Ever since his father's famous bank robbery years ago, rodeo cowboy Jesse James Chisholm has been the bad boy of Lost Gun, Texas. A rule breaker. A heartbreaker. But he's still haunted by his history, and the only girl who could match his wildness with her ownuntil she ditched her own bad-girl ways in favour of respectability .
But mayor-elect Gracie Jones isn't quite the upstanding role model she projects. Underneath those conservative skirts and blouses? Very naughty underthings. Jesse's return has stirred not only her long-slumbering wild side, but an insatiable hunger for this rugged, sexy cowboy. And this Texas town is going to see a side of the Wild West they never expected.
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This was turning into the worst ride of his life.
Jesse James Chisholm stared over the back of the meanest bull this side of the Rio Grande at the woman who parked herself just outside the railing of the Lost Gun Training Facility, located on a premium stretch of land a few miles outside the city limits.
His heart stalled and his hand slipped. The bull lurched and he nearly tumbled to the side.
No way was she here.
No frickin' way.
The bull twisted and Pro Bull Riding's newest champion wrenched to the right. He was seeing things. That had to be it. He'd hit the ground too many times going after that first buckle and now it was coming back to haunt him. His grip tightened and his breath caught. Just a few more seconds.
One thousand three. One thousand four.
"Jesse!" Her voice rang out, filling his ears with the undeniable truth that she was here, all right.
The bull jerked and Jesse pitched forward. He flipped and went down. Hard.
Dust filled his mouth and pain gripped every nerve in his already aching body. The buzzer sounded and voices echoed, but he was too fixated on catching his breath to notice the chaos that suddenly surrounded him. He shut his eyes as his heart pounded in his rib cage.
Come on, buddy. You got this. Just breathe. In and out. In. Out. In
"Jesse? Ohmigod! Are you all right? Is he all right?"
Her desperate voice slid into his ears and stalled his heart. His eyes snapped open and sure enough, he found himself staring into a gaze as pale and blue as a clear Texas sky at high noon.
And just as scorching.
Heat swamped him and for a split second, he found himself sucked back to the past, to those long, endless days at Lost Gun High School.
He'd been at the bottom of the food chain back then, the son of the town's most notorious criminal, and no one had ever let him forget it. The teachers had stared at him with pity-filled gazes. The other boys had treated him like a leper. And the girls They'd looked at him as if he were a bona fide rock star. The bad boy who was going to save them from the monotony of their map-dot existence.
Every girl, that is, except for Gracie Stone.
She'd been a rock star in her own right. Buck wild and reckless. Constantly defying her strict adoptive parents and pushing them to the limits. They'd wanted a goody-goody daughter befitting the town's mayor and first lady, and Gracie had wanted to break out of the neat little box she'd been forced into after the tragic death of her real parents.
They'd both been seniors when they'd crossed paths at a party. It had been lust at first sight. They'd had three scorching weeks together before they'd graduated and she'd ditched him via voice mail.
We just don't belong together.
For all her wicked ways, she was still the mayor's daughter, and he was the son of the town's most hated man. Water and oil. And everyone knew the two didn't mix.
Not then, and certainly not now.
He tried to remember that all-important fact as he focused on the sweet-smelling woman leaning over him.
She looked so different compared to the wild and wicked girl who lived and breathed in his memories. She'd traded in too much makeup and too little clothes for a more conservative look. She wore a navy skirt and a white silk shell tucked in at the waist. Her long blond hair had been pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail. Long thick lashes fringed her pale blue eyes. Her lips were full and pink and luscious.
Different, yet his gut ached just the same.
He stiffened and his mouth pressed into a tight line. "Civilians aren't allowed in the arena." He pushed himself to his feet, desperate to ignore the soft pink-tipped fingers on his arm. "Not without boots." Her touch burned through the material of his Western shirt and sent a fizzle of electricity up his arm. "And jeans," he blurted. "And a long-sleeve shirt, for Chrissake." Damn, but why did she have to keep touching him like that? "You're breaking about a dozen different rules."
"I'm sorry. You just hit the ground so hard and I thought you were hurt and " Her words trailed off and she let her hand fall away.
He ignored the whisper of disappointment and concentrated on the anger roiling inside him. "You almost got me killed." That was what he said. But the only thing rolling over and over in his mind was that she'd put herself in danger by climbing over the railing with a mean sumbitch bull on the loose.
He pushed away the last thought because no wayno friggin' waydid Jesse care one way or the other when it came to Gracie Stone. He was over her.
He held tight to the notion and focused on the fact that she'd ruined a perfectly good training session. "You don't yell at a man when he's in the middle of a ride. It's distracting. I damn near broke my neck." He dusted off his pants and reached for his hat a few feet away. "If you're looking for City Hall" he shook off the dirt and parked the worn Stetson on top of his head "I think you're way off the mark."
