Just a Cowboy and His Baby

Just a Cowboy and His Baby

4.6 16
by Carolyn Brown
     
 

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Praise for Red's Hot Cowboy:

"An old-fashioned love story told well...A delight."—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

She's Got Her Eyes on the Prize...

Gemma O'Donnell wasn't the first woman to win the ProRodeo buckle for bronc riding, but she was darn well going to be the second. What she didn't count on was her main competition

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Overview

Praise for Red's Hot Cowboy:

"An old-fashioned love story told well...A delight."—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

She's Got Her Eyes on the Prize...

Gemma O'Donnell wasn't the first woman to win the ProRodeo buckle for bronc riding, but she was darn well going to be the second. What she didn't count on was her main competition sweeping her off her feet.

He'll Do Whatever It Takes To Win...

Trace Coleman isn't really after a title—he needs the cash prize to buy his dream ranch. But one sexy, determined cowgirl keeps getting in his way. In his effort to take her out of the running, he risks losing both the title—and his heart.

They're Both in For a Little Surprise...

Everybody's world is turned upside down when a pint-sized bundle of joy gets dropped right into Trace's lap...and suddenly all the stakes are higher.

Praise for Love Drunk Cowboy:

"Brown revitalizes the Western romance with this fresh, funny, and sexy tale."—Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Brown’s sixth Spikes & Spurs erotic western romance (after Mistletoe Cowboy) sets up immediate physical attraction between bronc riders Gemma O’Donnell and Trace Coleman. Both plan to win the national buckle in Las Vegas come December. He needs the money to buy his uncle’s ranch, even though his uncle wants to give it to him; her goal is to be the second woman saddle-bronc-riding champion. Thousands of miles and a handful of rodeos separate them from their dreams. On the road, they tumble from her trailer to his in hot scenes, but romance and tension are missing. An episodic stop taking care of kids at a dude ranch pads the book. Gemma’s calls and visit home between rodeos help keep series readers up to date, but new readers will be lost. Brown peppers the story with references to country singers, but even popular lyrics can’t save this rapidly dwindling series. Agent: Erin Niumata, Folio Literary Management. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
"A fun and very enjoyable read." - Angela Booth's Writing Blog

"Carolyn Brown's cowboys always jump off the page and are beyond yummy, sexy and daring. " - Fresh Fiction

"Very entertaining, a beautifully written novel... a terrific read. " - The Book Binge

"Brown is a talented writer with real heart." - RT Book Reviews

"[Brown's] books will continue to be popular with her fans and with readers of Linda Lael Miller." - Booklist

"Another great read by Carolyn Brown... you feel the sizzle reading abbot these two. 4.5 Stars, Reviewer Top Pick" - Night Owl Reviews

"I love my cowboys and there are none better than Carolyn Brown's." - Fresh Fiction

"Carolyn Brown writes good cowboy books and this is an easy read that will keep you entertained through to the end." - Mrs. Condit Reads

"You can't go wrong with a Carolyn Brown book and Just a Cowboy and His Baby is outstanding." - Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews

"A witty, adrenaline-packed contemporary romance that I read in one sitting, unable to put it down." - Romance Junkies

"Filled with Texas charm and a book that you easily read in one day. You just sit down and the pages fly by." - Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

"I can't turn down Carolyn Brown's cowboys. They're as addictive as Janet Evanovich's Ranger. " - Drey's Library

"I know when I read a book by Carolyn Brown, I'm in for a treat. The writing flows and the words leap from the pages." - Long and Short Reviews

"Brown's writing holds you spellbound as you slip into the world of tantalizing cowboys, spirited cowboys, and love of family with a lot of fun added in for good measure." - Thoughts in Progress

"Very engaging with lovable characters." - The Book Life

"Brown provides an up close and personal look at the rodeo arena, with exciting action scenes written in her vivid, you feel like you're right there style." - USA Today Happy Ever After

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402270185
Publisher:
Sourcebooks
Publication date:
12/04/2012
Series:
Spikes & Spurs, #6
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
252,918
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Brown is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author with more than sixty books published. She writes bestselling single title cowboy and country music mass market romances, as well as women's fiction. Born in Texas and raised in southern Oklahoma, Carolyn and her husband now make their home in the town of Davis, Oklahoma.

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Chapter 1

Evil shot from his dark eyes. The air around him crackled when he raised his head and glared at her. He'd been bred, born, and raised for that night and she didn't have a chance against his wiles. He was bigger than she was and he knew it. He was meaner and he'd prove it.

