He'd had worse days than this. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that to be the absolute truth. Problem was, Chris Larabee couldn't remember when or where. In fact, he was having trouble remembering anything at all, let alone being able to think. That sort of thing happened when all the blood went rushing to your head. Not to mention the fucking headache that went with it. Felt like the top of his skull was gonna blow off.
This was all Tanner's fault. If it wasn't for that long-haired bastard, he wouldn't be in this mess. Wouldn't have been out looking for him and ended up in more trouble than Buck Wilmington in a church full of married women. The scrawny, sorry-assed sonuvabitch skipped town a couple of weeks back without hardly a word to anyone. Just saddled up that damned mule of his and rode on out. Nobody'd seen hide nor hair of him since.
And it made Chris mad.
Of course, that was the real problem to start with. He and Vin fighting. Squaring off against each other like a pair of banty roosters, each of them pecking and scratching and squawking, not really knowing just what in the hell set 'em off in the first place. At least if they'd been roosters, Chris could have understood that. Roosters had hens to fight over and territory to protect. Wasn't like he and Vin were fighting over a woman or nothing.
Then just what in the hell were they fighting about?
Damned if he knew! Things had been getting real testy between them for a while now, something like three months if he recollected right. Hard to say though when he couldn't seem to think straight. He didn't rightly know when it all started or what had caused it, but he was awful tired of walking around Tanner like he was waiting for a goddamned cannon to go off. Seemed as if he couldn't do or say anything lately without the tracker taking offense and making an issue of it. And seeing as how Vin was usually so quiet and easygoing, it made Chris's hair hurt just trying to figure it out.
What was it they'd fought about this time?
Damned if he could remember!
Wait. Oh yeah, a couple of drunken trail hands deciding to take issue with Inez for refusing to give them another bottle of redeye. Chris just sat back and smirked, figuring to let the pair drink their fill and pass out dead drunk before hauling them off to jail. Easy. Quiet. Simple. No mess. No fuss.
Well, Vin just had to stick his nose in it when one of them got a bit too handy with Inez and grabbed her wrist. It didn't matter that she had a fully loaded bottle of whiskey in her other hand and was ready to smash it over the drunken idiot's head, especially seeing as how it was pretty obvious from the day she arrived in town that Inez knew how to take care of herself.
But no, Vin had to play the hero and pull the guy off of her despite Inez's assurance that she had it under control. Tanner landed a right cross to the man's jaw while Chris had to shoot a big, fuckin' pig-sticker out of the other drunken bastard's hand before he did something stupid with it. Like shove the thing into Vin's unprotected back just between his lower ribs. Christ, the damned thing had looked like it was about at least a foot long!
He was ready to shoot Vin by the time they got done arguing. Or more like that damned Texan got done arguing and walked away. That ended the discussion, the saloon doors waggling back and forth as he disappeared through them and left Chris standing there in a puddle of his own fury. Although now that he thought about it, or at least thought about it as much as he could, what the hell did he have to be so mad about? The fact that he'd had to save Tanner's sorry ass? Or the fact that Vin nearly got himself killed?
Damn. Some things just weren't worth that kind of trouble.
But even as he considered that, Chris knew it wasn't true. His best friend was worth the trouble even if he was all set to be a royal pain in Larabee's neck. And certain other parts of his body that were screaming at him from the abuse he'd taken in the course of the last two days. Or at least, he thought it was two days. Served him right though for being so fucking dumb as to decide to ride out after Vin when he had no idea of where the man was going or which way he'd headed... or if he was ever coming back.
Yeah, he was just a real fucking genius, wasn't he?
Seemed like that was the only word that fit his predicament and no matter how many times he repeated it, things just didn't get any better. Although all things considered, he didn't suppose they could really get much worse. Or at least, he hoped not. But it was his own stupidity that landed him in this fix in the first place, and he sure as hell wished he was someplace else. Like maybe a saloon. Or out at his shack. Or even in that stinking jailhouse back in town.
Anywhere but here.
Served him right for being such a dumb prick.
Opening his eyes, blinking against the sting of sweat running into them, Chris glanced around. It was hard to figure out what was what and which way was north or south. Everything looked strange and out of focus, although he supposed that sort of thing happened when you'd been hanging upside down like a possum for so god-awful long. Actually, he felt more like a side of beef in a butcher's shop than anything else, roasting in the scorching sun wearing only a pair of thin underpants.
Quite a situation, Larabee. Buck would laugh himself silly if he could see your sorry ass right now.
Yeah, if only Buck were here. If only he'd taken Buck with him to watch his back. But no, instead of being smart, he'd ridden off by himself, mad and pissed as hell. And instead of finding Vin, he'd found a passel full of trouble. Or more like a passel full of Indians although damned if he could figure out what tribe they were. Other than Kojay's people, there hadn't been Indians in these parts for years. Maybe that was why they'd caught him by surprise.
Yeah, real smart, asshole.
He'd watered his horse at a creek, refilled his canteen and then poured a hat full of water over his head to cool off. It had felt good, that cold water running down his neck and back, soaking his hair and dark shirt, and he'd closed his eyes for just a brief respite. Opening them a moment later, he'd been greeted by the sight of a trio of fierce-looking braves who'd stared back at him with black, expressionless eyes. Easing up slowly, he'd stood and walked unhurriedly over to the gelding. Chris figured on leaving them alone... as long as they left him alone.
Too bad the ugly one with the scar over his left cheekbone had taken a liking to his horse.
Goddamn butt-ugly sonuvabitch! he swore, referring to the Indian and not his horse.
Next thing Chris knew, two more braves appeared out of the rocks behind him. At a command from Scar Face, they'd rushed him. Chris went for his gun but an arrow tip buried itself deep in the muscle of his right thigh. He'd gone down with a sharp cry of pain, losing his Colt Peacemaker in the process. Scar Face grabbed Pony's bridle while the other braves surrounded him. He was outnumbered; the fight was intense but brief. The last thing Chris clearly remembered was a heavy blow to the side of his head that sent shafts of light shooting through his eyeballs.
And then he'd woken up here, although where here was precisely, he didn't know.
It was damned humiliating, letting himself get taken like that by a bunch of braves who were nothing but common horse thieves. While he was unconscious, they'd stripped him of his clothes, tied his feet and hands, and then hung him upside down on a frame of thick poles with the ends buried deep into the ground. His head pounded, his shoulders ached, his skin was burned and his thigh still felt like the tip of that damned arrow was buried in it. No food. No water. Hot, thirsty and hurting. Just hung up to dry like a deer carcass, waiting for them to decide to make strips of jerky out of his mangy worthless hide.
Christ! Could he be any more stupid?
Goddamnyou, Tanner! This is all your fault!
