Cut right to the chase. Be professional. “Yes. I’m short a judge for the Pine Haven Rodeo today. Would you be willing to sub?”
“Who backed out?” A snicker. “It was McKay, wasn’t it?”
Dammit, Tell, you owe me for this. “Yes. Look, the event is two-and-a-half hours, tops. It starts at one.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“Standard non-PRCA pay rate. There’s food for contestants, judges and committee members. Plus, I could swing a companion ticket for Tara-Lee.”
“When do I need to be there?”
A pause. “I suppose I could help you out. Just this one time.”
She closed her eyes, glad he hadn’t tacked on since you’re desperate and McKay left you in the lurch. “Thank you, Deck. I really appreciate it. The paperwork will be in the secretary’s office.”
“I have done this before.” The phone clunked. “Hang on, Robert wants to talk to you again.”
“Will your mother be at this rodeo?” her father demanded.
Georgia held her hand over the phone and glanced at her mom, leaning against the doorjamb. “Are you coming with me today?”
“Better than sitting here doing nothing. Why?”
“Dad wants to know.”
Irina Hotchkiss slowly sipped her coffee. “Is he going?”
For the love of God.
“I am not the go-between. You two are adults. Figure it out. But I’m leaving in half an hour.” She handed her mother her cell phone and ran upstairs to finish getting ready.
When Georgia returned downstairs, her mother waited by the door. In a new outfit. A cleavage-baring outfit.
Do not ask why she’s got the girls out in full display.
“Ready?” Georgia asked brightly.
“Yes. But I’ve decided to follow you in case I get bored and want to leave.”
“Fine.” Georgia handed her mother a spare house key and a complimentary ticket. “I’ll be busy. Just text me and let me know what you’re up to.”
That way she wouldn’t have to run interference between her parents and deal with her ex-husband.
As Tell slipped on the official black-and-white PRCA judge’s vest, he heard Verna calling, “McKay?”
Both he and Chase said, “Yes?” then they laughed.
“I’m looking for judge McKay, not rider McKay,” Verna said, handing Tell a clipboard. “We’re just glad you’re here and didn’t have anything else goin’ on today.”
Nothing else going on. Right. Backing out on Georgia was a shitty thing to do, but he hadn’t lied exactly. Being here was a family thing. This was the first time he’d be a judge when his world champion bull riding cousin, Chase McKay, took to the dirt.
Chase had agreed to ride as an expo at the last minute. The promotion company was all over the place, scrambling to make the most of the opportunity. Which made him wonder what Georgia was doing.
Cursing your name, most likely.
He signed off on the paperwork. “What now?”
“We hang tight. There are a couple camera crews setting up for interviews.”
Chase shrugged. “Welcome to my life.”
He snorted. “Yeah, it sucks to be you. Married to a gorgeous movie star, livin’ the high life on a beach in California, and let’s not forget that teeny tiny PBR World Champion belt buckle you’re sporting.”
A big grin split Chase’s face. “It is good to be me.” He ran his finger over the big buckle. “I still can’t believe I won last year.”
“You deserved it. You had a great season. Are your brothers and folks here today to cheer you on?”
“Actually, no. Mom and Dad are in Phoenix, staying with Sierra since Gavin has a week-long conference in Atlanta.” He frowned. “That girl is givin’ Gavin fits and he can’t trust his ex with her anymore either. Ben and Ainsley are in Gillette for a wedding. And Quinn and Libby are in Spearfish today for Adam’s T-ball game.”
“How long are you stayin’?”
“Just tonight. I’m crashing at Ben’s place.”
“Ava’s not with you?”
“How is she?”
Chase smirked. “Fuckin’ spectacular. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
Tell punched him in the shoulder. “Lookit you, all in love and shit. Never thought I’d see you pussy-whipped.”
“And now I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Speakin’ of pussy… I stopped into AJ’s place early this mornin’ for a massage. She mentioned you were makin’ time with one Georgia Hotchkiss. Ain’t she the smokin’ hot cheerleader from your class? Her boyfriend was on the rodeo team?”
“Yeah. We’re hanging out sometimes. No big deal.” He gave Chase a cool stare. “How in the hell did that come up in conversation with AJ?”
“Evidently AJ is tryin’ to marry you off.”
