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Frog
by Mary Calmes

Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
Description: Weber Yates's dreams of stardom are about to be reduced to a ranch hand's job in Texas, and his one relationship is with a guy so far out of his league he might as well be on the moon. Or at least in San Francisco, where Weber stops to see him one last time before settling down to the humble, lonely life he figures a frog like him has coming. Cyrus Benning is a successful neurosurgeon, so details are never lost on him. He spotted the prince in a broken-down bull rider's clothing from day one. But watching Weber walk out on him keeps getting harder, and he's not sure how much more his heart can take. Now Cyrus has one last chance to prove to Weber that it's not Weber's job that makes him Cyrus's perfect man, it's Weber himself. With the help of his sister's newly broken family, he's ready to show Weber that the home the man's been searching for has always been right there, with him. Cyrus might have laid down an ultimatum once, but now it's turned into a vow--he's never going to let Weber out of his life again.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: May 2012

eBookeBook

26 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [184 KB]
Words: 42222
Reading time: 120-168 min.


Chapter One

It was pouring when I walked outside to use the pay phone. I was so close; I could stop or just catch another bus depending on how he sounded on the other end.

"Hello?"

Not Cy, someone else, and it was noisy wherever his phone was. I checked my watch--eight o'clock on a Friday night. He was probably at a club or a bar or even dinner. I was interrupting.

"Hello?"

I cleared my throat. "Uhm, sorry, I... is this Doc's phone?"

"Doc?"

"Sorry, I mean Cyrus."

"Yeah, this is his. He just had me answer it 'cause he's putting things away in the fridge. Who's this?"

I swallowed instead of hanging up like I should have. "This is Weber, and I--"

"Weber who?"

"Weber?" My name was repeated distantly.

"Hey, Cy, do you know anybody named--"

"You know what," I started to say at the same minute there were sounds on the other end of the line, muffled, and then a quick bang, like something dropped, maybe the phone.

"Weber?" He sounded breathless, and my name, because he was the one saying it, sounded amazing.

"Hey." I smiled into the phone even though the water was coming in under the booth and soaking through the bottoms of my worn cowboy boots. "Sorry to be interruptin' whatever you're doin'. I wasn't thinkin'."

"You're not interrupting anything. Where--"

"Are you at a party?"

"No, I'm just at a friend's house, and we were about to have dinner."

"Then I'll let you go and--"

"It's just a big group, Web, it's nothing," he assured me. "Where are you?"

I was starting to shiver. "Not far, so I thought I would--"

"Yes--" He cut me off. "--come see me. I'll go home right now."

"Oh no, you--"

"Web." He caught his breath. "Please. Meet me there."

"I'll meet you in the morning," I told him, because I realized how exhausted I was, and I wanted to shower and shave before I saw him. I always showed up looking like hammered shit, in clothes I had slept in for a week. He deserved better.

"Weber, I'm sorry, okay?"

"Nothing to be sorry for."

There was a long silence, and after a minute I got it. I wasn't that bright, but even I could figure things out. "I'm not punishing you. I just look like hell, and I'd like to look better this time. I promise I'll be there."

"You promise?"

"Yeah," I said as my teeth started to chatter.

"Oh God, you're freezing. Are you... where exactly are you?"

"At the Greyhound bus station in Oakland."

"Oh God," he groaned. "You're that close?"

"Doc--"

"Weber." His voice cracked. "Please don't make me wait until tomorrow. I don't give a damn what you look like. Just let me come get you... please."

"I don't wanna interrupt your--"

"Web." He sounded so serious, and I loved it. "I'll beg--do you want me to beg?"

"You don't need to beg for nothin', ever."

"Listen," he said, his voice low and gravelly, "just.... I'm so sorry about the last time."

Seven or so months ago I had been through on my way to Reno, and when I was ready to go, he had given me an ultimatum. Stay forever or go and never come back. He was tired of waiting, which I had no idea he'd even been doing, and he wanted me either to remain with him or lose his number. I had actually forgotten the fight until that very moment. I tended to remember only the good times with him and none of the bad.

