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Authors: Becky McGraw

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BOOK: Worth the Trouble
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But l
ike Terri told him though, things happened for a reason.  All the hell she went through with that asshole had brought her Joel. 

Reluctantly, he admitted that m
aybe she was right about his accident too. 

To date, his life had been all about risk and adrenaline.  The
three close calls he had before the accident should have clued him in it was time to reassess the risks he took, but he had ignored the little voice that niggled at the back of his brain telling him so.  The accident probably saved his life, but the jury was still out on what kind of life that would be now.

One thing was for sure, Terri had nailed it when she said Ethan had never been a quitter
.  Right now though that is exactly what he was doing, quitting on life.  Being scared and insecure, feeling worthless, was not something he was familiar with.

When he
heard the butter knife scraping at the doorknob, against all odds, he smiled.  Ethan moved his fingers up to his mouth and felt the curve, amazed that it was actually there.  He thought he'd never be able to smile again.  The door swung open and his smile widened, but he was face down so it was hidden in the cradle of his arms. 

With
a feminine snort, the little general ordered, "Get your sorry ass out of bed and help me pack." His dresser drawer open, then she threatened,  "Or I'm gonna find the ugliest clothes you have to shove in the suitcase, and underwear you wore when you were ten.  It'll cut your circulation off and your balls will fall off."

All she'd find in those drawers was stuff from when he was ten. 

Most of his current stuff was in boxes in a storage unit.  The guys from the firehouse had helped his mama pack up his apartment and move his stuff to storage.  He hadn't needed anything here except a couple of pairs of shorts and underwear, a few t-shirts and pajama pants. 

He hadn't dressed since he
had been out of the hospital two months ago.  The thick scraggly growth of beard he'd grown since the accident brushed the back of his hand, reminding him he hadn't shaved either. 

He looked like a mountain man.
  Smelled like one too, he thought with a crinkle of his nose when the rank air in the cradle of his arms wafted to his nose. 

Of course he had cleaned up, but not frequently.  His
mom's shower was too small for him to get inside and sit on the shower chair she'd bought.  Besides, he was pissed that he had to use one.  He hadn't shaved because in his wheelchair he couldn't see himself in the mirror, and didn't want to make matters worse by accidentally cutting his throat. 

That might
have solved his problems though.

"My stuff isn't in those drawers, it's in storage," he told her
gruffly.

"Where
is it then?  Joel brought his truck, we'll just go and load it up," she informed him and slammed the drawer.

"Ask mama, she set it up.
  Call daddy he'll probably get some of the guys to help you load it," Ethan told her knowing once Terri Cassidy set her mind to something she wasn't going to be deterred. 

He was going to
Amarillo and the Little General was going to push him to get better, whether he wanted that or not.

 

CHAPTER T
WO

 

Rocky led Reed out of his stall and over to the wash bay.  Yesterday, she had ridden him out by the creek, and he was muddy.  Her baby loved to have baths, and she loved spending time with him to give him one, but lately she hadn't had much time to do that.

She had been too busy keeping up with chores, and teaching greenhorns to ride.  The ranch was so booked up, it was a rare thing for
her to have a minute to herself.  This was one of those rare times, the other guys had the guests out on the range doing a mock cattle drive for a couple of days.  She was going to take full advantage of it to get caught up on things.

Clipping the chains to the cheeks of Reed's halter, Rocky stepped away to get the hose to wet him down, and accidentally bumped into someone.

Looking over her shoulder, she saw it was Terri.  "Oh, hey, you busted me, I was just having a little Reed therapy," she told her friend with a laugh.

"I need some Diamond therapy, but I can't ride anymore for a while."

"Really?" Rocky asked turning on the nozzle.  Water sprayed her in the face and she laughed then wiped it off with her sleeve.  "I need to get a new nozzle, or I'm going to have a shower, while I bathe Reed."

"I'll put it on our next shopping list," Terri told her, then repeated, "I can't ride Diamond for about
nine months
," as if she were hinting at some hidden meaning that Rocky was supposed to get. 

When the meaning hit her, Rocky dropped the hose and squealed, "Oh. My. God!" Then danced over to Terri and yanked her into her arms.  Both women danced around in a circle, then Rocky shoved her back.  "I'm happy for you, Terri.  I know Joel must be driving you nuts," she told her, knowing how overprotective Terri's husband could be.

"He's not the one driving me nuts," Terri said with a huff.

"Oh, yeah?  Curly?" Rocky
guessed knowing Joel's mama had about driven Jenny, Joel's brother's wife crazy when she was pregnant with Caleb their son.

"Not even Curly...we haven't told her yet."