Gemma O'Donnell didn't give a damn how big or how mean he was. She intended to be in control from the minute she mounted him. The message from the set of his head and unwavering stare said that she was an idiot not to shake in her cowgirl boots. She glared right back, her dark green eyes meeting his near black ones and locking through the metal bars separating them.

He dared.

She challenged.

She hiked a leg up to the first rung on the chute, and two hands circled her waist from behind to help her. Her heart slipped in an extra beat at the cowboy's big hands touching her, but she attributed it to nerves. She glanced over her shoulder into the sexiest brown eyes she'd ever seen, all dreamy and soft with heavy dark lashes.

"Thanks," she said.

"My pleasure. Go get 'em, darlin'." His voice went with the rest of the package: a deep Texas drawl that sounded like it should have been singing country songs in Nashville, not riding wild broncs on the PRCA Million Dollar Rodeo Tour.

Dammit, Trace Coleman. You pulled a slick one, but it's not going to work. You are not going to throw me off my game, she thought as she slung a leg over the top and locked eyes with the wild creature again. She had a horse to ride and even though his coat was as white as the driven snow, the look in his black eyes said that he could run Lucifer some serious competition when it came to meanness.

His name was Smokin' Joe and he was a rodeo legend. Cowboys said that he could see right into the soul of a rider and could feel the fear he'd struck in their hearts. Well, Gemma wasn't afraid of Smokin'-damn-Joe. He wasn't a bit meaner than the bronc out on Rye's ranch that she'd trained on, and she'd shown him who was boss. Smokin' Joe was just the next bronc in a long line, so he could take his evil glare and suck it up. Tonight she was the boss. She didn't care if the other riders had made bets about how quickly into the ride he'd throw her off into the dust. She'd show them all, cowboys and bronc alike, that a cowgirl had come to town.

She had two options.

Number one: Stay on his back for eight seconds and show him she was the boss.

Number two: Wreck.

There was no in between, and "almost" did not count. Gemma didn't allow herself to think the word wreck, not even when the almighty Trace Coleman produced a smile that would part the clouds. He was well over six feet tall, with dark hair and light brown eyes. She'd done her homework on all the cowboys. She knew most of them personally from the rodeo rounds, but she'd only known Trace by picture and reputation. Both of which intrigued her to no end. When she'd seen him in action in San Antonio, the heat level of the whole great state of Texas jacked up twenty more degrees. His swagger, his broad chest, and his body had said that Gemma was in deep trouble. But it was that deep sexy Texas drawl that brought on images of tangled sheets, lots and lots of heat, and a warm oozy feeling called an afterglow flitting through her mind.

Trace might have just meant to be charming and helpful, holding his hand out to assist her in climbing the chute, but Gemma wasn't buying his brand of bullshit. He wasn't stupid, and the twinkle in his eye said he knew exactly how his touch affected a woman. Besides, his gaggle of rodeo groupies were proof positive of that. In San Antonio, Austin, Redding, and Reno, Gemma had seen them circling him like a chocolate addict set loose with free rein in a candy store. Oh, yes, without a single doubt Trace knew how to turn a woman's mind to mush, and she'd lay dollars to horse apples that he played it to the nth degree.

Just like Smokin' Joe, Trace Coleman had met his match. Gemma intended to win that big shiny belt buckle in Las Vegas come December and leave Trace Coleman along with his scanty-dressed groupies in a cloud of dust. She had a big construction-paper lucky horseshoe tacked to the door of her travel trailer, and every time she won, she rewarded herself by pasting a small shamrock on it. After the final ride, it would be matted and framed and hung in her beauty shop, and all the cowboys who'd given her a hard time could crawl up under a mesquite bush and lick their wounds.

Any other time and any other place she might have flirted with Trace. Cowboys were definitely her thing, and he sent out vibes that dug deep into her gut. But this was the rodeo circuit. For the next six months, Gemma O'Donnell had her job cut out for her and there was no room for Trace or any other cowboy.

Damn his sorry old hide, anyway! He was the top-seeded contestant in the tour and ten thousand dollars ahead of her. Staying on Smokin' Joe's back a full eight seconds could knock Trace off that pedestal in a tailspin-if thinking about his dreamy eyes didn't ruin her score. She took a deep breath and put him out of her mind. If he thought his cute little grin and deep voice could mess her up, then he could smear ketchup on his chaps and eat them for supper. And slap a little taco sauce on his spurs and have them for dessert.

She closed her eyes.