“To Georgia? Jesus. It was just last week all them women were all gunning for her, afraid she’d break my poor little heart while she reached into their purses.”
“That’s changed. They’re singing her praises now. AJ thought with me bein’ the former bad boy McKay that you’d listen if I spewed hearts and flowers about how much happier my life is now that I’ve settled down.” Chase shrugged. “All true. But I remember bein’ pissed off when our cousins tried to tell me the same thing.”
“The McKays are a meddling bunch,” Tell grumbled.
“That ain’t gonna change. So is she here?”
“Nah. She’s working another rodeo event today.”
“Chase?” A smartly dressed woman stepped into the tent. “You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” He clapped Tell on the back. “Come on, cuz, it’s time for your close-up.”
An hour later, Tell had no idea how Chase did this bullshit every day, cameras filming and photographers snapping shots and microphones shoved in his face, recording his every word like gospel. Tell resisted sneaking behind him and making bunny ears. That would just be immature. Funny as hell, but definitely juvenile.
Finally the PR woman ended the interviews.
They wandered behind the chutes and split up. Tell got his head in the game, and it was time to rodeo.
Every event went like clockwork. Chase was last to ride. His ride was an exposition, but that didn’t mean it was a gimme. The bull they’d paired him with hadn’t been ridden and was a beast at almost two thousand pounds.
The bull went vertical out of the chute.
Chase held on. He spurred, one with the animal through every twist, turn and jump. The crowd went nuts, aware they were witnessing a textbook, picture-perfect ride.
Tell scored the bull and the rider very high. Not because Chase was his cousin, but because the man was sheer poetry on the back of a bull.
Final score was ninety-three points.
After the buckles were awarded, Chase gave his spiel about helmet safety issues, and a good portion of the crowd stayed to listen.
Tell checked out with the rodeo secretary, waiting for Chase to finish yet another interview. And he wasn’t the only one waiting. He casually checked out the women hanging on the corrals, anticipating Chase’s appearance. As if Chase was gonna look twice at any of these bunnies when he had the stunning Ava Cooper in his bed every night.
“That was some ride,” a busty blonde said.
Her redheaded friend nodded. Then she gave Tell a once-over. “Hey. You’re one of the judges.”
He smiled. “You caught me.”
“You’re really cute. God, I love them dimples.” Her gaze dropped to the waistband of his jeans and seemed disappointed he wasn’t wearing a buckle. “Didja used to compete in rodeo?”
“A few years back.”
“Ooh. I can tell,” the redhead cooed. She squeezed his biceps. “You’ve got the body for it.”
The blonde, not to be outdone, thrust her tits in his face. “You’re used to ranking bulls and riders. What would you rank me?”
He bit back the damn close to desperate comment that popped into his head. He let his gaze travel over her. “On a scale of one to ten? Pretty lady, you’re a solid fifteen. And that’s before I see how well you can ride.”
Next thing Tell knew, he was surrounded by half-a-dozen women. All laughing at his jokes, pawing at him. Making sexual promises with their mouths and their eyes.
What about Georgia?
What about her? She’s not here. And all these lovelies wanted to do was hang out with him.
Because they like you? Or because they’re hoping Chase will show up?
And for the first time ever, Tell didn’t dread that scenario. Wouldn’t that be sweet? Seeing the surprised look on his famous cousin’s face when he finally realized that Tell wasn’t the scrawny runner-up in everything? That Tell had his own moves and his own group of hot chickies vying for a down and dirty piece of him?
Shallow, McKay, really fucking shallow.
“I’m thirsty,” brunette number one complained.
“Me too,” said the busty blonde.
“Ditto,” said the redhead.
The expectant looks leveled his way prompted him to say, “I can’t stand to see you beauties suffering from dehydration. How about if you all head on into Moorcroft and save us a table at Ziggy’s? The first round is on me.”
“Outstanding job, Georgia. We can’t thank you enough for going above and beyond for our little rodeo.”
Georgia beamed at Esther Theel, committee chair. “It truly was my pleasure. I hope the Pine Haven Rodeo continues for many years.”
“You can bet we’ll be moving it from this weekend next year, so we ain’t competing with the Upton Rodeo.” Esther gave her a shrewd look. “I should be glad that Barb Wyre PR isn’t promoting that one. Or else you wouldn’t have had time for us.”