Read All Hat No Cattle: A Red Hot and BOOM! Story Online

Authors: Randi Alexander

Tags: #rodeo, #holiday romance, #cowboy romance, #4th of july romance, #independence day romance, #red hot and boom, #black hills roundup

All Hat No Cattle: A Red Hot and BOOM! Story (5 page)

BOOK: All Hat No Cattle: A Red Hot and BOOM! Story
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He shrugged. “It’s mostly rural. Farm and
ranching country.”

That surprised her. He never mentioned
farming. “Do you get back there often?”

“Some.”

She waited for more, but nothing followed
that one word. Maybe he was getting sick of her and her whole
friend
thing. The thought worried her.

He didn’t speak until they reached the door
of the inn.

“See you tomorrow?” She looked up at him.

His eyes, shadowed under his hat, gave
nothing away. “Wouldn’t miss it.” He touched his hat brim.

She took the cue and walked into the hotel
lobby. In her room, she washed off her makeup and changed into
shorts and a cami top.

It took her a few minutes to verify
everything for the event the next day, then she was faced with that
blank screen again. “Why would you research him if you were truly
planning to be just friends?”

Curiosity ate at her. What would she find if
she searched his name? He had some kind of secret, something he
didn’t want her to know. She probably wouldn’t have caught his
hesitation if she hadn’t taken that course in body language and
vocal patterns.

Shutting her laptop, she tapped her fingers
on the case. She probably would never see him again after this
weekend, so spending time worrying about him was just plain
stupid.

Why did the thought of never holding Shaw’s
hand again make her anxious as heck?

****

Shaw wandered back to the bar, feeling the
loss of Harper by his side. As they’d walked through the parking
lot toward the inn, he’d been torn between maintaining this
friendship bullshit and grabbing her in his arms and making her
admit she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

He could see the desire in her eyes, in the
way her breath caught whenever he touched her, in the little
shivers that raced through her when he leaned close to her.

She was so sweet and funny with the guys,
kind to those little girls at the parade, and painfully honest
about her goals—and his lack of a place in her plans.

He almost felt guilty, the way he withheld
the truth from her when she asked about his family. Telling himself
again and again that this was the best way to play this, was
beginning to get old. He adjusted his jeans, making room for the
perpetual semi-hardness behind his fly. Getting damn old.

He’d give her until Saturday night to break
and admit she wanted him. He wasn’t letting her leave Sunday
without telling her the truth about his ranch. Shaw didn’t care
much how he accomplished it, he wanted her to be part of his
world.

He liked her. She liked him. The sexual draw
between them was epic. Just her goddamn rule against cowboys with
no cows...

He walked into the bar, hoping his buddies
were ready to head out. He didn’t feel much like drinking tonight.
He needed sleep, and maybe the chance to dream about her.

“There he is!” Huck’s voice reached Shaw from
across the bar. “Harper’s friend.”

Shaw stopped dead. Shit. What had she told
them? He didn’t need this. Holding up one middle finger, he turned
and walked out, ready to make the mile walk back to the hotel.
After five minutes, headlights hit him in the back and didn’t move
past.

“Need a ride, friend?”

Shaw turned, looking at Dax’s dumb-ass grin
from the passenger window. “That’ll be the last reference, or
there’s going to be a fist involved.”

Dax held up his hands. “Okay, okay. Get
in.”

Shaw opened the back door and Pete slid over.
“You gotta at least tell us your plan for Harper so we can help.
She’s a keeper.”

She was definitely a keeper. Shaw got in the
truck and Huck pulled into traffic. “How do I know I can trust you
asses?” He smirked at his buddies.

“Son...” Dax turned to look at him. “We want
you off the market. Gives the rest of us a fair chance.”

Shaw let out a long breath. He would open up
to them some, but there was no chance of him telling them about why
she was pushing him away. It’d sound shallow to the guys if they
knew it was because he didn’t have the right job. But it wasn’t
shallow. Was it?

“Shit. I don’t know what I’m doin’.”

“We know.” Huck laughed. “
Friends
with
the hottest babe we’ve ever seen you with? You got problems,
boy.”

****

At one-thirty the next afternoon, the four of
them drove to the park in the middle of town. A portable stage sat
at the edge of the trees, facing rows of folding chairs. On the
stage, musicians tuned instruments and banged on drums.

