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Authors: Kat Martin

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense

Desert Heat

BOOK: Desert Heat
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Dallas’s hold subtly tightened and any thought of talking slipped away.

By the time the song was over, he was holding her snugly against him, and her arms were around his neck. Patience couldn’t help noticing how good he felt, how perfectly they fit together.

He reached up and tucked a strand of her hair behind an ear. “I’d really like to kiss you. I haven’t been able to think of anything else since the moment I saw you tonight.” A corner of his mouth edged up. “You won’t slap me again, will you?”

Slap him? When he looked at her that way, hitting him was the last thing on her mind. “No. I’ll just kiss you back.”

Something flashed in those blue, blue eyes. He didn’t wait, just lowered his head and captured her lips. His were warm and softer than they looked, sinking in, molding perfectly to hers. He tasted her, kissed her more deeply, started over and did it all again…

Also by Kat Martin

MIDNIGHT SUN

HOT RAIN

THE SECRET

THE DREAM

THE SILENT ROSE

K
AT
M
ARTIN
D
ESERT
H
EAT

ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

To the men and women of the West. To my grandmother, Ruby Adelaide Kelly, who was a real cowgirl and relay racer in the early rodeos between 1910 and 1920 and whose split-leather riding skirt now belongs to me. To my uncle, Joaquin Sanchez, one of the great rodeo clowns of all time.

A special thanks to Jamie Olson, Brian Wooley, George Wilhite, and all the rodeo riders, clowns, and contestants who helped me over the course of this book.

And a grateful thank you to my editor, Kate Duffy, for all her hard work on this book.

CHAPTER 1

She tried not to be frightened. She told herself it was coincidence. He hadn’t followed her there. He had only come to the supermarket for groceries, just like everyone else. She wasn’t afraid, she convinced herself; she simply refused to be.

But Tyler Stanfield wasn’t like everyone else. He was the man who had made her life miserable for six long months. The man who had spied on her, followed her for hours on end, phoned her at all hours of the day and night, and written her dozens of letters, some professing his undying love, others warning her that if he couldn’t have her no one would. She had been forced to get an unlisted number and a new e-mail address, but that hadn’t stopped him.

Night after night, he watched her apartment from the street below her house. By day, he followed her around the Boston University campus, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on her work. He had hassled her, embarrassed, and harassed her.

Finally, he had broken into her apartment, using a key to the back door she hadn’t known he had. He needed to talk to her, he had said, tears in his eyes as he approached where she lay nearly paralyzed in bed. Fortunately, she had told one of her neighbors about the trouble he had been causing. The woman heard the commotion and called the police, who were patrolling a few blocks away and arrived before things got any further out of hand.

Patience wanted to press charges but Tyler’s parents were important people who made heavy contributors to the school. It took the help of two of her college professors, her parents, and one of her girlfriends to finally get a restraining order against him. Tyler Stanfield, an above average graduate student, was forbidden to have any sort of contact with her. He was ordered by the judge not to come within a hundred yards—the length of a football field.

Still, the area just off campus where she lived while she studied for her Ph.D. wasn’t all that large and she was bound to run into him on occasion. Just as she had today.

Patience shifted the bag of groceries from her right arm to her left, dragged her keys out of her purse, and unlocked the trunk of her gray Nissan coupe. Her palms were sweating, the brown paper bag soaking up the moisture as she looked over her shoulder, trying to spot Tyler’s silver BMW.

Six months ago, she had thought he was attractive. Nearly six feet tall, a well-built, blond man in his late twenties, Tyler was intelligent; they both went to B.U.; and she was intrigued. She rarely dated. When Tyler asked her out, at first she had said no, but needing a break from her thesis, the third time he asked, she said yes.

He took her to dinner at the Top of the Hub where they could look out over the city, and she had to admit she had fun. His family had money and Tyler always had a pocketful. He had expensive tastes and a brand new car, and in the beginning, he showed her a very good time.

