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Catch Of A Lifetime
The only good things she'd ever gotten from a cowboy were her daughter and her son. And rodeo gypsy Olivia Spinlove had vowed she'd never again let an elusive, sexy cowboy corral her heart. This single mom had been born racing barrels and had no trouble outrunning love—until Calhoun Jefferson strolled into her arena. Unlike any cowboy she'd ever known, he had artistic vision, concern for her kids and dark eyes that said, "Hey, pretty lady," even from a ...
Catch Of A Lifetime
The only good things she'd ever gotten from a cowboy were her daughter and her son. And rodeo gypsy Olivia Spinlove had vowed she'd never again let an elusive, sexy cowboy corral her heart. This single mom had been born racing barrels and had no trouble outrunning love—until Calhoun Jefferson strolled into her arena. Unlike any cowboy she'd ever known, he had artistic vision, concern for her kids and dark eyes that said, "Hey, pretty lady," even from a distance. He almost made her wild heart want to stop wandering. Because the promise in his kiss said that catching Calhoun might make it worth getting caught—for good.
Nudes. Calhoun Jefferson loved painting nudes, he loved the color of bare skin and he loved women who were willing to get naked. That was a bounty for the eyes: women in the flesh—the different, varying skin tones that harmonized with the female personality. Dark, light, medium—he loved all the colors under the sun. Particularly nude.
Some men saw heaven in a sunset. Some found God in the ocean's waves and secretive depths. "Ah, for me, it's the color of a nipple shadowed against the velvet of a rounded breast, the shades contrasting and yet complimenting, so tantalizing in hue," Calhoun explained to his brothers.
"Oh, God," Last said on a moan. "He's been to Hooters again."
"I have not," Calhoun said, indignantly slinging a saddle over a wooden rail. "I'm trying to explain my latest work of art to you undercultured dunces. I'm calling it 'Hues from Heaven.'"
"I feel more cultured already," Crockett said. "And my IQ has risen commensurately."
Calhoun sighed. "I'm heading over to Lonely Hearts Station for the rodeo. Anybody interested in going?"
"What for?" Archer asked. "Wait a minute, are you paintin' hooves again?"
Calhoun stood straight, staring at his brothers. "It just so happens that, this time, I'm entered, thank you very much."
"Entered as what?" Bandera asked. "Rodeo clown?"
"Rider," Calhoun said, deciding he wasn't going to let his brothers' jiving get to him. He had a mission today, and that was to advertise his afternoon art showing of first-class nudes by riding in the rodeo.
Of course, his show wasn't anything he wanted Mason to know about. Or his other brothers. They simply did not understand his love of artistic nudity.
"What I just can't get," Last said, "is if you like nekkid women so much, why don't you just get you one? We got about ten sleeping in our house this week, if you were too scared to notice. Just a set ofjammies or a big sleep shirt between you and heaven's bounty. I say, pick one already."
Calhoun felt heat color his neck and rise up under his hat. "Have you been too scared to tell Mason that you have a woman living at the ranch who's expecting your child?" he asked, his tone deliberate and mild.
Every brother went still. Not even a jaw moved as they stared at Last.
"He just got home yesterday," Last said. "And he's been hiding from Mimi. I think I'd better give him a few more days to settle back in."
His point made, Calhoun walked from the barn. He wasn't scared of women! He revered women. And that was his brothers' problem, one of a thousand. They didn't understand that a man didn't necessarily have to sleep with his passion.
Of course, it was nice when he could.
But sleeping around had gotten some of the brothers married lately, and one of them was now expecting a child. "I'm figuring on keeping my jeans zipped, a lesson no one else around here seems to want to learn," he muttered, getting into his truck. "Broken hearts, babies, wedding rings—I'd say that nude women on canvas are a helluva lot safer than women in the flesh."
Olivia Spinlove knew about broken hearts and broken homes. She knew about cowboys and broken promises. She also knew about breaking bad patterns—and when her children, Minnie and Kenny, dragged the long, lean, hotly handsome cowboy toward her, Olivia defiantly crossed her arms over her chest.
"Hello," she said, her voice chilly. "I must apologize if my children have been bothering you."
"Not at all, ma'am," he said, lifting his hat and showing a toothy grin. "I find them charming."
"We got lost," Kenny said.
Sure they did, Olivia thought. They'd been raised on the rodeo circuit. They knew where their grandfather was and where the trailer was. "Thank you for escorting them back to me," Olivia said. "Sometimes they can be quite the handful."
"No, we're not," Minnie said. "We're angels." And she grinned up at the cowboy.
Olivia shivered. "Excuse us." She took the children by their hands and led them back to the trailer. Once inside, she sat them on the bed. "Minnie, Kenny," she began, "no. No, no, no."
The children looked at her woefully. "We need help," Minnie pointed out. "Grandpa's getting too old to do the act."
They were speaking of Grandpa Barley's knees being too arthritic to allow him to jump in and out of barrels these days. Olivia knew the kids were right, but that didn't mean they were going to interview cowboys at every rodeo in the United States until they found one suitable for their act.
