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By Sherri Somerville
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2014 Sherri Somerville
All rights reserved.
Tucker Heart packed her bags with as much western attire as she owned. She packed shirts, jeans, boots, and hats. She tossed in some jewelry that she thought would go and a couple of fancy baseball hats, along with some shorts and T-shirts.
She has two hours to pack, close up her house, and get to the airport. She had been assigned to a job on the rodeo circuit.
Tucker was hired on to an elite agency, one she had held out for, after graduating from the top police agencies in the nation. Then she had taken every course she could in the last two years to make sure she was even a consideration for this job.
What made Tucker so desirable for this job was her ability to fit right in on any role she needed to play.
She was drop-dead gorgeous; she was sexy as could be, with long red hair, big blue eyes, and honey-dusted gold skin. She had been raised on a ranch but had summered on the ocean in college and had traveled abroad a little. She was quick-witted and not afraid of the devil himself. But she had one downfall, her temper, which went with the red hair and got her in trouble now and then.
The last job she had done was almost the last with this company; her temper almost blew the cover. At the last minute, she was saved by another agent, but now, she was on probation and had to work with the main man, the man who owned and started the agency, to see if she got to keep her job or not.
She had never met the man, being hired by his assistant, but had heard many stories about him and how he was a no nonsense hard-ass, so she was very nervous.
She had a small acreage outside of Grand Junction, Colorado, where she kept her horses, dogs, and cats. Luckily she had a good friend who would house-sit for her when she was away on long jobs.
She was taking her border collie Lefty along on this job, so she loaded him, her bags, and rushed for the airport. She was running a little late, only getting the call this morning, so the plane was already on the ground when she pulled in. She flashed her badge with security clearance at the guard at the gate and got the directions of where to park and leave her pickup truck, while trying to hurry, because she saw a big dark-haired man checking out the airplane while it was fueled. She leased her dog, grabbed her bags, and headed that way. She waited for the man to look up and see her before she stuck out her hand.
He didn't answer right away, running his eyes slowly up and down her body, which set her teeth on edge.
"Are we going to have a problem here?" She ground out.
He gave her a half smile. "I don't know, are we?"
"Not if you mind your manners and do your job."
"And just what would that be?" He smirked.
"Take me to meet Mr. Ashton." He made a big deal of wiping his hands on a rag before sticking his hand out to her. "I am Mr. Ashton." Shit, thought Tucker, what a way to meet the boss. She already was on probation; he must think she was a real bitch. She had no idea he would come in person to pick her up; she assumed he would send someone.
"Get loaded up, we are leaving in five minutes." He ordered as he went back to what he was doing.
"Yes, sir." She grabbed her bags and the dog and was on board when he climbed in.
He pointed to the other seat in the cockpit, indicating she should sit there, while he made friends with her dog, before snapping a line on the dog to keep him contained while in flight.
Tucker had checked the jet out, and it was to die for, top of the line, and costing more than she could even imagine. She did as he told her to and was reaching for the seat belt when he took it out of her hands and snapped it in place, running his hand up her chest to make sure it was tight.
Her face flamed red, but he acted like no big deal as he took his seat, buckled up, fired up the plane, before rolling out for takeoff.
Once they were in the air, he handed her a set of headphones. She put them on, and he was able to carry on a regular conversation with her over the roar of the plane.
"I will be calling you Tucker, and I want you to call me Brock. This job has turned serious very fast, and we need as much information as we can get on who might be behind some dangerous actions. Did my assistant have time to brief you on what was going on?"
"Not really. He just said to bring western dress and my dog Lefty, because everyone on the rodeo circuit has a dog and it would help with my cover," she explained.
"Our cover. We will be posing as a couple working for a film company working on a documentary on the faces of rodeo."
"Okay, and why as a couple, why not just two employees?" Tucker asked.
"Because we are going to be living together in a motor home, and I don't want to waste the time fighting off the women or spend any time running off the men who are trying to get in your pants." Tucker's mouth dropped open; she was absolutely shocked at how crude he was.
"You certainly have a way with words, don't you?" she said.
Brock spun around with an arched eyebrow. "Are you so easily offended, or maybe you enjoy going to bed with strange men."
"Now you are being nothing but a pig, and my love life is none of your business." She spat.
"Well, while you are working for me on this job, I am afraid it is. As far as anyone in concerned, we are madly in love and keeping the sheets a smoking." When she didn't answer, he turned and pinned her with a look. "Is this going to be a problem? Do I need to replace you on this job?"
"No, I can handle my side of the job, but just so we understand each other, I don't sleep around."
