Cowboy Up

Cowboy Up

by Rob Knight



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781933389790
Publisher: Torquere Press
Publication date: 11/28/2005
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

Stormclouds By Dallas Coleman

It was fixing to storm; he could tell because that knee of his always ached so the morning before it blew up outside. He ought to get himself moving, get himself on the ball and round up the pasture horses. Damned things would panic if things got nasty outside and they weren't put up high and dry.

The cattle would come easy. Well, they would assuming Ray Baker's old stallion hadn't caught wind of Peg and Candy being in season and trampled the fence down. Not that Peanut wasn't a fine bit of horseflesh, but Trace was wanting a pureblood to put on 'em both, get him a couple colts worth selling. Of course, if Peanut hit that old fence hard enough, the herd could eat on Ray's good rye grass and leave his for haying. Maybe that wouldn't be all bad after all...

Trace looked over his near-empty coffee cup across the old table at the fisted hands sitting on the scarred pine. Almost made him smile, too, those gnarled fingers sitting on the gnarled wood, both dark, familiar. Almost made him smile because Dwayne was saying goodbye now, wasn't he?

Not that Trace was listening, not even a little bit. No sir. He was looking at the faded blue suitcase--they'd got that in Shreveport years ago, to bring home the horse blankets they'd bought from a flea market--packed full of blue jeans and shirts and Stetson cologne and God knew his UT cap was probably in there 'cause Dwayne'd been coveting it for damn near ever.


Ten years. Ten whole goddamned years of sweat and tears and sex and what? What now after loving and building a house and a ranch and a ... a ... a them? Dwayne was bored. Tired of working dust to make hay. Wanting to makereal money, see the sights. Get the Hell out of Dodge. Find some young fella who wasn't looking at the near edge of forty through wire-rimmed glasses.

Folks'd say--if folks did say, because they were all good at pretending that him and Dwayne weren't what they were--that he was a damned fool, trying to bring a fine little moneyed piece of Savannah gentry over to Odessa. Taking on with someone five years younger that he'd met in a truck stop, of all things, back when him and Jenn were still pretending that they were married and happy and in love.


Dwayne'd turned his eye right off the bat, blond and tanned and broad shouldered in that football and fresh-out-of-the-Marine corps sorta way. The man had been something else, then, girls swooning and shit. Been bold as brass, too, coming up and sitting down, giving him a once over. All balls and want and pride--Tracy'd been hooked and good.

They'd looked good together, then. They were of a height--Dwayne a little bulkier, him a little leggier. Dwayne'd liked his freckles, his bright red curls, his green eyes. The first thing the man had ever said to him was, "Tell me now, do you have a temper, Irish?"

He'd laughed--partially because he did and partially because ... Oh, hell.

Trace hid his smile. Lord, he'd fallen like a lead balloon at the first sound of that voice, that drawl like sweet tea would sound, calling to you from the icebox. Still worked, too, even when that same voice was saying that he was gone old and stodgy, that a man couldn't live on sunshine and love.

That maybe Dwayne'd been hasty, giving up his daddy's money for a ratty-assed cowpoke from Nowhere, Texas. Tracy couldn't really argue that, although Dwayne'd proved himself to be a fine damned cowboy. Lord, that boy could work, sun up to sun down, right beside him.

Shame, too, that Dwayne didn't get from it what he did.

They hadn't done anything that first night. Lord, no. They'd sat and talked and talked until he was damn near raspy and for sure late and gonna be exhausted on his way to Raleigh. Still, he'd had a good time and he'd given up his phone number, told Dwayne to call when he'd be coming through again.

Of course, the next time through hadn't come for a few weeks--okay, a few months, but who counted days anymore? Him and Dwayne, they'd spent a little longer, talked a little more. Tracy'd mentioned he was stopping by Tucson on his way to Yuma, signing the papers for his divorce. Jenn'd gotten herself in the family way with that damned dentist down the street and he was having a hard time pretending to be scarred and hurt, so he settled for satisfied combined with a little bitterness sprinkled on top.

Dwayne'd offered to take the ride with him, keep him company and he'd said yes straight up, hadn't even thought on it hard. They'd made it to Mobile before the talk turned to sex, El Paso before talking'd turned to doing.

