Palomino Ch. 03byLadyRoscoe©
Lacey sat perched precariously on the top rung of the metal fence that fenced off the back portion behind the grandstand of the booming rodeo. The initial rodeo entrance parade was over and Lance was re-checking the saddle bindings of his mount. She hadn't seen Wesley in a little while. Her blue gaze shifted from the blonde cowboy to sweep across the crowded area behind the scenes of the western phenomenon. There were cowboys of all kinds running around, milling about with horses and quite honestly, she wouldn't know how to pick Wesley out among them. If she didn't stick close to someone in this group, she was going to get lost and quick! Sighing gently, she tipped her boots down, the heels catching on one of the lower rungs of the metal fence to hold her in place. She felt somewhat out of place back here and wondered if everyone thought she looked ridiculous in the get-up Caroline had dressed her up in; almost like dressing one of her Barbies from childhood to match the other girls milling about and hoped she at least looked the part.
Wesley dusted off an old black felt hat as he sat on the tailgate of his truck. He'd parked the trailer and he needed some space out of all the hubbub and people. The leather of the hat band was a little worn and cracked. The silver buckle was tarnished. He tucked his thumb into the sleeve of his shirt and rubbed the metal to bring out the shine a bit. It needed some polish. He'd spent a half hour "brushing" the hat to clean it up and make it look presentable. It hadn't been worn in years. For some reason he'd taken it out of its storage place and brought it along. It was about Lacey's size. He gazed upon the pin that'd been put on the hat band. It was a well earned little jewel of a rodeo queen. He was still wondering if it'd seem too presumptuous to loan the hat to the cute little cowgirl in the making.
Lacey slid down from her perch on the top railing of the fence, her loose blonde hair falling around her shoulders with the movement. Lance was busy with his mount and she needed a breath of fresh air. The loud noise was taking some getting used to, but she loved every minute of it. She smiled to Lance as he looked up, seeing her start to wander off. "Now don't go getting lost, Miss Lacey," he grinned at her, giving her an appreciative once over with his eyes. Caroline had done a good job transforming her into a cowgirl with the tight jeans and borrowed boots, and even the shirt that sparkled in the rodeo lights. Lacey smiled at him beautifully and retorted wittily, "How can you get lost in a place like this? I'll just follow the smell and be able to find you again," she teased.
Lance grunted and chuckled at the girl's wit and nodded. "A'ight. That'll do." He waved her off and turned back to his work, letting her go about whatever had caught her fancy.
Wesley hopped down off the truck and reached with one hand to lift the tailgate and slam it into place. He reached and lifted the handle a bit to let the latch slide into place. The thing had jammed ever since Old Man King had bought the thing off the lot. Again he dusted off the brim of the hat, shaping it a bit with his thumb and headed on back for the grandstands. He almost bumped into Lacey as she stepped outside. He didn't look up much to notice it was her and just stepped back, tipping his hat apologetically. "Pardon me, Ma'am."
Lacey gasped softly as she almost plowed into Wesley and then grinned, seeing he hadn't noticed it was her. She chuckled softly before answering him, "So there you are ... I was wondering if you had got lost in a herd of horses."
He looked up from beneath the brim of his hat and blinked. "Miss King... ah. Yeah... was parkin' the truck." He motioned in the direction of the lot where he'd parked it. He grinned and looked at the hat in his hand. Now was as good a time as ever. He offered it gently to her. "No cowgirl is a cowgirl without 'er hat."
She glanced from his handsome face to the hat offered in his hands and a soft smile bloomed across her lips before dainty hands reached to take the hat from him, turning it in her hands. Looking up at him again, she smiled gently, touched by his thoughtfulness, although she had no clue how to wear one of these. "Thank you, Wesley ... what a thoughtful gesture." She turned the hat again in her hands before lifting it up and pressing it down on her head, tucking her hair behind her ears and then looked to him for a reaction on how it looked. "Do I look completely silly?"
He chuckled and reached for the hat to lift it off her head and turn it the right way. It fit her well. He knew it would. "Rounded side always goes to the back... buckle up front. And no... ye look like yer daddy's girl."
Lacey laughed, blushing as she realized she had put it on backwards and then smiled at his words. "Thanks Wesley ..." She couldn't bring herself to shorten his name like everyone else had. She knew that life on a ranch was a bit different and that certain things, rights, persay, had to be earned. Tucking her hair back behind her ears again, she glanced up at the brim of the hat that was shoved down on her head and hoped that she didn't stick out like a sore thumb before locking her gaze with his. "I think Lance is about to go out. Want to go watch?"