"Actually, I was looking for you." Unease flitted across her face as if she wasn't half as sure of herself as she pretended to be. She licked her pink lips and he tried not to follow the motion with his eyes. "I need to talk to you."
He had half a mind to tell her to kick her stilettos into high gear and start walking. He was smack-dab in the middle of a demonstration for a prospective buyer who'd flown in yesterday to purchase the black bull currently snorting in a nearby holding pen.
Because Jesse was selling his livestock and moving on. Finally.
With the winnings and endorsements from his first championship last year, he'd been able to put in an offer for a three-hundred-acre spread just outside of Austin, complete with a top-notch practice arena. The seller had accepted and now it was just a matter of signing the papers and transferring the money.
"Yo, Jesse." David Burns, the buyer interested in his stock, signaled him from the sidelines and Jesse held up a hand that said hold up a minute.
David wanted to make a deal and Jesse needed to get a move on. He didn't have time for a woman who'd ditched him twelve years ago without so much as a face-to-face.
At the same time, he couldn't help but wonder what could be so almighty important that it had Lost Gun's newly elected mayor slumming it a full ten miles outside the city limits.
He shrugged. "So talk."
Her gaze shifted from the buyer to the group of cowboys working the saddle broncs in the next arena. Several of the men had shifted their attention to the duo standing center stage. "Maybe we could go someplace private."
The words stirred all sorts of possibilities, all treacherous to his peace of mind since they involved a very naked Gracie and a sizable hard-on. But Jesse had never been one to back down from a dangerous situation.
He summoned his infamous slide-off-your-panties drawl that had earned him the coveted title of Rodeo's Hottest Bachelor and an extra twenty thousand followers on Twitter and eyed her. "Sugar, the only place I'm going after this is straight into a hot shower." He gave her a sly grin he wasn't feeling at the moment and winked. "If you're inclined to follow, then by all means, let's go."
Her eyes darkened and for a crazy instant, he glimpsed the old Gracie. The wild free spirit who'd stripped off her clothes and gone skinny-dipping with him their first night together.
But then the air seemed to chill and her gaze narrowed. "We'll talk here," she said, her voice calm and controlled. A total contradiction to the slight tremble of her bottom lip. She drew a deep breath that lifted her ample chest and wreaked havoc with his self-control. "A fax came in from the production company that filmed Famous Texas Outlaws?"
The mention of the television documentary that had nearly cost him his livelihood all those years ago was like a douse of ice water. "And?"
"They sold rights to a major affiliate who plans to air the show again and film a live 'Where Are They Now?' segment. They're already running promos for it. Sheriff Hooker had to chase two fortune hunters off your place just yesterday."
His "place" amounted to the burned-down shack and ten overgrown acres on the south end of town that he'd once shared with his father and brothers. As for the fortune hunters, well, they were out of luck. There was nothing to find.
His lawyer had been advising him to sell the property for years now, but Jesse had too many bad memories to want to profit off that sad, miserable place. Ignoring it had been better. Easier. He eyed her. "When?"
"It's airing next Tuesday." She squared her shoulders, as if trying to gather her courage. "I thought you deserved fair warning after what happened the last time."
His leg throbbed at the memory. "So that's why you're here?" He tamped down the sudden ache. "To give me a heads-up?"
She nodded and something softened inside him.
A crazy reaction since he knew that her sudden visit had nothing to do with any sense of loyalty to him. This was all about the town. She'd traded in her wild and wicked ways to become a model public servant like her uncle. Conservative. Responsible. Loyal.
He knew that, yet the knotted fist in his chest eased just a little anyway.
"I know you just got back yesterday," she went on, "but I really think it would be better to cut your visit short until it's all said and done." She pulled her shoulders back. The motion pressed her delicious breasts against the soft fabric of her blouse. He caught a glimpse of lace beneath the thin material and he knew then that she wasn't as conservative as she wanted everyone to think. "That would make things a lot easier."
"For me?" He eyed her. "Or for you?"
Her gaze narrowed. "I'm not the one they'll be after."
"No, you're just in charge of the town they'll be invading. After all the craziness the last time I think you're anxious to avoid another circus. Getting rid of me would certainly help." The words came out edged with challenge, as if he dared her to dispute them.
She caught her bottom lip as if she wanted to argue, but then her mouth pulled tight. "If the only eyewitness to the fire is MIA, the reporters won't have a reason to stick around. I really think it would be best for everyone." Her gaze caught and held his. "Especially you."
He sure as hell wasn't up to the pain he'd gone through the first time. The show had originally aired a few months after he'd graduated high school, five years to the day of his father's death. He'd been eighteen at the time and a damn sight more reckless.
