Just a Cowboy and His Baby (Spikes & Spurs)

BOOK: Just a Cowboy and His Baby (Spikes & Spurs)
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Copyright © 2012 by Carolyn Brown

Cover and internal design © 2012 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design by Chris Cocozza/Artworks

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

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FAX: (630) 961-2168

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If you love sexy cowboys and sassy ladies, then this book is for you!

Thank you to all my readers!

Chapter 1

Evil shot from his dark eyes. The air around him crackled when he raised his head and glared at her. He’d been bred, born, and raised for that night and she didn’t have a chance against his wiles. He was bigger than she was and he knew it. He was meaner and he’d prove it.

Gemma O’Donnell didn’t give a damn how big or how mean he was. She intended to be in control from the minute she mounted him. The message from the set of his head and unwavering stare said that she was an idiot not to shake in her cowgirl boots. She glared right back, her dark green eyes meeting his near black ones and locking through the metal bars separating them.

He dared.

She challenged.

She hiked a leg up to the first rung on the chute, and two hands circled her waist from behind to help her. Her heart slipped in an extra beat at the cowboy’s big hands touching her, but she attributed it to nerves. She glanced over her shoulder into the sexiest brown eyes she’d ever seen, all dreamy and soft with heavy dark lashes.

“Thanks,” she said.

“My pleasure. Go get ’em, darlin’.” His voice went with the rest of the package: a deep Texas drawl that sounded like it should have been singing country songs in Nashville, not riding wild broncs on the PRCA Million Dollar Rodeo Tour.

Dammit, Trace Coleman. You pulled a slick one, but it’s not going to work. You are not going to throw me off my game
, she thought as she slung a leg over the top and locked eyes with the wild creature again. She had a horse to ride and even though his coat was as white as the driven snow, the look in his black eyes said that he could run Lucifer some serious competition when it came to meanness.

His name was Smokin’ Joe and he was a rodeo legend. Cowboys said that he could see right into the soul of a rider and could feel the fear he’d struck in their hearts. Well, Gemma wasn’t afraid of Smokin’-damn-Joe. He wasn’t a bit meaner than the bronc out on Rye’s ranch that she’d trained on, and she’d shown him who was boss. Smokin’ Joe was just the next bronc in a long line, so he could take his evil glare and suck it up. Tonight she was the boss. She didn’t care if the other riders had made bets about how quickly into the ride he’d throw her off into the dust. She’d show them all, cowboys and bronc alike, that a
cowgirl
had come to town.

She had two options.

Number one: Stay on his back for eight seconds and show him she was the boss.

Number two: Wreck.

There was no in between, and “almost” did not count. Gemma didn’t allow herself to think the word
wreck
, not even when the almighty Trace Coleman produced a smile that would part the clouds. He was well over six feet tall, with dark hair and light brown eyes. She’d done her homework on all the cowboys. She knew most of them personally from the rodeo rounds, but she’d only known Trace by picture and reputation. Both of which intrigued her to no end. When she’d seen him in action in San Antonio, the heat level of the whole great state of Texas jacked up twenty more degrees. His swagger, his broad chest, and his body had said that Gemma was in deep trouble. But it was that deep sexy Texas drawl that brought on images of tangled sheets, lots and lots of heat, and a warm oozy feeling called an afterglow flitting through her mind.

Trace might have just meant to be charming and helpful, holding his hand out to assist her in climbing the chute, but Gemma wasn’t buying his brand of bullshit. He wasn’t stupid, and the twinkle in his eye said he knew exactly how his touch affected a woman. Besides, his gaggle of rodeo groupies were proof positive of that. In San Antonio, Austin, Redding, and Reno, Gemma had seen them circling him like a chocolate addict set loose with free rein in a candy store. Oh, yes, without a single doubt Trace knew how to turn a woman’s mind to mush, and she’d lay dollars to horse apples that he played it to the nth degree.

Just like Smokin’ Joe, Trace Coleman had met his match. Gemma intended to win that big shiny belt buckle in Las Vegas come December and leave Trace Coleman along with his scanty-dressed groupies in a cloud of dust. She had a big construction-paper lucky horseshoe tacked to the door of her travel trailer, and every time she won, she rewarded herself by pasting a small shamrock on it. After the final ride, it would be matted and framed and hung in her beauty shop, and all the cowboys who’d given her a hard time could crawl up under a mesquite bush and lick their wounds.