Brock didn't answer, so she waited a minute and then asked for more information on the job.
"Once we are on the ground, I will fill you in. Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
Three hours later, they were landing at the Reno, Nevada airport. Brock helped her from the plane, handing her the dog's leash.
While she walked the dog, she watched Brock hangar the plane. He was a very handsome man, big and rugged looking. No wonder he had to fight the women off.
She kept watching him as he worked; he was in Wranglers, boots, and a polo shirt, looking very much the part of a rich sexy cowboy.
On the way back to the plane, she was dumbfounded when a huge black and chrome motor home pulled into the airport. It had a custom paint job with the wording Lifestyles Documentary all the way down the side. It was towing a jeep behind, and she was sure it was her new home for the length of this job.
Sure enough, she saw Brock toss her bags inside while waiting for her and the dog to get on board.
"I hope you know how to drive this monster," she said as she took in the sheer luxury of the inside.
It had everything known to man, plus a lot of equipment she thought they would need to either do the job or at least look the part.
But what she was worried about was the sleeping quarters, because right now, she only saw one bedroom at the back of the bus.
"Go ahead and look around a minute before we head out," Brock told her.
She did and still only found the one bedroom, but the couch's looked big and comfortable so she could make do, she thought.
She took the passenger seat, making Lefty lie down by her as Brock fired it up and pulled out on the highway heading for town.
"We need to go grocery shopping first and stock up, but we can find a place to eat first," he said, which turned out harder than he thought; there was no place to park that big thing anywhere even close to a café. So they parked in a Walmart parking lot and ate at McDonald's before buying two weeks' worth of food and supplies.
This was almost funny; they were like an old married couple fighting over who was going to cook and what to buy.
Brock had a cook, and Tucker never learned; she could make a few things, but her interest was sure not in the kitchen. Nevertheless, they filled up two carts, plus a huge bag of food for Lefty. It took them forever to put it all away and get on the road to the rodeo grounds. "Okay, this is what we need to work on, finding out who has a beef with either rodeo in general or with certain people running the rodeos or competing. But it is very important to keep what we find secret, because the sport as a whole is under constant scrutiny. It may be a group effort or just one lone nut, but they are hurting people and animals now, so we need to move quick during this summer run over the Fourth of July," Brock explained.
"Aren't we taking a chance making it worse by making rodeo the star of a movie?"
"That could be, but it might bring them to the surface, where the FBI, who is on this also, could catch them."
"We are hoping by doing it this way, we will make better headway. I understand you were a former rodeo contestant yourself. That's why I selected you, even though you are walking a fine line in staying employed by me." This stung, but she knew she deserved it, and she vowed to work on her temper. "I know, I promise to do you a good job, and yes, I did and still do sometimes enter amateur rodeos once in a while." He gave her a long look and said. "Okay, we are Brock and Tucker Smith. We are from Salt Lake City, Utah. We met through our work and love of Rodeo."
"I can do that, but do you know anything about rodeo?" Tucker asked.
"I rode steers in junior high but got smart and switched to team roping by high school. I still like the sport, but I have spent every spare minute the last few years getting this company off the ground, but I can still talk the talk and walk the walk, so that is why I am the other half of our team." This didn't surprise Tucker; he had an easy way of wearing Wranglers and boots that only a cowboy could pull off. There was nothing that screamed fake more than a dude dressing up like a cowboy.
She was determined to prove she deserved to be a part of this team, even though the thought of living with him in a motor home made her very nervous.
"The first performance starts at eight tonight, and slack starts at eight in the morning, so we need to hit the ground running. I hope having the dog with us will help with our cover, and we won't look like cops."
"No problem, I can bring him with me any time," Tucker said petting the dog.
Thank goodness Brock knew how to park and set the motor home up, so that left Tucker to change and unpack the equipment they would take with them. She planned to take a lot of still photos as well as some video footage, as well as carry around small tape recorders.
Brock was pleased when he saw Tucker; she looked like she fit in and was ready to enter the rodeo tonight, plus she had everything ready and sitting by the front door.
He quickly changed into clean, pressed Wranglers and a long-sleeved shirt, and they were ready to head out.
They were no sooner out the door when he surprised Tucker by pulling her into his arms and kissing her, while whispering in her ear, "Heads-up, we have an audience." When he let her go, she played along holding his arm while calling the dog to follow them.
She barely got a glance at the three men and two women sitting in an old car watching them as they walked on by.
"Honey, I hope you have some money on you. You are just going to have to feed me before long if you want to get any work out of me tonight," Tucker said in a loud stage whisper.
