Lynx
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Description

With a dangerous reputation for taking chances and tempting fate, rugged cowboy Lynx Maddox had one goal in life—to win the coveted Silver Buckle rodeo championship. But when he sets eyes on lovely Rachel Scott, he becomes determined to capture her as well. Rachel traveled the circuit with her famous rodeo rider dad until his fatal accident in the arena. Now, she wants nothing to do with that world—or the men who risk their lives for one brief moment of glory. But her attraction to Lynx becomes too powerful to deny. . . and his unexpected gentleness too seductive to resist. . .

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Publié par
Date de parution 20 mars 2013
Nombre de lectures 5
EAN13 9781772997873
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Lynx
Rodeo Romance,Book 1
By ConnieVines
 
Digital ISBNs
EPUB978-1-77299-787-3
Kindle978-1-77299-788-0
WEB978-1-77299-789-7
Amazon Print ISBN978-1-77299-790-3
 

 
2 nd Ed.Copyright 2018 by Connie Vines
Cover Art by MichelleLee
 
All rightsreserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reservedabove, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in orintroduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, orby any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise) without the prior written permission of both thecopyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
 
Dedication
 
To my familyand friends because writing wouldn’t be nearly as much fun withoutyou!

 
Chapter One
 
 
Charlene hadn’ttold Rachel that she’d fixed her up with a cowboy, much less LynxMaddox, the “Wild Cat” of the rodeo circuit. Rachel sighed. Sheshould have known. After all, Charlene only dated men who woreboots and Stetsons.
Rachel Scottcringed at the very thought even as her gaze took in the breadth ofLynx Maddox's chest, his broad shoulders, and dark green eyes thatscanned her with blatant masculine approval.
Despite herstern efforts to control it, her heart pounded against her ribcage. She'd seen him sitting at the table with Charlene Davis andDan Elder before he'd spotted her. Oh, she'd allowed herself tolook when he'd walked her way--looking didn't hurt. And it was okayto dream--a little fantasy never harmed a woman. But that was it;that was where it ended. After watching her father die in thearena, Rachel had sworn she’d never have anything to do withanother rodeo cowboy. She stopped her train of thoughts and managedto give the cowboy a smile.
"Nice to meetyou," she said, accepting his extended hand. She felt the strengthin his warm callused fingers. Rachel tried to ignore a flutteringsensation low in her stomach. There was one thing she was certainof as she looked up at his piercing eyes and uncompromisingjaw--men like him had trouble written all over them. And shedoubted Lynx Maddox would prove to be an exception.
"Rachel, I'mglad you came tonight." His voice was soft as velvet and laced witha Texas drawl.
He smelled ofwoodsy masculine cologne and the sudden rise in her bodytemperature clued Rachel to the unexpected twist to thisencounter--she was much too aware of this sexy cowboy. So aware, infact, she had difficulty recalling her own name! She focused on thewarmth of his hand against hers and she knew, although his grip waslight, he was very strong. Nevertheless, his strength wasn'taffecting her nearly as much as the power of his presence; itvibrated everywhere, even from the sawdust-covered floor beneathher feet. His slow, lingering smile seemed to unravel what remainedof her composure. For several seconds she seemed incapable ofspeech, or even movement.
Good Lord, shewas having heart palpitations!
Her reactionwas so out of character, Rachel was at a loss as to what to do.
"I hope youdidn't mind meetin’ us here," he said, easily, oblivious to herinner turmoil.
His questionseemed to release her tongue from its state of paralysis.
"No. Not atall,” she replied, feeling somewhat less nervous.
"I'll see youhome, of course," Lynx said, ushering her farther into theroom.
I don't thinkso, she thought, eyeing the tall stranger. Meeting Lynx here at thehonky-tonk was one thing; going home with him was entirely another.She didn't voice her decision; however, she knew Charlene would behorrified if she dared to offend him. So exercising her limiteddiplomatic skills, Rachel sidestepped the issue. "Is it always thiscrowded in here? And so loud?" she asked, suddenly feelingclaustrophobic. The drummer seemed to have placed himself insideher head, his sticks pounding against her skull, and the raucousnoise of the patrons made it almost impossible to hear herselfthink. The packed crowd made it difficult to breath.
"Friday nightsare always busy. Haven't you been here before?" he asked.
"No." Sherealized her comment was a bit sharp, but she couldn't help that.Honky-tonk bars were fine for other people, but not for her. If itweren't for her fast-talking best friend, Charlene Davis, shewouldn't be here--feeling so out of place and strangelyvulnerable.
