Cowboy Jackpot Series, Book 3
Stormie Thompson has only one reason for being in Las Vegas; to seduce rodeo bronc rider Jayden Hancock. Thinking she’s the reason for all his bad luck, Jayden wants only to avoid her. But when a lucky mistake at a video poker machine makes them both big winners, Jayden realizes Stormie may be the best thing that’s ever happened to him, especially when he gives in to her seduction. When she finds evidence that Jayden is interested in what she has instead of who she is, can he convince Stormie to ignore her suspicions and trust her heart?
Jayden Hancock tucked his hand into the rigging on the back of Chicken Foot, the bay gelding he was about to ride bareback. “Who the hell names a horse Chicken Foot?” The object of his derision lurched in the chute, jamming Jayden’s leg against the fencing.
The pain shot up his thigh. He had to get loose. He tightened his grip and shouted, “Okay, okay, okay.”
Three point eight seconds later, he lay on his back on the hard packed dirt, staring up at the arena ceiling, his breath knocked out of him. He looked up to see the replay of his ride on the big screen above the ring. When it ended, the shot went live to him lying there, his blond, curly hair full of red dirt.
“Fuck.” He was careful not to move his lips when he cussed. Someone could easily read his lips on the screen. He scrambled to his feet, picked up his hat and waved to the crowd in gratitude for the few claps and shouts. He heard women’s voices woo-hooing as he walked out through the narrow opening between the gates. Gigi, his brother Boone’s wife, and Kira, who was long-distance-dating his friend Dallas, were in the stands for the rodeo.
“Great.” He pulled off his gloves and stomped back toward the locker room. Now both Kira and Gigi had witnessed his latest failure.
“Tough luck, Jay.” His friend Rance smacked him on the back, stirring up a cloud of dirt. “Chicken Foot is a tricky bastard.”
“It ain’t the horse, it’s the rider.” He hadn’t won an event in months. He rarely hung on for eight seconds. “My head isn’t in the right place anymore.”
“Bro, don’t jinx yourself.” Rance’s green eyes locked on his. He was big into superstition, and it was working for him. He was getting close to Jayden’s brother, Boone, in the bull riding rankings. “Walk it off.”
How many times had he heard that in the five months since his rides had turned bad on him? He jerked off his chaps and stuffed them in his gear bag along with his gloves, vest, and spurs. “I’m gonna get a drink. Come with me?”
“I can’t, buddy. I’m in the short go.” The riders with the best times in the first round faced off in the final round for the win.
He punched Rance on the arm. “Good luck. I’ll be cheering for you from the first bar I find.”
“Thanks.” Rance pulled off his hat and scratched his head, ruffling his black hair. “I’ll meet you for a drink after.”
Jayden stuffed his gear bag into a locker and secured it. How long had it been since he’d made it to a short go? Too fucking long. His fist connected with the metal door.
“Hey, you’ve got another chance tomorrow. Concentrate on that.” Rance settled his hat low on his head and walked away.
The two-day rodeo at the Old West Casino in Las Vegas drew some of the best riders. If Jayden didn’t pull it together and win tomorrow, he’d drop off the bottom of the ranking charts. His pro rodeo career would be over. His credibility to teach bareback riding would be gone. Yeah, his mind wasn’t in the right place. Instead of being set on winning, hollow desperation rode shotgun in his head.
Brushing the dirt out of his hair and off his jeans and his unlucky green “lucky shirt,” he walked out of the arena into the casino. Poker would take his mind off his troubles. It was the day before Saint Patrick’s Day, and he was half Irish. Things should be going in his favor.
He dusted off his brown cowboy hat and set it on his head the way the buckle bunnies liked it, with his curls showing a little around the edges. Maybe finding a sweetie to spend the night with would help him feel luckier.
The poker room was packed, and he put his name on the waiting list for seven card stud. It’d be a while before a spot opened up. He wandered to the snack bar and had a couple tacos and a beer, then found a comfortable seat at a video poker machine.
“Might as well practice.” He pulled a twenty out of his wallet and slid it into the machine. It pinged and chirped a welcome. “Dollar poker. Crap.” He’d thought it was quarters. What the hell. It was only twenty bucks. He played the maximum, five dollars, and won a few hands.
After he ordered a beer from the cocktail waitress, he looked around the casino. Both his brother Boone and their friend Dallas had met their women here, under very lucky circumstances.
The two of them had pooled their winnings and were in the process of starting a rodeo school where they lived in Reno. Jayden was supposed to be part of the school, but he had no money to fund his piece of the partnership, and was quickly losing his credibility as an expert. No lucky circumstances for him.
