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“Well, that is your job. Take care.” And she hung up as Chase entered the room.


“Who was on the phone?”


“Hannah.” Fibbing didn’t feel right, but Chase would insist she go back to LA. Even when he wasn’t the only reason she’d said no. Her gaze flicked to her laptop. She’d made progress on her project and hoped to have something tangible to show Chase in the next week, especially since he’d mentioned her secretiveness about it today.


“Is everything all right?”


“Yes. But save the soda for later. Right now I need a beer.”


At the rodeo grounds they scarfed down Indian tacos and drank beer. They chose seats at the top of the bleachers, away from the main crowd.


Chase watched her digging in her bag. “I’m surprised you brought your cameras.”


“My cinematography efforts haven’t been solely focused on you, you know.” She wanted to video Ryan’s ride. The long angle from the stands would be a nice contrast to the rest of the footage she’d shot.


She fiddled with the zoom function. Looky there. Two well-endowed buckle bunnies, with puffy blonde hair, and skin-tight jeans waiting for cowboys. “Are these painted chickies your type?” She held the camera close so he could check them out.


“They were my type.”


“You would’ve taken them both on at once?”


Chase looked at her evenly. “We’ve talked about my past, Ava. Why the questions now?”


“I was just curious if your preference for girl-on-girl action is out of your system or if…”


“If some night I’ll bring another woman into our bed and expect you to be all right with getting down and dirty with her just to please me?”


His emphasis on our bed sounded permanent. She didn’t focus on that, just offered him a shrug. “Maybe.”


Then Chase was right in her face. “I’d never demand something from you that makes you uncomfortable. And no one, man or woman, gets to put their hands on you, because in case you haven’t noticed? When it comes to you? I. Don’t. Fucking. Share.”


A tingle heated her blood at his blatant possessiveness.


“Any other questions?” he asked in that rough rasp.


“Ah, no. I’m good.” Ava’s attempts at taping the rodeo events were half-assed because she kept sneaking looks at Chase. The man she loved. And where her eye went, her camera lens followed.


He sighed. “Will you please get that goddamn thing outta my face?”


“But yours is such a gorgeous face, beyond compare really. Broody. Masculine. Sexy with that perpetual five o’clock shadow. I love how your hat shades your eyes. And when you’re a little pissy, that muscle along your jawbone jumps and I just wanna sink my teeth into it.”


“Ava—”


“I can compliment you if I want, McKay, so suck it up.”


Chase laughed.


“You know, as I’ve been taping your handsome self, I realized I have the perfect job for you if you don’t get a call back from the PBR.”


“And what’s that?”


“Movie and TV stunt man.”


Chase turned and looked at her as if she’d lost her mind.


“I know some people in the business, if you’re interested. I can hook you up.”


“Has it escaped your notice that I’m a little on the short side of, oh, not bein’ tall, dark and handsome?”


“Now that you mention it, I’m usually too busy staring and drooling over all those eye-popping muscles of yours to worry if you measure up, because you’re beyond any standard scale.”


“How many beers have you had to get so much honey to drip outta your sweet mouth?”


She knocked into him with her shoulder. “You are forgetting a couple of key points, Mr. Negative.”


His lips twitched. “What’s that, Pollyanna?”


“Most guys in Hollywood are short. These days few guys are as big as the old action stars like Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwartzeneger.”


“Yeah? What about Vin Diesel?”


“Don’t distract me by making me name specific actors who don’t hit the six foot mark.”


“I’m a solid five inches below the six foot benchmark, sugar.”


“Alls I’m saying is you could find work if you wanted to switch your occupation.” Then she looked away.


Chase curled his hand around her jaw, forcing her to meet his blue gaze. “And where would I live if I relocated to LA?”


She didn’t hesitate. “With me.”


A couple of seconds passed before he kissed her hard. Twice. “I’ll take it under consideration.” He slipped his hand into hers and tugged her closer. “Now can we watch the damn rodeo?”


When bull riding started, he gave her space to tape.


Taz stayed on and ended up with a score of eighty. Two other riders reached the eight-second mark but scored below seventy-nine. Three riders hit the dirt and Ryan was up next.


Chase got a little fidgety when the gate opened and Ryan and the bull burst into the arena. “Come on,” Chase said under his breath. “Follow his switch. That’s it. Just a little longer… Yes!” He whistled loudly and faced Ava. “That’s about an eighty-two point ride.”


