Authors: Randi Alexander
Tags: #rodeo, #holiday romance, #cowboy romance, #4th of july romance, #independence day romance, #red hot and boom, #black hills roundup
He didn’t move closer, but his breathing grew
faster. Was he waiting for her to make the first move?
She drew back, looking around the cemetery.
“Spiritual, like in ghosts?” Harper had to swallow to regain her
“Something like that.” He tugged her down the
hill. “C’mon. Let’s go waste some of our hard-earned money.”
At the casino, Harper demonstrated her
favorite penny slot machine. Shaw sat next to her, trying to keep
up. They both lost ten dollars.
Shaw stood. “No more machines. Let’s do the
real thing.” He dragged her to a blackjack table and attempted to
teach her how to play.
As her pile of chips grew, and Shaw’s
decreased, he gave her his last chip. “You’ve got to be the
luckiest woman in South Dakota.”
“I think I am.” Her gaze locked with his and
her cheeks heated. She’d said the words as a joke, but their
meaning hit her as something entirely different. “Okay, let’s go.”
She scooped up her chips. “This’ll pay for supper.”
Two hours later, Harper paid for their
three-course steak dinners and they sat back, both stuffed
“I have an idea.” Shaw’s eyes did that
twinkling thing again. “Let’s skip the rodeo tonight and see the
rest of the town.”
She stared down at her empty dessert plate.
“Tempting. But I have to work.” Tempting because she was fighting a
losing battle with the friendship rule she’d put in place between
He sat forward and she lifted her gaze.
“Somethin’ going on tonight?”
Shaking her head, she slung her purse strap
over her shoulder. “I need to be in my seat.”
He waited a few seconds, then looked away,
his jaw tight.
She’d offended him by not asking him to sit
with her, but that would mean they’d have spent almost the whole
day together. And while that sounded like the perfect scenario, it
wasn’t healthy for either of them and their tentative friendship.
“I’m sure you want to spend at least one day of the rodeo with your
His smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Whatever
you want, Harper.”
Checking her watch, she pulled in a choppy
breath. What she wanted was the complete opposite of what she had
been trying to accept.
with the greatest guy
she’d ever met. Why did this have to be so complicated? “Better get
rolling. We’ll be late as it is.”
The drive back was quiet, a few discussions
popped up but died out quickly. Her mind kept rolling around,
trying to sort out her feelings for Shaw. Was she crazy to push him
away? Was she losing the chance at love just because he didn’t
share her dream of ranching? Could there be a compromise somewhere
in the mix?
She drove right to the rodeo grounds and they
headed into the stands as the first event ended. Walking to Shaw’s
seats, they found Dax and Pete sitting with two women who Harper
remembered from the music showdown. The guys stood.
“Hey! How was Deadwood?” Pete asked.
“Lucky for me.” Harper knew she should ask
Shaw to sit with her, but she needed some time away from him to
sort out her conflicting thoughts.
Shaw looked up into the bleachers. “Where’s
“He’s...uh...back at the hotel.” Dax’s gaze
caught hers for just a second.
She laughed. “Not alone, I’m guessing.”
Dax gave her a crooked grin. “No, ma’am. Not
Shaw stared at his buddy, then looked at the
woman still sitting in Shaw’s seat. “Introduce us?”
After names and greetings were exchanged,
Shaw and Harper said goodbye to them and walked toward her
He caught her elbow. “Thanks for a fun day,
Harper.” He let go of her, touched his hat brim, and waited a few
“I had a great day, Shaw.” She didn’t want it
He looked up into the stands.
Harper admitted the truth to herself. She
didn’t want to sit through the rodeo alone. She didn’t want to sit
next to anyone but Shaw. “You’re not getting away from me that
easily, cowboy.” Taking his hand, she led him to her seats.
The grin on his face stretched nearly
ear-to-ear. “Yes, ma’am.”
Shaw squeezed Harper’s hand. This was the
first time she’d taken his. Before this, he’d been the one to touch
Was this progress?
They plopped into their seats, the warm
evening air carrying the scent of the dirt and animals, but no
aroma had ever smelled this good to him.
