“Would Chassie be jealous? Or would she roll with it like she’d rolled with everything else?
She knocked on the door and poked her head in. “Hey, hon. Edgard’s back. There’s something he wants to show me in the barn.”
Trevor grinned. “Chass, baby, a country girl like you oughten be fallin’ for that tired old line. For shame.”
“It’s only a tired line if it don’t work. Obviously it’s worked on me, since I’ll be in the barn with him.”
“What could I do? I was beyond pissed off. Trevor not telling anyone about us was always a big issue between us. I understood his reasons and never pushed it. But when he made fun of guys who had the balls to come out of the closet? That was a line he shouldn’t’ve crossed. I hated he’d done it in front of me.” Edgard shoved a hand through his hair. “After dinner, the whole family loaded up and went to the big rodeo dance. I declined.
“I burned my bootheels getting to the g*y cowboy bar in Denver and hooked up with a dentist who was in town for the rodeo. I spent the night in his hotel room and didn’t see Trevor until the following afternoon when we had to compete.”
Chassie figured she wouldn’t much care for Trevor’s jealous reaction, but she wouldn’t be surprised by it.
“We sucked in the arena. Lost our chance for points or purse. Soon as we were alone he lit into me. We fought. Not with words. With our fists. We beat the shit out of each other, Chass. It was ugly.”
“Where’d it happen? Since you were always so discreet?”
“In the living quarters of the horse trailer. Trev said something. I said something back. He took the first punch. I landed the last. Christ, we were rolling around on the floor, bleeding—”
Edgard closed his eyes. “When we were shoving each other some beer bottles got broken and we just kept going, stomping all over them. Trevor slipped and fell and I didn’t help him up, I just kept beating on him. So he has a cut on his back and I have a gash on my arm as a memento.”
“What the f**k is this?”
Trevor didn’t rise to the bait, as he hadn’t for the last several days. Calmly, he asked,
“This.” Edgard threw the pristine, custom-made saddle on the ground within Trevor’s peripheral view.
Shit. How had Edgard found it? And why in the hell had that bastard gone snooping around instead of figuring out what was wrong with Meridian like he’d promised?
“Trev? I asked you a question.”
“You know damn good and well what it is, Ed.”
“I figured you would’ve gotten rid of it by now.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
Edgard practically growled, “That don’t tell me why you still have it. That don’t tell me nothin’.”
Trevor turned his face toward the opposite fence to gaze across to the mountains. His reasons for keeping the saddle seemed sentimental, sloppy and stupid now, but he’d be damned if he’d share those reasons with anyone, least of all Edgard, the man responsible for those feelings.
Bootsteps made a sucking sound in the muck of the corral as Edgard closed the short distance between them. “I ain’t gonna drop it. Answer me.”
“Fine. You said I could do whatever I wanted with it. So I kept it.”
“You didn’t use it at all, did you?”
Trevor shook his head, keeping his eyes averted.
“I have plenty of other saddles, saddles I like better.”
“That’s a piss-poor excuse. Try again.”
He stayed mum, wishing the damn mud would open up and swallow him like a sinkhole.
“Were you hoping if you kept it I’d come back?”
Trevor’s heart said yes but his mouth stayed tight as a rusty hinge.
“Answer the f**king question, Trevor.”
Edgard’s arrogant streak snapped Trevor’s forced patience. “What do you want me to say? It’s obvious I saved the goddamn saddle.”
“Because it reminded me of you, all right?” He kicked a chunk of mud and stalked away. “Fuck this and f**k you.”
Edgard rattled off something in Portuguese, something Trevor vaguely remembered as being a plea. Or was it a threat?
Dammit. His feet stopped. Trevor’s gaze zeroed in on Edgard, who’d circled him until they were standing less than a foot apart.
“Tell me why.”
Be cruel, that’ll nip this in the bud once and for all.
“I didn’t keep the f**kin’ thing because I had some girlish goddamn hope you’d come back lookin’ for it like Cinderella’s lost glass slipper, and we’d pick up where we left off after you left me.” He locked his eyes to the liquid heat in Edgard’s, not allowing the man to look away. “Especially after you made it crystal clear you weren’t ever comin’ back.”