"Work is not all I have planned for you later tonight, so I guess I will have to feed you," Brock answered as the car slowly rolled on by. They proceeded to the rodeo office where the FBI and the head of the rodeo committee were in a meeting.
Brock shook hands with the men and introduced Tucker, asking, "How do we stand right now?"
"We have a lot of rumors flying around, some true, some not true, but it is making people afraid for both themselves and their animals," the head of the fairground said. "Before we would have rented out every stall on the place, but now, not even half are rented. Most people are keeping their horses close by them and moving on right after their run."
"I can't blame them. We can't provide security because it has been something different every time and we don't know what to guard against."
"Are the entries way down also?" Tucker asked.
"By about half, but with Cowboy Christmas starting this week, I expect it to pick back up," the man said.
The FBI agent Tom spoke up. "The rodeo main office wants this stopped right now before any more rumors get started, so I want everyone up to speed like right now." Brock rattled off the license plate number of the old car, telling him, "We are on it." Brock headed behind the chutes, where the bareback riders were getting ready, while Tucker wondered out by the trailers where the girl barrel racers and the team ropers where saddling up.
She was introducing herself around and asking for interviews later on when she came face-to-face with a girl who had been on her college rodeo team.
"Tucker Smith, since when?" Barb Martin asked.
"Barb, so good to see you, how have you been?" Tucker asked, trying to change the subject.
"Fine, I'm just surprised to see you here. Last I heard you were a cop or something," Barb answered.
"No, not hardly. I went to school for that, but it just wasn't for me, then I met Brock, and we got married."
"Well, where is Mr. Smith? I'd like to meet him."
"Oh, he is around here somewhere. If I find him, I'll have to bring him over. Well, excuse me, I need to keep moving," Tucker said as she hurried away before Barb could ask any more questions.
She was going to have to talk with Brock about this because Barb was not going to be the only one she runs into who will remember her.
The announcer was calling for the audience to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the posting of the colors as the grand entry began and all of the contestants rode into the arena.
The stands were full, and it was a nice night, not to hot, and Brock was hoping for an event-free rodeo.
He saw Tucker making her way toward him, leading the dog, as the grand entry started. He took his eyes off her for just a moment when he heard a loud pop and all the light went out.
This could not have been at a worst time or a more dangerous time, with the arena full of galloping horses, all trying to head out a ten-foot gate.
The announcer was pleading for everyone to just hold up, stop, and stand where they are until they got some lights back on. But a lot of the horses were spooked now and just wanted out of the arena and were giving their riders a hard time. People were yelling, making it worse, and some of the horses were still bolting for the exit gate.
Brock jumped down and headed for the last place he saw Tucker. He was calling her named when she took hold of his hand so as not to get separated again.
"Brock, look, it is just here. Everything around us still has lights on," she shouted above the noise.
"Get some trucks over here with the lights on while we clear the arena," he shouted at someone nearby. People were turning on their cell phone flashlights and anything else they had when they heard someone shout that they had a child down at the gate; they needed an ambulance.
This only added to the danger as horses were still running out the gate. Two or three pickup trucks sped up, shinning their lights on the downed child as people tended to her.
Sure enough, a small girl had bolted from her parents and ran right in front of a horse blasting out of the gate and was run over.
The rodeo was held up for over an hour while the lights were restored and the child loaded and transported.
Once the rodeo performance resumed, Brock grabbed Tucker and headed for the rodeo office.
"Let's go see what they have to say?" he told her.
The FBI agent Tom told them it had taken an hour for the power company to trace where a transformer out at the highway had been shot out.
The rodeo went on with no more trouble that night, but it was plain to see that this was no accident; they found tire tracks and bullet casings.
The rodeo promoter was livid; he had some injured horses and an injured child, with all kinds of people down his neck to do something about all this and make it stop.
"If we don't find who is doing this and stop them, no one is going to enter or come and watch another rodeo," he ranted.
"Sir, we are doing the best we can. We have added more agents, and Brock is calling in more of his people. We will find them, and I hope it is soon," Tom told him.
"I think whoever is doing this knows something about rodeo. They know when it will be the most dangerous and when to strike fast and get out of here before we can catch them. Maybe we need to look closer at people connected to the rodeo," Tucker spoke up.
"After tonight, I think maybe the lady is right. This might be an inside job, but why is what we need to find out," Tom told the group while giving Tucker a much closer and longer look, which Brock didn't miss.
Later Tucker was busy explaining Cowboy Christmas to Tom while they sat at one of the desks at the back of the office.
Excerpted from Sixteen Days by Sherri Somerville. Copyright © 2014 Sherri Somerville. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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