Welcome back to the Ugly Stick Saloon!
Sometimes, a girl has to take more than one bull by the horns.
Mona Daley has had her fill of rodeo cowboys. Especially after Grant Raleigh and his partner blew through town three years ago. A torrid affair, a promise to return, then…nothing.
Chalking it up to girl-in-every-town syndrome, she swore off buckle-bearing cowpokes and never looked back. Now she’s working nights at the Ugly Stick Saloon to make enough money to save her beauty salon.
Grant has plans for his return to Mona’s life, plans that include groveling at her feet for another chance. Except his roping partner, Sam Whitefeather, gets to her first—and it looks like they’ve hit it off.
If he thought Mona didn’t harbor feelings for him, Grant would be the decent guy, step aside, and let her be happy. But one look, one touch on the dance floor and he finds himself falling all over again. He’s determined to prove his sincerity and that he’s the better man for her. Even if it means squaring off in the hottest arena imaginable—the bedroom.
Warning: The rodeo’s coming to town and there’s nothing two hot cowboys can’t do with a rope, a willing woman, and a lot of imagination.
Copyright © 2013 Myla Jackson
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Grant saw her as soon as he stepped through the door. Just like it had been when he’d seen her for the first time, he’d been drawn to Mona’s smile and the way she moved with a sexy flare she wasn’t even aware of.
The three years since he’d last been to Temptation hadn’t changed her much. Perhaps she was a little thinner, but she was just as beautiful as the day they’d met at the Ugly Stick Saloon during Tri-County Rodeo week. He and his then-partner, Dalton Faulkner, had been there for the rodeo. She’d been helping out at the Ugly Stick, waiting tables and serving drinks to rowdy cowboys fresh off the adrenaline rush of roping steers, riding bulls or broncs.
He chose the table in the back of the saloon because it wasn’t one that Mona was servicing. His waitress, Kendall, was a sweet young thing he didn’t recognize from his last visit to the saloon. She wore a diamond engagement ring on her finger and didn’t take any lip or advances from the horny men raising hell after a tough day in the saddle.
“This place is great.” His new team roping partner, Sam Whitefeather, tipped his long neck and swallowed the last of the beer in one gulp, slapped the bottle on the table and pushed to his feet. “You stickin’ around for a while?”
“Could you order me another? I’m gonna hit the latrine.” Sam reached for his wallet.
Grant held up his hand. “I’ll get this round. Go.”
He’d skipped the last two years’ rodeos here because he couldn’t bring himself to face Mona. The first year, because his life had been a mess, his career as a team roper at an end when he and Dalton had parted ways, and his bronc riding on the verge of collapse.
If not for Sam, he’d have found some bottle to crawl into and given up on everything. It took him the next couple years of total focus and concentration to regain his credibility and top rating in the competitions. Only then had he felt like he could return and see if there was anything left to salvage between him and Mona.
The woman foremost on his mind walked by carrying a tray of beer mugs and long necks, and his heart flipped over, reminding Grant of everything he’d lost and all the mistakes he’d made. He tipped his hat lower over his forehead, not ready to let her see him. Not sure what he expected to get out of coming back to Temptation. Would she ever forgive him for making promises he didn’t keep?
Mona plunked her tray of empty beer bottles and mugs on the bar and gave Libby, the bartender, her order for the next round to be delivered.
Audrey Anderson, the owner of the Ugly Stick Saloon, slipped in beside her, carrying her own tray of empties. “Mona, thanks so much for helping out during rodeo week.”
“No, Audrey. I should be thanking you. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“You really don’t think Old Man Spillman will extend the lease on your salon?”
“I’ve already asked. I have a thirty-day option to buy and Spillman is ready to sell. If I don’t agree to buy it in that thirty days, the old coot is going to take the first reasonable offer.”
“How much are you short?”
“I have to come up with at least another grand to add to my meager savings before the bank will even consider loaning me the money to buy the building.”
“I can spot you the money.”
