Sometimes what you leave behind...is what you needed all along...
Miss Rodeo America Jodi Brand has traded her sparkly sash for worn-out jeans and scuffed-up boots. She's back in town to start a therapy riding clinic for kids, and can't afford to be distracted by the bad-boy cowboy who once broke her heart.
Teague Treadwell never forgot their one night together. Back then, she was way out of his league, but now he's given up his rebel ways and built his family ranch into a successful business.
Ironically, the new Jodi's not sure she likes the new Teague, with his sharp suits and polished boots. There's only one way to find out if the rugged cowboy she loved is hidden under that slick new lookbut does she dare risk her heart?
Also by Joanne Kennedy:
Tall, Dark and Cowboy
Praise for Cowboy Fever:
"Delightful... full of heart and passion."Jodi Thomas, New York Times bestselling author
"HOT, HOT, HOT...with more twists and turns than a buckin' bull at a world-class rodeo, lots of sizzlin' sex, and characters so real, you'll swear they live down the road!"Carolyn Brown, New York Times bestselling author
"Clever dialog, fun situations, and sexy cowboys all wrapped in one great story. Absolutely perfect!"Fresh Fiction
"A breath of fresh air... who doesn't love a bad boy trying to be good?"Night Owl Reviews, Top Pick
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|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Joanne Kennedy is the RITA-nominated author of ten contemporary Western romance novels, including Cowboy Trouble, Tall, Dark and Cowboy, and Cowboy Tough. The first book in her Decker Ranch trilogy, How to Handle a Cowboy, was named one of Booklist's "Best Romances of the Decade." She lives in a secret mountain hideout on the Wyoming border with too many pets and a retired fighter pilot. The pets are relatively well-behaved. Joanne loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website, www.joannekennedybooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
By JOANNE KENNEDY
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Joanne Kennedy
All rights reserved.
Keeping one hand on the wheel and both eyes on the highway, Jodi Brand rummaged in her purse and pulled out her trusty can of Aqua Net. She'd sworn off blue eye shadow and tossed her rodeo queen tiara without so much as a twinge of regret, but she needed a twelve-step program to kick her hair spray habit.
Aqua Net is to rodeo queens what duct tape is to handymen—a cure-all for everything from shellacking your hair into place to shining your boots. It repairs runs in panty hose, fixes slipping zippers, kills bugs, and pastes your cowboy hat to your forehead so it'll stick at a gallop.
Popping the lid, she glanced down at the label, then back at the road. She could risk a collision by squeezing her eyes shut while she sprayed, or court blindness by spritzing her 'do with her eyes open. Simply letting her hair tousle in the breeze from the open window was out of the question, since she'd just passed the "Welcome to Wyoming" sign. The minute she crossed the border into her home state, her queen persona took over like a perky little demon returning to possess her, telling her to make sure her hair was perfect and ordering her to smile, smile, smile.
What she really needed was Rodeo Queen Rehab—a quiet residential facility where counselors would help her emerge from under the shadow of her rakishly tilted cowboy hat.
But rehab was for sissies—sissies and Easterners. Westerners like Jodi believed in personal responsibility, and while she might not want to dress up like a Wild West Dolly Parton anymore, she was proud to be Wyoming born and bred.
So why wasn't she glad to see that "Welcome" sign?
She loved Wyoming. She really did. But coming home meant facing the high expectations of a hometown that had sent her East like an emissary to an alien planet. They'd expected her to bring civilization back to Purvis, or at least some new fashion and makeup ideas. The fact that she'd gone back to being plain old Jodi Brand was bound to be a disappointment.
She turned off the highway and headed for the center of town, a three-block stretch of old-fashioned storefronts and cracked sidewalks presided over by a single traffic light. Pulling into a space in front of the Rexall, she squared her shoulders, gave her hair a quick spritz, and stepped out of the truck. Her cowboy boots gave her courage, making her walk feel like a bona fide swagger as she strode through the drugstore's swinging door and stepped up to the counter like an outlaw bellying up to the bar.
"Jodi Brand." Darla Black widened her eyes and brought one hand to her ample chest in a theatrical gesture of horror. "My God, honey, what's wrong? You look terrible."
