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Ava nodded. “I’m new to the world of rodeo. He agreed to show me the inside scoop. That’s all.”

“Dollface, that surely ain’t all. Not even close. The man has it bad for you.”

Not bad enough to act on it.

“I seen how he’s been lookin’ at you.”

“And how’s that?”

“Like you’re a hot, sweet fried Twinkie and he’d like to lick you up one side and down the other before devouring you completely.”

“Except the man seems to be on a sugar-free diet,” she said wryly.

Taz chuckled. “Maybe. But I reckon he’s just trying to keep from gorging himself.”

“Such an overactive imagination, Taz.”

“I try. Better to be one of them colorful characters folks talk about than an average Joe.”

The conversation drifted to Ryan. Upcoming rodeos they’d all be attending. Other events. Then Taz took off, leaving Ava alone. It was enough to give a girl a complex about men.

Right. She already had enough complexes, although she doubted anyone would look at her and believe that.

A guy paused behind the barstool on Ava’s right side. He smiled. “Is this seat taken?”

“No. I was just—”

“Good. I’m Brad.”

Brad was decent-looking. Tall. Mid-forties, with brownish-red hair, his smile nearly hidden by a mustache. “Nice to meet you, Brad. I’m Ava.”

When she offered Brad her hand, he lifted it to his lips. “Enchanted, Ava.”

His calculated charm set off her warning sensors.

He ordered a slow screw up against the wall, Mexican style. Another warning bell pealed. Ava decided to skip politeness and bail on this low-rent lothario.

“You’re giving me the ‘I need to get the hell outta here’ vibe, Ava. What is it about me that’s sending you running? The polyester shirt? The porn star ’stache?”

She couldn’t help but laugh. “Busted.”

“FYI: I’m not trolling.”

“Maybe I am.”

His thick eyebrows lifted. “That old dude your type?”

“No. He was offering me advice.”

“On men?”

“On my career,” she lied.

“Huh. That’s interesting. You compete as a barrel racer or something?”

“Why would you ask that?”

“Because he’s a circuit cowboy. I’ve known guys like him my entire life. Salt of the earth type. But his career is rodeo. He lets his life be measured eight seconds at a time.”

Ava chewed that over, wondering if Chase would end up the same way. Living event to event, trying to recapture former glory. Chasing the buzz and the buzzer.

“So, he wasn’t really giving you career advice, was he?”

“No. But I was going with the old adage about divulging things to a stranger that you wouldn’t discuss with your closest friends.”

“I’m a stranger. Talk to me.”

She scrutinized him. “All joking aside, why should I trust you?”

“It’s a gamble. But life is a gamble, isn’t it?” He sighed. “Confession time. The instant I saw you tonight? Even with the darker hair? I knew exactly who you are, Ava Cooper. I’m a huge fan.”

She froze.

“Don’t worry, I’m not a stalker.” Brad sipped his drink. “In fact, a mutual friend sent me.”

“Chase,” she hissed.

Brad frowned. “No, Hannah.”

“How in the hell do you know Hannah?”

“She’s my niece.”

Ava gave him a cool once-over. “And you just happened to conveniently be in Scottsbluff, Nebraska? Tonight? Bullshit.”

“Nothing convenient about it since I live over three hours from here,” he muttered. “Look. Hannah was more than a little worried about you and this bull rider you’ve hooked up with. She knows I still enjoy a good rodeo, and I’m a lot closer than she is in California. So she called me after you had her make those press passes and asked me to double-check that this cowboy didn’t have you shackled to his pickup or something.”

Her eyes welled up. Damn Hannah. The woman was such a good friend.

“I wasn’t supposed to contact you, but after that last text you sent her? She feared you might do something rash, so here I am.” Brad leaned closer. “I’m trustworthy, Ava, I promise. Talk to me. Imagine I’m Hannah, if that helps.”

She considered it and threw caution to the wind for a change. “All right, Uncle Brad. You’ve convinced me to give it a whirl.” She swigged her beer and shared the basic run down of the situation with Chase. His “just friends” spiel. His mixed physical signals.

After she finished, Brad said, “No wonder you’re confused. But I believe there’s an easy solution.”

“Which is?”