He will not bother me. He will not get into my head. He will not throw me off my game.

She kept the three sentences running on a continuous loop as she slung a leg over the top of the chute and got ready to mount old Smokin' Joe. She couldn't very well ride with her eyes shut, so she opened them, only to see Trace standing beside the bucking chute with a cocky little grin on his face. Light-brown chaps parenthesized a package locked behind his zipper that looked so inviting that Gemma almost drooled. She envisioned peeling his tight jeans from his body, leaving him wearing only boots, that cute grin, and a Stetson that sat just right.

"God Almighty," she whispered.

Someone called his name and he turned and walked away. But the backside was just as hot as the front with his chaps framing the cutest butt she'd ever seen. Lord, if she could stay on the horse eight seconds it would be a miracle. If she got a score high enough to beat him, it would be pure damn magic. She blinked and imagined Trace tossing his hat toward a pitchfork in a hayloft and coming toward her with those brown eyes speaking volumes about how hot that hayloft was about to get.

Stop it this minute! You've got to stay on this horse eight seconds. Sweet Jesus, you haven't ever let a man upset you with just a touch before. What in the hell is the matter with you? Get it together, Gemma O'Donnell!

The familiar whoosh filled her ears. When she had first started riding, her brothers had told her to focus on the ride and block everything else out. She'd imagined holding a conch shell up to her ear. Nothing could break through her concentration once she got her whoosh mojo going. And she was almost in the zone.

Folks around Cody, Wyoming, were big rodeo fans, so the stands were packed with a loud, rowdy crowd that night. But Gemma didn't look up into the crowd, even though a rider likes a whole arena full of noisy fans as much as a country music band likes to play to a lively audience. If she looked, it would break her focus, and she'd already drawn the meanest damn horse in the rodeo. Which was good because if he bucked hard that meant more points. She rolled her neck, limbering it up for the ride and reminding herself to keep it loose. It only took one drop of fear to lock it in place and then boom, whiplash would put her out of the next ride over in St. Paul, Oregon.

The announcer's voice was full of excitement. "Gemma O'Donnell, our only woman contestant in saddle bronc riding, will be coming out of gate six. Gemma comes to us from Ringgold, Texas, and I hear she can ride anything with four legs. She told me this afternoon that her big regret in life is not pursuing this dream before now and letting Kaila Mussell take home bragging rights to being the first woman to show the boys how it's done. Keep your eyes on gate six and let's make some noise for Gemma, who intends to be the second woman ever to win the bronc riding contest when the dust settles in Las Vegas in December."

When she settled back into the saddle, she was fully well in her riding zone. The announcer might as well have been reciting poetry, because all Gemma heard was each heartbeat in her ears as she eased into the saddle. She tried to psych Smokin' Joe out. It wasn't against the rules, and he'd done the same thing when he glared at her through the bars. She leaned forward and whispered softly in his ear, "You do your damnedest, old boy. Buck the hardest you've ever done and I'll do my damnedest to stay on your back. I need the scores, so give me your wildest ride. Don't you hold back a thing because I'm a woman, darlin'. I could ride you with my eyes shut and eating a hamburger with my free hand."

She measured the hot pink and black rein and got a death grip on it. Her saddle had been tweaked by her brother Dewar and the rein braided by her brother Rye. The gold lucky horseshoe pin had been fastened to her hot pink hat by her brother Raylen. All of it was important but especially the saddle. To a bronc rider, a saddle or stirrups can be off one-quarter of an inch and it might as well be a mile. It has to be absolutely perfect, in tune with the rider and so comfortable that she could sleep in it.

She shoved the heels of her boots firmly down into the stirrups and put everything out of her mind but the "mark out." The heels of her boots had to be above the points of Smokin' Joe's shoulders before the horse's front legs hit the ground. After that it would be an eight-second line dance. Smokin' Joe would buck. Gemma's legs would go back and come forward, spurring him on to buck even more. In the end one of them would win, and Gemma was absolutely determined that Smokin' Joe would lose.

If she missed the mark out she'd be disqualified, so she got ready.

Rein in hand.

Determination in her heart.

"Eight seconds!" Trace's deep voice said from the top of the chute.

She could have shot him, dragged his sorry carcass out to the back side of the O'Donnell ranch, and poured barbecue sauce on him for the coyotes. She vowed that she would get even. He had the next ride of the evening and paybacks were a bitch. He should have thought of that before he broke her concentration.

She pulled up on the multicolored rein.