Angry puffs of breath distorted the air between them.
Several beats passed before Edgard retorted, “But I am here now, aren’t I?”
“What? Am I supposed to be flippin’ cartwheels about that fact? I don’t know what you want from me, Ed. Take the saddle back if that’ll make you happy. I’ve got no use for it. I never did.” Angry, disgusted with himself, Edgard, and the whole uncomfortable situation, Trevor spun and walked toward the barn.
Edgard laughed—the taunting, soft laughter that was guaranteed to raise Trevor’s hackles and his ire. “It’s that easy for you? To get pissed off and walk away?”
“Yep. You’ve got no right to act so goddamned surprised since it’s a trick I learned from you, amigo.”
Not two seconds later, the air left Trevor’s lungs as Edgard tackled him to the ground. Trevor rolled to dislodge the man from his back; Edgard countered, took a swing and missed. Trevor bucked and twisted his shoulders, but Edgard anticipated the move and used the momentum against Trevor to try and shove Trevor’s face against the fence.
Before Edgard cornered him and held him down completely to land a punch, Trevor rolled again and pushed to his feet. A noise echoed behind him, but he ignored it as he fisted his hands in Edgard’s shearling coat, dragging him upright until they were nose to nose.”
“Edgard’s backside rested against one counter; hers on the one across from him. She gulped her beer, cautioning herself to be tactful and calm, but what burst forth from her mouth was, “Are you in love with my husband?”
He visibly paled. And knocked back an equally big swallow of Budweiser in lieu of answering.
“I’ve heard Trevor’s side. I talked to Channing and to Colby. So that leaves you.”
“And if I say yes, Chassie? What then?”
“I’m totally thinkin’ we have a gunfight in the street to determine who’s tough enough to win Trevor’s affections,” she said lightly.
That brought a slight smile. “You are a smartass.”
“And you are avoidin’ the question, amigo.”
“Jesus, do you know how hard it is to look at you and answer that question?”
“No harder than it is to look you in the eye and ask it.”
“Touché.” Edgard picked at the label.”
“Warning signs went unheeded as the ferocious kisses continued, kicking Trevor’s need into high gear. But the unfamiliar prickle of Edgard’s beard on his cheek began to rouse him from that dark desire. Coupled with the low-pitched masculine moans—not Chassie’s feminine sighs—and Trevor broke away, knocking Edgard’s hands free.
“Yes,” Edgard grabbed Trevor’s shirt. “This is why I’m here. Because it’s still there, Trevor. This need didn’t go away just because I did.”
“It don’t matter.”
“It should. God. Please let it matter.”
“Don’t. Just…don’t.” Edgard gently rested his forehead against Trevor’s and retreated into silence.
The heat of their bodies, the cold air, the confusion, the passion, the anger, the guilt, all swirled in Trevor’s head until he didn’t know which way was up. Unable to squirm either closer or away, damn near unable to breathe, Trevor squeezed his eyes shut and gave in, leaning against Edgard, just for a moment.
Finally he dredged up a semblance of sanity. “I love her, Ed. I’m not with her because she was my second choice.”
“I know. Why do you think it hurts me so bad, meu amore?”
My love. That single, familiar endearment could prove to be his undoing. Another pause lingered before Trevor said, “I can’t do this. I swear to f**king God I cannot do this again.”
“We’ll figure something out this time.”
“Look at me.”
Trevor shook his head.
“Goddammit. Look. At. Me.”
Heart thumping crazily, Trevor pulled back and caught the golden gaze that’d haunted his dreams since the day they’d gone from friends to something more.
Edgard curled one hand around Trevor’s face, keeping the other fisted in his shirt.
“Tell me how to fix this.”
“We can’t and talkin’ about it ain’t gonna change nothin’.”
“We were always better at f**king away our problems rather than talking them out, eh?”
No hint of a smile graced either of their faces.”
