Home > Hope on the Range(4)

Hope on the Range(4)
Author: Cindi Madsen

   “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” she said. The retort shocked the hell out of him, leaving him standing there like an idiot with his mouth hanging open. Judging from her bulged eyes and the panic bleeding into her features, she’d surprised herself as well.

   A strangled chuckle came out, and Brady waved off the accidentally flirty-sounding banter. “Set you up for that one, didn’t I? Don’t worry. I know you didn’t mean it like…” He swallowed, exasperated at finding his throat tighter than usual.

   What was his deal today? Regardless of whatever other shit was going on in his life, their spot acted like a mini time-out from any worries and cares.

   They’d had all of one awkward encounter ever, during the night of their senior prom. That delicious perfume still lingering in the air had started it, too. The two of them had gone together as friends, but Brady hadn’t been expecting the strapless, beaded dress that exposed Tanya’s shoulders and made her glitter like a disco ball. The obligatory dancing had practically forced him to sniff her neck. The sparkling lights overhead had reflected in her eyes as he gazed deep into them, and in spite of it being nearly a decade ago, residual embarrassment heated his cheeks as he recalled going in for a kiss.

   One Tanya hadn’t returned, instead smacking his arm and asking what the hell he was thinking. There’d been an accusation of misogyny—something about him only treating her like a girl because she’d put on a dress, even though she’d also yelled at him before for treating her like a girl. Then she’d added that he couldn’t just kiss her because she was about to leave for college and he didn’t know any other way to express his emotions.

   As confused as he’d been about her anger, the lesson he’d learned was how much it sucked to be in a fight with his best friend. So he’d made his apologies and vowed never to do anything so foolish again.

   Before awkwardness could creep in, Brady fished out an arrow—right as Tanya reached toward the quiver to do the same—and their fingers brushed.

   “What if…?” She batted her eyelids like crazy, and then her right eye twitched and squeezed closed. “I do mea—”

   “Do you have something in your eye?” He snagged her wrist, tugged her closer, and instructed her to look up. Tanya stood perfectly still, save the hand she cupped around his elbow to steady herself. All he could see as he peered at her eyeball was a whole lot of white, no trace of dirt or flakes of the black mascara she’d coated her lashes with. “I don’t see anything. Does it hurt?”

   She shook her head and quietly said, “No. It was just a delusional moment, and it’s clearly gone now.”

   “Well, good. Though I don’t think you were delusional. All your blinking probably just got whatever it was out already. But if you screw up your shot, I don’t want to hear about how your view was obstructed or some nonsense like that.” He retrieved an arrow and handed it to her. “You go first this round.”

   Her forehead crinkled, but before he could ask why she seemed frustrated by his customary ribbing, she took the arrow and nocked it on her bow. “You mentioned the rodeo and the teens but never did get to the point.”

   “The brilliant idea, you mean.”

   There was the smile he’d been after, the slant of her lips easing the tightness in his chest that whispered something was off between them. He couldn’t handle that right now. Not with his ambitious plans for the rodeo and a new teenage client showing up at the ranch. Wade was burned out on playing tough cop and hadn’t been nearly as effective at it since going and falling in love anyway. Which meant it was Brady’s turn to meet the boy’s parole officer and take the lead.

   “All in all, we’ve got ten teens. My idea is for you find the same number of locals to train—people with little to no experience in the arena—and we put together a sort of preshow/amateur hour with some of the simpler rodeo events. Turn Around Ranch versus Bullhead Valley. We’ve been working on getting the town to better accept the teens and the program. Seeing them out in the area, participating in town functions, will show everybody they’re good kids at heart. Plus, the townsfolk will show up early and make bets, and it’ll make all of Silver Springs feel like they’re in on it. Win-win.”

   The tip of Tanya’s tongue came out, signaling that the wheels in her brain were cranking away, and Brady’s pulse throbbed faster. He didn’t want to have to beg her to play along, but with his idea out in the air, he realized how badly he wanted it. A new, exciting goal, using his years of training to teach the teens new skills, the rush that accompanied the buzzer—all of it. “I’m totally on board with helping win over the town,” she said.

   “But?”

   Tanya sighed. “With everything else I’ve got going on, how am I supposed to find and train that many people? All within a month and a half at that.”

   “Put up a couple flyers, and you’ll have a team assembled in no time.” He pulled out the taunt they were both too old for yet never could resist. “Unless you’re chicken.”

   When they were younger, he’d thrown it out to goad her into going along with his daredevil antics. Not to make her do things she didn’t want to do but because he’d been a little scared himself and knew he wouldn’t be with Tanya by his side.

   With the word chicken echoing through the air, Tanya lifted her bow and arrow and fired within a matter of seconds. Impressive, but in her attempt to look like an unintimidated badass, she hadn’t aimed very well. Which left enough of an opening for him to catch up. She spun to face him, determination setting the line of her jaw. “I guarantee I can put together a team that’ll give you and yours a run for your money.”

   “Oh, it’s on.” That same adrenaline from earlier came along for the ride, and Brady took a few extra seconds to center himself and aim. This time, he was the one to hit the target dead center. “Read it and weep—or should we call it a glimpse of things to come. How’d that celebration dance go again?”

   Brady bounced around Tanya, smart enough not to attempt the hip swaying she’d done, although he added a spin so he could shake his ass at her. “Karma, am I right?”

   Tanya swore and grabbed another arrow, her face so deadly serious he considered running in the other direction. On horseback, she was fast. On foot, she bolted like a cow from the chute.

   Best not say that aloud, or she’ll be aiming that sharp arrow tip at you.

   At the exact moment her fingers began to loosen their grip, he bumped his elbow into hers. It threw off her shot, the arrow wobbling wildly before dropping low and barely striking the target in the outer circle, one-point range.

   “You cheater!” She shoved him with both hands, and he fought against a wobble. Apparently a mistake, one that fanned the flame on her temper. She came at him again, and he wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides.

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