Everything stopped and she was in a vacuum. Even the dust out in the arena was afraid to succumb to gravity and fall back to earth. The noise of the crowd hung above the arena like a layer of foggy smoke in a cheap honky-tonk, but Gemma couldn't hear it.

She settled her straw hat with the lucky gold horseshoe pin attached to the brim on the back of her head, touched the horseshoe for good luck, and nodded. Three rodeo clowns stepped away from the gate. The chute opened and a blur of white topped with snatches of hot pink whirled around the arena, kicking up dust devils in its wake.

Time moved in slow motion. She could hear the crowd going wild and the announcer's excitement, but the roar of blood racing through her veins kept all of it at bay. The dry dirt clouds filling her nostrils were like drugs to an addict, and with every breath she took in more, the exhilaration so great that her heart was on the brink of explosion. The horse attempted to twist itself into a pretzel, but her body responded with the right movements instinctively. The next move put both his back legs into the air and she felt like she was on a little kid's slide. The dirt arena came up to meet her and then boom, Smokin' Joe was a damn camel with a big hump where his back used to be. But she stayed loose in the saddle, moving her legs the right way for balance as if she'd been born to ride Smokin' Joe that day in Cody, Wyoming.

She didn't hear the buzzer saying that she'd stayed with the ride until the end. When one of the three pickup riders reached out and looped an arm around her, she hung on to the reins until he yelled and then she let go. She slid off the bucking bronc's back and let the rider carry her to safety in the middle of the arena.

"And that's how it's done, cowgirls and cowboys!" the announcer screamed into the microphone. "With that kind of competition, Trace Coleman had better be ready to ride like the wind. Let's hear it for Gemma O'Donnell, a small-town Texas girl who just showed the legendary Smokin' Joe who is the boss. And the judges are tallying the scores. While they get the final number, give it up one more time for Gemma O'Donnell."

She inhaled and waited.

High seventies would be wonderful. Anything more would be icing on the cake. She'd gotten a seventy-eight in Reno, Nevada, two weeks before, but Trace had walked away with a seventy-nine. He hadn't ridden yet in Cody, and she had no doubts that the number one pick for this year's bronc rider would score high.

"Eighty for the lady! Put 'em together, fans, for the little lady from Ringgold, Texas. Next up, the man of the hour, Mr. Trace Coleman, is climbing into the bucking chute behind gate eight. Will Gemma give him a run for his money today, or will he take home the purse and the bragging rights as first place in the bronc busters for a while longer? We'll see here in a few minutes when he comes out of the gate."

Gemma exhaled loudly. She rushed to gate eight and climbed up the side right beside two cowboys. Trace had settled into the saddle and had his own special red, white, and blue rein in his hands.

He looked up, said, "I'll show you how it's done, darlin'," and winked. He touched a gold hat pin that looked like a miniature ranch brand from where she stood.

So he was superstitious too, was he? Did he eat the same thing for supper every night of a ride? Did he wear the same socks and boots to every rodeo, no matter if the socks had holes and the boots were scuffed?

Luck be damned. Payback time had arrived.

She blew him a kiss. All was fair in love, war, and bronc riding. It was probably even written in the fine print at the back of the rule book.

Not to be outdone, he caught the imaginary kiss midair and stuffed it inside his black vest pocket.

***

Trace had known he'd met his match the first time he saw Gemma O'Donnell. Her name had come up in rodeo conversations for a couple of years, but he'd never ridden against her or even in the same rodeos as she had. Not until she showed up in Rapid City, South Dakota, four months before. She'd flown in and rode one mean bronc that night, had a big wreck about three seconds into the ride, and was gone the next day. He didn't do much better at that rodeo. He lost control five seconds after he came out of the chute and Dugger McDonald from Cheyenne, Wyoming, took the purse home.

But that Irish beauty had haunted his dreams for the past four months. He'd watched her determination and her form, but he'd also seen her walk away when she'd been defeated, head held high and back ramrod straight, no tears for the loss but a purpose in her stance that said she'd be a force to be reckoned with before the dust all settled in December.

He'd meant to make her nervous when he circled her small waist to help her up the side of chute number six. The way she'd put shame into old Smokin' Joe's eyes said it hadn't worked a damn bit. But it had sent a sizzling jolt through his body. One more touch like that and he'd have to shuck his chaps because what was framed in front would be pretty damned obscene.

