Chassie West Glanzer squinted at the lone figure ambling up the snow-covered driveway.
Visitors were few and far between at the remote West homestead, especially on foot in the frigid month of February. The mildly warm day and clear skies could change in a helluva hurry on the high plains of Wyoming and she shivered at an odd sense of foreboding.
Each steady clip brought the man closer, but she couldn't see his face. A long sheepskin coat brushed the thighs of faded Wranglers, drawing attention to the championship belt buckle centered between trim hips. Leather gloves covered fingers curled around the strap of a camouflage duffel bag. This man wasn't one of those young, green city boys looking for "real" ranch work and a wild Western adventure. This guy was one hundred percent cowboy, from the tips of his scuffed Tony Lamas to the brim of his dusty black Resistol.
Chassie probably looked like a rube, or worse that unkempt woman from American Gothic, standing in front of their old wooden barn holding a pitchfork. She resisted fussing with her hair and called out, "Something I can help you with?"
When he lifted his head, Chassie's breath caught. Good Lord. He was easily the most dazzling man she'd ever set eyes on. Thick black hair, tawny brown eyes fringed with dark eyelashes, and razor-sharp cheekbones that flared into a blocky jaw. Coppery-colored lips stretched wide and full below a thin blade of a nose. His smooth skin glowed the color of rich coffee liberally laced with cream. At first glance, his body appeared whipcord lean, but she suspected beneath those clothes was a muscular force to be reckoned with.
The duffel bag hit the icy gravel. He pushed his hat back slightly and held out his gloved hand. "Hello. I'm Edgard Mancuso."
When his voice rumbled out tinged with a foreign drawl, she bit back a feminine sigh. "Howdy, Edgard. I'm Chassie Glanzer. And forgive my bluntness, but what the hell are you doin' wanderin' around in the middle of winter? It's a good way to wind up coyote food."
He smiled, all brilliant white teeth, and her knees damn near collapsed. "You're a feisty one, eh? Bet he loves that. I'm looking for Trevor."
"Why? Does he owe you money?" At the man's stark expression, Chassie said, "Kidding. How do you know my husband?"
"We ... we're old friends."
Huh. If that were true, why wasn't the man's name familiar?
Edgard carefully removed his gloves. "I guess he didn't tell you about me. We used to be ropin' partners on the Mountains and Plains Circuit."
"Really? He might've mentioned it in passing, but he hasn't been rodeoin' professionally for a couple of years. Where are you from?"
"Brazil. This is the first time I've been in the U.S. since my run of luck with Trevor ended a few years back."
Chassie gave him another once-over. "If you were on that circuit, did you know my brother, Dag West?"
"Uh-huh. I roped with him several times. Talented heeler and a good guy. I heard what happened. I'm sorry."
"Thanks." Chassie wrapped her fingers around the pitchfork handle and hefted it out of the straw. "You wanna come up to the house?"
"That'd be great."
"Is Trevor expecting you?"
Edgard released a strangled laugh. "Ah. No."
"Thought you'd surprise him?"
"Something like that."
"Come on then. I'm about due for a break anyway."
The crunch of boots on the ground was the only sound as she and Edgard trekked the long driveway to the old farmhouse.
Was this old friend of Trevor's comparing the humble West homeplace to the Glanzer showplace she'd heard about but had never seen?
Didn't matter. The house she'd grown up in looked better now than it had in fifteen years. After Chassie's mother died, her father wouldn't "waste" money fixing the problems, preferring to let the place fall into ruin. He hadn't had the knowledge or the drive to do the basic home maintenance himself. Yet he was too proud to hire his nephews, Chet and Remy West--owners of a construction company--even after they'd offered to do the work at cost.
Between running the ranch and doing all the household chores, Chassie's exhaustion at the end of the day hadn't allowed for worries about peeling paint or figuring out what'd caused the leak in the living room ceiling. Or to discover why the front porch sagged in the right corner.
Chassie had refused to squabble with her father about household issues or anything else. She'd suffered enough traumas listening to Dad and Dag snapping and snarling at each other like rabid dogs over the dumbest things. To what end? Bitterness, regret, stupidity, and pride had killed both father and son.
