Burning Down Montana – Chapter Four


“So why did you have to thank me, England?”

“You’ve inspired me pet.  I’m here to sign up for the emergency responders.  According to Dr. Daniels, there’s an opening.” His smile, stretching from ear to ear, showed how enthused he was and his eyes danced with his announcement.   Boy he wears his emotions all over his face.  She couldn’t help but to be moved by his eagerness and returned his smile.

“So y’all have names for each other now?  She must really be grateful to you man, my twin doesn’t give out nicknames and she hates being called anything but Vesta.”   Vinny took a sip of his coffee without breaking eye contact with Brighton.    If Vinny had hair on his head, it would be standing up by now.   Her brother’s bald head was a beacon for determining what was going through his head, and right now, a vein was bulging on the right side of his dome.   I know that vein.  He’s going to strike first and ask questions later.    She knew she had to stop the standoff of male hormones or she was going to be in the middle of who knows what, but she knew family always stuck together, no matter what.

“Shut up Vin or I’ll let these strangers know what we called you when we were little.”  Turning her head back to Brighton, she noticed the twinkle of laughter in his eyes.  His eyes really are magnificent.  Clearing her throat, she tried to concentrate on holding a conversation and not his physical appearance. “I’m glad that you feel inspired. What were you doing before?”

“Languishing.”    Bradford spoke for the second time, turned on his heel and walked out of the room.  Well that was abrupt.

Shaking his head, Brighton got off the bed and gave her a formal bow.

“That’s Bradford’s way of saying it is time to go.  I’ll leave you two alone.  Perhaps I can come back to see you before I head back to the ranch.”  Although poised as a question, she knew Brighton Thorn wasn’t asking.   He was going to see her before he went back to the ranch.  After shaking Vinny’s hand, he was gone.

Vesta couldn’t figure out why he intrigued her so much.  When she wasn’t thinking about how to get out of the hospital sooner rather than later, and thinking of ways to secure more business, she was thinking about his eyes and his bottom lip.  Scratching her head, she turned to Vinny.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Barely.  Who knew it is hard as hell to go to sleep when it is so quiet.”

She chuckled, she’d had the same problem.

“Have you seen Felix?”   Vinny quirked his eye at her.

“It’s six in the morning, do you think he would roll out of bed earlier than nine?”

Nodding, she turned back to her cup of coffee.   She knew today would be full of questions.  While she was drifting in and out of sleep, she’d heard two nurses talking about the fireworks at the festival looking so cool.   She was glad that the explosion didn’t hamper the concert at all.  After all it was only a small part of the stage and no one was seriously hurt.  Knowing that the people in Montana took their fireworks very seriously, she was glad they didn’t have to cancel the show.

“I guess not.  I just want to get out of here.  I don’t hurt so bad and I want to make sure everything is ok for our flight home and I need to talk to the ATF.”

“One thing at a time Sis, the doc hasn’t said anything about discharging you yet.”  Vinny perched on the edge of the bed next to her but leaped up immediately.  “Please don’t tell me you wet the bed.”   Putting a hand over her mouth to hide her snicker, she shook her head no.

“No, that is the pain reliever line.  I took it out.”  There was no explanation needed.   Vinny understood and he was the only one she believed who would understand.   Brighton would too.  Where did that thought come from?   It isn’t like she knew the man, and it isn’t like she was in the market for another protector.  She had Vinny.

“Don’t let the nurses catch you.”   Vinny smirked and his eyes showed his understanding.   Just as she was about to change the subject, two tall women walked into her room.   Well I’ll be damned, I didn’t expect to see another black woman in this town, and here are two of them.   Even as she wondered how they ended up in Silver Springs, she was grateful for something familiar.     The one woman looked like a force to be reckoned with, her curly natural hair was cinched at the nape of her neck, and she wore black from head to toe, with her silver badge the only thing of color on her.    The other, her hair cut into a short bob, looked less stern with her jeans and her black jacket with the large yellow block letters “ATF”.   Ahhhh I know why they are here. 

“Vesta St. James?”   The woman with the curly hair walked into the room and stopped at the side of the bed.

