Authors: Randi Alexander
Tags: #rodeo, #holiday romance, #cowboy romance, #4th of july romance, #independence day romance, #red hot and boom, #black hills roundup
The woman, at least eight months pregnant,
patted Shaw’s shoulder. “Bless you.” She winked at Harper then
moved back into the shade and sat fanning her glowing face.
Shaw looked at Harper. “The girls are right.
You are pretty today, Red.”
She looked down, her jeans shorts and old
white T-shirt weren’t close to being as dressed-up as he was.
Jeans, boots that shone so bright they nearly
blinded her, and a short-sleeved, snap-front white shirt. His straw
cowboy hat looked new, too. Did he think this was a date, or was he
just pouring on the charisma for her? “You’re looking mighty spiffy
today yourself, cowboy.”
He leaned closer, his eyes narrowing on hers.
A rush of desire blew through her and she
blinked herself back from the sweet warmth.
The littlest of the girls stood and stepped
right in front of them. She handed Shaw her water bottle.
“Magic word?” He twisted off the cap.
“Peeeez.” She took a slug of the water. “Tank
you.” She smiled, looking at them. Her pale skin and fuzzy blonde
hair gave Harper the urge to pull her in for a hug.
He nodded. “Welcome”
The little one put her hand on Shaw’s knee
and leaned closer to speak to Harper. “He got you bo-woons.” She
looked up at the balloons hovering over Harper’s chair.
“I know he did. Isn’t he nice?” She smiled as
the girl’s sisters joined them.
“He’s funny, too.” The oldest girl tipped her
head. “You should marry him.”
Shaw glanced at her, lifting a brow. “Hear
that?” He looked away before Harper could give him a warning
“This is Miss Harper.” Shaw looked at her.
“She’s got red hair.”
Harper held in a giggle. This cowboy was so
“Miss Harper? My teacher’s name is Miss
Harper.” The middle girl jumped up and down. “Are you her
Harper laughed. “I don’t think so, but we
might be related.”
The sound of a marching band drifted their
Shaw grinned at Harper and she leaned close,
scrunching her face. “Do you mind if I share my balloons?”
He looked down, sucking in an uneven breath.
“I think that’d be more than all right.”
He turned to the girls. “One of you go ask
your mom if you can each have a balloon.”
The three ran shouting, begging, then
squealing with delight as they made the return trip with an
affirmative answer from their mother.
She and Shaw spent the next few minutes tying
the balloon’s ribbons on the girls’ tiny wrists.
“Thank you!” The girls looked so proud of
their fancy balloons as they took their seats on the curb. They
practiced waving, deciding which was the best way to do it to show
off their balloons.
“That was nice of you.” Shaw leaned between
the chairs, digging in a paper bag she hadn’t noticed.
“You like kids?” The words slipped out of her
mouth before she could stop them.
He froze for a second, his gaze locked with
hers. “Yeah, I like kids.” He handed her a plastic bottle.
She took it from him, a catch in her throat.
“You’re very considerate.”
“Friends do that for each other.” His words
came slow and quiet.
Smoothing it on her arms, she looked away
from his intense stare. He’d make a good father someday. A good
She rubbed lotion on her neck, and a thin
coat on her face, just in case. From the corner of her eye, she
could see him watching her every move.
After she returned the bottle to him, he
reached and ran a finger over her cheek.
“A little glop.” His finger rested there a
few seconds too long.
The first flank of the parade came into view
and they stood, removing their hats for the American flag.
When they sat once more, he dragged a small
cooler from under her chair. “Water? Soda?” He wagged his brows at
her. “It’s your brand.”
“Then water, definitely.” After all the years
she’d been drinking it at events and meetings, sometimes just the
smell of the product she sold made her queasy.
The sidewalk filled as people came out of the
shade to enjoy the parade.
It was undoubtedly the best parade Harper had
ever seen. Bands, floats, cowboys, horses. She and Shaw talked, but
kept it impersonal—friendly.
When the parade finished, he nodded to his
right. “I’m parked a couple blocks away. How about I tote
everything back to the truck, then I’ll meet you—”
“I’ll help.” She jumped up. This would have
been a good time to break away, head back to her hotel, but she
wasn’t done with spending time with her new friend.
