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“Probably their whole adult lives. Why?”

She released a wistful sigh. “They’re beautiful. So in tune with each other. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have that solid connection every day. I wish I had my video camera so I could capture their happiness.”

Maybe Ava did understand more than he credited her.

“By the way, when are you planning to teach me to two-step?”

“I’m not.”

“Do you dance?”


She frowned. “But you don’t want to dance with me?”

“Drop it, Ava.”

Of course she didn’t. “I’ll only put up with so much high-handed behavior, and you’re pissing me off. Answer the question. Why don’t you want to dance with me?”

“Because I’m short,” he snapped.

About twenty seconds passed before she was in his face. “That’s it? That’s your reason for not dancing with me? Here’s where I tell you that is not a valid reason. That’s a sucky reason.”

“It’s a valid reason to me. Christ, Ava, you’re a good three inches taller than me when you’re not wearing them three-inch fuck-me heels. I will not make a goddamn spectacle of myself with you towering over me like I’m some kinda midget, getting my jollies burying my face in your chest, no matter how much the latter appeals to me.” Dammit. Not a good time to spout that confession. “You wanna talk about drawing attention to us? Trust me, that’d do it.”

“Chase. I didn’t mean—”

“You’re gorgeous and perfect and a California goddess, okay? You never have to deal with the ‘less than’ issues the rest of us mere mortals do.”

“That’s not fair.”

He drank, refusing to get sucked into this with her.

“So if I wore flats and you wore the heeled boots you’ve got on now? Then would you dance with me?”

“Why you all fired up to dance with me, Hollywood?”

Ava opened her mouth. Closed it. “I like to dance. Dancing with my girlfriends at the clubs in LA isn’t like close dancing with a man. I just thought it might be fun. Guess I was wrong.” And she was gone.

Way to be a dickhead.

As Chase was formulating charming apologies, a female voice said, “Hey, I know you.”

The woman was probably mid-thirties. Teased and sprayed blonde hair. Heavy glittery makeup. A low-cut tight T-shirt that outlined hard nipples. His first thought? She was a clone. Interchangeable with ninety percent of the women he’d been with in the last decade. Heck, he might’ve actually been with her. And didn’t that make him the worst kind of man-whore? Chase shook his head. “Sorry. You’ve confused me with someone else.”

Her mouth, thickly coated with frosty pink lipstick, curved into a smile and she rested her tits on the table. “I know my rodeo cowboys. Bull riders are my specialty. Even a hottie like you can’t hide out in Pine Bluff, Wyoming without expecting fans to recognize you. You’re Chase McKay.”

Dammit. Chase took a drink to wet his suddenly dry mouth.

“Don’t worry, lover, your secret is safe with me.”

“What secret?” Ava cooed, possessively sliding her hand across his shoulders. “Sorry I was gone so long, baby. What’d I miss?”

He grinned at hearing Ava’s precisely mimicked honey-smooth Southern drawl. “Nothin’. A case of mistaken identity.”

“I am not mistaken,” the woman retorted. “You are Chase McKay, the PBR bull rider, right?”

Ava tittered, “Oh, honey, I wish he was. This is just my boring old Bill. Who is such a Mr. Grumpy Pants tonight.”

Mr. Grumpy Pants? What the fuck?

Tipping his hat back slightly, Ava kissed him four times, each kiss a little longer. “We’ve only got the sitter for another hour, Billy boy. What do you say we head out to the truck? I know what’ll put a smile on my baby daddy’s face.”

The woman said, “Sorry, my mistake,” and hustled away.

Ava’s eyes lit with triumph. “If you want to pull this off, we’d better go right now. And for Godsake, act like you can’t wait to get me naked and fuck me.”

Chastised and yet turned on, Chase stood, keeping Ava’s arm draped over his shoulder. Gritting his teeth against the stares about their height differences, he curled his arm around her waist and directed her outside.

After he’d climbed inside the truck cab, Ava said, “Are you still a Mr. Grumpy Pants?”

He groaned. “Christ. Seriously? Did you have to call me Mr. Grumpy Pants?”

“I had to set the scene. Besides, it worked, didn’t it?”


“Well, one good thing came from her flashing her tits at you and me running interference to protect your virtue.”

“What’s that?”

“It kept me from asking you if the big chip on your shoulder about being a short man weighs you down when you’re riding a bull as much as it does the rest of the time.”