He glanced at his watch and nodded, offering his arm to her. "Yea... we prolly should head inside." As they entered the group of people again, he escorted her through toward where they'd left Lance with his mount. There were all kinds of noises and booming speakers and cheers. The horse was a bit spooked. Her ears kept swiveling this way and that, and then were laid back and she'd bare teeth. Once when another horse jerked near her she threw her head and practically yanked Lance off his feet. Seeing this, Wes let go of Lacey and hurried forward to grab the mare's bridle and yanked her head down rather roughly to control her. "Hey! Hey! Whoa girl.... easy." Wesley was a natural with horses. The instant he was there, he had the mare's attention and she calmed down a bit. Again she tried to throw her head and he swatted her right between the eyes. "Now you listen to me, missy. You behave yerself." He kept a firm grip on the bit as she gnashed it between her teeth and tongue, gazing into those big eyes. "Ya hear me?"
Lacey was secretly thrilled when he had offered his arm but it was short-lived as they approached where she had left Lance. Watching quietly, she couldn't help but smile as Wesley quickly worked to calm the horse and then shifted her gaze to Lance where he was caught between anger and embarrassment over the whole ordeal, practically ignoring her as he picked up his hat from the sawdust where it had landed, angrily brushing it off and shoving it back on his head as Wesley took control of the hell-bitch. She was his best roping horse, no doubt but she was a bitch, pure and simple, when she wanted to be.
Wesley took a stand-off with the horse for a long time. To him, there was nobody there but him, and the horse. He stared into her eyes and held the bit firmly to keep her from spooking or jumping again. When she tried he simply swatted her on the muzzle to make her step back. When he got fed up with her argumentativeness he tugged the bit down against her teeth and tongue, forcing her head to come down with it. "Ya gonna listen or not, missy? I can do this all night."
The mare stamped her foot in irritation and she nickered, trying to pull free of Wesley's grip. Each time she tugged, he just tugged her head down further toward the ground, bending her neck toward her withers. If she kept it up he'd eventually force her to lie over. "You gotta choice, li'l miss. Ya listen... shape up, and I let ya go. Or we can go 'round and 'round all night. Ya ain't givin' Lance shit again."
Lance moved over to Wesley, knowing better than to interfere. As much as it pissed him off to be caught off-guard and his horse spook like he was some kind of rookie, he knew that Wes knew exactly what he was doing and that with a bit of time, she'd calm down. He glanced over to Lacey watching intently and he frowned, turning back to Wes and the mare. "Fucking bitch ... it's not like we haven't done this hundreds, hell, thousands of times. She's the most ornery horse. Bitching at the most inopportune times. I don't know why I keep 'er!"
Suddenly the mare decided to jerk and Wes pulled her reigns across her muzzle and pulled her head down to lay her over. "Hey! Hey now..." He straddled her neck and sat on her, holding her there as she glared up at him with wide eyes, clouds of dust rising from her breath. "Now, missy... we've gotta reach an understandin' here. Ya shape up... or I put ya back in the trailer and we go home. I know you love this work. Why ya balkin' all of a sudden, eh? You an' Lance have been a team since he broke ya."
Lacey hated to see when a horse got spooked as much as Lance's mount was but she also knew that in order for the mare to calm down, she had to have leadership and Wesley was demonstrating it. She just hoped the mare was whipped into shape in time for Lance's time. It was coming soon and she saw Lance nervously begin to look at the line of cowboys beginning to dwindle and looking at his watch as he watched on as well. "Fucker ... come on bitch," he half groaned, half pleaded with the mare to get her act together. If she kept this up, the time would be gone and so would the prize money.
Wes didn't look up from simply watching the mare, reading her, waiting patiently. Wordlessly he lifted a hand and curled his fingers. "Lacey... c'mere. I want to try somethin'."
Lacey's eyebrows furrowed a bit and glanced to Wesley in surprise and then to Lance. Lance just simply nodded and hurriedly waved her closer. "Lace ... please, just do it," he pleaded and she moved closer to Wesley and the mare quickly but with a bit of hesitation as she looked down at the cowboy sitting on top of the mare's neck.
Still not looking up, Wes pointed toward the saddle. "I want you to sit on her. Put yer left foot in the stirrup and hold the saddle horn. I'm gonna pull her to her feet with a rider."