Since the rodeo in South Dakota when he had seen her spinning out of the chute in a blurring burst of hot pink he'd had trouble sleeping. And that was before he'd even touched her. She was smoking hot and now his hands felt like they had red coals of fire in them. He did not have time, money, or the energy for any woman and certainly not one like Gemma O'Donnell. Hell, he didn't even have the energy for the groupies that hung around the trailers after a rodeo. He had to concentrate hard on winning right up until Vegas the first week of December.

He had hoped he wouldn't see her again after the South Dakota ride, but there she was in San Antonio the next night. He'd come out the winner that time and was more than a little disappointed that she didn't stick around for the dance following the rodeo. Then in the middle of March she'd showed up in Austin, Texas, to ride like the devil and snatch the purse in a gold match, making them even.

Poor old Dugger broke his arm in a practice session and that put him out of the running. In May she came to Redding, California, and whipped him by six points, but that was a silver competition, and in Prescott, Arizona, they both wrecked and a newcomer by the name of Coby Taylor grabbed a silver purse right out from under them. Again he'd thought she'd give up, but she showed up in Wyoming pulling a travel trailer behind her truck.

That meant she was in it for the long haul.

Trace would have his hands full for sure.

He was ten thousand dollars ahead of her and he needed this ride for a nice comfortable lead. He measured the rein one more time and shoved his boots down into the stirrups. He hadn't even met her formally, so why the hell did she make his brain go to mush over one little touch? He'd had less reaction to Ava, the only groupie who had ever wound up in his bed.

He shook his head and tried to free himself of the image of Gemma with her red hair, green eyes, and lips that would run Angelina Jolie some stiff competition. He was riding Hell Cat, a big black horse with a solid reputation in the rodeo rounds. That was fine by Trace. He needed a real bucking horse that night to beat Gemma's points.

He didn't like losing at all, but to a woman? That was a tough pill to swallow. Hell, he'd never even competed against a woman until this circuit. And now he'd been whipped twice by that red-haired piece of Texas baggage that was trying to get into his head by blowing him a kiss. Well, she could damn well take her sassy little butt back to her part of Texas because he was about to show her exactly how to make more than eighty points.

He tightened his hold on the rein and nodded. The gate flew open and Hell Cat went into action, twisting, turning, bucking as if he were trying to throw Trace all the way to the St. Paul rodeo-airborne, with no stops. Trace kept one hand up, held on to the rein, and did what came natural in his movements. Legs forward, legs back, spur, go with the movement of the horse.

The buzzer sounded and a pickup rider was beside him with an arm outstretched. Trace grabbed it, slid off the horse, and hit the ground running. When he was away from the bucking horse, he stopped and waved to the crowd. Everyone was on their feet screaming and yelling. Folks did tend to like a winner.

While the buzz left his ears he headed for gate eight and listened to the announcer say, "And that, cowgirls and cowboys, was Trace Coleman from Goodnight, Texas, who just did his bit in taming Hell Cat. He's our final bronc rider of the night, and to beat Gemma O'Donnell he has to have at least eighty points. And the judges are totaling their points now. Remember, that's fifty for the horse and fifty for Trace's ability. And the winning number is, oh my goodness, Trace, sorry, old man, she's whooped you right here in Cody, Wyoming, but just barely. You've got seventy-eight points, so Gemma O'Donnell takes the saddle bronc riding purse home tonight and you come in second. Next up is the bull riding."

Trace nodded toward the judges' stand and then tipped his hat to the roaring crowd still on their feet and making enough noise to raise the dead before he slipped back behind the bucking chutes.

Eight seconds could damn sure change the whole world and knock a rider off his pretty pedestal. He'd have to work harder, keep his mind on the ride better, because if he didn't final and didn't win the big event in Las Vegas, he could kiss his Uncle Teamer's ranch outside of Goodnight good-bye.

He'd planned on sticking around Cody for a few hours after the rodeo to toss back a few beers and bask in the glory of the win before he began the thousand-mile journey to St. Paul, Oregon. But suddenly a party didn't look so inviting and he was eager to get on the road. He made up his mind that as soon as the rodeo personnel removed his saddle from Hell Cat, he intended to load up and point his truck and trailer toward the west. By the time the sun came up tomorrow morning he'd be more than a third of the way there.

"Hey," Gemma said so close to him that he jumped.

"Good ride," he said stiffly.

"Not my best. I could have done better, but thanks," she said.

"Guess that puts you where I was yesterday." Trace's drawl was deep and very Texan. He slumped down on a rough wooden bench beside the chute he'd ridden out of just minutes before, stuck his long legs out, and crossed them at the ankles.

