Diving Into the Turn
By Carrie Carr
Disclaimers: This story has instances of women getting it on, sometimes a bit more graphically than I’m used to writing. Don’t blame me, it’s the characters fault <g>.
Also, this is a rough draft of the story – there are probably some nasty editing mistakes (since I didn’t have an editor while I was writing it), and there are scenes in the published version that aren’t here (they were written *during* the editing phase). This story was previously only found on my yahoo group chat list, firstname.lastname@example.org , where I also post the latest bits of my stories before being posted to the web. Check my website, www.carrielcarr.com for more details. I want to thank everyone on the list who cheered me on, especially since it took me almost two years to write this one.
I’d love to hear what you think – let me know at email@example.com .
THE NEXT EVENING before the barrel racing event, Shelby sat in the stands and watched the clown act. Also known as barrelmen, it was their jobs to help protect fallen riders and keep the crowds entertained between acts. As much as she hated Fred Tanner, the man was a professional when it came to his job. Children of all ages stood next to the fence, calling out to the painted men. Shelby wished she could remember being that carefree. But at their age, she had known the men behind the paint, so the aura was broken.
Fred's partner did some particularly clumsy stunt, causing them both to fall back over the barrel. The children laughed, and even Shelby found herself smiling.
“You should do that more often.”
Shelby turned to see Rebecca standing next to her. “Do what?”
“Smile.” Rebecca gestured to the seat next to Shelby. “May I?”
“Sure, it's a free country.”
Rebecca sat quietly for several minutes, waiting to see if Shelby would offer any type of apology for her behavior of the previous evening. When Shelby remained silent, Rebecca leaned over to whisper in her ear, “Watch that little red-headed boy. I think he's having more fun teasing the girl next to him than watching the show.”
“Must be the hair,” Shelby muttered, earning her a light slap on the arm. “See what I mean?” She turned so that she could look into Rebecca's face. “I'm sorry about last night. You didn't deserve to be treated like that.”
“Why did you? Oh, and for the record, I'm twenty-six. Quite a bit older than a teenager.” The words came out harsher than expected.
Shelby looked at the arena floor, then back to Rebecca. “I was afraid we were getting too close.” After spending the majority of the night awake, she decided that she didn't care what the consequences were. She liked this woman, and she hoped they could be at least friends.
“You don't like me?” Rebecca thought that Shelby's actions were not that of someone who didn't like a person. “You sure have a funny way of showing it.”
“No, I like you just fine. I was trying to scare you off, I guess.”
Rebecca was getting more confused by the minute. “Why?”
Standing up, Shelby offered her hand to Rebecca. “Can we just take a walk? I'm getting tired of sitting.”
“Sure.” Rebecca allowed herself to be helped to her feet, and they started up the stairs to the exit.
The main concourse didn't have that many people milling about, so they had no trouble walking side by side. Shelby was just relieved that she didn't have to keep eye contact. “What do you want from me? You've got to know that I'll be following the rodeo when it leaves.”
Rebecca stopped. “Do I have to ‘want' anything from you? Maybe I just want for us to be friends. You look like you could use one.”
“So this is a pity thing, is it?” Shelby turned to glare at Rebecca. “For your information, I've been alone most of my adult life, and I like it like that. When I want company, I get it.”
“You're impossible!” Rebecca started to stomp away, but changed her mind and stood her ground. “Is it hard to share space with that huge ego of yours? Why does everything have to be about you?”
The words rang truthfully in the air, and Shelby spent a minute just trying to get her anger back under control. She knew that the other woman had done nothing to deserve her ire, and in fact had been overly nice to her. Maybe we can be friends. It couldn't hurt to try, right? She was about to say something when a nice looking older couple approached. Unlike many who showed up to see the rodeo, they were dressed in what would be called business casual clothes.
“Becca, sweetheart! You look so cute in your rodeo outfit,” the woman gushed.
“Mom? Dad?” Rebecca embraced each of them separately, excited that her parents could make the evening and her final performance. “I'm so glad you're here.”
Her father put an arm around her shoulders. “We wouldn't miss it for the world. I'm just sorry we couldn't be here for your other rides.”
Rebecca started to turn to where Shelby was a moment ago. “I have someone I want you to meet—” But where Shelby had been standing was vacant, and there was no sign of her. “A friend.”
“Well, maybe we can meet this friend of yours later,” her father offered. “Why don't you show us where Patches is? We've got a little time before we need to get to our seats.”
Looking around the now vacant concourse, Rebecca nodded. “Sure.” Although all she wanted more than anything was to hunt down a certain person and give them a piece of her mind for running away.
Chapter 10 REBECCA READIED HERSELF for the final ride. She watched from the threshold to the arena as Therese and her horse took their turn, the roan animal handling the barrels with ease. Her own nerves were at an all time high, because she knew that somewhere Shelby was watching, and she wanted to look good.
After Therese rode past her, Rebecca heard her name being called. She pulled her hat down low over her eyes, patted Patches on the neck, then gently nudged the pony into action.
The first turn went well. Rebecca couldn't believe how fast Patches went, and soon they were at the second barrel. As they spun out of the turn, she felt the barrel make contact with her shin, and knew that she'd have a bruise on her leg tomorrow. But the barrel only rocked, and didn't fall.
The final barrel loomed ahead, seemingly farther away than ever before. Patches dove into the turn too sharply, causing the barrel to totter. Rebecca didn't have time to worry about it, as they were around it and racing for home. When she pulled up, she took time to look back, and saw that the barrel was still upright. “Yes!” she cheered, pumping one hand in the air.
Her final ride was her best performance, but it wasn't enough. She did place fourth, which was much higher than she or anyone else expected. The purse that she won would more than pay for her time off work, and give her extra spending money as well.
She was on her way back to the barns, leading Patches, when Debbie walked up to her. “That was an excellent ride.” Debbie had won first place, as was expected. She held herself with an air that brought out the worst in everyone else around her.
“Thank you.” Rebecca continued to walk, anxious to get away from the woman who made her so nervous. The predatory gleam in Debbie's eyes was much more frightening than when Cleve accosted her in the stall. At least she knew where Cleve was coming from. This woman was much more duplicitous about it.
“I don't think I've ever seen a paint pony dive into the turns that well before. You must have really worked her hard to get her to do that.” Debbie was determined to get more than short answers out of the other woman, and hoped that by talking about her horse she'd open up more.
Rebecca never slowed her pace. “Actually, she picked it up quite naturally. There wasn't a lot of training involved.” Please go away. I don't like you. Maybe she'll step in some manure and disappear.
Debbie didn't take the hint she wasn't welcome – she continued to walk alongside Rebecca. “Well, that's great. Sometimes the horses that are from strong purebred lines are the better ones to train, and they hold up better.” She herself rode a horse from a line that her family had bred for generations. It was just another thing she liked to throw in people's faces.
Stopping, Rebecca turned around. “Are you insinuating that my horse isn't a purebred? I'll have you know that her lines can be traced farther back than your own,” she snapped.
“No offense, babe.” Debbie held up her hands in a defensive gesture. “I just meant—”
“Never mind.” Rebecca started walking again, glad that she was finally in the barns. “Thanks for the good wishes.”
“You're welcome.” Debbie finally took the hint, and saw her way out. “I see some friends I need to talk to. But, if you want to go out and do anything later, just look me up. I'll be around.”
Rebecca nodded. “Thanks.” Not! I'd rather be alone than spend any more time in your company, Miss Better than Everyone Else.
Paula met her back at the stalls and wrapped her up in an exuberant hug. “That was just about the best ride I've seen from anyone in years! You and that little pony of yours practically flew.”
“Thanks.” Rebecca was still a little breathless from the ride as well. “I think Patches wanted to show off for my parents.”
“Oh? Then they did make it?” Paula saw an older couple headed their way. “Is that them?”
Rebecca looked over her friend's shoulder. “Yes.” She stepped out and waved to them, even though they'd already been to the stalls before. “Over here!”
The couple smiled and quickened their pace until they were in front of Patches stall with the other two women. Rebecca's mother hugged her then stepped back. “I don't think I took a breath the entire time you were out there, Becca. That was something else.”
“Me either. And I know I'll have a bruise where your mother's hand was attached to my leg,” her father joked. He looked at Paula and held out his hand. “I'm sorry, we haven't met. My name is Greg Starrett, Becca's dad.”