“You don’t want me to stop, you stupid, stubborn bastard.” Edgard snarled and devoured Trevor’s mouth in another possessive, bruising kiss.
Before Trevor could break free from the temptation, a distressed gasp somewhere to the left speeded up the process. Trevor shoved Edgard away. He spun so fast he lost his balance. But the damage had been done.
Chassie stood in the shadows in absolute shock.
Not happening. Not happening. Not happening.
Her body, her will, her consciousness appeared to be floating in another dimension, as this one shifted and twisted into the surreal. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
Not happening. Not happening. Not happening.
She had not witnessed her husband in the arms of another man. She had not seen him kissing another man like he was everything in his world. She had not heard the details of how they’d been together, what they’d been together. She had not imagined how badly they wanted to be together now.
Not happening. Not happening. Not happening.
The mantra she’d used during her childhood to vanquish nightmares wasn’t working this time.”
“He could handle his former lover under his roof for a couple of days. No sweat, right?
But when Trevor’s eyes caught Edgard’s, the punch of lust whomped him as sharply as a hoof to the belly, making him just as breathless.
Dammit, don’t look at me that way, Ed. Please.
Edgard banked the hunger in those topaz-colored eyes and Trevor silently breathed a sigh of relief.
The blank stare was a reaction they’d both mastered during the years they’d spent together on the road. If sponsors, promoters or fans caught wind of his and Edgard’s nocturnal proclivities they would’ve been blackballed. Or would’ve been beat to shit on a regular basis if the other rodeo cowboys suspected he and Edgard weren’t merely traveling partners. There’d been no choice but to become discreet.
Nothing discreet about the way Edgard had eyeballed him.
“Trev, hon, you comin’?”
“Go on. I’ll be right in after I take care of this motor.” He retreated to the barn, needing to find his balance after being knocked sideways.
Edgard was here. Trevor’s gut clenched remembering the last time he’d seen the man. Remembering the misery on Edgard’s face, knowing his face reflected the same desolation when they’d said goodbye three and a half years ago.
Crippled by pain, fear, and loss, Trevor hadn’t had the balls to wrap Edgard in his arms one last time. He’d snapped off some dumbass comment and done nothing but sit on his ass in the horse trailer like a lump of moldy shit and watched him go.
No. Let him go.
He’d gotten drunk that night. And every night after for damn near six months. He’d f**ked every woman who’d crossed his path. Sex and booze did nothing to chase away the sense he’d made a huge mistake. Or on the really bad nights, his all-too smug relief that he’d never really felt “that way” about Edgard and he was glad the too-tempting bastard was gone for good.”
“Trevor paused mid-bite. “And?”
“And I’ll be good to go day after tomorrow,” Edgard said, fiddling with his napkin.
Trevor almost demanded, “Already?” but he cautioned himself to stay cool. “They say how much the repairs’ll run ya?”
“That ain’t bad.”
They talked specifics on the repairs, delving into the minute details neither of them gave a shit about, just to keep the conversation going. Just to avoid discussing what Edgard’s leaving really meant.”
“Hang on.” Metal grinding on metal screeched in the cold air. Then, “Motherfuckin’ piece of shit.”
Chassie glanced at Edgard who’d gone completely still.
“That’s not the way to talk in front of company, hon.”
“Who’s here?” Trevor spun around and froze.
A beat passed. Then Edgard said softly, “Hello, Trevor.”
No one spoke; no one moved.
Trevor roared, “You motherfuckin’ piece of shit.” He threw the wrench and bulled toward Edgard.
Crap. Maybe they weren’t friends after all.
Instead of tackling the man and pounding him into the ground, Trevor slapped Edgard on the back. Clasping him in a bear hug, lifting him in the air, practically swinging him in a circle.
Whoa. She’d never seen her husband so…exuberant. From seeing an old friend she’d never even heard of? Chassie’s eyes met Trevor’s in confusion and he hastily set Edgard down.
“Ah. Sorry, man. It’s just…” Trevor turned away.
As he composed himself, Chassie fired a sardonic look at Edgard. “Well, I reckon he’s happy to see you after all.”
