All Cowboy Series, Book 1
It’s Independence Day, and Harper Johansen is at the rodeo in South Dakota on business. While she’s deep in cowboy territory, she’s hoping to meet a real cowboy—one who shares her dreams for the future. Shaw Donahue, tall and sexy in his cowboy hat, jeans, and boots, could be that man, and Harper quickly falls for his seductive charm. Until he tells her he’s a roughneck.
Shaw can’t believe his luck. Harper is an accomplished, intelligent businesswoman, and she’s beautiful, sexy, and willing. Until she learns he’s working the local oil field. Before he can explain the reason he’s roughnecking, she pushes him away, telling him they can only be friends. He doesn’t fit into her plans. With four days of rodeo ahead of them, can Shaw convince Harper to value a man for more than his cattle?
Harper Johansen backed into the last diagonal parking spot on Main Street in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. She jumped out of her company car just as the cattle drive started, and leaned against the front bumper, watching the longhorns plod toward her. Cowboys and cowgirls rode horses along each side of the sauntering cattle, close enough for Harper to touch.
And she had a need to touch. She wanted a genuine cowboy so bad, she almost ached. This was Wednesday, the first day of the four-day rodeo, so she had through Saturday to look for one. There had to be at least one man in town who’d fit her requirements.
Straightening to her full five-foot, two inches, she fluffed her shoulder-length red hair and tugged her T-shirt down. Cocking her jeans-shorts-clad hip toward one of the younger, sexier horsemen, she gave him the look. He grinned at her but lifted the reins in his left hand, showing her his wedding ring.
Taken. All the cowboys who matched her idea of perfection were either taken or far too young. Not that she was old at thirty, but she did have an age limit. Rodeo cowboys were usually way beneath her minimum requirement, but she still got enough propositions from them to fill an arena.
After the short parade passed, she headed to the sidewalk, flip-flops flapping, and opened her trunk. She lifted out the box of free samples she had been giving away at every one of the twenty rodeo towns on her summer tour this year. This afternoon’s samples were alcohol-free, but tonight at the rodeo, she’d be gifting her company’s best fermented beverages. Harper set the box on the bumper, balancing it with one hand while she reached up to grab the trunk hood.
Two strong arms reached over and grabbed the teetering box, lifting it out of her way. Attached to the arms was a hunk of a man in a cowboy hat. His plaid shirtsleeves were rolled up over tan, muscled forearms and the top buttons on the shirt were open, revealing a few brown curls. His big brown eyes shone against his tan, strong-jawed face. “Ma’am. Can I help?”
Despite having promised herself there’d be no more men unless she verified they were the real thing—cowboys seven days a week—she smiled. “Thank you.” She shut the trunk and patted the top of it. “Here is fine.”
He leaned over and set the box carefully on the trunk and backed away a step.
His clean soap and pine scent turned everything deep inside her all warm and gooey.
“You’re selling those?” He tucked his fingers into his front pockets.
She pulled out a red can of cola and offered it to him. “Free samples. I work for the company.”
He nodded and accepted it from her. “Thanks. One of my favorites.” His voice was deep and slow, just like she imagined her perfect cowboy’s would be.
“Are you…in the rodeo?” He looked a little older than most. Maybe twenty-five.
“No. Just came into town to watch it.” He looked at her box of cans then back into her eyes. “Will you be at the rodeo tonight?”
She nodded. “Section C, Row 5.”
People wandered by, slowing to look at her box of cans. Pasting on her professional smile, she handed out samples. She struggled for the right words to ask the helpful stud if he was a ranch worker or a stockman or what his cowboy status was. Her inability to formulate a question probably meant it was far too soon to start vetting him.
“I’ll look for you, ma’am.” With a sexy grin, he touched his hat brim and walked away.
Harper stared at the gorgeous sight. Wide shoulders, narrow hips, sweet ass, and long legs in faded denim. Her mouth watered for a bite of those round cheeks. “Yummy.”
“What?” An older woman frowned at her as she took her free sample.
