Authors: Cassandra Carr
Book three in the Buckin’ Bull Riders series.
Marco D’Allesandro has a destiny he wants no part of—running his family’s Italian olive oil empire. Against his family’s wishes, he moved to America to pursue his dream of becoming a professional bull rider and is at the pinnacle of his career, but his family wants him home. Things only get more complicated when he meets Natalie Webster, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed angel who’s got problems of her own.
Their chemistry is explosive from the beginning, and both find themselves in a situation they never thought they would—they’re falling in love. Natalie has had a rough time of it lately, and it’s tempting to let naturally protective Marco take care of her. Both in and out of bed. Marco discovers he relishes the role and wants to keep Natalie close. Really close.
But Natalie’s situation in life and Marco’s continued battle with his family threaten to tear them apart. Neither of them was looking for forever, but they may have found their true destiny in each other.
To the bull riders in the PBR, without whom this series wouldn’t exist.
To my brother and sister for their support—I had no idea they were such big fans!
Marco D’Allesandro scrambled from the dirt and leapt onto the rail, grateful for the bullfighters as they diverted the beast’s attention away from him. Once safely atop, he turned toward the scoreboard. He was the last rider of the day and needed an eighty-nine to win. He’d stayed on the full eight seconds, so his chances were good. The bull he’d drawn was a tough one, which would help.
I wish the judges would hurry up.
His fellow rider and brother, Paolo, clapped him on the shoulder.
“Thanks.” Marco didn’t spare him a glance, his eyes glued to the scoreboard.
The announcer finally spoke. “Folks, it looks as if the Italian Stallion had another good night.” Marco’s face broke out in a grin as Paolo clapped him on the shoulder again. “Marco D’Alessandro has scored a ninety even on The Undertaker. Congratulations to our second-place finalist, Brady Parrish, and third-place finalist, Randy Suzan.”
Marco turned and swung his legs over the fence. He was about to drop to the other side when a flash of purple caught his attention. He scanned the crowd and then his world tilted on its axis. There, standing in the top-most row of the lower bowl of the arena, was the most beautiful woman Marco had ever seen. That was saying something, considering his Italian upbringing.
It was hard to tell how tall she was, but her lean curves were emphasized by a tight pair of black jeans and that purple top that caught his attention earlier. Dark-blonde straight hair streaked with lighter shades, most likely from being out in the sun, fell to her waist. When she smiled at someone near her his heart went into his throat. He had to know who she was.
He’d jumped from the railing and into the crowd before he even realized he was chasing her, but he wasn’t about to let this one get away. Almost all the women in Italy had dark eyes and hair and blondes fascinated him. People tried to stop him to congratulate him on his win, but he kept his eyes on the woman as she turned onto the stairs to get to the bottom of the section.
Luckily Marco was able to reach a point where he could intercept her as she exited the area and waited, his breath coming in short pants as if he’d run a marathon. When she got close she looked up, and her light-blue eyes widened as she took him in. She kept walking and he tracked her with his gaze. She reached the bottom and he put a hand on the sleeve of her Western-style shirt.
“May I speak with you?” His
had taught him to be respectful of women, and though there were few decent things Marco had learned from his overbearing father, who was currently pushing hard for Marco to return to Italy to run the family business, that lesson had stuck. Her eyebrows, with hair so light they were nearly invisible, drew down, but she agreed and allowed him to steer her a little to the side, away from the exiting crowd. “My name is Marco D’Alessandro. I would like to know your name as well.”
“Um, sure. My name is Natalie. Natalie Webster.”
He realized he was still holding on to her sleeve when she glanced down, and he quickly removed his hand, offering it for her to shake. Natalie took it and a jolt of something rushed straight up his arm as their hands touched.
“Will you allow me to buy you dinner?”
“Yes. I just won this event and I want to celebrate with a beautiful woman.”
Whereas a line like that would’ve worked on many Italian women and most of the buckle bunnies he normally encountered on tour, Natalie shook her head. “Look, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not here hoping to find a boyfriend.”