Rebecca quickly jumped in. “I'm sorry too. This is Paula Fay Winger. She and her husband Buddy have been trying to help me stay out of trouble. Paula, this is my dad Greg, and my mom Kathy.”
“Pleased to meet you both.” Paula shook their hands. “Although I can't claim to help keep her out of trouble. She's done pretty well on her own.”
Kathy nodded. “She's always been that way. Never given us any problems, unlike a lot of kids.”
“Mom,” Rebecca sighed, embarrassed.
“It's true. You got good grades, did your chores, and never got into any trouble.”
Rattled by the conversation, Rebecca went into the stall and removed Patches saddle and bridle. Part of her was glad this was over, while another mourned the loss. She was so engrossed in brushing Patches she almost didn't hear her father's voice.
Greg stood just outside the stall and stared at his daughter. “Are you all right? You seem pretty quiet for someone who did so well in their first rodeo.”
“I guess I'm just tired.”
“That's a shame. I was going to take us all out to dinner at the Italian Garden restaurant. Paula and her husband were going to join us.”
Rebecca didn't want to ruin everyone else's plans just because of her mood. “That sounds great. Let me finish with Patches, then I'll go get cleaned up.”
Ten minutes later, Rebecca was with the excited group as they headed for her mother's SUV. The Tahoe would seat them all comfortably, and her mom enjoyed showing off the lush vehicle. Out of the corner of her eye, Rebecca spotted a solitary figure leaned up against the wall of the barns, a lit cigarette between their lips. She knew immediately who it was, and wished that Shelby was going with them for dinner.
From her vantage point, Shelby watched the group leave. She correctly assumed they were going out to celebrate Rebecca's good finish, and part of her wanted to be among them. Angry at herself, she tossed the cigarette butt down and ground it out with her boot. “They'd never be comfortable around someone like me,” she muttered.
“Who, Fisher? Your whoring mama?” Rob had stepped outside just in time to hear Shelby's comment. “I bet she was pretty good in the sack, though.” He'd had a couple of drinks, and was feeling the need to harass Shelby.
Shelby spun and shoved him against the wall. “Shut your fucking mouth, asshole! I ought to kill you for that.” Her voice echoed around them. She was several inches shorter and forty pounds lighter, but that didn't stop her.
Rob laughed and roughly shoved the angry woman away from him, causing Shelby to fall onto the graveled ground. “From what I hear, you take after her.” Before she could scramble to her feet, he used his boot to hold her in place. “I just think it's funny that you've finally found a woman who won't fall to your charms. Maybe you're losing your touch.” With a final shove with his foot, Rob backed away. “I'll see you tomorrow, has-been.”
Watching him leave, Shelby looked around and noticed several people eyeing her. “What the hell are y'all looking at?” she yelled, climbing to her feet. “Haven't you ever seen an asshole walking before?” She picked up her hat and dusted it off against her leg. “I hope he falls off tomorrow right after he leaves the chute.” Her pride hurt, Shelby decided to turn in for the night.
ONCE BACK INSIDE the barn, Rob noticed someone waving to him. He changed the direction he was walking, and ended up near the stack of hay that was kept in one corner of the large barn. Looking around to make sure no one else saw them, he asked, “What do you want?”
The woman ran one of her painted nails down his chest. “That Fisher bitch gives you a lot of grief, doesn't she?” Her voice was sympathetic, while at the same time, extremely sexy.
“Yeah. But it's nothing I can't handle.” Rob swallowed hard when one of her nails sneaked through his shirt and played with his chest. “What's it to you?”
“Have I ever told you how much bronc riders turn me on?” she asked, her hand continuing its path until she was rubbing him through his jeans.
Rob half-heartedly pushed the woman away. “I'm seeing Carla right now, you know.” He didn't know why she was acting this way toward him, but was finding it harder and harder to resist her charms.
She rubbed him more vigorously. “So? You're not engaged, or anything, are you?”
“No. But, damn.” His words came out in a half groan, as he felt himself being led behind the bales of hay. Before Rob could say anything else, she had unbuttoned his jeans and pulled them down slightly.
“I've wanted to do this for days,” she admitted, right before taking him into her mouth.
Rob had no answer for her, except a few groans and grunts. He held her head, forgetting all about the rodeo, his girlfriend, and everything else for a while.
THE FOLLOWING DAY the heat was back, hotter than before. More people flocked to the inside events, and fewer could be seen out on the fair midway where all the carnival rides and attractions lay.
Shelby spent more time than usual in the women's showers, glad that the arena was one of the newer ones, and built for the future. Her old trailer's shower had quit working years ago, and all that was usable was the tiny sink in the kitchenette, and that only held water. She never could figure out how her parents had been able to live in such a small space. It's probably why they drank and fought so much. With her hair slicked back and her tee shirt sticking to her body from the cool water, she walked down the main concourse. She was surprised when she was accosted by Henry.
“There you are. Folks have been looking for you.”
“Me? What did I do?” Shelby brushed by him to continue to her trailer. “As you can see, I was in the showers, for God's sake.”
Henry fell in step beside her. “Bronc riding is coming up, and we haven't seen Rob since last night. Do you happen to know where he is?”
“Why are you asking me? We're not buddies. Hell, I don't even like the son-of-a-bitch.”
“I know that. But I also know there's been a lot of shit happening around here lately, and well, folks have been talking.”
Shelby stopped and turned to face him. “What have they been saying? Because frankly I'm getting a little tired of you beating around the bush.”
“Some think you might have something to do with everything, since you happen to be an easy target.”
“That's bullshit.” Shelby started walking again, and they were soon out in the afternoon heat, where the performer's campers and trailers were. Several men were over at Rob's trailer, trying to break in. “What's going on over there?”
“I don't know.” Henry followed her until they were at the back of the crowd that had begun to form.
“I think I see his leg,” someone yelled from the side, where they looked in through a window.
Two large men took turns at pounding at the door, until it finally opened. Another stepped into the trailer, then yelled for a doctor. “He's unconscious!”
“Probably stone drunk,” Shelby muttered to Henry. “I don't know what the big deal is.”
One of the men in the crowd turned to face her. “His door was locked from the outside, and his windows were nailed shut. Someone was trying to get him out of the way.”
SHELBY WAS GLAD that she and Henry had been at the back of the crowd. The older man quickly whisked her away for her own protection, until they were back at the arena.
He looked around the vacant area to make certain they were alone. The one man who had seen them obviously didn't follow, and he was probably too interested in what was going on to tell anyone else. Henry didn't waste any time. “Answer me truthfully, girl. Did you do it?”
“Don't play stupid, Shelby. It doesn't look good on you.” Henry had known the woman in front of him her entire life, and he didn't want to think of her as someone who could cause such harm. “Just answer me.”
Shelby felt her face flush at the accusation.” Of course not! You know I hate the son of a bitch, but I'd never do something so underhanded.”
“That's what I thought.” Henry nodded. “Then we've got someone who's trying to make you look bad. Because each and every one of these so-called 'accidents' are set up to have you as the culprit. Is there anyone who feels that bad about you?”
“Do you want the list alphabetically, or numerically?” Shelby asked. “I can name at least a dozen, right off the top of my head.”
Henry couldn't help but chuckle at that remark. “You sound a lot like your old man. He was never one for being very diplomatic.”
“Probably where I got it.” Shelby leaned up against an empty pen, where just yesterday a two thousand pound bull was housed. “If someone's so pissed at me, why don't they just do one of their little nasty tricks to me? Why mess with everyone else?”
“I don't know. But I do know that you'd better be extra special careful from here on out. Try not to piss anyone else off.”
Shelby pushed off from her resting spot. “That's easier said than done.” She patted Henry on the shoulder. “Thanks for the advice, though.” She walked away, deep in thought as to who would want to frame her.
SEEING THE HORSE trailer reminded Rebecca that her part of the rodeo was over, and it made her blue. She led Patches to the back entrance, where the horse immediately loaded without a problem. “Good girl.”
Mr. Lockneer, the man who owned the stables she lived above, closed the trailer door. “Don't feel bad. You'll score better next year,” he tried to assure her.
“It's not that. I guess I'm just not ready for it to be over.”
“Well, maybe I can help with that.” Lockneer made sure that Patches was properly secured before speaking. “Why don't I take your horse back out to the stables, and you can stay here in town with your family and enjoy the rest of the rodeo?”
She wanted to accept his offer, but felt bad about taking advantage of her employer's good nature. “That wouldn't be right, Mr. Lockneer. I had only asked for the days off that I'd be competing. It's not fair for you to have to do my job.”
