Home > Hope on the Range(5)

Hope on the Range(5)
Author: Cindi Madsen

   “Okay, I admit that move was a pinch dirty.” Brady bent so his nose nearly touched hers. An intense blaze heated her green irises, and he bit back his laughter. This was more like their usual exchanges—a mix of exasperation, dares, and heat. Since he didn’t want any of that to turn into full-blown anger, he slowly let go and took a large step backward, lifting his hands in surrender. “Do your worst as I take my turn, and we’ll call it distraction training.”

   His arrow came out of his quiver with a satisfying zing, and Brady steeled himself for whatever Tanya threw his way.

   The fact that his muscles were already burning proved he was out of practice, but he did his best not to let that show. Still, the redhead next to him sensed weakness and pounced. She jabbed at his side, but he held steady. Her attempt to bump his elbow was met with firm resistance.

   “Is that all you got?” he taunted, ignoring the slight tremble in his arm from holding back the string for so long. With the tip of his arrow lined up with the yellow of the bull’s-eye, he shut out the rest of the world, the same way he always did before charging into the arena to rope or ride.

   Three…

   Two…

   Tanya’s warm breath hit his ear, sending a shiver across his skin, and without him telling them to, his fingers let go.

   His arrow landed a good foot short of the target. A faraway part of him was disappointed, but the heat pumping through him pushed it to the background. His heart thundered in his chest, dizziness set in, and he couldn’t quite forget the way her breath had wafted over his skin.

   It’s been a while since I’ve so much as kissed anyone. That’s all.

   The lack of action, along with the lack of women to use his charms on, meant he was in a sexual drought. Nothing to go thinking too hard about.

   His best friend’s smug giggle filled his ear, and fortunately it reset that fuzzy, malfunctioning part of his brain. He spun, grabbed hold of her, and hefted her up and over his shoulder. “You’re gonna pay for that.” He strode toward the pond, fully planning on tossing her in.

   “Brady, don’t you dare.” Tanya kicked her legs, and he tightened his grip on her thigh. “You said yourself it was distraction training. It’s not my fault you can’t focus for shit.”

   “If you think this is the way to talk me out of dunking you, you’re sorely mistaken.” His boots slid in the mud as he reached the shoreline.

   A rush of muffled words filled the air, each one merging into the next. “But remember how I have to welcome the big-shot CEO to the ranch.” She squirmed against his iron hold and lifted her arm enough to glance at her watch. Then she shoved the ticking thing in his face. “In twenty minutes, Brady! You know how my dad will react if I’m a muddy mess when I go to check the guy in, and I already told you it’s important to me to make a good impression.”

   That drew him up short. Both of them were well acquainted with the extra stress that came along with parental expectations and family businesses. Brady readjusted his grip and lowered her to her feet. “Fine. But you owe me one, and don’t think I won’t collect.”

   They slipped their way back through the mud and over to the cottonwood where they’d secured their horses and put away their bows and arrows. Brady unlooped Bud’s reins and climbed into the worn saddle that felt like a second home. While he’d agreed to let his teenage brother borrow his horse, the saddle he’d won after taking first place at his last big rodeo was a whole other thing.

   “Hey, Yaya,” he said, pulling out the name he’d called her when they were young and t’s were hard for him to pronounce.

   She turned Diesel so they were facing each other. “Yeah?”

   “All trash talk aside, I know how busy you are, and I don’t want you to feel pressured if you’re not up for the pre-rodeo show.”

   “Oh, I’m all in. I just feel bad that you’re the one who came up with the challenge, and my team is still gonna kick your ranch’s ass.”

   “In your dreams, cowgirl.” This was exactly what he needed. That odd antsy sensation that’d hung over him the past month or so eased, leaving him hopeful that before long, it’d be gone entirely. Maybe he’d never have his name on a plaque in the rodeo hall of fame, the way he and most of the town had thought he would at one point, but he was far from done when it came to making his mark.

 

 

Chapter 2


   A cloud of dust announced the impending arrival of their new court-ordered “guest,” and Brady made his way to the main cabin to take care of that whole song and dance. The beginning was always the toughest part—for the teens and the staff.

   The older sedan parked a few yards from the front porch, giving Brady a prime view of the sulking teenager in the passenger seat. About ninety percent of the kids came to the ranch with the same dour expression, and a lot of them were sure they were the baddest thing the ranch had ever seen.

   Carl, one of the parole officers Brady was familiar with, climbed out of the car. As a result of the looming threat of prison, sometimes the teenagers who came through the courts were easier to keep in line. Other times, it meant the staff had to keep a closer eye on them to guarantee the safe environment that was vital to progress.

   The parole officer barked orders through the open car door. A moment later, the passenger side door swung open, followed by a booted foot—motorcycle, not cowboy. Maddox Mikos had on ripped jeans, a white T-shirt, and a black leather jacket, even though it was eighty-nine degrees. The kid had dark hair, visible tattoos, and rings in his ears and on his fingers. Basically he’d gone to great lengths to broadcast what a tough rebel he was.

   After a few signed papers, Maddox was officially in the care of Turn Around Ranch. The ink hadn’t even dried before Carl was in his car and backing away, as if he couldn’t wait to be rid of the kid.

   Jessica, their resident chef who hadn’t been able to cook a thing when she first arrived, stepped out onto the porch. She still botched the occasional meal, but everyone loved her—especially his oldest brother, Wade, who’d asked her to marry him a couple of months ago.

   Speaking of her fiancé, Wade was making his way over. Dang guy couldn’t quite let go of controlling every aspect of the ranch, in spite of Brady insisting he could handle it. Wade already had a scowl in place, while Jess beamed at the new kid and waved as if she were welcoming him to Disney.

   “Wow, a whole welcome party,” Maddox said, his words dripping with sarcasm. “Don’t I feel fucking special.”

   “Watch your mouth,” Wade replied. Brady could tell he was about to launch into his spiel on respect, but then his cell rang.

   Brady swung his arm toward the porch. “Follow me into the office and we’ll get yo—”

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