"Oh shit, Doc." I trembled. "I shouldn't have bothered you. I wasn't thinking."

"Web--"

"God, I'm such an ass," I groaned, feeling more than stupid. Talk about a needy bastard.

"No!"

No? "Darlin', are you--"

"Weber Yates, don't you dare hang up this phone!"

"Yeah, but--"

"I want to see you!"

He had to be making a spectacle of himself at whoever's house he was at. "Calm down and stop your yellin'. I don't want no one lookin' at ya like you're crazy."

"I don't care! Jesus Christ, Web, just--"

"Are you sure you wanna see me?"

He made a strangled noise. "Yes, please. So sure."

"You ain't mad no more?"

"No, baby, I'm not mad. I was never mad."

I coughed softly. "Was that the guy?"

There was a silence before he answered me. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, last time I was here you said you were fixin' to get serious with a guy who wanted to have one of those commitment ceremonies with you and so--"

"No, that wasn't him. I tried to make it work with the man you're talking about, but... turns out you can't love someone just because you should."

"So it's over?"

"Yes, it's over; it's been over for the last six months."

"'Cause I don't wanna mess nothin' up for ya. I reckon I put you through enough."

"There's nothing to mess up, I assure you. I'm so sorry for how we.... Baby, I'm so sorry for what I said."

I realized between his tone and how shaky his breathing was that maybe I made a mistake. "You know, I'm kinda tore up. Maybe this wasn't such a good--"

"It was," he snapped at me. "It was a great idea. Really nice of you to not let me feel like an asshole for the rest of my life."

I took a deep breath. "You're not an asshole."

"But how I pressured you, the things I said.... I went after you, but you were already gone."

"You did?" I brightened because that was nice to hear.

"Yes. God, Weber, I really am so sorry."

"Forget it. I'll see you."

"When?"

He knew me well for someone who had seen me maybe fifteen times in a three-year period--he knew to ask for a definitive timeline. Because when I said I would see him, it could mean either today, tomorrow, or before I died.

"Weber?"

I took a breath. "Well, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, I reckon you could come fetch me from the station here."

Deep exhale from him. "Okay. I'll be right there. Don't leave. Please."

"It ain't like you to worry."

"No, I know, I just... I missed you, and I never have any way to reach.... I'm just so glad you called. You have no idea."

And because I knew him, I knew he really was.

* * * *

We met in Texas when I was breaking horses on a ranch between rodeos. He and some friends had come to hunt quail, and the guide was held up with another party, so my boss at the time asked me to run into town and pick the men up and drive them out to the ranch. I never thought the brown-eyed, chestnut-haired, golden-skinned man would take a second look at me. Even under the merciless Texas sun, he'd looked like a million bucks. Crisp, polished, pressed, the tailored dress suit and shirt that cost more than all my earthly possessions put together clung to the long lines of him and accentuated the muscles underneath. I could barely breathe.

In the SUV, I stared at the road, kept quiet, and concentrated on not fidgeting. When they all piled out of the car after I rolled up to the huge ranch house, I exhaled a deep sigh of relief. And then almost came out of my skin moments later when there was a hard tap on the glass. I rolled down the window, swallowing hard, my mouth bone dry.

"What was your name?" the god asked me as I tried for the life of me to remember.

I coughed. "Web. Weber Yates," I managed to answer. "What's yours?"

"Cyrus. Cyrus Benning."

I smiled at him, taking in the swirl of gold in the milk chocolate eyes that you only noticed up close. He had long, dark, feathery lashes; chiseled features; and broad shoulders. The man was just mouthwatering and by far the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.

He nodded, and I watched his eyes narrow as he wet his lips. "I don't normally--" He cleared his throat. "--and you're probably not... but do you think you might want to have dinner with me?"