The guys wandered off to the beer tent and
Shaw looked around for Harper.

Pacing across the grass behind the stage, she
turned sharply, holding her phone to her ear. Her lips were pressed
tight together.

This didn’t look good.

He headed that way.

An older man sat at a table, tapping a pencil
on the tabletop as he stared at Harper.

Shaw stopped halfway between them, straining
to hear what Harper was saying. He caught a few words.

“...twenty-five minutes...”

“...we will still need you to produce
them...”

The man at the table got to his feet and
walked over to her, looming nearly a foot taller than her. “What’s
going on now?”

Harper held up a hand to stop him, and the
man’s face turned red. She spoke into the phone. “What do you mean
the ink’s still wet? You’ve had months to print the signs.” She
listened for a minute and rubbed her forehead. “You’re loading the
signs in your delivery truck right now, is that what you’re telling
me?” Her gaze met Shaw’s, and she tried to paste on a smile. It
didn’t work.

“All right. How far away are you?” She
paused. “What?” Her voice rose to nearly a squeak. “North Dakota?
You’ll never get here in time.” Swallowing hard, Harper closed her
eyes for a long moment. “I’m sorry, too. You’ll be hearing from my
company’s accountants.” She pressed a button on her phone and
dropped it into her pocket.

The man standing next to her shook her head.
“This is a major screw-up, Ms. Johansen.”

Shaw walked closer, standing near Harper to
support her.

The man looked at him, frowning.

She pulled a folded paper from her pocket.
“Mr. Evenson, I’ve been in contact with the printer every day this
week. I’ll send you my e-mails and their replies—”

“That won’t be necessary. It’s a brand new
company, but they swore they could deliver.” The man shrugged.
“It’s not your fault.”

She took a breath and looked at the paper. “I
need to ask why you suggested I order from a printer in North
Dakota instead of someone local?”

The man seemed embarrassed. “They came in
with the lowest bid, but evidently they’re just not equipped for
this big of an order.”

She checked her watch. “The event is due to
start in less than a half hour. Do you have any suggestions, Mr.
Evenson?”

The man rattled off a few ideas, but none of
them seemed feasible.

Harper blinked rapidly, her breathing growing
shallow.

“Hang on.” Shaw had seen a store downtown.
“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

Chapter Five

“Shaw?” Her voice sounded small and
frustrated.

He winked at her. “Trust me.” Running toward
where the guys were drinking beer and talking to women, he went
right to Huck. “Need your truck keys. Harper’s got a mess
happening, and I think I know a way to help.”

“I’m going with.” Dax dropped his half-full
beer in the trash. Huck and Pete did the same. “What’s up?”

Shaw got them running. “I’ll tell you in the
truck.”

Seventeen minutes later, the guys walked up
to Harper, arms full of three-feet square foamcore boards, giant
markers in four colors, tape, and even some glue and glitter.

Harper’s face beamed with a gorgeous smile.
“You guys are the best.” She cleared off a table and they set
everything down. “Where did you find all this?”

Shaw moved closer to her, his chest swelling
with pride at being the reason for her smile. “I saw an arts and
crafts store on our way here. Their door stood open and a big Come
On In! sign sat out front.”

“You’re a genius.” She frowned slightly as
she picked up a marker. “Okay, how am I going to...”

“I made some signs when I took graphic arts
classes.” Pete picked up a marker, too. “I’ve got decent
printing.”

“Pete’s one hell of an artist.” Shaw nodded
at his friend. “Harper, you’re going to want to hire him to do
signs every year.”

Pete shook his head. “Available only in
emergencies, ma’am.”

She touched his arm. “Thank you, Pete. I
can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.” Her gaze touched on
each of the men, locking at last with Shaw’s. “All of you,
thanks.”

His heart thudded a few times. He’d do just
about anything for this woman.

“Okay, enough mushy looks.” Dax knocked on
the table. “What do you need first?”

She pulled a paper out of her pocket. “Let’s
do the bands first. They’re the most important.”

****

An hour later, Harper sat next to Shaw on
chairs he’d pulled back a ways from the audience watching the last
band perform at the music showdown.