“Yummy…cola. It’s wonderfully refreshing, too.” She focused on handing out the cans and when she looked again, he was gone from sight. When her box was empty, she drove the few blocks back to her hotel room. It was the best inn in town, but after being on the road for so many weeks, all the features and amenities seemed to blur. She lay on top of the covers, closing her eyes for just a moment.
A crash of thunder woke her. The digital clock read 6:05. “Crap!” She jumped up and raced around her room, pulling on jeans and boots, struggling into a long-sleeved T-shirt, throwing on a yellow raincoat with her company’s logo, and grabbing an umbrella. Part of her job description was to watch the rodeo from the stands, no matter what the weather, and she’d come prepared for anything.
As she raced out the door, she dug her schedule out of her purse. “Crap, crap, crap.” She should be meeting with the rodeo’s sponsorship approval committee right now. This wasn’t good.
By the time she made her way through traffic and found a parking spot, it was after 6:30. She grabbed her rolling suitcase of thank-you gifts and ran.
An hour later, she’d fulfilled her responsibilities and her tardiness had been forgiven after plying them with winks and smiles and premium bottles. She secured her suitcase in her trunk then made her way to her seat. In a downpour. Her raincoat hood covered her head, but drops lashed at her face.
She popped open her umbrella as she double-checked her ticket. Although it was close to the action, it wasn’t covered by the roof. “Not my lucky day today.” She sighed and excused herself past the rain-coated, umbrella-shielded die-hards who were waiting for the rodeo to begin. Tucking her long raincoat under her bottom, she gingerly sat on her wet seat.
Harper glanced around at the couples snuggling together and sharing hotdogs under umbrellas. They looked so happy. Every time she met a cowboy, she looked into his eyes, wondering if he was the one. The perfect cowboy. A man who had the exact same dreams as she did. They’d find a quiet patch of land where they could make a life for themselves. Start a family, raise some cattle. Or horses. Or llamas. Or…whatever they decided on.
As music piped through the speakers, a chill rattled through her despite the humidity. It was almost the Fourth of July. Shouldn’t it be summer here?
The summers she’d spent on her grandparents’ ranch in Wyoming were her favorite memories of her childhood. Feeding the skittish foals, chasing piglets and baby chicks, riding her own little pony, Sassy. She’d even done some digging with her grandfather on his tractor.
Her grandpa had died when Harper was only eleven, and Grandma decided to move to an apartment and sell the ranch. Begging her parents to buy it hadn’t worked, and Harper had spent the rest of her childhood summers in small-town South Dakota.
The urge to farm and raise livestock never left her, and every extra penny she earned went into her savings account. She wanted those experiences for her children. And she’d make it happen. “Some day.”
She looked up at the sky. This was not the best day to meet people. “A little cooperation would help, please.” As a peal of thunder shook the arena, she hunkered down, shivering and wishing for a cowboy to warm her.
* * * * *
Shaw Donahue sat in his dry seat under the roof watching Section C, waiting for her to show up. She was a beauty. That shiny red hair, her big brown eyes, and petite, curvy body. She was just his type. And a professional woman. Not a clingy girl who was underemployed while looking for a rich husband to support her. He saw way too much of that up where he worked.
Red, he’d decided to call her—since he’d been too edgy in town to ask her name—was exactly what he’d been looking for.
His three buddies who’d come to the rodeo with him had given Shaw plenty of grief after the cattle drive that morning. They’d watched him helping her with her box of soda cans, and had called her his ‘coke pusher.’ He didn’t care. When he felt that certain thing in his gut, he went with it.
When a person in a yellow raincoat sporting her company’s logo on the back made their way into the seats, he figured it had to be her. A flash of her red hair as she opened a purple umbrella confirmed it. He turned to his left where his buddy and co-worker, Dax Marshall, sat with a lapful of food. “I’ll give you fifty bucks if you give up your seat.”
“What?” he said through a mouthful of nachos. “No way.” His dark blue eyes narrowed.
