Until the cops tackled him, cuffed him and threatened to arrest him for assault. But ten minutes later they released him, because not a single man came forward to press charges. They all claimed to be too drunk to remember who’d taken the first swing.
But the truth was no man wanted to admit that five-foot-seven-inch Chase McKay had taken on five Texas tough guys, all who topped the six foot mark…and won.
Luckily no one had uploaded streaming video to YouTube of PBR bad boy Chase McKay busting heads. But his ass smarted after Elroy ripped him a new one the following day.
And it was more of the same tonight.
Elroy said, “This attitude isn’t helping you. And we both know this situation has been building for a while, because you, my friend, like to fight and fuck. Not necessarily in that order.”
Through the haze of anger, he demanded, “How’d you guys get a key to my room anyway?”
“Sheree told the manager you were despondent about your bad ride and she feared you’d do something drastic like kill yourself.”
“Bitch thought of everything, didn’t she?” he muttered. “I get why the big bosses would be upset by what happened in Lubbock. I screwed up. In public. But tonight? I was in my private room. If Sheree lies believably enough to break in there, why wouldn’t Lou suspect she was lying when she told him we were practically engaged?”
“No clue. But it changes nothing.” Elroy sighed. “Bottom line: you’re off the tour.”
Fury lit his insides and Chase got right in Elroy’s face. “This is bullshit and you know it. I have fans. Those fans bring revenue to the PBR. And what do you plan to tell the blogs and trade mags about my abrupt disappearance? Because if this ‘incident’ is presented to the public as I’m a discipline problem, then I’ll fire right back about nepotism with the PBR’s newest Daddy Warbucks corporate sponsor.”
“First off, you signed a shitload of nondisclosure forms. Even if you’re pissed—and between us, yes, you have a right to be—you can’t violate the terms of the contracts. This is short term, Chase. Does this suck? Absolutely. That’s why the PR arm will release news of a recurrence of your previous injury, which is a perfect excuse for why you rode so shitty tonight after being last year’s defending champion. Fans should be happy to know you are recuperating until you’re ready to ride again.”
The PR spin machine thought of everything. “Tell me Winnie ain’t gonna be involved in issuing the statement.” He’d been taunting Winnie, his assigned PR person, for the last year. The woman was too sharp, and saw right through his bullshit attempts to rattle and distract her. Plus, her comments, always softly spoken, grated on him, mostly because she was dead-on in her assessments. And he hated she saw things about him that he tried to hide from everyone else.
“Look at it this way. The PBR goes on hiatus for two months. So you’re really only missing three performances instead of eleven.”
Chase didn’t exactly relax, but he realized if he was going to fuck up, he’d picked an ideal time to do it—because he might actually have a chance to fix it. “Can you guarantee I’ll be on the roster come August?”
Elroy gave him a considering look. “Two things you need to do before I’ll consider recommending you for reinstatement.”
“Stay out of the damn spotlight. I don’t wanna hear about you, I don’t wanna read about you in the trade mags or see your naked ass on YouTube. No interviews, no drunken brawls, no excess of easy women, no Chase McKay sightings anywhere. You vanish. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Chase exhaled the breath he hadn’t been aware of holding. “What else?”
“In the meantime…try to remember how to ride a damn bull, okay? Practice, relearn, do whatever the hell it takes to get back to the professional level where you belong. Give me your word that you’ll figure out what you’ve been doin’ wrong and try and fix it.”
Jesus. That fucking stung. He said, “You have my word, Elroy,” and wondered how he was supposed to relearn something he’d been doing for over a decade.
“You do those two things. Prove to me you can do them and I’ll push for you to get back in as soon as the season restarts.”
Chase didn’t bother mentioning the break would put him out of contention for the world title this year because he wasn’t even close to contention. In fact, if he didn’t get his shit together, he’d soon be off the PBR tour altogether.
Helluva mess you got yourself in, McKay.
“Try to behave, and I’ll be in touch,” Elroy said.
With nothing left to say, Chase started across the parking lot toward the motel. Lost in thought, he almost bumped into Winnie when she slithered from the shadows.
She blocked him like a sentry, arms crossed over her flat chest, her eyes strangely defiant behind glasses.
“You stick around to gloat?” he taunted.
