Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made
Author's Note: May need a "no food or drink" warning. . . .
The tall, lean figure strode toward the barn with a determined step. Fitted black jeans and cowboy boots covered the lower half of the attractive form, an ebony flat-crowned hat mostly hiding the gold hair and shading the icy green gaze that peered from the handsome face. The tanned, well-muscled chest rippled in the lowering sun with each movement, sweat gleaming like drops of crystal and joining to form rivulets that ran down into the dark waistband. A saddle rested over one broad shoulder, the stirrups tied up so they wouldn't hit the almost prowling figure. Long ebony-gloved fingers held the horn, a look that rather defied description on the shadowed features.
Vin Tanner stood watching his boss and best friend in bemusement. It wasn't that Chris was adverse to walking. . . the team went hiking fairly frequently. But it was unusual that the man was shirtless and carrying his saddle instead of riding on a horse with it.
When Larabee got close enough to hear, Tanner called out to him.
"You been playin' Ez and lost your shirt, Cowboy?"
The jade eyes gave the slender sniper a disgusted glare.
"Nope. That billy goat you call a horse ate it."
Chris swung the saddle down and threw it over the top rail of the corral, removing his gloves. He leaned on the poles and wiped sweat off of his chest when he was done. Vin grabbed the old tin dipper hanging on the wall of the barn and filled it with cool water from the nearby hydrant. Handing it to the blond, he joined him in resting against the fence.
Confusion mingled with amusement on Vin's face as he faced his best friend.
"Peso ate your shirt?"
After he drained the dipper, one hand removed the dark hat and the fingers of the other ran through his damp hair as the team leader nodded, his lips pursed.
Ah, Larabee was in his 'three words a day' mode, Vin thought with a hidden smile. And Chris claimed getting him to talk was like pulling teeth!
"I know he cribs on his stall, but never had 'im eat my shirt before." commented Tanner mildly. "What happened?"
"Hey Cowboy, exercise my horse for me while I'm under with Ez, alright?" Chris' soft tones almost perfectly mimicked the sniper's Texas drawl, rather to Tanner's surprise. "Hey Chris, why don't ya take Peso when ya go to fix the fence back by the creek? Ya know he likes to wade in the water." The hazel gaze skewered the shorter man with each quote, making Vin twitch a bit involuntarily.
"Well, I was gone almost two weeks, and he did need to be ridden. Ya know how ornery he gets when he's able to just laze around for a while."
"Gets?" queried Chris with a raised eyebrow as he moved to refill the dipper and pour it over his head. More moisture trickled down the bronzed pecs and abs and drops flew every which way as he shook his hair.
"That horse is always a pain in the ass."
Vin grinned. Peso did like to nip, so the description was literal as well as figurative.
"Yeah, but that still don't explain why you're minus your shirt and hoofin' it."
Broad shoulders moved up and down in a shrug. Striding back to the corral, the blond once again leaned against the poles. Vin rested his forearms on the top, settling in for a good story. The sky blue eyes fastened on Larabee. This should be interesting. . .
"Did like ya asked, and decided to take that mule of yours to fix the fence instead of Pony. He'd actually been behavin' pretty decent for him, so figured it wouldn't hurt to let him play in the creek after I was done."
Tanner nodded, silently encouraging the lean form to continue.
"He did fine on the ride, and only tried to nip me once when I was saddlin' him." The tall figure moved a bit, one hand rubbing his bare shoulder where said saddle had rubbed on the trek back.
"Anyway, we got to the part of the fence that was down and I unsaddled him and tied the reins to a tree limb so I could work without him wonderin' off. Got hot, so I took off my shirt and threw it over the branch, too."
Vin's shoulders started shaking minutely. Peso would chew on most anything, so he had an idea now where this was going.
"I was fastenin' the new wire to the posts when I heard cloth tearin'." The green gaze skewered Tanner again. Vin ducked his head to try to hide his grin. From the huff that escaped the blond, he apparently didn't do a very good job.
