Fun-loving Arizona rodeo cowboy Porter Cash has always been more interested in having a good time than a steady paycheck. But to realize his dream of owning his own ranch, Porter needs this new job delivering roughstock to rodeos. What he doesn't need is a too-serious, too-smart and too-sexy-for-her-own-good copilot on the trip.
When savvy insurance adjuster Wendy Chin joins Porter for the haul, she is all work and no play. But soon, business turns to pleasure and Wendy is conflicted. Her heart wants Porter, but her strict Chinese-American parents will never support the match. Can Porter find a way to prove to Wendy that, when it comes to love, he's not fooling around?
About the Author
Award winning author Marin Thomas writes western romances for Harlequin and Tule Publishing Group as well as women's fiction for Berkley Books. She graduated from the University of Arizona and she and her husband live in Phoenix. When not writing she spends her free time junk hunting and researching ghost tours. Learn more about Marin's books at www.marinthomas.com or sign up for her newsletter at http://bit.ly/MarinThomasUpdates.
Read an Excerpt
Porter Wagoner Cash glanced up at the stands from the cowboy ready area at the Yuma Rodeo Fairgrounds and spotted the buckle bunnies waving signs with his name on them. He grinned at the familiar facesgirls he'd dated and flirted with. Sauntering closer to their section, he removed his hat. "Hello, ladies." The women giggled and preened for him. He wasn't the best-looking Cash brotherConway held that honorbut his live-for-the-moment-worry-about-tomorrow-later motto attracted his share of beauties.
"You gonna win today, Porter?" A blonde with a smokin' hot body winked at him.
"Darlin', I'll do my best for you." He blew a kiss at the group, then winced when a sharp pain shot through his right shoulder. The old injury had flared up two weeks ago after he'd entered a bull-riding competition on a buddy's dare. At almost twenty-eight he was growing too old to play with bulls, but he'd rather ride the circuit on the weekends than sit by his lonesome in the bunkhouse at the family pecan farm.
"You comin' to the Horseshoe later?" a redhead named Michelle asked. Porter liked all women but he had a thing for redheads. His brother Buck had married one, and Destiny was a woman to be reckoned with.
"I'll be at the bar," Porter said. The Horseshoe was one of his regular hangouts. His brother Mack and his band, Cowboy Rebels, used to play there every other Saturday night. But now that Mack and his wife, Beth, had adopted a teenage boy and a preteen girl, his brother was too busy being a father to perform in bars.
"Will you save a dance for me?"
"I'll dance with all of you." He loved country music, and there was nothing sweeter than holding a pretty girl close and shuffling her across a dance floor.
"Hey, Cash, you here alone?"
Porter glanced behind him. All-around cowboy C. J. Rodriguezthe Cash brothers' nemesiswalked in his direction.
"I'm the only Cash competing today."
"I guess your brothers are too busy being daddies to play with the big boys."
Porter stood a good three inches taller than the infamous bull rider. If his shoulder didn't ache so much, he'd wipe the smug smirk off the man's face. Who was he kidding? Out of all his siblings, Porter was the make-love-not-war brother. He used his mouth, not his fists, to settle disputes. "What's the matter, Rodriguez? Are you worried you won't find a woman to marry who'll put up with all your crap?"
"I'm never getting hitched." Rodriguez nodded to the cowboys standing a few yards away. "You still mourning your old flame?"
Porter couldn't stop himself from staring. Veronica Patriot stood in the middle of the pack, her body plastered against a wet-behind-the-ears bronc buster.
Porter's eldest brother, Johnny, had warned him to steer clear of Veronica, but she'd reeled Porter in with her pretty blue eyes and sexy curves. For the first time in his life, he'd fallen hard for the woman. She'd done and said all the right things to make him believe she was just as in love with him, but it had been an act. She'd used him to make an old boyfriend jealous and when she'd succeeded, she'd left Porter in the dust. The only satisfaction he'd gotten from the whole experience was learning a few months later that the old boyfriend had kicked Veronica to the curb not long after they'd reunited.
"'Eat, Drink and Be Merry' cowboy."
Rodriguez thought he was a real cutup, quoting Porter Wagoner song titles. Thanks to Porter's mother, who'd named her sons after country-and-western legends, he and his siblings had been teased all their lives. It didn't bother Porter too much anymoreexcept when jerks like Rodriguez ran off at the mouth. He fisted his hands to keep from grasping the man's Kevlar vest and shaking him.