“Listen. That girl just walked in, and she’s sittin’ in the rain.”
Dax took a belt of brew. “So? Give her your seat.” He grinned. “I’ll keep her company.”
Dark jealousy raced through him before he shook it off. Feeling that strongly about a woman he’d talked to for less than two minutes was a strong sign that he’d found a keeper. “A hundo. And I’ll take your shift on the drive back Sunday.”
Dax paused his tortilla chomping. “Add a case of beer, and you’ve got a deal.”
“Deal.” Shaw dug a mint out of his jeans pocket and popped it in his mouth. “Go. Now.”
“All right, all right.” Dax stood, balancing his supper, and handed Shaw his ticket stub. “Give me two cases of beer and I’ll keep the gonad brothers away, too.”
Pete and Huck Gonally strolled toward them, each carrying two beers and a cardboard tray of food. The brothers could be twins, with their curly blond hair and brown eyes.
“You’re a pal, Dax. I owe you one.” Shaw stood as Dax intercepted their co-workers and herded the complaining brothers up into the covered general bleacher seating.
The rest of the crowd stood as the horse and rider with the American flag rode into the arena. Shaw took off his hat and ran through the rain to Section C, Row 5. Clambering past the standing audience, he reached Red.
She was singing the national anthem at the top of her lungs. Beautiful. Her voice, and her lungs—or at least, the nice, rounded mounds over them. He ducked under her umbrella, not an easy chore since he was six-foot, three inches and she was about a foot shorter.
She stopped singing, her big, brown eyes wide, then she smiled. “Hi.” She thoughtfully lifted her umbrella so he didn’t have to crouch.
“Hi.” They smiled at each other through the rest of the national anthem.
When it ended, he took her elbow. “Come and sit with me. Back under the overhang.”
She looked behind her, paused a moment, then nodded. “Sure. I’d like that.”
They stepped over feet as they made their way out of the row and back to his seats. Dax had kept his word. He and the gonad boys were gone. Shaw took her umbrella and shook it out, then closed it and put it on the far right seat. He helped her off with her drenched raincoat, and laid it on the far left seat. Gesturing to one of the two middle seats, he grinned. “Ma’am.”
She sat and tucked her big purse on the floor under her. “We don’t even know each other’s names, and we’re sharing seats.”
He plopped next to her, as close as he could get without seeming too greedy for her. “I’m Shaw Donahue.”
She held out her hand. “Shaw. I’m Harper.” They shook.
She hadn’t shared her last name. Was she safety conscious? She’d have to be. A woman traveling alone. Or at least, he assumed she was alone. “Are you here alone?” It kind of blurted out of his mouth.
“I am.” She shivered and rubbed her arms. “Oooh, this weather…”
“Ma’am, I wish I had a jacket to give you, but…” He held his arm so it hovered over the back of her seat. “If you don’t mind me getting in your personal space…”
Again, she paused for a few seconds, then nodded. “Sure.” She leaned into him, her shoulder resting on his chest.
Shaw’s heart thundered and his belly shuddered. When he laid his arm around her and his hand landed on her shoulder, he had to swallow back a groan. God, she was soft. And she smelled like flowers and vanilla. His eyes narrowed and he sucked in a breath, picturing her naked, up against the wall, his body pressing hard along her lush curves, his hips jerking as he slid his shaft into her tight, pink…
“Why do you have four seats, Shaw?” She tipped her head back and looked into his eyes. Could she see the fierce desire burning there? That would heat her up some.
She sucked in a breath and her cheeks pinked up.
He glanced away and took control of his lust. “I only have one. My three buddies were here, but they decided to sit up in the bleachers.” He grinned at her.
“Oh, they decided, huh?” Her brows lifted and she smiled slightly.
He tucked her in a little tighter and leaned down just a bit closer. “I had some say in their decision-making.”
She tipped her face up to his. Just inches separated their lips. He inhaled as deeply as he could, taking in as much of her as he could stand without going mad. “You’re pretty.” Damn, had he really just said that? What was this, first grade?
