Kissin' Tell: Rough Riders, Book 13 (5 page)

Tell slammed his beer glass on the table. “Jesus. Really? You guys haven’t seen Georgia or talked to her in ten years and you automatically assume she’s exactly the same person she was back then? Why? None of us are the same. Thank God we’ve changed, but you can be damn sure I ain’t gonna stoop to your level and point them changes out, because they ain’t all good.” He stood, tossed a twenty on the table and went to find her.

Georgia had taken a booth in the center of the room. Some guy appeared to be harassing her. Tell tapped him on the shoulder and recognized him as Dalton’s former classmate. “Monte. Been a long time. You waiting for the band to start?” He maneuvered him aside so he could slide into the booth opposite Georgia.

“Nah. I’m just looking for someone to take to my buddy Brad’s party.”

“Do you know Mira? Skinny blonde? She mentioned wanting to get wild tonight. Track her down. She’d be game.”

Monte said, “Thanks for the tip, McKay,” and loped off.

“I’m assuming you don’t mind that I interrupted?” Tell asked, suppressing a grin. “Or were you interested in accompanying Monte to a kegger?”

She laughed. “No.”

Her low-pitched, sexy laugh hadn’t changed either. “So will you let me buy you a drink?”

Her face shuttered. “If it won’t ruin your reputation being seen in public with me.”

“I remember when you wouldn’t be seen with me. So, it’s a chance I’m willing to take.”

A waitress took their drink order.

“So, I overheard part of the conversation with your friends.”

“Which part?” Hopefully not Mira’s last comment.

“The part about you having a bunch of women on the hook.” Georgia cocked her head. “Embraced your McKay wild-man heritage after we graduated, did you?”

“With both hands. I had plenty of wild oats to sow and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of plowing up every single row.” He adjusted his hat. “Sorry Leah and Roxanne went off on you.”

Those pale-blue eyes searched his. “Not your fault. It’s not the first time I’ve faced that kind of hostility since I returned to Sundance.”

“Returned? You’re not just visiting?”

She shook her head.

Well didn’t that just present some interesting possibilities? “Fill me in on the last ten years in the life of Georgia Hotchkiss.”

“If I bare all, McKay, you’d better be willing to do the same.”

“Oh, I don’t have a problem baring anything, sweetness.”

She blushed.

Huh. How about that.

Once they’d been served their drinks, Georgia said, “When was the last time we saw each other?”

“After graduation. That night at the lake.” She’d shown up in skintight Daisy Duke short-shorts and an icy-blue tank top that matched her eyes. He’d stood by the bonfire, mesmerized by the golden glow reflecting on her beautiful face, taking her from the realm of a pretty woman to that of a goddess. She’d only stayed long enough to forever burn that image of her in his mind.

“My life. Let’s see… Deck and I got married the month after graduation. RJ died the next summer. Then my mom left my dad. I was divorced from Deck by my twenty-first birthday. I finished college in Laramie and got a job in Dallas. That’s it.”

Okay. Maybe he’d expected more. But…she had boiled it down to the basics.

She took a drink. “You know, I was so self-involved back then I have no idea if you went to college.”

Tell shook his head.

“Why not? You were definitely smart enough. You graduated at the top of our class.”

“There were only a hundred and thirty kids in our class,” he said dryly.

“You never considered it?”

Even though ten years had passed, Tell couldn’t confess there’d been no money for college. “I’m a generational Wyoming rancher. My life choices were decided for me when I was born.” He sipped his beer. “But I did take off the summer I turned nineteen. Spent three months on the southwest rodeo circuit. Considered going pro.” Part of him hadn’t wanted to come back. But he’d felt guilty about leaving all the ranch work to his brothers, and he’d missed Wyoming more than he thought possible.

“That was the summer RJ died.” She started picking at the cocktail napkin. An air of sadness softened her brusque demeanor.

It ripped at him, but Tell knew how that felt. Putting on a brave face or a funny face because that’s what was expected. He covered her hand. “I’m so damn sorry.”

Georgia didn’t pull away from his touch. “Did you know my father went off the deep end two months after RJ’s funeral?” Her gaze met his again. “Sorry. This is all old news to you. I’m sure the town gossips had a field day.”

“I never heard anything about it,” he lied.

“I don’t know which is worse. Being the object of gossip. Or no one caring enough
gossip about you.”

He had no idea what to say to that.

The band started tuning up.

Her melancholy mood disappeared and she offered him a dazzling smile that set off his warning bells. “Enough about me. So you’re ranching?”


“You raising Black Angus? Or Herefords?”

Tell studied her. It’d been a while but he still recognized the switch—cranking the charm on high meant she wanted something from him. Time to let her know he wasn’t the gullible teen boy he’d been. “Do you really care?”

That caught her by surprise. “Yes. Why would I ask if I didn’t?”

“’Cause small talk ain’t ever been your style.”

She didn’t deny it.

He took it a step further. “Besides, I get the feeling you came here tonight lookin’ for me.”

“Cocky much? I didn’t ask you to join me, Tell. So feel free to leave.”

And that retort was so old-school Georgia-like he had to grin. “There’s the glare I remember. I prefer it to that fake flirting thing you do.”

“Fake flirting? You don’t think much of me, do you, McKay?”

“I haven’t seen you in a decade and I ain’t gonna pretend I know you. Likewise, you don’t know me. So you oughta understand that I’m a straight-shooter. If you wanna continue this conversation, you’d best be up front about what you want from me, without dousing me with your feminine wiles.”

Georgia laughed. “Now I remember why I always liked you.”

“Because I was easily manipulated?”

“I see you’re still tossing off those one-liners every chance you get in an attempt to charm and distract.”

