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“I believe you. I’m sorry I left the way I did. I had a lot of time to think between Omaha and Wichita.”


“About us?”


“That and some other stuff.”


“Like what?”


“I’ve been thinkin’ about safety issues and helmets and all that since Ryan died. And then after what happened to Dirk, I realized I wanna do more than talk about it; I wanna act on it. It’s a murky idea right now, but I have an opportunity to make a difference and I’m going to take it.” He kissed her just because he could, because she was here with him, where she belonged. “Enough about that. Tell me how long you were in LA, because Hollywood, I was headed there first thing in the morning.”


“A couple of hours after you left, I got a casting call for a new sitcom and flew back to LA. I should come clean and let you know that my agent called me three times over the course of our road trip, after she’d lined up auditions. And every time I declined to go back to LA to audition. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, besides I didn’t want to leave you. But now I understand it was a sign I’m done with acting. Maybe not forever, but definitely for now.”


“Are you sure?”


“No.” She laughed. “But I feel freer and I’m taking a chance to change the path of my career. Which sounds stupid. I could’ve gotten off the path at any time.”


“Events that force a change ain’t always bad,” he said softly.


“True. When we met? I really was just using my camera for fun. But after we’d been on the road a couple weeks, I began to see the potential of telling a story from three different sides, from the perspective of three riders at varied stages of their careers. I started cataloguing the video segments and realized I’d shot a lot of footage. I have enough to do at least two documentaries. One with you, one without. I would never exploit Ryan’s death. I hope you know I’m not that heartless and willing to do anything to forge this new path.”


He kissed her knuckles. “I know.”


“But if you say no, Chase, I’ll shitcan the whole works and find something else to work on. I’d still like to put together a memorial disk for Jackie so she can see Ryan’s happiness being part of the rodeo world.”


“I wouldn’t ask you to not to do that. This project is important to you.” He locked his eyes to hers. “Would you ask me to give up bull ridin’?”


“No. I worry every time you get on the back of a bull, even more now after I saw what happened with Ryan. But it’s a part of what makes you, you. I’d never ask you to give it up.”


“I’ve come to the same conclusion. You’re talented, Ava. The little bit of your film I saw was amazing. You need to make the documentary however you see fit. If you have Jackie’s blessing, and she’s the one who’s the most affected by all of this, then I’m on board.”


Ava briefly closed her eyes and mouthed, “Thank you.”


“With a couple of exceptions,” Chase cautioned. “I want full veto power on the personal footage you use of us. That was our time, Ava. We fell in love, and we both know it had a lot to do with our conversations on the road, both on and off camera. Since we’re both in the spotlight, we have to keep some things private.”


“I agree. I’m sorry you saw that segment. And I swear I didn’t tape you on a secret camera. I set it down and forgot it was on. I intended to erase it, but in my frantic file switching it ended up in the wrong place.”


“That’s good to know. Also, if you plan on using the footage, you’ll hafta out me as Bill Chase. I don’t know what the repercussions will be, as far as how the PRCA will react, not to mention the PBR. But I’m prepared to deal with the consequences no matter what.”


“And I’ll stick by you no matter what happens.” Ava laid her hand on his cheek. “You know that, right?”


“I do now. Look, I’m gonna ride bulls as long as I’m able. There’s risk with that. But I’m also looking ahead to what I’ll do when I’m done. Maybe I’ll open a bull ridin’ school. I hear it’s warm year-round in California.”


She squeezed his hands. “That’s an excellent idea. If that doesn’t work, I’m sure you’ll come up with something else.”


“Until that time, I also plan on being very active with safety issues for riders. And to raise money, I want to host a rodeo in Ryan’s hometown, in his name. With Jackie’s permission, of course.”


Ava’s eyes filled with tears. “That’s perfect.”


“Ava. I don’t have a lot to offer you. I’m sure the heiress to the Cooper conglomerate could find a much more socially acceptable match than a height-challenged Wyoming bull rider.” When she started to protest, Chase put a finger over her lips. “But them other guys? The suit-and-tie and stupid-wearin’-shoes types? They’re too late. You’re mine now, Ava Rose, mine, through and through, and I play for keeps.” He let his lips cling to hers in a kiss filled with promise. Then he eased back and smiled. “So. Were you serious about getting married on an island with just your intended and a preacher? Because I’m all over that idea. As soon as possible. Heck, I’m free next weekend.”


“Stop right there if that’s your way of asking me to marry you, Chase McKay.” She poked him in the chest. “First of all, we’re going to a Dumond Racing event with my family next weekend.”


“We are?”


“Yep.” Ava gave him a haughty look. “Be aware that I’m doing this marriage thing once in my life and I expect a real proposal, with a ring, you on bended knee, spouting words of love, holding flowers.”


“Always setting the scene, aren’t you?”


“Only because you need so much help.”


“A lifetime of help.”


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