Catch Me, Cowboy(4)

By: Jeannie Watt


The woman came out of the house again carrying a large bowl. She paused on the steps, shading her eyes with her free hand as she stared in his direction. Ty put his truck in gear and pulled out onto the gravel road. He didn’t want her to think he was casing the place when all he was doing was checking in on his past before moving forward with his future.

The forward part was still a little shaky. He wasn’t done with his career, even though he’d truly believed he was when he’d announced his retirement after the wreck that had so thoroughly broken him early in the spring. About a week into recovery, he’d realized he had to give rodeo one more shot. Had to go out on his own terms, not on the terms of a cranky, white mare that had reared over backwards into the chute when the gate opened instead of charging out into the arena, thus doing Ty a world of hurt.

His therapist hadn’t agreed and had told him it was time for a new career, a new life. But he loved his old one. The one that had taken him across the country time and again. Had battered his body and fed his brain. Had made him a winner, which helped compensate for his father’s losses in life. His dad finally became a winner because his sons were winners—Ty in saddle bronc, Austin in the bull riding. Kenny Harding loved being the father of two champions… sometimes too much.

And at other times way too much.

Actually, his dad was a fucking Dance Mom, but Ty tolerated it because he understood his old man and loved him. It hadn’t been easy for Kenny to accept that his eldest son’s career was over, which was why Ty hadn’t said one word about getting entry into the 78th Copper Mountain Rodeo. He wanted to test the waters, see if he still had what it took to continue his career, and he wanted to do it with as little fanfare as possible. He’d spoken to the head of the rodeo board and asked if they’d keep his entry quiet until day sheets were printed. Not a problem, they assured him, but they wanted to use his comeback ride for advertising next year if all went well. Ty had no problem with that. Maybe he’d be on his way to another championship by that time.

He took the left hand fork that led back to Marietta, past Copper Mountain, past the ghostly workings of the copper boom that had brought some of the first people into the area—his family included. When he pulled onto the highway to head south, he passed a flower-laden cross with a firefighter’s coat hanging on it. Harry Monroe. He’d been a year ahead of Harry, a truly great guy, in school. Ty hadn’t realized he’d been recently killed on the highway while helping a stalled out motorist until he’d eaten at the café and overheard talk of fund-raisers.

Life was short. Too short not to grab for all he could get. A championship. The woman he still loved… he wasn’t waiting another four years to make things right with her. As it was, he felt damned lucky she was still single. She was strong and beautiful and, in some ways, scarred. She’d never fully gotten over losing her mother, and he probably hadn’t helped matters by essentially abandoning her, but it was the only choice he could have made at the time.

He drove into Marietta and parked his truck next to the Graff, a beautifully refurbished Victorian hotel. He’d love to check in and stay for a couple of days, but he was hoarding money until after the rodeo, when he’d have a better idea as to where he was career-wise. He hadn’t done a lot of planning when he’d left his friend’s ranch in Texas to return home. Once he’d gotten entry into the rodeo, he’d pretty much climbed into his truck and started to drive, thinking if he got there a few weeks early, he could catch up with people, finish unfinished business, maybe find a place to bunk in exchange for some work—work that might become fulltime if the rodeo didn’t go well. For the moment he was making do with a bedroll in the back of his truck and the public shower facility at the fairgrounds. He’d done worse.

An older woman he didn’t know smiled at him as he got out of his truck and he touched the brim of his hat and smiled back. He started down the sidewalk to Grey’s Saloon, figuring there was no better place to catch up on local goings on and see if anyone needed a day hand. He’d just passed the bank when a woman brushed by him from behind, moving with a limp that didn’t slow her down much.

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