I would not make it through dinner. "Or we could just find a motel and fuck," I said before my brain kicked in. The man's mouth, his full, sculpted lips, had made me want things I shouldn't have. Looking at him, I got brave.

He nodded, his smile wicked and wide. "We could do that, but I would also love to feed you if you let me."

"That's not real safe in this town."

He nodded again as he leaned against the door and reached toward me, sliding the back of his fingers up my throat. "Okay then, room service and sex it is. When?"

"I get off work at six."

"So, seven then?"

I managed to nod.

"Where?"

I gave him the name of the best place in town. "I can get the room," I said, even though it would bankrupt me and delay my exodus another two weeks. But it would be well worth it to crawl into bed with a man who would fill my daydreams for the rest of my life.

"I'll get the room," he assured me, the curl of his lip intoxicating. "So, seven for sure?"

"Seven would be just fine."

His eyes were all over me, and I heard his breath catch. "God, I really hope you're a--"

"Top," I said, needing that to be clear from the get-go. I had never trusted anyone enough to bottom for them, and I certainly wasn't going to start with some stranger I wanted to fuck, no matter how hot he was.

"Yes."

"I am," I assured him.

He nodded.

"Should I bring rope?" I teased him, to see how far I could push it.

"Whatever you want just as long as you fuck me."

It was going to be a hell of an evening. "No worries about that. Until tonight then."

"Until tonight," he said but didn't move.

Everyone else was inside, and the SUV sat parallel to the drive and was big enough to obscure every view from the house. So I leaned forward out of the window.

"You wanna have a taste of me now?"

In answer he dropped the duffel bag he was holding, grabbed my face with both of his hands, and looked at me.

"Give me your tongue," he ordered, and I realized for a bottom, the man was damn bossy.

I had a second to smile before his lips met mine, open-mouthed and greedy, crushing and rough, just how I liked it. My gasp of pleasure was cut off, leaving me to moan deeply into his mouth, a sound that brought a rumble of desire up from his chest.

He took what he wanted, and I let him, the kiss demanding and hard, his tongue stroking, tangling, pushing in deeper as he tasted and nibbled, ravaging my lips like I belonged to him.

When I shoved him back, we were both panting.

"Jesus," he gasped, his big soft brown eyes wet and hot, his lips swollen and dark as he swallowed over and over.

"Step back," I ordered him, feeling better, empowered, and no longer like a poor substitute for the prince he was obviously kissing frogs to find. As he moved to allow me to open the door and get out, I remembered that I was actually good at this part, the fucking part. Romance? Long-term commitment? Forget it. But right now, hot-and-heavy, living in the moment--that I could do.

"What are you--"

"Come here." I grabbed his bicep hard at the same time I slammed the car door, wrenching the man forward almost off his feet and dragging him after me.

"Where are you taking--"

I turned so fast he nearly walked into me, stopping fast, having to lift his hand so he didn't hit me, and laying it flat on my chest. "You want me to fuck you or not?"

He nodded, and I turned and pulled him after me, around the side of the house, down a short hill, through some bushes toward the barn where the machinery was kept. I took a left and shoved him up against the side of a smaller shack where the hand tools were kept. No one came down there in the middle of the day, in the heat, even though it was shaded where we were. I would hear anyone to the left walking over the gravel, and to the right was thick brush. We were safe.

"Get those pants down," I told him, pulling a lubed condom from the back pocket of my Wranglers. "And that shirt off."

He was shaking, but he did it, stripping on my order. The second I saw his hard, sculpted body, chiseled abdomen and chest, and watched the long, beautiful, cut brown cock bob free, I sank to my knees before him and took him down the back of my throat.

"Holy fuck," he groaned hoarsely, hand instantly fisted in my ginger hair, which fell thick and straight to my shoulders.

I smiled around his shaft, and he moaned looking down at me, his eyes fluttering shut as his head fell back against the wooden slats of the tool shed.

"This is so.... I had no idea it could just be so.... God."