He shrugged. “Okay.” Tucking both chairs
under his arm, he picked up the cooler, and left her with the
little paper bag.
“At least let me take one of the chairs.”
He gestured for her to go ahead of him.
“Nope. I got it.”
They walked single file, swarming with the
crowd leaving downtown.
“On the left. The gray truck.” He loaded
everything in the bed and took the bag from her. He looked inside
it for a second. “This is gonna sound dumb, but I thought you’d
like this.” He pulled out a small, rectangular pin and pressed the
button on the back.
Red, white, and blue lights flashed like
fireworks around the words,
Black Hills Roundup
She took it and their fingers brushed. “Thank
you, how sweet.” Such a nice guy to think of it.
“Thought you might want to remember...” He
puffed out a breath and stepped away from her. “Want some ice
Harper held tight to the pin Shaw had given
her, fighting the urge to reach out and touch him. “You bet I want
ice cream.” She laughed. “I sound like one of those little girls.”
She attached the pin to her shirt and looked up at him.
His gaze trailed from her shirt up to her
eyes. Blinking a few times, he took her elbow and guided her around
his truck and down the sidewalk, back toward the stores. “I like
that about you.”
She didn’t know how to respond to that.
The ice cream store was packed, with a line
out the door, but they chatted and the time passed quickly.
They took their cones, hers mint chocolate
chip, his rocky road, to a park a couple blocks out of town, in the
direction of the inn where she was staying.
He gestured to a bench and they sat, watching
the river trickle over rocks. Turning toward her, he stuck his cone
close to her mouth. “Want to try mine?”
She didn’t breathe for a few seconds. It
seemed too personal, too intimate. “I...”
“Friends do that.” He looked at her, as sober
as a monk.
How did he make her so darn weak for him with
just a look?
Shaw waited for Harper to take a bite of his
ice cream. He sure wanted to get a bite of her. Um,
After taking a small nip, she scooted a few
inches away from him. “This might be a good time to talk.”
He licked his cone, watching her face. She
seemed torn, as if she wanted to fall into his arms one minute, and
run from him the next.
Shifting, she licked a drip that trailed down
His eyes closed for a second and he held back
a groan. His groin tightened and things started to harden.
“Shaw? Are you all right?”
He shoved his cone in his mouth, taking a big
bite, letting the cold hit his teeth. The pain drew his mind from
the raunchy stuff happening behind his fly. “Yeah.” He said it
around the ice cream. “Go ahead.”
“Okay. This is going to sound shallow.” She
turned her body to face him, hitching her leg up on the bench.
Slim and silky looking, that leg gave him
ideas. He wanted to kiss his way from her ankle to her... He
focused on her eyes. Just. Her. Eyes.
“I’m getting to the age where I want to
settle down. Start a family, and do something else for a
“Like what?” He crunched away at the
“I want to ranch. Farm. Raise livestock.”
The corner of his mouth twitched. He had one
of those...a ranch he’d inherited. “Why would I think that was
When he finished his cone, she handed hers to
him, eyebrows raised. “Want the rest of this?”
He wasn’t much for mint in his ice cream, but
to be able to put his lips where hers had been, he’d suffer through
it. “Thanks.” He took a quick bite.
“I’ve dated.” She held her breath for a
second. “Mostly cowboys. I’ve looked for the right combination of a
man who knows ranching and a man I could...love.” She
“Ain’t found him yet?”
She puffed out a quick laugh. “No. Not
“You say you’re ‘getting to the age.’ You’re
what, twenty-four, twenty-five?”
He tipped his hat back and whistled. “That’s
damn near retirement age.” He grinned.
She took off her hat and set it in her lap.
The sun shone off her red hair, reflecting colors like sparks.
“I’m ready to get out of the business world
and stay in one spot. While it’s fun dating, I need to focus on
finding the right person.” She touched the little button on her
shirt that still flashed. “Doesn’t that sound shallow to you?”