“The one and only.  This here is my brother Vinny.  He’s ok to stay if you don’t mind.”    Even if the women looked trusting, she wasn’t about to left alone with people she didn’t know in a hospital room.

“I’m Layla Owens, I’m an investigator with the Broadwater County Sheriff’s department.   This is  Katrina Stephens, she is with the local field office for the ATF.  We just need to ask you a few questions.”

“Come on in, have a seat.”  Vesta looked them both in their eyes and actually smiled.  They smiled back and Vesta felt as though she had some comrades for the first time in her life.  She knew what it took to be a woman in a stereotypical man’s line of work, but she felt some kinship with these two women who obviously worked hard for their positions in life.

Katrina Stephens was all about business as she opened her pad and began to ask questions about her business, her jobs and how many incidents she’d had before.    As Katrina was finishing, Dr. Daniels walked in and Vesta was stunned to silence to see Layla’s face light up and the graying doctor kissed her cheek.

“I see you have met my soon-to-be daughter in law, Layla.”  He said as he checked her vital signs.   “She was excited to meet you since much action doesn’t happen around here.  The occasional lost cattle, or some kids skateboarding on sidewalks, but not quite the high crime life she was used to.”  Dr. Daniels said and his blue eyes remained warm as he looked at Layla.

“Believe me, I’m happier without it, but I don’t do well with being stationary, and if there was any danger I can handle it, or Chase will.”   Layla answered and Vesta could hear the fondness in her voice.

“So, any pain today?”  The doctor said as he checked her lines.    His eyes followed the pain reliever line and he frowned.  “Guess not considering you aren’t on any medication.”  His lips twitched and he nodded.

“No, no pain doc.  I’m not into medication. So when can I get out of here and back to work?”

“Well I would like to keep you a few more hours just so we can go through dressing your wound, and a few other things.  I’ll be back later on.   Layla, I’ll see you at dinner tonight.  Wildcat,” he said nodding at the ATF investigator, “ good seeing you again.  Don’t be a stranger now.”

“Of course Dr. Daniels. See you around.”     Katrina nodded at the doctor.   Talk about a small world.  Does everyone know everyone here? 

“Do you guys have any plans for dinner?”  Layla asked.

“Well I was kind of hoping I could be on my way to Vegas by nightfall to be honest.”

“I don’t think that is going to be possible,” Katrina said. “I’ll have to get clearance from the Billings office before I can let you leave the state.”

“How long do you think that will take?”  Vesta was getting agitated, although she tried not to take it out on Katrina.   She knew she was just doing her job.

“Three, maybe four days.  It’s a Sunday, they won’t be going over my report until tomorrow.”

“Fucking shit.”

“And that means my pet is agitated.”   Damn him. He’s back.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”  Vesta was shocked that the declaration didn’t come out of her mouth but out of Katrina’s.

“Well hullo Wildcat.”  Brighton smiled and put his hands in his pockets.   He smiled a warm smile and Vesta noticed Katrina’s body relaxed.

“Brighton.  Nice to see you again.”  Katrina gave him a nod.

“Now is that any way to treat an old friend?”    Brighton came into the room and gave Katrina a brief hug that she stiffly returned.   Vesta couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she felt agitated at the closeness these two apparently had.

“You may be an old friend Brighton, but Bradford is…”  Whatever Katrina had been going to say was interrupted by a growl that could only be described as feral.

“Bradford is what?”   The other Thorn was standing in the doorway, his gray eyes fixated on Katrina’s face.   Vesta had no idea what was going on, but it was a far cry from the warm and fuzzy feeling she had moments ago.

“An asshole.”  Katrina jerked herself away from Brighton,  her eyes cutting Bradford a deadly glare and she walked out.

“And on that note, come to dinner tonight, it will be fun.” Layla said.  Turning to Brighton, “Please persuade her to come.  Samara and I hate being outnumbered by you guys.”    Layla turned and as she was walking out shook her head at Bradford.

“Well pet, what are you agitated about?”  Brighton said as he came over to the bed and stared down into her eyes.