"Who then?" Rocky asked and shut off the water, so they could talk.

"Ethan is driving me bat shit crazy."

Terri's brother was the last person that Rocky wanted to talk about, ever. 

When Terri had brought him out to the ranch for rehab from his accident
over a month ago, Rocky had tried to go up there and see him, but he had told Terri firmly that he didn't want to see anyone, especially Rocky.

Rocky got the message loud and clear. 

Their night in the hayloft was a one-night-stand, a wedding hookup, and he didn't want to see her again.  It had stung, badly, and she hadn't been up to the house again.  Not even for meals when the other cowhands were out on cattle drives with guests. 

She ate by herself at the bunkhouse
, she was safer that way.

You can't trust a smooth talking man.
 
The way Ethan had treated her gave credence to her daddy's warning, and she was listening now.  Twice now she had been burned by ignoring it, and it wasn't happening again. 

She
had just fooled herself into thinking Ethan was different, because he was a hero and so damned good looking.  He was no better than the rest though, and certainly not better than Ashton Pence.  They were just alike, smooth talking city boys who had talked her out of her pants.

"Kick him out," Rocky suggested hardening her heart.

"I can't, but I've got to get some help," she said.

"Hire somebody," Rocky suggested.

"I found a trainer to work with him in the gym, because I can't spot him on the weights anymore, and I don't think the workout routine the therapist gave us is challenging enough, but I don't know enough to change it."

"That's a start," Rocky replied, not really giving a shit about Ethan's progress or his workout.  But she did care about Terri.  "Hire a nurse to wipe his ass," Rocky threw in with a
snide laugh that had Terri smiling too.

"He's not that bad, but just about.
  His effort in the gym is piss poor at best, and he's never going to get better if he doesn't try."

"You can't make someone want to get better, honey," Rocky told her
with sympathy.

"I know...I had an idea, but I need your help."

"Oh, hell no," Rocky replied holding up her hands.  "That man doesn't want to see me, and I certainly have no use for him."

"Please?" Terri begged.  "I read about equine therapy, and how it helps the handicapped build up their core muscles, if you could just teach him to ride, I think it would help."

"No way," Rocky told her firmly.  "They have camps and places that do that.  I don't know crap about equine therapy.  I'm a horse trainer, not a people trainer."

"C'mon, Rocky, help me here.  I'm desperate," Terri told her
with a frustrated sigh.  "I don't trust anyone else to do it."

The problem was Rocky didn't trust Ethan Cassidy as far as she could throw him, and she sure didn't trust herself around him.  So why she said, "
Okay, you'll have to tell me what to do," Rocky had no idea. 

But subconsciously she knew.  A
masochistic desire to see him again, see what the accident had done to him, and figure out where the charming man who had made love to her so tenderly in the hayloft had gone.  That was the driving force behind her decision.

 

***

 

"Push it, Ethan!" Terri shouted, glaring at him when his sweaty hands slipped on the parallel bars, and he almost went to his knees.  His limbs were shaking violently, but somehow he managed to push himself back up to standing.

Terri had been torturing him for
six weeks now.  This huge room she called a gym was his personal hell.  The worst of it was the lack of results.  He still wasn't able to stay vertical easily. 

Working his ass off in here
six hours a day, two hours at a time after every meal had produced exactly nothing.  The muscles in his arms burned, his legs weren't fucking cooperating, and his back hurt like a bitch. 

Ethan was done.

Hell, his sister had missed her calling.  Instead of a nurse, she should have been a dominatrix.  All that was missing was a leather bustier and whip.

T
he more feeling he got back in his legs the more they hurt, the more he hurt the grumpier he got with the woman causing him that pain.  Huffing out a frustrated breath, he shouted, "Look, Broonhilda, My legs don't fucking work, and my arms are about done too!"

"Oh, stop whining and start working," she
replied unsympathetically. 

Every time he complained or wanted to stop that was her mantra. 
Ethan heard it in his sleep now, when she
let
him sleep, which wasn't often. 

"You
're almost done--one more rotation, then another set on the weight machines," Terri told him and put a hand on her hip.

Ethan groaned, "Give me a break, will you?  I'm toast, this is
my third time in here today and I'm exhausted."

"No
breaks...now
push it
!  Swing your damned hips!" Terri yelled, then pointed a finger at him.  "The therapist gave me this workout routine and you're gonna do it."

"Remind me to
pay him a visit when my legs do start working again," Ethan grumped, then balanced himself again and worked his way to the end of the bars where he pivoted and started back the other direction. 

He was sweating
like a hog in summer. 