For Christsake, Edgard was here. Standing in his goddamn front yard.
Next to his wife.
How was he supposed to deal with this situation? At least he’d stopped himself from laying a big, wet kiss on him.
Kissing another man. In front of his wife.
“By the time Trevor finished scrubbing the machine oil from his hands, Chassie and Edgard had returned to the kitchen.
Chassie said, “Who wants coffee?”
“Sounds great, Chass.”
“There’s cookies, unless Trev ate them all. The man has a serious sweet tooth.”
“Then I oughta munch on you, darlin’, since you’re so durn sweet.” Trevor nibbled the side of her jaw and Chassie squealed. He reached above her head for the coffee cups on the pegs.
Trevor turned and saw Edgard staring at them. Not with jealousy, but with longing.
Simple affectionate moments had been rare between them and Trevor remembered it was one of the things Edgard had needed that Trevor hadn’t been able to offer him. Why did he feel just as guilty about that shortcoming now as he had back then?
Chassie poured the coffee. Trevor automatically grabbed the milk jug from the fridge and set it next to Edgard. He snagged a spoon from the dish rack, passing it and the sugar canister to Edgard, ignoring Chassie’s questioning stare.
Didn’t mean a damn thing he remembered exactly how Edgard liked his coffee. Not a damn thing.
“So, Edgard, what are you doin’ in our neck of the woods?”
“Reliving some old memories. I drove past my grandparents’ place yesterday. With the shabby way it’s looking I’m wishing I would’ve bought it when I had the chance.” He smiled wryly. “I’m kicking myself for letting another thing slip through my fingers.”
“After a while, Trevor said, “Know something funny? Chassie wants us to talk. She thinks it’ll help if we get everything out in the open.”
“So she doesn’t realize that was our issue? That we couldn’t be open?”
Trevor frowned. “First time you’ve said ‘we’ in that old argument, Ed. You always blamed me for us not holdin’ hands and shit.”
“I’ve learned the hard way maybe you were right about the kinda baggage other people hide when they’re showing a different face to the world.”
When Edgard didn’t elaborate, Trevor demanded, “You gonna explain that comment? Or you gonna sit there with that smug-ass look and make me guess?”
“Trying to explain it when you’re in a piss-poor mood would be a waste of breath.”
Edgard gave Trevor a cool once-over. “And for the record, I’m not acting smug. I’m just as screwed up about all this with Chassie as you are.”
“Right. I’m sure you’re happy as shit.”
Seething, Edgard snapped, “You never had the balls to tell me how you felt when we were together every goddamn day, so don’t you ever f**king presume to tell me anything about the way I feel now when you haven’t seen me for three and a half f**king years.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Fine,” he retorted.
Meridian grunted and her tail slapped the wall again.
Time dragged on, yet there was no place Edgard would rather be than right there, even if they both were angry, frustrated and not speaking. Hell, it was practically normal for them.
Casually, Trevor remarked, “You’re playin’ with your hair again.”
Edgard lowered his hand. “Sorry.”
“Eventually, Edgard said, “She doesn’t know anything about me. Not even that we were roping partners. Not that we were…” He looked at Trevor expectantly.
“No.” Trevor quickly glanced at the living room where Chassie was chattering away.
“Maybe that she isn’t aware of our official association as roping partners. There was no shame in that. We were damn good together, Trev.”
The word shame echoed like a slap. As good as they were together, it’d never been enough, in an official capacity or behind closed doors. “What are you really doin’ here?”
Edgard didn’t answer right away. “I don’t know. Feeling restless. Had the urge to travel.”
“Wyoming ain’t exactly an exotic port of call.”
“You think I don’t realize that? You think I wouldn’t rather be someplace else? But something…” Edgard lowered his voice. “Ah, f**k it.”
“Want the truth? Or would you rather I lie?”
“Truth between us? That’s refreshing.” Edgard’s gaze trapped his. “I’m here because of you.”
