Buckle Up (Box Set)
by Julia Talbot
Ebook ISBN: 07687-02479
[ Werewolf Romance, MM ]
How many werewolves, magical shops, and cursed gamers fit into one box set? Quite a few when it’s Buckle Up! Magic, mayhem, and hot loving fill every story.
Publisher’s Note: Buckle Up (Box Set) contains the previously published novellas Buckle Up!, Crazy in Love, Changes in Attitude, Under the Moon, and Dream Dice.
Buckle Up! [Book 1]
“Old pawn jewelry is the best,” the little blonde chick with the tramp stamp in the shape of a dragonfly exclaimed. She waved the heavy silver and turquoise cuff Kelvin had handed her in the general direction of her boyfriend, a pimpled, dyed-black-haired boy wearing an Army issue jacket.
“What’s the difference between this and the shit you bought at the Governor’s Palace?” the boy asked, popping his gum and looking bored as anything.
Kelvin wanted to growl, wanted to tell the little fuck that his silly girlfriend held a piece of someone’s life in her hands, something powerful. Meaningful.
He didn’t snarl, though. They couldn’t know what he knew. They never would.
Instead, he drew a calming breath and smiled. “Old pawn means that the jewelry was a family heirloom, not a modern reproduction. That bracelet, for instance, runs about two thousand.”
The girl’s face went blank with what he thought of as sticker shock, and she carefully set the bracelet back on its black velvet bed. “Two thousand dollars?”
“Well, I admit it’s an unusual one. It’s Navajo point work, it’s got nearly a pound of silver in it, sterling, and it’s signed by a local artist who was rather famous a hundred years ago. All of that raises the price. I have some nice 1950s pieces in this case that run between sixty-five and one-fifty…”
By the time she and the greasy little boy left, Kelvin had made a sale, and the day was, if not looking up, not a total loss.
Santa Fe was a crapshoot that way, especially when you were off the beaten track. If your store wasn’t on the plaza, or somewhere near the big hotels… Well.
Kelvin’s little shop had been his grandfather’s, and while town had encroached and it wasn’t exactly a trading post anymore, the place was still a ways out of town, next to a truck stop and a café that served things like blue corn pancakes. There wasn’t much in the way of New Age salons and crunchy-granola vegan restaurants, and that was what pulled the tourists in.
He had three more customers before closing time, and the last, a pair of blue-haired snowbirds, were still trolling for bargains when it was time to lock up.
“I don’t polish the old pawn,” Kelvin was saying when the bell over the door jingled again, a long-legged cowboy walking into the shop.
“Uh…” Kelvin tried to focus on the old lady’s faded blue eyes, but he couldn’t seem to take his own eyes off of the man who stood inside the door, doffing his hat and turning it in his hands. Over and over.
“Right. Well, if you polish it before your client indicates whether they want you to, it’s like refinishing antique furniture. Some people say you’re removing a layer of history. There’s a whole school of thought that you ought to leave the echoes of the past on any object that has meaning.”
He gave the couple an ingratiating smile, trying hard not to overplay his hand. By the time he left and he locked the door, he’d sold them three hundred dollars in old dreams.
The cowboy had hardly moved, except for those brown hands turning that hat.
“Am I getting locked in for the night now?” the man finally asked, smiling a little. Lines crinkled up around the most shocking pair of blue eyes that Kelvin had ever seen.
“Only if you want to,” Kelvin replied with a wink. Then he sobered. “I’m happy to stay and help with whatever you need. I need to lock up so I don’t get anyone else in.”
“All righty, then.” The cowboy nodded, shifting from foot to foot. He was one of those guys who had skinny legs all the way up to his neck, and he wore Wranglers that fit like a second skin. He reminded Kelvin of the late Chris LeDoux, including the eye lines and the aw-shucks smile.
“So, what can I do for you?” By force of will alone, Kelvin kept from adding things like, “Suck you?” or “Lick you all over?” He did love a cowboy.
“I have a belt buckle. I mean, I have lots of them, but this one I was hoping to sell. Or maybe, uh…”
“Maybe pawn it?” Poor guy. He must be down on his luck, if he was willing to put one of his buckles up on time.
“I wasn’t sure if you did that anymore, but yeah.” Those lean cheeks went red as fire, the blue eyes downcast now.
“I do, actually.” Clearing off a counter, Kelvin got out a tray lined with cotton. “Here, why don’t you show me what you have?”
“Sure.” The cowboy pulled out an old, disintegrating cardboard box, yellowed with age. “It’s silver and turquoise.”
Not a rodeo buckle, then. That made it more interesting.
