Authors: Mia Hopkins
Tags: #small town;erotica;erotic;virgin;new adult;Latina;Hispanic;western;holiday
“Caleb! I can’t just waltz off to the rodeo.”
He smiled, unfazed by her resistance. “You can and you will. With me. And we’re gonna have a hell of a time.”
“Come on, Corazón. Sweetheart. Do it for me.” He flashed her that infuriatingly handsome smirk. “It’ll be fun.”
The express train sped along Connecticut’s wintry coast. During a stop in New London, Caleb stood up to stretch his legs. When he came back, a clean-cut cadet from the Coast Guard Academy was sitting across the aisle from Cora, chatting with her and being far too friendly for Caleb’s taste. The cowboy eyed the sailor and vice versa until the cadet, knowing he’d been outclassed, bid Cora a polite goodbye and cleared out.
Cora smiled so sweetly at Caleb as he took his seat that he knew something was wrong. “What?”
“What do you mean ‘what’? I’ve never seen you act that way.”
“Like a snorting bull. That guy was just asking me about my laptop. He wanted to know if I liked it because he was thinking of getting one for himself.”
“No doubt he wanted to get one for himself,” Caleb said, looking her up and down, “but he wasn’t thinking about no laptop.”
She rolled her eyes and turned back to her work as the train picked up speed again. Caleb wanted to talk to her some more, but he knew she had to work. Instead, he stared out the window at the steel-gray sky and the cold land spread out beneath it.
As she typed, Cora’s elbow rubbed gently against his bicep, making the muscle twitch and tingle for more contact. He could smell her freshly shampooed hair. In the warm train car, her cheeks were flushed like pink roses. She was dressed in a soft wool sweater that rode her curves and jeans that hugged her little heart-shaped ass.
God, how could he blame the cadet? She was beautiful. Who wouldn’t want a chance with her?
His mind wandered to a night a few weeks before she’d left.
Cora had been closing up the ice-cream parlor when he stopped by after everyone else had left. Without a word, she led him into the back room, lifted up her dress and pulled down her panties. He took her hard against the metal shelves filled with sleeves of sugar cones and huge jars of devil-red maraschino cherries. They came in complete silence, seconds apart, his heart beating so hard that he thought he was going to die of a heart attack, buried to the hilt inside a girl whose blood ran as hot as his.
The train pulled into Penn Station a little after three thirty. Caleb held Cora’s hand and led her the short walk to the Hotel New Yorker, where his brother Dean had reserved a room for them. Anticipation humming in his veins, Caleb was herding her quickly to their room when he looked up and spotted a couple of familiar faces.
The wiry fellow by the elevator felt no qualms about yelling out Caleb’s name as though they were standing in the middle of a cow pasture in Oleander and not in the crowded lobby of a New York hotel.
“Jesus Christ,” said Caleb, putting down his bag. “Decker Daniels.”
As the bull rider caught up Caleb’s hand in an iron grip, Decker’s girl came out from behind him.
Caleb looked up in surprise. “Andie? That you?”
Back home, the ranch foreman had kept his daughter in secondhand dresses and ratty coveralls. But the woman standing before them was as resplendent as a butterfly, a glitzy cowgirl in rhinestones and fancy leather boots. Her hair and makeup were camera perfect.
She leaned forward and gave him a peck on the cheek. Caleb felt Cora stiffen beside him.
“Been a long time, Caleb,” Andie said.
“She cleans up good, don’t she?” Decker wrapped his arm around her waist. He eyed Cora. “Who’s this, now?”
Caleb squeezed Cora’s hand as he pulled her forward gently. “Cora Gomez. Studies at Brown. But she’s from Oleander too.” He turned to her. “Decker here is a bull rider. He’s ranked eighth in the world. Andie’s his fiancée.”
Cora’s eyes flickered to the giant diamond ring on Andie’s hand.
“College girl,” said Decker with admiration. “What are you studying?”
“Business.” Cora fidgeted with her wool sweater. Caleb had never known Cora to fidget with anything.
Decker nodded. “Good for you. Should be a fun event tonight. Fresh riders, a shitload of new bulls. And the New York crowd cheers louder than anywhere else. How do you like bull riding, Cora?”
“I don’t know. It’s my first time.”
Andie and Decker looked at her and smiled in unison.
“You’ll love it,” said Andie.
