“My favorite time of year,” I said, watching the prospective buyers walk down the aisles of the livestock show. The scent of livestock was in the late April air inside the large warehouses that held pens in long rows, as far as the eye could see.
“Mine too. I think we all enjoy this, we always have,” Connor sat at my side along the fence rail. We were manning the pen of hogs Dawson Ranch had for sale.
“What kind of price you think we’ll get?” I asked.
“Better than last year, I think. These are a lot fatter,” he said looking them over.
“Yeah, I think you’re right. What about Abi and Father? Think they’ll get a pretty penny for the ponies?” I added.
“Possibly. Man, I’m wishing I would have gone to that pen instead of this one. All these hogs around here—they don’t smell too good after a few hours,” Connor said.
“Never bothered you before,” I laughed.
“True, maybe there’s just more in here than usual,” he said, looking around at all the shit mixed with hay on the ground. This was a livestock show after all.
“Well, these are mighty fine animals,” a man stopped in front of our pen. Connor and I hopped off the fence to greet him.
“The finest you will see here, sir,” I said, as I tipped my hat to him.
“Any questions, we’re more than happy to answer,” Connor said.
“Mind if I get a closer look?” he asked.
“Not at all, come right in,” I opened the pen for him. This older gentleman, in a beat-up straw hat, obviously knew what he was doing. Connor and I watched as he firmly patted the limbs and belly of the hogs, even checking their teeth. Connor and I gave him the details of the breed and explained how we raised them.
“Very good, very good. I just may put in an offer for these. I’ll swing back around after I’ve made a lap. Brett Mason,” he held out his hand.
“Dylan Dawson, and this is my brother Connor. We’re from the Dawson Ranch in Safety, Texas.” I shook his hand enthusiastically.
“Good to meet you, boys. Your ranch has quite a reputation,” he said.
“Good things, I hope,” Connor said with a smile.
“Oh yes, very good. Dawson Ranch is known for top quality products,” he said.
“We’re happy to hear it,” I said.
“I’ll be back around,” Mr. Mason tipped his straw cowboy hat and then walked off. “Nice to meet you, boys.”
Connor and I smiled at each other.
“Our first prospective buyer, that’s always a good thing. Hopefully, we’ll get more and have a bidding war for our hogs,” I said.
“Yeah, a bidding war is always exciting at the livestock show,” Connor said.
“But not as exciting as it used to be. Damn, I feel restless around here. I got a bug for something and don’t know what. I think I just miss the dang rodeo. I really miss being part of it, you know?” I said, thinking about my riding days.
“You only rode for two years,” Connor said.
“Yeah, but a damn good two years. I competed all the time. If I hadn’t broken my arm in Santa Fe, I would have kept going,” I said, annoyed at the thought.
“There’s no way in hell Father would’ve let you stay on the circuit, we all know the rules,” Connor said, taking a swig of coffee from his thermos.
What my older brother meant was that our father didn’t let us become Professional Rodeo Cowboys. He saw it as a hobby, just like playing football in school, or baseball. After nineteen, we weren’t allowed to compete anymore. It was Father’s strict rule, and we all abided by it. Still, I missed the thrill and adrenaline of the rodeo. I had been feeling very restless, and I couldn’t seem to find a cure for it. I didn’t know what was happening, but it seemed that I needed some change in life. The rodeo called to me, but I knew I couldn’t compete anymore. Still, I missed that rush and the thrill. Once a rodeo cowboy—always a rodeo cowboy.
“Trust me, I know father’s rules,” I bluntly stated. My temper was threatening to boil over.
Rodeo used to mean everything to me, and I was the only one of my brothers that had ever done it. None of them had been interested. Connor was into football and could have played in college if he hadn’t got hurt. But I was the only one that participated in the rodeo. Of course, I wasn’t allowed to ride bulls because I wasn’t old enough, so my event was roping, and I was damn good at it. But when I turned eighteen, I switched to bucking broncos. That was where the real adrenaline was at and it really had me primed for bull riding. But that was where I broke my arm and that was the end for me.
“Well look here,” Connor said, looking down the aisle. I followed his gaze and saw our brothers Tanner and Wyatt coming down the path toward us.
“How’s it going here?” Wyatt was the oldest of my siblings.