She had slept with him. It was a terrible mistake. The sex wasn’t good and she suspected it wasn’t going to get any better. And there was something about Tyler…something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. A few weeks into the affair, she told him she didn’t think the relationship—such as it was—was going to work. She refused to see him, tried to make him understand she simply wasn’t attracted to him.

That’s when her nightmare began.

Patience put the groceries in the trunk and closed the lid. Tyler’s car no longer sat in the parking lot. She should have been relieved but she wasn’t. Tyler had never gotten physical, but she thought that if the right buttons got pushed, he very well could, and she didn’t want to take any chances. She wasn’t the same naïve young woman she had been six months ago. She was wiser now, more wary, even a little paranoid, she supposed.

She’d get over it. Once she left Boston. Patience wished she were heading for the airport right now, instead of going back to her apartment.

 

The phone was ringing when she stepped through the door. Patience set the bag of groceries down and reached for the receiver, hesitating only a moment before she picked it up. Her sister Hope’s voice reached her from the other end of the line.

“Hi, sis. How’s it going?”

She knew why her sister was calling. Hope was the eldest of the three Sinclair sisters. Patience had been eight when their mother died and Hope, eleven, had taken over the job of raising them. They were grown now, but nothing had really changed. And ever since her problems with Tyler, Hope had been calling more often.

“Everything’s great. How ’bout you?”

There was a long moment of silence. She’d overdone the cheeriness, she could tell.

“You saw him again, didn’t you?”

Patience sighed. It was impossible to keep secrets from Hope. “He was getting into his car in the parking lot of the B&P Market. I couldn’t tell if he had followed me there or he was just there buying groceries. There’s no law against that, you know.”

“No, there isn’t. Still, it’s pretty hard to believe.”

Patience made no comment. She had thought the same thing herself.

“So, when do you fly out?” Hope asked.

Patience reached into the bag, pulled out a cold Diet Coke and popped the tab. “First thing in the morning, and to tell you the truth, I can’t wait to leave.” With women in western history the focus of her dissertation, she planned to do the final portion of her research over the summer, combining a study of early women in rodeo with those of the present day. After her months of battling with Tyler, it posed the perfect escape.

“I’d say your timing is right on the money. You’ll be away for the summer and good ol’ Tyler won’t have a clue where you’ve gone. The only ones who’ll know are your family and they sure as hell aren’t going to tell him.”

“Maybe by the time I get back, Tyler’s fixation will be over.”

“Let’s hope so. Be sure to check in with Dad and Tracy. If you don’t, they’re bound to worry.”

“I will. Thanks for the call, sis.”

“Have fun.”

“It’s supposed to be a working summer.”

“True, but it’s all right to mix business with a little pleasure.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Hope hung up and Patience began to unload the groceries she had bought, setting out a chicken breast, a small head of lettuce, taking a sip of her Diet Coke. Aside from what she had bought, the refrigerator was pretty much bare. Her luggage was packed and she was ready to leave. She had a 7:18 flight in the morning.

She thought of Tyler Stanfield and ignored a faint shiver. She was getting out of Boston. Patience could hardly wait.

CHAPTER 2

Maybe it was the heady sense of freedom she hadn’t known in weeks. Maybe it was leaving Boston, leaving the last six troubled months behind. Or perhaps it was simply the wide-open Texas spaces. Whatever it was, she found herself driving the bright red Hertz rental car, a low-slung Chrysler convertible she had indulged herself in at the airport, faster than she should have.

Patience braked the sporty red car only a little as she pulled through the rodeo gates and headed toward the arena. She was enjoying the warmth of the sun, the wind in her face, looking straight ahead, thinking of the exciting summer she was about to begin, when a horse and rider jumped up from the ditch at the edge of the dirt road directly in front of her.

She slammed on the brakes, throwing up a cloud of dust, and her heart slammed into her ribs. The little boy on the horse never gave her a second look, just flapped his boots against the sides of what had to be his daddy’s heavy leather saddle and kept on riding.

