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Authors: Erin Knightley

Learning to Ride

BOOK: Learning to Ride
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When I first had the idea for BookShots, I knew that I wanted to include romantic stories. The whole point of BookShots is to give people lightning-fast reads that completely capture them for a couple hours in their day—so publishing romance felt right.

I have a lot of respect for romance authors. I took a stab at the genre when I wrote
Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas
and
Sundays at Tiffany's.
While I was happy with the results, I learned that the process of writing those stories required hard work and dedication.

That's why I wanted to pair up with the best romance authors for BookShots. I work with writers who know how to draw emotions out of their characters, all while catapulting their plots forward at breakneck speeds.

Erin Knightley is one of those authors and
Learning to Ride
is one of those stories. Here you'll meet Tanner and Madeline, two people from entirely different walks of life who find themselves taking an unlikely chance at love. Their path seems impossible, especially since Madeline is so determined to make a name for herself at her new job. I hope you enjoy their journey.

James Patterson

Staring at the
rough-and-tumble, straight-out-of-an-eighties-movie roadhouse bar before her, Madeline Harper couldn't help but reconsider her decision to come here at all. Clearly the echoing silence of the past few days was messing with her sanity.

Neon pink and blue signs buzzed and flickered from the darkened windows at the front, proclaiming the names of several brands of beer she didn't recognize, while a larger white neon sign proudly spelled out the bar's name:
THE REBEL YELL.

God help her.

At any sane point in her life, she would have turned around, gotten back into her tidy little white two-door BMW, and driven back to her motel room. She would have opened a nice bottle of wine, slipped into her favorite boutique pajamas, and gotten lost in a good book.

However, after doing exactly that every night this week inside the world's sleepiest motel in the world's quietest town, well, she needed
noise
. And people. And energy. She had no illusions about finding the same sort of beautiful, chaotic bustle she was used to back home in New York City. In a town where exactly one place of business was open past eight o'clock on a Thursday night, The Rebel Yell would have to do.

And really, it wasn't all bad. The parking lot was surprisingly full. While definitely honky-tonk-esque, the building was at least in decent repair, with fresh wooden railings lining the three steps to the door. Best of all, the lively din of music and laughter emanating from within were the first signs of real life she'd seen in a week.

People, music, drinks—not that different from a club in NYC, after all. And she
had
wanted to do Texas right, hadn't she? At least that's what she and her friends had joked about when she'd learned of her promotion and transfer to tiny Sunnybell, Texas, only weeks ago.

They had all crowed with laughter over their caramel appletinis after Aisha had declared Madeline must send pictures of the first cowboy she encountered. “Bonus points if he's wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and a smile.”

She grinned now thinking about it. She wasn't the type to pick up some random cowboy—or random banker, stockbroker, or bartender, for that matter—but the memory did lighten her mood enough for her to push past her misgivings. Drawing a fortifying breath, she squared her shoulders, climbed the stairs, and pushed through the saloon-style louvered doors.

The place was dark and smoky but full of life. She scanned the room as she made her way to the bar, trying not to look like too much of a tourist. The walls were made of rough-hewn planks and covered in lassos, bridles, old pictures, and beer signs. Something told her this wasn't the replica stuff you saw on the walls of some of those chain restaurants. Just like the cowboys at the bar weren't the kind from a Hollywood set.

Everything about the place seemed genuine.

The building itself was actually pretty big, with tall tables lining one wall, pool tables along another, and a stage all the way at the back. A country-western band, complete with bolo ties, cowboy hats, and boots, belted out a rowdy dance rendition of a song she vaguely recognized.

But it was the boxing-ring-sized corral in the center of the building that really caught her eye. There, an honest-to-God mechanical bull swung back and forth, dipping and bucking as a laughing woman with big hair and tiny shorts held on for dear life. The ring was surrounded on all sides by beer-drinking spectators, all of whom were laughing and cheering her on.

“Ride 'em, Amber,” a woman shouted as she bumped past Madeline with two bottles of beer. “Show that steer who's boss!”

Madeline wasn't sure if Amber was winning or losing, but her boobs sure looked great in the process, which was probably the point.
More power to her,
Madeline thought as she stopped in front of the bar. It didn't matter that the music was completely foreign or that the crowd looked like extras in a country music video—when it came to attracting the opposite sex, it seemed the mechanics were the same.

“What'll ya have, darlin'?” the bartender asked, his eyebrows raised expectantly. Though the bar was crowded, he leaned forward and grinned at her as though he had all the time in the world.

A half dozen cocktails came to mind, but the likelihood of getting one here was probably slim to none, judging by the lack of bottles behind the bar. “I think it's probably safer to ask what you're serving,” she said with a wry smile.

