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The Billionaire Cowboy
By Mandy Baxter
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Mandy Baxter
All rights reserved.
"You're about to have one pissed-off female on your hands, brother."
Ryder Blackwell looked askance at his younger brother before turning his attention back to the plume of dust rising in a rooster tail behind the Chevy pickup barreling down the road toward his ranch.
"You're probably right," he agreed. And that was the point. To get her out here. "She looked pretty pissed at the auction, didn't she?"
Jason snorted. "She looked like she wanted to take your head off. And while I like a violent streak in a woman, I don't think you're prepared for the heat she's gonna bring. You'll be lucky if she doesn't run you over with her truck."
A smile curved Ryder's lips as he considered the possibilities. The Chevy rounded the last turn on the ranch road and the back tires drifted to the left before correcting. "You're a faithless son of a bitch, Jase, betting against your brother like that. I can handle anything she dishes out."
Jason gave his brother a not-so-gentle nudge, connecting his fist with Ryder's shoulder. "You keep telling yourself that, big brother. As much as I'd like to stick around and watch you get your ass handed to you, I've got to get back to Dallas. The postseason is kicking my ass and I'm not giving Coach McNealy any reason not to start me."
It was Jase's third season with the Cowboys and Ryder knew that his brother protected his spot on the team with a ferocity that made a hornet look cuddly. He worked twice as hard as anyone else on the team and never gave anyone—including those asshole ESPN commentators who accused him of buying his way onto the team—any reason to cut him down. "Later, brother. Try to keep your fool head on your shoulders, all right?"
"Please." Jase sounded almost offended as he climbed into his Maserati. "Ain't no one gonna catch me."
The engine of the sports car roared to life and gravel sprayed out from under the tires as Jase took off down the road. When he passed the Chevy, Jase honked his horn a couple of times in a playful rhythm. Ryder snorted. No doubt that'd do a lot to cool Lara's jets.
As the Chevy skidded to a stop not three feet from where Ryder stood, a burst of adrenaline shot through his veins. There was something about her anger that got his blood up. And didn't that make him a sick son of a bitch?
"You bastard!" Lara Montgomery propelled herself from the truck like the little rocket she was and rounded on Ryder with the force of a tornado. "You knew I wanted her. I saved up for a year for that horse and you bought her out from under me!"
Something caught in Ryder's chest as he took in every detail of the woman standing before him: her face flushed with rage, her crystalline blue eyes full of fire. Her dark chestnut hair was wild and wind-tossed, framing her face with loose curls that he longed to smooth away from her cheeks. Goddamn, she was beautiful. And since the day he met her, she was an itch he'd been dying to scratch.
"You were at the auction to buy October Sky?" he asked, jerking his chin toward the corral where the thoroughbred mare cantered and tossed her head. "I had no idea."
When her eyes widened in disbelief and she blew out an aggravated breath, Ryder had to dig the heels of his boots into the driveway to keep from grabbing her and kissing those full lips of hers until she was breathless and begging for more. For months, he'd thought of nothing but kissing her. Touching and tasting her. He wanted to undress her slowly, like he was unwrapping one of the presents under his Christmas tree, fondle and fuck her until she screamed his name. Pissing her off might have been an unconventional way to get what he wanted, but Ryder liked to be unconventional when the occasion called for it.
"That's bullshit and you know it."
The words were spoken with a low edge that made Ryder yearn to have her say his name in the same way right at the moment she came. He was used to getting any woman he fancied. The fact that he couldn't have Lara Montgomery made him want her that much more and he planned on making sure that by the end of the weekend, she wanted him too.
Lara brushed past him, giving Ryder a nice view of her ass as she marched toward the corral. The sway of her hips was hypnotic, her jeans hugging every curve. And when she bent over to squeeze between the slats in the fence, giving him an even better view of that pert, round ass and the juncture between her thighs, his heart damn near stopped in his chest.
"You're still pissed off over the last time I was out here, aren't you?" Lara's bright blue eyes settled on him and Ryder bit back a smile. Her voice changed as she turned away from him and cooed soft comforting words to the mare, hand outstretched. The mare stomped a foot onto the ground and let out a nervous chuff of breath, but Lara didn't shy away. She laid her left hand on the mare's neck, her touch mesmerizing as she worked her right palm up and down her muzzle. Her strokes were gentle, yet full of purpose and the mare stilled, then leaned into Lara's touch. Never in all his life had Ryder been so damned envious of a horse.
"Ryder Blackwell, billionaire big shot rancher got schooled by the local vet and so he's gonna make her pay by throwing his money around, is that it?" Lara asked without turning to look at him.
Of course she'd make that assumption. Ever since the day Lara Montgomery tore him a new one over a calf that'd gotten stuck in a barbed wire fence on the back forty, Ryder couldn't stop thinking about her. No one ever dared to get up in his face about anything, yet that sassy little veterinarian went nose to nose with him without even thinking twice about it. But his plans had nothing to do with showing her up or throwing his weight around. In fact, ever since that day, he'd done everything in his power to convince her to go out to dinner with him. So far, she'd turned him down every single time without even so much as an explanation why.