The woman he’d met at the casino on Valentine’s Day had turned out to be pretty darn unlucky for him personally—if he remembered correctly. It had been a wild night, what he recalled of it. Had they really gotten…? He pushed the scary memory back again, deep behind the beer fog he’d drunken himself into that night. Right now, he just didn’t have the willpower to deal with the bad decision he’d made.
His beer came and he focused on his machine, pressing the maximum button as he took a sip from the red plastic cup. Three aces with a five and a seven. Now this was getting interesting.
“Jayden!” A female voice called from a distance.
He glanced around. A buckle bunny? He spotted Stormie Thompson. “Oh man.” It was her, his unlucky charm from February. Her parents were bucking horse breeders, and Stormie was part owner of the family ranch. Did they have broncs in the rodeo? Visions of the wild night he’d had with her a month ago raced through his head, battering painfully against his skull. He’d surely like to put off this conversation for a while longer. He nodded, hoping she’d just keep going.
The first time he’d seen her back in February, it was instant attraction. His heart raced, his mind blanked, and he’d seen a vision of the two of them all naked and tangled. The first words she’d spoken to him made his shaft rock-hard, and he’d stayed that way as they’d wandered through the casino. She’d surprised him with her smarts and her crazy sense of humor. With all those things going for her, he’d been hooked.
She walked closer.
Stormie was a curvy beauty. Long, straight, strawberry blonde hair, freckles, and green eyes. Her tank top and shorts bared her toned arms and legs. Muscles developed from working horses on her family’s ranch in Oklahoma. Her cute little feet were in white canvas tennis shoes. The girl was a hot mix of sweet and sexy.
Keep walking. He knew she wouldn’t. She didn’t play games. She strolled right up to him. That was just how his luck was going today.
She plopped down on his lap, spilling half his beer on the carpet. “I had a hard time finding you. I saw your ride. Kira invited me, and I told her not to tell you I was coming ‘cause I wanted to surprise you.”
Her sexy curves pressed against him and a hot flood of desire swamped his groin, a reminder of why he’d chased her so hard last month. They’d never had sex, despite his best efforts, but their kisses had been steamy and powerpacked.
“How’ve you been, cutie?” He inhaled deeply. She smelled like sunshine and strawberries.
She tipped her head and cupped his cheek. “I love it when you call me that.” Then she slapped him, kinda hard. “Why haven’t you returned any of my calls?”
Fire and ice.
He kissed the palm that had smacked him. “I’m just a no-account bronc rider. Can’t even make a living at it.” He more than half-believed his excuse, especially after today’s ride. “You deserve better.”
“I don’t want better.” She made a face. “That didn’t make sense.” She laughed. “What I meant was, you’re more than good enough. And you know…” Glancing around, she leaned in closer. “We do have a connection.”
“Wait, what?” They hadn’t had sex, they’d kissed a couple times, he’d felt her tight, round ass, and she’d felt his, but that was all. Wasn’t it? No, he wasn’t that lucky. A blurry memory of a drunken cab ride, flowers, a vow… “We didn’t really do it, did we? I mean, we talked about it, and I know I wanted to drag you downtown, but…”
He shook his throbbing head, trying to clarify the memory. His rodeo luck had been bad for months, but until he’d met her, his personal life was going just fine. A few hours with Stormie, and he’d done the stupidest thing he’d ever done in his life.
Her eyebrows lifted. “I’m afraid we did. I have the paper right here.” She pulled her purse onto her lap and started rummaging.
“Jayden Hancock to the poker room.” A voice came over the speakers. “Jayden Hancock, your seat at the seven card stud table is waiting.”
He couldn’t deal with Stormie right now. Didn’t want to have to face what he knew she was going to pull out of her purse. He’d been ignoring the niggling uncertainty—and her—for a month, and if his luck got any worse right now, he might just hitch a ride back to Reno and crawl into bed for a month.
“I’ve gotta go, Stormie, but I’ll call you as soon as I’m done playing poker.”
She frowned and her green eyes turned so sad, he was overwhelmed by the need to hold her until she smiled again.
“You may think I’m a ditzy blonde, but I know when I’m being tossed aside.” With a sigh, she slung her purse back over her shoulder. “You don’t want me, Jayden, and that’s okay.”
Didn’t want her? Goddamn, he wanted her worse than he wanted his next breath, but she’d shot him down on Valentine’s Day with some crazy story… His temple pounded as he tried to pull up that conversation. Whatever her problem had been, or still was, he wasn’t up to the challenge of trying again. Not today, anyway.