Closing his eyes, Chris let his mind drift to escape the heat and pain. His dry lips cracked as he smiled, remembering with pleasure the sight of his horse, bucking like a Texas dust devil and sending Scar Face hard into the dirt. He chuckled softly, dryly, the sound no more than a rasping cough. Hell, at least his damned horse knew what loyalty meant!
Vin Tanner was more relaxed than he'd been in a coon's age. It felt great to be out and away from town, away from the responsibilities... away from Chris. He could breathe out here, move around, think, just simply exist without having to worry about a certain bad-tempered gunslinger riding his ass about whatever burr he'd got up his butt. The man knew how to ruin a perfectly good day with just a single look.
Damned ornery sonuvabitch made his hair hurt!
Glancing at the man riding beside him, Vin couldn't help but smile. The silence between them was easy and companionable, something that had been a rare commodity come recent weeks. And Lord knew the tracker didn't really understand why. He hadn't done anything wrong. At least, he didn't think he had to warrant being treated worse than a bastard at a family reunion, but damned if Larabee wasn't making it hard for Vin to keep his promise to the Honorable Orrin Travis.
That little dustup in the saloon the other night had been the final straw. He'd been so close to shooting the sorry blond bastard that his hand had actually twitched on the butt of his mare's leg. So Vin reckoned it'd be best to put some distance between them. Word of Two Horse's tribe moving through the area couldn't have come at a better time. Looking now at his Kiowa friend, Vin thanked whatever Fates decided their destiny that they'd sent his Indian brother on a trail that had once again crossed the tracker's path.
Two Horses had been pleased but not surprised to see his white-skinned blood brother. He too had heard the stories of the seven peacekeepers hired to protect the small town. And while he was happy that Blue Eagle had finally found a place to call home, the warrior could tell there was something weighing heavily on the younger man's mind. But instead of coming right out and asking, Two Horses bided his time and waited, knowing his brother would speak only when he was ready and not before. It was just his way, had always been his way, ever since they were young.
Although many years had passed since they'd seen each other, Two Horses could well remember the first time Blue Eagle had come to their camp. He was tall and skinny, his skin white and pale, but at thirteen summers, he was well on his way to becoming a man. He rode with a pair of old trappers who came to trade fur and hides for beads, blankets and other trinkets. But his mother, Running Deer, took one look at the large blue eyes and the marks of abuse upon the boy's body and pleaded with her husband to trade for him.
Two Horses couldn't help but chuckle as he remembered the good pony his father had lost that day. But it had pleased Running Deer greatly and given him the brother he'd so desperately wanted. He was two summers older than Blue Eagle, but he'd taken his new brother into his heart. He'd listen at the campfire as Running Deer patiently taught his brother to speak the Kiowa language, then fought beside him as their father trained them to become good men and fierce warriors.
Blue Eagle's white skin had not mattered. He was as much Two Horse's brother in heart and soul as he was in blood. And they both had the small knife scars upon their wrists to prove the strength of their bond. So when Blue Eagle had turned up at his camp seeking refuge, Two Horses had not refused his brother's request. They had celebrated his return long into the night and then settled into camp life while they waited for another band of northern Kiowa that were riding down to join them.
But it soon became obvious that Blue Eagle's heart was sad and the Kiowa warrior had suggested they go hunting. It was a chance for the two men to talk, to have a bit of what the white man called privacy. They had been gone for two days and the pack horse was now loaded with fresh meat from their kill. As they neared the camp, Two Horses knew his brother's heart was still troubled, but at least now, he knew why.
Blue Eagle was in love.
Vin sighed and relaxed, letting his body sway with the motion of his horse's steps. The sun's warmth on his bare skin soaked deep into his bones. Those who knew him would have been shocked at the change in his appearance. But then again, for those who knew him best, perhaps not. Because upon returning to the Kiowa, Vin had quickly shed his white man's clothes and adopted the dress of the native people's.
Two weeks in the sun and his flesh was bronzed and tanned. Hatless, his long hair hung loose around his shoulders with a single eagle feather tied into the length of the auburn strands. He wore no shirt but opted for a short-jacketed vest made of soft deer hide and a breast plate woven from pieces of bone and laced with colorful beads. A breechcloth covered his privates while a square of split cloth hung down to below his knees in both front and back. If it wasn't for the opening up the side of each leg that reached to his hip, he reckoned it'd look like he was wearing a woman's skirt. A pair of doeskin moccasins and a knife sheathed at his waist completed the ensemble. He looked just like any other member of the tribe... except for the deep blue color of his eyes.
His rifle in one hand, Vin now rode his horse bareback, letting Peso enjoy the freedom as much as he was himself. Back when he'd left town, the large gelding had been eager to race with the wind, tearing great chunks of earth with his hooves as they sped together across the plains. Vin had ridden as if the very demons of Hell were after him, letting both time and distance cool the heat of his sudden inexplicable anger. He hadn't been back since, hadn't sent back word. No one knew where he was and he felt a twinge of regret for the worry he knew his disappearance was certain to have caused.
Hell, he reasoned, Larabee probably thought he was half way to Texas by now after getting himself took by some bounty hunter. The man would probably be glad to see the last of his backside!
Cussed mule-stubborn sonuvabitch!
At least now though, Vin understood what was going on. He hadn't quite cottoned to it at first, but with his Kiowa brother's help, he'd finally gotten things figured out. Now what was he going to do about it? That was the tricky part. Should he stay or should he go? And if he stayed here, should he send word back to the others? If he did, would they... or would Chris... come after him? But if he left, where would he go? Back to town? Or maybe down to Mexico? What about California?
Christ! He was giving himself a headache.
Goddammit, Larabee! This is all yer fault!
Vin's scowl deepened as his thoughts took a tumble downward. Life just wasn't fair, was it? It certainly never had been to Vin Tanner. Why the hell should it start now?
Under Two Horses observant eye, poor Vin was so lost and miserable within his musings that he didn't hear the sounds of a pitched battle being waged as the two men approached the camp. It wasn't until Peso lifted his head and whinnied loudly in greeting that Tanner looked up to see what had captured his horse's attention.
Four braves held two ropes on a large black horse while a fifth was trying to get on the beast's back. The animal wasn't cooperating, fighting against them and snorting its extreme displeasure. A furious squeal erupted from between its white teeth, the black muzzle flashing outward and reaching for vulnerable skin. Even as Vin watched, the big animal lowered its head, hindquarters lifting as a set of powerful haunches bunched and kicked out backwards. The sound that erupted was unearthly... and eerily familiar.
They rode closer and with a start, Vin realized he knew this horse, and its owner, quite well. But what in the hell was Larabee's horse doing here? And where was Larabee?
