weep in silence.
Her father’s voice boomed in her head, “You’re too emotional, Chassie. Too easily swayed by people and animals. That’s why it takes a man to run a ranch. A man don’t let emotions get in the way.”
“I’m sorry I’m such a crybaby.”
She couldn’t speak around the lump in her throat. Beneath his reserved manner Edgard was calming and compassionate. She was half-tempted to throw herself into his arms for comfort since her husband was being such a jackass.
“Chass, sweetheart, why don’t you let me deal with this?”
By the look in Edgard’s eyes she knew “this” meant the disposal of the animal and Trevor’s mood. She swallowed hard. “Why? Because I’m a weepy woman?”
“No. Because the same thing happened to me on my ranch last year.” As he paused, appearing to weigh the rest of his answer, his thumb kept feathering over her jawline.
Softly. Sweetly. A light touch that aroused rather than reassured. “I wished to heaven I’d had someone to take care of it, or help me, or hell even to cry with, but I ended up doing everything all by myself and it sucked big time.”
His constant caress sent goose bumps cascading down her neck. She shivered, wondering how she could possibly feel anything but sorrow. Wondering how she could possibly be contemplating the press of Edgard’s full, soft-looking lips against hers in the ultimate show of comfort.
Edgard’s eyes narrowed. Again, she feared he knew the direction her thoughts had taken. Her face heated. But he didn’t stop touching her. And she didn’t mind.
Trevor barked, “Chassie. You goin’ back to the house? Or doin’ the mornin’ feedin’?
’Cause it’s too goddamn cold out here to be standin’ around cryin’ about a dead horse while lettin’ the cattle starve.” He stomped to the tack room and slammed the door.
“I see he’s still a total asshole when he’s upset, huh?” Edgard muttered.
“He’s always been that way when something happens that he can’t control.”
“I figured. He was probably an asshole to you a lot, huh?”
Edgard shrugged. “I got used to it.”
“Well, that makes one of us ’cause I sure as hell wouldn’t put up with it.” She sniffed. “Luckily it doesn’t happen often.”
“Good. I’d hate to have to kick his sorry ass for being mean to you.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“In a heartbeat, darlin’,” he drawled, mimicking Trevor.
Chassie smiled. Edgard smiled back.
“Get your chores done, Chass, and I might have a surprise for you later.”
“Just because.” Then he leaned forward and placed his warm, damp lips on her cold forehead, letting the less-than-platonic kiss linger before he entered the stall.
Three hours later Trevor and Edgard disposed of the horse, a nasty, depressing job every rancher hated doing but was a natural part of life on a ranch. Stock deaths never got easier—Edgard knew that held true not only for him, but for all folks who made their living from the land and were entrusted with the care of animals.
They rode in the truck after fixing the heat pump that’d frozen overnight in the stock tank in the north pasture and Trevor was brooding.
Edgard preferred moody Trevor to standoffish Trevor. He’d been involved with Trevor long enough to know the events of last night were not a topic for discussion. He knew better than to offer Trevor a show of physical comfort.
That’d been another issue between them, Edgard’s need for casual affection and Trevor’s refusal to give it to him outside the bedroom. Edgard hadn’t been looking for deep kisses, or walking arm in arm as they’d sauntered down the sidewalk, just an occasional touch when they were alone.
It’d taken him a year to realize the only time they’d truly been alone were those nights on the road after they’d checked into a motel. Colby, while not necessarily homophobic, only agreed to stay on—after he’d literally caught them with their pants down—if they kept their relationship strictly professional in front of him. At all times.
Edgard also knew Trevor’s reluctance to even simply hold Edgard’s hand was practical: if they became accustomed to touching in semi-private spaces such as the truck, or the horse trailer when they were getting ready to compete, it’d be easy to slip up and touch in public.
So rather than strike a balance, Trevor instituted a strict “hands off” policy. A policy Edgard hated and mocked at every opportunity, but it was a policy Trevor didn’t bend on.
Trevor’s private affection had been worth it.
For a while anyway.
Dwight Yoakam droning in the background didn’t mask the edgy stillness hanging in the air. Edgard took a sip of his coffee as Trevor hit a bump and warm liquid sloshed everywhere. He muttered and stripped off his leather glove with his teeth, mopping up the spot on his jeans.
“Shit. Sorry. Didn’t mean to do that.”
“It’s okay.” He drained the rest and shoved the cup in the cup holder. “Been drinking coffee since the crack of nothin’ anyway. Probably had enough.”
Trevor shot him a look. “Why’d you get up so early?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” Edgard didn’t elaborate.