"Whathappened?" he asked, looking down at her. "Lose a bet?"
"Sort of," shemumbled so low he couldn't hear her. Forcing a smile, Rachel said,“I guess everyone should experience this once." More than herhearing was under assault. Somewhere low in her body, a riotousgroup of sensuous messages beat in rhythm to the band, the lyricscommunicating thoughts about Lynx Maddox she shouldn't even bethinking.
Lynx arched onedark, sardonic eyebrow. "This place will grow on you. Trustme."
Rachel stoppedand looked up at him warily. She knew better than to trust him—oranybody. At twenty-four, she'd been on her own for years. After amoment, she regained her composure. "Dan and Charlene have a tablefor us across the room, don't they?"
She peeredthrough the smoke that diffused the colored lights revolvingoverhead and swallowed as the bitter haze of tobacco coated theback of her throat. A cloud of it hovered near the ceiling, givingthe mirrored wall behind the bar a bluish look. The air was staleand smelled of barley malt, tobacco and hay. Rachel blinked, hereyes burning.
Lynx grinned."Well, they did. It's kinda difficult to tell right now,though."
Rachel couldn'thelp but agree, especially since his white western shirt stretchedacross his impressive chest, which was more than wide enough toblock her view. When he shifted, she couldn't tell how many peoplewere standing beyond him. "How on earth are we going to get throughthat mob?" she asked.
"We don't haveto," he said, easily.
"What do youmean?" Rachel asked, puzzled.
"We haveanother choice. We can sneak out the back door to some quiet,secluded spot where we could, ah, get better acquainted."
A hot flush ofdenial raced to her cheeks and Rachel knew she was about to tell alie. "Thanks, but I think running the gauntlet is a better idearight now. I'm sure Charlene wants me to meet her date."
Not the leastbit offended, Lynx winked at her.
"Okay,sweetheart. Stick with me, and I'll show you how a man makes apath."
Lynx placed hishand under her forearm to guide her toward the table. Rachel feltheat rise along the length of her spine, and a fine sweat gatheredat the small of her back. Darn Charlene and her matchmaking. Eversince Rachel’s break-up with Steven two years ago, Charlene hadhovered over her like a mother hen. Finally, after months ofbadgering, Rachel had given in and agreed to show up at thehonky-tonk that night. Now, with Lynx so close, she could almostfeel him breathe, Rachel wondered about the wisdom of heractions.
No man wasworth the risk of losing her peace of mind. In her life, what menhad offered her had turned out to be mirages. Rachel knew all aboutmirages, and she made sure she steered clear of them.
As they madetheir way toward the center of the dance floor, someone bumped herfrom the side. The man was wearing high-heeled, western bootsdesigned for something far less physical than evasive maneuvers.Rachel felt herself thrown off balance, and automatically reachedfor Lynx's arm.
His grasptightened around her wrist, to steady her.
Embarrassed atbeing reduced to grappling with her date, Rachel quickly regainedher footing. As soon as she succeeded, she moved to step away fromhim.
Assessing thesituation, Lynx held her hand. His brows drew together indispleasure as he shot a warning glance toward the offender."Justin," he growled. "Watch your step, cowboy." Though unsteady onhis feet, the man still managed to back off in a hurry.
"Careful," headdressed her. His voice, though gruff, held a soothing tone.Grateful for it, and the fact that he seemed willing to ignore herembarrassment, Rachel breathed a soft sign of relief.
It was his nextcomment, which had her emotions zinging. "A woman can't be toocareful in a place like this."
Rachel shookher head and chuckled to herself. Those were her thoughts,exactly.
Rachel tried toconvince herself that the rush she felt upon making eye contactwith Lynx had to do with their close proximity, not the dark-hairedman's expression.
A muscle inLynx's lean cheek jumped in response to her appraisal andexasperation lurked in the depths of his eyes, the greenest eyesshe'd ever seen. It was at that moment Rachel realized she was introuble. A warning bell clamored in her brain like the buzzer in acalf-roping contest, still Rachel chose to ignore it.
Lynx wrappedhis arm around her shoulder, glancing at the crowd. "Don't worryRachel--you'll get the knack of it," he said, pulling her to hisside. "Relax and let me do all the work."
Somehow, shemanaged to tear her gaze away from his, to put one wobbly foot infront of the other.
Forcing herselfnot to stiffen at his nearness,
Rachel adjustedto the rock-hardness of his body. She knew that professional bullriders were strong--built heavy in the chest and shoulders; still,Lynx was a mountain of a man, topping six feet by two or threeinches.