He ticked off five different types of beer and two rotgut whiskeys. She chose a bottle of the only beer she recognized. It was sufficiently cold and tasted exactly like college. Turning, she surveyed the room again, glad to have something to do with her hands. The place really wasn't so bad. It would be fun, actually, if her friends were here to share the experience.

As it was, she leaned against the wall and hung out the Do Not Disturb sign across her forehead. She soaked in the noise, bustle, and activity, happy to have something remotely familiar in this strange place. She'd finish her drink, perhaps have another, and then maybe,
maybe
she'd strike up a conversation.

When in Rome…

Madeline Harper, Calvin Aviation Supply's newest and youngest-ever acquisitions division manager, was about to get her honky-tonk on.

  

Tanner Callen saw her the moment she stepped foot in the joint.

Well, well, well.
The hot-as-hell Yankee had ventured out from the motel at last. He'd seen her zipping in and out of the parking lot in her fancy Bimmer with the New York plates a few times this week, her face half covered by those dark, oversized sunglasses of hers. But even if he hadn't seen her plates, he would have known she was an out-of-towner at first glance. Her designer jeans and red-bottomed heels stood out in the sea of worn Levi's and scuffed boots like a silk rose in a field of bluebonnets.

Her top was low-cut but loose, giving teasing hints of her trim figure as she shimmied her way to the bar and ordered a drink. Tanner shook his head; Evan looked like he was about to trip over his fool tongue as he served her a bottle of beer.

“Better take your shot or I'm callin' forfeit, Callen.”

Tanner dragged his attention away from the bar and laughed at his friend Mack. “You know that's the only way you'll ever win.” He and Mack had been friends since the eighth grade, and ribbing each other was part of the game.

Diego, who was a few years younger and still pretty wet behind the ears, chuckled and gave Mack a solid punch on the shoulder. “Burn. You gonna let him get away with that smack talk?”

Shaking his head, Mack shrugged. “He can talk all he wants, but by the end of the night, dollars to donuts he'll be the one taking the ride of shame on old Bucky.”

Tanner snorted as he set his beer down on the peanut-shell-covered table and picked up his pool cue. “Big talk, considering it was your backside getting tossed off that old bull last time. And the time before that.”

It was a longstanding bet: whoever lost two out of three games on The Yell's ancient coin-operated pool tables had a date with Bucky. What better way to give a rodeo star his comeuppance than to have him thrown like a sack of potatoes from a mechanical bull?

Tanner glanced behind him one more time before turning his attention to the game. Miss New York still leaned against the bar, her honey-blond hair grazing those sexy bare shoulders of hers.

Forget Bucky—if Tanner had a date with anyone tonight, he hoped like hell it would be with that little high-heel-wearing Yankee. Lucky for him, the night had only just begun.

“Care to dance?”

Madeline flicked her gaze from the bullpen to the denim-shirt-clad guy who'd materialized at her side. This one was actually pretty cute, in a puppy dog sort of way. She still wasn't going to dance with the man—or anyone else, for that matter—but she did smile back at him. “Thanks, but no dancing for me tonight.”

It was the same thing she'd said to every other guy who had asked that night. She half expected him to say something cutting—that had happened way too many times in her life—but he just tipped his hat, offered up a toothy grin, and moved on.

Amazing.

Seriously, every man should take a lesson in rejection from the cowboys in this town. She grinned as she looked down at her nearly empty beer bottle and shook her head. Apparently it had only taken two drinks to soften her up to this place. Though she'd deny it to any of her friends back home, she'd been having entirely too much fun watching the mechanical bull show. The thing seemed to have two settings: sexy boob-jiggler and insane bull-on-crack. Not surprisingly, the rider's gender seemed to determine the setting.

“When you gonna take a turn, blondie?”

Madeline looked over to find a tall brunette with a tight plaid shirt and killer jeans offering up a wide, friendly smile. She'd seen the woman ride a few minutes ago. She'd been good, actually. Madeline shrugged and flashed a wry grin. “I'll leave it to the professionals, thank you.”

“We all have to start somewhere,” the woman said, raising her eyebrows as further invitation. “I'm Ashley, by the way.”

“Madeline,” she said with a nod of greeting. “And I'm pretty sure you'll see me sprout wings and fly before you see me on that thing.” Given her deathly fear of flying, that was saying something.

But before Ashley could respond, something across the room caught her attention. “Oh. My. Lord.” Her eyes were wide as she turned to Madeline. “'Scuse me, darlin'. I'll be back.” She rushed off toward a group of similarly dressed women who were standing at the ropes on the other side of the corral.