Ouch. He deserved that. It surprised him that she remembered that about him. He smiled. “Now we’re getting someplace. So spill it, hot lips.”

“You are right. I did come to the bar tonight looking for you to ask if you’re going to the class reunion in two weeks.”

“I’d planned on going to the Saturday night stuff, but not the Friday family picnic.”

“Do you have a date?”

Why did his heart rate spike? “Not yet. Why?”

She blurted, “Will you be my date?”

After the shock wore off, Tell leaned forward. “For real, Georgia?”

“For real. I hadn’t planned on going to the reunion. What a fun way to spend an evening, dealing with the stares, rude comments and whispers about why Deck and I are divorced. Or hearing about what a tragedy it was that RJ got killed driving drunk.”

“So what changed your mind?”

Her pale-blue eyes remained on his. “Seeing you last night.”

Don’t fall for it. Demand a solid reason.

“Because you know how to have fun. And if I went with you, I might have a chance at having fun.”

“Your change of heart about revisiting those glory days isn’t because Deck hates my guts and it’d be a hard poke at him to show up with me on your arm?”

She allowed a tiny, embarrassed smile. “Okay. Maybe that’s part of it. And you have to admit it’d be a great bit of drama if we showed up together.”

He grinned. “That it might.”

“And I can’t go to the family picnic that Friday either. I’ll be out of town for a job.”

“I never asked what you’re doin’ for a living that allowed you to move back to Sundance.”

“I work for an event management company out of Dallas. We have a PR arm and an advertising arm, and we mostly handle promotion for events like rodeos, concerts and benefits.”

“What’s the name of the company?”

“Barb Wyre PR. Ever heard of it?”

He had heard of it. Recently. “The committee that hired me as a judge for the rodeo in Buffalo next weekend mentioned L bar K had been bought out by another company.”

Her eyes widened. “Wait a second. You’re a PRCA judge?”

“For over two years.”

“I’m not surprised. I figured you’d always have a foot in the rodeo world. Seems to be an addiction.”

Tell knew that Deck was a judge too, but they’d never worked a rodeo together, and he’d always been thankful for that. “How many other rodeos is your company providing promotion for this summer?”

“Twenty, right now. We seem to add more every week. Why?”

Tell’s mind was churning. This could be his chance not only to get more judging gigs, but to get Georgia Hotchkiss where he’d always wanted her: on his arm in public and in his bed. “Do you have judges scheduled for all those events?”

“I’d have to look, but I’m betting not. Not all rodeos are PRCA-sanctioned.”

“I know. I’ve worked quite a few that aren’t.”

“How many PRCA events are you scheduled to judge this summer?”

“Only four. Which ain’t bad, considering I haven’t been doin’ it that long and I’ve mostly been judging small rodeos in the area during the summer.”

“Have you pissed off one of the higher-ups in the regional PRCA judge management?”

“Not so far as I know. The only thing I can think of is the committees that hire companies like yours are goin’ with judges who have more years on the dirt. How am I supposed to get experience if I don’t get the chance to judge?”

Georgia thoughtfully drummed her fingers on the table. “That is a catch-22, isn’t it?”

“But you could help me change that. We could help each other out. If you like how I conduct myself, then you could drop my name to the committees that hire judges for non-PRCA rodeos. Extolling my…qualifications.”

“And what would I get in return?”

Tell bestowed his most charming grin. “I’d be your date for the reunion. Might be fun, bein’ the stick you use to poke Deck and anyone else who wants to take a whack at you.”

A strange expression flitted across her face, but she hadn’t automatically said no.


“Won’t our classmates think it’s a setup? Or worse, that you’re my date strictly out of pity? I don’t want to be pitied, Tell.”

That could be a problem for both of them. He snapped his fingers as a solution occurred to him. “Then we’ll just have to convince everyone in town that we’re crazy about each other in the next two weeks
the reunion.”

“By pretending to be together?”

“Oh, sweetness, there wouldn’t be no pretending. We’d be together for real.”

“Define ‘for real’.”

His gaze encompassed her face, then dipped to her chest, and he didn’t bother to bank his lust when their eyes met again. “You want me as your date for the reunion? I’ll also be sharin’ your bed.”

Georgia’s jaw dropped and she shrank back in the booth.

“Is that such a repulsive thought to you?” he asked sharply.

“God no. Not at all. You’re just so—” Her mouth snapped shut on whatever she’d been about to say. “Who is gonna believe it?”

“Everyone, if we play this right.” He leaned in, trying to hard-sell it. “See, we’ve already got the ball rolling. We were seen in the park together today. We’re sitting in the Golden Boot right now. I told off my friends’ wives for their bitchy behavior toward you, and Leah and Roxanne are two of the biggest gossips in town. It’ll get around. Trust me.”

“You defended me?”

“That mean-girl shit don’t fly with me.”

When Georgia continued to stare at him without speaking, he started to get annoyed. “Why’re you so shocked?”

“Because I wasn’t expecting it.”

“You expected I’d be happy just holdin’ your hand and smelling your hair?” Had he really said that?
Be a man. Be firm. You’re no longer that eager-to-please pup
. “Wrong. Nothin’ comes for free. We’ll be lovers. Not friends. There’s your deal. Take it or leave it.”

“No room for negotiation?”


Georgia’s chin came up and her eyes were pure skepticism. “Oh really? Not even when a no on my part could mean you don’t get assigned to more rodeos?”

“Yep.” He finished his beer and slid out of the booth. “Let me know what you decide, but I wouldn’t take too long to make up my mind, sweetness, because you are not the only woman who’s asked me to be her reunion date.”

Damn hard to do, but Tell walked away.



When did you turn into a mouse, Georgia Hotchkiss?

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