Lacey blinked and then looked at Wesley incredulously. "Wh-what? You mean ... me?" She glanced to Lance who just nodded and chewed on his thumb, glancing to see that his time was running short and something had to be done quickly.
"Now, Lace. We don't have time to put up with her shit. I need to let Lance have control."
Lacey looked at the horse and then shut off her nervousness. It was a gift she had; something she had learned in her business in order to deal with high-pressure atmospheres quickly and efficiently. Moving to the mare's side, she cooed gently to her as she crouched down, pressing her left leg over her and hooked her boot into the stirrup. Grasping the horn with one hand, her white knuckles the only indication that she had no clue was she was doing, she shook the mare's mane and stroked her withers before nodding to Wesley with a quick shake of her head.
Wesley nodded and stood up quickly. "Hold on, Lacey... I won't let ya fall. Promise." He said as he pulled the mare's bridle to pull her head up, forcing her to rock to the side to get her feet under her to stand "Hup! Easy now... good girl." She seemed instantly calmer with the weight of a rider on her back and she danced to the side to get the weight ratio right as Lacey shifted in the saddle. Wesley grinned as the plan had worked and offered the reigns to Lance. "I'll get Lacey off. You get on."
Lance grinned, grasping the reins as Wesley's plan had worked, slapping Lacey affectionately on the leg as she smiled brightly down at them and rubbed the mare's neck. She was definitely calmer and perked her ears towards the entrance leading out to the arena as if she knew it was time to get to work. Lacey glanced to Wesley as he reached up with strong arms and slid down, momentarily caught in his embrace as Lance hopped effortlessly into the saddle just as the Arena Helper waved that it was his time to enter and get set up.
Wesley grinned as he caught Lacey, letting her to her feet again. "Yep.... told ya it's in yer blood. C'mon... let's go watch. Hope to God she doesn't balk at the barrier again. She better not. Ran her through drills all week."
Lacey felt almost breathless as her hand got caught in his and then jogged into a good position to watch against the railing. She was beaming inside with the accomplishment at hand ... she had slowly, all week, gotten to feel more and more at home on the ranch, even needed at times. And today had just been the icing on the cake. She and Wesley stood side by side, Wesley mumbling about how the hell-bitch better not do this and that as she watched on baited breath as Lance backed his mount into the furthest corner of the box, his lariat on the ready, and the string barrier strung tight. Clasping her hands in front of her face almost prayer-like, she watched, her breath held on a quick intake as she saw Lance quickly bob his head that he was ready.
When the barrier was set loose and the calf darted out into the arena, cheers arose. The mare and rider worked in perfection. Wesley looked relieved as the mare darted out of the box after the calf. Then Lance threw his lasso and caught the calf around the neck. The mare worked to faultlessness, halting the instant the rope caught and drug backwards. Lance leaped from the saddle and threw the calf down on its side, tying three legs in a roper's knot and threw up his hands. Wesley quickly looked at the timer and grinned, clapping his hands and whooped. It was the quickest time all night, with only a few ropers left to go. Lance would easily land in the top five for scoring. He jumped down off the fence and reached to grab Lacey around the waist and swing her down, wrapping an arm around her shoulders to head for the gates. "Knew she could do it!"
Lacey laughed and clapped her hands, yelling out for Lance as it was obvious from the way Wesley reacted and the crowd jumping to their feet that Lance had done extremely well, and she was elated that she had had even a small portion to do with his success this night. Gasping as she was caught off-guard as she was swung around, her blonde hair streamed out beautifully as she laughed and held on. When she was caught with Wesley's arm around her, she seemed to naturally fit against his side, her arm sliding around his waist as they walked towards the gate. Anyone looking on would have thought they were a couple, and had been for a while. They just seemed to fit together perfectly.
When Lance got through the gate, he whooped and jumped toward Lacey as he took his hat off, grabbing her out of Wesley's arms and hugged her tight, kissing her on the cheek. "We did it!" He looked toward Wes and grabbed his friend into a huge hug, slapping his back. "The best damned horseman I've ever met... thanks Wes!"
Lacey laughed as Lance grabbed her, hugging him as she tried to get in her congratulations between the two of them slapping each other on the back. She moved to the mare and gently rubbed her forehead, playing with her forelock as the men embraced and whispered to her ear, "You did real good too, sweetie ... and despite what they both say, you're not a hell-bitch at all." She grinned as the horse knickered and shoved her a bit with her muzzle, trying to get more attention and glanced to the guys. "Lance, that was amazing! You've just got to win!"
