Home > Losers Weepers (Lost & Found #4)

Losers Weepers (Lost & Found #4)
Nicole Williams

I’D BEEN ON the losing side of life for so long it had become my marching beat. I’d become so good at losing it was all I believed I was capable of. Things like winning, coming out on top, and success were concepts that had floated to the horizon, becoming so distant I’d almost lost sight of them.

When you’ve been told for most of your life that you’re nothing, you start to believe it. When you’re reminded you’ve got an impressive record of screwing up and told that record’s only going to continue, you fulfill that expectation. When you’re told you’ll never amount to anything, that’s exactly what you do.

When your mom bails when you’re a kid and the only thing your dad coddles is a bottle of whiskey, you question things like love and loyalty. You realize that the same blood that ran in their veins runs in yours and every piece of your make-up came from them. Not a scrap of your DNA isn’t tied to theirs, and questions like “Will I become just like him one day?” or “Will I ditch my family one day too?” or “Will I wind up a pile of ashes inside the charred shell of a trailer after drinking myself into such a stupor that the fire ripping through all that was left of my life wouldn’t even rouse me?” play on repeat through your head.

Those are the questions that have haunted me my entire life. The answers have haunted me even more.

What took me decades to realize was that instead of trying to convince myself that I could never be just like them, I could all too easily become like them. That was the big eye-opener. Getting there was just one more choice made because it was the easy one instead of the right one. Once more turning to the bottle instead of confronting the real problem. Once more pushing away the few people who cared about me instead of reciprocating the sentiment.

Freedom came the day I accepted that being a better person was a daily battle, fought one moment at a time, choice by painstaking choice. Forgiveness came when I realized both of them had probably started out like me, wanting to do right, but they had lost the battle, one easy choice after another. I was more in danger of becoming like them than I wasn’t, and that knowledge kept me sharp. That daily reminder molded and shaped me into the man I was today.

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t some perfect chump who smiled too goddamned much and wore his heart on his sleeve like Walker, but I was a different man from the one I’d been before. At least in the places that counted. I still cussed like I was competing for some kind of award and I still preferred my fists over more diplomatic measures and I might have taken being hotheaded to new heights, but I’d changed where it counted. That was what mattered. At least, that was what I’d been told by the person who counted most.

Joze—or Josie when we were tangled between the sheets or in the heat of an argument. The woman who’d brought me to my knees or cut me off at the knees or taken a sledge hammer and shattered my knees. Something having to do with knees malfunctioning.

She’d been my salvation in my darkest hour, when I was nearly past saving. I’d loved her in secret for so long I’d given up hope of that love being returned. Of course that was the moment it came . . . and when it did . . . shit, there was nothing like it in the whole entire world. I had nothing to compare to the way she loved me, and that’s what made it so special. No one but her had ever come close to loving me like that. No one had ever believed in me the way she did. Her love was so big and overwhelming that each day with her erased another day of pain and failure from my past. Her love was magic, healing me as it lifted me up, and though she tried convincing me otherwise, I knew I could spend ten lifetimes trying and failing to give her what she’d given me in a year’s time.

If tonight went as planned though, I might tip the scale in my favor this once. For something that only weighed a few grams, it shouldn’t have felt like a damn bull had crawled into my back pocket and was jabbing its horns into my ass.

The guy at the jewelry store had assured me I’d made a solid pick—that if I’d been proposing to a starlet, even she would have been wowed—but I still wasn’t sure. Josie wasn’t some vain, shallow starlet who gave a shit about size or status or labels—that wasn’t why I’d purchased the rock I had. I’d picked it out because I’d tried words and actions, but nothing had seemed to explain how I felt about her. I wasn’t stupid enough to believe a fancy ring would either, but it was something, and if any woman deserved to have some giant-ass diamond on her finger, it was Joze.

I wanted every last guy who looked at her in a way that would make me want to shove my boot up his ass to take a good look at her ring and realize I wasn’t just any other husband but one who wanted the best for his wife and wouldn’t stop at anything to give it to her. I wanted Joze to be reminded of that every time she looked at it. I wanted the world to know that I’d spent a large fraction of a year’s worth of winnings, of getting bucked, bruised, and beaten, to get her the ring currently burning a hole in my back pocket.

I wanted the world to know that a man loved Josie more than any human had ever loved another in the history of the world. That was all. Not much, right?

If I spent the rest of my life trying to prove to Joze how much I loved her, and if she finally came to some understanding of it the exact moment before I died, then I’d won. Score.

Yeah, I might have given Jess a hard time for going and getting all whipped before I’d fallen victim to the same fate, but I rode bulls. I could dress in drag every Saturday night and sing Cher on a stage and still be more of a man than any other whipped sap out there.

Josie was my salvation—she always had been—and bull riding was my penitence. It kept me sharp. Focused. Connected to that wild part of me that could never be tamed, or should never be tamed, because like it or not, I needed to look danger and death in the face from time to time or risk losing myself.

I didn’t need to have asked them to know my parents had lost themselves years ago. The trouble with losing yourself was that you never knew where you might try to find yourself after. For Clay, it was at the bottom of a bottle. For my mom, I guess it was on the open road and traveling light. For me . . . I didn’t want to imagine. So I kept bull riding close and the people I cared about closer.

Thankfully, Joze was an understanding woman who wasn’t concerned with “taming” me or turning me into a carbon copy of every other man no longer in possession of his balls. So life was good. No, that wasn’t right . . . life was fucking amazing.

“Hey, Black! Your fan club’s waiting, bras on display and Sharpies in hand.”

I shoved back from the rail lining the arena and lifted a brow. “Why don’t you go instead? You’ve got my permission to ‘be’ me and sign bras until your eyes go crossed. Besides, you’ve got plenty of experience posing as me, don’t you?”

Justin adjusted his belt buckle—since it might have been a whole two millimeters off center—glancing over his shoulder down the hallway where I guessed the Sharpie-wielding bra-flashers were waiting. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about you, Black. I’m taller, better looking, and a way better dresser. You’d think the girls in every city would be lining up for me instead of you.”

I patted my back pocket again—still there. “You might be taller thanks to those high heels you like to call boots and you might be better looking to a female orangutan and you might be a better dresser to someone who believes rhinestones and purple belong on a man, but the reason I have the fan clubs in every town is because I’m the best damn bull rider on this circuit.” I hitched my thumbs under my belt, framing my belt buckle, which had “champion” stamped onto it. “I’m better where it counts, and I win. If you want to earn the right to sign girls’ bras, why don’t you try staying on the bull’s back longer instead of focusing on what you’re going to wear?”

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