Authors: Em Petrova
Grab the popcorn—someone is about to get slapped or kicked on this episode of Rope ’n Ride.
The season finale of the Calhouns’ rodeo reality show ends with Ridge being stood up by the woman he loves and humiliated on national TV. If that isn’t bad enough, an old knee injury has him wincing every time he gets on the back of a bronco, making it difficult to put winning scores up on the board. But he’s determined to shake off his streak of bad luck—and all these marriage proposals from fans pouring in now that the show has aired.
Kashley grew up with the Calhouns, playing hide and seek in the cornfields while their fathers talked ranching. And she’s been in love with Ridge…well, forever. He’s never noticed and she’s too shy to make any attempts, but when she sees him struggling after his breakup, coming to his aid is a no-brainer. Which lands her on a whirlwind tour of rodeos, where she’s falling more for him while struggling to rein in his self-destructive behavior.
The cameras love to catch Ridge losing his cool, his family is riding him to cut it out and he can’t keep his eyes—or every other body part off Kashley. Then a secret is revealed that has him going after her ex even as his own ex pops into his life again. Between the drama, his old injury and Wranglers that fit too tight after being around the woman he shouldn’t toy with, Ridge is fed up. Plus, he couldn’t be in love again so soon, right?
Rope ’n Ride Series Book 3
All Rights Reserved
Copyright Em Petrova 2016
Cover design by Bookin’ It Designs
Electronic book publication September 2016
Rope ‘n Ride Series Book 3
Ridge fingered the circle of metal in his pocket, running his fingertip around the sliver until it reached the big stone—a two-carat halo diamond set in platinum and sized perfectly for one petite blonde bombshell.
She was gonna flip over this ring. He could nearly hear her squeals of
yes, yes, yes
He leaned back in this chair and smiled to himself. If he were to describe his relationship with Anna over the past four months he’d known her, he’d use the words exciting and adventure.
Describing the woman he was about to ask to marry him, though… Whoooeee, that was a hell of a lot harder. Anna couldn’t be put into a box. She had so many layers, and well, he couldn’t wait for her to get here
so they could get on to the night of hot sex.
He fidgeted on the hard metal café chair and nudged the growing bulge in his jeans. A single thought of Anna had him growing hard, and that wasn’t going to go away. Ever.
The small-town café was the perfect place to pop the question. She was going to love the twinkle lights setting the mood and the big moon hanging like a silver medallion on the dusky Tulsa horizon.
Ridge pushed his hat back on his head to look at the sky and check the time. He didn’t need a watch to know that she was late. When he’d asked her to meet him at seven, he’d chosen the time with a thought in mind. At seven he normally finished up chores on his family’s ranch, and he’d be able to go inside the house he intended to build for the two of them, look at his bride and remember that at this time of day, she’d become his.
Glancing around, he noted the quiet descending on the city. The sky grew velvetier. He wet his dry lips for the dozenth time. He could sure use a drink, but the café waiter had a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for them.
He finally pulled out his cell. He checked his messages, but there were none from Anna. She was an hour late.
He thumbed a text.
Is everything okay? Hope you didn’t get a flat tire.
Keeping his tone light was difficult with a sharp, heavy rock of worry in his gut. She was often late, making sure her hair was just right or her notorious high heels matched her bag. But not usually this late.
Once at a family barbecue, his sister Wynonna had commented about Anna being late, and when she’d showed up looking like a star, her blonde hair waving down her back perfectly and a pair of expensive sunglasses perched atop her head like a headband, Wynonna had made a face and flounced off to whisper something to his oldest brother Buck.
Jealous. She’s jealous of Anna.
Sure, his family hadn’t really warmed up to her the way they had Buck’s wife Channing or Ryder’s wife Joy. But they hadn’t been around Anna very long—they didn’t know her like Ridge knew her.
He pushed out a sigh. Leaned his elbows on the table. Sat back and looked around again. Texted Anna and when he got no response, he called her. By nine o’clock he was grinding his teeth, and that rock in his gut had morphed into a boulder.
He rested his head in his hands, scrubbing his fingers through his hair as he realized she wasn’t coming. She must have known his intention to propose—hell, the paparazzi had probably leaked it. With him being one of the stars of the
Rope ‘n Ride
reality show, nothing was private unless he kept it inside his head.