“Good. It looks like we might have a bid coming soon. A gentleman named Mr. Mason stopped by and seemed to be impressed with our fat Sally here. He said he’d be back around,” Connor said.
“Well that’s good news,” Tanner said.
“How are things out there? I’m itching to get out of this pen—I’ve been in here too long. I need to move some,” I said, nearly exploding out of my skin.
“Things are good out there. We just came from seeing Abi and Father, they have a few bids on those ponies. Of course, Father is making deals on the side for the ranch too, all business as usual,” Wyatt leaned on the rail.
“We just walked through the grounds. It is really happenin’ out there now. Seems like it always picks up later in the day, toward happy hour. The smell of food is incredible out there, too. Lots of barbecue going on,” Tanner said.
“And I could hear the music coming from the Pavilion already,” Wyatt added.
I slapped my thigh. “That’s it. I got to get moving and walk around the grounds, at least once. Who wants to cover for me here with this one? Connor will entertain you with a lot of terrible jokes,” I hopped over the fence.
“Hey, those are damn good jokes and you know it. You’re just jealous because you didn’t come up with them yourself,” Connor said.
“Definitely not. Now, who is going to save my sanity?” I rocked back and forth from one foot to the other, anxious to get some action.
“All right, I’ll stay. Go on now, but don’t take too long. One hour tops, then come back here. I’ve got work to do too, you know,” Wyatt climbed the fence into the pen and settled in on the rail next to Connor.
“Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about,” I slapped Tanner’s arm and turned on my heels to head for the large open doors at the end of the aisle of the large barn.
“Fresh air, finally,” I said as walked out into the bright sunlight.
“It’s been a long day,” Tanner said, as he walked alongside me as we set out to cross the fairgrounds. I looked around; he was right it had grown more populated since I’d walked into the livestock barn earlier that day.
“I’m starving, let’s head to the food stands,” I said.
“Yeah, I’m starving too. Wyatt has been working me like crazy all morning. He’s been on me, all day. You’d think after all these years and all these livestock shows, he would have figured out that I know what I’m doing. Hell, I have my own ranch even.” Tanner took out a blue handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow while lifting up his white straw cowboy hat.
“I know what you mean. I think we’ve all just been doing this a long time. I love it, I really do and always will. I just need a little bit of change every now and then. Seems like I did more when I was younger,” I confessed as we headed toward the smell of barbecue. It was as if the smoke was drawing us in. Hypnotizing us and every cowboy there with savory smells.
“Change is good, though I can’t do much myself, what with the ranch, plus my own place, and Madison with her job at the college. I guess this is what being an adult is all about,” Tanner said.
I looked at him wondering if he regretted falling in love. I hadn’t been in love my entire life. Sure, I’d dated plenty of women and had a few serious girlfriends, but I wouldn’t say I was passionately in love with any of them, not the way that Tanner was with his wife Madison.
“Do you regret it? Do you regret getting hitched?” I asked, tilting up my cowboy hat just a little so I could see his face and get a true reaction. I couldn’t help noticing how dirty my hat had gotten from working around the pens all day.
“Hell no, I don’t regret it. I would marry that woman a thousand times over,” he said with a big grin. I knew without a doubt he was telling the truth. I knew my brothers very well.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in—or I should say the barbeque,” Abi said, walking toward us. She was balancing two foil packets in her hands and I knew instinctively they were chopped barbeque sandwiches. My stomach grumbled.
“Where are you headed, sis?” I asked.
“Father sent me to get some food. The man doesn’t stop you know. Just keeps going and going, I came for sustenance,” she said, motioning to the food in her hand.
“Barbecue sandwiches?” Tanner asked.
“You know it. Where are ya’ll headed off to?” she asked, walking on past us.
“Wherever you just came from. To get some of them sandwiches you’ve been dangling in front of us.” I turned, now walking backwards as I conversed with my little sister.
“Better hurry, I heard them say they were running out,” she teased. Then she smiled and turned back around heading toward the livestock areas.
A few minutes later, Tanner and I were walking away from the food stand area, packing two barbecue sandwiches each.
“What do you say we go sit down in the Pavilion and have a beer with our sandwiches?” I said, already heading in that direction.
“We probably shouldn’t get started yet. Save the drinking for the Honky Tonk later, when all the work is done,” He said.