With a wink, she licked her lips. “You’re kinda pretty too, cowboy.”
They laughed and talked about the differences between today’s ranch rodeo and the PRCA rodeo they’d both see tomorrow night. Hopefully together, if Shaw had his way. They chatted about what they’d seen of the Black Hills and Badlands areas. After he ran to get nachos and beer for them, they talked about their favorite foods.
She steered the conversation away from anything personal, though. When he asked where she was from, she talked about her apartment in downtown Chicago, but she didn’t ask him about his life. As if she didn’t want to know him. Hell, was she just looking for a one-nighter?
During the wild cow milking, the rain let up. By the time the bronc riding was nearly done, the clouds had blown away and stars twinkled. The announcer informed them that the band would play as planned, and the crowd cheered.
“Stay and listen to the band with me, Harper?” He’d lead her outside the rodeo building, find a dark, quiet spot, and take her in his arms with her back against his chest. Her sweet, round ass would push and wiggle, tempting unbearably, hardening his shaft. He shifted to ease the pressure along his fly.
She turned to face him, her lips pressed together tightly, her eyebrows lowered. “I’m afraid to ask you this.” Her mouth turned down in a frown.
What was going on with her? Women usually didn’t confuse him this much. “Ask.” He’d tell the truth, no matter how bad it was.
“What do you do for a living?” Her fingers laced together and she didn’t move. Was the answer that important to her?
“I work in the oil fields in North Dakota.” He should tell her about his ranch, too. About his plans for—
“Oh.” Her breath left her in a blast, and she tipped her head down.
“Was that the wrong answer?” Was his job too far below her standards? He fought to curb the anger flaring inside him as his desire seeped away.
“No. Not at all.” She opened her mouth as if she was going to say more, then closed it and shook her head. She almost looked like she was going to cry.
The rodeo ended and the crowd surged to its feet, heading up the aisles.
“Thank you for everything, Shaw. For the nachos and beer, and for sharing your seat with me.” She reached for her purse, but he took her wrist in his hand. “Tell me what’s wrong with being an honest working man, Harper.” Was she hoping he was wealthy and didn’t get his hands dirty every day?
She looked past him and her eyes opened wide.
He released her and turned to find his three friends standing behind him, grinning like morons. “I’ll meet you at the truck.”
“Okay, Shaw. Don’t get lost, buddy.” They chuckled as they left, and he turned back to see her about three yards away, walking as fast as she could. She hadn’t even taken her umbrella.
“Damn.” She hadn’t seemed like a snob. They’d only talked for three hours, but he’d gotten a good sense of her personality. Shit, maybe he was fine to buy her drinks and junk food, and wrapping her in his arms to keep her warm, but not good enough for anything beyond that.
The hell with her. He stood and took a couple steps in the opposite direction.
He shook his head. He wasn’t that kind of a man. She shouldn’t be walking alone to her car. He picked up the stupid purple umbrella and joined the crowd, about five people behind her.
Once out of the stands, the crowd thinned and he caught up to her. He walked beside her a few silent steps before she spoke. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just not ready to…”
“To what? To settle for an oil worker?”
She stopped. He stopped next to her. People flowed around them with a few grumbles. “Here.” He handed her the umbrella. “At least let me walk you to your car.” He held his hands up by his shoulders. “Promise not to touch you.” With my dirty paws. He didn’t say those last words out loud, although it was damn tempting.
She heaved out a breath and started walking. “Why is this so hard?”
He walked beside her for a minute. “What’s so hard?”
Shaking her head, she muttered something about a promise to herself.
That couldn’t be good for any of his seduction plans.
When they reached her car, she tossed her things in the back seat and closed the door. When she looked up at him, the moonlight reflected in her eyes. Instinctively, he moved a fraction closer before he caught himself. She’d walked out of the arena without him. Couldn’t he take a hint?
“It was nice to meet you, ma’am.” He turned to leave.
Her hand brushed his arm. “Wait.”