Lockneer laughed. “I did it before I hired you, didn't I? Truthfully, Rebecca, it will give me an excuse to leave the house earlier, and not have to listen to the missus talk about her bridge club.”
“Well, if you're sure it wouldn't be an imposition—”
“Nonsense. All I ask if that you have fun while you're here.” He patted her on the arm and climbed into the large truck that was to pull the trailer.
Rebecca watched the horse trailer drive out of sight. A sound behind her startled her.
“Did you hear the news?” Paula asked. For someone who didn't like to gossip, she certainly liked to share ‘news' a lot.
Paula pointed out to where the campers were. “They found Rob earlier, almost dead!”
“You've got to be kidding me. What happened to him?”
“He was locked up in his trailer and suffered severe heat prostration. The poor man!” Paula was on a roll, and was just getting started. “The ambulance attendant said that if he hadn't been found when he was, he'd have died for sure.”
Rebecca frowned. “Surely it wasn't that bad. It's only late afternoon.” She could see the heat waves coming from the graveled parking lot, but it didn't feel that hot to her.
“I think that part of the problem was he was already dehydrated from drinking the night before. They found an empty bottle of Jack Daniels beside him, so there's no telling how much he drank. Luckily he's fine, now. He even refused to go to the hospital.”
“That's not very smart.”
Paula nodded. “We are talking about Rob, you know.” She leaned in closer. “But that's not the worst of it.”
Rebecca was getting tired of the cloak and dagger routine. “Just tell me, please.”
“They think that your new little friend Shelby might have something to do with it.”
“Because of the circumstances. She was seen arguing with him last night. As a matter of fact, she was the last person that was seen with him, period.” Paula pulled Rebecca into the barn area. “I'm so sorry I didn't seriously warn you about her, Rebecca. But I honestly didn't think she would be dangerous.”
Pulling her arm free, Rebecca backed away from Paula. “Do you think so, too? Is there any real proof?”
Paula shushed her. “Quiet! If she's around somewhere, one of us could be next!”
Rebecca didn't care. “What have you been smoking? You know as much as I do that Shelby wouldn't hurt anyone.”
“Tell that to everyone else,” Paula told her, before walking away.
TIRED OF THE constant whisperings behind her back, Shelby kept to herself the remainder of the afternoon. By the time of the evening performance, all she wanted to do was finish her ride. Her draw was actually one of the better bulls, and she figured she had a good chance of not only lasting the ride, but winning a part of the purse.
She was fourth this evening, and waited patiently by as the other female riders took their turns. Only one was able to stay on the required six seconds, leaving her with even better odds, if she could stay on.
When Shelby started to climb over the chute, several of the men climbed down, leaving her with only two people to help her get ready for the ride. “Thanks, guys.”
Muttered curses were her only answer, so it took longer than normal for her to get her bull rope just as she wanted it. With her left arm on the chute gate, Shelby nodded. The gate started to open, hung up, then opened all the way. Confused, the bull paused, spun out into the arena, and snorted his disgust with the way things were done.
Shelby hung on with all her might as the bull spun first one way then the other, then decided to leap up and pull his head way down. Just after the buzzer sounded, the bull flipped forward headfirst into the dirt, causing his rider to roll underneath.
The crowd sat silent as Shelby lay motionless on the dirt floor of the arena. The clowns slowly maneuvered the bull out of the arena, but no one came out to see if the rider herself was injured. Finally, the ambulance drove out onto the dirt, just as Shelby sat up. She looked around, and, realizing where she was, climbed shakily to her feet. The announcer stated that she was the second place winner, and the multitude that had been so quiet before was now on its feet, cheering her.
Embarrassed, Shelby raised her hand as she walked over and picked up her hat. She waved it in the air, and hurried out as quickly as her unsteady feet could carry her.
REBECCA FOUND A seat close to the chutes to watch the bull riding event. She waited impatiently as the other riders took their turns, and was silently glad when several of them didn't last the required six seconds. She spotted Paula and Buddy near the chutes, and waved to the couple.
When it was finally Shelby's turn, Rebecca couldn't understand why it was taking so long for her to get ready. Then she noticed the men who normally helped at the chutes climb down and walk away.
She exchanged glances with Paula, who shrugged her shoulders.
Before Buddy could get over to the chute, it opened, and the ride was on. Rebecca watched in horror as the bull rolled over on Shelby. She jumped from her seat and rushed to the pen area, where a security guard stopped her.
“I'm sorry, Miss. You can't be back here.” The big man looked apologetic, but wasn't moving. His uniform was that of a sheriff's deputy, and he seemed to be working the rodeo on his day off.
“Please, I have to go check on my friend. She was the woman who was riding that last bull.”
He shook his head. “Only authorized rodeo personnel can be here. I don't see your pass.”
“My pass expired yesterday,” Rebecca admitted. “But I still need to check on my friend.”
He crossed his arms over his chest and glowered at her. “No can do. Now why don't you go back to your seat and enjoy the rest of the rodeo?”
“She's with me, Alvin,” Paula interrupted. She had seen Rebecca leave the stands, and knew where she would be heading. “Why don't you let me take it from here?”
Alvin smiled at her. “All right. But keep her out of trouble.”
“I sure will.” Paula rubbed her hand across his back. “Thanks, hon.” She took Rebecca by the arm and led her away from the guard. “In trouble again, are you?”
“No.” Rebecca rushed away, with Paula barely keeping up. “I've got to see about Shelby. Did you see what that bull did to her?”
Paula followed for a few steps. “I did. But I also saw her get up on her own and leave the arena.” She stopped and watched as Rebecca rushed away.
Behind the pens, Shelby was met by Rebecca. “Are you all right?”
“I'm fine.” Shelby pushed by her, upset that she was left lying in the dirt by her supposed peers. No, what you're pissed off about is that Rebecca is just now checking up on you.
“Are you sure? I'm only asking because you were down for a long time. I kept trying to get by security, but they wouldn't let me through until Paula told them I was with her.”
The thought that Rebecca had tried to help her made Shelby feel a little better, but not much. “Don't worry about it. I'm okay.”
Rebecca wanted to brush the dust off the back of Shelby's white shirt, but stopped her hand before she touched her. “I guess this shows that you're not behind all the accidents, if something like that gate hanging up happened to you.”
“No, that was just the gate man. He's a friend of Rob's. I figure, wait. You think I've had something to do with everything around here?”
“Well, not exactly. I mean, Paula said—”
Shelby turned on her heel and started to leave. “And of course that busybody is more dependable than I am, right? After all, I'm just some has-been bull rider who sleeps with a different woman every chance she gets.”
Rebecca grabbed Shelby's arm. “Wait. That's not it at all. But since you're being so defensive, are you behind any of this?”
“I might as well be, since you and everyone else seems to think so.” Shelby walked away, hurt by the accusation.
Now what do I do? The only answer that seemed right to Rebecca would have been wrong to anyone else – she followed Shelby.
HOT TEARS BURNED her eyes as Shelby stomped out into the evening, and she wiped at them angrily. She had never been so mad in her entire life. It was bad enough that the people she had known for years had turned against her, but she honestly thought that she and Rebecca were starting to build a foundation for a good friendship, at the very least.
Her heart was heavy and her body ached. She unlocked the door to her trailer and went inside, not bothering to close it behind her. Throwing her gear on the floor, she reached into the tiny refrigerator and was disappointed to come up empty. She sat on the bed then lay down and stretched her legs out. A discreet knock on the outside of the trailer caught her attention. “What?”
“Can I come in?” Rebecca looked almost as upset as Shelby felt.
“Are you going to blame me for anything else?”
“Then I guess you can.” Shelby didn't bother getting up, but she did move her feet so that Rebecca would have a place to sit.
Rebecca looked around the tiny trailer. It was clean, but there wasn't much room. She couldn't believe that someone actually lived in something like this. “I'm sorry if I upset you.”
Shelby covered her face with one arm, trying to appear relaxed. “Do you really believe what they're saying about me?”
“I don't want to, Shelby. It's just—”
“It's just what? You chase around, acting like you want to be my friend. Then when things get the least bit rough, you bail on me?” Shelby stood up and went to a pan that was in the sink to wash her face. Once she was done, she didn't even bother to dry it, but let the water drip down her cheeks instead. “If that's the kind of friend you are, then no thanks.”
