Authors: Mia Hopkins
Tags: #Cowboys;Interracial;Small town;Erotic;Multicultural;Contemporary;Western;Rodeo;Indian;Sikh;Asian
Ball-busting businesswoman meets no-holds-barred cowboy. He’s gonna need a longer rope.
Marketing hotshot Monica Kaur has put her big-city life on hold to help bail out her brother’s failing business. Now she’s got three months to plan and promote a rodeo, the first her tiny hometown has ever seen.
To ensure the rodeo’s success, Monica enlists a local hero, a rancher’s son who’s made a name for himself on the bull-riding circuit. Problem? She can’t stop daydreaming about the cocky bastard—and all the things she longs to do to him out behind the chutes.
Professional bullfighter Dean MacKinnon is home helping his family while his father fights cancer. Haunted by bad memories, jaded by love, Dean finds escape in a no-strings-attached go-round with brainy, sexy Monica, whose close-knit Sikh-American family would sooner run him out of town than see her with a notorious rodeo romeo.
In private, Monica and Dean play as hard as they work. But as the rodeo draws near, that clean break they promised each other is getting more and more hung up in the rigging.
Warning: Contains rope play, motel nooners, a blue-eyed charmer with a taste for kink, and a brown-eyed princess with a taste for cowboys.
To Manjinder Singh Sidhu, for your kindness, time and wisdom. Thank you for sharing your light.
To Jennifer Miller, for believing in Monica and Dean. Thank you for continuing on this journey with me.
To Sienna Snow, for your generosity and valuable insight.
To Rachel, my fellow adventurer and partner in crime. I’m so lucky to call you a friend.
To my husband, Brent, for being my human Thundershirt. I love you.
And most of all…to every girl whose bullish heart refuses to follow the rules. This one’s for you.
“Fall in love, embrace restlessness.”
Monica’s father’s voice was calm. “All we’re saying is, it can’t hurt to meet him, can it?”
“I don’t know, Papa. You know I’m leaving in three months.”
In the background, her mother’s voice rose sharply. “He’s studying to be a urologist at Stanford. Did you tell her that? He’ll be right in her area when she moves back to Cupertino.”
, please calm down.” Monica’s father turned back to the phone. “Did you hear her?”
“Yes, I heard. A urologist.” Monica withheld her sigh. “I guess you could give him my number. Tell him to call me.”
“Okay, good.” Her father lowered his voice. “That should satisfy your mother for now.”
Monica smiled. “Thanks, Papa. I’ve got to go.”
“See you at dinnertime,
Monica ended the call as she exited the pitted highway. Putting her mother’s matchmaking obsession out of her mind, she pulled onto the brand-new blacktop parking lot in front of the Silver Spur. It was still April but already the thermometer in the dashboard of her Prius showed 89 degrees. Two big, dusty pickup trucks took up spaces in the lot. She parked next to them and glanced at her watch. Eleven o’clock.
They sure start drinking early in Oleander.
She opened her car door and desert air flooded the air-conditioned interior. When she took off her suit jacket, the hot wind whipped through her sleeveless silk blouse, pulling the sweat from the surface of her skin and messing up the clips that held her long, wild black hair in place. Monica removed the clips, slung her tote bag over her shoulder and took a deep breath.
You’re getting them on your side, one by one. Just do what you do best. He’s just another cowboy. Nothing different about him at all.
Tension gathered in Monica’s shoulders. She could pep talk herself all she wanted, but she knew the truth.
Dean MacKinnon was not just another cowboy.
Her phone buzzed. She pulled it out of her purse and checked the message.
Are you coming? He’s here right now with his brother, but I don’t know for how long.
She grinned. The bar owner, Tom Shelton, had had her back ever since she proposed her idea to him back in January.
she texted back. She slipped the phone back into her purse. Her high heels were silent over the hot asphalt as she made her way to the door.
The cool interior of the Silver Spur smelled like new paint and lemon wood polish, not a scent Monica equated with old small-town honky-tonks. Tom stood at the register tallying up some tabs while a pretty woman with red hair sat opposite him at the bar, highlighting passages in a big textbook.
Tom looked up when he saw Monica. “Good. You’re here.” He lifted the counter of the bar and stepped out. He had a gravelly voice and lots of tattoos. “Monica, meet my girlfriend, Wanda. Wanda, honey, this is the mastermind behind Oleander Rodeo Days.”
Wanda’s eyes lit up as they shook hands. “Oh, man. Tom won’t shut up about you. Says you’re doing something awesome for the town.”
Monica smiled. “Some see it that way. Others…” She trailed off and scanned the room. At one of the corner tables sat two big men in cowboy hats, chatting quietly and watching a baseball game on TV.
“So he hasn’t returned your calls?” Tom asked.
“No,” Monica said. “Well, not the last five, anyway.”
“I’ll introduce you. Don’t worry, MacKinnons don’t bite.”