Urging Peso into a lope, Vin quickly crossed the distance and reined to a halt not far from where the men wrestled with the angry gelding. The black head lifted, the white star on the forehead flashing, and Vin could see rage in the deep set brown eyes. Speaking in Kiowa, he ordered them to release the horse, any argument they would have made halted by the presence of the higher ranking warrior sitting silently at his back.
Waiting until they moved away, Vin quietly approached the furious animal, being careful not to spook him as he removed all but one rope from around Pony's thickly muscled neck. The big gelding recognized him and whickered a soft greeting, then quickly calmed under the gentle hands that stroked along his sweaty flank. Turning his head, the black horse nuzzled against Vin's arm as he searched for a hidden treat.
Speaking softly, the tracker ran his hands over the animal from nose to tail, checking for injuries, relieved when he found none. His scowl deepened as he turned to the five braves and in Kiowa, demanded to know the whereabouts of the man who owned the horse. A warrior known only to him as Cougar stepped forward, brashly claiming the black gelding as his. At Vin's look of disbelief, he said he'd found the horse wandering on the prairie and captured the magnificent beast for himself.
Blue eyes narrowed at the blatant lie. Suspicion and fear darted through him but Vin wisely held his tongue. He glanced quickly at his older brother, noted the frown on Two Horse's face, but then turned back to let his gaze roam over the gathered group of men. To his keen eye, they looked guilty as sin. Then he saw the black hat, Chris's hat, dangling from the latigo string around the shortest one's neck. Vin stepped forward with an indrawn gasp of air.
A second brave, the one called Broken Nose, wore a pair of black boots with silver spurs instead of his doeskin moccasins. And Cougar... there was a very familiar ivory handled Colt Peacemaker tucked into the material bunched at his waist. Vin's growl of rage went airborne as he demanded to know what they'd done. Cougar shot back an equally furious reply and then found himself lying on the ground with Blue Eagle's hands wrapped tight around his throat.
"Where is the white man with the yellow hair?" Vin demanded to know, his words spit out in the Kiowa tongue, sounding savage and full of bloodlust.
There was a barked order from Two Horses and then the other warriors pried Vin off of Cougar. He struggled furiously against their grasp, spitting and cursing as many threats and foul words in English and Kiowa as his angry tongue could command. Two Horses dismounted and moved to stand in front of his little brother. He couldn't ever remember seeing Blue Eagle this angry before and the killing intensity in his dark eyes was a sight to frighten even the fiercest brave.
But hidden beneath the anger, there was also pain and fear, and Two Horses quickly guessed that the white man Blue Eagle spoke of was someone very important to him. And then he remembered the things his blood brother had told him, the friends he'd described, and the one man in particular who held a special place in Blue Eagle's heart. Could this be him? This man his brother spoke of with such fondness and obvious longing? Two Horses knew there was only one way to find out.
Turning, he fixed Cougar with a heated glare of his own. "Where is the white man?" the older warrior challenged. He rested a hand on his little brother's tense shoulder, hoping to calm Blue Eagle with his touch. But it also served to reaffirm his brother's place at his side, demanding their respect and an answer to his question.
Cougar snarled a defiant reply and then Two Horses was running after his brother as Blue Eagle raced across the camp. Fear knotted his gut as he followed, knowing full well the cruelty that lived within Cougar's angry heart. A moment later, the warrior heard a keening cry of anguish and the name that fell from Blue Eagle's lips. Rounding the side of a teepee, he skidded to a halt, nearly running over his brother who was now on his knees in the dirt. Two Horses stared, nearly as horrified as Blue Eagle, at the sight that greeted his eyes.
A white man was hanging by his feet between a frame of thick poles. He looked to be dead. His bare skin was burnt and red, his face bruised and swollen. The strands of his yellow hair were matted with dried blood. Long arms stretched down towards the ground, wrists bound tightly together. The thin cloth of his underpants did little to cover the man's slender body and there was an area of dark brown stain covering the length of his right thigh.
"Get 'im down," Vin rasped, lightheaded and dizzy, feeling sick to his stomach and close to puking up his guts. "Oh God! Get 'im down!"
He wasn't sure what woke him. Perhaps it was a slight noise or the smell of something cooking. But whatever it was, it drew him from a deep healing sleep the likes of which he'd never known before. Inhaling slowly, he almost groaned, feeling the blood rush to every part of his waking and contented body. Funny, he hadn't expected that. Seemed like the last thing he could remember was hurting everywhere and his skin feeling like it was on fire. How long ago was that?
He didn't know.
Letting his eyes open slowly, Chris stared at the canvas above him. Only it wasn't really a canvas. More like a hide of some sort, with markings and drawings of animals and the sun and what looked like stick figures on it. The air was tinged with blue-gray smoke that drifted out through a round hole high above him. Where in the hell was he? Movement to his left drew his gaze and Chris looked over to see an Indian brave squatted down in front of a blazing fire.
Aw shit! Indians!
He must have made a small noise, a grunt of some sort, because the other man turned his head and looked at him. And Chris couldn't help but stare at the near naked bronzed body that gleamed golden in the gentle firelight. There was hardly an inch of spare flesh that he couldn't see. Feet encased in soft moccasins led to long bare legs, muscled thighs that were tight and corded, slender waist, a long naked torso that was nearly devoid of any hair. The gilded features were handsome and tanned, dark hair hanging loose and soft about his shoulders while a lone eagle feather drifted among the strands. He gazed up at the brave's impassive face, silently studying him. Then gasped in shock at the blue eyes that accented the striking features.
A very familiar pair of blue eyes.
"Vin?" he croaked.
The answering grin was like the sun breaking over a new dawn and Chris released the breath he hadn't been aware that he was holding.
"Hey, cowboy," drawled the soft voice. "How ya feelin'?"
Chris thought a moment then answered honestly, "Not sure just yet."
Vin rose gracefully from beside the fire and moved across to kneel by the gunman's side. "That's the healin' medicine workin' fer ya. Here, drink this," he urged and offered a mug of warm liquid. It tasted bitter, but not in an unpleasant sort of way, and Chris lifted his head to sip at it gratefully.
Resting a moment later, he asked, "Where are we?"
"Kiowa village," Vin answered as he moved back to the fire. He squatted down again with one leg curled beneath him, the other leg bent at the knee. He busied his hands with crushing the herbs and roots he'd gathered and added them to a pot that sat cooking over the tongues of the bright warm flames.
Frowning, the gunslinger remembered how he had gotten there but what in the hell was Vin's excuse? And why was he dressed like one of them?
"What're ya doin' here?" His frown only deepened at Vin's answer.
"Could ask ya th'same thing," the tracker replied with a careless lift of one bare shoulder.