"Come on," hesaid, swinging her into his arms. "Looks like there's only one wayto get to the table."
Rachel gave agasp of surprise by the sudden turn of events. Finding herselfpulled against him, she refused to crane her neck to look up, soshe stared at the middle of his chest. She swallowed. Maybe it wasthe shock of being held in his arms, or the topsy-turvy, surrealfeel to the evening, but her insides wouldn't stop quaking, and theway his hand kept stroking her side didn't help. To make mattersworse, strands of her hair were tumbling loose from its Frenchtwist. With those loose strands flowing down to her breasts, sheknew she resembled a wide-eyed flower child far more than acapable, independent woman.
The way Lynxlooked at her only confirmed her suspicions.
Lynx tucked herhead against his chest. "I won't bite. You can relax a little."
Fat chance, shethought as she followed his graceful steps around the dance floor.Lynx was very good at taking control. He was brisk without beingrude, and it was obvious he didn't know her. Not that she wasunreasonable or difficult, Rachel assured herself; she simply hadher principles—that was all.
As they nearedthe table, Charlene stood up and waved. Lynx grinned and guidedRachel into a complicated two-step that left her gasping forbreath.
Charlene letout a whoop of delight when they reached the table. "You two suredance well together," she said, glancing at them with a speculativegleam in her eye as she reached for her date's arm. "Rachel, honey,I want you to meet Dan Elder."
"Hello Dan,"Rachel replied, and smiled at the lanky, red-haired man, trying notto act uncomfortable with Charlene's appraising look. Stepping awayfrom Lynx, she returned the offered handshake. "Charlene's beenlooking forward to this evening for weeks. It's good to finallymeet you."
"I'm sure gladyou decided to join us, Rachel. Otherwise I'd still be waiting forCharlene to get ready."
Charlene gaveDan a playful jab to the ribs with her elbow, and he grinned. "Ididn't hear you complaining. As I recall, you were too busy pawingthrough my refrigerator--"
"Can I help itif you make the best meat loaf this side of the Mississippi?"
Charlene gave asnort of disbelief. "You're from Texas. What do you know about theMississippi?"
Lynx chuckled."She's got you there, cousin."
"I reckonso."
Lynx pulled outa chair and Rachel gave him a polite smile as he seated her.
Quarters werecrowded, the chairs wedged closely together. Rachel tried not tonotice the heat of Lynx's muscular thigh pressed against hers. Whyhadn't she maneuvered closer to Charlene? This was crazy. Sheshouldn't be feeling this way. Thinking these thoughts.
She didn't meanto touch his arm when she reached for a napkin. Or bump his thighwith her leg, did she?
Immediately,Lynx put down his drink. His gaze began to roam over her face andRachel caught her breath.
It was as ifthey were tangled in some web of emotion that was unbreakable.Suddenly everything before her seemed to shift into slowmotion.
A smile was outof the question, she though, as she stared at his lips. She knew ifhe lowered his head and touched his lips to hers, it would havetriggered such heat it would have ignited a Fourth of Julyfirecracker between them.
"What would youlike to drink?" he asked, voice low as his gaze held herscaptive.
Somehow, shemanaged a wry smile and a weak shrug at his question.
Resisting asudden urge to fan herself as her body temperature rose by sensualdegrees, Rachel grappled with what seemed to be a mind-bendingdecision.
Fortunately, aportly waiter chose that moment to pop up beside Rachel's shoulder."What'll it be folks?"
"Bourbon andwater," Charlene replied, her long rhinestone earrings dancing asshe shifted to bring her chair closer to the table.
"And you,miss?"
At hisprompting, Rachel gave a quick look at the posted menu and said,"I'll have a Dr. Pepper, heavy on the ice." She had to do somethingabout the searing heat of the room.
"Honey, whatare you doing?" Charlene hissed.
"I’m. ..ordering a drink," she replied.
Rachel's gazedarted back to Lynx and watched a look of grim humor cross hisfeatures. "Sam, refill the beers," he told the waiter.
Dan frowned.Reaching for his beer, he turned his attention to Charlene.
Lynx leanedtoward Rachel. "First dates are hell, aren't they?" he asked,before taking a long swallow of his beer.
"Oh, yes," shesaid the words with a wealth of feeling. "I hope never to gothrough this again!" Pinning a strand of her hair back in place,she was suddenly aware of how rude she sounded. "I'm sorry. . .Ididn't mean--"
Lynx looked ather mortified expression and laughed. "It's okay, Rachel. I findyour honesty refreshing. If you like we can pretend this is oursecond date, that way we'll be more relaxed," he told her.