When Darla wasn't stationed behind the pharmacy counter, she starred in nearly every production at the Purvis Little Theater, and her combination of dramatic delivery and downtown scuttlebutt made her the queen of the coffee klatches. It was like having Gypsy Rose Lee, Dolly Levi, and Auntie Mame all rolled into one convenient pharmacist.
"Why, I'm fine, Mrs. Black. Just dandy." Jodi cocked her head and widened her smile—or was she baring her teeth? She wasn't sure. "But thank you so much for asking."
Darla reached over the counter and placed a soothing hand on Jodi's arm. "You can tell me, honey. Is it one of those, you know, transmitted things?" She leaned over the counter and lowered her voice to a whisper. "It's not cancer, is it?"
"Cancer?" Jodi peered over the pharmacist's shoulder, scrutinizing herself in the security mirror. Behind her, six or eight customers peered over the shelves to watch the show, like prairie dogs poking up from their holes to scan the plains for ferrets. Their expressions ranged from shock to dismay to pity.
Dang. She didn't look that bad. In normal surroundings, she passed easily for pretty—but in her hometown, expectations ran high.
"So pale," Darla said. "And your hair—honey, you look just wrung out and hung to dry. What happened?"
"Nothing." Jodi straightened her shoulders. "I'm just not a rodeo queen anymore. I'm a certified equestrian therapist with a degree in special education."
"Well, it looks like all that hard work and studying has just worn you right out."
"I'm not worn out." Jodi swallowed her aggravation. Coming home was even harder than she'd expected. "I'm just not wearing makeup. I used to have to pretty up all the time. Eye shadow. Blush. Sparkle powder." Tossing her head, she felt her hair flare out and fall neatly back into place.
God bless Aqua Net.
"But now I've got more important things to do," she said. "I'm back to help my mom with the boutique, and I'm starting a therapy riding clinic."
Darla shook her head in wonder. "I never thought you'd come back. We figured once you'd seen the world, you'd be gone for good."
"But I promised. You remember my speech?"
"Who could forget?" said a deep voice behind her.
Jodi knew that voice. She stood motionless, enjoying the moment—the delicious anticipation of finally seeing Teague Treadwell again. She pictured the hard jaw softened by a five-o'clock shadow, the dark eyes glinting under a battered Stetson, the long, lanky line of him leaning casually against the counter like a dark, dangerous version of James Dean in a cowboy hat—cool and tough and drop-dead sexy. God, she'd missed cowboys—real cowboys—and Teague Treadwell was as real as they came.
She turned with a bright smile, then took a quick step back. The man behind her was Teague Treadwell—but he looked about as real as a New York model in a Boot Barn catalog. He stood like a cowboy, relaxed and lounging, resting one elbow on the high counter like he might rest it on the worn leather saddle of his trusty quarter horse, but his clothes were straight out of Lou Taubert's dress-up section. Clean, creased Wranglers broke tidily over what appeared to be Tony Lama boots, and his white shirt was pinned at the collar with a string tie that sported an expensive chunk of polished turquoise mounted in silver. He held his hat in his hand, a gray felt Stetson with a brand-new sheen unmarred by sun or rain, and his clean-shaven jaw was more GQ than Western Horseman.
And then there was the jacket. On any other man, she'd have appreciated the way it classed up the outfit and spanned his broad shoulders, but the cut of it hid at least half of a butt she'd been looking forward to seeing in full.
"You took that scholarship and that modeling contract and hightailed it for the city so fast it made our heads spin. I can't believe you came back," he said.
"I promised." Jodi set her jaw.
"I know." He stepped closer—a little too close. "But you don't always keep your promises."
She lifted her chin. In her outgoing rodeo queen speech, she'd sworn to use her scholarship to get herself an education and come back to Purvis in all her big-haired, blue-eyed glory to make the town a better place.
And she'd kept that promise—well, except for the big hair and the glory. A few modeling sessions had exhausted her desire for glamour, and college had been a revelation as she shed her queen trappings and luxuriated in the freedom of comfort-cut jeans and baggy T-shirts. At school, it was her brains that mattered, not her beauty. And nobody expected her to be a role model.
