Excerpt: Checking Into Sodom

Dove walked behind Trent on the side of the single lane highway, deceptively docile. The trailer with the broken axel he just paid to get fixed wasn’t just flat; the front passenger tire had blown out completely less than a mile back, and all the pride he’d had at not owning a cell phone had come back to bite him in the ass. The road sign advised him that Canmore was fourteen miles away. It meant the horse rehabilitation center was four miles away.

Dove tried crowding him while he saddled her up, but her ears perked up when he tightened the saddle; she pretended to be nice when she was in the middle of planning the chaos she delighted in. When he started walking her away from the trailer without even attempting to get on her back, she was really confused.

They’d broken down just over the crest of a hill on the straight road. It took a long time before the trailer disappeared behind it. Even with the mountains looming over them to the west, they still walked in the foothills of the Alberta prairie.

If Trent had made better life choices, he wouldn’t need to bring his horse to the rehab center off this remote secondary highway. He’d be back home in Strathmore, planning what rodeos he could go to with a horse he could trust. He’d only had Dove for four months now, but if anything, she was meaner than the day he’d unloaded her from the trailer.

The first time he’d gotten thrown, he thought there was a burr or something under her saddle blanket. As soon as his ass came down in the saddle, she was bucking. But the second time, she’d grabbed the bit between her teeth and bolted for a barbwire fence. Trent thought she was done for and he’d rather not be entangled in the wire but as soon as he jumped off, she stopped on a dime, sitting back on her haunches and stopping just three inches short of the fence. The third time, she bucked six or seven times before finally unseating him.

He tried everything. She behaved herself perfectly at her previous owner’s acreage. He said with a straight face that that the only reason why Trent couldn’t ride her on the property was for insurance reasons. His ten-year-old daughter rode her with no problem, back and forth on the front lawn. Trent had even gone to a lawyer but what was told he had no legal standing when the contract specifically said, in all caps and double underlined, AS IS.

Dove shoved her head against his shoulder, pushing him with her nose. He was just lucky she didn’t try to bite him again. He was really out of options. He was glad he had a reason not to go to any of the local rodeos, even though Jason, his ex, had quit going to the specifically gay ones. The sounds of the crowd going silent as the barrier snapped free; the surge of his old horse Hank, who could go from standing still to hell bent for leather in three massive strides; the way his lasso sometimes felt guided by a higher power to catch the calf around the back legs. He loved the way ten seconds could feel like ten separate minutes until Jason got a good, clean tie and threw up his hands. The thrill was still there just remembering the way Jason looked at him after the calf stayed down. He had a hope and a prayer that they’d shaved off tenths of a second, but would still be right out of the running if the calf managed to pull free.

At rodeos that didn’t have a drag queen wild cow milking competition, Jason played it arrow straight; in the gay events, he flirted with everything that wasn’t livestock. Trent had told himself he was just a very understanding boyfriend and Jason was just playing, but that was before Hank came up lame and Trent had decided to stay home with him. The bones in Hank’s fetlock weren’t broken; the tendons were just strained. He was perfectly fine for gentle trail rides and walking the fence line, but not to explode from a box at a pounding gallop and then screech to a halt. Last Trent heard, Jason had gotten sponsorship from Budweiser and was seeing a chuck wagon driver. Trent was glad a mutual friend had told him the news over the phone so he just had to sound like he was happy and didn’t need to worry about the expression on his face.

Dove pushed him again. If Reese Howard couldn’t calm her down, Trent would have to sell her to a packing plant. If she was a mean horse, he couldn’t breed her, despite her fantastic bloodline, in case it was genetic. It would break his heart to sell a sound, intelligent horse to the knackers.

Two trucks passed him without going into the other lane or even slowing down; Dove didn’t like that at all. A third truck, meant for either heavy hauling or soothing a frail man’s ego, slowed down and went into the other lane for him. It was blue and the door had the same logo as the card on Trent’s fridge. Reese Howard showed off his talents with his amazingly well-trained horses in shows and rodeos in the same circuit that Trent rode in. When a horse needed to be settled, he was the best. Trent must have seen his act six times. When Trent had finally called, the old man remembered him and said Trent would fit in just fine. Trent didn’t know how much longer he could have waited.

The driver turned his blinkers on to return to the west bound lane, but his brake lights were on. He coasted for about thirty yards before pulling to a stop. A young man opened the driver side door and climbed down. He wore a white cowboy hat that had never been trampled and the standard plaid shirt and jeans. The boots he wore looked about as broken in as they could be without actually needing duct tape, so it was safe to assume he wasn’t a trucker.

He had the long, lean body of someone who worked for a living. If Trent didn’t ride in rodeos, he’d be the gay equivalent of a buckle bunny in a heartbeat, hopping from one cowboy’s bed to the next. Running his family’s ranch just outside of Strathmore involved a lot of nine-to-five office work with evenings spent riding fence lines and a couple months where he ran the risk of staying up all night because cows have calves at ungodly hours.

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