It'd been good, listening to his name in that voice, ringing through the sleeper bed of the cab. He'd decided then and there what he'd wanted and just how to get it. Too bad he'd not managed the keeping of it.

Trace'd seen this coming, like a stampede on the far end of a dry creek. The dust started coming and you just squinted a little at first, trying to see if those dark shapes in the clouds were danger or dust devils. Then you heard it, the stamping of hooves like slamming doors.

Now he had to decide whether to jump for safety or lie down and get his ass trampled.

"...not even hearing me, Tracy."

He looked up into eyes as blue as summer skies and shook his head. "What is it you need heard, baby? You don't want to be us anymore. I hear you. I been hearing.

"This isn't just about you, Trace. I'm unhappy. There's a whole world out there and you're missing it."

Missing it? Hell, he'd driven it for long enough. California to Florida. Louisiana to Michigan. New York to Arizona. He'd seen all he'd needed. This place? This was their home. Hell, there wasn't a square inch they hadn't fixed, sanded, painted, spackled. Hell, they'd damn near blown the whole place up putting in space heaters. And the whole miswiring of the ceiling fans? Christ. Between the smell and the laughing and the sparks? Lord have mercy.

"You know where the door is, don't you?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I do." Dwayne sighed, looked over at him, eyes suddenly sparkling and serious. "Come with me. Tell me you'll sell the house, the critters. We can go find a place in Atlanta. New Orleans. Tampa Bay. We'll get a rig, see the country. Be free."

Tracy shook his head, the action making the white curtains on the kitchen windows blur in his eyes. "Baby, I've had that life. This is where I live, where our home is."

"You've gotten old, Irish."

"It's what happens to most of us." He resisted the urge to straighten his shirt, puff up. He wasn't that old. He still looked like a man, cut a figure.

"Yeah, but ... Shit, Tracy, you know how I feel about you, it's just..." There was a far away look about Dwayne, sort of like a dog got right before it bit, when things changed from pet to animal, and he braced himself for the bruises that were coming. "It's not enough for me anymore, playing house and pretending we're no different than the Fergusons or the Van Eatons."

He watched Dwayne's mouth moving. He did love the way the top lip had that 'v' in it, defined and sharp-angled. He'd licked at it a hundred thousand times. Wasn't the thing he'd miss most, but it was up there along with the way Dwayne sang with the radio and the way the man ate popcorn. Fucked up and weird, but true.

Dwayne wound down, finished with a long series of things Trace reckoned he should care about but didn't. He wasn't going to beg for it, simple as that.

"You don't have a single thing to say, do you?"

"I reckon you've said it all, baby. You always had enough words for the both of us." He stood up, rinsed out his coffee cup. It looked odd, sitting all by itself in the sink. Looked like there might be a crack in it too, right there at the bottom where most people'd never see.

Damn, those clouds were moving in fast.

"You ... I loved you, you son of a bitch. I lost my whole life for you, for this piece of land..."

He turned, feeling growly as a bear with a sore paw. How much trash did Dwayne think he was interested in hearing? "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard it all. You're withering like a grape on the vine. You was made for better things. I'm an old fuck with no money and nothing but a strong back. You've said. I've heard. Just take your unhappy self and go. I got critters to feed."

"Oh, fuck you and those scrawny beasts out there. I'm so tired of hearing about your cattle and your house and your life. What about me? What about mine?"

"What about it?" Trace felt himself slip-sliding from peeved into true-blue pissed, his hands going to fists. "You think I ain't done this for you?"

Those blue eyes rolled and it was all he could do not to knock Dwayne plumb into next month. "Right. Come on, Trace. All this? Is your fucking dream. You never once asked me if I wanted. Hell, you've never asked me at all, not from the first. All this--this whole thing's been yours from the beginning."

He took a step forward, shaking his head. "It's only been a year or so since you started going on about skipping town. Only been since that kid interning with Doc Turney left to go back to vet school."

It was the sheer shock in Dwayne's eyes that sent him over the edge, hands wrapped around Dwayne's arms, shaking good and hard. "What? You think I'm stupid, baby? You think people weren't eager as all fuck to let me know you'd been seen panting?"