He took one last bite of ice cream. “No. I
can understand your reasoning.” Now would be the time to tell her
about his ranch, but something held him back.
“We can still have this weekend, though.” He
leaned closer to her. “I’m not leaving ‘til Sunday. And you’re here
“Sunday.” Her cheeks colored. “I thought of
that. Believe me, it’s been on my mind.”
He liked to hear that.
“But I don’t want to risk... It doesn’t work
that way for me.” Her gaze shifted around the park. “I’m not built
that way. For casual sex.”
She’d used the word
. Was she
saying she thought it’d be a risk to her heart being with him that
way? His heart beat faster. Was she already falling for him?
Was he already falling for her? Something was
happening between them, but if he told her about his land, would
she only be with him because he fit her model of the perfect
Could he make her fall for him—the real
him—not the one working the oil fields only to make money to buy
“I understand.” He looked at the green ice
cream. “Want this back?” He held it out to her.
“No, thanks.” She seemed upset, fidgety.
“I’m gonna toss it, then. Tastes like
She smiled. “No, it doesn’t.”
He stood to find a trash bin, and she got to
her feet, too. “I’m going to head back.”
“Let me walk you.”
She shook her head. “You don’t need to. It’s
the opposite way from your truck.” Harper looked around, hefting
out a long breath. “It’s so nice here. I love a small town.”
He tossed the cone in a barrel and gestured
in the direction of the inn. “I need the exercise.”
With a frown, she nodded.
“You’re staying at the inn?”
Her brows lifted. “How did you know?”
“There are three hotels and one inn here. I
figured you’d be at the best one.”
“Company pays. I’m taking advantage.”
He chuckled. “I would too, if I were you.”
Reaching down, he took her hand. Warm and soft in his, he could
walk next to her for miles.
“Do friends do this?” She lifted their
“Yep. All the time.”
They strolled the next three blocks
commenting on the houses and landscaping. At the front door of the
inn, she turned and withdrew her hand from his. “Thanks for this
morning. The parade was really fun.”
“You’re welcome. Will I see you at the rodeo
this afternoon?” Today was the four o’clock performance. He stepped
closer, into her space.
Her eyes widened, she licked her lips, then
blurted, “I’ll be there,” as she spun away and pushed in through
the glass doors.
Seemed odd that she’d run off so fast. Maybe
he was getting too far under her skin for her to resist. He grinned
and turned to walk back to Huck’s truck. Checking his phone, he
spotted three texts. The guys were at a bar downtown. He headed in
Humming a hot country song, he pictured
himself dancing with Harper after the rodeo tonight. Her soft body
would melt against his, he’d pull her tight and they’d sway
together, the sun low on the horizon, warming them.
Would he move in for a kiss? Or would that
make her bolt? By the time he reached the bar, he was hard for her.
“Damn woman.” Didn’t she see how well they fit together?
Inside the dark building, he spotted his
buddies sitting at a high-top table, a pitcher of beer in the
middle of it.
“Hey, Donahue, grab a glass.” Pete shouted it
across the room.
Shaw snagged a frosty mug and sat with his
friends, pouring himself a frothy cold one.
“How’s it going with the soda lady?” Dax
leaned his arms on the table, seeming honestly interested.
“Good. I guess. I don’t know.” He took a
long, cold pull. How much did he want to confide in these guys?
“She’s a ways out of your league.” Huck
frowned and slid a cardboard coaster toward Shaw. “Is that the
Shaw lifted a brow. “Actually, the opposite.
But I don’t want to get into it. It’s complicated.”
Dax looked at the Gonallys. “Do we get him
drunk and get it out of him that way?”
Huck topped off Shaw’s beer. “Works every
“Not this time. I’ve got to figure this one
out on my own.” He looked at his friends. “But I need a favor from
“Talk you up to her? Let her know what a good
guy you are?” Pete slurred his words. “You’ll have to pay us some
big bucks for spreading that bullshit.”
“What part of ‘on my own’ didn’t soak into
that thick skull of yours?” Shaw took a few icy gulps of beer. “No
talking me up to her. I just need you to keep quiet about my ranch.
I want her to think I’m a roughneck for life.”