What a relief that was. Being a role model meant swallowing your swear words, acting like a lady, and staying away from men like Teague Treadwell.
She looked Teague up and down, keeping her expression neutral, squelching any outward sign of her appreciation of those snug-fitting jeans or the well-muscled body that wore them. Dragging her gaze upward to his face, she bit her lower lip.
"Teague," she said. "You've changed."
He grinned. "I sure have. You too, Queenie."
The nickname and the teasing note in his voice raised her hackles. "I'm the same as I ever was. But you look like one of those dandies you used to beat up behind the chutes."
"I could still beat 'em up," he said, his smile dimming slightly.
"I'm not so sure," she said.
"Why not? Do I look too civilized?"
She started to nod, then noticed his eyes had narrowed. "Civilized" was probably an insult in Teague's mind. He hadn't taken well to her transformation from rough and ready tomboy to quintessential cowgirl when she'd entered her first rodeo queen contest. He'd said she looked fake when she dolled herself up.
Well, of course she did. Rodeo crowns, with their accompanying scholarships and prizes, weren't handed out for looking like a ranch hand. But he'd also accused her of looking down on what he called "us ordinary mortals."
She hadn't, though. She'd never been like that. She'd turned down his offers for dates because ... well, because she was scared of him. Teague Treadwell was trouble, and rodeo queens didn't mess with trouble. A hell-raising bronc rider like Teague could be a friend, maybe even a fling if you kept it quiet—but a date? A boyfriend?
She cocked her head and scanned him from the top of his gelled hair to the toes of his polished boots. The clothes weren't the only change that had come over him while she was gone. The hard glint in his eyes had softened too, and the firm, stubborn set to his mouth had given way to a smile that was pleasant instead of predatory. She was surprised to find she wasn't the least bit afraid of him.
It was a little disappointing.
"You're just ... older," she said. She could have said a lot more. She could have said he did look civilized, more civilized than she'd ever expected he could be. He also looked handsome, sophisticated, and, well ... successful.
"You look older too," he said.
"Teague Treadwell, that's a terrible thing to say to a lady," Darla scolded. "You tell Miss Brand she looks just lovely."
"Darla, you just got done telling her she looks like she's got cancer," Teague said. "At least I didn't say that."
"Well, I am not a gentleman," Darla said.
"Neither am I."
Darla sniffed and turned away. Normally, she was eager to talk to anyone and everyone on the chance they might drop a choice crumb of gossip, but evidently, Teague was not a favorite. Jodi suspected he had plenty of stories to tell—but evidently he kept them to himself.
She tilted her head and smiled up at him. She'd always felt like a mismatched doll beside Teague—a Barbie next to a G.I. Joe. She still felt mismatched, but the tables had turned. She almost wished she'd decked herself out in her queen clothes. Standing beside his duded-up, suede-jacketed self, she felt like a drab little partridge pecking around a prize rooster.
Well, at least a partridge could make her own way, scratching for sustenance. All roosters ever did was preen and crow.
"So if you're not a gentleman, what are you?" she asked.
"Busy." His smile faded. "Sorry. I've—I've got to go."
He strode out of the store, leaving Jodi staring after him while Darla clucked her tongue at his rudeness. Maybe he hadn't changed that much after all. Maybe, underneath the fancy clothes, he was still just as rough around the edges as ever.
She wished he'd take off that dang jacket so she could see for sure.
* * *
Teague stepped out of the store and ran a hand through his gelled hair. He could never get used to the texture it took on when he styled it, stiff and spiky as a dog's wet hide. But though he might not be a gentleman on the inside, he had to pretend to be one on the outside—and that meant taking off his ever-present Stetson when he stepped into Darla's store. Without the gel he had terminal hat-hair, despite his hefty investment in a froufrou haircut he'd learned to style like some sissy singing star. He'd duded himself up too, in clothes that fit his new, respectable life as well as the custom boots fit his feet—but they didn't fit who he was inside. He might look like a well-trained show pony, but he was roughstock through and through. And no matter how much he doffed his hat and minded his manners, everybody knew it. In a town like Purvis, nobody ever forgot who you really were.
He glanced back at the drugstore. Jodi was still in there, talking to Darla.