S
alty rivulets ran down his face stinging his eyes and his palms were slipping on the bar again.  Halfway to the other end of the bar, his arms began shaking again and he couldn't get them locked quick enough to catch himself from falling.  The floor came up to meet him and Ethan landed with a loud thump face down on the mat.  A sharp agonizing pain shot through his back and he moaned, gritting his teeth to fight the nausea seesawing in his stomach.

"Ethan!" Terri shouted
then ran over to him to kneel beside him.  "Are you okay?" she asked with concern in her voice.

"No. I. Am.
Not
. Okay," he grated.  Rolling over onto his back, he threw his forearm over his eyes.  "I'm exhausted, I'm frustrated, my back is broken, my legs don't work, and this isn't doing a damn thing to make that better."

A loud snort was followed by a sarcastic female voice that
asked, "Are you always this much of a cry baby?"

Ethan lifted his arm from his eyes and his
gaze traveled up very long blue jean clad legs, across perky breasts in a tight white tank top before skidding to a stop at the laughter-filled gray eyes of the last woman in the world he wanted to see. 

"Are you laughing at me?" Ethan asked incredulously.

"Hell, yeah," Roxanne told him with a short laugh then looked at Terri.  "Sorry I'm late, Terri.  One of the horses is lame and I had to call the vet."

"No problem, Rocky.  Thanks for coming,"
Terri replied then stood over him frowning.  "Can you grab his other arm so we can get him up?"

Rocky nodded then walked to the other side of the bars.  The women leaned down and grabbed him under the armpits.
  There was no way he was going to sit there and let two women lift his ass, especially these two.  A man had to draw the line somewhere to maintain any scrap of dignity he had left.

"Back off!" he
ground out then jerked his arms out of their grasp.  "I can do this," he mumbled as he sat up.

Ethan reached up and grabbed the bars then gritted his teeth and
tried to pulled himself up.  His first try was unsuccessful, and he plopped back to the mat jarring his back.  Determination filled him, and he changed the position of his hands then tried again. 

With a grunt, he
heaved himself up and leveraged one elbow on the bar, then the other.  After a brief struggle, he managed to get vertical.  Huffing and puffing both from exertion and pain, he fought to get stable, then spun around and pinned his sister with his eyes. 

"What the hell is going on here, Terri?" he demanded
lifting his chin toward Rocky. All Ethan needed was an audience to witness his disgrace, especially Roxanne Baker.  "Why the hell is she here?"

"I've been doing some research.  Equine therapy helps strengthen your core muscles, and Rocky has agreed to help.  Besides, I
have things to do around here I haven't been able to do since you've been here.  I could use a break."

"Well, I don't want her help,"
Ethan said darkly, then ground out, "Get someone else."

"There isn't anyone else,
it's her or nobody," Terri informed him definitively.  "Rocky is our horse trainer, I imagine she can handle a horse's
ass
just fine too."

Roxanne laughed and he shot her a glare
, before swinging his gaze back to his sister. 

"
I choose nobody then, I'll stick to the weights," he said belligerently.

Ethan didn't want to spend time with Roxanne, things had changed, he wasn't the man who was here two months ago, the man who made love to her all night long in that hayloft.  He didn't want her to think there would be a repeat performance.  He wasn't even sure he
could
perform.  But he didn't want her to know that, seeing him like he was now, she probably already thought he was pathetic enough as it was. 

Exactly why he wanted his sister to keep her away from him.

"No, you'll stop acting like an ass and let Rocky help you," Terri told him with a frustrated huff.

"I'm ready for the hot tub,"
Ethan said gruffly then started down the bars toward his wheelchair.

"Not yet, you still have a set on the weights to do," Terri
reminded him as she walked to stand behind the chair. 

"I
said
I'm
done
."  Ethan hissed, pinning his sister with his eyes.   Rotating his hips, Ethan plopped down in the wheelchair then picked up one leg at a time and set his feet on the pedals.

Terri huffed out a frustrated breath
. "Fine, I'm outta here, I've got things to do for people who want to help themselves.  Don't drown yourself, or better yet, do," she grumbled then spun on her heel and stomped off across the gym.

Ethan
felt Roxanne's hot gaze on him as he spun the wheelchair and headed as fast as he could toward the spa room door. 

She kept pace alongside
him, and asked with a chuckle, "You know what we do to horses when they go lame?"

"Shoot them?" Ethan asked
hopefully.  He wished someone would do that to him and put him out of this misery. 

Shoving
the wheels of the chair faster, he tried to get away from her, but the long-legged woman easily kept pace beside him.  A rhythmic jangle caught his attention and his eyes fell to the spurs attached to the heels of her dusty worn boots. 

BOOK: Worth the Trouble
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