“That’s not what I’ve heard,” Wanda said, raising her eyebrows at Tom.
“You hush, troublemaker.” Tom gave his girlfriend a crooked grin before he started across the barroom. Ever since he’d taken over, the Spur had flourished. He was one of the rodeo’s first sponsors—a godsend.
Tom brought her over to the table. “’Scuse me, fellas.”
The brothers turned around, saw her, and on cue, both of them stood up at once.
Oh, my God.
Monica tried not to gasp out loud, but that was the reaction her body had at being confronted with a pair of giant, handsome men. Both were tanned and a little dusty, dressed in jeans, boots and long-sleeve button-down shirts. Clark was the taller brother, but buff and bearded Dean looked even hotter than the photos Monica had seen of him online. She could smell them where she stood and guessed they’d been working all morning. Warm leather, aftershave, dirt, skin, sweat. In a current state of extended celibacy, her body stood up and said howdy.
“Guys, this is Monica Kaur,” said Tom. “Her family just took over the Rambling Ranch Inn. She’s on the board of directors for the Oleander Rodeo Association. Monica, meet Clark and Dean. Their family runs MacKinnon Ranch.”
The cowboys tipped their hats, but Dean shot an annoyed glance at Tom.
“Nice to meet you both,” she said. “Call me Monica.”
“Come join us,” said Clark. He pulled out a seat for her, and she sat down. “We’re watching the D-backs get whupped. You follow baseball?”
“I’m a Giants fan,” said Monica. Clark grumbled good-naturedly, took his seat and turned his attention back to the game. They all knew the one she really wanted to talk to was Dean.
Tom cleared some empty beer glasses, gave Monica a conspiratorial wink and left. Monica leaned toward Dean to keep her voice down under the game.
“You’re a hard one to get ahold of,” she said cheerfully.
He narrowed his bright blue eyes at her and took a sip of beer. His hand on the pint glass was enormous. “We’ve already had this conversation over the phone. The answer’s still no.”
“One no and five unreturned phone calls? It’d take a lot more than that to run me off, Mr. MacKinnon.”
Clark turned around and waved his hand. “Naw, none of that mister stuff. Call him Dean. Or Uncle Frowny Face. That’s what our nieces and nephew call him.”
Monica wasn’t sure if having Clark’s assistance was a good or a bad thing. On one hand, it helped to have an ally. On the other, Dean was looking more annoyed by the second.
“Before you tell me yes or no,” she said, reaching into her tote bag, “just let me show you what we have planned.” She pulled out her tablet and loaded the website one of her friends from Berkeley had designed for the rodeo association. It was clean, professional and modern. “Here’s our home page. And our schedule. Here’s where visitors can buy tickets. Take a look.”
Monica walked Dean through the website, just as she had for dozens of people before him. Rodeo performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A parade down Main Street. A rodeo dance. The crowning of a rodeo queen.
Dean said nothing, just sat there with his beer in his hand looking blankly at the screen. Clark lost interest in the game and kept his eyes glued on her tablet.
“What do you have lined up for the performances?” Clark asked.
She opened the link. “Bareback riding, barrel racing, ladies’ breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping and bull riding, of course.” She’d given herself a crash course on all of the events, courtesy of the Internet. “Finals on Sunday, with cash prizes.”
“Who’s sponsoring?” Clark asked.
“Tom got me Los Angeles Nightlife Group, plus his alcohol distributor and Tioga Beer. We’ve got the local radio station, the TV station and the
A dozen local businesses are all doing their part: Johnson Saddlery, the Chevy dealership, a couple of ranches, a couple of farms. It helps that all the proceeds go to the Oleander Fire Department.”
“Not all proceeds,” said Dean at last. Caught in his icy stare, Monica thought briefly about the videos of him she’d watched online. He regularly stared down 1,800-pound bulls and never flinched.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked, keeping her voice calm and even.
“I mean, Oleander Rodeo Days was your idea, wasn’t it? What’s your angle?”
“No angle, Mr. MacKinnon. Just bringing business to a town that needs it.”
“And a motel that needs more guests, maybe?” He put down his empty glass.
“Who wouldn’t mind a little extra business?” She smiled brightly.
Uncle Frowny Face, indeed.
“It’s a half-baked idea,” he said flatly. “You’ve got Oleander Rodeo Days scheduled in a tight window between two major rodeos in the Central Valley. Both are professional shows that draw big crowds. Your local competitors are going to save up their time and money for one or the other, not for some amateur show in some Podunk town.”
Before Monica could respond, Clark piped up. “Jeez, lighten up, Dean.”
“Just callin’ it as I see it.” He shrugged and leveled his eyes on her.
