Cowboys for Christmas
Love Me, Cowboy by Terri Osburn
Crossing the short distance to where he’d left his tools near the back of the truck, Tyler bent down and lifted with his left arm, only to have the box drop back to the floor with a crash. He gripped his left shoulder as his face contorted in pain.
“Tyler? What’s wrong?” Claire was afraid to touch his arm for fear of hurting him more. “Tell me what to do. I don’t know how to help.”
“It’s fine,” he said through a clenched jaw, then took several deep breaths, keeping his eyes closed. “I just forget sometimes.”
Claire caught herself taking deep breaths with him and had to make herself stop. “Forget what?” she asked.
Dropping his hand, Tyler opened his eyes and slowly lowered his shoulders. “The face wasn’t the only thing damaged in the accident. As I said at the Thirsty Cowboy the other night, my shoulder got torn up pretty bad, too. Doc has me in physical therapy and it’s mostly healed, but the weight of the toolbox was too much, I guess.”
He guessed? The man had taken years off her life with that reaction. The pain must have been excruciating to take his breath like that.
“Thank goodness you won’t be doing that anymore.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, working his shoulder up and down. “Picking up the toolbox? Not with that arm, I won’t.”
“Not the toolbox,” Claire said with a roll of her eyes. “Riding bulls. No more climbing onto the back of a beast that would rather kill you than let you stay there.”
Tyler’s face turned serious. “I have every intention of getting back on a bull.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Claire threw a hand on her hip. “If that’s supposed to be a joke, it isn’t funny.”
“I don’t make jokes about my life.” His eyes darkened. “My life. I’m a bull rider, and I’m going to continue being one. No matter what you or my sister or anyone else says.”
Jerking the toolbox off the ground with his good arm, Tyler slammed it onto the truck bed, then hopped up after it. Claire had to shuffle around to the back so she could use the bumper to climb up, but she wasn’t about to let this stubborn cowboy walk away from this argument.
“Your sister loves you,” she yelled, storming across the empty flatbed. “And I . . .” She what? Loved him? Unfortunately so, but she wasn’t about to tell him. “I care about you, too. That bull could have killed you.”
“And I could get hit by a truck tomorrow. Doesn’t mean I’m going to hide in my house.”
“That isn’t the same and you know it.” Why couldn’t he see what getting back on a bull would do to the people around him? How they’d feel if the worst happened?
Tyler turned so quickly, Claire nearly charged into him. “What if someone told you to stop teaching?”
“Didn’t your parents push you to be a lawyer? To do your civic duty and join the family business of running towns and making decisions for other people?”
Her situation was nothing like his. “Being a teacher isn’t going to get me killed.”
“No? How many school shootings have we had in the past few years?” Tyler asked. “Life is random, Claire. A meteor could kill us all tomorrow. You have to live while you can, the way you want.” His voice dropped as his eyes held hers. “I’m a bull rider. That’s what I do.”
Claire felt deflated. He was right. It was his life, and only he could decide how he wanted to live it. But that didn’t stop her from wishing he would choose another way.
“It’s going to kill your sister when you climb back on one of those bulls.”
And it will kill me, too, she thought.
“I can’t do what she’s done, Claire. I can’t walk away from the thing I love because it’s what other people think I should do.”
The need to grab him and hold on was so strong, Claire did the only thing possible.
She backed away.
“That banner probably needs to dry before being hung up. I’ll get someone to help me with it tomorrow.”
“Mom’s expecting me for dinner.” Claire looked at her watch. Then at her feet. Anywhere but at the cowboy with his hand out. “You should head out, too. Thanks for helping the kids.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, but she barely heard the words as she hopped off the truck and stepped through the open warehouse door into a chilly December evening.
Kiss Me, Cowboy by Liz Talley
Reed didn’t say anything. Just watched her. The way her glossy lips shone in the neon glow, the way her eyes roved over the dance floor, the way that dress hugged every curve of her body.
Georgia’s gaze returned to his, and she must have seen the glint in his eyes. “I’m not going to sleep with you, you know.”
“The way you’re looking at me, breaking in on my dance with Rusty, I can tell.”
