Georgia laughed. “Now I remember why I always liked you.”
“Because I was easily manipulated?”
“I see you’re still tossing off those one-liners every chance you get in an attempt to charm and distract.”
Ouch. He deserved that. It surprised him that she remembered that about him. He smiled. “Now we’re getting someplace. So spill it, hot lips.”
“You are right. I did come to the bar tonight looking for you to ask if you’re going to the class reunion in two weeks.”
“I’d planned on going to the Saturday night stuff, but not the Friday family picnic.”
“Do you have a date?”
Why did his heart rate spike? “Not yet. Why?”
She blurted, “Will you be my date?”
After the shock wore off, Tell leaned forward. “For real, Georgia?”
“For real. I hadn’t planned on going to the reunion. What a fun way to spend an evening, dealing with the stares, rude comments and whispers about why Deck and I are divorced. Or hearing about what a tragedy it was that RJ got killed driving drunk.”
“So what changed your mind?”
Her pale-blue eyes remained on his. “Seeing you last night.”
Don’t fall for it. Demand a solid reason. “Because…?”
“Because you know how to have fun. And if I went with you, I might have a chance at having fun.”
“Your change of heart about revisiting those glory days isn’t because Deck hates my guts and it’d be a hard poke at him to show up with me on your arm?”
She allowed a tiny, embarrassed smile. “Okay. Maybe that’s part of it. And you have to admit it’d be a great bit of drama if we showed up together.”
He grinned. “That it might.”
“And I can’t go to the family picnic that Friday either. I’ll be out of town for a job.”
“I never asked what you’re doin’ for a living that allowed you to move back to Sundance.”
“I work for an event management company out of Dallas. We have a PR arm and an advertising arm, and we mostly handle promotion for events like rodeos, concerts and benefits.”
“What’s the name of the company?”
“Barb Wyre PR. Ever heard of it?”
He had heard of it. Recently. “The committee that hired me as a judge for the rodeo in Buffalo next weekend mentioned L bar K had been bought out by another company.”
Her eyes widened. “Wait a second. You’re a PRCA judge?”
“For over two years.”
“I’m not surprised. I figured you’d always have a foot in the rodeo world. Seems to be an addiction.”
Tell knew that Deck was a judge too, but they’d never worked a rodeo together, and he’d always been thankful for that. “How many other rodeos is your company providing promotion for this summer?”
“Twenty, right now. We seem to add more every week. Why?”
Tell’s mind was churning. This could be his chance not only to get more judging gigs, but to get Georgia Hotchkiss where he’d always wanted her: on his arm in public and in his bed. “Do you have judges scheduled for all those events?”
“I’d have to look, but I’m betting not. Not all rodeos are PRCA-sanctioned.”
“I know. I’ve worked quite a few that aren’t.”
“How many PRCA events are you scheduled to judge this summer?”
“Only four. Which ain’t bad, considering I haven’t been doin’ it that long and I’ve mostly been judging small rodeos in the area during the summer.”
“Have you pissed off one of the higher-ups in the regional PRCA judge management?”
“Not so far as I know. The only thing I can think of is the committees that hire companies like yours are goin’ with judges who have more years on the dirt. How am I supposed to get experience if I don’t get the chance to judge?”
Georgia thoughtfully drummed her fingers on the table. “That is a catch-22, isn’t it?”
“But you could help me change that. We could help each other out. If you like how I conduct myself, then you could drop my name to the committees that hire judges for non-PRCA rodeos. Extolling my…qualifications.”
“And what would I get in return?”
Tell bestowed his most charming grin. “I’d be your date for the reunion. Might be fun, bein’ the stick you use to poke Deck and anyone else who wants to take a whack at you.”
A strange expression flitted across her face, but she hadn’t automatically said no.
“Won’t our classmates think it’s a setup? Or worse, that you’re my date strictly out of pity? I don’t want to be pitied, Tell.”
That could be a problem for both of them. He snapped his fingers as a solution occurred to him. “Then we’ll just have to convince everyone in town that we’re crazy about each other in the next two weeks before the reunion.”
“By pretending to be together?”
“Oh, sweetness, there wouldn’t be no pretending. We’d be together for real.”
