Prologue

 

JERRY WAS working late. He looked at his watch and flipped on the eleven o’clock news. Okay, so he was working very late. He glanced up at the gray-haired anchor giving a brief overview of the top stories and then went back to his research, reading through the reports on Stiller Inc.’s assets.

The floor was empty aside from his office. Hell, the whole building was probably empty—there weren’t many who burned the midnight oil these days. Of course that gave him an advantage, and he wasn’t one to pass up an advantage.

He took notes as he read and managed to time it perfectly—he dotted his last i just as the sports came on. The Astros had won their game, three—zip. Cool. They were on their way to a pennant this year if they kept winning like they were. He was about to pick up the next report when a sports news segment caught his eye.

“Also, today at the Mesquite Rodeo, Houston native Thaine Russell was riding Destiny’s Son when he was thrown and trampled. Mr. Russell is in critical condition at Mesquite Medical Center. His sponsor, Wayne Leathers, says their prayers are with the family, and they hope to see Thaine back on the circuit next year.”

Thaine Russell. Lord, lord, there was a name he hadn’t heard in… well, it had to be five years. Not since they’d gone their separate ways.

He waited to see if there’d be more, but the anchor went on to talk about football scores around the country, and Jerry turned off the TV.

Jerry stood and went over to the little wet bar and poured himself a finger of whiskey before going to the window and looking out over the bright lights of the city.

Thaine Russell.

Well, if anyone could recover from getting trampled it would be Thaine. He was the most stubborn, ornery man Jerry knew. Gave those bulls a run for their money.

Jerry chuckled and sipped at his drink.

“Good luck, T. You come back and get that bull next year.”

He shot back the rest of his whiskey and returned to his desk, picked up the next report. If he worked hard he could have a plan in place to take over Stiller Inc. by morning.

 

 

Chapter One

 

FUCK, HIS head hurt.

Thaine rolled his eyes. Man, what the fuck had happened to him? He wiggled his fingers, toes. Okay. Okay.

Those worked.

He could smell hospital—the antiseptic, clean, sort of gray smell fucking everywhere. Okay. He wasn’t dead.

Broken.

Just hurt.

“Thaine? Thaine, are you awake? Nurse! I saw him move his fingers. His toes too, I think. Nurse!” The voice had started off soft, careful, but it grew louder, shouting with excitement.

He frowned, tried to open his eyes. Who the fuck was screaming?

“Nurse!” This time the noise came from a little farther away, but it still echoed around the room and in his head, and then his hand was taken, squeezed. “Come on, Thaine. Please wake up?” At least the shouting had stopped.

He licked his lips, the sound loud. Damn, he was dry. “Thirsty.”

He heard a husky laugh. “Okay. Okay, cowboy. I just bet you are. I’m not sure you’re allow—oh! Here’s the nurse. She’ll know. Can he drink? He says he’s thirsty.”

A female chuckle sounded, and a cool hand touched his, turning it to check his pulse. “Easy now, son. Let’s see what his vitals are.”

Where the hell was JJ?

Where the hell was he?

The nurse let his hand drop and put something in his ear that clicked but didn’t hurt.

“Is he okay? Why isn’t he opening his eyes? I swear on my momma he said he was thirsty, and I saw his fingers move.”

The nurse peeled back one of his eyelids and shone a bright light in.

“Ow.” His eyes rolled back into his head, trying to escape the light.

The first voice crowed at that, and the nurse chuckled again and then treated his other eyeball to the same torture. “He does indeed appear to be awake. I’ll turn the lights lower when I go out, and I’ll get the doctor. You can feed him ice chips, but only a few until the doctor’s seen him.”

The lights went down, and he took a deep breath. Oh. Better. Fuck him raw, what was the name of the bull that whacked him?

His hand was taken again. “Oh, man, Thaine, I thought you were a goner for a bit there.”

Naw, he was too mean to die. “Wha’ happened?”

“You were riding Destiny’s Son, and man, it was a beautiful ride. Just awesome. Then he threw you and trampled you. The doctor said you were lucky your insides weren’t screwed up. You’ve been out for hours.”

Destiny’s Son…. That was a new bull. Damn. “Where’s JJ?”

“JJ?”

“Uhn. Jerry. Jerry Wortmeyer.”

“Jerry Wortmeyer.” The kid—and that’s what he was, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and with good honest working muscles—looked at him worriedly, repeated the name, a frown pulling his eyebrows together. “Why do you want to know where Jerry is?”

“Huh?” Come on, Thaine. Think. Don’t fuck yourself. “He’s my roommate.”