I sucked and laved and swirled my tongue around the velvet length of him, tasted precome and played with his slit. When he started to move, his body jolting hard before he began a slow thrust and retreat in my mouth, I leaned back, letting his throbbing cock slip from my lips before I stood up.

"Weber," he hissed out my name in protest.

I shoved him to the ground, and he opened his mouth for me, but I just squinted before I walked around him and pushed him forward onto his palms in the grass. He looked back at me over his shoulder, on his hands and knees in front of me.

"Put your face down."

He didn't argue, just lowered himself, pressing his cheek into the sweet smelling grass as he lifted his ass at the same time.

I spit into my hand several times and then leaned over and did the same to his pretty pink quivering hole. Spit was not my favorite lube, but I had been ambushed by passion so was not prepared. The condom I pulled from my back pocket was slick. I only ever bought the lubed kind, which I was thankful for, but there was no sound of anything but whimpering need as I slid a finger inside of him. Saliva seemed like it would work just fine.

"Oh God, please."

The man was at my mercy, having surrendered completely, and was now writhing at the end of the second finger I had added to the first. I scissored gently, made circles, but kept the pressure constant, loosening him, stretching him, even as I bent forward and kissed up his spine. His skin was like silk, and as I was rarely allowed to indulge in my favorite parts of sex, the nuzzling, kissing, and caressing, I was taking my fill of my friend from the city.

Normally, on the rodeo circuit, sex was rough and fast--never lovemaking, only rutting done in bathrooms or stables, not even in hotel rooms because what if somebody saw you go there in pairs? Small towns with people with even smaller minds kept everyone wary and discreet and frightened. Without vigilance there could be a beating or worse. I did not want to end up with my brains splattered all over the highway with not enough of me left over to identify.

But this, on the ranch where I was working for the summer, a place that catered to rich men who wanted to pretend they were outdoorsy for a weekend, this was a place I could indulge in some spontaneity, at least briefly.

"Weber," he gasped as I removed my fingers. "I...."

I slid my hands over the man's sides, feeling the rippling muscles there: gym muscles, long, sinewy, and gorgeous. When my hands reached his hips, he started to beg me.

Spreading my legs, lowering myself since I was taller than his six one, I rolled forward and slowly, gently, began pushing my way inside of him.

"Jesus Christ, cowboy, you're huge!"

Which was why I would never, ever just pound into anyone. As many times as I had been treated to pain in my own life, I would never be the cause of it in others. I especially would never hurt the men who trusted me to top.

"Tell me if I'm hurting you."

"God, no! No--don't stop, please don't stop."

The noises he was making, the whimpering and whining, the chant of my name, the flex of the muscles in his hot, tight ass. I was ready to ride him hard.

"Oh, baby, please."

I loved endearments more than anything, and I would die before I ever told a soul. As I rocked my hips, holding onto his so tight I knew I'd leave bruises, he cried out my name.

How strong was I supposed to be?

My control was annihilated by the man with the warm, willing body, the melting eyes and golden skin. Grabbing hold of his hair, I yanked back hard, bending him into the most beautiful arch of submission, his back curved, ass angled high, and the sharp hiss of breath sending me into a frenzy of movement.

I plunged in deep, and he yelled loud, his channel clenching around my cock as I let him go, allowing his head to drop back down to the grass. I clutched his hips, pounding into him hard, grinding against him as he pushed back at the same time to meet each new hammering thrust.

"Fuck, you feel good," I growled, sliding a hand up from the small of his back to between his shoulder blades, anchoring him down and to me at the same time.

"So do you." He shuddered under me, and I could hear the tears in his voice. "I'm going to come. I can't.... This ache has been there for so.... Don't... stop."

A bullet to the brain was the only way to stop me.

My hips pistoned fast, and I nailed his gland, as I could tell from the high-pitched cry that tore out of him.

"Come for me," I demanded, my voice rough and low as I rocked against him, the heated air not moving around us, instead thick and heavy, all sweat and sex.