Irritated, Chris growled low in his throat, lifting a hand to rub across his eyes as he admitted, "Was out lookin' fer you." His arm fell back to his side as he scowled, "Five of them bastards jumped me an' took my horse!"
"I know," Vin acknowledged as he reached for the stirring stick. His lips twitched with amusement as he remembered how Larabee's horse had fought back.
"Pony?" Chris inquired, his worry evident.
Vin did smile then as he answered the unfinished question. "Outside," he assured the gunslinger. "Buggin' th'shit outta Peso. He's fine."
Larabee grunted with relief. He'd spent a helluva lot of time training that horse and hated the thought of losing him. He reckoned those braves got a lot more animal than they'd bargained for, memories of the gelding's irate screams still ringing in his ears. Damned horse was almost as possessive of him as Vin was of that mule, Peso. Groaning, Chris tried to roll sideways and sit up, but his body was stiff and sluggish to his command. Vin hurried to his side, laid a hand against his chest and eased him back down upon the pallet of blankets.
"Vin, we gotta get outta here," Chris protested.
"S'okay," Vin reassured him. "Relax. Yer safe. This is Two Horse's camp."
But that only puzzled the gunman even more. "Who th'hell is Two Horses?"
Vin sighed and ducked his head. He'd known this moment would come. He just wasn't completely sure what to do about it or how much he wanted to reveal. The tracker settled for keeping it short, not wanting to have this conversation just yet, but knowing also that Chris needed some sort of answer.
"M'Kiowa blood brother," he declared as he moved back to the other side of the fire.
That wasn't the answer Larabee expected and it took him by surprise. He remembered Vin once telling him that he'd spent some time with the Kiowa and the Comanche but just how much time had the younger man really been talking about? And what sorts of other things had Vin neglected to tell him?
Goddamn irritatin' sonuvabitch!
"Why'd you leave town?"
He could tell from the guilty dart of Vin's eyes that the question took him by surprise. It surprised Chris as well considering all the heap of other things he had circling around his brain. He just wasn't sure why that was the first thing that popped out or why it was so important for him to know.
Vin reached over, adding strips of rabbit meat to the pot before he answered. "Had some thinkin' ta do an' needed some space." Chris's question riled him a bit. It wasn't like it was the first time he'd taken off on his own, although he had to admit it was certainly the longest. And just what business of Larabee's was it anyways? The man wasn't his keeper.
"Ya coulda gone out ta my place instead of takin' off like that," Chris accused.
That earned him a loud snort. "Hell, Chris, in case ya ain't noticed, ya ain't been the friendliest sonuvabitch come lately an' I's tired of ya takin' yer bad temper out on me!"
Chris couldn't hold that accusing blue gaze and had to glance away. Vin was right but he'd be damned if he'd admit it. "Well, you ain't exactly fit fer the ladies social club neither!" he shot back, feeling his anger rise.
Goddamn! What was it about Vin that kept setting him off? It didn't used to be this way. What the hell had happened?
But instead of getting angry in return, the tracker felt a chuckle rising up within his chest. Damned ornery cuss wasn't ever gonna change, not that Vin would change him if he could. No, fact was, he was in love with Chris Larabee, thorns, bad temper, foul mouth, mangy stubborn hide and all! Now if he could only take Two Horse's advice and figure out what he was gonna do about it.
Then sudden inspiration struck.
"Ain't no use arguin' 'bout what's already been done," Vin soothed. He stirred the simmering stew once more and then said, "Reckon it's about time I changed them bandages again an' put some more'a this ointment on yer skin."
It wasn't until Vin mentioned his injuries that Chris finally realized he was naked beneath the blankets. Well, naked except for a strip of cloth tied around his upper right thigh. It gave him a bit of a start to know that the tracker had been caring for him and an uneasy feeling settled deep in the pit of his gut.
"How long I been here?" he inquired, eyes narrowed in concern.
"Three days since I got back an' I reckon two days b'fore that," Vin shrugged as he rummaged through his saddlebags. Finding the items he sought, he rose to his feet and padded over to where Chris lay waiting.
Chris eyed him suspiciously, all that bare naked skin making him more than just a bit uncomfortable as he gazed up the long length of Vin's legs. "Where're m'clothes?" he grumbled softly, feeling vulnerable without his trappings.
"They'll keep," the other man advised him. "Yer skin was burnt too bad ta put 'em back on ya." He let Chris digest that information and then asked, "Ya gonna let me change them bandages or do I have ta call m'sister-in-law ta come'n do it?"
The gunslinger was decidedly uncomfortable as he confessed, "I'm naked."
Vin almost laughed out loud at the disgruntled look on the blond man's face. At the same time though, those two words sent a spear of heat straight to his groin that made his cock stiffen in anticipation. He swallowed hard against the burn of sudden desire. Knowing he needed to keep this light, to keep Chris off guard, Vin snickered and joked, "No kiddin'? Always wondered what ya was hidin' 'neath them skin tight pants of yers, Lar'bee."
Chris scowled at him in return and didn't move.
Truth be told, Vin had noticed the man's nice firm ass beneath that layer of shiny black leather... more than once. "C'mon, Chris," he urged. "Yer virginity's safe with me," knowing that wasn't exactly true but determined not to let that stop him. And who would have guessed Larabee to be so modest in the first place? From what he'd seen, especially over the last three days, the man had absolutely nothing to hide!
"Yer a pain in the ass," Chris grumbled but shoved the blanket from off his injured thigh. He was blissfully unaware that his words almost caused Vin to swallow his tongue.
Taking a deep breath in to calm his racing heart, Vin muttered, "So I been told," as he knelt down beside the pile of blankets and spread his supplies on the ground. With quick economic movements, he sliced the bandage from Larabee's thigh. He then checked the wound, saw that it was healing well, cleaned it again and applied the ointment to prevent infection. Finally, he tied a fresh bandage around the leg, giving a slight pat to the hard thigh to indicate that he was done.
He wiped his hands on a rag and then lifted the cover from a jar of thick scented lotion. Pouring a generous amount into his palm, he reached for the edge of the blanket only to find strong fingers wrapped around his wrist.
"I can do it m'self," Chris growled, green eyes glittering dangerously.
Vin pulled his hand back, his mouth set in a stubborn line as he replied, "I know ya can, cowboy, but what about them places ya cain't reach? An' jes who in th'hell ya think's been puttin' this stuff on ya fer the last three days? An' I need ta see if yer healin' up right cuz I sure as hell ain't listenin' ta ya bitch an' moan all th'way back ta town."
Back to town.
Vin was planning on coming back with him. And why did he feel so relieved? But before he had time to do more than question it, the blankets were tugged downward and Vin's warm hand landed on his chest. Chris sucked in a breath as the lotion was smeared across his still sensitive skin. He closed his eyes, shutting out the sight of Vin's face and near naked body. Forcing himself to relax under that touch, he felt it soothe the sting of his sunburned flesh and ease the tightly coiled tension from within his long, taut frame.
