An ice-cold wind blasted through the open doorway as a man entered the bar. Benedict's heart seemed to stop beating for a split second and then sped up as a burst of adrenaline shot through him when he recognized the tall, lean figure standing near the doorway. He almost blacked out and as an afterthought remembered to breathe. He drew in oxygen and then slowly released it in an attempt to steady his nerves. And then another. Benedict's vision cleared. He looked again at the stranger who had entered the bar. He wasn't mistaken.
Destrie was back.
Benedict surmised it wasn't exactly the best sort of homecoming a man fighting for his country should expect. Not that Destrie had ever really thought of Coyote Forks as home. He'd returned for his foster dad's funeral, not for any sort of holiday celebration. And as prepared as Benedict thought he was to see his ex-lover after all these years, this wasn't what he'd imagined. He wasn't prepared. Not by a long shot.
Nobody in this town was gonna say, Welcome home, Destrie. Not a one of them would offer a handshake or buy him a drink. By the ice-cold expression on Destrie's face, he sure as hell didn't expect a warm homecoming from this crowd. His expression said, Fuck you all. Just try to run me out this time.
The decibel of noise in the bar of Friday-night cowboy rowdiness diminished significantly, coming more in line with a dead man's wake than a soldier's homecoming, when Destrie Two Rivers walked through the door. The echo of laughter was strangled by the deafening, shocked silence of a morgue. He was a ghost from the past, and not one this crowd wanted rising from the dead.
Benedict swallowed a long gulp of cold draft from his glass and then leaned back against the roughened beam in a corner on the other side of the room. His gaze raked over Destrie. From beneath the broad brim of the hat shading his expression, Benedict studied the man, the room, the ugly mob forming adjacent to him on the other side of the crowded, smoke-filled room.
The surly group hovered close together, like a bunch of cows huddled under a tree braced for a storm, with Benedict's brother, Jake, being the tree at its nucleus. They represented the worst, the rowdiest, of Coyote Forks. And tonight they were Friday-night drunk. Destrie's arrival would only stoke the already-simmering blaze that, at full blast, was likely to erupt into an all-out bloody barroom brawl.
Benedict was no longer the eighteen-year-old cub he'd been when Destrie left town. He'd learned a lot in eight years. The wolf inside him unfurled, readying to attack at the least spark of full-out trouble. He was no longer naive to the brutality that lurked beneath the surface of his hometown. And this time, he might go down, but he'd be taking a few of Jake's cronies with him. He turned his attention from Jake's mongrel pack to look at Destrie. There was controlled challenge in those coal black eyes.
But then, there had been no fear there when Jake and his buddies descended on them like a pack of ravenous coyotes eight years ago. Benedict narrowed his gaze. From this distance he couldn't spot the scar on Destrie's face. Had it faded?
He heard the whispered mumblings crest over the room like the distant rumble of thunder presaging a storm.
But the desire building inside Benedict was even stronger. He still felt that familiar surge of lust when Destrie walked into a room. It was something he hadn't experienced in a long time. And he was still just as tongue-tied as the first time they'd fucked. The high cheekbones were just as strongly pronounced as Benedict remembered. Destrie had filled out some, and the striped black-and-white shirt he wore stretched across shoulders broader than Benedict recalled. Benedict's gaze drifted downward, to the polished silver and turquoise belt buckle that winked back at him. He remembered the buckle. Destrie had won it at the first rodeo they'd ever ridden in. That bronc was one neither of them would ever forget. He closed his eyes, afraid to face the memory that struggled for freedom inside his head.
It was riding that high, feeling that energy, that had them down by the river with a six-pack of Bud after the rodeo. Shucking clothes at midnight in the sweltering Wyoming late-summer heat.
It was the water that had made it so easy. Destrie's cock had slid inside Benedict's hole so smooth. Made it feel so damn good. His big hand with those long fingers wrapped around Benedict's dick as Destrie fucked him. The only sounds that night had been the ripple of waves against the sandy bank, the bullfrogs croaking, the chirp of crickets, the lone cry of a coyote in the distance. And the groans of pleasure that had erupted from his throat as Destrie had ridden him.
With a few deep breaths to calm himself, he opened his eyes and looked at Destrie across the crowded bar. Destrie's thick black hair no longer flowed wildly past his shoulders, trailing down his back, a defiant badge of his lost Native American heritage. It was now buzzed to U. S. Army-regulation length, and his stance was controlled at ease, hands clasped behind his back as he studied the room. The brown leather jacket only added to the breadth of the half-breed. There was a lethal alertness to the mature man, one Benedict didn't think even Jake and his friends would want to take on. Not here in front of so many witnesses, at any rate.
No, Jake and his friends liked to do their damage under cover of darkness, when no one was around to witness the havoc they wreaked. But everyone in Coyote Forks knew what had happened eight years ago; it was just no one talked about it. No one dared.
Benedict slapped his glass down on the table, swung around, and headed toward the back door. He shoved at the cold metal bar and stepped out into the frigid, subzero December night. He didn't feel the freezing air slice across his face. It helped to cool the hungry, blazing fire that whipped at his body as memory surged through him like a bloated river in flood season. The icy slap across his cheeks yanked him back to the present. When Destrie had left, it had ripped a piece of his heart right out.
He didn't want to remember. He'd put that part of his life behind him. He'd had to in order to survive. The Webster Ranch was the biggest around, his heritage--well, his and Jake's. It was all Benedict knew.
He gripped the railing of the back porch and sucked in the frigid night air, letting it freeze his lungs. But his raging erection refused to abate.
He was a damned fool. He had to have known this would happen. Especially once he knew that Laine Carson had contacted her foster son. Maybe he'd expected Destrie would ignore it or that the letter wouldn't find its way into the hands of Benedict's ex-lover in time for him to return home.
Too many memories surged inside his head, going round and round like a Cat 4 cyclone still picking up speed. He fought to rein in his emotions. But the passionate memories were like that ornery black rogue stallion he and Destrie had tried to break--unyielding, obstinate...and proud to the end. They had both been too young to know better back then. Some wild things were born to run free.
He heard the creak of the door opening behind him. He braced himself for the confrontation he knew he couldn't avoid.