It was like his breath caught, and he froze for a moment as I felt the length of my cock squeezed tight in a hot, silken vise. He screamed out his climax, and I hammered him through it as my own orgasm built and crested and finally drowned me. I could not remember the last time I had come so hard, so violently.

Dropping forward, draped across his back, my chest pressing down on him, I realized, finally, as the cloud of passion lifted, that I was probably crushing him.

"Wait."

I didn't move.

"Tonight, I want you naked in the bed, so when we do this again, I can feel your skin on mine."

"You're gold all over. I ain't nothin' like you."

He made a noise in the back of his throat. "I can feel you against me, all the power, and I can see your gorgeous veined forearms... and your hands... I want more. I want to see all of you."

I smiled, rubbing my stubbly jaw between his shoulder blades. I knew every part of him was overly sensitized, but I didn't care. Sex without bites and bruises and scratches was no fun at all.

"Jesus, cowboy."

I chuckled and pulled out slowly as he rolled over flat on his back in the grass. He looked good, lying there sated, ravaged, all that sleek golden skin just ready to be touched again as I tied off the condom and put it gently on the ground.

He just lay there, not moving, watching me, cock lying flaccid against his smooth, flat stomach, one arm bent behind his head, the other on his chest.

"You should get on up, darlin', before your friends come lookin' for ya."

"Come here," he said and motioned to me.

I smiled at him, finished tucking in, zipping up, and buckling before I stepped over his legs and sat down across his hips, straddling them, leaning over so my mouth was hovering over his. "You are a strange man."

He lifted his hands to my face, staring into my eyes as I bent and kissed him. He opened for me instantly, and I plundered his mouth, kissing him breathless, kissing him until he was arching up under me, and kissing him even as I took his cock in my hand and stroked him over and over.

When I felt the silky length hardening again, I chuckled and broke the kiss, sliding my thumb over the flared tip, into the slit and under. He was vibrating beneath me, just shivering with fresh need.

"Aww, man, when's the last time you been laid proper?"

"Never, apparently." His breath faltered. "Christ. Who the fuck are you?"

Our chemistry was combustible, but we could not have been more different if one of us had been from the moon.

"Kiss me again," he pleaded.

"Get up and I will."

"I need you."

He needed me back buried in his ass was what he needed, but I knew how to fix it for him.

Dragging him to his feet, I threw him into the wall so that he had to catch himself with his hands and brace with them so he wouldn't go face first into the wood. Spitting into my hand, I grasped his hard cock tight and started to stroke him.

"I--"

"Shut up," I barked softly, jerking him off at the same time I lifted my other hand to his face and slid my fingers into his mouth.

Letting him suck my fingers as I worked his cock brought him fast to another release. There wasn't much, but what there was he spurted onto the side of the tool shed as I bit down into his shoulder.

"Fuck!" he snarled, sounding angry before he turned and lunged at me.

We would have spent the day outside covered in grass and sweat and cum if he didn't stop kissing me. He tried to shove his tongue down my throat, and my rumbling laughter made him shake in my arms, which were wrapped tight around him. It had to have looked strange if anyone had come upon us. I was completely dressed; he was gloriously naked except for his socks and a very expensive watch.

I finally broke the long, wet kiss and smiled down into his gorgeous eyes, brushing the hair out of his face as I asked him if he still wanted to see me later that night.

"What?"

I shrugged, grinning wide. "We sort of had dessert before dinner, didn't we?"

"Are you kidding? I want to go there now. I want to eat and lie in bed, and I want you to tie me down when you fuck me next."

I grunted before I bent and kissed him again, something about the shape of the man's mouth and the softness and firmness of his lips along with his taste driving me right out of my mind. It really was lucky that there was no one around to see me completely come apart.

"Promise," he said, breaking the kiss so he could gulp air, "that you'll meet me at seven. Swear to me."

"Oh, I swear," I assured him, tipping his head back with my nose, devouring his throat, nibbling up the side, inhaling his scent and sucking hard.