"Hey, Cash!" Maxwell Black walked up to Porter. "A group of us are off-roading next weekend near Somer-ton. You wanna join us?"
Porter had gone through school with Max, and they'd stirred up their share of trouble in their teens. "I can't. I'm a working man now."
His friends gaped at him. "You got a real job?" Max asked.
"Yep." Porter had landed a position as a roughstock driver two months ago and had already made several runs.
Max shook his hand. "Congratulations, man. Where are you working?"
"I'm hauling bulls for Del Mar Rodeo Productions."
"Buddy Davidson is a big-time stock contractor," Max said. "How'd you land that gig?"
"Ran into Hank Martin at the Horseshoe Saloon back in February. He works for Davidson and he said Del Mar was hiring drivers to cover their spring and summer rodeo schedule."
Porter hadn't believed he had a chance in hell of getting the job, because the only thing he'd ever hauled had been lumber, but he'd left the bar that night and filled out one of the company's online applications.
A week later he was called in for an interview and given the job on the spot. Hank had spent a few minutes reciting the rules and showing Porter the paperwork for transporting livestock over state lines. The rest of his questions had been about Porter's family, particularly his mother, who'd been dead for more than a decade. It wasn't until the end of the interview that Hank had mentioned he'd known Porter's mother, Aimee, and had been sorry to hear she'd passed away.
It had been years since he'd held down a forty-hour-a-week job that wasn't seasonal work. Del Mar Rodeo was Porter's chance to prove to his siblings that he'd left his freewheeling days behind him and was committed to one day owning a ranch of his own.
I'll believe it when I see it. Johnny's voice echoed in Porter's head. How often had Johnny said, "C'mon, Porter, grow up. Life isn't always about having fun."
"We'll catch you later," Max said.
"Sounds good." Porter hefted his gear bag over his shoulder and made a beeline for the bronc-bustin' chutes. With his bum arm, he couldn't wrestle on his shirt, let alone a steer, so he'd entered the bareback competition, hoping he had a shot of making the top five.
"Ladies and gents, turn your attention to chute number three. Porter Cash is about to do battle with Starry Night." The fans stomped their boots on the bleachers, and Porter's buckle-bunny fan club flashed their posters with his name on them.
"Starry Night, you ready for a little fun?" Porter pulled on his riding glove then adjusted his spurs.
"You're the only cowboy I know who talks to a bronc like a pet dog."
"Speaking of mutts don't you have anything better to do, Rodriguez, than follow me around like a lost puppy?" Porter zipped his Kevlar vest.
"And miss watching a Cash fall flat on his face?" The cowboy shook his head. "I don't think so."
"Tell me something," Porter said. "Are you just pissed that Shannon Douglas was a better bull rider than you or that she married Johnny?"
Rodriguez raised his hands in the air. "I'd rather go ten rounds with a nasty bull than take on Shannon."
"That's what I thought." Porter climbed the rails and settled a leg over the bronc. Starry Night decided he didn't like the extra weight on his back and reared. Porter dove for the rails and waited for the horse to settle down. He hoped he hadn't made a mistake in competing today. He didn't need a broken arm or leg before hitting the road Monday morning with a trailer full of bulls.
"Folks, this bronc doesn't think too highly of Porter Cash." The announcer's chuckle filled the stands.
The crowd quieted, their gazes riveted to Porter and the cantankerous gelding. When Starry Night stood still, Porter gave it another try and eased onto the horse's back. When he was certain the animal wouldn't object again, he wrapped the rope around his hand and secured his grip.
"Looks like our rider might be having second thoughts." The announcer startled Porter out of his reverie and he sucked in a deep breath, then nodded to the gateman.
The chute opened, and Starry Night catapulted into the arena, his back legs kicking out before his body cleared the gate. Porter held his seat and spurred, ignoring the ache in his shoulder when he raised his right arm high above his head. Starry Night's hooves hit the dirt hard, then the horse spun right, the move meant to unseat his rider. Not a chance. Porter wasn't going down that easy. He clenched his thighs against the bronc's girth and ignored the fire licking his strained muscles. Sweat stung his eyes, and his fingers grew numb from the stranglehold he had on the rope.
Porter braced himself for another spin and was caught off guard when the bronc reared. Only a superhero could have maintained his balance. His backside slid toward the horse's rump, and he clung to the rope like a man dangling off a cliff. But he was no match for Starry Night's power and he quit spurring. The bodies in the stands became a blur of color and the roar of the crowd faded to a muted drone. He'd lost this skirmish with the bronc, but the battle wasn't over until the dismount. He spotted an opening, but before he was able to release the rope the horse planted his front hooves in the dirt and sent Porter sailing into the air.