“His name was Rodney. Not Rusty.”
“Oh,” she said.
“And I never said I wanted to sleep with you,” he said, hoping she couldn’t see straight through his bullshit. “I said I wanted to dance with you. See, those are two different things. For dancing, you usually keep your clothes on.”
“Depends on how you dance,” she said, cracking a smile. In her gaze he could see her trying to gain control. Her boldness seemed part of her protection. After Paul Milligan made the comment about Georgia growing up next door, he’d asked Tyler about his fiery damsel in distress. He now better understood the BMW, the fancy boots and jacket. He’d never been poor—quite the opposite—but he could imagine coming home to a town that had pigeonholed her. Not easy.
“Well, I suppose I could be talked into naked dancing by the right girl.”
“Too bad I’m not the right girl.”
Marry Me, Cowboy by Kim Law
Mary Catherine glanced causally around as she headed back to the bar, and this time she found Jax leaning against the far side of the counter.
He’d also found her.
His hat was pushed back on his head and those blue eyes she remembered so well were trained on her. And they didn’t seem anxious to move on anytime soon. Her breath hitched in her throat.
“Buy you a drink?” A dark-blond cutie asked when she stopped by an empty stool. “You’re the one getting married, right? I’m Tony. Me and my buddies here would be glad to protect your integrity tonight.” All five men gave her wide smiles.
She laughed with good humor. Her integrity didn’t need protecting, but she was there for some fun. And these guys were harmless. They’d been at the bar for a while now and didn’t seem to be looking for more than an entertaining Friday night off the ranch. “You and your buddies good at protecting a girl’s integrity, Tony?” she teased.
“The best.” He motioned for the bartender, and when asked what she wanted, she took another peek at Jax.
“Tequila,” she said. She winked at Tony. “Top shelf.”
Cuervo was her go-to for forgetting denim blue eyes.
Her brother came in then and caught her eye. He scanned the men now surrounding her and gave a wink—probably after also concluding that her integrity was intact—then turned his gaze away to take in the remainder of the crowd. Tyler was two years younger than her and was most definitely a town heartthrob. He’d been gorgeous for most of his life. Now he had a nasty slash across his left cheek.
It had only made him more good-looking.
A gaggle of women made their way over to him, and his broad face broke into a wide grin. The poor rodeo star, recovering from a bad throw from a bull. He didn’t seem to be suffering too much, that was for sure.
Mary Catherine shook her head at the unfairness of it all. If a woman came in with a scar like that, men would turn the other way. She rolled her eyes and leaned back against the bar, enjoying the night. The back of her neck suddenly tingled, and she knew without looking that he was looking at her.
The bartender set down the shot, and she tossed it back in one quick motion. It burned all the way down. She hissed in a breath between her teeth then took another peek at Jax.
Yep. Still looking. One eyebrow lifted subtly. That pissed her off. The man hadn’t spoken to her in ten years—other than to offer a foursome with two other women the night she’d been in here after her college graduation—and now, of all times, he showed up and wouldn’t look away.
As if something about her interested him.
Too damned bad. And ten years too late. She was an engaged woman now.
She motioned to the bartender for another drink.
“A girl who likes her tequila,” Tony muttered, leaning into the counter beside her. His eyes glowed with delight. “That’s pretty hot.”
Mary Catherine gave him a toothy grin. “Down boy. I’ve just decided I’m going to be drinking a lot tonight. Which means you have to behave.” She patted his shoulder. “I’m not expecting you to buy what I’m about to put away, though, so that’s the bright side. But I will take you up on that integrity thing. You keep me safe, okay? At least until my girls get back.”
She motioned to the dance floor with the second shot, where Georgia was dancing with Reed McCormick, and Claire was once again running from a handful of men. They’d been following her around all night as if she were a dog in heat.
“You got it.” Tony nodded like an obedient puppy and scooted in closer. He was taking the job seriously. The other four followed suit. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw no less than three women now crowding around Jax.
Maybe the four of them would have a foursome tonight.
Probably it was his regular Friday-night routine.
She downed the second shot and one of the guys ordered her a third, and then she returned to that night ten years ago…