Hey, she was single and way over twenty-one. She could go out with any man she wanted. But the thought of her with Wes stirred a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He glanced around to see if she might be somewhere else, all the while telling himself to forget her, reminding himself she was nothing but trouble.
In the distance, western music pumped over the speakers at the edge of the picnic area, but he saw no sign of Patience. He wandered toward a cluster of cottonwood trees near the parking lot to see if Wes’s truck was still there.
“If you’re lookin’ for that pretty little gal I seen you starin’ at, she left with Wes McCauley.” Salty Marvin sat in the shadows, his brown, weathered hands forming a hand-rolled cigarette. “Heard someone say he was givin’ her a ride back home.”
The knot in Dallas’s stomach turned into a ten-pound weight. “That so?”
“I was you, I’d make sure she got there okay.”
Dallas glanced away. “She’s Wes’s problem, not mine.”
“Maybe so. But Wes was drinkin’ pretty hard tonight. He gets liquored-up, he don’t always listen too good when a lady says no.”
Worry slipped along Dallas’s spine. He had heard stories about Wes, that sometimes the big steer wrestler had been known to press a woman a little too hard for what he wanted. Dallas didn’t believe Wes would actually force a woman to have sex, but he was big and sometimes he didn’t know his own strength. He didn’t want Patience having problems with Wes.
“How long have they been gone?”
“Fifteen, twenty minutes.”
Dallas started walking toward his truck, climbed in and fired up the engine. It didn’t take long to reach the rodeo grounds. He spotted Patience’s little white travel trailer. Wes’s Ford sat in the shadows not far away.
You do this, you’re gonna make a damned fool of yourself.
But the door of his truck cracked open as if it had a mind of its own. Dallas climbed down and started walking, cussing himself all the way. When he reached the trailer, he heard voices inside. Then the lights went off and the trailer fell silent.
Sonofabitch. He knew what was going on in there. He knew and it and it royally pissed him off.
You probably think I’m old fashioned, Patience had said.
Old fashioned? Ha! His hands balled into fists. Fine, he told himself. She wants Wes she can have him. He started to walk away, but something just wouldn’t let him.
Calling himself ten kinds of a fool, Dallas strode over and banged on the door. “Patience?”
Wes’s deep voice answered. “Hey, buddy, we’re busy in here.”
Dallas swore foully. He started to turn away, even madder at himself that he was at her, when he heard the sound of glass breaking inside the trailer. Combined with the instincts screaming inside his head, he reached for the knob and jerked open the door.
A Coke bottle whizzed past his ear, smashing against the metal frame.
“Get out of here, Wes McCauley! And don’t you ever come near me again!”
Everything happened at once.
Wes dragged Patience against him and tried to force a bruising kiss. Patience jabbed an elbow into his ribs and kicked him hard in the shins. Wes swore a string of dirty words, and a red haze of fury dropped over Dallas, unlike anything he had known.
Growling low in his throat, he grabbed the front of Wes’s shirt and spun him around, dragged him toward the door, and heaved him down the stairs. Wes landed in the dirt and Dallas went after him, hauling him up and smashing him in the face. Wes swung a fist at Dallas, who dodged the blow and punched Wes in the stomach, doubling him over.
“What the hell are you doing?” Wes slurred. He was a taller, heavier man, but he was drunk and disoriented. He staggered to his feet and Dallas smashed a fist into his jaw that sent him sprawling. He went down like a stone and this time he didn’t get up.
Adrenalin pumped through Dallas’s blood. His jaw was locked, his teeth clenched. He noticed the knuckles on his hand were bleeding. He turned toward the trailer, saw Patience standing at the bottom of the metal stairs.
“I-I needed a ride back to the trailer,” she explained as he walked toward her. “Wes volunteered. I didn’t…I didn’t realize he had drunk so much until we were had already left the picnic.”
Dallas said nothing. He was still so mad he couldn’t speak.
Patience took a shaky breath. “Wes started trying to kiss me and I couldn’t make him stop.”
He saw that she was trembling and a band seemed to tighten around his chest. Dallas reached for her, drew her into his arms. “It’s all right, darlin’. It’s over and you’re okay.”
“I think I could have handled him…he’s just…he’s just so darned big.” She flicked a glance at Wes, who now lay there snoring. “It probably wouldn’t have been any big deal if it weren’t for this other thing that happened…”
“What other thing?”
“Before I left Boston, a man I briefly dated became obsessed with me, a guy named Tyler Stanfield. He started stalking me, wouldn’t leave me alone.
Dallas drew her back into his warmth, angry all over again. “He hasn’t bothered you lately?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think he knows where I am. I guess Tyler’s the reason Wes scared me so much.”
“Wes is through scaring anyone. He isn’t going to bother you again.” No, Wes McCauley wasn’t going to bother her. He’d beat the bastard senseless if he ever came near her again.
Patience leaned closer, stood there in the darkness with her cheek next to his, her hair brushing his temple. She felt so good in his arms. So good. He had tried not to think of her, tried to satisfy himself with other women. But God, he had missed her.
And missing a woman was the last thing Dallas Kingman wanted.
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