Monica pressed her lips together. Why did that gaze have to be so direct? Up close his eyes were an extraordinary shade of blue, like swimming pools in the desert. Dean’s arm was pressed against hers. She felt his hot, hard biceps through the thin cotton of his shirt. Suddenly she wondered what it would be like to run her hands over his bare arms, to touch his muscles and all those scars she knew he was hiding under his clothes.
She blinked and concentrated on the conversation at hand. “Everything you’re saying is true,” she said, “which is why I need you.” She powered down her tablet. “Make an appearance at this event. Let us put your name on the marquee. It’d be a really wonderful draw for attendees. You’re a local legend.”
A crease formed between his eyebrows and he looked disgusted, as if he’d just stepped in a fresh cow patty. Monica quickly realized such a trivial thing as bullshit wouldn’t bother a man like him, but the expression on his face told her he was about to turn her down.
She spoke before he could. “Before you tell me yes or no,” she said again, “I’d like to show you the arena and get your take on it. As someone who’s seen hundreds of rodeo venues. Please. You’re an expert. I’d like to know your thoughts.”
“You know, this is just a lunch break for us,” he said. “We’re heading back—”
“Go with her, Dean,” said Clark. “I’m gonna watch a few more innings anyway.”
Dean said, “But—”
“We’ll catch up this afternoon,” said Clark, waving his hand. “You two take your time.”
Still not allowing Dean to say a word, Monica stood up. “And the inn is not far from here.”
Clark watched his brother with an expectant face. Outnumbered, Dean grimaced one more time, pushed his chair back and stood up. “Fine,” he said to her. “But you’re driving, princess.”
It was her turn to grimace. “Right this way, Mr. MacKinnon.”
Dean said nothing as he followed her out the door.
* * * * *
Monica looked at the scowling cowboy out of the corner of her eye as her car slid silently down the highway. She didn’t turn on the radio. She figured he wouldn’t like the kind of music she liked, pop rock and Top 40. She definitely didn’t like country music. Too much twang. Too much heartache.
At least Dean looked as uncomfortable as she felt. For one thing, he was too big for the car. He shifted in his seat and ground dark soil into her immaculate floor mats with the heels of his dusty cowboy boots. She could still smell him. Dirty cowboy, but not unpleasant—in fact, pretty far from unpleasant. Monica tried to ignore the quivery feeling in her stomach. Months without sex left her jumpy. She’d have to find some private time with her battery-operated buddy to take the edge off soon.
“So when did your family take over the Rambling Ranch Inn?” Dean asked. His soft, deep voice rumbled like thunder in the quiet interior.
“About a year ago. My brother bought it, actually. The family helps out. I came out about three months ago to do my part.”
“Where are you all from?”
“No, I meant originally.”
She frowned. “Originally…here.”
“Okay, what about your parents?”
“They’re from here too.” She glanced at him. He looked even more uncomfortable, so she cut him some slack. “My grandfather moved to Merced from India in 1919. He was a farm laborer. He and my grandmother saved money to buy a parcel of land right outside Oleander. My family’s been farming it ever since.”
“Like the Singh family?”
“The Singh family
“But your last name is Kaur. Are you married?” His blue eyes flashed over her fingers on the wheel.
She gripped the wheel self-consciously. No ring—as if she needed a reminder. “No, I’m single,” she said. “Sikh women adopt the name Kaur.”
“You’re full of questions, aren’t you?” She exited the highway and took the road leading to the Rambling Ranch Inn.
“Only ’cuz I prefer to be full of answers.”
Monica said nothing. She wasn’t in the mood to explain what Kaur meant. He’d probably make fun of her.
He reached down and adjusted his seat so that he could lean back and stretch out his long legs. “All right. So here’s another question for you: why the hell would your family choose this place to get into the hotel business?”
The Rambling Ranch Inn had gone up for auction and Monica’s impulsive brother, Ravinder, had put in a bid. She was still living in Berkeley when she’d found out the news. She was furious. Her parents had borrowed against the farm to buy the motel and the thousand acres it sat on.
“It’s an investment for us,” she told Dean, the anger still twisting in her gut. “We’re trying to diversify.”
He nodded slowly. “If it were me, I’d tear it down and farm it.”
Her thoughts exactly. But Ravinder had been adamant. He’d convinced their parents to sink even more money into replacing the derelict plumbing system and refurbishing the rooms. She’d shown them the numbers, but they refused to listen. To her mother and father, Ravinder had a dream and they were willing to support it. It didn’t matter that she was the one with a degree in marketing and a master’s in business.
“We’re taking a chance,” she said, doing her best to hide her true feelings. “Trying something different.”
She drove past the inn and turned onto a wide paved road. Parallel to the road ran a long row of eucalyptus trees. A hot breeze stirred their branches. The sun was high overhead and the trees cast no shadows on the pale gray asphalt. Monica turned off the air conditioner and lowered her window. The sweet, medicinal scent of eucalyptus filled the car. Trees from faraway, planted here. She wondered briefly if they ever felt out of place.