But he’d gone to the jeweler’s twice with cameras on his tail.
And she hadn’t come because she didn’t want to hear the question he’d longed to ask.
The camera panned away from Ridge until he was a small dot in a big, empty outdoor café swallowed in darkness.
Now Ridge’s gaze fixed on the flatscreen that had become one of Satan’s own inventions, set in his living room to torture him with last seasons’ episodes.
Ridge smacked Wynonna upside the head.
“Owww! What’d ya do that—” She twisted on the big sofa to look at who’d struck her. When her gaze met Ridge’s, her lips opened in a big O.
“Turn that shit off.” He didn’t need to relive his humiliation daily, and as often as the TV network aired the show—and last season’s finale featuring the worst moment of Ridge’s life—he’d witnessed it several times. Wynonna had a habit of watching the show all the Calhouns starred in.
“Sorry, Ridge.” She switched off the TV and unfolded her long legs from the sofa. She got up and faced him. Flat-footed, she was six feet of redheaded sass and could look him right in the eyes.
He twisted away from the sympathy he saw there. “Don’t speak.”
She didn’t—she scooted around the sofa and put her arms around him. “I’m really sorry, Ridge.”
Okay, she didn’t speak right away.
“Shut up, twerp.” He hated the slight hitch in his tone that only she or one of his four brothers would hear. She rested her head on his shoulder, and he squeezed her for a brief second before letting her go. “We got chores to do, or are you exempt now that you’re a big star?”
She raised her head and gave him her biggest white-toothed smile. She ate up the attention the cameras gave, especially when she was in the arena, seated on the back of her horse, racing barrels and breaking records. She was known as the Rodeo Reality Queen, and lately had started acting like one.
He smacked her ass—hard. She howled and jerked away from him. “Get your ass to the barn. You’ve got stalls to clean, and we aren’t doing it for you.”
She wrinkled her nose, but he knew it wasn’t because she had to shovel manure. She was a cowgirl through and through. She just didn’t like being told what to do.
He gave her his nicest smile. It felt weird, the way his mouth twitched up, when he hadn’t smiled in months. Changing tactics with Wynonna was the key to harmony in the Calhoun household. The brothers had learned this when Wynonna was just a toddler and refused to eat her vegetables, hold hands when crossing a parking lot, or get her teeth brushed.
“I wondered if you’d have a look at Fury while you’re in the barn. I thought I noticed him favoring the right foreleg when I had him riding today.”
Wynonna perked up. She was good at treating animals and people alike. She might have been a vet or a doctor if she hadn’t gotten stars in her eyes at the sight of a pair of pink rhinestone boots at the age of three.
“I’ll check him. But you know you ride that horse hard lately, Ridge.”
Oh Christ, she had the sympathy eyes again. “There’s a reason my horse’s name is Fury. He needs to gallop off his emotions.”
“Or you do,” she muttered under her breath.
He rolled his eyes. “Lane’s gonna be pissed if I don’t hurry up and help him with the cattle. Let me know what you think about Fury’s leg.”
As he left the house, he stomped down the urge to explode—punch holes into walls and splinter doors off their hinges. Fuck the
Rope ‘n Ride
show for making his heartache a public moment. Hell, he’d already showed up on Top Sad Moments of the Year, alongside big celebrity breakups.
They were exploiting Anna’s bone-crushing rejection, and he was getting paid to let them. If he’d known then what he did now, he never would have signed the contract. He’d be happily riding broncs for extra cash when he wasn’t raising beef on the ranch their daddy had built.
Except this knee isn’t giving me a good run.
He lengthened his strides, trying to stretch his knee. The old injury had started flaring up again, and right when he was at the top of his game. He’d come in fourth in the nation in bareback bronc riding last year.
The new season was just getting rolling, and he elevated his knee with ice as often as he could—out of sight of his interfering family, that was. The last thing he needed was more damn sympathy.
In the corral, he swung onto one of the best workhorses they had, wondering why Lane hadn’t nabbed it. With the best disposition around cattle, the horse was fought over pretty often around here.
Ridge clicked his tongue and flicked the reins. He headed along the valley where all the bred cows were grazing. The Calhouns kept their pregnant livestock close to home at night, and Lane was already waiting at the edge of the field, sitting straight in his saddle.
