Rough Stock (Lost Creek Rodeo #3) - Heather B. Moore

The following towns and locations in this series are also fictitious:

Lost Creek

Sam Houston Community College

Broken Hearts Ranch


Mount Palmer

Silvia Diaz kicked off her stilettos and closed her eyes. Thankfully, the lights had dimmed at the charity auction, and no one could see her. And her feet were under the table, so they stayed hidden.

Her brother, Axel Diaz, was the keynote speaker tonight. As well he should be. He’d been on the board of the Sports for Kids charity for years, and if that alone wasn’t impressive, how about his stellar career as Major League Baseball’s top shortstop? His playing for the pro baseball team the Seattle Sharks had brought Silvia and her mom to Seattle when she was a teenager.

Now, at the age of twenty-four, she was so over it.

Over all of this.

She knew she should be grateful. And she was.

She knew she should be proud of her brother. And she was.

She knew she should count her blessings about her mother’s near cancer scare last month that had turned out to be benign. And she did.

But . . . Silvia had been living in her brother’s shadow forever. At least, it seemed so. Ever since he started playing baseball, she and her mom had gone to most of his games. To support him. No matter what Silvia had going on, everything was dropped when her brother had a game. He’d then turned his success into supporting their family, which put him even more into the father role in her life.

Maybe if her dad hadn’t left when she was two years old, then this all wouldn’t have happened, and her brother wouldn’t be acting like her dad all the time. Her parents could have been their son’s number one support, and Silvia could have lived her own life, made a few decisions on her own, scooted a bit farther from the spotlight.

The audience began to clap, and Silvia realized she hadn’t been listening to a word her brother had said. She focused on him now. His dark hair gleamed beneath the bright lights of the stage. His body, which was in top physical condition, seemed made for the tuxedo he wore. His olive skin set off the white flash of his teeth and his dark brown eyes—which mirrored hers.

His words were eloquent and heartfelt, and the audience was eating them up.

Silvia had no doubt tonight would be a record-breaking fundraising night for Sports for Kids. The charity raised money for underprivileged kids who wanted to play sports, but their parents couldn’t afford it. Sports for Kids paid for team and uniform fees.

“You might think I’m here because I’m looking for a tax write-off,” Axel told the audience.

A few chuckled. Everyone knew very well that wasn’t the case.

“But the truth is, I was one of these kids.”

Silvia had heard Axel’s speech many times. She didn’t remember her dad, and it used to bother her that Axel was so open about their family problems, but now, she felt numb to it. She’d stopped caring. Mostly.

“My dad’s alcoholism turned him into a man no longer fit to be a father and husband,” Axel said. “When he left my mom, me, and my baby sister, he took everything. The only reason I’m standing here today is because of the compassion, and the open wallet, of a Little League coach in Southern California.”

The room erupted into clapping, and most of the audience wiped at tears in their eyes.

All right. So Silvia was moved as well. Who wouldn’t be when hearing stories of her brother and these kids—kids who didn’t always have enough to eat, either. She blinked back a stray tear on her cheek, then felt a pat on her shoulder.

She looked over at Brighton, Axel’s wife. Her dark hair was swept into an elegant twist. Brighton smiled at her with sympathy, and Silvia smiled back. But inside, she was annoyed. She didn’t want sympathetic looks or smiles. She didn’t always want to be known as Axel Diaz’s baby sister. Silvia wanted to be taken seriously. She’d finally gotten up the courage to tell her brother that she was dropping out of college—which he was paying for—because she wanted to go to hair school instead.

Or not. Truthfully, she didn’t know. But staying one more week at the community college wasn’t an option. She’d already dropped her classes—though Axel didn’t know that. Being surrounded by eager students who discussed test and quiz scores like they were debating a presidential candidate was so far out of Silvia’s interest that she’d