But as soon as Trevor Glanzer hired on for shit wages, things'd begun to change. He'd cajoled Harland into springing for new paint and spruced up the crappy siding. He'd harassed the old man into buying shingles so Trevor could put on a new roof. Trevor resealed windows, fixed the furnace and installed a new water heater. Chassie helped him restore the house and often wondered if that's why she'd fallen for him.
Right. His work ethic coupled with his smokin' hot physique ... she hadn't stood a chance. Her immediate lust upon seeing golden-haired, golden-skinned Trevor whip off his shirt and climb on the roof half-naked had been an epiphany of sorts. Watching his tanned muscles straining, his buff body dripping with sweat as he hammered shingles, Chassie fantasized about having Trevor hammering into her.
Because of Trevor's reputation with the ladies and purported outrageous sexual appetites, she'd figured he wouldn't look at her twice--a petite, flat-chested, poor ethnic cowgirl was not the type of woman bad boy rodeo stud Trevor Glanzer pursued. Even if he'd overlooked those details, she was his friend's little sister and sort of his boss.
But Trevor had noticed her. Even ... wooed her, country style with every ounce of his cowboy charm. Accompanying her on horseback as they'd checked cattle. Picking wildflowers and winding the colorful blossoms through her braided hair. Taking her dancing at local honky-tonks. Stealing kisses while washing dishes after supper.
Eventually sneaking into her room and loving her in the creaky, antique iron-framed bed. Rolling around with her in the warm sunshine in the hayloft for a steamy bout of fun sex. Staking his claim by fucking her mindless over a sawhorse in the machine shed. His secret sweetness was as much a part of him as his unmistakable sexual fire. Lust bloomed into love for both of them pretty damn fast.
Trevor stayed rock solid through the unexpected deaths of her brother and father. Their mutual love of the land, the Western lifestyle and determination to rebuild the ranch, despite the odds, strengthened their bond. The day Trevor climbed up on the roof, shouted his love for her and asked her to marry him, she'd never been so sure of anything in her life.
So a year after they'd repeated those solemn vows in front of a judge, Chassie's heart still skipped a beat when she saw her hunky husband. Trevor was crouched over a makeshift plywood table in front of the porch, wrenching on the motor for the backup generator. He muttered to himself and swore, so he hadn't heard their approach.
"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.
Chassie wasn't aware of his relationship with Edgard. Hell, he'd barely mentioned the years they'd team roped and traveled together because he didn't know if he could keep the truth about that intimate relationship hidden from her--the woman had an uncanny emotional sense. So Chassie must be wondering about the male stranger her husband hugged like a long lost love.
Not a long lost love. Just a former rodeo pal. Keep it light. Friendly.
Trevor spun back around and grinned. "Shocked the shit out of me, Ed, to see you on American soil again. What're you doin' here?"
The tensed lines around Edgard's mouth diminished. "Just passing through."
"Where's your vehicle?" Chassie asked.
"It broke down outside of Sundance. The mechanic said it'd be a week before they can get the parts to fix it."
"Which repair shop?"
"Ah ... D&F?"
"They'll treat you right. My dad used to work there. I'll warn ya. They are slow as molasses in February. If they say a week it'll be at least two."
"Meantime, where are you stayin'?"
"I haven't decided."
Chassie was so selfless Trevor wasn't surprised when she offered, "Any friend of Trev's is a friend of mine. You're welcome to stay here as long as you want. We have plenty of room."
Say no, Edgard. For both our sakes say no.
"That's very generous, Chassie. I'd like that."
"No problem. You wanna come in and get settled? Have a cup of coffee to warm up?"
"That'd be great."
Chassie brushed past Trevor and started up the porch steps.
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 fucked 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.
Yes, not only had Trevor mastered the outward lie, he was a master at lying to himself.
Watching his friends pair up, marry, and start families only emphasized Trevor's unhappiness. Every part of his life seemed meaningless. Chasing that elusive gold buckle. For what? To instill a sense of family pride, even when Trevor knew nothing he accomplished would be good enough for his father, former world champion Tater Glanzer?