He'd been ground zero in the middle of a training session with a young, jittery bull named Diamond Dust. A group of reporters had shown up, cameras blazing, and Diamond had gone berserk. More so than usual for a mean-asall-get-out bucking bull. Jesse had hit the ground, and then the bull had hit him. Over and over, stomping and crushing until Jesse had suffered five broken ribs, a broken leg, a dislocated shoulder and a major concussion. Injuries that had landed him in a rehab facility for six months and nearly cost him everything.
Not that the same thing wouldn't have happened eventually. He'd been on a fast road to trouble back then, ignoring the rules and riding careless and loose. The reporters had simply sped up the inevitable, because Jesse hadn't been interested in a career back then so much as an escape.
From the guilt of watching his own father die and not doing a damned thing to stop it.
It wasn't your fault. The man made his own choice.
That was what Pete Gunner had told him time and time again after the fire. Pete was the pro bull rider who'd taken in thirteen-year-old Jesse and his brothers and saved them from being split up into different foster homes after their father had died. Pete had been little more than a kid himself back thenbarely twentyand had just won his first PBR title. The last thing he'd needed was the weight of three orphans distracting him from his career, but he'd taken on the responsibility anyway. The man had been orphaned himself as a kid and so he'd known how hard it was to make it in the world. Cowboying had saved him and so he'd taught Jesse and his brothers how to rope and ride and hold their own in a rodeo arena. He'd turned them into tough cowboys. The best in the state, as a matter of fact. Even more, he'd given them a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs, and hope.
And when Diamond had nearly killed Jesse, it had been Pete who'd paid for the best orthopedic surgeons in the state. Pete was familyas much a brother to Jesse as Billy and Coleand he was about to marry the woman of his dreams this Saturday.
That was the real reason Jesse had come back to this godforsaken town. And the reason he had no intention of leaving until the vows were spoken, the cake was cut and the happy couple left for two weeks in the Australian outback.
Then Jesse would pack up what little he had left here and head for Austin to make a real life. Far away from the memories. From her.
He stiffened against a sudden wiggle of regret.
"Trust me, there's nothing I'd like better than to haul ass out of here right now."
"Good. Then we're on the same page"
"But I won't," he cut in. "I can't."
A knowing light gleamed in her eyes. "I'm sure Pete would understand."
"I'm sure he would, but that's beside the point." Jesse shook his head. "I'm not missing his wedding."
"You'll just have to figure out some other way to defuse the situation and keep the peace."
And then he did what she'd done to him on that one night forever burned into his memoryhe turned and walked away without so much as a goodbye.
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Read on November 20, 2013 Book Info Paperback, 224 pages Expected publication: December 17th 2013 by Harlequin ISBN 0373797842 (ISBN13: 9780373797844) other editions None found Source:Netgalley EARC Book Buy Links AMAZON B&N BOOK SYNOPSIS WANTED: A Red-Hot Rebel Ever since his father's famous bank robbery years ago, rodeo cowboy Jesse James Chisholm has been the bad boy of Lost Gun, Texas. A rule breaker. A heartbreaker. But he's still haunted by his history, and the only girl who could match his wildness with her own—until she ditched her own bad-girl ways in favour of respectability…. But mayor-elect Gracie Jones isn't quite the upstanding role model she projects. Underneath those conservative skirts and blouses? Very naughty underthings. Jesse's return has stirred not only her long-slumbering wild side, but an insatiable hunger for this rugged, sexy cowboy. And this Texas town is going to see a side of the Wild West they never expected. My Thoughts Jesse James Chisholm embodies the charismatic cowboy whose rugged sexy devil-may-care exterior houses a heart that yearns for acceptance in a town filled with narrow minded people that have long labeled him as not worth their notice, unless it is to make a disparaging comment about his family! Now his dreams of having his own business in Austin are close to reality yet Jesse finds himself strangely reluctant to leave Lost Gun for good thanks to unfinished business between he and Gracie. Gracie Jones along with her younger sister was orphaned and then raised by their Aunt and Uncle. Gracie spent her formative years rebelling against convention and dreaming of the day she finally left Lost Gun in her dust. She and Jesse had a hot and heavy time together until the day she got the news her older brother had been killed in the line of duty, from that moment on the bad-girl became the model of decorum. Living as a model citizen of Lost Gun may not be the exact life that Gracie had once envisioned but she is determined for her sisters sake to provide a stable home so if that means her own wants, needs and desires are put on indefinite hold so be it. Now here it is 12 years later and Jesse is a top-notch record setting Bull Rider on the rodeo circuit and Gracie has become the newly elected Mayor of Lost Gun, will their past fiery fling rekindle or is it too late for them to finally realize that they have already spent too much time apart? Read this humorous, fast paced, laugh out loud deliciously steamy tale and find out for yourself if Gracie finds the inner courage to grab the “bull by the horns” and hang onto Jesse ASAP! [EArc from Netgalley in exchange for honest review]