The guy laid the box on the counter and opened it gently, and Kelvin got a look at the slightly tarnished but obviously well-loved buckle. It was oval in shape, and had very little silver showing on the front. The whole thing was done in olive turquoise, with a large central stone and smaller stones around it, like flower petals. The quality of the work made the piece stand out. Each chunk of turquoise floated perfectly in its silver lining, and though each one was unique, they were all uniformly shaped.
The back of the buckle was smooth, worn with age, and much shinier than the front. It was also signed “EY.”
“Navajo?” Kelvin asked, his fingers sliding over the buckle, noting no sharp edges or cracks. Sometimes things were best done by feel.
“Yessir. It was my grandfather’s.”
When he looked up again, the cowboy was still not looking back, his cheeks still stained pink, if not the bright red they’d been. What kind of circumstance would make a guy like this pawn what was obviously a family heirloom, something that meant something to him? Bless his heart, he must be damned down on his luck.
“It’s nice work. Signed. I can give you fifty for it. Thirty days to come back and make a payment.”
“Fifty.” Those broad shoulders rounded up a bit. “Well, I know it ain’t all that, huh? I guess that’ll do.”
“Interest is two percent, plus a fifteen percent upcharge to cover fees.” Man, usually it didn’t make him feel skeezy, talking business. People had to borrow money all the time. His rates were standard in the pawn world. Hell, they were cheap, these days. Really, he preferred to buy his stuff outright, anyway…
“… I can do that. Hopefully I can come back next week.”
“Huh? Oh, cool.” Man, he’d been woolgathering.
“Well, where do I sign?” Looking expectant, the guy rubbed his hands down the fronts of his thighs.
“Let me get the claim check.” He did it the old-fashioned way, with the carbon forms, rather than on the computer. A lot of the old Navajo folk still had a terrible suspicion of electronics. More than one pawn place in the area had folded because their long-time customers had stopped coming when they automated.
Of course, a lot of the customers were dying off.
“Just fill out the name and address stuff, and sign here.” Kelvin started calculating the first bit of interest and all, glancing up when he was done to find the cowboy staring at the claim sheet.
Shit, maybe he couldn’t read.
“You need some help?”
“Maybe? All I got locally is my truck.”
“You mean for an address?” Rodeo guy after all. “You got a cell phone?”
“Uh. Yeah.” The guy rattled off a number, and it sure wasn’t a 505 number. Wasn’t southern New Mexico, either.
“Hmm? Oh. Yeah. Abilene.”
“Figured as much. Well, here you go.” He signed the slip, too, and handed the guy fifty out of the drawer. “I hope that helps.”
The guy, who turned out to be a Cody Mack, according to the claim slip, stuffed the bill into the front pocket of his too-tight Wranglers. “Me too. Thank you. I’ll be back for it.”
Looking as ashamed as any cowboy could, which was not so much hang-dog as stiff and proud, Cody went to stand by the front door of the shop, politely waiting to be let out.
Kelvin hesitated, his fingers busy locking up the cash drawer, his mind mulling over possibilities. “You like Mexican food?”
“Huh?” That tanned face went a little blank, lines smoothing out. “I’m from Texas. Of course I do.”
“Well, there’s a truck stop not far from here that does a mean combo plate. Tamale, enchilada, taco, rice and beans for five ninety-five.”
“Well, I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thank you.” That stiff back was going to crack, if it got any straighter.
Kelvin sighed and tried not to roll his eyes at himself. “Look, I go there a lot on my way home. It’d be nice to have company for a change. You can even get a beer.”
Cody stared at him for a second, then smiled a little. “Well, that’s right nice of you, but you know I only have fifty bucks to my name. I’d be better off getting me some peanut butter and bread.”
God, he’d never been that poor. Oh, he’d been through some hard times, but never that bad. Thank god for the shop, which had kept them going, even in the leanest years. Kelvin smiled, keeping it light. “Well, I’m a sucker for a good story. You tell me how you ended up here, and I’ll buy.”
He got another one of those searching looks, this one lasting long enough that it made him squirm a little. Then Cody seemed to come to some kind of decision.
“Sure. That’s fair enough. You need to do any more work? I’m a fair hand with a broom.”
“Nah. I did most of that an hour before closing. No worries. Come on.” He grabbed his jacket and his hat and headed out the door, knowing that Cody probably needed to get away from that buckle, which Kelvin had put in the case a few minutes before.
“All right, then.”
Kelvin led the way out to the parking lot, noting the ancient Chevy with the attached horse trailer. The thing was a rust-bucket. “You want to ride with me? I can drop you back here.”