Rebecca shook her head and started to cry. “No, please! I do want to believe you. But, you have to admit, a lot of things point toward you.”
“But a friend wouldn't have to ask,” Shelby explained quietly.
“I know, and I'm sorry.” Rebecca held out her hand. “Truce?” When Shelby didn't take her hand, she tried to change the subject. “So, is there where you live all the time?”
“Yeah. I know it's kind of small, but it works okay for me.” Except that she had to use the showers at truck stops and use public restrooms, but she didn't feel the need to tell Rebecca all of that.
“Small? Well, I guess it is. I think Patches stable is bigger,” Rebecca tried to tease. Seeing the expression on Shelby's face, she knew she had failed.
Shelby walked to the door. “I'd like for you to leave, please, before I do or say something I shouldn't.”
Rebecca stood. “I'm sorry, Shelby. I didn't mean—”
“Sure you did. I bet I'm just one big joke to you, aren't I?” Shelby waited until Rebecca was off the steps and on the gravel. “Go back to your own life, Rebecca, and leave me to wallow in my own.” She closed the door firmly, hoping to shut the other woman out of her life just as easily.
REBECCA WANDERED AROUND the campgrounds after being kicked out of Shelby's trailer. She couldn't believe she kept opening her mouth and saying such horrible things to the woman, when all she really wanted to do was be her friend. Mom would say I wasn't raised to be that way, and she's right. She bent down and picked up a discarded soda can, then tossed it in the trash. Now I've just got to figure a way to make up for it.
She smiled and waved at a few people who recognized her from the rodeo, and even signed an autograph or two. Rebecca was surprised that anyone would want her signature on something, but seeing the thrill it gave them outweighed her embarrassment.
“Looks like someone's popular,” Fred Tanner scoffed. He had been walking by when he saw the group gather round Rebecca, and was curious as to whom they were seeking. “It sure didn't take you long.”
“I don't know what you're talking about.” Rebecca gave her attention to the children around her legs. “How many of you have ridden a horse before?” she asked, hoping the man would take the hint and go away.
Several small hands went up, while others looked on sadly. “If you haven't, that's okay. I didn't start riding until I was a teenager,” Rebecca whispered loudly. The sad faces disappeared, and were replaced by hopefulness. Rebecca looked over to where Fred had stood, and was relieved to see he had left. She answered several more questions for the children, before they moved on with their parents.
Rebecca hadn't gone very far when Fred stepped up to walk beside her. “I saw you coming out of Fisher's trailer. Do you think that's a very wise choice?”
“What are you talking about?”
“She's trash, girl. It's best you know that now.” Fred tipped his hat to several young women who waved to him as he walked with Rebecca. “I've never known her to have more than two nickels to rub together. She's lived in that damned piece of shit trailer her whole life, and I know for a fact she doesn't have much of an education. Not to mention all the women she's been with.”
“So? What is it you're really trying to say?” Rebecca wanted to ask him if being a clown that reeked of stale bourbon was any better, but wisely decided to keep quiet.
Fred put his hand on her elbow to appear solicitous, but did it mainly to keep her from getting away from him. “Just stay away from the bitch, that's all I have to say. You'll be much better off for it.” He released her arm and stormed off.
“Why couldn't I have taken up a safer hobby, like sky diving?” Rebecca asked herself out loud. The glamour of the rodeo was gone, and was replaced by too many dramas to keep track of. “This is just getting to be too much.”
THE NEXT EVENING, with the rodeo officially over, quite a few of the contestants who traveled planned on staying to enjoy the fair. Shelby would normally be out with the rest of them, but all the talking behind her back made her want to stay in her trailer instead.
She sipped on a warm beer and stared at the ceiling of her trailer when a knock on the door brought her out of her reverie. “What?” The knock came again, this time more insistent. “Damn it, who is it?” On the third knock, Shelby got off the bed and swung the door open.
Standing in front of the door was Rebecca, holding a single yellow rose. “I was hoping you'd be home.” She held out the flower to Shelby, who took it as if she'd never seen one before. “I came by to see if you would go to the fair with me.”
“Like a date?” Shelby asked, completely surprised. She wasn't expecting to see Rebecca again, especially after the way she treated her the day before.
The question threw her off guard for a moment, but Rebecca recovered quickly. “Yes. A date.” She crooked her arm and held it out to Shelby. “May I?”
“Oh yeah, sure.” Shelby started to join her, but looked down at the gray tee shirt she was wearing. It had a ketchup stain from her hotdog lunch. “Would it be okay if I,” she gestured to the shirt.
Rebecca nodded. “I'll just wait out here.”
The door closed, and Shelby looked around the trailer frantically. “Clean shirt, clean shirt! I've got to have a damned cleaned shirt in this place, somewhere!”
Outside, Rebecca could hear the entire conversation that Shelby had with herself, and she covered her mouth to keep from laughing.
When the door opened again, Shelby stood in it wearing a navy blue western shirt, and she was still tucking it into her jeans as she hurried down the steps. “Thanks for waiting. I just didn't want,” she felt like a babbling fool, but couldn't help herself. Since Rebecca showed up in sneakers and jeans, Shelby left her cowboy hat inside.
Rebecca handed her the flower again. “Do you have something you can put this in? It will last longer if it's in water.”
“Oh, yeah.” Shelby took the flower and disappeared into the trailer for a minute, then hurried back out. “I poured out what was left of my beer, and filled the bottle with water. It worked perfectly.”
“Good idea.” Rebecca wanted to laugh, but dared not to. Only Shelby would think of using a beer bottle as a vase, and it the thought charmed Rebecca. She linked her arm with Shelby's. “Let's go see what kind of trouble we can get into.”
THE WALK TO the fairgrounds wasn't far. Shelby wanted to reach out and take Rebecca's hand, but knew that due to where they were, it probably wouldn't be very wise. That, and she was afraid her attempt would be rebuffed, even though the other woman had asked her out. Out of desperation more than anything, she decided to start the conversation. “So, tell me about your family.”
Rebecca wanted to tell Shelby that she would have already met her parents if she wasn't such a coward, but changed her mind. “My mom and dad have lived in the same house since they were married twenty-eight years ago, and I have a younger brother, Terry, who's nineteen and thinks he knows everything. He still lives at home, while he's going to the community college.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
Shelby bumped Rebecca with her shoulder. “Where do you live, did you or do you go to school, that sort of thing. I'd like to know everything I can about you.”
“Are you writing a book, or something?”
“No, just curious.” Truth was, Shelby normally didn't care anything about the women she was with. But with Rebecca, it felt different. “What was it like for you growing up?”
“Okay. Well, I live in a small apartment above some stables, outside the other side of town. I work for the stables part time, to pay for Patches' stall, and my apartment. I also work full time at the only western wear store in the county, so I stay pretty busy. I never felt the need to go to college, because to tell you the truth, it just wasn't something I wanted to do with four years of my life.”
Hearing about Rebecca's take on college made Shelby feel better about her lack of education. She knew she wasn't stupid, but it was nice to know not everyone went to college and had a degree. “I dropped out of high school when I was sixteen,” she admitted quietly.
Rebecca shrugged her shoulders. “Did that work for you?”
“At the time, yeah.”
“Then don't worry about it. You can always go back and get your diploma, if you want.”
The thought of being stuck in a classroom with kids horrified Shelby. “I'm not setting foot back in a school! Those people would laugh me right out onto the street.”
“You don't have to do that anymore. There are classes you can take through the mail, or even study for the test online.”
“The internet?” Rebecca queried. “Oh, right. I don't suppose you'd have much use for the internet with all the traveling you do.” She also didn't think that Shelby had the money to invest in something as frivolous as a computer. Rebecca only had one because her parents thought she would use it for school, instead for everything but.
“I've heard of it, just never really gave it much thought,” Shelby admitted. “But I could really get my diploma without going to school?”
Rebecca hip-checked her, playing around to keep the conversation light. “That's right. You'd still have to study for the test, and maybe take a course or two. But I'd be glad to help.”
Shelby almost opened her mouth to accept Rebecca's offer, when she realized where and who she was. “The next rodeo is down around Houston, next month. I won't have time.”
Could she? “I don't know, Rebecca. If I skip that one, I might as well skip Wichita the month after that.” The two rodeos had excellent purses, and Shelby knew she had a good chance of making enough money through one or the other to last her for several months.
Rebecca linked her arm with Shelby's, not caring who saw. “So? You won a good purse this time. Use it.”