I was going to leave marks all over him.

"You best put on your clothes." I chuckled, sliding a hand down the silky skin of his back to the firm round ass. I grabbed a handful of it, and he bucked against me. "Before I break down the door of this here shed, shove you in and fuck you so hard you won't be able to walk."

"And this is a threat?"

I smiled at him. "Tonight, before you see me, wash up real good, and I'll show you what I can do with my tongue."

He had to brace himself before his knees gave out.

I squinted at him. "You like me some already, don't ya?"

It was cute how he opened his eyes wide and nodded. "Yes, just a little."

My eyebrows waggling made him groan loudly.

Watching him walk away from me--I had to give him time to return first, as well as get rid of the used condom someplace out of the way--was very nice. The man's ass, even under dress slacks, was a work of art. When he looked back at me over his shoulder, it was hard to breathe. No one had ever submitted to me so completely and so sweetly in all my life. He was a gift, and it was a damn shame that I wouldn't be able to keep him.

Later that night, lying on the bed with him in the Willow Tree Inn, I understood how much space there actually was between a bull rider and a neurosurgeon.

He lived in San Francisco. I had no home. He was worth hundreds of thousands, even millions. I had forty-two dollars to my name until I got paid my wages that Friday. Then I would have three hundred and forty-two dollars, enough to get to Kansas by the first week of August for the rodeo in Dodge City.

"That's what you do? You're a bull rider?"

"Yessir." I chuckled, smoothing a hand gently over his hip, drawing him closer.

"So you go all over the country, then."

"I do," I answered, letting him push my shoulder down and pin me to the bed before he bent forward.

He stopped, his lips hovering over mine.

"Don't do that," I told him, smiling up at him, reaching a hand around the nape of his neck. "Don't worry about how you look or how you sound or feel bad for wantin' something--just fuckin' take it."

His lips melted over mine, and the kiss was tender and soft before I opened for him and his tongue swept inside my mouth. The hoarse moan made me smile as I rolled him over on his back, wanting to drown myself in him for as long as he'd let me.

"Come see me," he gasped, breaking the kiss, hands on my face, thumbs sliding over my eyebrows as he stared up at me. "Take my address and cell number, and if you're ever near California, like in Nevada or New Mexico or--"

"That ain't close," I smiled at him.

"It is to me, Weber."

I squinted down at him. "You don't have to do nothin' for--"

"Please." He huffed out a breath, his legs lifting, wrapping around my thighs. "Web."

Why would I argue? "I would like that."

The shivering when I bent and took possession of his mouth made my heart race. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life, and to have him want to spend any time with me at all was a gift.

* * * *

"Web?"

"Sorry." I grinned sheepishly, brought back sharply to the present, embarrassed even though he couldn't see me on the other end of the phone line. "And I'm sorry you've got to drive all the way out to Oakland to fetch me. I fell asleep and missed the stop that would have put me down on Mission Street where you--"

"I don't care. Just don't leave. Stay."

"Like a dog," I teased him.

"Yes, just like that."

"Okay."

He exhaled a deep breath. "Okay."

"I should walk around and see if there's somewhere open to eat."

"No. I have stuff at my house. You can take a shower, and I'll make you something to eat when we get home."

Just to sit in his kitchen and watch him cook, be clean and warm and dry, was a blessing. Forty had been a revelation to me. I was surprised I lived to see it, and there was the realization that I was not going to be a rodeo star. Never had I broken into the real money. I didn't have a sponsor, and the chances of it happening diminished with every passing year. At the point I was at now, I needed to find work on a ranch and hope that after I proved myself I could stay on permanently.

