Championship bull breeder and former Texas beauty queen Delaney McCall was having a heck of a time finding a daddy for the baby she craved. A failed marriage left her with no desire for another husband, but finding the right stud to satisfy her needs presents a bigger problem that she could have imagined.
And The Bullrider Wants Beauty
After hanging up his spurs, bull rider Zac McDaniel wants nothing more than to fulfill Delaney's dream of having a family. After all, his best friend's ex has been his fantasy for years. Zac, however, has no desire to be seen as just a means to an end. And when Zac insists on doing things the "old fashioned" way, their passion explodes like a bull out of the chute…
Some Bucking Is Bound To Happen
While insisting it's all just a passing fancy, the more Delaney sees the softer side of the rough and tumble cowboy, the harder it is to keep her emotions corraled. Zac, meanwhile, is more determined than ever to prove he's what she really needs, and will do whatever it takes to tear down the mile high fence around her heart…
Praise for Victoria Vane
"Erotic and sexy." --Library Journal on the Devil DeVere series
"For erotic passion and one-liners, the first book in Vane's new series will satisfy...Vane's latest gets a big yee-haw." --RT Book Reviews on Slow Hand
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Beauty and the Bull Rider
Hotel Rodeo Series
By Victoria Vane
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Victoria Vane
All rights reserved.
National Bull Riding Championship, Las Vegas
Zac McDaniel entered the bull pens cursing his damned bad luck. He didn't need a doc or x-rays to tell him he'd broken his wrist. The grinding of bones was a sure enough sign even if the pain hadn't already clued him in. He was used to pain though. After fifteen years of rodeo, the last ten dedicated strictly to bulls, he'd experienced his fair share of it. Twelve broken bones — thirteen if you counted the wrist — three concussions, and numerous sprains and dislocations that didn't matter 'cause he'd ridden through most of 'em, still hadn't knocked any sense into him.
Then again, he was a hardheaded son of a bitch.
Whether he was harder-headed than the bull he'd drawn for his final ride was yet to be determined. Super Spin Cycle was one of the rankest bastards on the tour and the most notorious for rearranging cowboy faces, but with thirty outs and only two rides, he was also one of the most coveted draws. More buck in the bull meant a bigger chance of a payoff — if Zac made the whistle.
Swapping riding hands made it a long shot at best, but his left-handed grip was too weak from the injury to chance it, and dropping out wasn't an option. This ride was his last shot for a big payoff; after that, he was done for good. Living on the road had lost its shine a long time ago.
In the beginning, he'd loved the freedom and the variety of traveling, all the different places and the new faces, but somewhere along the line, the lack of routine had become more mundane than working a nine to five. The roads all looked the same. The rodeo arenas all smelled the same. The motel beds felt the same; the only thing that changed was his bedmate. The only real difference from one event to another was the bull. They were all different. Any rider who forgot or became complacent had a short career — that usually ended in intensive care.
After fifteen years of riding bulls, he knew he was pushing his luck. The next injury could be fatal. He didn't give a shit about the glory anymore. Now all he wanted was enough money to fix his place up and figure out what the hell he was gonna do with the rest of his life.
He gave a curt nod to Guilherme Alvaro. The three-time champion Brazilian bull rider had a five-hundred-point lead, which made him virtually unbeatable, but Zac still hoped to end this night in the money — even riding with a broken wrist. He'd already borrowed a right-hand glove; now he just had to tape his busted-up wrist.
He looked up to find his former best buddy, Ty Morgan, standing beside the chutes. They had once been the best of friends, but things had gone south when Ty's marriage broke up. His ex, Delaney, had blamed Zac for it and had forced Ty to choose between them. Being none too fond of ultimatums, Ty had walked. Delaney had filed for divorce. Ty hadn't fought it, but the whole ordeal had still soured the friendship. Eight years later, they were all once more on speaking terms, but they'd probably never get back what they'd had.
"Ty? You're back? Thought you were in Oklahoma."