“Let me think on it, okay?” This was all moving too quickly for Shelby, who liked to think things through meticulously. She let Rebecca lead her to a ticket booth at the carnival entrance, and was set to argue when Rebecca paid for their tickets.
“You can buy dinner.”
Shelby nodded. She knew she wouldn't be able to win, so she took the loss as gracefully as possible. “And I'll buy the next tickets, too.”
“No arguments.” When Rebecca stuck her tongue out at her, Shelby wanted to lean over and show her just what to do with it. “You're playing with fire, woman.”
“So? I've always liked things a little ‘hot',” Rebecca teased. She ran her tongue around her slightly opened lips. “Just wait. It'll get even hotter before the night is over.”
SEVERAL TIMES DURING the evening, Rebecca would say or do something that would set Shelby's libido on fire, then put a slight damper on it. She would rub up against her, whisper in her ear, or touch her when no one was looking. Poor Shelby felt as if she would combust at any moment.
They walked through one of the nearly-empty exhibit halls and Shelby had enough. She grabbed Rebecca by the hand, pulled her behind a partition, and sat in a chair.
Rebecca found herself sitting on Shelby's lap, their faces inches apart. The dark eyes so close to hers were sparkling with need, and she lowered her head and covered Shelby's lips with her own.
There was nothing gentle about the kiss, as one had wanted it as badly as the other. Shelby felt Rebecca's tongue demand entry, and she quickly granted it, moaning when Rebecca tangled her fingers in her hair and pulled her face even closer. Shelby cupped Rebecca's rear, bringing her nearer so that their breasts were touching.
Finally breaking her mouth free to breathe, Rebecca put her forehead down on Shelby's shoulder. “Damn, but you're good at that.” Now she knew for certain that she wasn't straight. As if I needed any help in that department.
Shelby kept rubbing Rebecca's back. “Funny, I was going to say the same thing about you.” She looked around to make sure they hadn't been seen. “Would you like to look around some more?”
“I don't know about you, but it's going to take me a minute to be able to walk after that.”
“I can wait. Or,” Shelby winked playfully, “we can neck.”
“Hmm. Now that's a tough choice.” Rebecca placed her arms around Shelby's neck and kissed her again, more gently but with just as much need.
“Oh, my God! How utterly disgusting,” a woman tsked from nearby. “I think I may faint.”
Rebecca hurriedly climbed off Shelby's lap, blushing. She was mortified they got caught, but Shelby seemed to enjoy it.
“Lady, maybe you just need to get laid,” Shelby told the woman as they passed. “I'll be here through Sunday, if you need me.” She winked at the woman, who practically swooned in shock.
Outside, Rebecca slapped Shelby on the arm. “That was mean.”
“It sure was, interrupting us like that.” She couldn't tell if Rebecca was upset or embarrassed. “Are you okay with what she saw?”
“To tell you the truth, I'm not sure. This is all pretty new to me.”
“We can take it as slow as you need to, Rebecca. There's no hurry.”
“Thanks.” Rebecca reached out and took Shelby's hand. “That means a lot to me.”
Shelby almost floated from the sensation of Rebecca's hand in hers. That and the fact that the other woman hadn't run off screaming by now was a good sign, at least in her book. “Well, since I've got a diploma to get, I guess I'm not going anywhere for a while. That is, if you're still willing to help me.”
Rebecca swung herself into an unsuspecting Shelby's arms. “That's wonderful! I've got a computer back at my apartment, and I'll be glad to help you download what you need.”
“Just another weird term. You'll understand them all in no time, believe me.”
Shelby wasn't as sure, but she trusted Rebecca. “If you say so.” She was glad when Rebecca linked arms with her again. “What's next?”
“How about the carnival midway? I love those.” Rebecca could have bitten her tongue as soon as the words left her mouth. How insensitive can I be? Her mother left to be with a carnival worker. “We don't have to, though, if you don't want to.”
“No, that's fine. Maybe we can find another place to scandalize someone.” Shelby loved the blush that colored Rebecca's face. “Come on. You look like the type that can win me a teddy bear.”
They spent well over an hour walking the small midway, and Rebecca had not only won Shelby a teddy bear, but a bull-shaped coin bank as well. They would often sneak around to the back of a tent and share short, but searing kisses, making both women weak in the knees.
As they passed one of the tents, Shelby noticed an older woman who looked vaguely familiar. No, that would be close to impossible. But she had memorized that small picture her father had saved of her mother, which he had cut from a discarded rodeo program. The man had been a hopeless romantic. And a hopeless drunk. It was one of the many reasons that Shelby herself would only drink beer, and limit herself to three at any one time. She refused to turn into her father, no matter what others might think of her. Now she was staring across the midway at a woman who might or might not be her mother.
“What's the matter?” Rebecca asked, when Shelby stopped and stared. “Do you think,”
Shelby shook her head. “No. My mother died for me 23 years ago. If that woman did give birth to me, she left me behind for a reason.” When Rebecca started to argue, Shelby held up her hand. “I don't want her to ruin our night, okay? Let's go get a funnel cake, and see how big a mess we can make on each other.”
“Sounds like fun to me.”
THEY HAD STAYED until the carnival started to shut down, and walked back to Shelby's trailer holding hands. The large parking lot which had been home to so many during the last few weeks was almost vacant. Shelby stopped at the foot of her trailer's stairs. “Thanks for a great time tonight. I can't remember ever having that much fun.”
“Well, it might have to do with how much you ate,” Rebecca teased. “I'm guessing that you have a hollow leg, or something, since you're not much bigger than me, and a heck of a lot skinnier.”
“I happen to think you're built perfectly. Don't ever think otherwise.”
Rebecca looked at her feet. “I've always felt a little fat, if you want to know the truth.”
“You? Damn, woman. You're about the most un-fat person I've ever seen. As a matter of fact, you're beautiful.” Shelby put her arms around Rebecca's waist and pulled her close. “Absolutely beautiful.” She leaned forward and kissed Rebecca tenderly, trying to instill in actions what her words couldn't.
The tingling sensation of Shelby's kiss wasn't lost on Rebecca, who suddenly knew exactly what she wanted. She broke away and looked into Shelby's eyes. “Let's go inside.”
“Are you sure? Because I don't think—”
“I'm very sure.” Rebecca kissed Shelby again. “I'm a big girl, Shelby. I know what I want, and what I want is you.”
Shelby led her into the trailer and turned on the light. “Is this okay?” For the first time in her life, she was nervous about taking a woman to bed. Maybe it's because for the first time in your life, this woman means something to you. She saw the dirty shirt that she had hastily left on the kitchenette counter and picked it up. “Let me just get rid of this,” she muttered, tossing it in the bathroom.
Rebecca sat on the bed and held out her arms. “Come here.” She watched with some amusement as a very nervous Shelby made her way across the small trailer. “Kiss me.”
“Okay.” Shelby sat on the bed and took Rebecca in her arms. The first kiss they shared was filled with hope and longing, which grew into need and passion. Shelby felt herself being pushed back onto the bed, and her shirt removed from her body. Once her shirt was removed, she felt Rebecca's hands at her belt.
Struggling with the buckle, Rebecca could only growl, “Off, off!” When Shelby helped her unbuckle the belt, it didn't take long for Rebecca to unsnap and unzip Shelby's jeans. She pulled the denim down slender legs, feeling the muscles for the first time. It was only when she got to the boots that Rebecca knew she was going to need some help, since Shelby's pants were bunched down around them. “Shelby, please!”
“Calm down, baby. We've got plenty of time.” Shelby sat up and helped with her boots and jeans, leaving her in just a sports bra and panties. She looked to Rebecca, who was still fully dressed. “I think you're wearing too many clothes, darlin'.”
Rebecca looked down at herself and grinned. “Your turn.” She dove onto the bed and held out her arms. “Strip me as you will, expert.”
Shelby laughed at her. “All right. You asked for it.” She straddled Rebecca's waist and leaned over to kiss the other woman soundly, until Rebecca began to squirm. While she kissed her, she pulled Rebecca's tee shirt out of her jeans and ran her hands up underneath it, raising it from her body. Shelby broke the kiss just long enough to slip the shirt over Rebecca's head, then tossed the garment to the floor. She ran light kisses over the other woman's chest, causing Rebecca's nipples to harden underneath her white silk brassiere.
“Shelby, oh!” The few clumsy times she had been with men were uneventful, and already Rebecca felt more than she had all those times combined.
