Authors: T. J. Kline
The Cowboy and the Angel
T. J. KLINE
For my Mama and Daddy:
the two people who bought me my first horse
and always pushed me to reach for more, never settling.
You taught me how to fly.
I can never thank you both enough.
NGELA, CALL ON
“Can’t you just handle it, Joe? I don’t have time for this BS.” It was probably just another stupid mom calling, hoping Angela would feature her daughter’s viral video in some feel-good news story. When was she ever going to get her break and get some hard-hitting news?
“They asked for you.”
She sighed. Maybe if she left them listening to that horrible elevator music long enough, they’d hang up. Joe edged closer to her desk.
“Just pick up the damn phone and see what they want.”
“Fine.” She glared at him as she punched the button. The look she gave him belied the sweet tone of her voice. “Angela McCallister. How can I help you?”
Joe leaned against her cubicle wall, listening to her part of the conversation. She waved at him irritably. It wasn’t always easy when your boss was your oldest friend—and ex-boyfriend. He quirked a brow at her.
“Are you really looking for new stories?”
She assumed the male voice on the line was talking about the calls the station ran at the end of several news programs asking for stories of interest. Most of them ended up in her mental “ignore” file, but once in a while she found one worth pursuing.
“We’re always looking for events and stories of interest to our local viewers.” She rolled her eyes, reciting the words Joe had taught her early on in her career as a reporter. She was tired of pretending any of this sucking up was getting her anywhere. Viewers only saw her as a pretty face.
“I have a lead that might interest you.” She didn’t answer, waiting for the caller to elaborate. “There’s a rodeo coming to town, and rodeos are full of animal cruelty and abuse.”
This didn’t sound like a feel-good piece. The caller had her attention now. “Do you have proof?”
The voice gave a bitter laugh, sounding vaguely familiar. “Have you ever seen a rodeo? Electric prods, cinches wrapped around genitals, sharp objects placed under saddles to get horses to buck . . . it’s all there.”
She listened as the caller detailed several incidents at nearby rodeos where animals had to be euthanized due to injuries. Angela arched a brow, taking notes as the caller continued, giving her several websites she might research that backed the accusations.
“Can I contact you for more information?” She heard him hemming. “You don’t have to give me your name. Maybe just a phone number or an email address where I can reach you?” The caller gave her both. “Do you mind if I ask one more question—why me?”
“Because you seem like you care about animal rights. That story you did about the stray kittens, and the way you found them a home, really showed who you are inside.”
Angela barely remembered the story. Joe had forced it on her when she’d asked for one about a local politician sleeping with his secretary, reminding her that viewers saw her as their local sweetheart. She found herself reporting about a litter of stray kittens at the local shelter, smiling as families adopted their favorites, while Jennifer Michaels broke the infidelity story and was now anchoring at a station in Los Angeles. She was tired of this innocent, girl-next-door act.
“I’ll see what I can do,” she promised, deciding how to best pitch this story to Joe and whether it would be worth it at all.
“What was that all about?” Joe waved at one of the news crew as they passed. She recognized the man as one of the nameless camera crewmen she routinely worked with, but she didn’t even remember his name.
“Hey, Greg.” Joe called.
Greg, that’s right.
She knew she’d forget again in minutes. The only thing she could afford to think about right now was how this story might advance her career. She needed to get her father out of their neighborhood and quickly. He hadn’t come home again last night, and she prayed he was sleeping off his hangover somewhere safe. She opened her laptop and ran an Internet search for rodeo animal cruelty.
“Give me a few minutes to see if it’s even worthwhile.” She clicked on the first result, bookmarking several videos to watch.
“You know you make me nervous when you get secretive.” She turned toward him, smiling broadly, her eyes flashing with excitement and a curl of tension winding in her stomach the way it always did when she was on the right track for a good story. “Man, I know that look.”
Joe shook his head and jammed his hands into his pockets. “Let me know before today is up or it’s a no-go. No wasting time chasing dead ends.”
shifting his straw hat farther back on his forehead. “You need to come do another interview.”
Tossing the last of the alfalfa over the fence to the cattle, he narrowed his eyes as the news van stopped at the back gate of the rodeo arena. He didn’t want to be seen on camera with sweat trickling down his back and staining his t-shirt nor did he have the time. They had only a few hours left before the last rodeo performance of the weekend, and every minute was essential.