“I can’t leave until the ATF finishes their report.”   Vesta said as she turned away from him.  Where did Vinny go?  How’d did she miss him sneaking out the room?  She tried to turn the other way, but the soreness in her shoulder prevented her from moving too far.  As soon as she tried to sit up to scan for her brother, Brighton’s hand was on her abdomen, pressing her down into bed.

“Where are you going?” the scowl on his face should have been enough to tell her to stop moving so much, but she’d always been a bit hard-headed.

“My brother, where did he go?  He can’t just…”

“He left after Katrina.”  He jerked his head toward the door.  She still couldn’t help to feel that slight bit of emotion that she refused to call jealousy when he mentioned Katrina’s name again.  “Don’t worry I’ll keep you company.”

“Don’t do me any favors.”   She grumbled.  She felt abandoned.

“Is my company that bad?”  She couldn’t tell if the puppy dog look on his face was genuine or if he was pulling her leg.

“I didn’t say that. I just…”

“Checkers or chess?”  Did he just interrupt me?

“What?”

“Do you play checkers or chess?”  His smile was wide and his face so eager, she couldn’t help but to smile back. “Ahhh you do smile.  You should do it more often, it’s quite lovely.”

She stopped smiling at that point.  Why would he say something like that?  Maybe it is because of his English ways.  I can’t see why he would be flirting with me, when the sophisticated Katrina was probably more his speed.  Shit, there it is again.   For some reason the name Katrina irritated her to no end and she had no plausible reason why.    She looked back up at Brighton, and his earnest expression.

“I play both, but I prefer the challenge of chess,” looking down at herself, she wasn’t going to be meeting any challenges walking around in the hospital gown.   “Turn around, England. I need some clothes on.”   His eyebrows raised. “Regardless of what you think, I’m getting discharged in a few hours, I would like to be dressed when that time comes.”

“Why, so you can run as far away as you can?”

“I can’t get far, I’ve got to stick around at least until Tuesday, England.”

“Are you in such a rush to get away from me?”

“Please England, I don’t even know you.”   He turned around to give her enough privacy to slide out of the bed and check the plastic bag full of her items.   Her tank was shredded beyond words and she would have looked like a grand hussy if she attempted to wear it anywhere.   Pulling on her pants slowly, she noticed there was another shirt in her bag of belongings.   Trying to put it on was more difficult, and she let out a whimper when she couldn’t lift her arm to get it into the sleeve.

Then she felt him, his arm, wrapped around her waist and pressing her back into his chest.

“We haven’t even played a game yet pet, and you’ve already gotten my shirt.”  His chest vibrated with a deep chuckle as he pulled her arm gingerly through the sleeve and helped her shrug on the four-times-too big shirt.    She felt the warmth of his breath on her neck.

“What?”

His forefinger and thumb plucked the collar of the shirt, and he kissed the side of her neck as if it were second nature.

“This is my shirt.”  At that point, she didn’t care if she had on his pants.  She’d just gotten dressed and now she immediately wanted to become undressed.   Shaking her head and stepping out of his embrace, Vesta steeled herself against his flirting.  That is all it is, flirting, playing the hero.  You know how the story ends up. The too strong female gets left behind for the damsel in distress.   She was definitely the former and as soon as she was up moving around, Brighton would lose interest.   Might as well get the inevitable over with and let life fall back to normal.

“When I get some decent clothes to put on, you can have your shirt back, Thorn.”  She pulled away from him, but he wouldn’t let her go.   His arm tightened around her waist, pulling her body into his as if it belonged there.  She didn’t belong to anyone or any place.

Thorn? I’d much rather you call me Brighton or even England if you wish, but Thorn?”    She could tell by the veins on his forearm that she’d just made him tense.  Good, now there won’t be any hard feelings when I get out of here.

“It is your name isn’t it? I thought we were going to play chess?  Where’s the board?”    His arms dropped from around her and she held her breath.   She was determined to keep her libido in check.   It was hard enough maintaining her celibate status in the sin cesspool known as Las Vegas, but she was already tottering on the edge of saying screw it all and jumping on Brighton Thorn without looking back.   No, I won’t even entertain the thought, no matter how mesmerizing his eyes are.

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