Any other time and any other place she might have flirted with Trace. Cowboys were definitely her thing, and he sent out vibes that dug deep into her gut. But this was the rodeo circuit. For the next six months, Gemma O’Donnell had her job cut out for her and there was no room for Trace or any other cowboy.

Damn his sorry old hide, anyway! He was the top-seeded contestant in the tour and ten thousand dollars ahead of her. Staying on Smokin’ Joe’s back a full eight seconds could knock Trace off that pedestal in a tailspin—if thinking about his dreamy eyes didn’t ruin her score. She took a deep breath and put him out of her mind. If he thought his cute little grin and deep voice could mess her up, then he could smear ketchup on his chaps and eat them for supper. And slap a little taco sauce on his spurs and have them for dessert.

She closed her eyes.

He
will
not
bother
me. He will not get into my head. He will not throw me off my game.

She kept the three sentences running on a continuous loop as she slung a leg over the top of the chute and got ready to mount old Smokin’ Joe. She couldn’t very well ride with her eyes shut, so she opened them, only to see Trace standing beside the bucking chute with a cocky little grin on his face. Light-brown chaps parenthesized a package locked behind his zipper that looked so inviting that Gemma almost drooled. She envisioned peeling his tight jeans from his body, leaving him wearing only boots, that cute grin, and a Stetson that sat just right.

“God Almighty,” she whispered.

Someone called his name and he turned and walked away. But the backside was just as hot as the front with his chaps framing the cutest butt she’d ever seen. Lord, if she could stay on the horse eight seconds it would be a miracle. If she got a score high enough to beat him, it would be pure damn magic. She blinked and imagined Trace tossing his hat toward a pitchfork in a hayloft and coming toward her with those brown eyes speaking volumes about how hot that hayloft was about to get.

Stop
it
this
minute! You’ve got to stay on this horse eight seconds. Sweet Jesus, you haven’t ever let a man upset you with just a touch before. What in the hell is the matter with you? Get it together, Gemma O’Donnell!

The familiar whoosh filled her ears. When she had first started riding, her brothers had told her to focus on the ride and block everything else out. She’d imagined holding a conch shell up to her ear. Nothing could break through her concentration once she got her whoosh mojo going. And she was almost in the zone.

Folks around Cody, Wyoming, were big rodeo fans, so the stands were packed with a loud, rowdy crowd that night. But Gemma didn’t look up into the crowd, even though a rider likes a whole arena full of noisy fans as much as a country music band likes to play to a lively audience. If she looked, it would break her focus, and she’d already drawn the meanest damn horse in the rodeo. Which was good because if he bucked hard that meant more points. She rolled her neck, limbering it up for the ride and reminding herself to keep it loose. It only took one drop of fear to lock it in place and then
boom
, whiplash would put her out of the next ride over in St. Paul, Oregon.

The announcer’s voice was full of excitement. “Gemma O’Donnell, our only woman contestant in saddle bronc riding, will be coming out of gate six. Gemma comes to us from Ringgold, Texas, and I hear she can ride anything with four legs. She told me this afternoon that her big regret in life is not pursuing this dream before now and letting Kaila Mussell take home bragging rights to being the first woman to show the boys how it’s done. Keep your eyes on gate six and let’s make some noise for Gemma, who intends to be the second woman ever to win the bronc riding contest when the dust settles in Las Vegas in December.”

When she settled back into the saddle, she was fully well in her riding zone. The announcer might as well have been reciting poetry, because all Gemma heard was each heartbeat in her ears as she eased into the saddle. She tried to psych Smokin’ Joe out. It wasn’t against the rules, and he’d done the same thing when he glared at her through the bars. She leaned forward and whispered softly in his ear, “You do your damnedest, old boy. Buck the hardest you’ve ever done and I’ll do my damnedest to stay on your back. I need the scores, so give me your wildest ride. Don’t you hold back a thing because I’m a woman, darlin’. I could ride you with my eyes shut and eating a hamburger with my free hand.”

She measured the hot pink and black rein and got a death grip on it. Her saddle had been tweaked by her brother Dewar and the rein braided by her brother Rye. The gold lucky horseshoe pin had been fastened to her hot pink hat by her brother Raylen. All of it was important but especially the saddle. To a bronc rider, a saddle or stirrups can be off one-quarter of an inch and it might as well be a mile. It has to be absolutely perfect, in tune with the rider and so comfortable that she could sleep in it.