“Define ‘for real’.”
His gaze encompassed her face, then dipped to her chest, and he didn’t bother to bank his lust when their eyes met again. “You want me as your date for the reunion? I’ll also be sharin’ your bed.”
Georgia’s jaw dropped and she shrank back in the booth.
“Is that such a repulsive thought to you?” he asked sharply.
“God no. Not at all. You’re just so—” Her mouth snapped shut on whatever she’d been about to say. “Who is gonna believe it?”
“Everyone, if we play this right.” He leaned in, trying to hard-sell it. “See, we’ve already got the ball rolling. We were seen in the park together today. We’re sitting in the Golden Boot right now. I told off my friends’ wives for their bitchy behavior toward you, and Leah and Roxanne are two of the biggest gossips in town. It’ll get around. Trust me.”
“You defended me?”
“That mean-girl shit don’t fly with me.”
When Georgia continued to stare at him without speaking, he started to get annoyed. “Why’re you so shocked?”
“Because I wasn’t expecting it.”
“You expected I’d be happy just holdin’ your hand and smelling your hair?” Had he really said that? Be a man. Be firm. You’re no longer that eager-to-please pup. “Wrong. Nothin’ comes for free. We’ll be lovers. Not friends. There’s your deal. Take it or leave it.”
“No room for negotiation?”
Georgia’s chin came up and her eyes were pure skepticism. “Oh really? Not even when a no on my part could mean you don’t get assigned to more rodeos?”
“Yep.” He finished his beer and slid out of the booth. “Let me know what you decide, but I wouldn’t take too long to make up my mind, sweetness, because you are not the only woman who’s asked me to be her reunion date.”
Damn hard to do, but Tell walked away.
When did you turn into a mouse, Georgia Hotchkiss?
She’d scurried out of the bar and was pacing in the parking lot, a little shocked by Tell’s aggressive side. He’d always been so laid back. Then again… How well had she known him ten years ago?
Not well at all.
But she’d really like to get to know him now. On the most basic, carnal level.
What was the worst that could happen if she said yes to Tell’s demands? Sex would be bad with him? Doubtful.
Still, Georgia couldn’t shake the feeling this might be a game. He’d agree to attend the reunion with her, have sex with her beforehand, but back out at the last minute, just to get even with her.
She hated to think along those lines, but she had to put that possibility into the equation. Along with the fear that Tell was living out some high school fantasy. As soon as he bedded her, he’d revert to locker room behavior and brag that he’d nailed the homecoming queen.
Where did that leave her? Sorting fact from fear.
Fact 1: Tell McKay was undeniably hot.
Fact 2: He wanted her on his terms.
Fact 3: She could be the bold, sexually adventurous woman she’d always wanted to be.
Fact 4: She was leaving at summer’s end.
So why was she debating the pros and cons in the dark parking lot of a honky-tonk? Because he’d unnerved her? Or because he’d made her panties wet with one simple demand?
She had nothing to lose…and everything to gain.
That cinched it. She’d become Tell McKay’s lover for however long it lasted.
Mind made up, Georgia walked to the bar entrance. Who should wander out but Leah and Roxanne. They didn’t act nearly so confident without a bar full of people bolstering their courage.
“You know the funny thing about returning here?” Georgia sauntered forward. “The length of time away is disproportionate to the level of animosity I faced when I lived in Sundance. I get that neither of you liked me during our years together in high school. But did either of you really know me?
“Granted, I didn’t know you either, so I’ll give you both a pass on that one. But what I do know? I didn’t try and steal your boyfriends. I didn’t snub you because you wore a purity ring. I didn’t put gum in your hair. I didn’t X out your face in every homecoming and prom picture. But you know what? Every one of those things was done…to me. So remember that when you embellish the past and paint me out to be some nasty bitch. I wasn’t that way back then and I’m not that way now. It sucks if someone made your high school years hell, but that someone was not me. And my high school years weren’t a bucket of fucking roses either. Think about that.” She walked between them into the bar.
One monkey off my back.
The noise had increased exponentially. The lighting seemed dimmer. The air smokier. Technically smoking wasn’t allowed in the bar, but folks in Wyoming didn’t appreciate the government handing down decrees, so they ignored them.