"Turned around to see Peso rippin' my shirt to ribbons to get it off the limb. He then proceeded to chew it up like a goat. Thank God he didn't actually swallow any." Hazel orbs rolled in resignation. "Just spit it out in little balls like a cow's cud when he was done."
The sniper's shoulders were now moving in genuine amusement as he bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud.
"Ok. So why weren't you ridin' him instead of carryin' your saddle?"
"He ate the reins, too."
Now Vin was having to hold his side, he was trying so hard not to laugh.
"Ate the reins?"
The gold head nodded, the chiseled lips pressed into an aggravated line.
"Yeah. I told him he'd just lost his chance to wade in the creek by eatin' my shirt. Turned around to finish with the fence and heard leather comin' apart. When I looked over my shoulder, that billy goat of a horse was chewin' the reins where they looped over the branch. Before I could get to him, he had 'em apart and took off to the stream. Waded right in and then started splashin' water everywhere while he whinnied in enjoyment. And spite."
Tanner lost his effort to hold the chuckles in. Rich laughter rolled out of the slender form as he made sure to move out of arm's reach before he doubled over. The look on Chris' face was enough to make him laugh even harder. He was glad the blond hadn't shot Peso. At least, he hoped he hadn't! In fact, he was hoping the man wouldn't shoot him!
Chris was now standing hipshot as he watched the sniper practically roll on the ground. It was a good thing the man was such a good sharpshooter. . .
Vin finally got enough air to ask another question.
"So where is he now? Ya didn't shoot my horse, did ya Larabee?"
"No, I didn't shoot the damn ornery black. Though I thought about it, trust me! Especially when he stopped and looked at me and then gave me that horse laugh of his while he bobbed his head up and down."
One bare shoulder moved in a shrug.
"He played in the water while I tried to find my rope, but he'd chewed that in two, as well. I guess I'm lucky he left my saddle in one piece. Got some peppermint out of my pocket, thought I could coax him to me with that. He came close enough to lip the candy out of my palm, then danced back when I tried to grab the cheek strap. Think he's been hangin' around Ezra's mount too much. Damn horse went back to playin' in the creek. Every time I'd try to catch him, he'd neigh and move further into the water. Got tired of the keep-away game and decided to just walk back. He should be comin' up about any time, 'cause he paced me off to the side like he was makin' sure I made it alright, but was damn sure he wasn't gonna carry me."
About that time, the equine in question strolled up to the corral. The blazed face came out to greet Tanner, the head dropping to lean on the sniper's still shaking shoulder.
Chris gave Vin a resigned look. "Get my bridle, will ya? I need to put new reins on it."
The slender form did as requested, removing the piece and handing it to the taller figure. Larabee took it and headed toward the tack room after giving Peso a glare.
Vin rubbed his hand along the dark jaw.
"Proud of yourself, aren't ya?" The horse tossed his head up and down.
"Chris was just tryin' to do ya a favor. Ya need to apologize to him when he cools off a bit."
The black shook his head sideways at that. Vin thumped him lightly between the ears with a finger.
"Look ya ornery mule. . . ya need to remember that Chris carries a gun! You'll end up bein' buzzard bait if'n ya keep pickin' on him like that."
Peso neighed softly and shook his head again, knowing that no matter how much he aggravated either man, they wouldn't actually shoot him. The big chin came out to drape over Tanner's shoulder again.
The sniper gently rubbed the still damp nose and then reached to smooth the disheveled forelock.
"This is why ya get away with murder. And actin' like a billy goat. . . I can't believe ya ate Chris' shirt. Now I'll have to buy him a new one." The horse raised his head and showed his teeth in what looked for all the world like a laugh. Vin gave him another thump on the forehead.
"Alright, just for that, it's comin' outta your candy money!"
The black just shook his head and then grabbed at Tanner's collar. Vin heard a ripping sound and felt fresh air as his shirt tore in two down the back.
"God damn it, Peso! That was one a' my good shirts!!"
Inside the barn, Larabee gave an evil smile when he heard Vin yell. Looked like Peso had struck again.
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