A month ago, he'd hosted a fund-raiser for the local chapter of the Daughters of the Pioneers. Lara had been there, of course. With a date. Ryder had never been jealous of another man or what he had until that night. It drove him damned near crazy to see Lara in a tight black dress with a neckline that was tauntingly low. His eyes had been glued to her the entire night, the sight of the jutting points of her nipples pressing against the light fabric a cruel tease to his imagination. Thinking about the way she looked that night made his cock swell and throb against the fly of his jeans. What in the hell did that other guy have that he didn't? Seducing Lara became Ryder's single-minded obsession after that night. He wanted her so badly it hurt.
"I don't need to throw my money around," Ryder replied. "When I want something, I get it. It's as plain as that."
"Bullshit. You don't raise thoroughbreds. What you did is plain ol' mean."
Mean was standing there in a pair of tight jeans and tight v-neck top that showed off the swell of her breasts. Mean was shooting him down yet again after he'd asked her out for the tenth time after the fund-raiser. Mean was the sight of her tongue darting out to lick her full pink lips. Mean was making him come up with excuse after excuse to see her. Damn, it took all of his willpower not to close the distance between them and trace her full bottom lip with his tongue. "What can I say, Lara? Maybe I'm looking to expand from the cattle business."
"Well, sorry, but that explanation isn't going to fly with me, buddy."
Her cheeks flushed with anger and her chest rose and fell with quickened breaths. This was the closest he'd been to her in weeks. She was like a tumbler of expensive whiskey: heady, smooth, and she went straight to his head. He'd planned everything to the last detail and he'd be damned if he didn't bury himself in her slick heat by the end of the weekend. When he wanted something, he got it. And he wanted Lara Montgomery.
Lara spoke up and he gave his head a little shake to clear it. "Ryder, I want this mare and you're going to sell her to me."
He tilted his Stetson off his forehead and folded his arms across his chest. "No."
Lara whipped around to face him and the one word was enough to set her eyes ablaze. The more worked up she got, the more he wanted to get her good and naked and if he didn't slow down, Ryder wouldn't be able to hide the evidence of his arousal in his tight jeans. If she was this much of a challenge outside of the bedroom, he could only imagine what she'd be like between the sheets.
"No?" Lara repeated, incredulous.
He'd wanted her for far too long, his thoughts distracted by her too often to count. He needed to get his head on straight and flush her out of his system once and for all. Now. This weekend. Finally he had something she wanted. And he wondered how far she'd go to get it back.
"I might be willing to give up the mare," he drawled, "if you spend the rest of the weekend with me."
* * *
Lara stared at Ryder Blackwell, her jaw slack. Of all the low-down, arrogant, manipulative ... Ryder Blackwell is so low, he'd have to look up to see hell! If he thought she'd simply hop in his bed and spread her legs in order to get the mare, he had another think coming.
Ryder strolled up to the fence, his rolling gait graceful and full of purpose like a wolf on the hunt. His gaze settled on her mouth and Lara kicked at the ground, because the way he was looking at her was doing nothing to help maintain her indignation over his ridiculous offer. His brown eyes smoldered, the heat stealing the breath from her lungs as it tingled across her skin. The man was sex personified, every hard muscular plane that defined him begging to be touched. She'd tried to keep her distance from him for weeks and kept up the pretense that she couldn't be bothered to give him the time of day because of the incident with the calf. But truth be told, she didn't trust herself around him. The attraction was too intense, the way his eyes devoured her like she was a slow-smoked brisket set every nerve ending on fire. Even now, her fingers itched to reach out and touch him, to see if the definition of muscle visible beneath his shirt was as iron-hard as it looked. And holy hell, his jeans were so tight she couldn't keep her eyes from the bulge of his fly. She licked her lips as she contemplated the outcome of releasing the button of his jeans and easing his zipper down, tooth by tooth. But Lara wasn't interested in a one-night stand with Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma'am Blackwell. Even if his skills in the bedroom were legendary. She was trying to build a reputation in town and a one-night stand with the area's most infamous bachelor wasn't going to help her out a single bit.
"I don't know what you've heard about me, Mr. Blackwell, but I'm not the sort of girl who sleeps with a man to get what she wants."
He studied her for a quiet moment, his face shaded by his Stetson, and Lara averted her gaze. Looking at her dusty boots was better than meeting the intense stare that promised all sorts of inappropriate things. "And I don't know what you've heard, Miss Montgomery, but I'm not the sort of man who has to pay a woman to sleep with him."
Lara bit the inside of her cheek so her amusement wouldn't show. Rich, drop-dead gorgeous, and not to mention charming in that self-assured sort of way, there was no doubt that Ryder had women throwing themselves at him daily. But she'd be damned if she was one of them, no matter how tempting he might be.
"So, if you're not suggesting I sleep with you in exchange for October, then what do you want?"
