Well, this came and went without an announcement from me.
I had a cold when it was released and I've never caught up since. However, it's out there.
Jeff pulled into the Richmond fairgrounds and cruised the lot, looking for Clay’s trailer. When he found it, he drove his to the opposite end of the lot, parking as far from Clay as he could. During the drive he decided that he needed to keep his mind on his job and his dick in his pants, at least if there wasn’t a woman in the room. Clay was obviously trying some new psychological strategy to unnerve him so he could take the season, and Jeff wasn’t going to simply cave and hand it all over to him.
If he just stayed away from Clay, everything would be fine. And he probably shouldn’t drink either. If he recalled correctly, there had been beer involved that one night. He definitely remembered the hangover, even if he was a little fuzzy about just how everything had come about.
He decided that he would shadow Sam and that would keep things under wraps. Clay wouldn’t dare pull anything in front of Sam.
The next morning, Jeff caught up with Sam on the way to the ring. “You know which bull I drew, Sam?”
“Yeah, Twister, and he earned his name honest.”
“Heard of him. He jumps off the ground and twists in the air, doesn’t he?”
Sam shook his head over the excited glow in Jeff’s eyes. “Puts a cowboy on the rack. Most bulls are jumpin’ straight up, maybe do a little belly roll in the air and twist when they land, but this devil puts a lot of torque into his roll. And he’s a snap-spinner. You’ll think he’s goin’ left, pure and simple, but his front end’ll go northeast while his back end is headin’ for Texas.”
“Sounds like my kind of bull,” Jeff said with a laugh.
Sam stopped walking. “Listen, Jeff, don’t get hurt. You pick up an injury and the tour’s over for you. All you gotta do is qualify for the final forty-five. Don’t put it all on one bull.”
“Isn’t that the only way to do it?” Jeff recognized the concern in Sam’s face and tried to explain himself better. “You told me Doug Morgan rode that way. I’m not saying I’m in his league, but I can’t ride the next bull till after I get off this one. And while I’m up there, I aim to give it my all.”
A reluctant smile made laugh wrinkles dig into Sam’s leathery cheeks. “You do what you have to, boy.”
Jeff touched his hat in salute, and walked jauntily to the ring, joining BJ at the fence.
Sam looked after him and murmured, “Not sure you’re not as good as you think you are, kid.”
BJ pulled his hat down lower over his eyes when Jeff walked up. “Maybe you were right.”
“I don’t think I caught that.” Jeff put his hand behind his ear and leaned closer to shout, “Can you repeat it?”
BJ closed his eyes in pain. “When I woke up this morning, the sun was drilling a hole in my skull. I don’t need you adding to it. Shut the fuck up.”
“How much did you have last night?”
“The usual. I think maybe you were right about just heading out but you didn’t say anything about drinking when you get there.”
“You okay to ride, BJ?” Jeff thought he was looking a bit green.
“I can ride even if I’m unconscious, it’s just gonna hurt more later when I stop.”
“What bull did you draw?”
“Horny Houdini. At least I got something going my way.”
“Yeah, you could just as well throw a leg over a hamburger from Wendy’s,” Jeff said.
“Yeah, he ain’t worth much. Low point ride.”
“I guess you got to decide, do you want to live or score high?”
“I think I’ll settle for living, thank you. You got stuck with Twister. Sam give you the scoop about him?”
“Break a leg.”
“That’s show business, BJ. It’s not exactly comforting to hear that at a rodeo,” Jeff observed dryly.
“What do you think this is if it isn’t show biz?” BJ laughed and then groaned in pain. “Listen, you ride that bull and show him who’s boss. If anyone can, it’s you, and I mean it.”
“Will do.” Jeff tipped his hat, touched that BJ would even say that, before he sauntered toward the chute where his bull was penned, hearing the snorting and slamming from the irate animal.
Clay waited until Jeff had disappeared within the maze that led to the chutes before he joined BJ at the fence.
“You hear he drew Twister?”
“Yep. Why? Think he can’t handle it?”
“He can handle it okay,” Clay said shortly. He didn’t want to get into some touchy-feely conversation with BJ about his worries over Jeff’s ride. “He’s a daredevil.”
“No! Really? When did you tumble to that?” BJ laid on the sarcasm thick and rich.