Patience leaned back against the seat, trying to catch her breath. She hadn’t noticed the boy or his horse. Or the two tall cowboys on the opposite side of the road now bearing down on her, one of them with murder in his eyes.

She looked up at him as he reached the door of the convertible and braced his legs apart in an angry stance.

“I’m really sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was going quite so fast. The rodeo is about to begin and I didn’t want to miss the start. I should have slowed down. I really do apologize.”

The bigger of the pair shoved back a wide-brimmed black felt hat. “Yeah, well, the rest of us would like to be around to see the show, too. Use some common sense, lady. You’ll spook one of these horses and someone will wind up getting hurt.”

Patience raised her sunglasses up on the top of her head, beginning to feel a tug of irritation. “I didn’t see the horse, all right? I’ll be more careful next time.”

“That’s a damned good idea.”

She didn’t like his tone. She refused to let him ruin her very first day. “Look, cowboy. I said I was sorry. What else do you expect me to do?”

“Like I said, try using—”

She didn’t let him finish. She was hot and tired from the hours she had spent on the road, and after Tyler Stanfield, sick to death of pushy men. She slammed her foot down hard on the accelerator and the convertible leapt forward. The cowboy cursed as the car sped off toward the arena, throwing up a thick cloud of dust. She couldn’t help a smile as she watched the men disappear in her rearview mirror and the thought occurred that lately she hadn’t smiled all that often.

This summer, she vowed, she was going to make a point of it.

 

“Sonofabitch.”
Dallas waved his hat to fan away some of the choking dust floating in the air. “Damned woman. Ought to know better than to drive like a maniac with little kids around.”

His best friend, Steve “Stormy” Weathers, just smiled. “Maybe you should have cut her a little slack. You can tell she’s new to these parts.” His gaze followed the flashy red car as it disappeared in the dust. “Probably some rich gal out for a good time on Daddy’s money. But man, she sure is a looker.”

Dallas just grunted, recalling the woman who had glared at him through a pair of wraparound tortoiseshell sunglasses. She was wearing a brand new straw cowboy hat and a white western shirt with red flowers embroidered across the yoke. Shiny pearl snaps curved over a pair of nice-size breasts. She had honey blond hair smoothed into a coil at the nape of her neck, and her lips were full and a softer shade of red than the flowers in her shirt.

She was pretty. Damned pretty. But lots of pretty women hung around the rodeo. Buckle bunnies, the cowboys called them, groupies who swooned over the riders, women who got their kicks out of having a fling with a “real live cowboy.” Dallas figured she was probably just another one of them.

Whoever she was, even the western clothes couldn’t hide an air of class or disguise her sophisticated eastern voice. He wondered where the hell she had come from.

“We better get goin’.” Stormy started off toward the arena, leather chaps flicking against his boots. “Like the lady said, the show’s gettin’ ready to start.” Stormy was a calf roper, six feet tall and sandy-haired, a lean, lanky cowboy with an easy grin and an unflappable disposition.

Dallas fell in beside him. “I drew Cyclone. I need to start limbering up.”

“Man, you got that right. That horse is as tough as they come.” Like Dallas, Stormy was a Texas cowboy. They’d been friends for years and hauled together as often as they could. “Cyclone’s a two-time Finals horse.”

“He’s one helluva bucker, but if I stay aboard, I’ll have a good chance at finishing in the money.”

“You’ll stay aboard,” Stormy said. “You always do.”

Not always, but enough times that Dallas Kingman was the current reigning, World Champion All-Around Cowboy on the professional rodeo circuit. He was a saddle-bronc rider, but he also competed in the calf roping whenever he could.

As they walked toward the arena, Dallas began to think of the ride ahead, to mentally prepare himself and envision a successful outcome. He walked behind the chutes to make a final check of his gear and caught sight of the blonde.