The signs Pete had produced were a hit,
especially when Harper added a little glitter to the female
singers’ names.

“I just don’t know how to thank you, Shaw.”
She wouldn’t have been able to do this on her own. “You really
pulled my ass out of the fire.”

Shaw slung his arm across the back of her
chair. “You’ve thanked me about fifty times, Harper. You’re
welcome.” He leaned in a bit. “And as for your ass...”

Even though he was teasing, her breath caught
at the desire in his eyes. “Don’t say it.” She looked away, but his
touch across her back heated her, sending sparks down low into her
belly.

Pete, Huck and Dax congregated around the
beer truck, talking to women, of course.

“At least let me buy you all supper before
the rodeo tonight.” Harper glanced up into Shaw’s beautiful
eyes.

“I’m happy to let you buy me a steak, Miss
Harper. And I’ll ask the guys, but I’m guessin’ they’re gonna want
to stick with those honeys they’re spending all their money
on.”

“I’m still going to ask them.” She gathered
her clipboard from under her chair. “Then I’ll finish up backstage
and we can go find the biggest ribeye this county has ever
seen.”

“I’ll be here.” His smile showed his white
teeth. Harper had never noticed before, but one of his front teeth
was just a bit crooked. Somehow, that made her heart flip-flop. She
really liked this man.

She stood quickly and walked away, her
stomach jittering. Why couldn’t she shake the feeling Shaw was
becoming more important to her than she’d planned?

 

As she walked up to the beer truck, the guys
greeted her.

“Can I buy you all a steak to thank you for
your help today?” She glanced at the ladies by their sides. “Your
dates are welcome, too.”

Dax stared behind her, then frowned. “Uh, no
thanks, Harper. You and Shaw go on ahead.”

She turned and spotted Shaw looking too
innocent.

“Okay, but I owe you one.” She smiled at each
of them. “Thanks again.”

They touched their hat brims, mumbling
“Welcome,” as she walked away.

They would have been a buffer between her and
the attraction she felt for Shaw, but she could stay strong. She
hoped.

After thanking the musicians and promoters of
the event, she turned to find Shaw leaning against a tree, watching
her.

What made her so crazy for him? His touch lit
her on fire. His gaze puckered her nipples. His smile made her want
more than she ought to be wanting.

She wandered his way, wishing she could just
let go, drag him back to her room and give in to the wicked ideas
that ran through her mind when she was with him.

Harper had resisted this long. She could hold
off another day and a half. “Ready?”

“Can we use your car?” Shaw stood and took
her hand. “I have an idea.” He got them walking, the glint in his
eye demonic.

“Yeah, I bet you do. It’s supper. That’s
all.” She had to bite back a smile.

“How about a little gambling, too?”

“Gambling?” She didn’t indulge much, but it
would be fun to do with Shaw.

“Let’s run down to Deadwood. Gamble a little,
find a nice steak house.”

That meant a half-hour drive there and back,
alone in the car with him, plus a few hours in Deadwood together.
He’d been a gentleman since she’d declared them friends, and the
alternative was a dull afternoon alone. “Sure.” She pulled her keys
out of her pocket.

“I’ll drive.” He held out his hand.

“Sorry. Company car.” She smirked and jingled
the keys. “You get to ride shotgun.” How was he going to like being
driven around by her?

“Fair enough.” He opened her door for her,
then went around and got in the passenger side, taking off his hat
to accommodate the lack of headroom. “Now I get to enjoy the
scenery.” His eyes slowly roamed over her body.

Chills pebbled her skin wherever his gaze
touched. She stared through the windshield. “Oh, please.” She
pulled away from the curb. “Do any of your lines work?”

He barked a laugh. “Evidently not.”

The drive was beautiful, and Shaw pointed out
interesting landmarks. They stopped at the cemetery first and
visited the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. As they
stood looking at a grave marker, Shaw took her hand.

Her body melted a few degrees, leaning closer
to him of its own volition.

He tipped his head, slid a bent finger under
her chin and tilted her face up toward his. “I’m glad you decided
to come with me.” He dropped his hand. “This is one of the few
places I feel...I don’t know...spiritual?”

She blinked a few times, staring into his
eyes. There was no one around, a quick kiss wouldn’t hurt anyone,
would it?

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