Ever so slowly, Chris became aware of other things as well. The warmth of Vin's hand, the way it seemed to caress him, the fragrance of the lotion, the scent of the other man's skin. It was as if Vin were weaving a spell around him, binding him with his magic and leading him on a journey they had never before dared to undertake. He lost himself to that hypnotic stroke, caught fast within a sensual haze, and surrendered to its call with a soft and fretful moan.
God, but that felt so damned good!
Vin held his breath, hardly able to believe Chris was letting him do this or that the gunman was relaxed. Stroking and soothing, petting and caressing, he spread the healing ointment over the warm flesh, knowing it wasn't truly necessary as the burns had already begun to fade. But it gave him the excuse he needed to touch the object of his desire, to let Chris become familiar with the contact, much like Vin gentled a wild horse to the feel of his strong and loving hands.
And so he continued, adding more lotion and his other hand as long moments passed in which he simply enjoyed being able to touch Chris as he pleased. The smoothly muscled chest, the patch of golden hair, the small brown ovals of his nipples, the slender line of his neck, the strong length of his arms, the dip at his narrow waist... Vin was fascinated by all of him, intrigued and attracted in a way he instinctively knew he had never felt before.
And still he wanted more of this. More of Chris.
His heart racing, his breath quickening, Vin glanced downward to where the rest of Chris's body lay hidden by the woolen blanket. He chewed his lower lip thoughtfully, wondering not for the first time if he was about to get himself shot. But then again Chris didn't know where his guns were and that lent itself to the sly smile that tilted at the corners of the tracker's lips.
He worked his hands lower, letting them glide against the edge of the blanket and then slip gently beneath it. When Chris remained silent and unresisting, Vin continued with his strokes, emboldened by the deeper movements of the pale gleaming chest and the look of immense pleasure shadowing the other man's handsome face. He felt crisp pubic hair rasp against his hand as he rubbed lower on the tight flat belly, felt the tension in the length of muscle that quivered and danced beneath his tender touch. A groan escaped from between those perfect lips, the sound echoing deep inside Vin's body to inflame his senses just that much more.
And then the fingers of his right hand wrapped around the length of Chris's shaft, felt the heat and hardness of it against his palm as it filled with blood, rising up hungrily to greet his firm embrace. Stunned, Vin gasped out loud at the feel of living silk and molten steel. His hand began to stroke, gently at first but then with increasing ardor as Chris's naked body responded with a surprising amount of eagerness. Up and down the length of it he moved, staring at the ecstasy ravaging Chris's face, knowing it was his touch alone that brought a spark to the flame burning deep inside the body of the fiery blond gunslinger.
Needing to free his movements, Vin pushed the hindering blanket aside, his eyes drifting downward to admire the length of Chris's cock, mesmerized by the sight of his own tanned fingers clasped about the beautiful blood-filled shaft. His world narrowed, his gaze focused, his breathing quieted as the tracker concentrated on the task that occupied his eager hands. Desperately, fervently, hungrily, he wanted to jack Chris off and hear the man's cry of completion echoing in his ears.
Chris's eyes were closed, his long neck arched, his torso quivering as his legs twitched restlessly upon the pallet. Long fingers fisted into the blankets as Vin took him higher and higher, spiraling his body tighter until his entire world centered in a violent vortex of clawing, urgent need. Stroking and caressing, pumping, tugging and pulling, squeezing and releasing, a finger circled lovingly over the tip of his cock and Chris cried out his release, a thick stream of creamy fluid jetting from his body as Vin held him in his grasp.
The scent of Chris's cum washed over him, feeding Vin's own hunger and his need, the long shuddering moan torn from Chris's throat a mere echo of the one sounding deep within the tracker's gentle soul. His body ached, his cock throbbed, needing Chris in every fiber of his being. He turned his head to gaze upon the handsome fire-softened features as the green eyes fluttered once and then closed on a wave of sated exhaustion.
Disappointment made for a cold lonely bed as Vin got to his feet and stumbled to the flap that covered the opening of the teepee. A minute later, hidden away from sight, he grunted with relief as his own body forcefully released itself into the bushes close at hand. But his climax was empty and harsh, leaving him deeply unsatisfied in body, heart and soul.
Sighing, Vin knew he had only himself to blame. He should have waited until Chris was stronger and healed from his injuries, should have held off until the gunslinger was better able to understand what was happening between them. But Vin couldn't find it within himself to regret giving Chris the pleasure of his touch, knowing there had indeed been pleasure and determined that was something that neither of them would ever deny.
Smiling as he headed back to the teepee, Vin decided he was looking forward to when Chris woke up again. Because once he did... well, Blue Eagle was on the hunt and had no intention of spending another night sleeping in his own cold and lonely bedroll.
The smell of savory stew heating over a fire awakened him and his stomach rumbled hungrily in response. Opening his eyes, Chris glanced around, his gaze falling on Vin sitting on the far side of the teepee. His head bent, the other man was engrossed in cleaning his gun, his mouth working soundlessly as he took an occasional bite of flat bread. A bowl filled with the thick stew sat by his left knee, a crude wooden spoon sticking out of the fragrant mixture.
Vin didn't immediately notice he was awake and Chris let his eyes roam the inside of the teepee before coming to rest again on the tracker's fire-kissed features. He frowned in confusion, remembering Vin's hands gliding over his body and the eagerness of his own response. Where in the hell had that come from and why hadn't he done anything to stop it? And why had Vin gone and done that in the first place?
Chris didn't understand it, but if he was honest, he had to admit that Vin jacking him off had felt pretty damned good. Actually, it felt fantastic and he glanced down at his chest and belly to make sure it wasn't all a dream. The woolen blanket was drawn over his naked flesh but Chris slipped a hand upward and touched the flat of his stomach. Finding only clean, smooth skin, he was strangely... disappointed.
The tracker's keen eyes caught the movement and Chris looked over to find himself captured by an intense blue gaze. They stared at each other for a moment, a silent thread connecting them, before Vin gave a gentle smile and laid his gun aside. He ladled up some of the meat-filled stew into another crude bowl, added a couple of pieces of flat bread and rose easily to his feet. Padding silently across the teepee, he moved to Chris's side, knelt down next to him and helped the injured man to sit.
Resting with his back against a pillow made of buffalo hide, Chris accepted the evening meal and ate it in studied silence. Content for the moment to let the gunslinger be, Vin offered no words and moved just as quietly back across to the fire. He settled himself beside it once again and resumed his careful work. Head bent low, his hair hanging loose, he concentrated on slicking the barrel of his gun with the lightly scented oil.