Boyfriend? I only asked her to dinner.
“That is good, because I am not in search of a girlfriend.”
“I’m also not interested in a one-night stand, so if that’s what you’re after—”
“I am sorry, did I offend you?”
Natalie sighed and Marco watched as she chewed on her lip for a minute. He could think of far better ways to make her mouth look abused, but figured given her recent statements she wouldn’t handle his flirting well, so he stayed quiet.
“You didn’t offend me. I’m here to work.”
“You work for the tour?”
“No. I’m following the tour for a couple of weeks. I’m interested in learning about bull riding so I can try out for the female tour. It’s just, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I’m here to watch, listen and learn.”
“Then have dinner with me. You can quiz me.” When she looked doubtful he added, “I will be a perfect gentlemen.” He turned the full force of the smile his parents had spent a fortune in dental work on and her eyes softened.
That’s what I wanted.
“All right. But just dinner.”
“Just dinner,” he agreed.
“Wait here. I will go get my check and my gear and come to collect you within twenty minutes.”
She looked a little stunned but agreed to wait. Marco knew girls in America weren’t used to having the man take the lead, but he didn’t know any other way to behave. After rushing to collect his winnings, he made his way as quickly as possible back to the riders’ area, taking off the protective vest he was still wearing as he walked.
He exchanged high-fives with a couple of the guys before grabbing his rope and winding it around his arm and shoulder. Turning to Paolo, he said, “I’ve got dinner plans. I’ll see you tomorrow, though.”
“Dinner plans, eh? With the hot blonde I saw you talking to?” His brother smirked, knowing Marco couldn’t resist blondes, and Marco nodded. There was no reason to hide it.
“Yes. She wants to become a bull rider and I told her I would give her a few tips.”
“Tips. Right.” His brother grinned then and Marco returned the smile. If he had anything to say about it those tips would be given in bed after he’d wrenched a couple of orgasms out of his beautiful Natalie and had one or two himself. His cock was totally behind that decision and hardened inside his jeans. Natalie had made it clear she only wanted dinner, and if that’s how she wanted to play it, fine. He could be a patient man when it was called for, and she looked to be worth his trouble.
Glancing at his Rolex, he whistled. “Got to go. Later,
.” Before he could get stopped by any of the other riders, he packed up the last of his gear and threw the duffle over his shoulder. Making his way back to the seating area, he planned out what he would say. Natalie had mentioned she would be following them around for a while. That was plenty of time to convince her to take a ride on the Italian Stallion. The hunt was on.
* * * * *
Natalie shifted her weight as she stood in the spot where Marco had told her to wait. On the one hand, she was excited about the opportunity to quiz one of the most successful bull riders this season, but on the other hand, she was fighting the urge to flee. She’d turned him down initially because she’d heard about Marco’s “love ’em and leave ’em” reputation. Natalie had a feeling he’d put on a full-court press to sleep with her, and with her life spinning out of control, the last complication she needed right now was sex.
This little sojourn onto the National Bull Riders Tour, or NBT for short, was costing her a fortune. Well, a fortune in her world, anyway. Between the travel and expenses, plus the fee to try out for the female tour, she was pretty much down to her last dime. But if she was going to do this, now was the time, and at least this way would be far less expensive than going to a bull riding school.
The father she’d adored who had raised her by himself after her mother left when Natalie was eight had died three months ago when he’d fallen over a hundred feet into a ravine at their ranch. Or more accurately, their former ranch, since Natalie had been forced to sell after her dad died. A well of emotion rose up, nearly choking her with grief and anger again, before she ruthlessly tamped it down. Now was not the time to cry.
For about the millionth time in the past three months she wondered why her father had never told her they were in such dire financial straits. Her mother had done the books for the ranch before she’d run off with one of her father’s ranch hands, and of course Natalie had been too young to be of much help, but even when she got older he never indicated he was in trouble. If he had, she never would’ve continued to ride the broncs in competition.