“Oh come on brother, it is just one beer to wash down our food. Besides all the tables are over there anyway. Come on,” I said.
Tanner rolled his eyes at me. “All right, just one.”
I grinned and walked faster toward the Pavilion where a band was playing, and people were two-step dancing around the inner circle. I noticed that Tanner had grown up quite a bit. He used to never say no to a beer, whether the sun had set or not. It annoyed me, but somewhere deep inside it impressed me, too.
“Here, grab this and I’ll be right back with our beers.” He set his sandwiches down on a picnic table made of heavy wood on the outskirts of the Pavilion. “And don’t eat my sandwiches,” he said, throwing me a final warning glance as he walked toward the bar.
I didn’t know if he was offering to get the beers because he thought I might take a couple of shots if I went to the bar, or what. But, he might have been right. I wasn’t an alcoholic or anything, but I was feeling restless and a shot of tequila would really help. I opened my first barbecue sandwich and bit into it. The sauce was homemade, you could tell that right off the bat. The meat was barbecued brisket shredded and topped off with extra pickles. This was the Texas way, and it was damn good.
Looking around, I chewed my food. There were a lot of pretty girls around in tight Wrangler jeans and Justin Ropers. Maybe I could flirt with a few now and have them lined up to dance with later tonight. Scanning the room, my eyes landed on a very pretty woman across the Pavilion. There was something enticing about her, but she quickly turned her back toward me as she talked to a friend, and I didn’t get a good look at her face. I could only see the long raven black hair falling down her back.
“Here we are, two Lone Stars,” Tanner said, sliding a Lone Star beer in a long neck glass bottle toward me.
“Thank you. Just in time,” I took a sip to wash down the barbecue sandwich. Tanner eagerly unwrapped his sandwich and bit into it.
“Damn, that’s good, he said.
“Yeah, I have to agree with that,” I said, finishing off my first sandwich, and took another swig of my beer. As I did, a group of three cowboys in black felt hats walked past us. They were about two tables away, but close enough. They were eyeing me, and I didn’t know why. There wasn’t a friendly grin on their faces either.
“Can I help you?” I said loudly.
“Not even if you tried,” the meanest looking one said. He was tall, dressed all in black, with black hair and black eyes. It was then that I noticed his belt buckle. It was a championship rodeo buckle, bull riding.
“Dylan, what are you doing?” Tanner muttered as he stayed still.
“These bastards are giving us the stink eye,” I said to him, speaking quietly.
Tanner shook his head at me. “Let it go. We ain’t here to fight no one.”
Looking back at the cowboys, they were laughing and walking off. It was good they were leaving though. I didn’t want to get in a fight, but I didn’t like being made fun of for whatever reason. Just because they were bull riding, they thought they owned the fairgrounds. That in itself made me mad.
“They gone?” Tanner asked, without looking up.
“Good. Get a hold of yourself.”
It was then that I looked up to see the gorgeous woman I was looking at before turn in my direction. The anger I’d felt just slipped away in an instant. She was now my one and only thought. She wasn’t looking at me, but I could see her face now. Piercing gray eyes caught my attention. Her Wrangler jeans fit her nice and snug, and her tank top was pushed into them, fitting her like a second skin and leaving very little to the imagination. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
“What is it now? What are you looking at?” Tanner said, only half turning around. “Don’t you be looking for a fight.”
“Not a fight, just a very beautiful woman. Nothing for you to look at, married man,” I laughed.
“Yeah, happily married. I have no interest, but it seems that you do,” My brother smiled at me while eating his sandwich.
“Yes, I do. If I were dating this one, damn, the things I would want to do to her,” I said, already imagining the woman in my arms. “There’s just something about her.”
“Settle down there, she’s not yours, and if she’s that beautiful, she probably never will be,” Tanner teased. I rolled up the foil from my last sandwich and threw it at him. He laughed.
I looked up to see that the woman had turned and was walking toward us. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her for some reason. Then she looked up and her gray eyes locked with mine. A beautiful radiant smile came across her face. It made me smile in return. I watched as her breasts bounced with every step as she walked toward us, and I felt myself getting turned on.
Then she got closer, and I couldn’t believe it. It looked like she was coming right toward me, and her eyes were still locked on mine with that big smile on her face.
“Dylan,” she said.
I was stunned. How did this beauty know my name?