She was taller than he had first thought, maybe five eight or five nine, with legs that seemed to go on forever. She was wearing a new pair of jeans and fancy red cowboy boots—a true buckle bunny if ever he had seen one. Since another groupie was the last thing he needed, Dallas began to check his gear, carefully going over the straps and stirrups on his bronc saddle. Once he was satisfied, he started his stretching exercises, limbering up his legs, loosening the muscles in his arms and shoulders, getting ready for the tough ride ahead.

 

“Excuse me.” Patience approached a cowboy in dusty jeans and worn out, mud-covered boots. “I’m looking for Shari Wills. Can you tell me where I might find her?”

The cowboy pointed toward a petite woman brushing a shiny sorrel quarter horse. “Shari’s that little redhead standing over there.” She was an attractive woman in her twenties with a compact body and nicely feminine curves.

“Thanks.” Patience gave him a grateful smile, turned and started walking. “Shari Wills?” Patience asked. Her horse was impressive, lean yet solid, with excellent conformation and a bold white star in the middle of his forehead.

The brush paused mid-stroke and the woman’s head came up. “That’s me.”

“I’m Patience Sinclair. It’s great to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to this for months.”

Shari wore dark green riding pants, a matching sequined shirt, and a green felt hat, the flashy clothes of a barrel racer. “Same here.” She stuck out a small, callused hand and Patience shook it. “You’re taller in person. Short as I am, we’re gonna look a little like Mutt and Jeff, but I’m happy for the company.”

Patience returned the smile. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am you agreed to let me join you for the summer.”

Shari shrugged. Patience had found her with the help of the PRCA—Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association—over the Internet. Shari was a barrel racer, a modern-day cowgirl who would be an important part of the dissertation Patience was writing on women of the West for her doctorate degree.

“Show’ll be startin’ soon,” Shari said. “Let me introduce you to Charlie before he gets tied up.” Charlie Carson was the owner of the Circle C Rodeo Company, a business that produced rodeos all over the southwestern part of the country. Like Shari, he had agreed to help Patience with her research, allowing her behind the scenes whenever she attended a Circle C show. While Shari had done it in order to split expenses and defray costs for the summer, Charlie had said that if Patience was going to do a paper on the sport, he wanted to make darned sure she got it right.

Falling in behind Shari, she followed the smaller woman toward the announcer’s stand behind the chutes. The place hummed with activity as the start of the performance grew near. Shari nimbly wove her way through half a dozen cowboys in worn chaps, battered hats, and dusty boots, a couple of rodeo clowns in baggy jeans and face paint, and several members of the press with cameras or notepads in hand, finally stopping at the bottom of the wooden stairs leading up to the announcer’s stand.

“Hey, Charlie!” Shari waved at a barrel-chested man who looked to be in his early sixties. “Somebody here I’d like you to meet.”

Charlie ambled toward them down the stairs, shoving his sweat-stained straw hat back off his forehead. Though a slight paunch hung over his big silver buckle, there was an air of authority in his stride. Charlie Carson looked like a man who got things done.

Shari made the introductions and Charlie stuck out a meaty hand. “Welcome to rodeo, Ms. Sinclair.”

“Patience,” she corrected, accepting the handshake.

“Good, ’cause I’m just Charlie to everyone who knows me.” He seemed not to notice the hubbub around him—big broad-backed bucking horses milling in their pens, massive Brahma bulls pawing the ground, bellowing and tossing up dirt. Western music—Willie Nelson warning mothers not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys—played in the background over the loudspeakers mounted on the announcer’s stand.

“I don’t know how much you know about rodeo, Patience, but I can tell you one thing for sure—whatever time you spend with the Circle C, you ain’t gonna be bored—not for a minute.”

A thrill shot through her. No, she wouldn’t be bored. Just standing behind the chutes as she had dreamed of doing, sent a shot of excitement through her. In college, her focus had been on western history, and though she lived in Boston, she knew everything there was to know about the West. She especially loved rodeo, but there was a second reason she had come.

