The bottle stopped halfway to her mouth.
Mmm. Mmm. And she’d do him in a heartbeat. He was the first guy who’d tripped her trigger since the Dante debacle. She liked hot men. She liked hot sex. She really liked the hot man/hot sex combo.
Right. Like she’d ever be bold enough to try anything kinky with any man, let alone a man who looked like him. She talked a good game but it’d taken four trips to the adult toy store before she’d finally bought a vibrator.
Whoo-ee. She wouldn’t need a vibrator with him. This guy was pure hot sex on the hoof.
Her pulse skipped as the hunky man ambled into the beer garden. From a distance he was a yummy package; up close he was a gourmet meal. Tall and leanly muscular with sharply defined facial features. He had curly dark blond hair, liberally laced with streaks of brown and gold, long enough to brush his shirt collar. A little stubble on his square jaw made him look wild and sexy, like a roguish Viking raider. His mouth was drawn in a flat line. Ooh. A brooding bad boy. She wondered what color his eyes were. Blue? Green?
Hazel? Even wearing a scowl he was a head-turner.
As he waited for a beer, a couple of blondes took notice of him.
Slouched in her chair, Macie watched the scene unfold. The guy didn’t notice the attention he was gathering from women of all ages, shapes and sizes within his radius. He drank his beer fast, leaving as quickly as he’d arrived. The two blondes lingered a few minutes before they stalked him.
The poor bastard. Nothing was worse than buckle bunnies on the prowl for a “real”
cowboy. He wasn’t sporting the obvious cowboy clothing, but he owned the attitude.
Macie finished her beer, and headed toward the contestant’s gate. With any luck, her dad was done screwing around. When the wind caught her hat, she wadded it up and tossed it in the closest trashcan. She hated the cheap damn thing anyway.
Carter McKay perched on the split rail fence and longed to be anywhere besides the rodeo grounds. It wasn’t that he didn’t fit the rural surroundings. Hell, he fit outdoor arenas with dirt-packed floors and livestock sale barns better than he had the stuffy classrooms and snooty galleries he’d been living around for the last eight years.
As the last McKay boy born and bred on the family ranch, he not only looked the part of a cowboy, he was a cowboy—through and through. He just wasn’t dumb enough to climb on a bull or ride a wild bronc for the thrill, or for any amount of money. Not that rodeo paid diddlysquat. Not that being an artist was the most stable occupation either.
Certainly his family didn’t understand his chosen profession. Sure, pride shone in his parents’ eyes when he’d earned a Masters of Fine Arts—yet, they hadn’t known what to do with him.
Problem was there wasn’t need for a painter at the McKay Ranch, unless that meant slapping a coat of Sherwin Williams on one of the three wooden barns. Even if he’d wanted to join the family cattle business, between his father and his older brothers, Colby, Cord, Colt, and his cousins, Kade and Kane—every aspect of their growing operation was under control.
So Carter was at loose ends. He’d been on his own too long to live at home for longer than a week or two. Made him shudder to think of Mom and Dad dogging his every boot step. Or his smart-mouthed little sister, Keely, snickering and calling him a brooding “arteest”. He’d taken his revenge by using her favorite silk shirt to clean up his paintbrushes. Scary, how quickly he’d reverted to juvenile behavior.
Luckily, Gemma Jansen, a family friend, needed a part-time ranch hand. He’d signed on for the summer and relocated his art supplies, welding iron, and paltry possessions to a small trailer on her property with a huge barn he could use as a studio. An added bonus?
Her land was vastly different from the buttes and sage-dotted hills of the McKay Ranch and it gave him a wealth of new visual material.
For the past week he’d been finishing sculptures for his gallery showing. A series of interconnected Western pieces, different styles, including clay pieces slated to become bronze statues, and welded metal works using rusted sections of discarded farm equipment. So far the only concrete images on canvas were landscapes done with oil paints.
He needed inspiration, something new and different. The only way to find the passion that defined his quirky artistic style was to start at the source of all things Western: rodeo. The salt-of-the-earth people—spectators, families of the cowboys and cowgirls, and the iron will of the competitors themselves. The livestock—angry, slobbering bulls, high-strung broncs kicking at the metal chutes, the bellow of steers, the nervous tamping of hooves behind the gates. The low bellow of the steers and calves in the pens. The rich scents of sweat and leather, mud and manure, the choking heat and the constant buzz of insects, hay and linament, tobacco and beer. The excitement. If he could capture the hope and desperation, the heartache and the pride of these…things, all of which made up the true experience of rodeo, well, then, he’d truly accomplish something spectacular.
Carter chalked it up to karma when Gemma asked him to ride along to the one-day event in Buffalo, South Dakota. She’d been vague about her reasons for the impromptu road trip and he hadn’t pushed this issue. Their unspoken rule of, “mind your own business” was why he and Gemma hit it off.
Except the outing was proving to be a bust. He’d seen nothing that’d kicked his muse in the ass. He’d rather be locked away carving a wax mold of the image that had been haunting him. Not of a breakaway horse or a defeated cowboy, but of a young woman with long, flowing hair the color of mahogany.
In his mind’s eye her angular face captured the interesting juxtaposition of feminine ferocity. Her carriage was proud, yet hesitant. She was beautiful. Mysterious. Serene.
And he was fixated on creating her likeness down to the most minute detail. Tawny skin.
Delicate hands. A lush mouth with a confident, secretive smile.
Yeah, he needed to quit sniffing turpentine and get out more often if he was obsessed with a figment of his imagination.
The two fluffy blonde buckle bunnies approaching him with a single-minded purpose weren’t imaginary. He pasted on a good ol’ boy grin, wondering if it looked as fake as it felt. “Ladies. Nice afternoon.”
Blonde #1 giggled. “I’ll say. You done competing, cowboy?”
No reason not to cut to the chase when everyone knew the score. Or rather, when everyone wanted to score.
“Nah. I ain’t doin’ much rodeoin’ these days.”