Trevor’s heart alternately stopped and soared, even when his answer was an indiscernible growl. “For Christsake, Ed. What the hell am I supposed to say to that?
With my wife in the next room?”
“You’re making a big deal out of this. She thinks we’re friends, which ain’t a lie. We were partners before we were…” Edgard gestured distractedly. “If she gets the wrong idea, it won’t be from me.”
“Maybe I’m gettin’ the wrong idea. The last thing you said to me when you f**kin’ left me was that you weren’t ever comin’ back. And you made it goddamn clear you didn’t want to be my friend. So why are you here?”
Pause. He traced the rim of his coffee cup with a shaking fingertip. “I heard about you gettin’ married.”
“That happened over a year ago and you came all the way from Brazil to congratulate me in person? Now?”
“No.” Edgard didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. He raked his fingers through his hair. His voice was barely audible. “Will it piss you off if I admit I was curious about whether you’re really happy, meu amore?”
My love. My ass. Trevor snapped, “Yes.”
“Yes, you’re pissed off? Or yes, you’re happy?”
“Then this is gonna piss you off even more.”
“Years and miles haven’t changed anything between us and you goddamn well know it.”
Trevor looked up; Edgard’s golden eyes were laser beams slicing him open. “It don’t matter. If you can’t be my friend while you’re in my house, walk out the f**kin’ door. I will not allow either one of us to hurt my wife. Got it?”
“Good. And I’m done talkin’ about this shit so don’t bring it up again. Ever.”
“Edgard wasn’t convinced the three of them together out on the town was the best idea. “You sure you want me to come along, Chassie? I don’t wanna be a third wheel.”
“Trev is relieved to be off the dancin’ hook, aren’t you, hon?”
“Yep. I’ll be more’n happy to hold down a barstool and guard the beer while you’re two-steppin’.” Trevor gave Edgard a genuine grin. “You don’t know what you’re in for, Ed. Chassie can go all night.”
“I’m the lucky man to test your stamina? All night?” He grinned. “I’m all over that.”
“I’ll bet a guy like you has plenty of stayin’ power,” Chassie shot back with a sexy growl. “I’m lucky, showin’ up with the two hottest guys in the county. That uppity Brandy Martinson is so gonna eat her heart out.”
“I’m sure she’s used to no one noticing her when you’re in the room, sweetheart,”
“Ed, stop flirtin’ with my wife.”
“Isolation. Desperation. It fit Edgard’s mood, not only today, but for the last year.
Gruffly, Trevor said, “Thanks.”
Silence filled the truck cab. So many things had been left unsaid. Again. Maybe they were doomed to be stuck at that impasse. Unable to go back; unwilling to move forward.
The events of last night seemed so far away, in that surreal state where Edgard questioned whether it’d really happened.”
“Nilai yang diwariskan oleh kemanusiaan hanya untuk mereka yang mengerti dan membutuhkan. Humaniora memang indah bila diucapkan para mahaguru—indah pula didengar oleh mahasiswa berbakat dan toh menyebalkan bagi mahasiswa-mahasiswa bebal. Berbahagialah kalian, mahasiswa bebal, karena kalian dibenarkan berbuat segala-galanya.”
“Strictly enforce the scale of "fixed responsibility." The first and foremost level of responsibility is with the individual himself; the second level is the family; then the church; next the community, finally the county, and, in a disaster or emergency, the state. Under no circumstances is the federal government to become involved in public welfare. The Founders felt it would corrupt the government and also the poor. No Constitutional authority exists for the federal government to participate in charity or welfare.”
“But they’re bluffing. I defy even the bravest adult to spend the night in a place like Furnace in the pitch black without thinking that every noise is something right behind you with dagger teeth and eyes of silver and blood on its breath; that every whisper of air that runs over your skin is the rush of a descending blade; that every flicker of movement is a tendril of darkness wrapping itself around your throat and coiling in the pit of your belly, where it feasts on your soul.”
“If you'd just try, I'm sure you'd be able to fly.”
“Could people truly be happy if they were unwilling to put the ghosts of their past to rest? I suspected no.”
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