"I suppose wecould," she said, considering the idea. "I'm not an authority,though," she responded, ignoring the fluttering sensations hiscomment caused. She didn't dare entertain the thought of seeing himagain. Did she? Not that he intended to ask, she reminded herself."This is my first blind date."
"Ah. I sort ofguessed that."
"Really? Howcould you?" she asked, disconcerted, wondering what else he'dfigured out.
"Thehigh-heeled boots, meeting me here, and your purse."
"My purse?"
Lynx pushed hisStetson farther back on his head. A strand of rich, dark auburnhair teased at his forehead. He lowered his voice to a deep,rumbling whisper. "Yep. Your purse. You hold it in a death grip. Inoticed it right away. Maddox, I said to myself, now here's a womancarrying a heap of mad money."
Rachel glanceddown at her purse, which was cradled in her lap, and grinned."You're right on all counts."
Lynx leanedback in his chair. "Now that we've got that out of the way, let'sget to the basics, okay?"
Dropping herhandbag to the floor beneath her chair, Rachel smiled. "Okay. Sotell me how long you and Dan will be staying in Montana?"
"A couple ofweeks. Then we'll head back to Cheyenne for a few days."
"Traveling therodeo circuit keeps you on the road a great deal of the time,doesn't it?" Rachel asked, remembering the seemingly endlesscross-country drives her family had made when she was a child.
Lynx nodded."We put in the miles all right," he replied, leaning closer. "I'vealways liked this part of Montana.”
He was a cowboyon the move, she reminded herself, which meant there was nothingleft to say. He'd be leaving soon, Rachel reminded herself--shewouldn't get hurt. All she had to do was shut the door to heremotions. A light-hearted evening would be fun.
"Then I'll beback," he said.
"You'll beback?" she parroted. "Why?"
Lynx laughed ather question. "It's a good thing I'm not easily offended--"
"Well, I didn'texpect you to be planning a return visit, that's all." Rachel said,face flaming.
"So I gatherfrom your reaction. Dan's put a down payment on a small ranch.Didn't Charlene tell you?"
"Well, yes. ButI was under the impression you were going back to Texas after theseason ended."
"I willeventually. When I have some free time I'll be helping Dan with hisbarn raising, and other repairs."
"I see." Rachelsaid, not knowing what to say. Or what to think. All she knew wasthe bottom dropped from her stomach as he inched closer to catchher words. The noise level was horrendous in this part of the room,but Lynx was painfully near, causing her to block out hersurroundings. Her throat went dry and she couldn't stop staring athis mouth. She had to get a hold of herself. She'd just met theman.
All she couldthink about was the way his voice teased at her, reminding her ofthe life she'd walked away from two years ago. Memories of anintimacy she never wanted to experience again filled her mind.
Being here withLynx should have made the memories more painful, but for somereason it wasn't so.
Although sheknew it was crazy and totally unlike her, she didn't want to leavethe honky-tonk and go home. She wanted to be with Lynx. Even thoughit meant stepping back into forbidden territory, and risking hercarefully restored confidence, Rachel elected to remain where shewas.
However, withher decision came the knowledge of her extreme vulnerability.
Thankfully, thewaiter chose that moment to bring their drinks. Rachel lowered hergazed and struggled to make small talk.
After a momentshe said, "I’ve never been to Cheyenne, Wyoming or FrontierDays.”
Lynx toyed witha long strand of her black hair and brushed it away from her face."Cheyenne, Wyoming is a rodeo town, Frontier Days is a three-daycelebration,” Lynx said. “It's a huge tourist attraction, and thetown goes all-out for it. The locals say Cheyenne only has twoseasons--winter and Frontier Days."
Dan andCharlene turned their attention back to the couple.
"Don't betalking about going, just yet," Charlene said, clutching Dan'shand. "You fellas just got home yesterday."
"Now,Charlene," Dan warned. "You know how much purse money's at stakehere."
"I know. .."
Rachel meltedagainst the back of her chair, as Lynx's fingertip brushed a strandof hair from her face. Her body shivered all the way to her toes.Fidgeting with a silver bracelet on her wrist, Rachel didn't knowhow to deal with this type of covert seduction. "You'll have a goodtime then," she said addressing her comment to both men.
"Everyone has agood time," Lynx clarified.
Dan chuckled."Everyone who's able, anyway."
Rachel reachedfor her glass, glancing at Dan. "I don't understand."