"Nope. There wasn't any reason to linger after putting Tom to rest. I've never missed the finals, and neither did he. He'd have wanted me to be here. I was glad to hear you made the short round."
"Only by the skin of my teeth," Zac replied. "I'm number fifteen. This is my last shot, but Alvaro's so far ahead he doesn't even have to cover his bull. Damn Brazilians are almost unbeatable. They've kicked our American asses in this sport for too damned long."
"It's changed a lot since the old days," Ty said. "Hell, we used to do it just for the rush. Winning a c-spot for making the whistle was only a bonus."
"Sure has changed," Zac said. "Now there's a half million in the pot. I could retire with that kinda money."
Ty looked surprised. "Are you saying you're thinking about retirement?"
"Yup. That's exactly what I'm saying. Don't know how much longer I could go on — even if I wanted to. Which I don't. The joke's on me though. Ten years ago I wasn't ready to hunker down to ranching, and now that I am, my place is a wreck, and so am I. I'm getting too old for this shit and with each injury the healin' seems to take a little longer. Speaking of which, could you give me a hand taping my wrist?" He held up his injured hand.
"You hurt your riding hand? What's wrong with it?" Ty asked.
"I fucked it up last night. I'm pretty sure it's broken. I can't grip worth a shit. But I can't fix my place without money, and I can't get the money unless I win. So here I am."
"How are you going to ride?"
"Gonna have to swap hands."
"Ever ridden right-handed before?" Ty asked, tearing the athletic tape with his teeth.
"I've tried a coupla times." Zac shrugged. "Never made the whistle, but there's always a first, right? Every bull's a different story. I need this, Ty. I can't afford to go home empty-handed."
"You need the money that bad?" Ty asked.
Zac snorted. "When does a bull rider not need money?"
Ty grunted acknowledgement and wrapped the wrist, finishing as the lights dimmed, signaling the start of the preshow. "Good luck, Zac. I gotta get back to Monica now."
"Tom's daughter?" Zac asked. "She's here?"
"Yup. She surprised the hell out of me too. Just wait 'til you get an eyeful of her. She's rocking that cowgirl look."
Zac eyed his best friend appraisingly. "What's up with you and her, Ty? If I didn't know better, I'd think you had it bad."
Ty started to speak and then turned away with a shake of his head.
The preshow had begun, an elaborate pyrotechnic extravaganza with shooting flames and a pounding hard rock beat. The crowd went wild when the cowboys appeared, all fifteen of them entering through circles of flames like they were some kind of superheroes.
There was a time when he'd lived for this kind of adoration, the cheering crowds, the fans ... the buckle bunnies, but even all that had grown tiresome. Fuck, now he was just plain tired. A few minutes later, as he climbed over his bull's chute, thirty-four suddenly felt ancient.
The announcer introduced the first rider and bull, a cowboy named Grayson Dunwoody on a bull named X-Treme Vortex. Zac looked on from the next chute as the rider gave his nod and the gate swung free. The bull's superiority was clear from the start. He exploded from the gate kicking and bucking, his every movement whipping the rider's body. Barely three seconds into it, Dunwoody began to falter. In anticipation, the team of bullfighters moved in. The next buck tossed him to the ground like a sack of shit.
Zac's younger brother, Kade, had interposed himself between the animal and the fallen rider, while two others flanked the bull on either side. Waving and yelling, the three men distracted the manically bucking animal while the rider scrambled out of the danger zone. The bull spun and charged. Kade narrowly evaded getting a horn in the ass. The bull stared down the arena and snorted a stream of snot, then trotted back into the holding pens.
"No ride for that cowboy," the announcer said. "Let's see if Zac McDaniel's gonna cover his bull tonight." He elaborated on Zac's injury from the night before but by now Zac had tuned out everything but the bull beneath him.
Stepping onto his bull, he lowered himself gingerly onto its back. Cursing his clumsiness, he fumbled to make his wrap. With only sixty seconds, he didn't have time to fuck around, but swapping hands was awkward as hell, and Super Spin Cycle was a twitchy son of a bitch in the chute. The bull snorted and shifted his impatience. Seconds later, Zac looked up, raised his left hand, and gave his nod to the chute boss.