Winnie sighed. “No, I don’t enjoy this, but it’s necessary to speak my piece while I have the chance.”
“So go ahead and tell me I’m the Antichrist.”
“There you go, putting words in my mouth.” She held up her hand to stop his rebuttal. “And I don’t need to hear for the umpteenth time that you’d rather put something else in my mouth.”
“You’ve got me pegged, down to knowing exactly what I’m gonna say?”
“Yes. You aren’t all that complex, Chase.”
Low blow. “You calling me a simpleton?”
“Three things matter to you. Bull riding, sex and Chase McKay. That seems pretty simple to me.”
“Bullshit,” he spat.
“I understand athletes at the top of their game are self-centered. Privileged. I worked with a pro baseball team before I joined the PBR staff.” Winnie sneered at him. “Betcha didn’t know that. Know why? Because you didn’t bother to ask. I never expected us to become BFFs, but I deserved your cooperation. I deserved your faith that I knew how to do my job just as well as you did yours. I deserved your respect. Whenever you called me—”
“Sugar tits?” he supplied.
“Nothing about you calling me sugar tits is considered remotely respectable,” she snapped. “You know exactly where to strike to make me feel small, but that doesn’t make you a big man, Chase McKay.”
A flush rose up his neck. It’d been an assholish thing to say and he had no excuse for it, besides lashing out from sheer frustration. Before he could buck up and apologize to her for a change, Winnie lit into him.
“But here’s the thing: It’s my job to know all about you. Because of your natural riding talent early on, everyone in your ranching family cut you slack, believing you were destined for great things, and you accepted it as your due. Maybe you did work hard initially at being the best bull rider around, but I’ve seen none of that drive in the last year. Now you make excuses for your piss-poor riding averages.”
She ticked off the reasons on her fingers. “It has to be the organization that’s holding you back. Or the shitty bulls. Or the sponsorship commitments. Couldn’t be that you’ve become a slacker. Resting on your previous laurels. Using charm and your good looks to keep your sponsorships rather than utilizing the talent that should keep you at the top of the standings.”
“The PBR ain’t the only game in town,” he reminded her.
Winnie laughed. “Don’t think the PBR isn’t aware that you spoke to the PRCA folks about jumping circuits. We didn’t address it because, given how you’ve been riding? Chances were high the situation would resolve itself and you’d get kicked off the PBR tour anyway.”
Chase fumed but kept his mouth shut as another layer of harsh reality settled in.
“I tried to get you on track. Suggesting you focus on improving your average by going back to basics. By keeping distractions during the season to a minimum. And by distractions, yes, I meant women. You don’t need me to tell you how good looking you are. But I’ll point out that even the homeliest riders in the PBR are highly sought after. Those types of women want the thrill of riding a man who rides a bull. They dream of being the wives in the stands the cameras pan to when you get a hoof to the gut. They’re star-fuckers. It’s less about you personally than about the fact that you’re on TV every week. Or you’re talked about incessantly on the fan sites. Or your career is dissected in the trade mags. Oh, and let’s not forget the potential for the top riders to make over a million bucks in a single season. That’s mighty appealing to a woman who just has to show a little cleavage to garner your attention.”
“Got a high opinion of the PBR fans, do you, Winnie?” he half-snarled. “Because I’ll remind you, they’re paying your salary.”
She shook her finger in his face. “Do not twist this around, Chase. The fans are there to watch you ride. To get behind you in a good season. To stay behind you in a bad season. Ninety-nine percent of the PBR fans don’t want to climb into your bed. So I find it ironic that you only give a crap about the one percent of fans that do.”
Good thing the shadows hid the heat burning his cheeks and neck. He’d never had a dressing down like this. Ever.
You need it.
The fact it came from mealy-mouthed Winnie, who normally wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful? That seemed to make everything about this nightmare situation a hundred times worse.
“You have so much potential. You’re wasting it. I hope to heaven that you use this time off to pull your head out of your ass before you start that downward spiral.”
“Are you really worried about me?” he asked with total sincerity.
“No, I’m worried about the image you project. An image the PBR doesn’t need.”
“What image is that?”
“Spoiled. You, Chase McKay, are a spoiled brat.” With that, Winnie spun on her high-heeled boot and stormed off.