Dan pushed hishat further back on his head, revealing a bright crop of red hair."I landed in front of the angry end of a bull last year and brokemy arm. Lynx had a hell of a good time, though."
Rachel saw Lynxshoot a warning glance at Dan.
"Except for thehang-over the next morning," Dan mumbled.
Rachelsmothered a smile at the expression on Lynx's face, which told herit wasn't a frequent indulgence on his part. He allowed Dan'scomment to slip past, and Rachel glanced across the table at Dan."Are you competing this year?" she asked him.
"Sure. I'm finenow," Dan said, lifting his wrist for her inspection.
Charlene ranher palm over Dan's wrist. "This year you're going to be morecareful, aren't you?"
"I reckon so. .."
The rest of theconversation was lost to Rachel because
Lynx tapped hissquare-tipped finger on the side of her glass. "It appears to meyou've got enough ice in that glass to start your own Montanablizzard, Rachel."
"You think so?I happen to like ice. There's nothing quite like a cold drink on awarm night."
"I could thinkof a few things. . ."
Lynx studiedher, amusement lurking in his eyes. He was daring her to continueto ignore him--to deny the attraction between them.
She tried. Shereally tried to ignore him, to pretend they were simply old friendsand nothing more.
Rachel tracedher fingertip along the mouth of the frosty glass and actedunconcerned when she felt the rough edge of his jeans brush againsther ankle. She even tapped her foot in time with the easy tempo ofthe band when Lynx rested his arm along the back of her chair. Shewas a grown woman. She could get past physical attraction.
Couldn'tshe?
Lynx drummedhis thumb against the tabletop to a classic tune. "Pretty goodband, isn't it?"
His commentearned him an appraising look. "Pretty loud," she replied.
"Yeah. That'sthe best part."
Rachel smiled.Lynx wasn't at all what she'd expected. Sexy, take-charge, Texasrodeo cowboy one moment, and charming, non-threatening date thenext. She didn't know what to make of the situation.
Or LynxMaddox.
It was only thecologne, she reminded herself when Lynx leaned closer and pointedout the skill of the fiddle player--she always loved the scent of agood cologne. Warm and musky. Or, maybe it was his reputation thatheld such appeal--he was a rodeo cowboy. Bull riders flirted withdeath and danger every day, and that alone could be a real turn onfor some women.
Still she knewnone of those things was the real reason she was reacting thisway.
Hisheart-stopping green eyes were her undoing. Weren’t they? But whatabout his smile? she asked herself. Lord, he had a gorgeoussmile.
"Rachel don'tyou want your drink?" he asked.
"Ah, I'mwaiting for some of the ice to melt," she said glancing at thesmall iceberg in the center of the glass.
"Why don't youlet me have this one? I'll order you something. . . warmer."
"Coffee wouldbe good," she agreed.
"Rachel, areyou doing okay?" Charlene asked, pulling away from the shelter ofDan's arm. "You're awfully quiet."
"Yes. Ofcourse," she replied.
"Good. Then Danand I are doing to leave you two alone for a while. We're going tofight for some space on the dance floor."
"A while?" Dansnorted, staring at the dance floor. "We may be gone for a coupleof days."
"Go on, enjoyyourself," Rachel urged.
"We'll stayhere and hold the table," Lynx said, tossing his Stetson onCharlene's vacated chair. His shoulder brushed against Rachel's andshe jerked at the sudden contact. Lynx didn't seem to notice herdiscomfort, because he inched forward and plucked the cherry fromher glass. Biting into the bright red cherry, he pulled the fruitfrom its stem.
Rachel's throattightened in reaction. Without thought, her tongue moistened herlower lip. She'd just agreed to stay at the table, alone, withLynx. Not a good idea.
She felt hisleg brush against hers, and her toes curled inside of her boots.Her breath caught in her throat when she watched him take a swallowof her soda. The thick, corded muscles of his neck making theaction seem almost vulnerable.
Yes. Definitelya bad idea for them to be together like this.
"So tell me,Rachel," Lynx said, setting down the glass. "What made you andCharlene choose this particular honky-tonk?"
She glancedaround the room and understood his curiosity. She wondered what shewas doing there. Rachel was certain that she looked as out of placeas she felt. In an impish tone she said, "Why the four-starservice, of course."
Lynx grinnedand glanced around the room. "Ah, yes. You must mean the smallbowls of chips and salsa on the tables, and the baseball bat nextto the bar. Nice touches."
"And thecocktail napkins. Don't forget those. See Charlene and I each haveone."