"I didn't ever ... Shit, Trace. I wouldn't've. He was a kid. I was just..." He could smell Dwayne now, cologne and soap and them and he hated it, hated that Dwayne was fixin' to take it all away down the highway for something as stupid as being bored.

"Shut up. Shut up, now. I don't want to know. I don't want to hear your mouth going on and on and on about what all I ain't and what I haven't and what you want." He shook again, Dwayne strong and solid in his hands, the working man's muscles so much finer to him than the ones that Dwayne'd bought from a gym.

"You do care." Trace wasn't sure if he was more pissed that Dwayne mentioned it or that Dwayne was right. He pushed back again, growling, just muscling them back until Dwayne hit the Frigidaire with a dull thump, the beer bottles rattling inside.

"You bastard. You sorry son of a bitch. Of course I care. There ain't been a day, not a single fucking day since I met you I ain't cared."

Their lips crashed together, the kiss wild and hungry, Dwayne tasting so good, a mixture of heat and honey and that pricy damned toothpaste Dwayne insisted on. Dwayne's hands pushed against him, but he didn't let up because the choice was kissing or hitting the bastard so hard they'd meet up against next week and by the time he thought Dwayne really would rather have the punch those hands curled around his shoulders and tugged him close.

"This doesn't change anything." Those eyes were fierce, hard.

"Shut the fuck up, baby." He kissed again, just wanting to remember, to have something to keep with him when his everything up and walked away. He got his thigh between Dwayne's, got his hand on the zipper. Dwayne wasn't hard for him yet, but the interest was there, greeting his hand, pushing up.

It didn't take him much, just a few rubs and a squeeze just so. No matter what Dwayne said about him not listening and not caring, he knew where to touch, where to stroke to make it right, to make that sorry, stuck up, unhappy man want him. Dwayne moaned low, the sound mingling with the sound of the wind in the live oaks, making the heavy branches creak.

He worked, tongue and hand together, trying his damnedest to make Dwayne see. It wasn't all his. It was theirs. Their life. Their love. Their home and damned if he wanted to lose it all.

Hell, he didn't even want to lose a little.

Dwayne fit fine in the curve of his palm, hot and good and all silk. He knew how his calluses felt, slick and smooth with just the oddest rough bits around the edges. Those he used to his advantage, rubbing the crown, spreading the wet proof of wanting all around the tip.

Wasn't ever gonna forget this. Not even for a second. Not even a bit. He could see the trees moving in Dwayne's eyes, see himself, too. Right on in there. He breathed in each and every sound Dwayne made for him, breathed in the smell of wanting and then held his breath. When Dwayne closed his eyes, started humping, Trace kept his own fool eyes open, heart cracking in his chest.

When Dwayne came for him, painting his wrist with heat, it didn't feel like a victory, like he'd won. When Dwayne slid from between him and the fridge, heading to the sink to clean up, Tracy knew it hadn't been.

Dwayne was right. It hadn't changed anything.

He wiped his arm off on the dishrag on the counter, throwing it in the trash as he headed for the back door. He had cattle to feed.

The first wave of storms came around dinnertime, late enough that Trace'd convinced himself it was gonna miss them and hit closer to San Angelo. He was mending the south-most chicken coop, tacking up some old feedsacks to patch the holes the damned coyotes made when he noticed the birds acting funny, fluttering and bobbing about, roosting down plumb early, given he hadn't done the evening feed yet. That old Leghorn rooster puffed up, beak open like it was drinking of the air, comb flushed deep red. Made him right uneasy, got his nerves to jangling.

He stepped outside into what ought to be sunshine, but wasn't, tugged off his straw hat for a minute to take a look and what he saw sent a shot of pure bottled fear through him. Wasn't a farmer worth his salt didn't fear the sky when she was the color of dull opals, the threat of a heavenly steam engine just on the edge of hearing, clouds rolling in a boil.

Sweet Jesus.

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Cowboy Up 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
amazing what concentration on character will do for an overall good read. each story has touching characters, without resorting to the cut-outs most rely on. it's a keeper and a rereader.
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