Ryan won. He looked ready to cry, vomit and pass out—all at the same time. But he managed to keep his cool at the ceremony when the sponsors awarded the belt buckle, the check and the piece of artwork painted on deerskin that detailed how Greybull had gotten its name.


When the crowd of well-wishers thinned out, Chase and Ava approached him. Ryan was so pumped he picked Ava up and spun her in a circle, oblivious to Chase’s warning growls.


“Thanks for comin’! I wish my mom coulda been here to see me win, but she promised to come to the event next week in North Platte.”


Chase offered his hand, forcing Ryan to release Ava. “Congrats. That was an excellent ride.”


“First time I ever felt I coulda ridden a bull all night. Man. It was awesome.” He squinted at Ava’s bag. “Did you tape it?”


“Yes, sir. I wasn’t close, so I don’t know how good it is.”


“Can you email it to me so I can show my mom?”


“Sure, what’s your email address?”


He scrawled it on a napkin and handed it to her. “Thanks.”


“You in the mood to celebrate?” Chase asked.


“Hell yeah. I met a couple of girls earlier and they’re taking me to a party.”


Only Ava noticed the brief flash of disappointment on Chase’s face that Ryan already had plans.


“Sounds like fun.” He clapped Ryan on the shoulder. “It’s been great getting to know you, Ryan, and good luck the rest of the season.”


Ryan looked confused. “Sounds like you’re saying goodbye.”


“I am.” He reached for Ava’s hand. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning for R&R in Yellowstone.”


“But you are competing in North Platte next weekend, right?”


Chase shook his head. “Bill Chase has retired.”


“But…it’s the rodeo closest to my hometown. I thought we could hang out. You could meet my mom.”


Ava couldn’t stand to see Ryan’s distress. “We’ll see how the week plays out and he’ll call you, okay?”


“Okay.” He was about to say something else, when two girls raced to his side. The brunette said, “There you are! We’ve been looking for you.” The trio got caught up in conversation, leaving Chase and Ava staring after him.


“So now that Ryan has blown us off, is your offer for wild, kinky, loud sex still on the table?” Chase asked.


“Absolutely.”


Chapter Twenty-Two


Chase’s phone buzzed on the seat.


Ava picked it up and read the text. Where are you? She sighed. “How many times has Ryan texted you today?”


“Probably a dozen. Kid’s just a little anxious.”


“Think he’s afraid you won’t show up?”


“From what he’s told me, that’s been a common occurrence and I don’t wanna be another guy who disappoints him.”


“Ryan does realize how far out of our way this event is?”


He looked at her. “Some other place you need to be today, Hollywood?”


“No. But ten hours in the car is a long haul. Even for old road dogs like us.”


Chase laughed. “Admit it. You’d had your fill of nature.”


“Maybe forever.”


On their Yellowstone trip, they’d spent one night in Cody, checking out the museums, strolling through the town, but they skipped the rodeo. Then they’d driven around Yellowstone for the next three days. He’d even talked Ava into camping one night.


Not a good idea.


While she appreciated the scenery, including the star-filled night sky and the clean mountain air, every noise freaked her out. She’d convinced herself bears would attack them during the night and she didn’t sleep, which meant he hadn’t slept. She bitched about the cold, rocky ground. She gagged when forced to use an outhouse. Smoke from the campfire made her cough and her eyes water. She burned her hot dog and her marshmallows in the coals. Bugs dive-bombed her head. Glowing eyes stared at her from the tree line. She’d complained from the moment they’d pitched the tiny two-man tent until the next morning when they’d packed up. They’d even skipped spending time in the Tetons because Ava’s priorities were a finding a shower, putting on clean clothes and getting a manicure. In that order.


The odd part of the fiasco? Chase hadn’t been mad. If any other woman had acted that way? He might’ve pitched her over a steep cliff. But Ava amused the hell out of him because her comments weren’t mean-spirited or snotty, just honest.


While he and Ava spent time isolated, out in nature, he realized that he wasn’t a huge fan of the great outdoors himself. Being outside on the McKay Ranch was one thing; he’d always loved that, even when he hadn’t been thrilled with the backbreaking work. His brothers never suggested camping outside after chores were done. The same held true for most of his McKay cousins simply because when the workday ended, they wanted to be inside. Where it was cool, or warm, depending on the season. Where snow wasn’t blowing or sun wasn’t beating down. Where a meal and a conversation waited. That break from the elements was a necessary part of surviving as a rancher.

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