"Let me have alook. . .yours says Joe's Place. . .the prints blurred, but Ibelieve it says San Antonio--"
"You're joking,aren't you?" Rachel asked, half convinced, as she reached for thenapkin.
He chuckled."Had you going for a moment, didn't I?"
"Well, yes, youdid," she replied, an easy smile curving her lips. "I was reallydisappointed when I read the imprint on the napkin and found itonly carried an ad for pizza delivery."
Before Lynx hada chance to respond, a winded Charlene and a rumpled Dan returnedto the table.
"It's toocrowded to dance," Charlene gushed, handing Lynx his Stetson beforesliding into her chair.
"Crowded? Morelike standing in the center of a stockyard in Abilene! I couldn'tmove for fear of being stampeded!" Dan said, taking a swig of hisbeer.
Both Lynx andRachel laughed, their gaze meeting as they joined in the sharedjoke.
She was havinga good time, she realized. She hadn't expected to enjoy the eveningnor feel so comfortable with Lynx and Dan, but she did. The eveningwent along in that light-hearted tone for another hour. It wasn'tuntil Lynx and Dan left the table in search of coffee thateverything changed.
"Rachel, honey,why's that man staring at you?" Charlene asked, glancing to rightof her friend.
"You'reimagining things."
"No I'm not. Hekeeps watching you. . .oh, no, here he comes--"
"Charlene,you're scaring me." Rachel twisted her chair to get a look at theman. He was stocky and looked to be in his early thirties. He alsolooked vaguely familiar.
Before shecould act, the man lunged against her, catching her off guard. Hegrabbed her wrist, "Wanna dance?"
She jerked herhand free. "No I don't. I think it would be best if you went backto your table." She was concerned but she wasn't frightened, yet.She glared at him for several counts, her heart pounding. If shekept her head, he'd leave her alone. If he didn’t, she'd scream theroof down!
"I'll buy youanother drink. . ."
"No--" Rachelshot back.
"Justin, leavethe lady alone." Lynx's voice was a low growl right behind her."The lady asked me to buy her a drink," the drunk whined.
"I didnot!"
"Rachel," Lynxordered, quietly. "I'll handle this."
Rachel felt herspine snap to attention. She'd never responded well to orders, nomatter how well intended.
The drunkstumbled, landing on top of Rachel. She let out a squeal ofsurprise as glasses and mugs of beer careened off the table and onto the floor.
"Get off ofme!" she said, shoving at his shoulders.
Before shecould act, Lynx stepped forward, yanking the man off of Rachel."Justin, didn't your mother ever teach you any manners?" Lynxasked.
Justin saidsomething foul under his breath and Rachel saw Lynx's expressionchange.
In swift,economical movements, Lynx spun the man around and grabbed him bythe collar. One hard blow from his fist catapulted the manbackwards. He crashed into a table and several wooden chairs. Thesound of splintering wood filled the room, and suddenly Rachelfound herself the unwelcome center of attention.
"Charlene?"Rachel searched the room for her friend and found her gone. So whatwas she supposed to do now?
The questionwas quickly answered. Lynx made his way to Rachel's side secondsbefore several rowdies joined in the fracas in the center of theroom.
"Damn," Lynxsaid, exasperated. He ducked the first punch. "Rachel, what in hellare you doing standing there? Get out of here!" His words werealmost drowned out by the sound of breaking glass.
"Where?" sheshouted.
Lynx pointedtoward the back exit. "Move! This is a brawl, not a squaredance!"
Rachel did aquick hop-step around several cowboys to get to a pillar near thewall. A barroom brawl? No, Lynx must me mistaken. She'd never seena fistfight before. She couldn't be in the middle of a brawl. Shewatched a chair fly across the room and shatter a section of thewide mirror that hung behind the bar. Then she watched thebartender duck behind the counter as glass rained down. Lynx wasright. This was a brawl!
Two more fightsbroke out on the dance floor. Rachel's stomach knotted and she feltsick as she watched the mounting bedlam. The cowboy Lynx hadpunched lunged to his feet and charged at Lynx.
Lynx had abroad smile on his face as he glanced her way. He was enjoyinghimself! Rachel couldn't believe it. Lynx grabbed the man by thecollar and looked like he was prepared to bang the man's headagainst the wall.
Dan slugged adark haired cowboy and sent him sprawling under a table. Meanwhile,Charlene gamily picked her way over to Rachel side and tugged herthrough the crowd toward the exit.
"Don't standhere gawking, honey."
Rachel made herway outside before she fully realized what had happened.