“We’re heading upstairs for a spell.” Caleb felt his heartbeat quicken at the prospect. “Where are you two off to?”
“I have to get to the Garden,” said Decker. “Your brother’s there now. We’ve got some promotional stuff to do. Interviews and photos. The event starts at seven.”
“I was going to see him off and kill time until then,” said Andie.
“Uh…” Cora let go of Caleb’s hand, “…Andie, is it? I know I just met you, but…could I ask you a favor?”
“What’s up?” asked Andie.
Caleb turned to Cora. “I thought you wanted to freshen up. Upstairs.”
With me. Naked.
“That’s just it,” said Cora. “I don’t have anything to wear tonight. I was wondering if you could help me out.”
Andie’s eyes lit up and she bounced up and down on the balls of her feet, making Decker’s eyes bug out of his head.
“Oh, honey. Are you kidding? I got tons of clothes upstairs. You’re a little slender thing, but we’re bound to find something that fits you.” Andie turned to Decker. “Why don’t you take Caleb with you to see his brother while Cora and I doll up?”
With a smile, Cora picked up Caleb’s duffel bag. “You two go on. We’ll meet you there.”
Caleb watched as the two girls headed for the elevator, already chatting like best friends. He suppressed a groan.
Decker slapped Caleb on the back hard enough to rattle his teeth. “Orders is orders, kid. Come on.”
Andie stripped off Cora’s coat and gave her a gentle shove into the restaurant where Caleb was waiting at the bar.
“I’ll see you up at our seats.” Andie turned and left to meet Decker in the VIP area, her perfect brown curls bouncing underneath a bedazzled white cowboy hat.
Cora folded her arms and glanced at her own reflection in the plate-glass window that separated the bar from the hostess stand.
Andie was much taller than Cora, so her breathtaking array of jeans and flashy western shirts hadn’t fit. Undaunted, Andie had dug a hot-pink strapless minidress out of the bottom of her suitcase and made Cora put it on.
“But I don’t have a strapless bra,” Cora had protested.
“You’ve got great nineteen-year-old boobs, though. That’s more important.” With determination, Andie had yanked the fabric up and given Cora’s bottom a playful spank.
Here in public, Cora felt naked times ten. She thought that a glamorous cowgirl makeover would make her feel confident, not exposed. Nothing covered her bare shoulders except for the thick mass of dark waves that Andie had steam-curled into her hair. In addition to the tiny dress, Cora wore a big, braided Western-style belt, a bejeweled belt buckle and brown leather cowboy boots that fit perfectly. She blinked but fought the urge to rub her eyes. Andie had done her makeup too—glittery eye shadow and enough mascara to resurface an asphalt driveway.
With a sigh, Cora braced herself and walked to the bar. A small group of buckle bunnies had converged around the lone cowboy hunched over his beer. The girls were drinking and getting warmed up for a night of debauchery. To his credit, Caleb ignored them as they struggled to get his attention.
Then he looked up and spotted her. He blinked twice, and his face lit up like a kid’s at Christmas.
Emboldened by his reaction, Cora lowered her arms, stuck out her chest and walked through the group of girls who eyed her with just enough venom to make her feel a spike of self-satisfaction.
“Waiting for me?” she asked, lowering her voice and looking up at him through her extra-dark lashes.
“All my life,” he said, standing up.
Caleb was on fire. He’d taken off his jacket, but his face felt flushed and he was sweating underneath his clothes. The cold beer had done nothing to quench his thirst. Only the knockout brunette standing before him was capable of that—and even then, he doubted he’d ever get enough of her. Ever.
He took her hand and kissed it gently. Before she could roll her eyes at him, he pulled her close and kissed her mouth so tenderly that those beautiful eyes slid closed and she collapsed against him. Her tiny moan of pleasure vibrated against his lips, making his entire body clench like a fist.
Immediately in danger of losing his shit and dragging her into the nearest dark corner to have his way with her, Caleb broke their kiss and looked away. He took out his wallet, dropped a few bills on the bar and put his jacket back on.
“Let’s get out of here.” His voice had cracked. Embarrassed, he cleared the frog out of his throat, and she smiled at him shyly as though they were on a first date, instead of longtime friends with benefits, instead of lovers, instead of whatever it was they were and whatever he hoped in his heart of hearts they’d become.