She shoved the heels of her boots firmly down into the stirrups and put everything out of her mind but the “mark out.” The heels of her boots had to be above the points of Smokin’ Joe’s shoulders before the horse’s front legs hit the ground. After that it would be an eight-second line dance. Smokin’ Joe would buck. Gemma’s legs would go back and come forward, spurring him on to buck even more. In the end one of them would win, and Gemma was absolutely determined that Smokin’ Joe would lose.

If she missed the mark out she’d be disqualified, so she got ready.

Rein in hand.

Determination in her heart.

“Eight seconds!” Trace’s deep voice said from the top of the chute.

She could have shot him, dragged his sorry carcass out to the back side of the O’Donnell ranch, and poured barbecue sauce on him for the coyotes. She vowed that she would get even. He had the next ride of the evening and paybacks were a bitch. He should have thought of that before he broke her concentration.

She pulled up on the multicolored rein.

Everything stopped and she was in a vacuum. Even the dust out in the arena was afraid to succumb to gravity and fall back to earth. The noise of the crowd hung above the arena like a layer of foggy smoke in a cheap honky-tonk, but Gemma couldn’t hear it.

She settled her straw hat with the lucky gold horseshoe pin attached to the brim on the back of her head, touched the horseshoe for good luck, and nodded. Three rodeo clowns stepped away from the gate. The chute opened and a blur of white topped with snatches of hot pink whirled around the arena, kicking up dust devils in its wake.

Time moved in slow motion. She could hear the crowd going wild and the announcer’s excitement, but the roar of blood racing through her veins kept all of it at bay. The dry dirt clouds filling her nostrils were like drugs to an addict, and with every breath she took in more, the exhilaration so great that her heart was on the brink of explosion. The horse attempted to twist itself into a pretzel, but her body responded with the right movements instinctively. The next move put both his back legs into the air and she felt like she was on a little kid’s slide. The dirt arena came up to meet her and then
boom
, Smokin’ Joe was a damn camel with a big hump where his back used to be. But she stayed loose in the saddle, moving her legs the right way for balance as if she’d been born to ride Smokin’ Joe that day in Cody, Wyoming.

She didn’t hear the buzzer saying that she’d stayed with the ride until the end. When one of the three pickup riders reached out and looped an arm around her, she hung on to the reins until he yelled and then she let go. She slid off the bucking bronc’s back and let the rider carry her to safety in the middle of the arena.

“And that’s how it’s done, cowgirls and cowboys!” the announcer screamed into the microphone. “With that kind of competition, Trace Coleman had better be ready to ride like the wind. Let’s hear it for Gemma O’Donnell, a small-town Texas girl who just showed the legendary Smokin’ Joe who is the boss. And the judges are tallying the scores. While they get the final number, give it up one more time for Gemma O’Donnell.”

She inhaled and waited.

High seventies would be wonderful. Anything more would be icing on the cake. She’d gotten a seventy-eight in Reno, Nevada, two weeks before, but Trace had walked away with a seventy-nine. He hadn’t ridden yet in Cody, and she had no doubts that the number one pick for this year’s bronc rider would score high.

“Eighty for the lady! Put ’em together, fans, for the little lady from Ringgold, Texas. Next up, the man of the hour, Mr. Trace Coleman, is climbing into the bucking chute behind gate eight. Will Gemma give him a run for his money today, or will he take home the purse and the bragging rights as first place in the bronc busters for a while longer? We’ll see here in a few minutes when he comes out of the gate.”

Gemma exhaled loudly. She rushed to gate eight and climbed up the side right beside two cowboys. Trace had settled into the saddle and had his own special red, white, and blue rein in his hands.

He looked up, said, “I’ll show you how it’s done, darlin’,” and winked. He touched a gold hat pin that looked like a miniature ranch brand from where she stood.

So he was superstitious too, was he? Did he eat the same thing for supper every night of a ride? Did he wear the same socks and boots to every rodeo, no matter if the socks had holes and the boots were scuffed?

Luck be damned. Payback time had arrived.

She blew him a kiss. All was fair in love, war, and bronc riding. It was probably even written in the fine print at the back of the rule book.

BOOK: Just a Cowboy and His Baby (Spikes & Spurs)
5.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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