The gate flew open to the chorus of Chris LeDoux's, "Hooked on an 8 Second Ride." True to his name, the bull busted out of the gate twisting and turning like a cyclone, but Zac sat his bull tight as a tick, foiling the animal's every frantic attempt to unseat him.
Zac knew all the lyrics by heart, but the only sounds his brain registered were the crash of the gate, the snorting bull, the jangling of the bell on his rope, and his own pulse pounding in his eardrums as he mentally counted down the seconds.
As the whistle sounded, Zac glanced up in triumph. Even with the wrong hand, he'd made his time. Maybe his champion days were over, but at least he wouldn't be going home with empty pockets. He moved to dismount, but his taped wrist made it difficult to free his riding hand. As he fumbled with the rope tail, the bull feinted and then threw him into the well of another spin — that became the perfect storm. Zac's moment of victory instantly transformed into a cataclysm of chaos.
Hanging from the bull's side, he scrambled for purchase as the animal continued to plunge and kick. Once more, the bullfighters moved in, but no one could get close enough to free him from his bull rope. The next few minutes were a blur of pain and agony as he fought like hell to keep from getting dragged under the bull, all the while feeling like his shoulder was getting ripped from the socket. He was vaguely aware that it took several men to shut the bull down. The instant he came free, Zac's legs gave out. The bull whipped his hind end around and lowered his head to have another go at him, but one of the fighters intervened, shouting and waving his hat. Zac realized it was Ty.
Holy shit! What the hell is Ty doing in the arena?
The bull hesitated, staring Ty down, and then charged, but Ty slipped in the dirt. Man and beast collided as the bull plowed straight into Ty's chest. Zac couldn't see anything beyond the bull and Ty's long legs stretched out motionless in the dirt.
Fuck! He's not moving!
Zac struggled to his feet as the pick-up man cast his lasso, roping the animal's horns. The bull snorted and shook its head, still fighting as horse and rider dragged it back toward the chutes. The audience watched in silence until the gate slammed shut with a resonating rattle of metal. With the bull out of the way, everyone turned their attention back to Ty.
A medic appeared with a stretcher just as Ty stirred back to life and spat a mouthful of dirt. He was still struggling for breath as the medic began poking his ribs. "What the hell happened? Did I black out?"
"Don't talk," the medic ordered, pressing a stethoscope to Ty's chest. "Lung sounds are clear. No gurgling," he said. "Can you move? How's the pain?"
"How 'my s'posed to answer when you told me not to talk?" Ty took a wincing breath and then struggled to sit up. "Ain't nothing I can't handle."
"You really dodged a bullet this time, cowboy," the medic said.
"Maybe the bullet but not the bull." Ty grimaced and waved the stretcher away. "Give me a hand, will you, Zac?"
Zac reached down to help Ty to his feet. "I owe you, Ty."
"You don't owe me nothin'," Ty replied. "We may have fallen out for a while, but I'll always have your back."
Ty's remark brought home how much he'd missed his best friend. Zac swallowed hard to dislodge the lump from his throat. Holding his ribs with one hand, Ty reached down with the other to retrieve his hat.
The moment Ty set it back on his head, the crowd went wild. Ty turned toward the chutes with a wide grin stretching his mouth. With a tip of his hat, he limped off to rejoin Monica in the stands.
Zac turned to find his brother, Kade, standing beside him, brushing off the arena dirt that covered him head to foot. "What the hell happened to you?" Zac asked.
"Catapulted by your damned bull."
"You okay?" Kade was one of the best bullfighters on the pro tour, but Zac still couldn't suppress his protective instincts toward his little brother.
"I'm fine. If I've learned one thing since I've been doing this, it's how to take a fall," Kade laughed. "Eighty-eight, in case you're wondering."