Mona shook her head. “I can’t let you do that. You’ve already done so much for me and half the people in town. If I can’t find a way to earn the money, I don’t deserve to buy the salon.”
“I could use you all week, if that will help.”
“I’m all yours. I can come in after six every evening when I close the Shear Safari.”
“Make it at least by nine and stay until midnight. That’s when things are craziest and the men tip better.” Audrey emptied her tray and slid behind the counter to help Libby fill her next round of orders.
Libby loaded Mona’s tray and nodded. “You’re good to go.”
Mona lifted the heavy tray, balancing it carefully.
“Oh, and Mona,” Audrey called out, “if you’re interested in making more in a single night, I might have some exotic dancing gigs coming up. The rodeo winners usually hire some of the girls to dance at their parties.”
Mona bit her lip. She’d danced for Audrey before, but now that she had her own business as a hair stylist, she’d decided the dancing jobs might offend potential customers. But with her salon at risk of closing, a girl had to take risks she normally wouldn’t. “Let me know, and I’ll think about it.”
Audrey nodded. “I will. And no worries if you decide not to do it.”
“Thanks.” Mona turned and wove her way through the rowdy cowboys, some still wearing jeans and boots covered in rodeo dust. Others had taken the extra time to come showered, polished and dressed in their pearl-buttoned snap shirts, sporting their trophy belt buckles won that day or on the circuit.
Mona had her ass pinched more times than she could count. After a three-year sabbatical on dating, she’d about convinced herself she should try it again. Or rather Bunny Leigh’s experience with the date she’d bid on at the Annual Cowboy Auction had convinced Mona it was time to get over the cowboy she’d foolishly given her heart to, and move on.
But now wasn’t good. Not during the circus of Tri-County Rodeo week. She’d learned her lesson three years ago not to believe a rodeo cowboy any farther than she could throw him. She’d made the mistake of falling in love with a very handsome team roper. Like all the cry-in-your-beer songs played, he’d broken her heart.
Mona served the cowboys with a polite smile, enough to get a good tip, but not enough to encourage them to ask her out. She picked up the empty bottles from a table, setting them onto her empty tray.
“Have you seen the news?” one of the cowboys said to the other.
With the band playing loud enough to make the men shout to be heard, Mona couldn’t help overhearing their conversation.
“Nah, haven’t been near a television for two days. What’s up?”
“Raleigh’s competin’ on broncs, and he and the Indian are paired up for team ropin’.”
“Whatever happened between him and his team ropin’ partner Faulkner? Not that I’m sorry they busted up. Gives the rest of us a fighting chance to win.”
“Faulkner is riding bulls these days. He’s here too. Should be up on the bulls tomorrow.”
Mona’s hand shook. The bottle she’d just grabbed slipped from her fingers and bounced off the table.
The cowboy sitting in the seat beside her grabbed the bottle before it hit the floor and grinned up at her. “Careful there, pretty thing.” He set the bottle on her tray and winked. “Don’t suppose you’d dance with this old cowboy, wouldja?”
Her heart pounding against her ribs and her knees wobbling, Mona could only shake her head before she turned and hurried away.
She didn’t know how she’d gotten back to the bar with all the bottles and mugs intact. Tossing the empties in the trash, she slid her tray across the bar and leaned against the counter, afraid her knees would buckle and she’d fall flat on her face.
“Hey, sweetie, you look as if you’ve seen a ghost.” Bunny Leigh sat in the barstool beside her and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, Bunny, I just heard they’re gonna be here.”
“Who?” Bunny glanced around the saloon. “Where?”
Mona turned her back to the bar and stared around the shadowy interior of the saloon, searching and thankfully not finding them. “Grant Raleigh and Dalton Faulkner. They’re competing in the rodeo!”
“Grant and Dalton?” Bunny’s brows rose. “As in the love-’em-and-cheat-’em cowboys who broke your heart three years ago?”
Letting out a long slow breath, Mona fought to steady her racing pulse. “They’re the ones.” Well, at least one of them broke her heart. Grant.