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Authors: Juliette Jones

Masterpiece

BOOK: Masterpiece
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Copyright © 2016 Juliette Jones

 

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, distributed or scanned in any electronic or printed form without permission. Thank you for respecting the work of this author.

 

MASTERPIECE
is a work of fiction. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover art photo used under license from Shutterstock.com

Cover design © Juliette Jones

 

Published by Juliette Jones:
[email protected]

First Edition: February 2016

 

Table of Contents

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Epilogue

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Read Chapter One of JAKE

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

 

 

I walk through the crowd of people, pulling my worn leather gloves on as I make my way towards the cage.
The bystanders move
aside for me, quiet murmurs of recognition and awe filtering through my scope, barely registering. I’m totally focused on the twenty-five hundred pounds of beast I’m about to ride as it paws the dirt and rattles the solid wooden gate that’ll be flung open as soon as I’m seated on its back.

Adrenaline pumps through my veins, a surge I used
to live for. Now, the high is
laced with something
else. Not fear. E
xperience.
The knowledge that things could, and sometimes do
, go wrong.

This will be my first ride since the
accident. The fall, the broken ribs,
the ruptured spleen, the severe concussion, the six weeks in a hospital bed.
You’ll bounce back,
they’d
said.
Time to get back in the saddle, cowboy. You’re too good to quit. Think of the money.

Eight seconds is all it will take. No one has bested my record since I’ve been away and none of the amateurs here today have even made it past the five-second mark.

My name booms through the loudspeaker.

Here he is, ladies and gentleman!
Max Cash is back! Six-foot-three of grit and muscle
.
Look at the spectacle of him!
Tall.
Lean. S
un-bronzed.
He certainly looks up to the task at hand.

‘Sun-bronzed’?
I gu
ess I’ve been called worse. Jimmy Hogan has been the announcer here at the Bozeman rodeo for as long as I can
remember. The guy h
as a flair for the dramatic, sometimes to the point of endangering his own well-being. He’s taken a beating more than once for his overly-descriptive play-by-plays. Some riders get touchy about stuff like that. But it never seems to curb Hogan’s style. And the audience loves
it. The
Bozeman rodeo attracts
the biggest crowds in the state. For the bulls, for the riders, for the quality of the sh
ow, and, possibly, for the unfiltered eloquence of the announcer.

Six month ago, ladies and gentlemen, Max Cash would have strode through his adoring crowd, tipping his hat at the girls, self-assurance radiating off his muscled
frame like waves.
Not today, though. No, sir. Today he’s stoic, concentrating on the ride that will either make or break him.
More than likely, h
e used up all his luck on the bone-splintering fall that’s kept him out of the ring for six months
. No one could weather
the blow of a two-ton bull stomping on their chest
twice
and walk away unscathed, ladies and gentlemen. Not even Max Cash.

Fuck that jerk. He’
s messing with my concentration.
Maybe I’d been too sure of myself last time. Too fucking cocky. Now, I’m wiser.

I wo
n’t make the same mistake twice.

Tuning Hogan out, I focus
instead on the two girls walking up to me. They smile
.
The blond slips a folded piece of paper into my jeans pocket with two deft fingers. “Call us after your ride, Max,” she says. “We’ll come and ease any aches and pains.”

I recognize
them. S
ure I do. Local girls I’ve partied with before.
Hell, I’ve
partied with too many local girls to count.
Before my fall.
Before I became a recluse and discovered secret cravings and hidden talents I never even knew I
possessed.

I can’t quite name the feeling that thuds along with my heartbeat as I push past them, my eyes glued to the enormous black beast with my name on it. Instead of rising to the girls’ suggestive touch, I feel like brushing them off, taking the piece of paper with their phone numbers on it and throwing it on the dusty ground, grinding it into the dirt with the heel of my boot. I’m not sure what’s changed in me but something has.
For the first time in my
life, the invitation for meaningless sex appeals to me about as much as a faceplant in the middle of the rodeo ring.

I don’t like it one bit, but there it is.