She poked a finger into his chest. “You just have to be man enough to tell me you want out.”
He felt like a complete ass for not calling her. “Is that why you’re here? Why you just showed up?”
“We have to take care of you know what.” She touched her purse. “Okay? That’s all I ask.”
“Last call for Jayden Hancock.” The speaker blared. “Jayden Hancock to the poker room.”
“I’m sorry, Stormie. I’ll call you.” He held up his hand in an oath. “Promise.”
She shrugged. “Sure.” Her voice told him she wasn’t convinced. She turned to the poker machine. “I love this game.” She hit the draw button.
“Aw Storm, I had three aces.” Damn. He could have walked away with a few bucks. The girl was plain unlucky… When he saw the cards that popped up, Jayden’s mood swung from defeated to ecstatic. “A royal flush? Oh man, you got us a royal flush!” Bells rang and lights flashed.
Stormie giggled, hugged him, then looked down at the payout line. “Royal flush is…” She turned toward him, her eyes bright, and her smile sunny. “Four thousand dollars.”
“Woo-hoo! Cutie, we’re gonna have us some fun tonight.” Maybe his luck was changing.
She stood and did a little dance for him.
Damn she was sexy with her breasts bouncing and her hips shaking. Getting to his feet, he pulled her into his arms and swung her around a couple times. When they were both dizzy, he planted a quick kiss on her lips. “You’re my lucky charm.”
“Oh, I know.” She smirked. “Let’s get the payout ticket and cash in.” She moved toward the machine, but he stopped her. “Um, Storm, I gotta tell you something first.”
Her smile left her face. “Okay.”
He leaned close to her ear. “I’m not twenty-one. I have a fake ID, but just to be safe, you’ll have to—”
She jerked back, a look of horror in her eyes. “How old are you?” she mouthed silently, her gaze scanning his face.
He liked how worked up she got about everything. “Fourteen, but I’m mature for my age.”
“Oh. My. God. No.” She shook her head but stopped when she saw his grin. “You jackass.” She stepped closer. “How old, really?” she whispered.
“Twenty. So if you do the tax paperwork…” From behind her, an army of smiling casino employees approached. “What the hey?”
Stormie turned. “Oooh, it’s just like when Kira and Dallas won their jackpot. We’ll get champagne and maybe a room.”
“For four thousand? Seems like overkill.” Something wasn’t adding up.
A young man in a white suit grinned widely. “I’m your casino host, Aaron, and I want to congratulate you on your win, and offer you a glass of complimentary champagne.”
“Yummy.” Stormie did her usual sparkly thing. “Thank you.”
They were handed glasses of bubbly as a photographer stepped forward.
Aaron shooed Stormie and Jayden backward toward the machine. “Time for pictures.”
“You must not give away many jackpots, huh?” Jayden lifted a brow. “If you make this much ruckus over four thousand bucks.”
Aaron seemed to choke. “Four thousand?” He stepped toward them, grasped their arms, and turned them to face the machine. He pointed to the screen. “See how these cards are lined up? Ace. Pow.” He made a gun with his hand and shot the card. “King. Pow. Queen. Pow. Jack. Pow. Ten. Pow.”
Jayden held back laughter. “So, what do all those pows add up to?”
Aaron pointed his gun hand up above the machine. “Bang!”
Jayden was almost afraid to look.
Stormie squealed. “Jayden, we’re rich!” She jumped up and down in circles, sloshing champagne everywhere.
He felt dizzy. He hung onto the chair and looked up. Three hundred sixty two thousand and some loose change. “Oh man. Is this for real?”
“It is.” Aaron seemed to catch Stormie’s bounciness and started giggling. When the outburst ended, he arranged the two of them in front of the machine again, refilled her champagne glass, and had the photographer start snapping pictures.
“Hey, can you smile, cowboy?” Aaron pointed his finger-gun at Jayden.
Jayden had to look like a scared rabbit because he sure felt like one. Turning to look at Stormie, he saw her happy grin.
Another man, older, wearing a dark suit and lacking Aaron’s giddiness, walked up to them. “I’m the shift manager and I will be handling the legal arrangements for the payout. So, who’s the lucky winner?”
Jayden opened his mouth to say something about splitting it, but quickly snapped it shut. He wasn’t legal to win it. His stomach roiled. This might be a real problem.
“Both of us.” Stormie smooched Jayden on the cheek. “‘Cause we’re married!” She laughed joyfully.
He was going to throw up.