I was on my way to a winter job in Alaska that Aidan Shelton, a friend of mine from the rodeo circuit, set up for me. Apparently, his brother owned a fishing lodge just a forty-five minute seaplane ride out of Anchorage, and he was in need of a handyman for three months. Aidan and I had crossed paths in Louisville at the North American Championship, and after I got hurt in the qualifier, he approached me with the offer. It had been really decent of him, as had been the meal he bought me later that evening. He even invited me to stay the night with him, and since there was no money coming, I had appreciated that as well. When I came out of the shower and he was bare-assed in the middle of the second twin bed and asked me what I was waiting on, that too had been a blessing. It was lonely on the road and far too terrifying sometimes to take a chance on a stranger.

"Hey."

"Sorry." I sighed. "I reckon I checked out there for a minute. I got to thinkin' how nice it'll be to sit a spell in your kitchen and just talk to you."

"Where are you going next?"

"To Alaska," I told him. "A friend of mine has a job for me."

"You're not going to a rodeo?"

I scoffed. "No sir. All the rodeos been held already this year, even the big one in Las-- Wait, this here is December, ain't it?"

"Yes. Don't you know? What did you do for Thanksgiving?"

"I don't remember."

He made a hurt sound, and I felt like crap. "Aww, Doc, I don't mean to tug at your heartstrings none. You know that ain't me."

"I know." He cleared his throat. "Finish about the rodeo."

"Well, the last big rodeo of the season was in Las Vegas, but I'm too tore up to have even given it a go. I didn't have the entrance fees or anything else even if I wanted to. My gear was all beat to shit so... no more rodeos for me."

He cleared his throat. "You're all done with bull riding?"

"Yep. Can't afford it. You got to train and have money for supplies and gear and... well, I ain't got none of that."

"You need a sponsor."

"Honestly--" I sighed because, God, I was tired. "--I think over this past year I lost my love for it. I told you, it was in my blood for so long, but now... I'm fixin' to go to Alaska and stay for three months, and then I'm gonna go find me a ranch in Texas to work."

"What changed with the bull riding?"

"Like I said, my body can't take it no more. I'm old now, you know."

"You're forty-four. That's not old."

"How did you know I was--"

"You had a birthday at the beginning of August."

I sighed deeply. "I expect that you're the only one anywhere that knew that."

"Which should really tell you something," he snapped at me. "But it won't."

"Doc--"

"Just forget it."

I cleared my throat, wanting to restore the ease between us. "Forty-four is old."

"It's not. I'm forty-two and I don't consider myself old in the least."

"Well we ain't exactly doin' the same things to our bodies," I laughed at him.

"So really, you're going to quit?"

"Yessir. Rodeo is a young man's sport, and if I keep at it any longer, I'ma get hurt permanent."

"Did you... are you hurt now?"

"No, now I'm just bruised up some. But I punctured a lung a while back and--"

"Jesus, Weber," he gasped.

"I'm all right, darlin'." I smiled into the phone. "It's just that I'm forty-four now, like you said, but I feel like I'm seventy, and I don't wanna risk gettin' crippled. I ain't got no health insurance."

"You're making me crazy. Just sit down and wait for me. I'm bringing the BMW. Watch for it."

"Do you even know where you're goin'?"

"Well, yes, Weber. It's called GPS. Ever hear of it while you're out there hitching rides on the road?"

I chuckled. "You have a whole idea of what it's like for me out here, don't ya?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

"I'll watch for ya."

He hung up and I did too.

After stepping from the phone booth, I walked back over to one of the benches. It was out of the rain under the overhang, and I took a seat. I pulled the gray straw cowboy hat down low over my eyes, and flipped the collar up on my shearling-lined denim jacket. I would definitely need something heavier for Alaska and had been thinking of stopping in Oregon and working for a couple of weeks to pack away at least a thousand dollars in cash for essentials. I needed boots for the snow as well as a parka and gloves. I had to figure out the timing of everything as I needed to be to Aidan's brother's place before Christmas. I had two weeks to get there, and as I thought about it more, I realized that I would probably only be able to stay one night with Cyrus, two at the very most. It made no sense to stop, but the desire to see the man's face had outweighed everything else. If I could, whenever I could, I had to see him. There was never a question.


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