The ruckus wasquickly turning into a riot before
her eyes, andLynx and Dan were trapped in the center of the room.
The volume ofcrashing and banging was escalating, but the whoops and hollerswere less and less frequent. Maybe things were starting to calmdown.
Rachel wincedwhen she heard the unmistakable sound of a body hitting the wall."Charlene, do you think anyone will get hurt?"
"Naw. Thishappens all the time. Things'll calm down as soon as--"
Suddenly a lowgrowl, accompanied by several groans and curses, caught Rachel'sattention.
Barney, thehonky-tonk's bouncer, a Goliath in lumberjack clothing, hauled aman to the doorway, and with one mighty swing hurled him outside.The man whizzed past Rachel. He hit the ground with a heavy thud.He groaned once but didn't move.
A flicker ofrealization penetrated Rachel's mind as she stared at theground.
Lynx Maddox layspread-eagle at her feet.
Wiping her damppalms against her skirt, Rachel bent down and tapped Lynx firmly onthe shoulder.
"Lynx. LynxMaddox."
Hearing thefeminine voice, he smiled. Looked like he'd won the fight afterall. He cracked one eye open and fought to focus it. He stared atthe wavering form next to him. Dark hair. Rachel. He grinned,pleased with the soft hesitation in her silvery voice.
Lynx struggledto raise himself onto his elbows and gave her a look of amusement.He knew his face was the picture of astonishment, and he felt hissmile vanish. As the awareness of his surroundings faded and hiselbows gave way beneath him, Lynx knew he was going to collapse. Inthe distance, he heard Rachel cry out in alarm.
His lastconscious memory was of Charlene Davis hobbling toward him, one ofher shoes in her hand, shouting, "Darn you, Barney. You threw outthe wrong cowboy!"
Chapter Two
 
 
Somehow, Dan,Charlene, and Rachel, managed to shove Lynx into the back seat ofher car. Charlene drove while Rachel held Lynx's head cradled inher lap, mindful of very bump and pothole in the asphalt road intotown. By the time they'd pulled into the parking lot of the motelwhere Charlene and Dan were staying, Lynx was awake. He was stillseeing double but he was conscious.
Thank the Lordfor small favors.
Lynx staggeredinside and threw himself on the full-sized bed. He'd looked sovulnerable, his long legs dangling off the edge of the bed, whilehis large square hands clutched a pillow against his cheek. Rachelcouldn't help noticing the way his hat tipped drunkenly over hisforehead. His neatly pressed shirt was now wrinkled, with severalof the buttons missing and the pocket torn. He looked so darnsilly, all that brazen masculinity resting on a bright, floralbedspread.
“Guess we’llhave to keep him until he’s able to go back to his camper,” Danchuckled.
“Shoot,” saidCharlene. “Then I might just rent my own room tonight. He’s yourcousin—-not mine.”
Dan shrugged.“Suit yourself, darlin’.”
While Danpulled off Lynx's boots and tossed them on the floor, Charlenesearched through a duffle bag for a bottle of aspirin.
Suddenly,Rachel felt a rush of concern for Lynx. He was in a strange town,far from home and his family. What if he was really hurt? She waspartly to blame for his injury and she couldn't leave withoutknowing he was going to be all right.
Perching on theedge of the bed, Rachel took one of his large hands in her own.Lynx uttered something unintelligible, and Rachel felt her stomachclench. Lynx Maddox, you're the kind of man who could lead to myundoing, Rachel thought. However, the warning vanished from hermind in the span of a heartbeat because like everything else saneand logical, it ceased to matter when she looked into Lynx's deep,green eyes as they opened.
Lynx focusedhis gaze upon her face. After a moment, he groaned and squeezed herhand. "Rachel?"
"Yes," shereplied, panic nudging at her. His voice sounded so. . .uncertain,lacking its usual sexy rumble.
"You came. I'mglad you came." He curled his fingers around her wrist, his thumbcaressing her skin. "Your skin is so soft. . ."
"Charlene!"Rachel called, panic lacing her voice.
"I'm coming,"her friend said. "Dan's rounding up a glass of water. I can't getthe lid off the aspirin bottle. Shoot!"
Rachel turnedher attention back to Lynx. Despite her vow not to get involvedwith other people's problems, Rachel wasn't able to squelch a pangof concern for Lynx. She knew Dan and Charlene could take care ofhim, but still she couldn't bring herself to walk out the door.
"Promise mesomething," he said, his voice an uneven rasp of sound.