“That’d be great.”
His own truck wasn’t new, but she was warm and she had good tires. It would take them where they needed to go, and make sure Cody didn’t run off on him.
He didn’t have the first clue why that was so important all of a sudden, but somehow it was.
* * *
Cody sat in the old-fashioned diner, eating chips and staring at the cute-assed guy who had offered to buy him supper. He sure wasn’t used to being a hard-luck case, and it galled him to be so damned broke, but the company was good and the green chile was amazing. The red salsa was a little runny, but it would do, as long as he had green chile like that.
“So how did you end up here?” Kelvin was asking, munching a chip and looking at him with curiosity plain in those pretty green eyes.
“You mean all broke-dick and asking for money?”
“No. I mean here in Santa Fe.”
“Oh. Well, that’s the same idea, I guess.” Lord, what a fool’s errand he’d set himself on.
“Yeah?” Kelvin was the guy’s name, and he had pretty hands to go with his pretty eyes, tanned and scarred almost as much as a cowboy’s.
“Yeah. I was…” How did a man explain that he was running amok looking for some old Indian who was probably dead? “I was trying to find the man who made the buckle.” Might as well say it, even if it sounded like the damnedest fool errand on earth.
“No shit.” Cody smiled at the waitress when she came to refill his coffee. She was a pretty little Mexican thing, all sloe eyes and swinging hips. “He gave it to my granddaddy new, all those years ago.”
“Wow. I don’t mean to pry, but why would you want to give it back?”
“Well.” His cheeks felt hot, but when was he going to see this man again? Once, when he came back for the buckle, right? It would feel good to tell someone. “When my granddaddy died a few months back, I inherited all his stuff. Wasn’t much, sure wasn’t no money, but there were letters. A bunch of them.”
“What kind of letters?”
Now he could tell he had Kelvin’s full attention. Man really did like a story.
“Love letters. From the guy who made the buckle.” He peeked at Kelvin from under his lashes, curious to see what kind of reaction that got.
“Your grandfather was queer?” Chuckling, Kelvin sat back, letting the little gal put plates down in front of them. “Man, it’s a small world.”
“What?” Okay, now Cody was confused.
“Seems like you’re pretty accepting of old grandpa, so I’ll tell you. I’m gay.”
“Well, I won’t squawk.” How could he, when he swung that way himself? “Granddaddy got married and all. Had kids. But he had this grand affair before, when he was up here working on teaching livestock tending on the reservation. It was a government thing.”
“That’s kind of cool.” The man dug into his food with gusto. “So you figured you’d tell him the old man kept the letters?”
“Something like that, yeah.” Okay, it sounded like he was a romantic fool when you put it that way.
“Well, that’s cool. What was the Navajo’s name?”
“Yazzie. Elias Yazzie.”
“Huh. There’s lots of that last name in the Four Corners. Good thing the first name wasn’t Edward.” Kelvin winked, and he grinned back Yeah, there were enough Eds in this part of the world to populate a small country. “If you want, I can help you out. I have some contacts.”
There was something really hopeful in Kelvin’s expression, something that tugged at Cody, deep in his belly. Put a little heat in there.
“Well, if you don’t mind. I mean, I can put gas in my truck now. Check out a few leads.”
“There you go.” The grin that lit up Kelvin’s face made all the belly flutters worth it. “I’m a quarter Navajo, you know? They talk to me.”
Cody tilted his head. “With your green eyes?” That seemed awful hard to believe
“A lot of Anglos in the woodpile.” One hand waved in a dismissive gesture. “You should see how many redheads around here have Spanish surnames. We’re an old, old melting pot here in Santa Fe.”
“Must be.” Hell, where he came from people melted, too, but they sure didn’t look like Kelvin if they had Indian blood.
“Well, anyway, I’m willing.”
Down boy. Willing to help and willing what Cody suddenly imagined Kelvin doing were two different things. Real different.
“That will work, man. I’m easy.”
“Excellent.” Those eyes glittered a second, bright as all hell, before Kelvin looked at his empty plate. “You want some sopapillas?”
“Only if you do.” God, yes. He would kill for some fried bread, because he hadn’t eaten anything but peanut butter in three days. He wanted to eat everything in sight, and then eat Kelvin up, too.
“Well, I do. Rita, honey. Can I get an order of four sopapillas?”
“Sure thing, Kel.”
For the first time since he’d left Texas for the Four Corners, Cody felt like he might be getting somewhere. Maybe not with his quest to find Elias Yazzie, but with his personal life.
There had to be something good there, right?