The final straw occurred after the threesome with his buddy Cash Big Crow and Cash's then-girlfriend, Gemma Jansen. It wasn't an odd thing for Cash to call him and ask for help in giving Gemma an experience she'd never forget: fucking two men at the same time. Trevor'd always held a secret attraction to the bawdy Gemma, so he'd shown up, more than willing to oblige.
But during the course of that sexual encounter, what'd started out a fun, sexy and raunchy romp became awkward--and very apparent three was a crowd.
It'd never bothered Trevor to be considered the sweet-talking bad boy of the rodeo circuit. But the cavalier attitude toward sex came home to roost that summer night, when he realized that's all he was to his so-called friends. Good time Trevor; he'll fuck your women, drink your booze and back you in a bar fight. But don't call him for anything important because he's just another horny, drunken cowboy who'll be gone chasing eight and the gate at dawn.
The next day, Trevor swore off women, sex, booze and rodeo.
That summer also marked the breaking point with his family. For years he'd suffered infighting with his siblings about who'd take over the sizeable Glanzer ranch. Trevor hated how his dad played his kids against each other, especially when everyone in five counties snickered that Tater Glanzer had no intention of passing on the ranch until he was dead. Not only was his old man too mean to die, at age sixty-one it'd be a helluva long time before they'd need to build a pine box for the ornery SOB.
So two years ago, Trevor loaded up his horse, his measly belongings and cut himself off from his entire family. He hadn't regretted it. Next to marrying Chassie West, it was the best thing he'd ever done.
Just the whisper of her name in his head brought a smile to his face and calmness to his soul. She'd made him feel like a real man, a worthy man, for the first time in his thirty-year existence. Treating him like a rancher, not another good-for-nothin' washed-up rodeo cowboy. Listening to him when no one else would. Understanding him when he scarcely understood himself.
His sweet, loving, funny and stubborn wife embodied everything beautiful, good, honest and true in the world. She was every damn thing he'd ever wanted in a life partner and never thought he'd find or that he deserved. Trevor hadn't believed in love at first sight until he'd met Chassie West.
You believed in it with Edgard.
Yes. No. Maybe.
Shit. Trevor scrubbed his hands over his face. No, it wasn't love right off the bat with Edgard, even when he'd suspected that was what it'd become, even when he'd refused to admit those feelings to Edgard or to himself. He'd fought his damn attraction to Ed, mostly because it pissed him off to be attracted to a man.
It'd been hard as hell to comprehend. He'd never so much looked at another guy the way he looked at Edgard. Not once, in all his sexual escapades starting when he was a green lad of fifteen, had Trevor fantasized about fucking another man ... until he'd hooked up with the quiet, intense, sloe-eyed Brazilian.
No one besides their traveling partner, Colby McKay, ever knew the true nature of their relationship. As additional cover, Edgard participated in the wild sexual exploits on the road to rodeo glory. With a bevy of buckle bunnies following the three of them, the other male rodeo contestants lumped Edgard in with Trevor and Colby as players in musical bed partners.
Edgard's preference for men wasn't obvious to anyone. Except Trevor. Edgard never touched him suggestively. Nor did he come right out and state his desire to throw Trevor in his bed and fuck him like an animal.
After months of hot looks and evocative comments getting him nowhere, Trevor figured he'd have to make the first move. It'd taken him a pint of Jim Beam to act on the attraction and even then he'd made a clumsy pass at Edgard. Kissing him sloppily. Groping him between the legs.
But Edgard refused his advances, saying he wouldn't let alcohol be an excuse for them becoming lovers. Trevor would either come to Edgard completely sober or not at all.
So Trevor swallowed his pride, his fear, and practically begged. Edgard remained leery. Until that first explosive touch. In the two and a half years they were together, the heat between them never cooled, yet Trevor wondered if the urgency and secrecy contributed to the appeal.
Is that why Edgard was here? To rekindle that flame? To tempt Trevor away from Chassie? Or had Edgard found a new love and needed to prove there was nothing left between them but molten memories and deep regret?
Only one way to find out.
Trevor trudged from the barn and headed for the house.