Along with Hope and her middle sister, Charity, Patience had made a pact—each of them had vowed to have one great adventure before she married or settled into her career. Last year, Charity had set off for the Yukon, her own personal dream. Not only had she had a fabulous adventure in the untamed Northwest, she had met McCall Hawkins and fallen madly in love. Charity was married now, starting to think of having a baby, and happier than Patience had ever seen her.

“Come on, little lady, and I’ll introduce you around.” Charlie caught her hand and tugged her over to a cluster of cowboys all working to limber up. Some of them wore T-shirts and she was treated to an array of impressive biceps. Two of them had their boot heels propped on a section of pipe fencing, using it like a ballet bar to stretch out the muscles in their legs. These men were athletes, most of them in fantastic physical condition.

“This here’s Wes McCauley. Wes is one of the best steer wrestlers in the business.”

He was tall, at least six-foot-three, a big, beefy man in his early thirties with the kind of muscle it took to bring down a five-hundred-pound steer.

Wes tipped his hat. “A pleasure, ma’am.”

“This guy here is Cy Jennings. He’s a bullfighter—one of the best there is.” Charlie slapped the clown on the back. “Having a good man in the arena can make the difference between livin’ or dyin’ when a rider comes off his bull.”

She couldn’t really tell what Cy Jennings looked like under all the bright-colored face paint, but his body was lean and wiry. He wore a pair of red tights beneath a short pair of red-fringed chaps, a bold, red and white striped shirt, and cleated running shoes.

“Nice to meet you,” she said.

“Same here.” Cy smiled but she could tell he was distracted, his mind on the upcoming show.

“And this is my nephew, Dallas Kingman.” Charlie grinned, making no effort to hide the pride in his voice. “World Champion All-’Round Cowboy and the finest damned saddle bronc rider you’re ever gonna meet.”

Her gaze swung to the third man in the group. When he lifted his head, she could see his face beneath the brim of his black felt hat and for an instant she couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

She knew the name, of course. She had been studying rodeo for months, reading anything and everything she could get her hands on and watching every telecast on TV. She should have recognized him, probably would have if he hadn’t been so darned rude. But who would have thought the top rodeo rider in the country would turn out to be the same arrogant, overbearing cowboy she had run into on her way to the arena.

She stiffened, tried not to let her annoyance show. The cowboy’s gaze ran over her, skimmed her breasts, made a slow perusal of her hips and the length of her legs.

A corner of his mouth edged up. “I’ve already had the pleasure.” He was handsome, even better-looking in person than he was on TV, with a lean, athletic build and shoulders that stretched the limits of the fabric in his pale blue western shirt. Dark brown hair, trim hips, flat stomach, and he was tall for a bronc rider, around six-foot-one. Most of the best riders were shorter, their center of gravity lower. But Dallas Kingman was also a calf roper, which was generally a bigger man.

The simple fact was the man was a good enough rider it didn’t matter that he was tall.

She gave him a frosty smile, the best she could manage, determined to be polite to Charlie’s nephew. “That’s right. Our paths crossed out on the road.”

He was wearing hand-tooled, black and gold fringed chaps over a pair of worn jeans, and black boots. When he turned, she saw that he had one of those round, muscular behinds that rodeo riders developed over the years. The guy had the carved, rugged features of a Marlboro man and the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

As much as it galled her to admit it, Dallas Kingman was an incredibly good-looking man. Too bad he had an incredibly big ego to match.

“You’ll be seeing Patience around quite a bit,” Charlie told the men. “She’s working on an article about the history of women in rodeo. I want you boys to help her any way you can.” She had asked him not to mention the dissertation for her Ph.D. She wanted to fit in and she doubted that someone from the academic world would be readily accepted. Aside from that, after her troubles with Tyler Stanfield, she had simply become a more private person.

“You a magazine writer?” Dallas asked.

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