Outside the teepee, Chris could hear the sounds of the night, the chirping of crickets, the soft call of a hoot owl. Horses nickered somewhere nearby as they grazed in peaceful contentment. Across the camp, a baby fretted and its cries were quickly soothed. A gentle breeze tickled through the mesquite branches, rattling them like a saber resting loose within its metal scabbard. Then far out on the prairie, the cry of a coyote carried to him and Chris glanced upward to see a sliver of moonlight shining through the smoke hole sitting high above him.
All was peaceful. Quiet. Calm. Content.
So why in the hell did he feel so restless?
Chris scowled around a mouthful of flat bread and quickly finished his meal. The stew was very good. It was a shame he didn't taste it. He set the bowl aside and picked up the canteen lying beside him. Chris recognized it as Vin's but drank deeply from it anyway. A moment later, his hunger and his thirst appeased, the gunman settled back down upon the pallet. He felt as if he should say something but realized he didn't quite know just where to start. And since when had the silence between him and Vin become so damned awkward?
Maybe since his best friend took the liberty of jacking him off while he just lay there and let him do it.
Damn it all to hell anyways!
From his place beside the fire, Vin watched the various emotions flit across the other man's features. He could tell Chris was studying on something awful hard and reckoned the man was gonna tie himself up in knots pretty damned fast. It figured Larabee would make something hard out of something so obviously easy. Vin had to suppress a snicker at the man's growl of irritation as Chris slid back down on the pallet, pulled the blankets up over him and tried to get his body comfortable.
The crackle of the night fire was then the only sound that broke the silence, and for long minutes, Vin simply watched out of the corner of his eye as Chris fidgeted, fretted and worried. The green eyes flickered open and then closed, the blond head tossing and then turning, a deep breath here, a loud sigh there, until finally the tracker reckoned he'd let Chris stew long enough.
Unlacing his moccasins, Vin eased them from his feet. Setting them aside for in the morning, he uncoiled his body and stood in a slow and graceful motion. The firelight reflected off his bronzed skin, coloring him golden and warm, casting his face in shadows as he moved with a catlike tread. Standing at the foot of Chris's pallet, he waited until the green eyes opened, held the intense gaze for a long silent moment before his hands drifted to the rough cloth bunched around his waist.
Releasing the leather ties, Vin let the material fall gently to the floor. The breechcloth quickly followed until he stood naked and proud in the shifting orange light. He waited, giving Chris a chance to say something, to deny this thing between them, to turn back if this was not what he truly wanted. But Chris remained silent, unblinking, still staring up at him with dark and hooded eyes.
Goddamn, but Vin was beautiful! It made Chris's bones ache just to look at him, standing there in all his glory, like some wild and untamed savage. He was naked as the day he was born and not one bit ashamed of anything God had given him. The tracker took his breath away, literally, leaving him bereft of the power of speech. Not that Chris had a clue as to what he should say. He'd never found himself in this situation before and the strangeness of it all was more than a bit overwhelming. He swallowed hard, feeling equal parts confused, apprehensive, revolted... and surprisingly sexually aroused.
It suddenly hit Chris then that he had no idea what it was Vin wanted from him. He'd never been with a man before, never even been slightly tempted. Chris was of the old school, that if a willing woman wasn't handy or couldn't be bought, then a man simply made due with his own good hand or he kept it in his pants. Not that he hadn't heard of such things going on between two men. And not that he hadn't been propositioned at least once or twice, but it was simply something a man such as himself had never even remotely considered.
After all, a man was a man, by God! And there wasn't a sonuvabitch alive who could ever say that Chris Larabee couldn't fight, swear, drink, cuss, ride, shoot and fuck with the best of 'em!
But then, so could Vin Tanner.
So why was Vin now standing over him, giving him that look, his eyes all dark and hungry, buck-naked in his birthday suit and obviously horny as hell?
The sight of the tracker's cock jutting from the bed of dark curls at his groin gave Chris pause. What the hell? He had no idea what Vin planned to do with that thing and wasn't completely sure he really wanted to find out. So why then was his own body getting hot and bothered? Why was his heart pounding so heavily inside his aching chest? And why was his hand snaking down towards his dick, the desperate need to stroke himself growing with every breath he took?
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Maybe he should say something.
"Uh-Vin?" he offered hesitantly.
But it was already too late as the tracker stepped to one side, bent his knees and drifted downward. Reaching out a hand, he pulled the blankets back from Chris's body, lifting them just enough so that he could slide in underneath them. Stretching out full length, he covered Chris's slender frame with his own and pulled the blankets back up over them.
"Vin!" came the startled gasp of protest as Chris grabbed hold of the tracker's arms.
"Sssshhh!" Vin soothed him quietly, feeling the pleasurable rush of skin touching heated skin. His cock lay against Chris's hip and the gunman's equally hard shaft pressed back against his thigh. God, this felt better than Vin could have ever imagined!
"What're you...?" Chris began only to be silenced as Vin's mouth descended. Shocked at first, he tensed, ready to push Vin away when a hot, wet tongue traced the line of his lower lip. Fierce heat stabbed through him and lightning danced along his nerves at that touch, a deep shudder wracking his body when the deft stroke came again.
Jesus Christ! Was Vin licking him? Kissing him?
Oh God, yes! Holy shit! And Chris had never felt anything so fine as warm lips touched his own. His eyes closed and he forgot to breathe, wanting it to go on and on, a never-ending caress of heated liquid fire. His head spun crazily when Vin finally pulled away, a harsh gasp sucking air into his aching desperate lungs. Blue eyes glittered darkly at him, filled with hunger and need, the intensity of that gaze almost frightening in its blatant heat.
God, no one had ever looked at him that way, not even Sarah! As if their very heartbeat depended on his sole existence. Chris shuddered.
"V-vin?" Dear God! What was Vin doing to him?
Silently and gently, Vin threaded his fingers through Chris's hair, cupping his warm hands around the blond head. Holding him there beneath him, Vin gazed deeply and longingly into the startled moss green eyes. Speaking quietly, his voice husky and low, he used the Kiowa tongue to tell Chris of his heart, admitting the truth for the first time in a language he knew Chris couldn't understand.
"I am Blue Eagle, Kiowa warrior and son of Man Who Paints The Sky, sworn blood brother of Two Horses, mighty warrior of the Nogales Kiowa tribe. I speak to you from my heart. Listen and hear my words of love."
Chris had absolutely no idea what Vin was saying but damned if it didn't sound sexier and more suggestive than anything he'd ever heard. God, just that smoky voice stroking over his senses was enough to send flames licking through his body and an embarrassing heat pooling in his groin. Could Vin tell what he was doing to him? Did he even know? But how could he not when they were pressed so close together?