Lance chuckled and patted his mare affectionately before looking at Lacey again. Damn did she look fine in that hat and cowgirl show get-up. Then he caught sight of the pin on the hatband and his eyes widened a bit, though it was hardly noticeable. He glanced at Wesley, who didn't seem to notice the shock register in his friend's face. That hat hadn't been worn, let alone taken out of the box, in years. It'd sat up in Wes's closet along with all of the other memories of the past. Yet, now, he'd loaned the hat to Lacey. Clearly the girl had done something to warm Wesley's heart a little bit.
Lacey smiled, catching Lance's glance at her hat and then grinned, suddenly self-conscious, completely missing the shocked look on his face. "Wesley loaned it to me ... what do you think? I hope I don't stick out," she said, rubbing on the mare as Lance just kind of looked at her.
"Ah... yea. Looks good, Miss Lacey. Ya fit in with the rest of 'em." He leaned in and whispered as he glanced toward Wesley. "Now we just need to teach ya ta race." He grinned and patted her shoulder gently then looked at Wesley. "'ey, Wes. Wouldya mind if I sent ya on a beer run?"
Lacey laughed gently, her blue eyes twinkling in amusement at his teasing. "Uhm, yeah ... me. In a rodeo. Sure. That would be something."
She glanced to Wesley as he nodded and clapped his hand on his friend's shoulder. "Sure thing. Beer's on me ... right up until you win that prize money."
Lacey slid her hand from the mare's forehead and smiled at the two friends. "Tell you what, how about I go get the beer? You two stay here and wait to see how Lance did." She smiled at them both and checked her pocket for the wad of money folded in there. "What brand do you boys like best?"
Wes and Lance looked at one another then back at Lacey. "Coors." they both answered in unison. "We'll meet ya back here, Miss Lacey" Lance said gently as they headed off toward the stalls. When Lacey had left and was out of hearing range, Lance looked at Wesley as they walked the length of the arena. "Wes.... was that Anne's hat that I saw on Lacey back there?"
Wes looked at Lance out the corner of his eyes and nodded curtly. "Ayep.... sure was."
Lance wasn't sure what to make of it. Wesley had packed all Anne's things, refusing to give any of it up, and just hoarded them all in the house, keeping that part of his life locked up tight as a money box. To see her rodeo hat on Lacey's head was nothing short of miraculous. Lance was trying not to make a big deal out of it, but it clearly WAS a big deal. He reached up and rubbed at the back of his neck before glancing in the direction in which Lacey had gone. "Well she sure looks damn fine in it," he said, biting back the harder questions that were dying to be asked. He wasn't sure Wes was quite ready to go THAT far. Yet.
"Ayep... she sure does. Fits her good. Might need to get it resized just a little, but not much." He reached to take the reigns from Lance and brought the horse up as they rounded toward the gates again. If Lance had placed in the top ten, which he surely would, they'd be staying in town for tomorrow's ride.
Lance blinked a bit, hearing his friend. Re-sized? It was obvious he had done more than just lend her the hat. Lance lifted his eyebrows for a moment and then just grinned. Maybe his long-time friend was finally snapping out of his hell-bent road to a life alone, and seeing Lacey for the woman she could be in his life. He could only hope. They had been trying for years to get Wesley back into the loop of life and help him find happiness. But up until right now, and the appearance of Lacey King in their lives, he had balked completely at the idea. He started to ask Wes about what exactly he was feeling towards the woman when the speaker crackled and they all stilled as they announced that they were about to call out the top five contenders for calf roping.
"And in first place folks, home-grown right here in Wyoming, Lance Finnigan from Riverton!" Cheers arose in the grandstands and Lance whooped, jumping up in his excitement and he turned to grab Wesley into another big bear hug. "Couldn't have done it without ya, Wes." Wesley grinned and clapped his friend on the back as other cowboys milled around, all friends and acquaintances of one sort or another.
Lacey heard the announcement as she gently pushed her way out of the beer line, balancing three filled plastic cups and had to dodge a lot of cowboys, her smile lighting up her whole face as she heard Lance's name called over the loud-speaker. She was starting to notice the looks and backward glances from the cowboys around her and blushed, knowing by the looks on their faces that she did, indeed, look good in the outfit Caroline had insisted that she wear. Making her way back past the gate, the "backstage" pass that she wore checked by the security there, she mingled back through the milling cowboys in search of Wesley and Lance, smiling gently to the tipped hats and the appreciative glances of the men as she passed.