"Guess it does, but the night is still young. Anything could happen before the finals." Gemma sat down on the other end of the bench, pulled a knee up, and wrapped her arm around it.

"What are you ridin' for?" he asked.

Vibes bounced around in the space between them like a bucking bronc without a time limit. He wanted to move closer to see if the flames were hotter the closer he got, but he sat still.

"Glory of being the second woman to win the title. And you?" she answered. Her voice had just enough grit to be sexy, and it went with that red hair, those full lips, and green eyes.

"A ranch."

"One of us could be very happy when December rolls around."

"And the other one is going to have a few dollars in their bank account," he finally said.

"You going to St. Paul or Colorado Springs?" she asked.

"Both. You?"

She nodded.

"Which one?" he asked grumpily.

"Both! It's a lot of driving, but it's doable and I need the money to put me in the finals."

Gemma didn't look forward to a thousand miles in two days to St. Paul and then thirteen hundred back to Colorado Springs. But at least there were five days between St. Paul and Colorado Springs so she wouldn't have to drive for hours and hours on that stretch. She hadn't been a greenhorn when she started the circuit. She'd known there would be fast drives as well as those that could be taken leisurely. It was the way of the rodeo circuit. Drive hard. Hurry up to get to the next rodeo and wait for the eight seconds to ride hard. Then get in the pickup truck and do it all over again.

Tonight she got to put another shamrock on her construction-paper lucky horseshoe. There were still miles and miles between that four-leaf clover and the one that she was saving for when she won the Vegas competition. There would be a lot of riding, a lot of driving, a helluva lot of waiting, and a lot of missing her family and friends, but the night she got to glue the biggest, shiniest shamrock on top of her horseshoe would make it all worthwhile.

Gemma stood up and settled her hat on her head. "Well, I'll see you there."

"And I'm going to win," Trace said.

"Don't bet on it, cowboy. Tonight is just the beginning of a long line of victories. You might as well go on home to Good-bye, Texas, and forget about it."

"Goodnight!"

"Right back atcha." She grinned.

"No, not Good-bye, Goodnight."

"What?"

"I'm from Goodnight, Texas, not Good-bye."

"Tomato, tomahto!" she quipped in a slow Southern drawl.

She'd done her homework and she knew exactly where Trace Coleman hailed from. She knew his statistics, how tall he was, and when his birthday was. And she had not made a mistake when she said "Good-bye." She'd made a joke. Evidently he didn't think it was funny.

He quickly stood up and fell into step beside her. "So you're in it for the long haul for sure, no matter what?"

"Yes, I am, so let's clear the air and get something straight right now. If you ever try to ruin my ride with a comment again, I'm going to leave your body so far out that the coyotes will starve huntin' for it."

He chuckled.

Instinctively she reached out to push him, but he caught her arms and used the momentum to pull her tightly to his chest. She had intended to send him ass-over-spurs into the dust like she did her brothers when they were all kids and she pushed one of them in anger, but suddenly she was listening to his heartbeat. She leaned back to look up at him and his eyes were fluttering shut. She barely had time to moisten her lips before his mouth covered hers in a sizzling kiss that left her wanting another and yet wanting to slap the shit out of him at the same time.

"If you ever try that again, I'll..." she stammered in a hoarse whisper.

"Darlin', either fight your way to the top with the big boys or go home and lick your wounds. I'm not one bit afraid of you," Trace said.

"That's a big mistake, Mr. Coleman." She turned and walked away from him briskly, fringe on her chaps flopping with each step, leaving no doubt that she was stomping instead of walking.

Coby Taylor moved out of the shadows and said, "Sassy bit of baggage. Sexy as hell but needs a bit of taming."

"You'd have better luck trying to tame Smokin' Joe or Hell Cat than that woman," Trace said without an ounce of humor.

***

Gemma retrieved her saddle and carried it to her trailer, stashed it in the special place in the closet, and took the shoebox from the shelf. Damn that Trace Coleman anyway for making her so angry.

She touched her lips to see if they were as hot as they still felt and was surprised to find that they were cool. She'd show him that she didn't have to fight her way to the top, that he had to fight every day to keep his place because by the middle of the circuit she intended to be so far ahead of him that he couldn't even get a whiff of the dust she was leaving behind.

She opened the shoebox and a smile replaced the frown drawing her dark brows together. She rifled through the small paper shamrocks until she found the one with Cody written in glitter and gently turned it over to smear glue on the back. Then she stuck it on her horseshoe and stood back to admire it.

"There, one more step toward the big one," she said.

Lick her wounds, indeed!

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