“I don’t have time for this today, Derek.” Mike’s voice was muffled as he unloaded the saddles from the tack compartment of the stock trailer. “I don’t really run the show anymore. You kids do. You can tell them the same thing I would: No comment.” He poked his gray head out from the side of the horse trailer and glanced toward the back gate. “It’s probably just another local story anyway. Besides, they’ll want a good-looking guy like you on camera before they want my grizzly face on there.”
“Fine,” Derek sighed, dusting alfalfa leaves from his pants as he headed toward the van.
So far, Derek was pretty sure he didn’t like his new position as arena director. his brother, Scott, had stepped down recently, taking a behind-the-scenes role at the ranch after his marriage and the birth of his daughter, so Derek recognized it was time he “cowboy up” and help out more in the family business even though he’d never been
guy. Derek was the fun-loving, irresponsible one, and he liked it that way. As the youngest in the family, he’d been mothered by his older sister after their parents died and she’d spoiled him rotten. They all knew it and accepted it, but as Mike pointed out when Derek became an uncle, it was high time he “suck it up,” accept the responsibility, and become the man they all believed he was.
As Derek walked by the trailer his sister Jennifer shared with her husband, Clay, one of their rodeo pick-up men, she poked her head out and looked toward the back gate. “Another one?”
Derek tickled the foot of the newborn boy she held in her arms. It still surprised him that she attended the rodeo with his nephew, but knowing her devotion to Mike and their company, it probably shouldn’t have.
“Yes. I get so tired of this,” Derek complained.
He paused mid-step as the side door of the white news van slid open and revealed a firm female behind encased in tight black jeans. The owner bent over and searched for something inside as he arched a brow and a slight smile crept to his lips.
This interview just started getting interesting
He stood at the locked gate, crossing his arms over the top rail and leaning against the warm metal while waiting for her to notice him.
“Skip, hurry up!” the woman called impatiently. Derek heard equipment shifting and looked back at Mike over his shoulder, starting to grow impatient himself. As much as he might enjoy flirting with this reporter, he still had animals to get ready before the rodeo started, and she was wasting what little time he had. He jabbed the toe of his boot in the dusty driveway, kicking up puffs of dirt and willing her to hurry up.
He leaned his body to the side, hoping for a glimpse of the woman. Derek couldn’t help but chuckle at the way she’d tucked her pants inside the city-girl, high-heeled dress boots. He could see the back of a plaid Western shirt and some sort of rhinestone belt. As she stood she plopped a cheap, black cowboy hat on the back of her head. He grinned and wondered when a television station would send out a news crew who knew how to get dirty. His laughter died when she turned around to face him.
This woman was gorgeous.
Not in a fake, medically enhanced, airbrushed way either. Her auburn hair caught the sunlight and shone like fire under the black hat, and her large emerald eyes pierced him as they met his. She had flawless porcelain skin, too light to have spent much time outside, and her body banished any coherent thought left in his brain. She was the kind of woman fantasies were made of, with curves that no real woman should have. Her long legs flared into rounded hips before tapering to a miniscule waist and rounding again at her . . .
“I’m up here, cowboy,” she warned, pointing a freshly manicured finger at her face. The man he assumed was Skip snorted and she cut those green eyes at him, glaring. He immediately headed back to the side of the van.
Derek swallowed and, regaining his composure, gave her a cocky grin and stood to his full six-foot-four stature. He adjusted his hat on his head before hanging his hands over the rail of the gate. “How might I help you, ma’am?” he drawled.
“I’m Angela McCallister with Channel 12 News. I was hoping to talk with the stock contractor for a few minutes.”
Her lips were moving, but he was having difficulty concentrating on the words coming out of them. He was too busy imagining himself kissing them—long, sweet kisses that made you savor the moment, forgetting the past or the future. Hell, her lips might make him forget his own name. He dragged his thoughts back to the present, where he stood in a sweaty t-shirt, his face smudged with dirt and grime.
“Sorry, as much as I’d like to chat with you, we don’t have time for interviews this morning. Maybe later.” Derek winked at her, turning on the heel of his dusty boot.
She stopped him with her hand on his bicep. “Wait, couldn’t I just ask you a couple of questions?” Her voice was sultry, almost seductively sweet, and she batted her long dark lashes at him.
He paused as warning bells sounded in his brain. This woman was trouble, and as much as he might want to spend a few minutes causing “trouble” with her, he couldn’t let Mike or the rest of his family down. He’d already been conned by Mike’s daughter, Liz, and that stupid move had nearly ruined his family. He wasn’t about to fall prey to another conniving woman. He was determined to prove to them he could work just as hard as Scott and take care of the family business just as well as he had. That didn’t include wasting time flirting with reporters.