“Has Cash Big Crow been in here?”
The man lifted one pierced brow. “You’re the second person to ask me that. No one’s been in here for a coupla hours. Been a yawner today.” He refocused on the girlie magazine on the exam table.
Damn. Where could Cash be? Hopefully he hadn’t left.
Gemma cut through the contestant’s area, steering clear of the motor home, which housed the rodeo headquarters. She’d been in and out of that rig several times in a fruitless endeavor to convince rodeo promoters to give her a shot as a rough stock contractor.
As much as westerners claimed gender bias or prejudice no longer had a foothold in the western way of life, it simply wasn’t true. After her husband Steve died, Gemma had gradually been shut out of supplying stock for nearly every rodeo on the circuit. She was beyond frustrated with the “old boy” system but she was too stubborn to quit.
In the meantime, her ranch needed attention and she couldn’t concentrate on expanding her rodeo stock operation until she fixed the problems that paid the bills.
A bank of gray clouds floated overhead, covering the sun, sending dark shadows skittering across the chalky vanilla-colored dirt. She glanced at the paddock across from the arena and noticed the stocky cowboy leaning on the white metal corrals.
Her heart slammed. She hadn’t seen him for almost a year, yet she’d watched him often enough she’d memorized how he looked from behind. A braid swung against his broad shoulders, the rest of his coal black hair remained hidden beneath a beat-up cowboy hat. Tight Wranglers showcased his tight ass. The toes of his boots pointed out, as he was a little bowlegged. She knew his face was a little worn, but handsome. When she was within twenty yards an anticipatory smile bloomed.
The smile died when a shout caused Cash to turn. A young woman launched herself straight into Cash’s outstretched arms. Cash kissed the woman and spun her in a circle, causing a feminine squeal of delight.
Gemma froze, unable to slink away from the intimate exchange. Cash set down the hot chickie and squeezed her curvy body tightly against his. While she talked a blue streak, he tipped her head back, tenderly smoothing away a section of her long brown hair.
Gemma’s lips tingled in remembrance of when Cash had touched her that way. Reverently. Confidently. Sweetly.
She could’ve had that. Could’ve had him looking at her that way. Instead, he was grinning at the Indian princess like she’d hung the moon and the stars.
There was no fool like an old fool. Gemma backed up, preparing to retreat. But a gust of wind ripped off the young woman’s straw hat and blew it directly toward her.
Cash gave chase until he caught the hat ten feet from where Gemma stood. His gaze started at the scuffed toes of Gemma’s dirty ropers and traveled up her body to lock on her eyes. He blinked. “Gemma? Is that really you?”
Rather than snap off a smart answer, Gemma escaped. Cash shouted her name but she didn’t slow down until she’d reached the area where she’d parked her horse trailer. She zigzagged through the maze of silver and black steel until she found hers. Leaning her forehead against the heated metal, she fumbled for her keys.
Fool fool fool. Dammit. Why had she hoped Cash would wait around for her to get her head on straight? Especially after she’d told him she didn’t want to get involved with him at all? What had she expected? And why in the hell had she bolted like a spooked filly the second she’d seen him? Lord. She was forty-eight years old, not eight.
Dry grass crunched behind her and she wheeled around.
Cash’s luminous, coffee-colored eyes stared back at her. “Dammit, Gemma, I know you heard me yellin’ at you. Why didn’t you stop?”
“Because I didn’t want to intrude.”
“Intrude on what?”
She turned, shoving the key in the locked door. “Don’t tease me, Cash.”
“Tease you? I know I ain’t always the brightest bulb in the box, but what the devil are you talkin’ ’bout? Intrude on what?” He grabbed her shoulder and forced her to look at him.
Just then the gorgeous young Indian princess sidled in behind Cash. Silent. Watchful. A stunning vision of youth and beauty. A sharp reminder of everything Gemma was not.
“Me and who?” he demanded.
Her. “Never mind.”
“Huh-uh. I ain’t seen you in almost a year so I wanna know why you were lookin’ for me.”
Gemma ground her teeth together.
“If you were so hell-bent on findin’ me why’d you race off without sayin’ a word?”
“Because once I found you, I realized it was a bad time. I didn’t mean to interrupt you…and your girlfriend. Besides, I figured I’d catch up with you later.”
A sly smile lit up Cash’s face. “Then why am I the one who had to chase you down, eh?”
“Lemme tell you what I think.” His breath tickled her ear as he whispered, “I believe you took off because you’re jealous.”
Jealous? More like mortified. Gemma had half a mind to crawl under the horse trailer and hide until Cash and his jailbait buckle bunny disappeared. She managed a small snort of disgust. “Jealous? Not hardly.”
“Really? You want an explanation for what you saw by the corrals?”
“Or an introduction to my girlfriend?”
The girlfriend gasped.
“You don’t owe me nothin’, Cash. Just forget it.”
Cash grabbed the young woman’s hand, dragging her front and center. “I’d love to milk this jealous side of you for all it’s worth, but I ain’t that mean. Or that patient. Gemma, meet my daughter, Macie Honeycutt. Macie, Gemma Jansen.”