He really needed to get the tracker off of him.
The heat of Vin's body surrounded him along every place they touched. Skin on skin, bone against bone, muscle layered by quivering muscle. He could feel every beat of Vin's heart, the breath inside his chest, the fine trembling of his fingers, the burn of his hard shaft where it pressed into the narrow curve at Chris's hip. And while one part of the gunslinger's mind was disgusted by these things, by the evidence of Vin's arousal, another part of his mind was fascinated and enthralled, held captive by the seductive promise within that lust-filled gaze. Need and blatant hunger rode high upon those proud and angular features.
Need and hunger for him.
It was confusing. Frightening. Stimulating. Exciting.
Dammit, Chris wanted more! And it scared the hell out of him!
He didn't like being scared.
"In you I have found my soul, the other part of me for which I searched. That which I was missing is now whole and unbroken once more. I am healed by the very breath that lives within you. I touch you with tenderness. I touch you with my great love. Let all that I am worship you. As I give myself to you, may you so give yourself to me. Let us become one together as we love with all that we are, one body, one heart, one soul."
"Goddamn!" Chris sucked in a jagged breath and cursed softly, his fingers clenching on the other man's upper arms, his eyes wide with uncertainty. The look on Vin's face said more to him than mere words ever could but, "What... what th'hell did you just say?" he rasped, suddenly needing to know.
Leaning down, framing the handsome face with his hands, Vin breathed softly, "I want you now and for always." Then he repeated it in English, his lips ghosting over the smooth flesh of Chris's mouth as he whispered, "I want ya... now... here... forever."
Chris gasped sharply and Vin took advantage to slip his tongue inside the other man's mouth. He felt the long frame shudder violently beneath him and knew that, at least for him, there was no turning back. He had made his declaration of love, exposed his deepest need, left himself vulnerable to the one man who held the power to destroy his very soul.
The empty ache inside of him grew unbearable, his hunger great, and Vin determined to press onward, loving Chris with all he was and everything he had to give. He devoured the gunslinger's lush mouth, greedily swept inside, exploring and tasting deeply, sucked on the shy, wet tongue and called it out to play. Hard hands gripped his arms, then moved upward to his shoulders. A moment later, rough palms slid down to feather across his ribs. Long, slender fingers dug in at the tuck of his waist and Vin delighted in their firm and powerful grasp.
Trapped beneath the tracker's body, Larabee felt like he was drowning, being sucked under by a thick black current that threatened to consume him whole. But damn it all if he wasn't a willing prisoner! Chris could only groan his imminent surrender, wanting to kiss Vin back with all he had to give, reveling in that hot hard tongue even as it tempted and possessed him.
Christ! It felt like Vin was turning him inside out with that mouth of his. Who the hell knew the sonuvabitch could kiss like that in the first place? Certainly not him. It made Chris want to do all sorts of dangerous and crazy things. Things like kiss the younger man senseless while trying to suck the tonsils clean out of the back of his throat, and all the while aching to crawl deep inside the tracker's skin and figure out a way that he could stay in there forever.
Jesus! Where had that come from? This sudden need? This craving? This hunger?
Shit. Chris suddenly couldn't get close enough. His cock wasn't nearly hard enough.
Godddammit! Where in the hell was Vin going?
Panting hard, Chris blinked his eyes, then cursed viciously when sharp teeth nipped at the angle of his jaw. Wet lips followed a moment later and he tilted his head back, then felt a gentle tug on his earlobe. He grunted helplessly as that pointed tongue rimmed the shell of his ear.
Damn, but that felt hot!
Chris shivered, wondering what else the tracker could do with that clever mouth of his. The very thought made his body ache and pulse in places that not even the cleverest whore had ever been able to arouse. But Chris knew he was going insane, a long thick groan rumbling from his chest, when those same wet lips surrounded the fleshy nub of his ear. They suckled on it gently, reminding him of a newborn babe feeding at its mother's swollen tit. A low growl of pleasure trickled from his throat while Vin's answering purr was a soft tickle of warm breath against Chris's damp skin.
Damn, he couldn't take much more of this! Tanner was making him crazy!
But this wasn't right. They really should stop.
God, don't let him stop! Please!
Vin knew he was driving Chris wild, could see it in the glittering fire of his green eyes, the tension that wracked the slender frame, the flush of passion's color on the angular planes of the handsome face. He kissed and caressed and stroked, murmuring soft words of encouragement, using his command of the Kiowa language to express the poetry of love written within his soul. He seduced with voice and words, his body, hands and lips, setting fire to Chris's skin like a blazing torch tossed upon a bed of drying tinder.
Hands grabbed hold of his ass, pulled him roughly closer, the heated body squirming beneath him as he laid siege to the skin at Chris's throat. Tonguing and licking, nibbling and sucking, he raised a welt of possession over the life pulse throbbing under his lips. He trailed the hard length of a collarbone with his tongue, Chris's soft grunts echoing in his ears. He nipped and suckled a small male nipple, felt the answering groan that ripped through the muscled torso. His hands traced rib and hard bone, stroked the trembling frame.
Then, with their legs intertwined, Vin flexed his muscles and thrust against Chris's hip. The body beneath him tightened. He felt the sudden hitch in Chris's breath and glanced up to find the flushed features screwed into a mask of indescribable bliss. A crooked grin lifted Vin's mouth. Then, because it felt so damned good, he did it again, and then again and yet again. Hungry eyes set on Chris's face, the tracker moved slowly at first, but then faster and with more purpose, losing himself in the pleasure of simply humping against Chris's hard body. Soon after, Vin felt Chris began to move beneath him, to thrust back against him.
From there it became a race, both men panting, thrusting, sweating, their bodies straining against one another, giving and receiving pleasure in a mind-numbing rush of heat and fire. Vin's mouth latched on to Chris's throat, marking the tender flesh again. His hands stroked over the long lean flanks, reached down the length of the gunslinger's arms, slid back up and into Chris's hair, touching, caressing, petting, encouraging. Lost within the storm of rising passion, Chris grunted, gasped and growled, helpless to do anything more than thrust his rock-hard shaft upward while strong fingers gouged deep bruises into the muscles of the tracker's tight ass.
"Unhh... unhh... unhh... unhh..."
Their cries echoed in unison, growing louder and more frantic as they approached the edge, ran faster, thrust harder, uncaring of the noise they made or the passionate sounds that filled the air. Wanting more, wanting closer, harder, hotter, Vin reached a hand between their close-pressed bodies, searching for Chris's cock and capturing it with a harsh grunt of triumph. Shifting his hips, he angled his body to align their blood-filled shafts together. His long slender fingers closed around them, felt their combined heat searing his palm, groaned thickly with excitement at the silken skin within his grasp, rubbing against him.