Their seats were so close to the action that they could smell the dirt of the arena, heady and earthy with just a tinge of manure. Caleb watched everything through Cora’s eyes—the pyrotechnics and flash impressed her, and he liked the way her breath caught during the national anthem when the singer hit the high note and sustained it, clean and true. Together they cheered when Decker’s name appeared on the Jumbotron and when Caleb’s brother Dean stepped out into the spotlight with the other two bullfighters.
“What do the bullfighters do?” asked Cora.
“Their job’s to protect the riders once they bail out or get bucked off.”
Cora’s eyes widened. “I don’t know if I could face down a bull like that.”
Caleb smiled. “My brother’s always been a little nuts.”
When the first rider was up, Andie joined them, taking the empty seat next to him. The men in their section turned to look at him and Caleb felt ten feet tall, a gorgeous woman on either side of him, dressed to the nines.
Andie chatted nervously about the riders, the bulls, the bullfighters, even the barrel man who led the audience in a stirring rendition of “Cotton-Eyed Joe”. When a rider smacked his head against the sawed-off horns of one bull, Andie grabbed Caleb’s knee and turned her face into his shoulder.
The rider went limp, tangled up in his rope. Fearlessly, Dean tapped the bull’s nose to distract it while another bullfighter yanked the rope loose. The rider fell to the dirt, out cold, and the audience went silent. When the bull returned to its pen, a medical team rushed out and revived the rider. He stood up weakly, supported by two assistants, and the arena went wild with applause.
Later, Decker scored an 80-point ride on Blackjack and a breathtaking 89-point ride on Norm’s Nightmare, giving him the highest score of the night and a hefty cash prize. “See you two at the after party!” Andie squealed, giving them both quick kisses before rushing back behind the chutes to meet the champ.
She knew she had no right to feel jealous of any woman who got near Caleb. But seeing how Andie touched and fussed over him—and how much he seemed to enjoy it—made Cora feel furious at him and ashamed of herself.
As they rode the escalator down to the street, Caleb stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders. He stroked her neck with the sides of his thumbs.
She decided to bite the bullet and ask him flat out. “Tell me something.”
“Were you and Andie ever together?”
He dropped his hands. “Wow.”
She turned around and looked at him.
He raised his eyebrows at her. “I can’t believe you’re asking me that.”
“Why not? I’m just wondering.”
“Women never ‘just wonder’.”
“Spare me your thoughts on women and answer the question.”
“Andie and me? Together?” He stepped off the escalator and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Almost.”
Cora let his “almost” answer hang in the air between them as they walked out into the cold night. They made their way through the tourists, noise and lights of Times Square, but Cora ignored all of it, trying to be cool under the onslaught of her own messy emotions.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said at last. “I had a little crush on her. Nothing serious. She’s the daughter of the foreman at the Hughes place. I asked her out. She stood me up. Later on, I found out she’d gone and run off with Decker. End of story.”
“Was this last year? Valentine’s Day?”
Caleb’s eyes narrowed and he nodded warily. When Cora kept silent, he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, my ass.”
Cora hated how he made her feel. She hated how her feelings were getting the better of her here, in the middle of her first trip to New York City, in what was supposed to have been an act of reckless spontaneity with the man she liked best in the world, even though she wouldn’t allow herself to admit it. Against her will, tears began to gather in her eyes. “How’d you like it…if I…if I said you were just some kind of consolation prize?”
“Sweetheart.” Caleb grabbed her shoulders and turned her to face him.
“Aw shit,” she said, choking back a sob. “All this mascara’s going to start running. What a horror show.”
“Shush.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out some Kleenex. “Listen to me, girl. Listen good.” He dabbed at her eyes and pressed the rest of the tissue into her hand. “Andie’s pretty, but she can’t hold a candle to you. Only reason I liked her was ’cuz I hadn’t met you yet.”
Cora shook her head. “And I gave it up in your truck. First night we met.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to be ashamed of. People get together in all kinds of ways, whether they talk about it or not.” He touched her cheek. His hand was warm. “I like a woman with brains. You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met, but you have no idea how sexy you are. No fuckin’ clue. In fluffy pajamas or a peekaboo dress—doesn’t matter. You’re sexy as hell. You blow my mind.”
Stunned, Cora sniffled. She smiled weakly at Caleb, who pulled her close, wrapping her up in a solid embrace that made her feel tingly and lightheaded. People swirled past them on the sidewalk, but Caleb didn’t let her go.