Unridden: A Studs in Spurs novel

BOOK: Unridden: A Studs in Spurs novel
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Linden Bay Romance, LLC

577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520

Macon GA 31201

Unridden

Studs in Spurs

Copyright © Cat Johnson 2009

Cover art by Amanda Kelsey

ISBN eBook: 978-1-60202-202-7

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

First
Linden Bay
electronic publication: May 2009

Unridden

Studs in Spurs

Cat Johnson

Dedication

This book is dedicated to Mike Short—real, live bull rider, friend, muse, computer geek, and my go-to guy for all things cowboy.

Certain details were manipulated to fit the story. Any mistakes made or liberties taken with the facts in this work of fiction are purely my own.

Prologue

“So? What did you think?”

Much like an accused man watches the faces of the jury returning with a verdict, Jenna Block held her breath as she studied her literary agent’s expression and tried to determine the answer to her question.

Marge Collins of the Collins Agency had a reputation for not pulling any punches. Swallowing hard, Jenna guessed Marge’s tightly pursed lips and hesitation were not good signs. She had a feeling her delicate writer’s ego was about to get a lesson in humility.

The manuscript sat on the desk between them like an eight-hundred-pound gorilla. Her agent sighed. Another bad sign.

Suddenly feeling like a child seated in front of the wide desk, Jenna straightened her spine. Was her chair lower than Marge’s? That sneaky, power-grabbing ploy on the part of her agent wouldn’t surprise Jenna one little bit.

Marge peered over top of her reading glasses. “Jenna, there’s really no market for straight contemporaries right now.”

Jenna frowned, confused. She’d assumed the sale of this book would be a slam dunk.

“There was a market last year when you sold my last straight contemporary. In fact, you had no trouble selling my last three novels.”

Marge nodded. “You’re right, but the trend in the industry has shifted.”

“In under a year?”

“That’s why it’s called a trend, I guess.” She shrugged.

Biting her lower lip, Jenna tried to digest the idea of totally scrapping the novel she’d spent a considerable portion of the last year writing and starting fresh with a new one. In a different genre, no less. The thought had her stomach twisting with dread. How in the world was she going to write a new book and get it sold before this apparently fickle and ever-changing romance market shifted yet again?

Hesitantly, Jenna asked, “So, what is the new trend?”
Please don’t say historical romance
. She absolutely loathed research; one reason why she wrote only contemporaries.

Marge leaned back and steepled her fingers. “The publishers want cross-genre, out of the box stories.”

What the hell did that mean? Panicked, Jenna did her best to keep her expression neutral. “Okay, like what for example?”

“Well, I just sold an erotic, multi-partner, paranormal romance with elements of bondage about pirate vampires in space.” Marge waited expectantly, as if Jenna would leap up and say that she had written a book just like that and had it stashed under her bed.

Jenna sat perfectly still, hoping her face didn’t show her horror. Bondage issue aside—how did one research
that
subject—her brain stalled on visions of her brother hiding the remote control and making her watch agonizing hours of the SciFi Channel on television when they were kids.

Science fiction. Ugh.
Was she destined to now spend her days penning tales of horny vampire space pirates?

Jenna swallowed the ever-growing lump in her throat. “Um, anything else selling?”

Marge shuffled a few pages on the desk. “There is a publisher who put out an open call for submissions for their new cowboy line of romances.”

Cowboys.
Okay, she could do cowboys.

“Space pirate cowboys?” Jenna probably asked that last question with a bit more attitude than was wise considering her writing career and the fate of her future manuscripts were in this woman’s hands.

Eyes narrowed, Marge pursed her lips but answered her anyway. “No. Regular cowboys.”

“Contemporary or historical?” Jenna could fake knowing about cowboys. She’d just have them wear jeans and boots and chew on a piece of hay or spit tobacco or something. However, writing about the old west would require actual research. Even if Jenna had the desire, she didn’t have the time for that. A writer was only as good as her most recent book and too much time had already passed since her last release.

Marge finally ended Jenna’s suspense. “Any genre is fine, so long as it has a cowboy theme.”

That was good news at least. Still overwhelmed by the idea of starting over from scratch, Jenna let out a sigh. “When’s the deadline for submissions?”

Marge glanced down at the paper in her hand and cringed. “A month and a half from now.”

“A month and a half!”

“Can you do that?” Marge raised one eyebrow dubiously.

With a romance convention coming up out west, book signings scheduled, on top of radio interviews and a virtual tour online to various chats and blogs, Jenna had countless other things to do over the next few weeks besides plotting out and completing this new book. She wasn’t a slow writer, but she wasn’t super fast by any means. “What length are they looking for?”

Again, Marge consulted the paper that had delivered more bad than good news so far. “They want between fifty and sixty thousand words. And they’re looking for stories that are fun and light in tone.”

Jenna snorted out a laugh. “Fifty thousand words in a month and a half on top of everything else I have going on? It’s going to be light. Don’t worry about that.” She sure as hell didn’t have time to do heavy, though she doubted anything about this would be fun.

Rising from her seat, Jenna let out an overly loud breath. “I guess I better go home and get started.”

There went her plans for some retail therapy in the stores while she was in the city for the day. She would have to hop right on the next train and get back to her laptop at her condo in the suburbs.

Marge pushed Jenna’s manuscript across the desk. “Don’t forget this.”

Jenna eyed the sheaf of papers with sudden, undeserved hatred. “Don’t you want to keep it, just in case?”