Ouch. Direct hit.

“Then again, I might’ve just said ‘thank you for a great dinner’ and left you to brood while I trolled the excellent selection of Wrangler butts. Not that I got to do that either, since I was too busy saving you from yet another one of your adoring female fans.”

“Look, I’m sorry—”

“Save it.” Ava yawned and turned away, giving him the cold shoulder he deserved.

Chapter Thirteen

Ava had a great time with Chase last night at the supper club despite his refusal to dance with her. It hadn’t occurred to her the outwardly confident bull rider would be self-conscious of his height, or lack thereof. She loomed over many of the men she worked with. And Chase was so damn good-looking, so muscular, so charming, he seemed larger than life.

Probably a smart call on his part, keeping them from being plastered body to body as they swayed on the dance floor. Ava had behaved herself, following his friendly lead, even playing along when he’d started picking out potential conquests for her. But it quickly became apparent that no man in the joint held a candle to Chase McKay. It also became apparent that women who wanted the eye-catching cowboy were not cowed by the fact Chase was out with her. No wonder he could bed a different woman every night if the ladies constantly subjected him to come-ons. What red-blooded man wouldn’t take every kinky thing that was freely offered?

Except he’s not taking anything from you after you’ve offered. Several times. In several ways.

Like she needed that reminder. She was no different from any other woman; she regularly suffered from self-confidence issues, body issues, dating issues. People assumed that since she had a high profile career and a supposedly glamorous life she’d have hordes of men vying for her company. But the opposite held true; she rarely got asked out on a date. Maybe invites to dinner weren’t issued because men were afraid she’d turn them down flatly and cruelly. Maybe men assumed she’d already have exciting plans with other celebrities. Maybe men were scared off by her bank account. Maybe men thought she was stupid because she hadn’t finished college. Maybe men associated her with the man-eating character she played on TV. Maybe her real personality was too weird. Maybe her real personality was too abrasive. Or worse, maybe she didn’t have a personality at all.

Wow. Insecure much?

Problem was… once those self-doubts surfaced, they multiplied. Maybe men were leery of becoming tabloid fodder if they publicly dated her. Maybe men were sick of big-boobed blondes. Maybe she should lose ten pounds, buy a whole new slutty wardrobe and then she’d have men falling at her feet.

Maybe you can wave your magic wand from the prop department and generate world peace. This negativity and second-guessing is not helping. You’ve never needed a man’s approval to feel secure or to define you on any level—personally or professionally.

That wasn’t true. She’d managed to fake that self-assured air so many of her peers owned—at least when it came to her career. But she failed miserably when it came to presenting the I’m-so-hot-don’t-you-want-me-baby? attitude around men. Give her a script and she could act brash and sexy. Not so easy in the real world.

Sad thing was? Even the small scrap of relationship confidence she’d gained after being Jake’s girlfriend had vanished after the tabloid story broke. For those months she’d been half a couple, she’d felt good about herself, knowing a beautiful, desirable man like Jake was attracted to her. Didn’t that make her beautiful and desirable too? Which afterward, sort of made her feel pathetic, that she’d needed validation badly enough she overlooked the warning signs in their relationship. Before Jake had entered the picture, she’d sworn to herself she’d step out of Hollywood and find a man who wasn’t in the entertainment industry. Like most single women she was mortified at the idea of asking her parents for a fix-up. So she’d been this close to signing up for a private dating service. She’d spent way too many weekend nights alone in her pajamas watching TV, eating ice cream straight out of the carton. Wouldn’t that make a great tabloid headline? Actress Ava Cooper—why are Ben & Jerry the only men in her life?

Dammit. For the first time in years Ava felt totally comfortable being herself around a man she was wildly attracted to. Yes, she’d been fun and flirty, sexy even, but it didn’t feel like acting. She’d taken a chance and shown Chase the real Ava. He hadn’t run away calling her a freak, yet he’d still relegated her to the “friend zone” probably permanently. She could tell herself over and over that his refusal to become her lover was nothing personal, but that broken, feminine part inside of her took it very personally. Problem was, she didn’t know what to do about it. Did she move on to another man in hopes he’d burn up the sheets with her? That idea held little appeal for her now, even when many of the cowboys she’d crossed paths with had made it very clear they’d love to take her for a ride.