Ridge spurred his horse faster. It was getting to be that time of night when he got antsiest. His hope that 7:00 p.m. became something to look forward to had turned into an hour of hell, and usually ended in him taking a flask of whiskey and a bag of ice for his knee to bed.
Lane nudged his hat back as Ridge reached his side. He reined up, avoiding his brother’s gaze. Lane and Wynonna shared the same elongated eye shapes, both of them reminding him of a cat. Right now it was damned unnerving to see his brother wearing the same expression he’d just seen on Wynonna’s face.
“Stop looking at me that way.” Lane had probably purposely left the good mount behind to appease Ridge.
“What way? Let’s get this done.”
They took off, separating enough to drive the cattle into a small group. As they got running toward their bedtime pen, Ridge issued a low groan.
“You can stop throwing looks at me. It’s been months since…since, the
Are you and Wynonna in cahoots today or something?”
Lane’s brow creased. “Wynonna? I’ve hardly said a word to her. Why?”
Ridge shook his head and moved his horse away from Lane’s to get some breathing room. The whole ranch felt like a jail. At every corner he was ambushed by his brothers, sister, ranch hands, and worst of all, he couldn’t set foot into the kitchen without his ma giving him worried eyes.
No wonder Fury might have a strained foreleg. He
been riding a lot. But it was the only way to escape his family and the burning anger inside him. At least when the breeze was blowing straight at his face and there was no sound but the beat of hooves, Ridge could forget about everything.
* * * * *
“Ridge Calhoun’s ridin’ again.” Momma’s statement didn’t surprise Kashley, but she still got up from the kitchen table where she was hulling strawberries for a batch of jam.
As soon as she looked out the window, her breath caught. Ridge, flying across the land, his head bent low, his horse’s mane and tail streaming in the wind. Kashley should turn away before her momma remarked on it, but it didn’t matter.
The whole family knew she’d been in love with Ridge since second grade.
Though he was galloping hundreds of yards off, she knew his powerful thighs bulged as he gripped the horse, and the roll of his body in the saddle was erotic as hell. That rise and fall, rise and fall… God, all she could think about when she saw him in the saddle were those powerful roped arms of his surrounding her as he—
“He’s riding a lot these days.” Momma’s voice broke through Kashley’s sexual haze.
She watched Ridge until he dropped out of sight. Then she sank into the kitchen chair again and took up the paring knife. A small sigh was on her lips, but she didn’t dare give her mother more fodder to tease her with.
“I suspect he’s struggling since the...” she searched for a word and said, “breakup.”
It sliced Kashley up that the woman Ridge had been about to propose to hadn’t shown up. The humiliation he had to be feeling must be monumental for a man as proud as Ridge. Not to mention having all those siblings around. Though the Calhouns weren’t a cruel bunch, they still liked to tease and joke.
“You haven’t been over there to speak with him since it happened?” her momma asked as she dumped a pint of vibrant red berries into a bowl and started mashing them the old-fashioned way—with the bottom of a stout drinking glass. Juices squeezed up around the glass, and Kashley’s stomach growled.
She popped a berry into her mouth and chewed. Around the fruit, she said, “No. I don’t think he’d welcome me showing up to talk through his disappointment, Momma.”
Her mother’s wide smile could always get to her. When she was little, Kashley thought she was the most beautiful woman on earth. Maybe even an angel come down to watch over her. With pale blonde hair piled on her head and clear blue eyes, she could be.
Kashley had inherited the thick blonde waves and one of the blue eyes. Yep, somehow she’d ended up with one warm brown eye, like a mutt. There was a medical term for people with two different colored eyes, and Kashley hated explaining it, so she just called it a genetic fluke.
For a while, she’d taken to wearing one brown contact, but the colors never really matched up. And she hated having the gritty lens in her eye. She’d take the dust or heck, even manure, before that annoyance.
“You and Ridge are friends. You wouldn’t be going over there to discuss his disappointment. You’d be offering a normal conversation. I’m sure with all the camera crew and his family probably walking on eggshells around him, he’d welcome a little easy talk.”
Easy talk wasn’t all she’d give Ridge. When it came to him, she was plain
If he wanted, he could have her in all 400 positions of the Kama Sutra. Or had she read somewhere that the ancient text had more positions than were humanly possible to try? It didn’t matter—she’d go the distance with Ridge.
“I don’t know, Momma.”