He flashed her a confident smile and his leather-brown eyes gleamed with a mischievous light. "The way I see it, you talk a good game, schooling me on how I ought to run my ranch and all. But can you back those words up? You think you can do a better job than me?"
So, they were back to the business with that damned calf? Lara didn't know the first thing about running a cattle ranch. And she'd only told him off because his flirtations made her realize that if she didn't put some distance between them, she'd wind up in his bed. Still, she'd rather die than admit to him that she couldn't run his ranch better than he could. "I know I can," she said, infusing every word with bravado. "At least under my watch, there won't be any calves left unattended."
Ryder's answering laughter sent a pleasant shiver down her spine. "Wanna bet?"
A challenge? Bring it on! "What are the terms?"
Ryder hopped up on the top rung of the fence and swung one long leg and then the other over, landing with a hop. She couldn't tear her eyes away from him as he walked up to her, his powerful thighs, confident stride, and that same hungry, predatory gaze causing her toes to curl in her boots. Sin incarnate. He stepped up beside her, so close that she had to look up to meet his face. He reached up to pet the mare and as his fingers brushed hers, Lara's pulse raced in her veins while her breath hitched in her chest.
"You stay here for the weekend," he said, his voice low and inviting, "and work my ranch. You do what I say, when I say it. If you last 'til Sunday, I'll give you the mare. End of story."
Lara cocked a brow as she reminded herself to take a breath. His proximity made her entire body come alive. A pleasant warmth radiated between her thighs; sweet Jesus, he could make her wet with nothing more than a glance. She prayed he wouldn't notice how her nipples puckered beneath the flimsy cotton fabric of her top, practically aching for his touch. Lara's gaze locked on his mouth, and all she could think about was taking his lip between her teeth. "And if I don't last?" she asked, a little too breathy.
Ryder gave her a lopsided grin that turned her bones soft. "If you can't hack it, you agree to work for me. And only me. As the exclusive vet to my ranch. Do we have a deal?"
Lara turned away and stroked October's neck. She couldn't think straight with those piercing brown eyes focused on her. Part of her wanted to scream, "Hell, yes!" at the prospect of being cooped up with Ryder Blackwell for an entire weekend. But logic stepped in and put the brakes on any wild imaginings of being at Ryder's mercy for almost forty-eight hours. The way he devoured her with his eyes made her realize that stepping up to the plate with him might be more than she could handle. It would be so easy to submit to her own silly crush and throw herself at the gorgeous cowboy and put those rumors about his sexual prowess to the test, though. Maybe a wild weekend with Ryder Blackwell was what she needed to finally get over her crush so she could focus on business. But no matter how much she wanted him, she couldn't risk what any sort of relationship with him would do to her reputation.
She passed her palm over October's silky soft, dappled-gray coat. The first time she saw the mare at the breeding stables, Lara was determined to own her. A single broodmare wasn't enough to build a successful stable of her own, but it was a start and that mare was the key to redeeming her family name. Even the most successful stables had to start somewhere, and October was Lara's somewhere.
"You'll be loading her up in a trailer for me by Sunday," Lara said with a smirk. "Because you've got yourself a deal."CHAPTER 2
Lara pulled back on the reins, stopping her horse at the top of a tall hill that looked out over the entire thousand or so acres of the Blackwell ranch. She rolled up the too-long sleeves on the thick wool shirt Ryder had loaned her—it's not like she'd come prepared to work outside in December's fifty degree weather—and tried to ignore the very male scent clinging to the garment. Her horse shifted on his feet as she stared out at a veritable ocean of cattle and wondered, What in the hell did I get myself into? She knew that Ryder Blackwell was a self-made man, working hard for everything he had, but until this moment, she'd never really considered the actual size of his cattle empire.
"Sort of tough to notice one calf out there, isn't it?" Ryder rested his arms on the pommel of his saddle as he stared out across the field, the wide brim of his hat shading his face. His tone wasn't snide or even mocking, more ... awestruck. "And that's only about a quarter of the entire herd."
Lara's jaw went slack. "There's got to be three thousand head of cattle out there."
"Closer to five," he remarked. He shifted in his saddle and Lara couldn't help but notice the muscles in this thighs flexing against the tight denim as he pushed off the stirrups. This weekend would be a study in willpower, that was for sure. "The rest are at ranches in Idaho and Oregon. I could've put these somewhere else," he said, jutting his chin toward the herd. "Let some other cowboys be responsible for them. But I keep them here to remind me that success isn't possible without hard work."
His work ethic was something Lara respected. He might have been a player, notorious for bedding any woman who caught his fancy, but when it came to his ranch and the running of it, he was dead serious. "So, what's first on the agenda?" He might've scored a point or two with his down-to-earth work ethic, but she needed to remind herself why she was here. No doubt Blackwell would tip the odds in his favor. He wouldn't give October up without a fight.
Excerpted from The Billionaire Cowboy by Mandy Baxter. Copyright © 2014 Mandy Baxter. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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