The gate burst open and Twister leaped into the air, showing off his trademark move. BJ leaned over the fence to watch, but Clay stood with his back to the fence, his elbows hooked on the rail, pretending he wasn’t interested.
“He’s a good rider. I don’t think he knows how good. I hope he earns a really good score.” Clay paused for a moment but he couldn’t keep from adding, “So I can beat it.”
BJ rubbed his eyes. Maybe this hangover was fucking with his head more than he’d thought. “What is with you two? A couple years on the tour and it’s just the usual competitive crap between cowboys, and now all of a sudden this year it’s war?”
“I guess we found out we just don’t mix, oil and water, you know,” Clay said stiffly.
“Birds of a feather, more like,” BJ scoffed.
“I’m going to beat his ass this year, no matter what.”
“Well, you got your work cut out. He’s on fire out there.” BJ jerked his head toward the ring.
Clay turned around to look. He’d been trying not to notice Jeff’s ride, but BJ’s comment and the sound of the crowd’s wild appreciation made it hard. The sight of Jeff on the back of the bull, his body all fluid and lithe, hips working, his spine curved one moment, and snapping straight and tall the next with the twisting motion of the animal made him want to applaud and cheer along with BJ, who had stepped up on the bottom rung of the fence by now, yelling and waving his hat, hangover forgotten for the moment.
The horn blew and Jeff let go just as the bull bucked up his back end, flipping him high into the air in a spectacular arc. He hit the ground rolling, coming up onto his feet in one graceful movement and taking off for the fence. He jumped for it just in time, with the bull snorting at his heels. Clay could see him grinning as he swung a leg over and straddled the fence, waving at the enthusiastic crowd and clasping both hands over his head in triumph.
“On fire,” Clay repeated in a low voice. It was a good ride. He might just have to tell him so.
Clay was still uneasily on his best behavior when they left the diner he knew of on the outskirts of Lincolnville. None of the cowboys ever stopped there. In Joplin, familiar fast food franchises lined the route, and it was easy to get something familiar that reminded them of home.
But Clay always liked this little diner. They had country food, like a chicken fricassee with dumplings that reminded him of his Aunt Dora’s. And Jeff had seemed to like it too. They’d both eaten in complete silence until they couldn’t eat any more.
He was careful to let Jeff pay for his own check. Didn’t want this to smell like a date in any way. Because it wasn’t, it was just two friends—
“I said, want a smoke?” Jeff held out his packet.
Clay shivered when his fingers brushed over Jeff’s, warm despite the frosty air. They wouldn’t be able to stay outside too long tonight. “Thanks. Follow me and I’ll show you where the rest stop is at.”
It made Clay feel happy to see headlights in his rearview mirror again, especially when they followed him off the highway and into the lot off the side of the road. This rest stop was empty. There were no amenities at all, except for a lonely water fountain by a falling down fence next to the view over the river. But that made it better. Hardly anyone ever stopped here. It appealed to the drifter in Clay.
He got out and walked to the fence, waiting. The light was fading from the sky in shades of blue and pink and yellow. The bare branches of the short trees were black, except for patches of snow that clung to them. The river slipped along smooth as silk, reflecting the last light in the sky against the dark banks.
He felt, rather than saw Jeff come up beside him, and lean on the fence. “Nice view.”
“Always liked it.” Clay watched as the pearly skies became grey and the water provided the last gleam of light in the desolate landscape.
He pulled up his collar against the cold, but he didn’t want to go inside the trailer. Not alone, anyway, but he was too scared to ask Jeff if he wanted to. Just for a drink. Nothing more.
Clay felt warmth against his side and looked to his left. Jeff was staring right at him, with an expression that made him feel funny inside. Desire simmered under his skin; he wanted to reach out to Jeff but he just couldn’t. And then Jeff leaned in closer to him, his tongue parting Clay’s lips, slipping inside, penetrating Clay’s defenses in a way that a kiss from a woman never had. He pulled Jeff against him, sucking eagerly on his tongue, loving the feel of the hot, wet muscle twining against his.
Usually he never made noises during sex, let alone kissing, except for maybe some polite ones, but he heard himself whimpering desperately now. He grabbed Jeff possessively and held him tight in the relief of just feeling that hard body against his again.
Finally he had to pull away to breathe. “It’s cold out here.”
Jeff simply stood within the circle of his arms, their cheeks pressed together, and waited. “Yeah.”
You can get it here: