Book 5 of the Texas Rodeo Barons
Taken By Surprise
Jacob Baron is shocked to discover he's a father. But he's determined to do right by his son, despite the lack of strong role models in his own life. Jacob's a bull rider, and there's no halfway with him. He'll be the kind of dad his son needs even if Cody's attractive aunt, Mariana Snow, seems to question his daddy skills at every turn.
Jacob cooks, cleans and has a nice touch with a two-year-old. He also has broad shoulders, gorgeous eyes and a mouth that can only be described as sexy. But Mariana's own part-time, no-good father was a rodeo star. She knows their charms can't be trusted. She's hanging around for Cody's sake, that's all. At least, that's what she keeps telling herself .
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Only a fool would venture near eighteen hundred pounds of bucking bull crammed into a metal chute the size of a closet. Jacob Burke Baron not only went near the bull, he intended to ride the son of a gun. All the way to a win.
Eight seconds and a score better than eighty-three were all that stood between him and a gold bucklefirst prize at the Louisiana State Fair Rodeo. He could do it and come one step closer to earning a championship title at the National Finals Rodeo in mid-December.
Also at stake today, beating his younger brother Daniel. After three rounds of bull riding over a long, tiring weekend, Daniel currently held the number one spot. Stealing that from him would be icing on a very tasty cake.
"Steady," Daniel said in a low, calming voice that might have been meant for the bull or Jacob. Hard to tell.
His brother straddled the side of the chute, acting as spotter for Jacob, who levered himself above the bull's back, waiting for the exact right moment. When Daniel had taken his run earlier, Jacob spotted him. They might be fierce competitors, but they were also brothers. Close ones. The good and bad circumstances of their lives had created a bond nothing and no one could sever.
Gripping the sides of the chute, Jacob lowered himself one slow inch at a time. The bull, a heavily muscled brute named Gumption, sensed what was coming and kicked the chute wall with a hind leg. The loud bang reverberated in Jacob's ears.
He ignored it. Once in the zone, nothing short of an earthquake would distract him.
Glancing down, he studied the bull and made mental notes. Which way was Gumption looking? Did he paw the ground with his right or left foot? How fast was his breathing?
Jacob had watched the bull perform with other riders during the first two days of the rodeo. Because of his diligence, he knew Gumption charged straight ahead when released. Jacob would incorporate that important detail into his strategy.
Bull riding, rodeoing in general, was a physical sport. No question of that. But there was also a mental aspect, and it could make the difference between a competitor's leaving with a win or nothing more than a round of sympathetic applause from the audience.
With painstaking care, Jacob settled himself in position on Gumption's back and grabbed the flat braided rope with his right hand. Only a rope. With a cowbell attached for weight. There were no saddles or bridles in bull riding. Letting the rope drop on the off side, he waited for Daniel to reach down and grab it. In addition to spotting, Daniel would "pull the rope" for Jacob, enabling his grip to be as tight as possible. It was a job for only the most trusted.
Gumption's hide twitched as he grew accustomed to this new and unpleasant arrangement. Jacob maneuvered his hand inside the glove until he was satisfied. With his free hand, he pressed his cowboy hat more firmly onto his head.
"Watch him," Daniel warned. "He'll jump once before he starts bucking.
Jacob knew that, too. He didn't answer his brother, however. He rarely spoke while in the zone.
Other faces appeared in his peripheral view. Cowboys hanging on to the railing. They'd pull Jacob off Gumption's back in a heartbeat if the bull suddenly went berserk.
It had been known to happen. Bulls were easily riled and unpredictable. That was what made the sport challenging and exciting.
Like the cowboys' faces, the audience in the stands, the bullfighters in the arena, the wranglers manning the gates and the livestock handlers were all a blur. Jacob saw only one thing: the top of Gumption's head.
He waited until the sixth sense that was ingrained in every good bull rider told him the time was right. Then, winging a silent prayer heavenward, he nodded his head, and the chute door flew open.
Gumption charged forward and jumped, as predicted. Because Jacob was ready, he compensated by shifting his weight. The bull came close to unseating him, but Jacob managed to hold on and regain his balance.
Then, the bucking started. The bull's hind legs reached incredible heights. It was like being trapped inside a cement mixer rotating at top speed. There was a reason Gumption had earned a reputation for being one of the circuit's top bulls. He gave a cowboy the ride of his life, and today was no exception.
Jacob didn't think about the passing seconds. He concentrated on not being thrown and giving the judges a show worth watching. Part of his score depended on how well the bull bucked and how well Jacob rode him.
Gumption abruptly swerved left. Jacob leaned right, his grip on the rope tightening. Every bone in his body felt like it was being ripped loose from its joints. Another change in direction, and Jacob's hat flew off as his head snapped back and forth. He dug his spurs into Gumption's shoulders, urging the bull to buck even higher and earn them the best possible score. Gumption obliged.
Riding bulls never ceased to thrill Jacob. Controlling this kind of power for even a few seconds, facing his fears, was a kick like none other. Hard to believe he'd almost quit rodeoing last year.
Another head-snapping, gut-spinning twist, and the buzzer sounded. Jacob barely heard it. He was more aware of the bullfighters, in their clownlike costumes, diving in, waving their arms and shouting in order to distract the bull. This last part of a cowboy's run could be more dangerous than the ride itself. Bulls sometimes turned on the rider or another bystander without warning.
Drawing a breath, he angled his body sideways and let go of the rope, executing a dismount that more resembled a somersault. By some minor miracle, he landed mostly on his feet and scrambled out from beneath Gumption's thrashing hooves.
The bull gave a few more bucks and twists for good measure before settling down and trotting in circles. He knew his job and that it was over. Soon enough, he was herded to the far end of the arena where the waiting wranglers opened the exit gate for him.
The crowd cheered as one of the bullfighters came over to check on Jacob.
"Good ride, cowboy," he said before performing an antic for the crowd intended to relieve the tension.
Jacob's boots sank into the arena floor as he trudged over to where his hat had fallen. Slapping it against his thigh to dislodge the dirt, he straightened, his gaze automatically going to the scoreboard and the video replay screen. Damn, that was a good ride.
The numbers appeared in big red letters, along with his ranking: 84.5. Not his best score ever, but good enough to land him in first place. As the last rider to compete, the win was officially his.
A wide smile spread across his face. He was going to do it. Earn himself a national title in December. And when he did, Brock would finally give him the promotion at Baron Energies that Jacob deserved.
A hand gripped his shoulder as he exited the arena gate and squeezed.
"Congrats!" Jet Baron greeted him with an enthusiastic grin. "You did it, bro!"
Bro? Try as he might, Jacob couldn't think of himself as Jet's brother. He and Daniel were adopted. Members of the Baron family for nineteen years, yet not members. Their adoptive father, Brock, openly favored his biological children, Jet in particular. As such, Jacob had never really gotten close to Jet and histheir, he reminded himselfthree sisters.
Rodeoing hadn't helped. Like Daniel, Jacob was in competition with Jet. In fact, as the only licensed pilot in the family, Jet often flew the three of them to events in the family's small Cessna. They'd driven this weekend, however. Shreveport, Louisiana, was only three hours from the family's ranch outside of Dallasand the ranch wasn't far from Baron Energies headquarters.
"Thanks," Jacob said, accepting a clap on his back from Jet.
By then, he was surrounded. Friends, rivals and Daniel, all eager to congratulate him.
"You didn't do so bad yourself," Jacob told Daniel. " Second place."
"Yeah, but I whipped your ass in saddle bronc riding."
He had. Jacob didn't mind. He'd be taking home first place in two events today, bull riding and, thanks to the loan of a horse from a buddy, steer wrestling. Brock would be pleased.
The brothers hung around for the buckle ceremony at the end of the rodeo and an interview with a local TV station. After that, Jet was raring to head home. Jacob didn't blame him. Jet had a new fiancée waiting for him. Jasmine Carter. An engineer with twin girls.
Another reason to hit the road, their sister Lizzie had recently given birth to the Baron family's first grandchild, a daughter named Natalie Adele. Jacob felt a bit guilty about leaving town so soon afterward to rodeo. No need, he told himself. He'd made a visit to the hospital to see the baby before they left and brought flowers. In his opinion, the new parents, while elated, seemed frazzled and overwhelmed. They probably didn't need a bunch of relations hanging around and underfoot.
Jacob made a mental note to pick up something from one of the rodeo vendors for his new niece. What size T-shirt did a newborn wear?
"You working tomorrow?" Daniel asked.
"Bright and early."
Jacob's shift at the Eagle started at 6:00 a.m. and ended late, 6:00 p.m. He was the senior safety manager for Baron Energies' largest producing oil well. The extended shifts allowed Jacob to have at least three days off on the weekends to rodeo.
It was a good job, and the flexible schedule a perk, but Jacob wanted more. Specifically, to be head of Baron Energies' yet-to-be-formed alternative energy division.
Brock had flat out refused to consider anything not dealing with oil. Until now. With each gold buckle Jacob brought home, Brock's resistance wavered. He claimed to see potential in Jacob previously hidden. A national title would, Jacob was convinced, break down Brock's resistance entirely.
Thanks to a B-list country singer giving a post-rodeo concert, the arena stands remained packed, and the lines to the food vendors and merchant stalls blocked the midway. Jacob, Daniel and Jet wound their way through the throng of people, saying goodbye to their friends and promising to see their fellow competitors next weekend. "Excuse me, Jacob Baron?"
At first, Jacob didn't think anything of the unfamiliar voice calling to him. He and his brothers were often approached by female fans.
Then he turned to look at the woman and was immediately taken aback. She looked vaguely familiar, though he couldn't recall where he'd seen her before.
"Jacob Baron?" she repeated.
"Yes." He answered without thinking.
She started toward him, managing to cover the uneven ground gracefully despite her absurdly high heels that had no business being at a rodeo. Neither did the skintight black skirt and jacket she wore. "May I speak to you a moment?" Her glance darted briefly to his brothers before returning to him. "Privately."
This was no fan.
Possibly a reporter, though he didn't think so.
Beside him, Daniel whistled. "Wow."
That was something of an understatement. Out-of-place wardrobe aside, the woman was killer gorgeous. Striking green eyes, long strawberry blonde hair and flawless skin.
The same sixth sense he counted on in bull riding came suddenly alive, and it was warning Jacob to proceed with caution.
"We were just heading home," he said. "This is important."
After a moment's hesitation he hitched his chin toward the parking area where they'd left their truck. "Go on, I'll catch up with you."
"No rush, bro," Jet said, a glimmer in his eyes. "We'll wait."
Jacob gestured for the woman to lead the way.
She wasted no time locating one of the few empty tables near the row of food vendors. In the arena, the band was setting up on a hastily erected temporary stage.
"It seems you know my name." He gave her a careful smile. "Mind telling me yours?"
Jacob sat back, feeling as if he'd taken a blow from behind. "I'm sorry about your sister. I heard what happened."
Leah Snow. That explained why he found this woman Marianafamiliar. Three years ago he'd dated her sister, though describing their one long weekend together as dating was a stretch. He hadn't seen her since. She'd refused his calls and promptly quit barrel racing.
Still, the rodeo world was a small one, and he'd learned of Leah's unexpected passing after a short and intense battle with breast cancer. The news had startled him, and left him empty for weeks. Had that been why she'd refused his phone calls?
"Thank you for your condolences," Mariana said tightly. "It's been a difficult three months."
"I didn't know Leah had a sister. She never mentioned you."
Truthfully, they hadn't talked much during those three days. He'd naturally assumed they'd get to know each other over time, only that hadn't happened. Eventually, he'd written off the weekend as one of those temporary rodeo hookups, the kind he generally avoided.
"I'm not surprised." Mariana reached into the leather purse she'd set on the table. "Leah didn't tell you a lot of things." She extracted a snapshot and handed it across the table to Jacob.
He took the photo, his gaze drawn to the laughing face of a young boy. "I don't understand. Who is this?" He started to return the photo.
Mariana held up her hand. "Keep it."
"That's Cody Snow. Your son."
For a moment, Jacob sat immobile, his mind rebelling. He hadn't been careless. He'd asked and Leah swore she was on birth control pills.
"You're mistaken. I don't have a son."
"Yes, you do. And with my sister gone, you're his one remaining parent."
The photo slipped from Jacob's fingers and landed on the table, the boy's laughing face staring up at him.
Frankly, Mariana was surprised Jacob had agreed to let her drive him home to Dallas. She'd suggested it when the band started playing and conversation became difficult over the noise. She'd give him credit for that. A lot of men might have run the instant she'd pulled out the picture of her nephew.
"I'm parked over here." She pointed to the very last row in the dirt parking lot.
He'd just gotten off the phone with one of his brothers, letting them know he'd be, as he put it, hitching a ride back to Dallas with her. That was all he'd told them, and the message had been delivered through clenched teeth.
She didn't blame him. It was a lot to take in. She hadn't expected him to leap with joy when she sprang the news on him. His willingness to discuss her nephew was actually more than she'd anticipated. Though talk was cheap, as Mariana well knew.
"I apologize for ambushing you at the rodeo and in front of your family," she said. "It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I was visiting a client here in Shreveport. When I found out you were competing today, I decided to try and find you."
"Did you think I'd refuse to meet you somewhere else?"
"The thought did occur to me," she admitted. "Or that you wouldn't come alone." He was a member of a powerful and influential family, one that employed an army of attorneys and advisers.
"I'm not agreeing to anything without DNA testing."
Mariana had taken her sister's word that Jacob Baron was Cody's father. While unlikely, it was possible Leah had slept with more than one man. As Mariana only recently learned, her sister had been insistent on getting pregnant. Jacob required proof, and she understood that. Were he her client, she'd advise the exact same thing.
Reaching into the side pocket of her purse for her keys, she stumbled when her heel caught in a small hole. These shoes were definitely not made for traipsing across rodeo grounds. Not that she owned a single pair of boots.
Feeling a steadying hand on her elbow, she turned and muttered, "Thank you."
Jacob let his hand linger. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Really." Her ankle did twinge a bit. The sensation was overshadowed by the tingle his touch evoked and the look of appreciation in his eyes. That had startled her more than the stumble.
Withdrawing her arm, she attempted a smile. He was simply being a gentleman, right? Cowboys were like that. Old-fashioned and mannerly. At least, most of the ones who'd traveled in and out of her sister's life were. The same could be said for their father. That was part of his charm and why the ladies loved him.
All the ladies. Even the ones he took up with while he was still married to Mariana's mother.
She depressed the button on her key fob, and her headlights flashed in greeting as the door locks popped open. The Infiniti was a recent purchase. She'd decided if she wanted to make junior partner, she needed to look like a junior partner.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love the cover of this book. Jacob Baron finds out that he has a two year old son. He does not want to be a father right now is his first reaction. Then he thinks about it and jumps right into learning how to be a father. Jacob is a hard worker. He works full time and rodeo's on the weekend. His father gets proud of his wins. If he can make it to the champion rodeo he will have the job he has been fighting for years. Jacob does not feel close to his adoptive family. Mariana Snow loves her nephew. She makes a hard choice to let the father know he has a two year old son. That he can be part of his life if he wants to. Her sister got pregnant on purpose. But her cancer has come back and taken her life. Mariana is a lawyer. Cody is a cute two year old. After his mom died he has lived with his Aunt Mariana. He wants a father till he meets him. he loves animals. The Texan's Surprise Son is full of emotions, laughs, learning to be a parent, rodeo. Each of the Texas Rodeo Barons have the same family, the rodeo, a mystery of where Brock's first wife disappeared, dealing with sudden parenthood and love scene. Get some more answers about where their mother is and what name she is going by now. Set in Texas, modern year I enjoyed reading Cathy McDavid's Texas Rodeo Barons series. I definitely want to read the last of the series. I was given this ebook to read and in return agreed to give honest review of it. Received the book from Net Galley and Harlequin.