“What can I get you? A beer? Wine cooler?
Maybe something to eat?”
She touched her flat stomach. “I’m still
stuffed from supper, but I’d share a beer with you.”
He blinked a few times.
had that come from?
Her gaze stayed focused on his. She hadn’t
done that since that first night, since before he told her he was
just a roughneck. What was going on inside that sharp brain of
hers? He could only hope her feelings for him were overriding her
“Be right back.” Shaw bought two beers and
was back in minutes. He set one can under his seat and opened the
other. “Here you go.” He handed it to her.
Her sweet lips pursed as she drank, and he
could almost feel them, soft and warm against his.
“Thank you.” She passed the beer back to him.
He placed his lips where hers had been, and took a couple long
“Shaw.” She glanced down at her hands, linked
in her lap.
“Yeah?” He slung his arm around the back of
her seat, leaning in closer to hear her.
“Tell me about your job in the oil fields .”
She looked up into his face. “What’s it like?”
“Uh.” Was she just being friendly or was she
changing her mind about their relationship?
He talked for a half hour about his work,
what his friends did, and life in a quickly-expanding small town.
She looked genuinely interested, and asked about his living
conditions. “A two-bedroom apartment with four twin beds. It’s not
much, but by the time we have supper and get back there, we’re
exhausted enough to sleep until the alarm goes off the next
She grimaced. “A real man cave?”
“Actually, Huck is our neat-freak. You’ve
seen his truck.”
Harper’s perfect red brows lifted. “That’s
lucky. A built-in housekeeper?”
“Uh huh. And he’s the most organized person
I’ve ever met. He has a photographic memory, and is in line for a
promotion at work.”
“That’s really amazing. Your friends all have
these hidden talents.”
“They’ve got their areas of expertise.”
“I saw Pete’s artistic talent. And Dax is
going to make it big in music.” She blinked up at him. “What’s your
Her look sent a wave of heat to his groin.
“Mine is something that has to be experienced to be
“Mm. Mysterious.” She bit her lip
Was he completely misreading her, or was
He asked her about her life in Chicago. She
opened up, told him more than he’d ever expected, and shared
stories of her childhood on her grandparent’s ranch.
When the sun dropped below the horizon, a
cool wind blew in from the north.
She leaned closer to him and he rubbed her
arm with his hand. Intimate, but something a friend would do.
After the last ride, the announcer encouraged
everyone to head to the parking lot to view the fireworks. Shaw
looked down into Harper’s brown eyes. If he could read her
thoughts, he’d move a hell of a lot faster with his seduction
plans. “Watch the fireworks with me?”
She nodded. “I’d love to, Shaw.” Her gaze
dropped to his lips.
His belly jittered with a hot shot of desire.
Was she really shifting their friendship into something more?
Holding hands, they filed out with the rest
of the crowd. Since they had been among the last to arrive, her car
sat at the back edge of the lot.
They wandered that direction, into the
darkness where the parking lot lights cast long shadows.
At her car, she leaned against the quarter
panel and crossed her arms over her stomach. “I don’t know how to
say this, Shaw.”
He stood in front of her, his gut tightening
as he waited to hear what was on her mind. “Come right out with it,
Harper. That’s always best.”
She glanced away. “I’d usually agree with
you, but this is going to make me sound like I don’t know what’s
going on in my own head.” She dropped her arms.
“Oh, yeah?” He could make it easy on her.
Move in for a kiss, let her body speak for her. She was a thinking
kind of woman, though. If she didn’t get it out, it might not
“Yeah.” Harper sucked in a long breath. “I
think I’d like to change my mind about us being friends.”
Standing in the shadowed parking lot next to
Harper’s car, Shaw’s muscles tensed, wanting to pull her close. But
he had to be sure he was interpreting her words correctly. “So,
you’re sayin’ you want to give us a chance, right?”
A laugh burst from her and she leaned back on
her car. “Lord, I’m so bad at this. I’m not telling you goodbye,
I’m trying to say I want to be more than friends.”
Warmth cocooned his heart. “Oh yeah? What
made you change your mind?”