“Just wait. It gets better.” Shelby quickly removed Rebecca's shoes and jeans, and was about to slide the straps down on Rebecca's bra, when her hand was covered.
“Can you turn out the light?” No matter what Shelby had told Rebecca, she was still embarrassed about her body. Anyone else would have seen a beautiful woman with curves in all the right places, but Rebecca had spent too many years hearing about “baby fat.”
Shelby looked down at her with love in her eyes. “Sure, baby. Hold on.” She kissed Rebecca on the tip of the nose and got up, switching off the light. The outside lights from the parking lot were more than enough to see by, for which Shelby was grateful. She'd had her share of “dates” that she'd rather have kept the light off, but this certainly wasn't one of them. When she got back into bed, she noticed that Rebecca had crawled under the sheets. “Are you all right? We don't have to,” her mouth was quickly covered by Rebecca's.
Rebecca couldn't believe how considerate a lover Shelby was being. She wanted, no, she needed, to make love with her. Here. Now. Pulling out of the kiss, Rebecca looked up into Shelby's shaded face. “I need you, Shelby. Please.”
“Okay.” Shelby kissed Rebecca again, and was about to remove the rest of her undergarments when she realized that Rebecca was nude under the sheets. Guess that answered that question. She is ready. She ran her hands along Rebecca's sides as she placed light kisses on her throat. At Rebecca's moan, she moved her hands to cover her breasts, gently pinching the nipples with her fingers.
Wanting to feel more of Shelby's skin, Rebecca tugged at her bra, then waited patiently as Shelby took the hint and removed the rest of her clothes. Now both naked, they pressed their bodies together for the first time.
Shelby thought that she might orgasm on the spot just from the feel of Rebecca's skin. Never in her life had sex felt like this. But then she realized, in that moment, that what the two of them were doing together was more than sex. It was making love. That thought should have scared Shelby, but she was too busy enjoying the moment to be bothered.
For Rebecca, she couldn't believe how soft Shelby was. Her skin was so smooth, and Rebecca couldn't wait to touch it everywhere. She used both hands to caress Shelby's back, mapping it out in wide, sweeping motions. When her hands found a firm ass to squeeze, she did just that.
“God, Rebecca.” The sensations that Rebecca's roaming hands caused was almost Shelby's undoing. She ground her hips into Rebecca's, who moaned in appreciation. Wanting to give pleasure to her lover, she brought one of Rebecca's nipples into her mouth, sucking on it gently.
Rebecca almost cried out at the exquisite feeling. She used one hand to hold Shelby's head to her breast, while she used the other to feel between them. Shelby was practically kneeling between her legs, so it was easy for Rebecca to place her hand between Shelby's legs, feeling a slick warmth.
The shock of Rebecca's hand almost caused Shelby to jerk away. Catching herself, she followed suit, until both women were gasping in pleasure.
The heavy orgasm that rocked Rebecca's body soon after was like nothing she'd ever experienced before. She cried out, and seconds later heard Shelby call out as well. They both lay twisted in the sheets, spent.
HOURS LATER, SHELBY awakened to shouts. She rolled over enough so that she could see through the window, and was shocked at what she saw. Heavy smoke was coming from the main barn, and the sounds of animals crying and men yelling drove her into action. She hurried out of bed and was almost fully dressed before Rebecca even stirred.
“What's going on?”
“It looks like there's a fire over at the barns. I'm going to run over and see if I can help.”
Rebecca sat up. “Give me a minute, and I'll go with you.” But her eyes were half slits, and she looked as if she would fall back to sleep any minute.
“Why don't you go find a phone, and make sure the authorities have been notified? I'll see you over there, okay?” Shelby knew better than to try and keep Rebecca away.
“Okay.” Rebecca knew the ruse for what it was, but she also knew it was a good idea. “Be careful?”
“Sure.” Shelby leaned down and gave Rebecca a quick kiss. “You be careful, too.” She hurried from the trailer before Rebecca had even found all her clothes.
The fire was in full force, and some of the men were standing around, just waiting. The sounds of frightened animals could be heard, and Shelby grabbed several ropes. “What are you idiots doing? They could be dying in there!”
“They're just stupid animals,” one man yelled.
“No, the stupid ones are out here,” she yelled back. Shelby took the ropes and ran into the blazing barn, as sirens could be heard in the distance.
Having made the call, Rebecca showed up at the scene and asked the men where Shelby went. They all point inside. “How could you let her do that?”
“Do you think that you could stop her?” Another one of the men asked.
“Probably not. But I sure as hell wouldn't have let her go in alone.” Rebecca started for the barn, when two of the men held her up.
“You can't go in there.”
She struggled, but couldn't break free from their grip. “But you let Shelby.”
“She'll get what she deserves.”
“Damn it, you fools! She's not guilty of setting the fire, or any of the other things that have been happening around here. She was with me tonight.”
Henry jogged up. “What the hell is going on here?” He had to jump to one side when a horse came flying out of the barn. “Raymond, run up and watch the main gate. Let the emergency vehicles in, but keep the animals from running off.”
Rebecca looked at the other men just standing around. “Is anyone going to help her?” More animals raced outside, some on fire. Men grabbed what they could to put out the fires and help the animals.
“Help who?” Henry asked.
“Shelby. She's in there letting the animals out.”
A fireman showed up then. “You have someone inside? That's extremely dangerous.”
“No shit. But she wasn't about to stand by and let helpless animals die, while other people sat out here chatting,” Rebecca snapped. She was still upset that she wasn't inside helping Shelby.
The firemen started spraying the barn, while animals continued to trickle out. Finally, a frantic horse burst from the flames, with a rider astride.
Shelby waited until the horse was far enough away from the fire before she slid from its back. Falling to the gravel, she coughed heavily through the shirt she had tied around her face. It had left her in her bra, but she was too tired to care. The fire captain was standing over her in an instant. “Miss, that was an exceedingly stupid thing to do.”
“Shut up.” Rebecca dropped to her knees beside Shelby and held her in her arms. “It's going to be okay, sweetheart. There's an ambulance on the way.” She held on to the soot-covered woman, rocking her gently.
SEVERAL OF THE men who had stood around watched the ambulance leave the fairgrounds. One commented, “You have to admit, that took more guts than sense.”
“Yeah, you're right. Although she could have done it just to throw the blame off herself,” Another one added.
“You're all full of shit,” Rebecca yelled. “Not to mention a bunch of cowards, letting a woman go in to save the animals, while you all stood out here and watched.”
A heavyset man stepped forward. “That doesn't make us cowards, girl. Just makes us smarter than her. No one in their right mind would have gone into that blaze unless they had a real good reason. Maybe she needed to cover up something.”
Rebecca threw up her hands. “But she was with me this evening. There's no way she could have started the fire.”
The heavyset man wasn't convinced. “Are you sure? Did she leave your sight for any length of time? It wouldn't take long to toss a cigarette or something in a bale of hay.”
Before opening her mouth again, Rebecca thought back. Shelby had already been dressed when she woke up. Had she just come back, or was she truly innocent? No. The woman who made love to me so gently could not have started that fire. “She's innocent.”
“If you say so.” The heavyset man pushed by Rebecca. “We might as well go back to our own business, though. There's nothing left for us to do here.”
Rebecca couldn't have agreed more. She hurried over to the parking lot and got into her car, worried about Shelby. She hoped to be at the hospital shortly after the ambulance arrived. The bull rider had remained unconscious while they loaded her in the back of the vehicle, apparently overcome by too much smoke.
REBECCA HATED HOSPITALS. She wasn't sure if it was the smell, the morbidity of it all, or if she just had a repressed memory somewhere. All she knew for sure is that no matter how much she hated being here, she wouldn't leave until she could take Shelby with her.
Right now Shelby was on oxygen, and the few small burns on her hands and arms had been treated. The shirt around her face had helped, but they still wanted to keep her at least overnight to make sure. She was asleep at the moment, breathing on her own.
The woman standing beside her bed spoke, even though she knew she couldn't be heard. “You scared me to death.” Rebecca watched Shelby's chest rise and fall, and looked at the oxygen meter. “You've gone up three more points in the last hour. That's good news.” The doctor had told her that as soon as she was up to a certain point, they'd let Rebecca take her home.
Shelby's eyes opened at the sound of her lover's voice. She looked around the room, confused at first, then panicky.
