The cowboys of the T-Lazy-A and the M-L Connected just don’t see eye to eye. In fact, they hate each other. So when Hank Collins rides up to the waterhole to find an M-L Connected rider floating on his side of the pond, his hackles naturally rise. And when that rider challenges him to a bout of fisticuffs ... well, what red-blooded cowboy could turn down such a dare? There's only one problem: Hank quickly becomes all too aware that his opponent isn't just physically fit, but downright arresting. What's a cowboy to do when the man who's caught his eye rides for the wrong brand?
NOTE: This story appears in the anthology, "Cowboy Roundup" edited by Drew Hunt, available in e-book and print formats. Buy the collection and get 16 great gay cowboy stories in one awesome anthology!
Hank slipped the thong off his Colt Navy revolver. The big galoot floating in the middle of the pond didn't look to have any weapons on him, but he might just have some friends who needed to be reminded of the property line.
The galoot wasn't as dumb as he looked: he honed in on Hank's progress as soon as the buckskin started down the trail from the top of the hill. He could swim, too. Before Hank was halfway to the waterhole, the M-L rider had reached the bank and made a dash for the pinto's side. Hank prodded the buckskin into a trot, and they reached the waterhole just as the man pulled his old Henry out of the scabbard and whirled.
The tall rider froze when he spotted Hank's Colt, already aimed at his middle. Hank had to chuckle at the sight of the cowboy, naked as the day he was born.. His height and muscle might have been intimidating if he'd been dressed in the usual workingman's gear. As it was, he looked more like a half-drowned bull calf than a dangerous foe. His black hair was plastered to his head, and he kept blinking at the water dripping into his brown eyes.
"Go ahead and shoot," the cowboy called, lowering his rifle. "Be just like you T-Lazy-A coyotes. You want I should turn around so you can shoot me in the back?"
"You're the coyotes," Hank retorted, nudging the buckskin closer. He kept the Colt on the man's midsection. "I ain't the one trespassing on private property."
The cowboy snorted. "That waterhole's smack dab on the property line, and you know it. I got as much right to be here as you do."
Hank plucked the rifle from the man's hand and waved him away from his pinto. "You was over the line. Why, you was nearly across to our pasture."
The man's big hands fisted at his side. His brows lowered. He looked like he might try to rush Hank, even if there was a pistol pointed at his belly. "So what if I was? Ain't no harm in a man taking a swim."
"Maybe I don't want my waterhole polluted by no filthy M-L skunk. Might have to drain the pond anyhow, just so the cows ain't poisoned."
"Why you --" The big man started forward, and Hank had to shove the pistol in his face to remind him who was boss.
"Big talk from behind a gun," the cowboy said, crossing his arms and glaring up at Hank. "Let's see you back up them words in a fair fight."
Hank considered the proposition. Nobody could say Hank Collins ever backed off from a fight -- and he'd had a right frustrating day with those fence rails. Now, to find a blamed M-L rider poaching on his waterhole. Well, it just naturally raised a man's hackles. Hank gestured with his pistol, backing the other man away from the pinto, where he'd stashed his clothes and weapons.
"I reckon you need a lesson," Hank said. "Maybe after I beat some sense into you, you'll stay away from our waterhole."
The big galoot's foot came down on a rock, and he flinched. "M-L's got just as much right to that waterhole as you T-Lazy-A coyotes."
Hank swung to the ground, keeping his pistol pointed at the cowboy's middle. "Like you think you got a right to our cattle, too, huh? Reckon that's why the boss put up that fence."
"You lot are the ones rustling from us, you low-bellied snake. Everybody knows they called it the Lazy-A for a good reason."
That did it. Hank slid his gun back into the holster, then shucked his gun belt, and hung it over the saddle horn. He took three strides toward the M-L rider, and the other man met him at the edge of the water. He probably thought Hank would be all riled up at his prodding, ready to jump right in with both fists. Hank had been in a few fights, though. He knew better than to start flailing away without sizing up your opponent. He circled the big man, both of his fists held at chest height to block anything the other might throw his way. It wasn't that the M-L rider was that much taller than Hank. In fact, without his boots on, he barely topped Hank's six-foot-one. It was more a matter of bulk. The other's shoulders were massive, bulky with muscle and sinew. He looked like he could throw a steer single-handed, without even a cowpony to back him up. A barrel chest tapered down to a trim waist. Say what he would about the cowboy, Hank couldn't deny that the man was in fighting shape.