Here's hoping it's worth the wait--and the hell these characters put me through trying to do their story justice.
There’s a reason they call this cowboy
Gil Sanchez was once rodeo’s biggest and baddest hotshot. Now he's thirteen years sober and finally free of the pain that ended his skyrocketing career. Given one last, near-miraculous shot to claw his way back to rodeo glory, he can't let fantasies of happily-ever-after dull his razor edge...but Carmelita White Fox is every dream he’s never let himself have.
And from the moment he saw the spark of challenge in her eyes, he hasn't been able to look away.
Carma may come from a Blackfeet family noted for its healing abilities, but even she knows better than to try to fix this scarred, cynical, and incredibly sexy cowboy. Yet she’s the only one who can reach past Gil’s jaded armor, and the fiercely loyal heart buried beneath the biting cynicism is impossible to resist. Gil needs Carma just as much as she needs him, but as the pressure builds and the spotlight intensifies, they’ll have to fight like hell to save the one thing neither can live without.
Now say hello to the woman who's gonna turn his world upside down and give it a good shake. Hey, this is Gil Sanchez. You weren't really expecting a meet cute, were you?
The crowd cheered as a woman—somewhere around thirty, Gil estimated—stepped onto the floor wearing a short fringed-and-beaded buckskin jacket and matching midcalf moccasins over a body-hugging black dress and black leggings. Her ebony hair was pulled into a thick, straight tail that reached the middle of her back, her face nearly round, but her brows and mouth sketched in bold lines. Murmurs rustled through the crowd, and Gil caught the distinct aroma of ripe gossip.
Her chin came up and she flashed a smile, wide and bright, that was the equivalent of a stiff middle finger. Well, now. This was getting interesting. Gil took a sip of his Coke and settled more comfortably against the column, prepared to enjoy the show.
She dropped two ropes near her feet and built a small loop in the shortest. A trick roper. Nice. There weren’t as many as there used to be, although the art seemed to be making a comeback. The band struck up a decent version of “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and with a flick of her wrist, she set the small loop dancing around her in a series of pirouettes and launched into a fairly standard routine. Well executed, but nothing Gil hadn’t seen before.
On the opposite side of Gil’s leaning post, a man drawled, “First time I’ve seen her out and about since Jayden dumped her. S’pose she’s ready to give someone else a shot?”
“Like you?” A second man snorted his skepticism.
“She might be a little less particular after supportin’ his ass all those years, then gettin’ swapped for a hot little blond soon as he made the Finals.”
“Don’t mean she’ll look twice at anybody else around here.”
The first man grunted, half in annoyance, half in agreement.
Jayden. The name would’ve been familiar if the guy had qualified for the upcoming National Finals Rodeo in any of the roughstock events, but Gil didn’t pay much attention to the ropers. Like a whole lot of cowboys who got a taste of success, though, this Jayden must’ve decided he could do better than the girl back home.
Watching Carmelita perform with that diamond-bright smile firmly in place, Gil felt a twinge of sympathy…until her gaze snapped to his, dark and fierce.
Gil glanced over his shoulder to see if she might be glaring at someone else. No. It was definitely him. He could swear his expression hadn’t changed, but she had singled him out as if she knew what he was thinking.
What the hell?
She abruptly spun around and tossed the short rope in the corner, plucking the longest one from where she’d left it on the floor. The band segued into “Ring of Fire”—and Carmelita began to dance.
Just a sway of the hips at first. Then shoulders. Subtle shifts of her body that in any other woman would have been a harmless sway to the music. No one but Gil seemed to interpret it as anything more.
He saw an intense awareness of her own body, a pleasure in the way it moved that went beyond just dancing. She raised her arms to start the big loop spinning around her, and when her jacket hiked up, Gil’s eyes were drawn to the curve of her hip and thigh. Hunger punched through him—instant, hot, and inexplicable. Geezus, what was wrong him? Yes, she was attractive, and yes, he’d come looking for a distraction, but this was not what he’d had in mind.
Her gaze met his again. Her eyes widened…and once again there was no doubt she knew exactly what he was thinking.
The woman hadn’t made a single, overtly sexual move, and still Gil could barely blink, let alone tear his eyes off her. There was something elemental about the way she inhabited her body that filled his head with visions of dust devils chased ahead of a freshening rainstorm, cloud shadows undulating across the prairie, the snap and crack of a campfire sending a flurry of embers spiraling into a velvet sky.
Most performers projected their energy onto the audience. Carmelita was magnetic, pulling the static out of Gil’s mind. His entire consciousness was consumed by the sight of her. And then, with the final, ba-ba-bum of the song, she whipped around and stopped, feet spread, head and arms flung back, eyes locked on him.
He should have looked away. Backed down. Walked out.
Instead he smiled—a taut, challenging curl of his mouth. How far are you willing to go, sweetheart? She held his gaze while the applause compounded the roar of blood in his ears, nearly drowning out the little voice asking if he’d lost his fucking mind. She faced him, eyes narrowing, as if she was debating how to react. Slap him with a cold stare? Ignore him? He saw her come to a decision an instant before she tossed an equally carnal smile right back at him.
Then she pivoted and walked to the corner, where she shrugged out of her jacket and unclipped her silver barrette so her hair fell loose.
She said something to the lead singer that made him laugh, then say into the microphone, “And now we’re in for the real treat.”
All around Gil, heads turned and whispers hissed. Now every eye angled his direction, gleaming with speculation. The music started and for the first, throbbing notes of “Tennessee Whiskey,” Carmelita stood utterly still, every generous curve of her body outlined by the tight dress and leggings. Then she lifted her arms and the loop became her lover, dancing away, then back, turning and twisting, floating into the air and dropping over her head to embrace her. Her expression went dreamy as she arched her back and the loop rolled over the long bow of her body from shoulder to breast, belly, and thighs.
Gil was insanely jealous ofthat rope.
The light seemed to dim and the already close confines of the dance floor to draw in around her—around him—a private bubble that was theirs alone. She pulled him into the music with her, where every thrum of the guitar and thud of drums vibrated through both of them, their bodies tuned to the same intimate beat.
And with each turn, her gaze skimmed over him, drawing his skin and his lungs as tight as a fingernail dragged across his bare chest. His breathing went shallow, perilously close to panting. She pirouetted around the edge of the floor, so close that her rope brushed his thighs, sending twin bolts of lightning to his core.
Before he could clear the haze from his vision, the song moaned to a climax and she once again spun to a stop in front of him, her loop floating up and over his head, settling light as fallen leaves onto his shoulders.
For the space of a dozen heartbeats they stood, two wildland creatures frozen in a single, blinding beam of desire. Then he caught the rope with his free hand and she let him draw her closer, until he could feel the heat rising off her glowing bronze skin, smell her sweet cherry-almond scent, and see the gold that shot through her brown eyes.
The bar went quiet. Then the audience broke into an uncertainsmatter of applause.
Carmelita let her eyelashes drift down as she inhaled—drawing Gil in molecule by molecule. Her mouth curved, a deeply knowing smile that nudged his thermostat up another few degrees. She didn’t say hello. She didn’t ask his name.
She just gave the rope a tug and said, “Let’s get out of here.”