“You're okay. It's just that you sucked up a lot of smoke, and your throat and lungs are not real happy with you right now.”
Shelby pointed to Rebecca.
“Actually, I'm rather proud of you. And you proved to those jerks that you weren't the type to cause harm, but to protect from it.”
Again, Shelby pointed to Rebecca.
“Sweetheart, I knew it before I ever asked it. I was just being an idiot.”
Sweetheart? She called me sweetheart? Shelby smiled at the term of endearment.
“Now what's that silly grin for?” Rebecca sat on the edge of the bed. You can't be happy about being in here.”
“Swee—”Shelby croaked. She allowed Rebecca to help her with sucking on a few ice chips from a nearby cup.
“Oh, I get it. You liked me calling you sweetheart?” At Shelby's nod, Rebecca smiled too. “Good. Because I like it, too.” Rebecca brushed the hair away from Shelby's face. She had used several damp towels trying to get her lover clean, until a kind nurse took pity and loaned her some soap and a sponge.
A knock at the door disturbed them, and Shelby looked to Rebecca, who shrugged. She walked over and opened the door, where a man in a dark suit stood. “May I help you?”
“I'm with the Brownyerd County Sheriff's Department. Is this the room of Miss Shelby Fisher? I have a few questions I need to ask her.”
“As you can see, she's recuperating from inhaling most of the smoke at that barn. Can't this wait?” Rebecca crossed her arms over her chest and stood between him and the bed where Shelby lay.
He stepped to one side of Rebecca. “I'm sorry, Miss?”
“Starrett. But as you can see, she can't even talk yet. So if you'll just leave us your card, Shelby will call you back as soon as she can.” Rebecca moved to get between him and her lover again.
“Miss Starrett, if you don't move, I'll arrest you for obstructing justice. Now if you'll behave, I'll let you stay.”
A croak from the bed made Rebecca race over to where Shelby lay. “What is it?”
“Tough stuff,” Shelby rasped. She tried to keep from laughing, but failed.
“Hush. You're going to hurt yourself.”
The deputy came over to the bed. “I'm sorry to bother you, ma'am, but I have a few questions, then I'll leave, okay?”
“Do you, or did you know, a Rob Sanger?”
Shelby nodded again.
“Did he have any reason to carry a grudge against you?”
Shelby shrugged, then nodded. She pointed to Rebecca.
“She means, other than the fact the sun came up? The man's a weasel. What's he claiming she's done to him, now?” Rebecca was tired of the stupid questions already, and they hadn't even started yet.
“Nothing. We found him in one corner of the barn, with a can of gasoline. We believe that he died of smoke inhalation, but only an autopsy will tell for sure. It seems like he wasn't a very good arsonist. Or someone wanted to make it look that way.”
“He's dead?” Rebecca didn't like the man, but she hadn't wished death on him. “How horrible. You can't be suggesting that Shelby had something do to with him being in the barn?”
The deputy looked up from his notes. “I'm not suggesting anything, Miss Starrett. But you have to admit that since they were the only two in the barn, it does look suspicious.”
The door opened, and a nurse poked her head inside the room. “That's all for today, deputy. You'll have to come back tomorrow. Doctor's orders.”
Rebecca felt relieved, and Shelby looked tired. “I don't know when she's being released, but give me your card, and I promise she'll contact you when she can.”
“All right. Thanks.” He handed Rebecca a card and started to leave, but was almost knocked into the doorframe by Jessica.
“Shelby, darling! I came as soon as I heard.” Wearing her rodeo finery, Jessica plopped down on the bed, causing Shelby to wince. “You really must stop doing such brave things, it's just not safe.” She turned to look at Rebecca, who was exchanging glances with the plainclothes deputy. “Who are these people?”
“I'm sure you remember me. I'm the one who beat your time at barrels,” Rebecca explained just as sweetly. “And if you were smart, you'd get away from my girlfriend.”
Jessica stood up, shocked. “Girlfriend? Since when?” she grabbed Shelby's hospital gown and started to shake her. “For God's sake, you fucking bitch. We're still dating!”
Shelby tried to fight off the crazy woman. “Never was,” she forced out. “You wish.”
The deputy hurried back into the room and grabbed Jessica. “Calm down, lady. You can't go around beating up on convalescing people.”
“Let go of me, dammit!” Jessica screamed. “First Rob, now her. I can't keep anyone.” Her screams silenced to sobs. “He'd do anything for me, you know. Natalie's saddle so I could become queen, Andrea's gear, just a few of the things he did for me. He hated you so much.”
Using his cuffs, the deputy quickly subdued Jessica. He began to quietly Mirandize her, but she continued to speak over his voice.
“Why couldn't you like me? I thought I was your type,” she asked Shelby, who couldn't, or wouldn't answer her. “I loved you.”
Shelby shook her head.
As the deputy led her away, Jessica began to cry again. “Don't hate me. I couldn't stand it if you hated me.”
Rebecca watched them leave, then went over to Shelby. Her oxygen level had dropped several points in the last few minutes. “Please be quiet for a while, okay? Let the good air do its work?”
Shelby nodded. There was so much she wanted to tell Rebecca, explain to her how she had changed. How she hated the old Shelby, and wanted to be someone that Rebecca can be proud of.
Rebecca kissed Shelby's forehead. “I think you're beginning to grow on me.”
Those words meant more to Shelby than anything else she'd ever heard. She pointed to her own chest, then held up two fingers.
“You too, huh?”
Another happy nod.
“I think I like you quiet. Easier to keep you in line.” Rebecca kissed Shelby again, then stroked her cheek. “Sleep. I'll be here when you wake up.”
SHELBY WOKE AGAIN, and the lighting of the room had changed. It appeared to be dark outside, so she was pretty sure she slept the entire day away. Rebecca was curled up in a chair, covered with a hospital blanket to keep warm. Shelby looked over at the monitor and was glad it was close to one hundred percent. Her throat still felt as if it was on fire and she could swear that someone was standing on her chest. But seeing the woman in the chair next to her bed made everything better. Life is good.
She thought about what happened earlier in the day. Hearing Jessica admit to being behind all the problems and of using Rob to do her dirty work made Shelby feel sick inside. I used her like I used so many, and it came back and bit me on the ass. I need to tell Rebecca about her.
“You're thinking pretty hard about something,” Rebecca's voice drifted through the room. “Hopefully it's a good thing, and it's me.”
Shelby looked at the lovely face she had dreamed about. We'll talk, but not right now. She looks so tired. “I dreamed about you.”
“Good dreams, or nightmares?”
Rebecca smiled. “Then that's all that matters, right?”
Shelby nodded. Before she could say anything else, a nurse walked into the room.
“Look who's awake. Let me go notify the doctor, and she'll be right in to check on you.” She checked Shelby's vitals then patted her shoulder.
Rebecca sat on the edge of Shelby's bed and held her hand. “Is there anything I can get you?”
“Not yet, try again.”
The door opened again, and a small, dark-haired woman stepped into the room. “Hi, I'm Dr. Wong. My nurse seems to think you're doing better today, Ms. Fisher.”
“My, that's a lovely croak you have there, Shelby. Mind if I have a look inside?” The doctor took out her light and shined it down Shelby's throat, then up her nose. “Ouch. You're going to be sounding bad for a few days, and I want to run one more set of blood tests. But barring anything major, I think we'll let you leave our fine establishment tomorrow.”
Rebecca stood and held out her hand. “Thank you for taking such good care of her, Dr. Wong.”
“I think I should be saying that to you.” The doctor winked and left the room.
“Cute blush,” Shelby croaked, teasing her lover. “Need a picture.”
Rebecca shook her head. “Oh, no you don't.” She covered her face with her hands.
“Beautiful,” Shelby uttered, this time totally serious.
“What kind of drugs do they have you on?”
Shelby shook her head. “You.”
The blush deepened, and Rebecca moved to sit next to Shelby again. “You are a sweet talker, Shelby Fisher. I can see I’m going to have to keep my eye on you.”
THE NEXT MORNING, Rebecca came into the room waving the local newspaper around. “I found this in the cafeteria,” she announced. “You are officially a hero.”
Shelby glared at her, but couldn't keep the interest from her features. “What?”
“'Champion Bull Rider Saves Animals,'“ Rebecca read out loud.
“No, it says it right here.” When Shelby shook her head again, Rebecca had to disagree. “I'm sorry, but it's right. You are a hero.” There was an old publicity picture of Shelby in the paper, showing her accepting congratulations from some older man.