His injured shoulder hit the ground first, taking the brunt of his weight. For a split second his vision dimmed, then a bright light flashed inside his head, blinding him. He crawled to his hands and knees, the right side of his body numb, which messed up his balance. Halfway to his feet he pitched forward and did a face-plant in the dirt.
The ground reverberated beneath him as Starry Night continued to buck. When the pickup men released the flank strap, the bronc trotted out of the arena as if he was taking an afternoon stroll. Porter got to his feet and stumbled to the rails, where a helping hand yanked him to safety. He bent at the waist and gasped for air, willing the throb in his shoulder to subside.
"What did you do to tick that bronc off?"
Breathing hard enough to generate electricity, Porter wasn't sure if he imagined the feminine voice next to his ear or not. Dizzy with pain, he glanced to his right and discovered a pair of neatly pressed suit pants hugging slim hips that gave way to slender thighs and black high-heeled pumps. What woman in her right mind dressed in business attire to attend a rodeo?
He straightened, his six feet towering over her. He studied her teal silk blouse, slender, pale neck and smoky almond-shaped eyes. Other than the black eyeliner and pink lip gloss, she wore no makeup on her flawless skin.
She crossed her arms over her chest and arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow at him. "You don't remember me, do you?"
"You kind of look familiar." He racked his brain for a name. She wasn't a buckle bunny who traveled the circuit, but he couldn't remember where he'd run into her before.
He snapped his fingers. Dixie's friend. "You rode bulls with my sister a few summers ago."
"Rode a bull." She held up one fingerthe oval-shaped nail as petite and delicate as her body.
"I remember you now. Your parents own the Yuma flower shop on Main Street."
"You're a hard man to track down," she said. "Do you have a minute to talk?"
"Sure." He had no idea what Wendy Chin wanted from him, but he wasn't about to turn down an invitation to chat with a pretty woman. Dixie insisted that her girlfriends were off-limitsnot that Johnny had paid any attention to the warning. He'd married Shannon, but Porter and the rest of his brothers had heeded their sister's demand.
"Be right back." Porter walked over to the empty chute where he'd left his gear bag and removed his vest, spurs and riding glove, then slipped the duffel over his good shoulder and returned to Wendy's side. When the announcer's voice blasted through the sound system, introducing the next cowboy, he motioned for her to follow him to the livestock pens, where it would be easier to hear over bawling cows than loud music.
When they stepped outside, she said, "Let's get out of the sun." They crossed the gravel lot to a storage unit with an overhang wide enough for the two of them to fit under. For a woman who'd been born and raised in Arizona, her skin looked like fine porcelain instead of thick leather.
"Why have you been searching for me?" he asked.
"You work for Del Mar Rodeo."
"I knew my family was excited that I'd finally landed a permanent job, but I didn't expect Dixie to broadcast the news to her friends."
"Dixie didn't tell me."
Wendy's sober eyes told him that their chat had a purpose and it wasn't to catch up on old times. "Why does it matter to you that I work for Del Mar?"
A tinge of pink swept across her cheeks. "I'm your copilot to Grand Junction, Colorado."
He banged his palm against the side of his head, thinking dust must have clogged his ears. "Copilot?"
"I work for American Livestock Insurance, and Del Mar Rodeo is our biggest client. We do a ridealong once a year with one of the stock haulers."
"Neither Buddy nor Hank mentioned that I'd have a passenger on this trip."
"It's not a big deal. I just need to document the number of hours you drive each day, how many breaks you take and how you care for the animals."
If it wasn't a big deal, why hadn't he been told she'd be going on the trip with him?
Look on the bright side.
There was a bright side?
It'll be fun to have a companion on the trip. "I'm picking up the trailer at seven Monday morning."
"I'll meet you at the pecan farm." She frowned. "Is it okay to leave my car there until we return?"
"I'll see you then."
Wendy wove through the parked cars and hopped in one of those gas-efficient vehicles that looked as though it belonged in a Matchbox car collection. Not until she drove off did his arm begin to throb again. Unless he wanted Wendy to put in her report that his bum shoulder interfered with his ability to drive the rig, he'd better hightail it home and ice the injury.
No way was he losing his job over something a nosy claims adjustera pretty one at thatput in her report.