Her eyes turned soft, misty. “You’re a good
man, Shaw. I want to know you better, see if what I’m feeling for
you right now is something that can grow into...more.”
Shaw didn’t move. This was the opening he’d
been waiting for, but he didn’t want to rush it. “Don’t think that
I’m not willing, because I am, Harper. I’m into you, deep as a man
can get. But I don’t want to wake up tomorrow alone, finding out
you’ve changed your mind again.”
Over his shoulder, the first sparkles of
fireworks glowed. She stepped closer and put both her hands on his
waist. “Forgive me? I got confused there for a while. Things were
muzzy and just felt wrong when I tried to be your friend. Now,
wanting you in my life, everything’s clear and true.”
His lips curved upward and he found it hard
to take in a breath. “You don’t know how glad I am to hear that.”
He set his hands on her shoulders.
She shivered under his palms.
“Do you want to go someplace and talk for a
while?” He wanted to grab her, pull her in, haul her somewhere and
make love to her, but she deserved his respect and restraint.
“We’ll go to my room, Shaw Donahue, but there
won’t be much talkin’ going on.” She gave him a wicked smile. “At
least not until tomorrow morning, over breakfast.”
The grin that broke across Shaw’s face
completely eased her guilt at the way she’d treated him the last
few days, and erased the embarrassment she felt at her brazen
words. Her heart tumbled a little wildly.
He pulled her against him and tipped his head
down. “Red, ain’t nothin’ I’d like better.” His lips brushed hers
softly, warm and firm. Then he tasted her with his tongue, tracing
She opened for him, and he invaded. His
tongue found hers in a teasing duel. He explored, running his
tongue along her teeth and across the roof of her mouth. Her core
contracted as heat exploded deep inside her, racing through her
Long minutes later, with the fireworks still
exploding above them and her knees quivering, he pulled back. “You
interested in these fireworks, or do you want to make some of our
She laughed. “Your lines, Shaw.
He stepped around her and opened the
passenger door for her. “I got a hundred of them, Red. All for
She brushed her hand across his cheek. “I
can’t wait.” After she was tucked in, he walked around the hood of
the car, typing on his phone.
He slid into the driver’s seat.
“You let the guys know you’ve got a
He nodded and stared at her. “I turned it
off, too. They’ll be sending text messages telling me to go for it
because they like you, Harper.” He slid his hand around her neck to
her nape. “But I don’t need them telling me anything. I know in my
gut this is going to be the start of something good. Really
She leaned in and kissed him, giving up every
last ounce of her uncertainty. He was the one.
Five minutes later, Shaw used Harper’s key
card to unlock her hotel room door. He held it open and she walked
in first. The air conditioning hit her like a polar blast. Before
the door closed, he spun her toward him and kissed her. He was
exceptionally skilled at it, too. His hands caressed her arms, over
her shoulders, and up and down her back as his tongue played with
hers, coaxing hers into his mouth for her own exploration.
Wherever he touched, tingles burst on her
skin. She squeezed her thighs together to intensify the sweet ache
in her pussy.
He slowed the kiss and stared down at her.
“Are you sure, Harper? This is what you want?”
It didn’t even cross her mind to stop now.
Batting her eyes at him, she ripped open the front of his shirt,
popping all seven snaps. “That’s how sure I am, cowboy.” Referring
to him as a cowboy when he technically wasn’t one didn’t bother her
a bit. She liked him. She trusted him. She wanted to have breakfast
with him tomorrow. And many mornings after that.
Harper ran her fingers through the soft,
brown curls that formed a light thatch on his chest and thinned to
a trickle as they headed south to his waistband. “God, I love your
hair.” She touched the brim of his hat, and when he bent toward
her, she pulled it off and set it on a chair. With her fingers, she
combed his hair, letting it go wild.
He shrugged off his shirt and tossed it
aside, then pulled off her shirt, boots, and jeans until she stood
there in only her pink bra and panties. “You are beautiful,
Harper.” He stroked her hair. “Everything about you. I liked just
sittin’ and talking with you today. You’re so smart. Makes me
wonder if you—”
She brushed her fingers across his lips.
“Let’s save the heavy stuff for breakfast.”