"Your grandfather is fine, for now," she told them. "Please don't worry so much." She hugged them to her. "Really. It's going to be fine."
"How?" Minnie asked. "How is it going to be fine when we don't have an act?" Her large eyes were too old for her nine years and too worried. So little childish spirit lingered in Minnie's gaze.
Olivia smiled at her daughter, kissing her forehead. "Trust me, it's going to be fine."
Kenny began to bite at a hangnail. "It's not fine. I could get in the barrels, and Gypsy could find me instead of Grandpa."
How could she explain to him that Gypsy and Grandpa were a team, and that teams couldn't be broken apart? Once one member of the team no longer worked, the other went to pasture, too. At least in this case. Barley and his Gypsy were a horse and a man who could not be separated. Tough old Dad, Olivia thought. And tough old horse.
The two had always worked together to feed and take care of her family.
"Here's the deal," she told the kids. "I have to go ride Gypsy in a bit. If you promise not to 'interview' any more cowboys for Grandpa's job, I'll let you go watch the bull riding. If not, you can stay inside the trailer and do some math charts and spelling. I know you love to study, but I heard that there was going to be a superspecial bull tonight." She lowered her voice with excitement. "And no cowboy can stay on. It's a bounty bull. Mean as a three-headed rattler."
"Whoa!" Kenny breathed. "I gotta see that!"
"Me, too." Minnie slid off the bed. "It's a deal. No more cowboys tonight, Mom."
"Okay," Minnie said, giving out the promise at least, Olivia figured, until tomorrow. "No more cowboys."
"Good. I'll see you after the events. Kenny, stay with Minnie, and Minnie, you know the rules."
"Yes, I do," Minnie said, taking her brother's hand as they left. "No, no, no."
Olivia smiled as her children left the trailer. Someday she'd explain to them that their father had been a cowboy, one with a wandering heart. And though she loved her children dearly, the reason they were all in the shape they were in today was because Olivia had fallen under the spell of the Elusive Sexy Cowboy.
No more spells for her.
"Whoa," Kenny said, fifteen minutes later, having hotfooted it to the right to see the bull of which his mother had spoken. "Look at the size of 'im!"
Minnie nodded. "He's going to throw his cowboy into the next state."
Kenny giggled. "I can't wait. Cowboy's gonna look like a smushed grape by the time Bloodthirsty Black gets through with him."
"I like that bull's name," Minnie said thoughtfully. "The cowboy who stays on him wins a lot of money, cuz no one ever has."
"How much money?" Kenny asked.
"I don't know ." Minnie squinted her eyes at the bull. "A lot. That's what we need to stay out of trouble with—"
"The tax man," Kenny said helpfully. "Grandpa's always cussin' him."
"We need a lot of money," Minnie murmured. "Too bad you're not old enough to ride."
"I'd stay on 'im," Kenny bragged. "I'd stay on 'im like a gnat on his horn. Like spit in his eye. Like—"
"Hey, kids." A man's voice interrupted.
Minnie glanced up into a pair of twinkling black eyes. Friendly, and kind. Too nice for a bull like Bloodthirsty. She took a breath.
"What's your name?"
"Are you going to ride Bloodthirsty Black?" Calhoun nodded, amused by her question.
"Yes, I am. Shouldn't you kids be with your parents?"
"Mom works with the rodeo," Minnie said bravely, thinking that the cowboy was awfully tall, the tallest one she'd seen in a long time. Maybe the biggest, too. "I've seen more rodeos than you'll ever see, cowboy."
He laughed. "Is that so, young lady? Well, then, I'll be on my way." Tipping his hat, he left the pair.
"Hey, I hope you win," Minnie called after the cowboy.
"If he doesn't, I'm gonna ride that bull," Kenny muttered.
"No, you're not," Minnie said. "Mom will never let you."
"And Mom said you weren't to size up any more, uh, marks," Kenny reminded her. "You looked like you'd seen a movie star when you talked to that cowboy. You got all goo-goo."
"That's what I'm doing wrong," Minnie whispered. "I'm looking for marks, when I should have been looking for goo-gooey."
"Huh?" Kenny stared at his sister.
"We don't need a cowboy to work for us, we need one for Mom."
They watched as the cowboy lifted a child, a little girl her own age, Minnie estimated, onto a pony.
"You mean, like a dad?" Kenny asked. "Grandpa Barley said he'd kick the bejesu—"
"Shh," Minnie said, "you're not to quote Grandpa when he goes south of good manners, Mom says. If that cowboy can stay in the saddle, we're going to find a way to drag him over to Mom. You can cry and I'll pretend to be lost."
"And you'll get in trouble," Kenny said. "Mom knows when you're, you know, looking out for her."
"Yes," Minnie said, "but Kenny, our life would be simpler with a man who can jump into a barrel. And that cowboy looks like he can handle barrels just fine."
"Maybe we should get Mom to watch him," he said. "Maybe she'd change her mind, although she'd probably say he was too big to " His gaze wandered as he watched Calhoun walk to the other side of the arena.