The gunslinger's legs flailed, struggling for purchase as he surged upward against Vin's weight, powerful hip and thigh muscles clenching and releasing as he shoved his cock into the grip holding him so tight. The feel of Vin's shaft beside his own was nearly his undoing, the heat of it burning him like a match set to a trail of black gun powder. It lit a spark deep inside him, searing him to the core, the fire building higher and higher until Chris knew he was going to explode.
Unable to do anything more than let Vin hump against him as he held on to the younger man's buttocks, Chris's head thrashed helplessly from side to side, his face tight with pleasure and pain, mouth open as he gasped for air. Sweat beaded on his forehead, trickled into his hair and darkened the silken blond strands. A droplet of the salty liquid collected above his lip and the tip of Chris's tongue snaked out to lick it away. He tasted Vin, groaned again at the erotic intensity of it, then nearly lost his mind as the tracker's other hand cupped his balls.
Vin's body was coiled tighter than a watch spring and he knew that both of them were getting close. Letting his other hand drift downward, he slipped it between Chris's legs and palmed the lightly furred sac. Giving a slight but gentle squeeze, he was rewarded by the sudden bucking of the taut frame beneath him, the hard thrust of Chris's cock into his hand sawing roughly against the length of his own equally needy shaft. Sharp white teeth added yet another bite against the long elegant throat and Chris threw back his head, arched his neck, eyes wide and dark as he screamed with his release.
The scent and feel of Chris's slick cum gushing over his hand and onto the flat of his belly triggered Vin's climax. Orgasm rushed urgently through him and bathed his heated skin with a warm layer of liquid bliss. The pungent fragrance of their seed rose sharply in the moist air and filled the inside of the teepee with the perfume of their sated passion. Drifting downward a long moment later, Vin opened his eyes to gaze at Chris's relaxed features. Lowering his head, he placed a gentle, reverent kiss upon the damp and swollen lips. Dazed green eyes fluttered open, looking up at him in sleepy fascination.
Murmuring softly again in Kiowa, Vin said, "I am Blue Eagle, Kiowa warrior, and I claim you for my own. From this day on, we are one heart, one soul, one flesh. I call you now by your warrior name, Yellow Wolf."
One hand lifted to finger through the strands of Chris's hair. "Yellow is for the color of your hair, wolf is for your courage and the fierceness of your spirit. My heart is yours, Yellow Wolf, and all that is within me sings at the joining of our souls."
Vin stilled as heavy-lidded green eyes stared up at him in confusion before the gunman's hand lifted to slowly stroke a gentle finger across his cheek.
"Vin?" Chris exhaled on a deep sigh of exhaustion, a delicious lassitude slowly stealing over him, dragging him downward into sleep. A frown furrowed his brow as his thoughts drifted like clouds upon the wind.
"Ssshhh! S'okay," Vin soothed. "G'on ta sleep," watching as the man's eyes closed and his breathing became even and full. Sliding off the still warm body, he lay close beside Chris and tucked the blankets in tight around them. Following his new lover into sleep a few moments later, Vin knew he had some explaining to do and next time, he wouldn't be able to get away with saying it in Kiowa.
The tracker grinned sleepily, one arm across Chris's chest, thinking about the next time.
Two more days passed before Chris was well enough to travel. As he recovered, he met Vin's Kiowa family and was surprised by how easily they accepted him into their embrace. The gunslinger found he liked and respected Two Horses although their conversations were a bit awkward since Chris didn't speak Kiowa and Two Horses had only a limited command of English. And though Vin's sister-in-law was pretty and polite enough, her sly glances had a way of unsettling him a bit, like she knew something he didn't and wasn't about to tell him what it was.
The five braves who jumped him at the creek were properly chastised and made to return his belongings. Chris didn't expect an apology from any of them but he wouldn't have minded taking a swing at the one with the scar on his face for daring to lay his hands on his horse. And as for his horse, Chris was much relieved to find the big black gelding was no worse for the wear. Pony meant a lot to him and he swore he'd shoot first and ask questions later of any man who tried to take the animal away from him. After all, he'd done it before.
And then there was Vin.
Vin still puzzled him and Chris wasn't entirely sure what to do about the feelings in his gut or the questions in his head. They'd talked some, not that either one of them was what Ezra would call a great conversationalist, and managed to sort out the reasons behind their recent fights and arguments. And they'd managed to skirt around the edges of the new physical aspect of their relationship although that was still a bit of a mystery to Chris as well. He'd never figured himself for one of those funny cowboys that Buck liked to joke about and earned himself a heated glare from Vin when he managed to let that slip.
Still though, maybe they could sort this out between them and figure out where to go from here. And one way or another, he was bound and determined to get Vin to tell him just what in the hell all that Kiowa mumbo-jumbo he'd spouted meant. Chris had a pretty good idea just based on the look in Vin's eyes and the tone of his voice, not to mention all the touching and kissing and sex that went along with it. And not just any sex, much to his everlasting surprise. But the mind-blowing, soul-shattering, breath-stealing kind that left him questioning his very sanity and whether or not he was even still alive afterward.
Jesus! Who the hell knew?
Now, looking at the man riding beside him, Chris found himself curious about their future and how much of it they might spend together. In fact, if he was honest, he had to admit, at least to himself, that he wasn't so sure he wasn't already more than halfway in love with Vin as it was. And that really did surprise the hell out of him!
Chris scowled at that thought, not sure he liked the idea of being in love with another man all that much. Sex was one thing, albeit sex with Vin was something else all together, he readily admitted. But how did he reconcile who he was and who he'd been with being in love and sharing his bed, not to mention his body, with a scrawny, sorry-assed, no-account tracker from Texas who had the power to melt his bones with just a single kiss?
Shit. This was making his goddamned hair hurt!
"Hey, Chris?" Vin spoke, breaking him from his reverie. He continued when the gunman looked over at him. "Didja know that when a Kiowa squaw sleeps in a man's bed an' they make love, come mornin' it's tribal law that they's married?"
Chris abruptly reined his horse to a halt and scowled at the long-haired tracker. After a moment, he growled, "I ain't no squaw."
Seeing the flash of irritation on the handsome features, Vin countered, "Didn't say ya was." Then, grinning cockily, blue eyes dancing, he tapped his heels to Peso's flanks and urged the gelding into a ground-eating lope. Chris stared after his retreating back with a decidedly strange expression on his face.
"Vin?" he called out after him, his frown deepening when the younger man didn't bother to respond. "Shit!" Chris cursed under his breath and then spurred his horse to follow the departing tracker. Shaking his head, Larabee had a sudden feeling that this was going to be another very bad day!