Shine Not Burn
Author:Elle Casey

“Boog already said he’d do it, and he owes you anyway, so just let him. And I need you, besides. You can take a break for once. You haven’t had a vacation in ten years.”


Mack urged his horse forward with a squeeze of his legs and a clicking sound inside his cheek. “You need me? In Vegas? Vacation? Yeah right, that’ll be the day.” The horse moved past the tree and along a grassy area below a tall hill - a mere bump compared to the mountains in the distance.


Ian gave his horse a light spurring, causing it to leap forward and cut his brother’s mount off.


Mack scowled. “Cut it out, Ee. You know I don’t have time to play with you right now. Stop acting like a fool.”


Ian smiled, whirling his horse around so he could crowd his brother and get him to react. This cold indifference wasn’t getting him anywhere. A challenge was the only way to get his brother to wake up and get involved in his life while he was still living it in Baker City. Ian saw this bachelor party in Vegas as Mack’s last chance to leave this town and see a little bit of the world before he turned into a hermit, just like their father. Twenty-five years old and he acted like he was fifty. Responsible. Mature. Serious almost all the time. Ian felt the life draining out of him just watching his brother in the saddle.


“Bet I can beat you to the top of that hill over there.” Ian lifted his chin once in challenge, knowing his brother wouldn’t be able to resist. Mack always had to run the fastest, jump the highest, and whistle the loudest. He was nothing if not competitive, and yet, he always managed to do it Cool Hand Luke style, with no one fully realizing how much it mattered to him to be on top. Stealth ego. Mack MacKenzie was all about the stealth ego.


“When are you going to give it up, Ian? You know you’re as slow as Methusela on a damn horse. All hat and no cattle. That’s why you want to run away to the city so no one will know your shame.” He chuckled. “There you can take the ankle express everywhere you need to go and forget about these pesky four-legged beasts.”


Ian rolled his eyes at the tired expressions that their father had been using since before they were born. It was scary how easily they were rubbing off on Mack, now that he was taking on the mantle of ranch manager. “No, I’m not as slow as Methusela, I’m faster than you, and I can prove it. Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is? Race me to the top of the hill.”


Mack looked over at him out of the corner of his eye, his gaze dropping to take in the horse under Ian’s saddle. Then he looked at the hill he’d have to climb, his eyes scanning the landscape between where his horse stood and there.


“What’s the bet?” Mack asked, shifting again in the saddle, getting a tighter grip on his reins, shortening them just the slightest bit.


Ian grinned, knowing triumph was nearly within his grasp.


“If I win, you go to Vegas. No bitchin’, no whinin’, no excuses. And you drink and you gamble and you womanize a little. Not a lot, just a little.”


Mack’s jaw bounced out a few times as he gritted his teeth, but he didn’t say no. Instead, he smirked. “And if I win, you stay long enough to go to Mom’s birthday party.”


Ian’s smile disappeared. “Aw, come on! That’s not fair! You know I have to start work in Portland before that!”


Mack shrugged, a genuine smile sliding out to greet the day for the first time. “Not my problem, little bro. You do what you gotta do.” He shrugged, all nonchalant, not a care in the world. “I don’t have to race today. You know I’m going to beat your ass anyway.”


“Screw that,” said Ian, kicking his horse hard and snapping its hind end with the long end of his reins. “Heeyah!” The beast leaped into action, almost throwing him out of the saddle. He blew a stirrup, but there was nothing he could do but hang on and hope for the best.






Chapter Four




MACK WASTED NO TIME, SENDING his horse off like a bullet. His little brother had gotten the jump on him, but it wouldn’t matter. Mack was something of a legend in the area for his horse riding and cutting skills. People called him a balance rider, a guy so comfortable in his seat that no matter what the horse had a mind to do, Mack would go with it and not lose a beat. He hadn’t fallen from a horse since he was five years old, and there wasn’t a cow or steer alive that could outrun or outmaneuver his horse and lasso. Within seconds he’d drawn even with his little brother.


“Heeyah!” he yelled, mostly for his brother’s benefit, but his own horse seemed inspired by it too. He left Ian’s mare behind to eat his dust, leaping over the smaller rocks and the spring that ran across the property, landing smoothly on the other side and not even breaking stride as he surged up the hill.