" to fit inside a barrel," Minnie finished for him.
"Kids," Olivia said, walking to their side as they hung over the rail, looking out into the arena. "I'm about to start the act. You guys are going to be okay for another hour, right?"
"Yes," Minnie said. "Look at that man, Momma. That's the cowboy who's gonna ride Bloodthirsty Black."
Olivia glanced in the direction Minnie was pointing.
"He's very tall," Kenny said. "I don't think he'll be able to stay in the saddle."
"But he looks like Antonio Banderas," Minnie observed. "In that movie we weren't supposed to be watching when you fell asleep, Momma? Antonio could do anything'"
"Let's all stick to G-rated movies from now on," Olivia murmured, her heart beginning to beat faster as she watched the cowboy walk. He did have a saunter to him, a loose swagger of confidence that caught the attention of every woman in the arena.
Then he turned around to wave to her children, and Olivia's heart sank deep inside her chest.
Too gorgeous to be anything but trouble in spades, she decided quickly. "Come on," Olivia told Minnie and Kenny. "Come watch Gypsy and Grandpa."
"No, thank you, Momma," Minnie said. "We want to see this man. I think he can stay on if he's been doing his cowboy calisthenics."
Olivia frowned. "What are those?"
"The ones you do in front of the TV every morning," Kenny said. "With the lady in the tight swimsuit who always smiles real big and says 'You can do it!'"
Olivia shook her head. "Those are not calisthenics. And that's not going to be a cowboy after he gets tossed and stomped."
"I think he's gonna win the big prize,"
Minnie said. "Calhoun, you can do it!" she called loudly.
The cowboy grinned at Olivia, touching the brim of his hat with two fingers in a roguish salute. She gasped and drew back. "You two come with me."
"Mom," Minnie said, "you wanted us to watch this. You wanted us out of your hair while you did the act. We're not going to try to get you to talk to him. We just want to see what he can do."
"It's Bloodthirsty Black," Kenny reminded her. "Mean as a three-headed rattler. We can't miss him!"
Olivia sighed, caught by her own sales pitch. "I wasn't trying to get you out of my hair. I thought you would enjoy seeing bull riding more than you'd enjoy an act you've watched a thousand times."
"Well, we are." Minnie gave her a squeeze around the waist. "We're fine. Don't be so worried about us."
Worry was her first and middle names where her children were concerned. But she'd been outmaneuvered here, though the cowboy didn't appear to have much on his mind other than his impending trip to the E.R. Olivia gave both her children a hug, then happened to glance toward the chute again. The cowboy was sitting on the rail, watching them with a grin on his face. She had never seen a sexier cowboy in her life.
Her skin crawled, itched and tingled. "Have fun," she said. "No talking to cowboys!"
"We won't," Kenny said. "Maybe just an autograph or two."
But Olivia had walked away, not hearing his last words. She couldn't stop thinking about shaggy long black hair, full smiling lips, and predatory black eyes that said Hey, pretty lady, even from a distance.
And she'd seen it all before. Maybe not in such a sinful package, but still, that cowboy wasn't going to sing her a trailside good-night tune.
So the two little rodeo urchins had a cute-as-a-bug mother, Calhoun mused. And no father watching over the family, apparently. The little girl hadn't said anything about a father in the rodeo when she'd mentioned her mother. He knew all the cowboys hanging around the stalls, and he'd never seen this particular family before. He wondered where they hailed from.
Shaking his head, he tried to focus on what the cowboys were saying about Bloodthirsty tonight.
Two little faces watched him intently.
Sighing, he thought about his art exhibition. The urchins' little mother would make a nice painting. He wondered what color her nipples were. Were they the shade of her lips, which had been a nice blush, or the deeper brown of her hair underneath the blond highlights? He loved nipples—they added an element of surprise. You never knew what color they would be. A lot of other things on a woman made sense; you could figure them out in advance. But nipples were dependent on the shading of the body, individual and unique to every—
"Cowboy, have you sent your brain to space?" someone called. "Earth to Calhoun, earth to Calhoun."
"Very funny." Calhoun slid off the rail. "I was thinking up my strategy."
"Really," another cowboy said, pinning Calhoun's number on the back of his vest.
"From the stupid look on your face, we thought maybe you were daydreaming."
"About women," someone else said, and everyone laughed. "Sex-dreaming. About all the women who are going to want you after you tame this bounty bull."
"Nah, sex was the furthest thing from my mind," Calhoun said, lying through his teeth. "All my attention's on Bloodthirsty Black."
Except that small piece that had leaked out for a moment of fantasizing, Calhoun thought, glancing toward the children who watched his every move. It was so unlike him to find a woman in the flesh who stayed in his thoughts longer than his paintings did. Dang, he was going to have to be careful around those children. They had a smokin' hot mama—and that was the last thing he needed to be fantasizing about. There were too many surprise kids who had recently turned up in the Jefferson family tree.
Posted November 30, 2012
I've bought and read the whole series. Awesome characters with as many personalities as there are brothers. Good series to read.
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