“No. And I'm no champion, either.” The ice chips helped, so Shelby continued to suck on them as they spoke.
“Maybe not this time, but I bet you were once, right?” Rebecca refused to let it go.
Shelby sighed. “Ten years ago, maybe. I think I still have the buckle somewhere. Told you I wasn't any good.”
Rebecca got an evil smirk on her face. “I beg to differ with you, my dear. You're very good. And not just at riding bulls.”
Now it was Shelby's turn to blush. Before she could retort, a timid knock on the door interrupted them.
“Come in,” answered Rebecca.
The door opened, and an older woman came into the room. “Shelby? Is that really you?” Her light brown hair was liberally streaked with gray, and she looked much older than she was. Her teeth and fingers were stained with nicotine, and her voice was rough and raspy from too many years of alcohol abuse. Weary eyes were red-rimmed, and her whole demeanor was of someone who had been beaten down for too many years.
Shelby studied her, and realized it was the same woman from the carnival the night of the fire. “Vivian?”
“I'm your mother, couldn't you call me that?” Vivian stepped further into the room. “It's been so many years, baby.” Her voice cracked, and she suddenly wanted to go back in time and change all the wrongs she had done.
“Don't,” Shelby grabbed at her throat, then chewed some ice for a moment. “You left me.”
Vivian looked at Rebecca, who started to leave.
“Maybe I should—”
“Stay,” Shelby begged, holding out her hand to her lover. “Please?”
Rebecca gave Vivian an apologetic look, but took Shelby's hand and sat beside her.
“Why?” Shelby asked Vivian.
Vivian looked around the room as she took a seat in the chair. “I had to. Your father was a mean drunk. Sooner or later, one or both of us would be dead, and where would that leave you?”
“The same as it already did. With one parent.” Shelby coughed, then took a few more ice chips into her mouth.
“I've tried to follow you all these years, you know. I've rarely missed a rodeo. You're a lot better than your father ever was.” She hoped that Shelby realized how much she had, and still, loved her. “It's not been easy, but I've watched you.”
Shelby shook her head. “But why didn't you take me with you?”
Vivian looked down at the floor. “I was afraid of failing you. At least your father could ride for a living – I had no skills. My family disowned me when I married your father. And I sold off my horse and tack when we got married.”
“What about when he died?”
“You went to live with your aunt, I didn't want to change that. She was much better for you than I could have been. At least she had a real home to give to you.”
“I was fucking twelve,” Shelby yelled, then instantly regretted it. She grabbed her throat in agony, and coughed for a minute.
Rebecca had seen Shelby upset long enough. “I think you need to leave,” she told Vivian.
Vivian looked at her. “Who are you?”
“I don't think so.” Vivian glared at Rebecca, then turned to look at her daughter. The last thing she needed to hear was that her daughter was like “that”. And even if she was, she didn't think the woman had the right to tell her what to do.
“She is. Now get out, and don't come back. My mother died when I was six,” Shelby whispered. She rolled over, turning her back on Vivian and effectively ending the conversation.
“IT'S JUST FOR a few days,” Rebecca pleaded. “I've already talked to my boss.”
“Not to mention it's the only way I'm letting you out of here,” Dr. Wong added. “Although the blood tests came back clear, I want you to have someone around in case your lungs fill with fluid.”
Shelby rolled her eyes. She did feel better, but silently agreed that she'd do whatever it took to get out of the hospital. “Okay.”
“Stubborn woman,” Rebecca whispered in her ear. “I promise not to smother you.”
She was so close, that Shelby was tempted to steal a kiss. But she wasn't sure how the doctor would react, and the woman had treated them both with respect and kindness. “I know,” she whispered instead.
“Now, if you're through throwing your fit, I'll sign your release papers.” Dr. Wong filled out the necessary forms and handed copies to Rebecca. “Make sure she stays in bed for a few days.”
“I sure will,” Rebecca answered, then blushed when Shelby laughed. “I mean, I'll take good care of her.”
Shelby laughed again, and was slapped on the leg for her trouble. “Not my fault.”
The doctor nodded her approval and started to leave the room. “Just don't overdo it,” she ordered, just as the door closed behind her.
Both women blushed, then laughed.
“I HOPE YOU didn't mind, but my boss drove your truck and trailer out to the stables. They were closing down the fairgrounds, and it had to be moved. The biggest I've ever pulled is a two-horse trailer, and I didn't want anything to go wrong.” Rebecca chatted nervously, still not knowing why she volunteered to take care of a woman she had just met a couple of weeks previously. And already slept with, a little voice inside her head reminded her. Rebecca didn't know what had come over her. She never did anything rashly, but that's all she seemed to do around Shelby.
Shelby watched the passing scenery go by. “I'm sure it's fine.” She turned to look at Rebecca. “Thanks again for springing me from the hospital. But you don't have to baby-sit. I won't tell if you won't.”
“Sorry, I gave my word, so that means you're stuck with me.”
“I feel just fine. No sense in going to all this trouble for nothing.” Shelby cleared her throat. “I sure could use a cigarette about now, though.”
Rebecca turned to glance at her passenger. “Nope. Doctor's orders there, too. You'll just have to do without for a while.”
“Is that all I have to do without?”
“Shelby!” Rebecca blushed again. “Is that all you think about?”
“Around you, it's pretty close.” Shelby settled back against the seat and quieted. She did want to spend more time with Rebecca, and not just in bed. There was just something about the other woman that drew her, and she wanted time to see what that was. I must be getting soft in my old age.
Rebecca drove her car through an open gate. When the graveled road forked, she took the left but pointed to the right. “The main house is up that way about half a mile. I like having the privacy of the barns, if you want to know the truth.” In another minute of so, they could see Shelby's truck and trailer parked beside a two-story barn. “Mr. Lockneer just ran an extension cable out from the barn, I hope that's okay.”
“That's more than I have sometimes,” Shelby admitted quietly. There were times she had to make due with an ice chest for her perishables and bottled water to drink. “Is there someplace I can take the trailer around here, to empty out the tank, like a campgrounds?”
“Mr. Lockneer took care of it on his way out here. He didn’t think you'd be up to doing it for yourself for a while.”
Not used to so much kindness from strangers, Shelby didn't know how to act. “He didn't have to do that.”
“It wasn't a problem. I think he was impressed with the newspaper accounts of your heroism in the stable fire.” Rebecca parked her car next to Shelby's trailer. “If you'd like to get cleaned up, you're more than welcome to use my bathroom. I've got a shower/tub combo, so you can do whatever your heart desires.”
“Taking you into my trailer and have my way with you is what I desire. But I don't think either one of us is up to that right now.”
Rebecca reached over and caressed Shelby's face. “I think you're right, although it sounds really good. How about you come upstairs with me, get cleaned up, and then you can get some rest?”
“Okay.” Shelby got out of the car on her own and followed Rebecca into the barn, to the entry to her apartment. They climbed a set of stairs until Rebecca opened a heavy wooden door.
Turning on the light, Rebecca hoped that she had picked up everything before she left. Looking around, she was glad to see the apartment was in decent shape, although it could use a quick dusting and sweeping. “Disregard the dust rabbits. The bunnies grew.”
Shelby laughed. “At least your place is big enough for them. Mine fight for space under the bed.” She looked around the apartment. It would probably be small by other standards, but looked huge to her after living in a tiny trailer. The living room, dining room and kitchen were all in the same main room. Worn but well-taken care of furniture complimented the room, which was made bright by two sets of windows along one wall. A small desk sat in the corner, on which a dark monitor sat. Two doors led from the room, which Shelby assumed were to the bedroom and bathroom. “This is really nice.”
“Thanks. The price is right, and I get to be around horses all the time, which is another plus.” Rebecca opened one door. “Here's the bathroom, so feel free to steal it at any time. Just bring it back when you're done.”
“Funny.” Shelby crossed the room as if to check out the bath. She took Rebecca in her arms and held her close. “Thanks for all that you're doing for me. I don't know what I did to deserve it, but I appreciate it.”
Rebecca melted into the embrace. “You're welcome.” She stepped back. “Come to bed with me. Your trailer is safe downstairs, and I'll make sure you're safe up here.”
Shelby couldn't argue the point. She wordlessly followed Rebecca into the darkened bedroom and allowed her lover to strip and help her into bed. She barely felt Rebecca's nude form next to hers before she was sound asleep.
To be continued in Part 3.
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