Odd
. Shrugging, Madeline turned back to the main attraction. She started to lift her beer for the last swig but suddenly froze, eyes wide. Where the hell had
that
guy come from?

He stepped into the corral, sauntering despite the uneven, cushioned surface. He was the embodiment of cowboy sexy—something she hadn't known existed until that exact moment. Tall, bearded, sure-footed, broad-shouldered, flat-ab'd, and hot enough to singe those broken-in jeans he wore so well.

And she wasn't the only one who noticed.

The atmosphere of the place seemed to change as he swung up onto the mechanical bull, a wry, self-deprecating grin tugging at one corner of his mouth. All at once, Ashley's sudden departure made sense. He seemed to command everyone's attention without even trying. The crowd pushed in as hoots and whistles drowned out whatever the guy with the microphone was saying. Not that Madeline gave a flip what he was saying. This cowboy was pure eye candy.

He pressed his hat more firmly over his brown hair, tucked his hand under the rope, and gave a single nod. The bull started slow, gently bucking and spinning in lazy circles. He shook his head and tossed a wicked grin toward the operator but never relaxed his stance.

Over the past hour, Madeline had seen many a half-drunk cowboy take his turn on the machine. No one possessed this man's controlled, oddly graceful moves. As the bull gradually gained momentum, he moved back and forth, swinging one arm over his head while the other remained firmly clasping the rope. Below the rolled-up sleeves of his plaid shirt, she could see the muscles of his forearms flexing this way and that.

She bit her lip. Clearly this man was no stranger to the gym.

She leaned forward against the ropes, ignoring the cacophony of laughter, shouts, music, and voices all around her, letting it all slide into the background of noise she loved so much.

God, he was sexy. And skilled, if one considered the ability to stay glued to a bucking machine a necessary life skill. Tonight, she kind of did. No one else had come close to holding on the way he managed to as the bull bucked, whirred, and spun. The faster it went, the more he seemed to deliberately swing his body to swallow the momentum, almost like a jockey absorbing the energy of a thundering racehorse. It was mesmerizing. Impressive.

Before she knew it, the buzzer sounded and the crowd erupted in cheers as the bull shuddered to a stop. Had he just won? Did one win in mechanical bull riding? Well, the spectators did, of course. She, at least, felt like she won every round she got to watch.

She didn't even try to pretend she wasn't staring as the cowboy jumped down and straightened to his full height. She always did have a thing for tall guys. Especially when they looked like a more rugged version of Chris Evans. Just as she was watching him with a look usually reserved for white chocolate cheesecake, he tipped back his hat, looked right at her, and grinned.

Caught!

Every last ounce of air whooshed from her lungs. He was
hot
. She tightened her grip on her bottle, sucked in a steadying breath, and actually managed to smile back. Thank God for those two beers. She suspected that a completely sober Madeline would have bolted for the door.

Completely sober Madeline didn't have near enough fun in life. Slightly tipsy Madeline planned to rectify that.

He held her gaze as he left the ring and walked toward her. His stride was confident but unhurried. He seemed to be savoring the anticipation. Madeline sure as hell was. Her heart was thundering, but she couldn't have looked away if she wanted to. Lucky for her, she most definitely did not want to.

As he closed the distance between them, she could see that his eyes were the same aqua-blue as her favorite jewelry box, and his left eyebrow was bisected by a thin white scar that made her think of one word: rakish.

Giving her a slow, lazy grin, he tipped his hat and said, “Howdy.”

That word was
not
supposed to be sexy. It sure as hell had never been in the past. But now? Butterflies sprang to life in her belly as she looked up into his gorgeous eyes. Everything about him was sexy. She'd take a picture for her friends, but he had way too many clothes on…something she'd like to remedy. Her cheeks heated at the thought. No more beer for her tonight.

Pushing back her absurd urges, she smiled, trying to make it appear as if she hadn't just been thinking about what he'd look like naked. “Hi.”

“Don't reckon I've seen you here before.”

She'd never been a fan of Texan accents, but damn if his words weren't practically a caress. His voice was deep and clear, and the way he spoke made her think of warm honey and hot summer nights.

“Don't reckon you have,” she said, cheekier than she'd be in normal life.

Her response made him chuckle, and he held out a hand. “Dance with me.”

She'd promised herself she wouldn't dance tonight, no matter how many drinks she had. The plan had been to come, soak up the energy, observe the townspeople in their natural habitat, and return to the dreaded motel room as anonymously as when she'd left it.

But then again, she'd also once promised herself never to leave New York. Sometimes plans called for a detour or two.

Taking a deep breath, she smiled, set down her beer bottle, and slipped her hand in his.

BOOK: Learning to Ride
8.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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