“Bring another guy to your hotel room. Or better yet, be half-naked with another guy when Chase walks in. He’ll either rip the guy limb from limb or he’ll leave until you’ve had your fun. Either way, you’ll know how he feels.”

Simple. Effective. But for all her bold talk…could she really do it? Push Chase to take action with her by making him jealous? Her every insecurity hit her full force. What if Chase was playing the friendship card because he really wasn’t interested in anything more? What if he didn’t like fake breasts? What if he’d never want her because she was taller? What if her less-than-glamorous appearance turned him off?

But what if he just needs a nudge? What are you out?

Not a damn thing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. No more waiting in the wings. Time to let her sexual needs take center stage for a change.

“Is this idea gaining ground?”

“Maybe. The problem is—” I don’t know if he’s attracted to me, “—I haven’t found a guy I could even pretend I’d want to bang, let alone finding the real deal.”

“Does Chase know that?”

“No.” She huffed out a frustrated breath. “I don’t know. See why this is driving me crazy?”

He spun toward her on the barstool. “How far you willing to take this?”

All the way. “Why?”

“Let me be the guy you drag back to the room.” When she frowned, he leaned closer. “Then it’s a controlled situation. You don’t have to worry about some strange guy taking things too far.”

“Why would you do this, Brad?”

“I’m a sucker for this type of romance stuff. And I get to help out my favorite niece’s friend. Plus, it’ll be a hoot, acting with you.”

“How well can you act?”

Brad bestowed a smoldering look of pure hot need. Invading her space, he stared directly at her lips. “You have a mouth made for sex. As much as I’d like to kiss those pretty pink lips for hours, and watch them wrapped around my cock, I’d really like to see them soft and open as I’m making you come for the fourth time.”

Holy. Shit. Then Brad’s eyes met hers and there was no sexual heat whatsoever.

“How’s that?”

“Ah. Wow. Damn. That was a really great way to set the scene.”

He chuckled. “Good to know I can still pass for straight.”

Ava’s mouth dropped open. “You’re gay?”

“Since the day I was born,” he said breezily.

Her gaydar wasn’t just rusty; it was completely fucking broken.

“So what do you think?”

Brad didn’t cajole her as she weighed the pros and cons. But the bottom line? She was desperate to do this. “Deal. But part of the deal is you can’t tell anyone. Ever.”

“You have my word.” He rested his forearms on the bar. “What’s the plan for tomorrow night?”

Ava smiled. “Why wait for tomorrow? Let’s get started tonight.”

Chapter Fifteen

Maybe faking sleep when Ava returned to the room last night at 1:04 a.m. made Chase a total pussy. He’d decided pretend slumber was preferable to beating the tar out of whoever Ava flirted and giggled with outside the motel room door.

She hadn’t attempted to be quiet when she finally deigned to enter the room. That chapped his ass. It was almost as if she’d been…taunting him.

Sending the still-sleeping Ava a cursory glance, Chase slipped out. Three hours later, after running five miles and completing a full weight training session at the gym, Chase opened the door only to be greeted by Ava’s crotch.

Her feet were spread wide and her legs were splayed open. The remainder of her body was bent back over the big blue ball. Ava’s body was twisted so he couldn’t even see her face—only the area between her thighs and the flat arc of her belly.

Goddamn if his mouth didn’t water when he fantasized about dropping to his knees and burying his face against her tempting mound. Or testing the bounce factor of that exercise ball as he slammed his cock into her.

Ava sat up and rested her hands on her knees. She smirked as if she knew every lewd thought that’d crossed his mind. Her eyes flicked over him, head to toe. “Morning, roomie. Seems we’re on the same wave length.”

“Oh, I highly doubt our thoughts are even close to parallel, Hollywood.” Chase drained his water bottle. Then he yanked his tank top over his head, mopped the sweat from his face with it and tossed it on his bed. His gaze returned to Ava. He wasn’t imagining things this time; Ava actually licked her lips as she eyeballed his chest. He didn’t hide his smirk as he gestured to her. “You about done doin’…?”

“My yoga practice? Yes. Why?”

“Just wondering who gets the shower first?”

Ava hopped off the ball. “Go ahead. I planned on staying around the room the rest of the day, trying to get some…ah…work done. I figured you’d be going to the fairgrounds with Ryan and hanging out until the rodeo started.”