Heart pounding,Rachel hesitated. She didn't want to promise him anything. Shewanted to gather what remained of her common sense andself-preservation skills and go home where it was safe. She didn'twant to care about this stranger, this cowboy--she didn't want tobe hurt again. But she did care, that was her main problem in life,she always cared too much.
"What. . ." sheswallowed against the dryness in her throat as she looked at Lynx."What do you want me to promise?" His color didn't look well, shethought, he could have internal injuries. Perhaps she should call911.
"I want you topromise that you'll come see me. . ."
"Ofcourse--"
"Promise you'llcome see me ride tomorrow."
Rachel felt herhands tremble as an icy terror drifted over her. Come and see meride? She’d sooner die. Eight years ago, she’d vowed never to setfoot near another rodeo arena.
Here she was,worried about admitting him to the hospital, and all he could thinkabout was the next rodeo, just like her father. Anger surgedthrough her veins at the careless disregard he had for his ownwell-being. And at herself for worrying about him.
She opened hermouth to tell him so. Instead, something about his glance frombeneath his stark eyebrows had her stomach twisting into anall-too-familiar knot.
She foundherself agreeing to his request. The word fool echoed in her mindwell into the next day.
 
 
* * *
 
 
After the lunchshift at the café, Rachel slipped out of her waitress uniform intoa pair of worn denim jeans and a red split-shoulder top. "I must beout of my mind for going through with this," she said, running abrush through her long, black hair. "Charlene, you're my bestfriend, please talk me out of doing this."
Charleneadjusted a sequined pocket on her purple western shirt thenreplied, "Naw. You made the promise."
Rachel gave herfriend a meaningful glance. "Of course I did--I thought Lynx wasdelirious."
"Well, hewasn't," Charlene replied.
"Nokidding."
"You'll do justfine, honey. Going to the rodeo will do you a world of good. You’llenjoy seeing Lynx ride--it's a once-in-a-lifetime event. Besides,the sparks shooting off around the two of you would supply enoughelectricity to light up the arena."
Rachel felt hercheeks warm. So her friend wouldn't notice, she bent down to slideher foot into a gray boot. "Lynx is attractive--I won't deny it,but that's beside the point."
"Rachel! Youcan't hide from the world forever."
Ignoring herfriend's outburst, Rachel reached for her other boot and sat down."Charlene, I've sworn off men, remember? The last thing I need isanother dead-end relationship." Grasping her boot, she shoved herstocking-clad foot inside.
"Any woman inher right mind wouldn't miss a chance to watch the `Wild Cat' inaction," Charlene reasoned.
"Doing what?"she asked, cocking an eyebrow.
Charlene gave awicked smile. "Now, you know what I mean."
"Yes I do, andthat is exactly what I'm trying to avoid. I don't want to spend anymore time with Lynx."
"Don't want to,or are afraid to?"
"Both."
"You'll have agood time, honey."
"I haven't beento a rodeo since--"
"My pointexactly. That was eight years ago. It's time you sat inside anarena again. Most rodeo rides go off without a hitch."
Rachel gnawedat her lower lip for a moment. "I know you're right, Charlene."
"Besides,honey, you know how I am--I'll drive you plumb crazy if you don'tgo."
Slanting aquick glance at Rachel, Charlene gauged
the effect ofher words, then continued to plead her
case. "Lynx iseasy on the eyes, honey--real easy."
Rachel laughed."Good try, Charlene. Soon you'll forget all about Lynx Maddox. Andso will I."
"Is that afact? What happens when you start remembering the details? The lookin that cowboy's eyes was red-hot. Didn't your blood start tosizzle when he looked at you at the honky-tonk? You'll go to yourgrave wondering how that man kisses."
"Good Heavens!"Rachel snapped, uncomfortable at how close Charlene came to themark. "You’re sex-obsessed. Lynx Maddox is a rodeo cowboy--not somewestern god."
Running herhand over the back of her neck, Rachel kneaded the muscle, hopingto ease the tightness. A cord of apprehension seemed to secureitself there before inching down her spine. Her friend wasright--she did need to get on with her life. She couldn't keepexpecting shadows to cover her world. She had never been close toher parents, but her father's death had left a deep hole in herlife. Phantom grief for the father (and for the relationship, whichnever existed) was how she thought of it. Perhaps attending therodeo would be a good first step to her letting go of the past.
"You're right,Charlene. I can't avoid my past forever. And a promise is apromise. What time does the bull riding start?"
Charlene letout a whoop of delight. "If we get a move on it, we'll see thefirst series of rides."
Half an hourlater, Rachel climbed up the bleachers at the arena.

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