“I guess I could try to dump it on one of the smaller, indie e-publishers. Most of them don’t pay advances, but it’s better than nothing. Send me the electronic file when you get home and I’ll see what I can do.”

Dump it. Great.

Jenna forced a tight, and far from sincere, smile. “Thanks, Marge. You’re a sweetheart.”

“No problem, Jen. See you in six weeks.”

Marge slid her glasses back up her nose and turned her attention to the next stack of papers on her cluttered desk. Apparently Jenna had been dismissed. Stifling a groan, she mumbled a goodbye and gladly retreated from the office.

Chapter One

“Slade Bower needs an eighty-nine to take the lead in this competition. What do you think, folks? Can Slade do it? He’s riding One-Night Stand from Double J Stock Contractors. Tonight is this bull’s first time out in this series. Since we’ve never seen him before, there’s no telling how he’s gonna come out of the chute. Slade’s definitely at a disadvantage in this match up.”

On the edge of his consciousness, Slade could hear the arena announcer’s amplified ramblings. The steady chatter entertained the crowd in the stands while Slade concentrated on getting himself properly seated on the bull’s broad back. Meanwhile, the beast did everything it could to make that difficult for him

Even though it was this animal’s first time out in big time competition, the damn bull somehow already knew a few of the tricks pulled by the veteran stock. Slade tried getting his denim and leather-covered leg into position but the bull countered by leaning all his weight against the back rails of the bucking chute to make sure the cowboy it didn’t want on its back couldn’t wiggle his leg down.

Slade saw a booted foot swing over the top rail of the chute and brace against the animal’s side. His friend, Mustang Jackson, was trying to help by pushing the bull away from the wall. Slade quickly slid his leg down into the small space Mustang had created for him while the bull tried to lean again and crush him.

The bull had already bucked once in the chute when one of the guys tightened the rope that stretched beneath One-Night Stand’s belly so Slade could wrap it around his left hand. He wasn’t going to wait around for the animal to pitch a fit in the chute again. Surrounded by metal in an incredibly tight space with a couple thousand pounds of bucking bull was a good way to get knocked out cold or worse before the ride even began.

Enough with the bull. Time to get the show started. Slade settled his ass one final time on the bull’s back and gave a nod. The gate swung open and One-Night Stand bolted out of the chute, starting to buck before his flank even cleared the metal rail.

The bull took off, circling to the left and into Slade’s riding hand, before reversing and rounding to the right. Slade felt his body slide to one side after the reversal but made the correction, readjusting and centering his weight.

No longer aware of the announcer or much of anything else outside of his field of vision, which was narrowed to a small area between the bull’s shoulder blades, Slade engaged in a battle of wills and wits with the two thousand pounds of bucking animal beneath him. Keeping his toes turned out and his spurs pressed against the animal’s hide, Slade held on tight as One-Night Stand gave him one hell of a ride.

The animal was smart and strong. When Slade’s weight slipped to one side, the bull snapped around fast and bucked hard in the opposite direction, trying anything to get the rider off its back. Unfortunately for the bull, Slade was just as smart and a hell of a lot more stubborn as he made countless corrections to his position and used all of his strength to keep himself forward and up on top of his rope.

The odds were good for Slade to make the eight seconds, until the cunning animal dipped its front end low, then whipped back up, sharp and fast, nearly causing Slade to kiss the back of the big, bony head.

Pulling his torso backwards, Slade tried not to slap the bull with his free hand. That would have ended the ride for him instantly. If Slade got bucked off, so be it, but he’d be damned before he’d get disqualified for a slap. The judges could and would do that to him for breaking the rules if his right hand touched either the animal or himself.

He managed to keep his free hand up and clear, but the bull’s move got Slade leaned back too far onto his pockets and his left hand slipped free of the rope wrapped around his glove.

Slade became airborne just as the buzzer sounded above the noise of the crowd.

The bullfighters moved in immediately to distract the still bucking animal as Slade landed on his shoulder with a grunt and then rolled clear of the deadly hooves that pounded the ground inches from his face.

Jumping to his feet, he got to the relative safety of the rails before locating the scoreboard, not sure if he’d made the full eight seconds. The first of the four judge’s scores appeared on the monitor and Slade punched the air in victory. He’d done it. Ridden One-Night Stand right down to the buzzer. Barely.

Tuning back in to what was happening around him, Slade once again heard the announcer’s voice reverberating throughout the arena. “Ninety point five is the score. With only one rider left tonight to challenge his position, Slade Bower takes the lead.”

The bull ran for the gate leading to the stock pens and disappeared out of the arena, and Slade grinned, high-fiving one of the bullfighters.

“Great ride, Slade,” Shorty, another of the bullfighters, congratulated him and handed him the rope that had fallen off the bull moments after Slade had.

Slade took his bull rope, then pulled the mouthpiece from between his teeth, stashing it in a pocket. “Thanks, Shorty.”

The fringe of Slade’s leather chaps swished, slapping his legs as he strode from the arena and headed behind the bucking chutes. He flipped his rope over a railing and turned back to watch the action in the chute where his competition, the one rider who could cost him the win tonight, was about to ride.

“Hey, man. Great ride.”

“Thanks, Mustang.” Eyes still trained on the rider straddling the rails over the bull in the chute, Slade accepted a congratulatory slap on the back from Mustang while ripping open the Velcro closure before unzipping his sponsor logo-covered protective vest.

BOOK: Unridden: A Studs in Spurs novel
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