That didn’t seem to make the kid any happier. “Your roommate. Okay….” The kid had bitten his lip and opened his mouth to say something when the nurse came back, this time with a doctor in tow.

He blinked over. “Hey.”

Oh.

Fuck.

No more nodding.

None.

Ow.

“Hi there, Mr. Russell. I’m Doctor Simpson. I take it you’re still experiencing some pain in your head?”

The kid was hovering in the background, eyes worried as fuck.

“Some. When can I get out of here?” He could hurt at home just as well as here.

“Now, Mr. Russell, you’ve had a severe knock to your head, and you’ve been unconscious for several hours. I think we’ll need to keep you for a while for observation.”

The trick with the light in his eyes happened again. “Pupils are reacting well. Do you know where you are, Mr. Russell?”

“In a hospital.” He hoped to hell that was good enough.

The doctor nodded, smiling. “Yes. And the date?”

“Uh….” Fuck. Fuck. “August. August something, 2000.”

The kid behind the doctor gasped, but the doctor simply asked another question. “And what city are you in?”

“Uh… Tulsa? Enid?” Was he in Oklahoma? He must be. If he’d been in Texas, JJ’d be there.

“Just one more question, Mr. Russell: How many fingers am I holding up?” The doctor held up his hand, three fingers showing.

“Three.” Finally, an easy one.

“Excellent. There’s certainly nothing wrong with your eyes, is there? I’m going to have the nurse add some meds to your IV to help with the pain. They might make you sleepy too, but you’ve had quite the bump to your head and we won’t want you sleeping more than four hours at a time. I’ll come back and see how you’re progressing tomorrow.”

The doctor patted his arm and curled his fingers at the kid still hovering, looking more than a little panicked. “Come with me, please.”

“Can someone call my roommate? Jerry Wortmeyer. His number’s in my wallet.” He just wanted JJ here taking care of shit.

“Your friend has your stuff, Mr. Russell, I’m sure he’d be happy to call anyone you need.” The nurse reached for a cup and took out an ice chip, held it to his lips.

“My friend….” He took the ice chip gratefully. He was spitting dust. “More?”

Smiling, she fed him another one and then another. “You’re going to be fine. Amazing really—I’ve seen the footage from your fall. You landed right on your head and then that bull tried to make mincemeat out of you.”

“They’re evil things. Everybody else okay? I can’t remember a blasted thing.”

“You’re the only one in the hospital,” she told him. Then she giggled a little and gave him another chip of ice. “My sister is going to be so jealous. We’ve been watching you ride for years. You’re our favorite.”

Thaine grinned, groaning as the motion pulled shit in his face that shouldn’t pull. Damn.

The nurse gave him a sympathetic look and adjusted something on the IV. “There, you should be feeling a little better soon.” She turned as the door opened and the kid came in again. “I should go. I have other patients. You take care of yourself, Mr. Russell.”

“Thanks, darlin’. You’re a honey.” He sighed, let his eyes close, trying to remember who the hell this kid was.

“Hey, Thaine.” He could hear the kid come over to the bed and then his hand was taken. “You hurting?”

“Some, yeah. I took a fall, huh?”

“Yeah, smashed your head pretty good. Rattled things up some.” There was a thread of worry in the kid’s voice, and the hand holding his squeezed tight for a moment.

“You okay, kid? You get hurt?”

“Me? No, no, I’m fine, Thaine. Just worried about you, you know?”

“Oh, I’m a stubborn one. I’ll be fine. Just a little, uh….” Tired. Hurting. Addlepated. Yeah, that was it. “Addlepated.”

“Yeah. You seemed a little fuzzy on place and date there.” The kid sighed and patted his hand. “I bet you’ll feel a lot better after a night’s rest. Even if they are going to wake you up every few hours.”

“Yeah, I hope so. Look, can you call Jerry for me? It’s not like him not to come.” Really.

The kid made a bit of a noise, and took a breath. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll call him.”

“Thanks, man. Really.” He found another half smile, searching the kid’s face. So sad. So wigged out. “Don’t worry, yeah? I’m gonna doze for a bit.”

“Yeah, you do that, Thaine. You’ll be fine in the morning. Just fine.” It sounded less like a reassurance and more like a prayer.

“Mmmhmm. Night, kid. Thanks for hanging out with me. Jerry’s number’s in my wallet.” He was fading—fading fast.

“I’ll find it.”

The kid stroked his chest, and patted his hand again, the touches surprisingly comforting.

“Thanks.” He sighed softly, sinking into the mattress, breathing slow.

The kid sat quietly next to him, holding his hand as he drifted off.

Man, what a fucking ride. Damn.