"Your ride. Thought you might not have caught the score with all the commotion. Damn good for a left-hand ride, let alone for a right."
"Eighty-eight?" Zac repeated in amazement. It was his highest score in months. He might not be bowing out of the game with a championship title, but at least he was ending his career respectably.
At the end of the night, Alvaro finished with the championship, as expected, but to everyone's surprise, Zac McDaniel's was the highpoint ride, even with his hang-up.
After the bull riding, Kade and Zac returned to the hotel in full celebration mode. "The drinks are on me," Zac called out to the bartender. "Ty saved my ass tonight."
"I saw it all on the television," Gabby said. "I can't believe you did that, Ty. That bull could have killed you."
"It didn't," Ty replied with a shrug. "I'll have a beer."
Zac ordered a whiskey, downed it in a swallow, and then called for another round.
The bar was quickly filling with fans from the bull riding. Within minutes, the three cowboys found themselves surrounded by a half dozen buckle bunnies. As the hero of the hour, Ty drew particular notice from a blonde name Josie, who was flaunting her double Ds in a low-cut tee. Rather than enjoying the attention, Ty looked about as edgy as a bull calf entering the chute for the first time. It didn't take long before he said something and gave a nod in Monica's direction. Josie replied with a toss of her blond head and moved on down the bar to wrap her arms around Kade, who pulled her full onto his lap.
Zac paid the women little heed, which, to his annoyance, only seemed to make them try harder, but even a whispered proposal for a threesome failed to get him excited anymore. He was too old for that kinda shit and had wearied of women with more notches on their belts than he had. Where was the challenge?
Ty had moved a few stools down to join Monica. He watched them exchange some heated words, no doubt over Josie, but the showdown ended with Monica wrapping her arms around Ty's neck. He'd thought his buddy had won the round until Monica got up and left the bar alone.
Ty watched her leave like a hungry man who'd just been served a prime aged T-bone only to have it swiped out from under his nose. Ty was a ladies' man from way back, but Zac recognized that his interest in Monica was different. Had Ty finally found a woman who could hold him for the long haul? It appeared so.
Zac felt a fierce stab of envy. In fifteen years on the circuit, he'd never wanted for female company, but in all those years there had only been one woman he'd ever truly wanted — Ty's ex, Delaney. He and Ty had both met her at the Houston Livestock Show. He'd had his shot at her then but he'd blown it. Ty got the girl and Zac had to live with the worm of envy that ate a hole in his heart every time he saw them together. What made it all worse, Ty hadn't made her happy.
Grabbing his glass, Zac straddled the stool beside his buddy, following Ty's gaze with a fateful shake of his head. "Never thought I'd see you with another one like that."
"What do you mean?" Ty asked.
"Big city. Big money. Didn't exactly pan out for you the first time around."
"That's where the similarity starts and ends," Ty said. "Monica's nothing like Delaney."
"If you say so," Zac replied with a smirk and raised his glass to his lips.
"I mean it, Zac. There's no comparison between 'em. Monica's a successful investment banker who needs nothing from me. Delaney was a beauty queen who stole half my ranch."
Zac raised his hand with a glare. "Look, ol' boy. That ain't how it was, and you know it."
Ty hadn't been any more ready to settle down back then than a bull in a breeding pasture, but he and Delaney had eloped anyway. Initially, Zac had thought maybe it was Delaney's money Ty was after, but he'd proven that wasn't the case. Instead of gaining from the marriage, Ty had lost half of everything. Zac still didn't understand how it had all gone down, but the nasty divorce had left Ty embittered and disillusioned. But now, it was looking like Ty was considering giving it another go with Monica Brandt.
Delaney, however, seemed gun-shy as ever even eight years later. Their paths had crossed a few times over the past years, but no matter how hard he tried, she always turned a cold shoulder, as if her marriage break-up was somehow Zac's fault. He understood in part, but wished she'd give him a chance. So far that hadn't happened.
Excerpted from Beauty and the Bull Rider by Victoria Vane. Copyright © 2016 Victoria Vane. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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