And Hogan’s at it again.
Will
Cash rebound to his former glory?
Or will he eat dirt and end his career in a double-whammy of skull-cracking agony? Let’s find out, ladies and gentlemen!
Let’
s see if the youngest Cash brother has what it takes to ride Montana’s biggest, baddest rodeo steer, The King of Spades.

Maybe the guy does have a flair for the dramatic but it’s annoying as fuck to hear my own internal challenge trumpeted out through the airwaves purely for the crowd’s banal entertainment.

Then again, that’s what I’m here to do: to ride, to be seen, to
wow, to entertain. That’s
my job. I might as well stop churning like a goddamn pussy and cowboy up.

It’s time.

Three of my brothers are there, waiting for me, sitting at the top of the cage to help me
get a secure seat.
Beau is five years older, the oldest of my four brothers and my
manager. “You got this, Max,”
Beau says, taking my hat off and putting it on his own head. All five of us have various shades of black and dark brown hair and Beau’s is the lightest shade, an almost-auburn chestnut brown.
Mine
’s jet-black, and wavy, stuck to my head with sweat where the hat had circled.

Travis, who’s a year older than me, hands me a bottle of water
.
I take a quick sip before handing it back
.
“Don’t take any notice of Hogan’s bullshit, Max,” Travis says.
“This old brute’s past his prime
.
Eight seconds’ll be a cakewalk.”

“Just relax into it,” Jack adds. “Roll with him. Get the rhythm, just like you’ve been doing since you were five years old
.
You got this,” he repeats. I can tell they’re worried for me, the accident still fresh in their minds. It was
the kind of fall that could unhinge a career. The kind that could get under a rider’s skin, if
he let it. But I’m
over it.
I’ve been riding horses since before I could walk and riding bulls since before I could talk. I can read an animal through a kind of telepathy honed and trained almost daily over my twenty-six years. Yeah, I’d fucked up once but I can feel it in my bones: this ride is mine
. The King of Spades
is a massive hunk of power, but that’s to my
advantage. The
bull is huge, not nimble and overly-quick, like the bull that unseated me. This is a ride I can
own.

I ease myself onto the animal and lace my leather-clad fingers under the rope that’s wound tight around the beast’s shoulders and chest.

“Eight seconds, Max,” Beau says, the words echoing in my concentration.

Eight seconds.

“You ready, Max?”

“Ready.”

The signal’s given, and the gate swings open. The King of Spades lunges out of the cage and into the ring, bucking, springing, twisting. I relax into it, as Beau told me to do, finding my
rhythm. After the second lunge, and the third, predic
ting the bull’s next move becomes
easier, instinctive.
A twinge in my rib reminds me of the impact, the pain of going down. My left fist clenches tighter around the rope, my right arm up, guiding my balance.

Four seconds.

The jarring, jolting glide of the dance becomes
easier, almost beautiful. Like anything is beautiful
when talent, practice and courage
converge. I
can feel it all, burning through my veins along with the rush of the ride.

Six seconds.
He’
s almost there!
The clock is ticking but the question remains: can he hold
on?
The King is showing no signs of slowing down. But Cash seems almost back to his old form!
He
wants glory!
He can practically
taste it!
Can he best Montana’s finest?

I can hear the roar of the crowd. Hell, I can
feel
the roar of the crowd. The
hum that brings it all back to me. The reason I kept on riding. The thrill of victory.

And there it is. The bell. The cheers and pounding boom of the crowd on its feet.

Eight seconds! He’s done it!
Ladies and gentlemen, Mad Max is back!

Chapter Two

 

 

 

 

It’s
dark. Not scary dark: a pretty darkness, tw
inkling and candlelit. There’s
laughter and music. The air i
s thick with the sultry humidity of an August night. One of those ones where you’ve been out in the sun all day so your skin is tanned and perfectly heated from the effects of summer and youth and
your own beauty. Because I do
, in this dream: I feel
beautiful
. More beautiful than I can
ever remember feeling. Not only that bu
t I feel
sexy
.
Hot
. And I know why. Even though I’m alone in the group, removed from the crowds who are murky in their laughter and their guitar strums and their smoke, there’s someone else there, deeper into the darkness.

BOOK: Masterpiece
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