The entry fees were nothing to laugh at, but her father had just handed over cash whenever she’d asked for it, and she’d thought the ranch was doing all right. They didn’t have any hands at the time of his death, but she’d figured that was because he couldn’t find good men he trusted, not because he couldn’t pay them.
If she hadn’t entered the competitions in the first place she wouldn’t have had to practice and she wouldn’t have let him go out on the craggy plains to look for that lost calf with only their aging foreman, Ralph, with him. Her father died because of her own selfishness. That would be on her conscience forever, but at least if she made the bull rider tour everything wouldn’t be lost.
Her father hadn’t had the son he’d always wanted to take after him riding bulls like he had when he was younger. He’d never pushed her toward bull riding, but Natalie knew he mourned what he didn’t have. In an effort to make him happy she’d elected to ride broncs. At least it was something.
And she was damn good at it too, with all the practicing she’d done, which was why she hoped she could get the hang of riding bulls before she tried out for the female tour. Her thoughts were interrupted when Marco hopped over a wall and began to stride toward her. Though she’d told him she wasn’t interested in anything other than dinner, and really, she shouldn’t be, it was hard not to notice the raw masculine qualities in the man, from the thick stubble covering his face to his dark eyes and hair. He wasn’t overly tall or overly muscled, but she knew that served him well in the arena.
“You stayed.” He seemed pleased and she raised an eyebrow.
“Why wouldn’t I? I agreed to go to dinner.”
“Yes, you did.” He held out his arm. “Should we go?”
With a wary glance, she slipped her hand through the offered arm and he caught it between his arm and his warm body. Natalie suppressed a shiver and reminded herself that this was a business dinner. She couldn’t afford to get involved with someone right now. Her future was at stake and any distraction was unacceptable. Peeking at Marco walking beside her, though, she couldn’t help but think he was a pretty worthy distraction.
Once outside, Marco hailed a cab and ushered her inside before sliding in himself. After a brief conversation with the cab driver about where to go, they were off.
Marco turned to her. “So tell me, Natalie, why do you want to be a bull rider?”
“Because my dad was, and he always wanted me to, but I was too scared.”
“Your father wanted you to be a bull rider?” Marco sounded incredulous and she really couldn’t blame him. Though there was a female bull riding tour it was much smaller than the one the men competed on, and she doubted there were tons of fathers pushing their daughters into it.
“Yes and no. He never came out and said anything, but I know he wished he’d had a son who would follow in his footsteps. My dad was a bull rider before he’d been injured and bought our ranch—or what was our ranch.”
“You use past tense when speaking about your father.”
No use hiding anything. “He died three months ago. I want to do this for him, but I’ll admit the thought scares me too.”
“That is to be expected.”
“What? That I would be scared?”
“Well, a bull is very heavy, and you are not.” He shrugged as if what he’d said made perfect sense.
“Are you trying to compliment me?”
Marco smiled. “I am just saying what’s true.”
a female bull riders tour, you know.”
“I do know. We have a few joint competitions with them and I admire them very much. I’m not saying you can’t do it.”
The cab pulled up in front of a restaurant and Marco got out and then reached his hand back into the cab to help her out. She had to admit his manners were on par with the nicest Midwestern men she’d met throughout her upbringing in Nebraska.
They stopped at the hostess desk and Natalie tugged on Marco’s hand. He hadn’t released her after they’d exited the cab. “If you’re not saying I can’t do it, what
Marco smiled as he looked down at her. “Ah,
, I do not mean for you to be angry. It is in my nature to not want you to do something dangerous. In my country it is common for men to feel protective of women, but I know in this country it is not appreciated. I apologize.” He pressed a quick kiss to the back of her hand and she was reminded he was still holding it. Not wanting to seem rude, she resisted yanking her hand out of his.
She knew from reading the program and from his accent Marco hailed from Italy, and though she didn’t know much about the country, she decided to cut him a break. After all, he was buying her dinner and letting her ask him questions she was desperate to have the answers to.
Natalie waved off his apology. “It’s fine.”