One Night with a Cowboy - Sara Richardson

Chapter One

Garth Brooks had it all wrong. The best sound at the rodeo wasn’t the roar of a Sunday crowd. It was the roar of the hometown crowd.

Weston Harding jogged into the arena at the Silverado Lake rodeo grounds, the familiar faces from his childhood serenading him with rowdy cheers. The way the audience carried on, someone might’ve assumed he was the main attraction instead of the bull riders who were getting ready to test their luck. He was no bull rider, though if you asked him, his job wasn’t any less important.

Wes took his position on the inside of the south fence, his eyes trained on the chute. It was time to tune out everything—including the loud, succinct chant of his name, which seemed to rebound off the metal roof. He’d always been popular in Silverado Lake—a hometown boy, born and raised. To hear the locals tell it, he’d overcome a lot—the grief of losing his father in such a tragic accident, the learning disability he’d struggled with since the day he’d opened his first book.

He’d had a hard time at school, and he’d had an even worse time after his father’s death, but now here he was, one of the most well-known rodeo clowns—aka bullfighters—in the world. Little did his friends and fans know, he hadn’t overcome the past so much as he’d ignored it. He’d escaped this town and the memories it held exactly one month after graduating from high school, intent on proving himself to the world—intent on living up to his father’s good name and making something of himself. And now he was finally back with something to show for all the blood, sweat, and injuries this gig had brought.

Once again, he wondered if his dad knew—if he was watching from some other world. It didn’t matter how many times he stood in arenas like this, he always wondered if he’d made his dad proud.

Wondering wouldn’t get the job done, though. Wondering brought on too many memories.

Shutting out everything else, Wes refocused on the arena. Adrenaline simmered along with the anticipation, but it wouldn’t fully spike until that chute opened and he approached the champion bull named Tantrum. Most people said you had to be one crazy SOB to provoke a lethal bull into a good foot chase, but Wes was there to protect the rider, bottom line. Once the rider hit the dirt, Wes and the rest of his team had a responsibility to protect the cowboy by keeping the bull as far away from him as they could. He took his duty seriously. Chalk it up to the fact that he felt a responsibility to protect these riders the way he hadn’t been able to protect his own father.

A hush finally fell over the crowd. Mikey Ruiz happened to be the first rider up, and Wes estimated it would take Tantrum T-minus two seconds to whip the man off into the dirt. For Ruiz—who was still pretty green—Wes always had to move extra fast.

The rider climbed up onto the fence and slid onto the bull’s back. Tantrum hardly flinched, though the animal’s powerful, sleek brown body did tense. Wes had learned to read the bulls, to detect how their muscles moved so he could anticipate how to move with them—and how to get away from them.

From the other side of the arena, Gabe—their team leader—gave the thumbs-up. Wes returned the gesture, retraining his eyes on Tantrum. The bull had given him more close calls than any of the others, but that’s what made him Wes’s favorite. You never knew what to expect; you didn’t have time to think, only to react; and nothing brought on the adrenaline rush like the thrill of the unknown.

The countdown went quick, and then the gate swung wide open. Wes closed in on the rider, along with Gabe and their other teammate Colin, confining the bull to the corner. Sure enough, Ruiz had hardly raised his arm in the air before he went sprawling off Tantrum’s back sideways.

Wes lurched into action, the cheers roaring in his ears. The bull jolted toward Ruiz, who still lay in the dirt, but Wes jumped between them, raising his arms and yelling who the hell knew what to distract Tantrum. The diversion worked. Instead of going after Ruiz, the bull lunged at Wes. He was ready for it, though. He jumped sideways and jogged backward while the bull charged him.

The cheers became deafening. Wes dodged the bull twice with his best moves and