He couldn't get over how she looked. The real Jodi was back—not the one who'd left town all those years ago, polished and shellacked under her glittery wide-brimmed hat, but the Jodi he remembered from childhood—his best friend and neighbor, the girl who raced horses and practiced roping with him until the day she shed her tomboy ways and started chasing after a crown and a satin sash instead of a championship and a prize saddle.
It should have felt good to see the shock on her face when she recognized the man in the classy clothes, and it should have felt even better to cut her dead and walk away. But for some reason, revenge was not sweet.
Maybe because she looked so sweet herself—so vulnerable, stripped of her glossy rodeo queen trappings. So different from the image he'd held in his mind all these years. He'd sworn to himself that if Jodi ever came back, she'd discover he was more than a match for her—and now she was back to being the girl next door, and he felt like a fake.
The door to the drugstore swung open and he realized he was loitering on the sidewalk, leaning against the wall like he had all those years ago when his afternoons had been his own. The only difference was that now he didn't have a cigarette hanging from his lips. He hadn't just gotten richer; he'd gotten smarter.
"Hey," Jodi said, stepping out of the store in a cool cloud of air conditioning.
"Hey." He shifted, resting his shoulder against the plate glass window, and the years melted away. Darla was wrong. Jodi didn't look sick. She looked delicate—fragile. She always had, until she slapped on all that glossy pageant-style makeup. He'd always loved the way her pale blue eyes and smooth, pale skin contrasted with the hell-for-leather cowgirl underneath. And he'd loved her little imperfections—the too-tilted nose spattered with faint freckles, the slight fullness to her lower lip. And her hair—it looked touchable today, unlike the sticky, starched mass she'd perfected in her pageant days. He thrust his hands in his pockets, resisting the urge to reach up and stroke it.
"So you're busy," she said. "Busy doing what?"
He felt himself flushing. "Just busy."
"With what? Got a girlfriend?"
He shifted uneasily. He didn't want a girlfriend, that was for sure—unless Jodi was applying for the job, and that was about as likely as Marilyn Monroe slapping on a Stetson and coming down from heaven to be his cowgirl consort.
But he'd spent some time with Courtney Skelton lately, and she seemed to think they were some kind of couple, even though he'd barely been polite once he figured out she had something more than friendship in mind.
"No girlfriend," he said. "Don't let anybody tell you different."
Jodi smiled. "Breaking hearts again?"
"Hardly." He cleared his throat. "Sorry if I seemed rude before," he said. "I just didn't want to talk in front of Darla."
That was a lie. He hadn't wanted to talk at all. Not until he figured out what was going on with Jodi, and how he felt about her. It was like they'd switched places. Now she was the one in torn jeans and T-shirt, and he was the one in the monkey suit.
"So," he said, dredging up a grin. "Is it cancer?"
"No." She laughed. Her looks had seemed so important to her all those years ago, and now she'd just been told she looked like death—and she was laughing.
What had happened to Jodi Brand?
And what was he going to do about it?CHAPTER 2
Jodi scanned Teague's outfit again, her eyes narrowing. She probably figured he'd stolen it, or robbed a bank and wasted the whole haul on clothes. He was sure she'd never expected to see her trailer trash neighbor in classy threads like these.
"So what are you doing these days?" she asked. "You haven't broken any broncs today, I'll bet."
"Nope." He stepped away from the window and hitched up his belt. "Been to Lackaduck. Had a meeting with the rodeo committee."
Lackaduck wasn't much of a town, but every July they hosted a huge outdoor rodeo that rivaled Cheyenne and Calgary. He was itching to tell her he'd signed a contract to provide broncs for next year's event, but he needed to fit it into the conversation casually, so it wouldn't seem like he was bragging.
"How's your brother?" she asked.
"The same." Teague felt a growl of frustration growing in his gut. She was always more interested in Troy than him. Sometimes he thought she'd only hung around with him to be near Troy. He knew it was Troy who had inspired her to go off to school and make all those promises about making Purvis a better place. It was probably Troy that made her want to come back, too.
Troy. Not him.
"The same?" She frowned. "The same as what?"
Excerpted from Cowboy Fever by JOANNE KENNEDY. Copyright © 2011 Joanne Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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