He’d step in front of a bull to save a life
But even he’s no match for a girl this Texas tough
Rodeo bullfighter Wyatt Darrington’s got it all figured out. The perfect car, the perfect job, the perfect looks—the perfect lie. He may be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, but he knows he’ll always be an outsider to people like Melanie Brookman. Texas-born and bred, with the arena in her blood, Melanie’s come to see Wyatt as her personal enemy, and that suits him just fine—this way, she’ll never realize the truth.
He’s been crazy in love with her for years.
Melanie’s always been a fighter. Fiercely independent and tough as nails, she’s stood up to everything that got in her way—including Wyatt. But now her infamous temper’s got her on the ropes, and there’s nowhere left to run but toward the man she swore she’d never trust…and this time, there’s no denying just how hot he makes her burn.
The instant Wyatt’s fingers came to rest on Melanie’s bare skin, they both cursed—-a mutual, almost silent hiss, too quiet for any of the crowd encircling the nearly empty dance floor to hear over the music. Their steps didn’t falter. They didn’t blink. But he didn’t pretend he couldn’t feel the jolt at the inevitable, unavoidable contact…and neither did Melanie.
He smiled—-a generic, just making conversation smile that would fool anyone besides the woman looking him directly in the eye. “Well. This is inconvenient.”
“Extremely,” Melanie agreed.
He didn’t bother to move his hand. The cut of her emerald--green halter--top bridesmaid dress left him with no alternatives other than her exposed back or her satin--covered butt. Her long, straight chestnut hair had been pinned into a tousled updo with tendrils that trailed down her neck, begging a man to twirl them around his fingers.
Damn Violet for being the one woman on earth determined to make her maid of honor look as hot as sin.
As they circled the floor, eyebrows were raised and glances exchanged. He was aware of the picture they made—-him blond and elegant, at ease in the tuxedo that made the other cowboys tug at neckties and fidget with cummerbunds; her following his lead as effortlessly as if they’d been dancing together for years. They were sleek and athletic, glowing with the pheromones that had been accumulating, molecule by molecule, over the enforced proximity created by two days of the standard pre--wedding hullabaloo.
Wyatt flicked a glance toward the bride and groom, so wrapped up in each other they wouldn’t have noticed if their attendants had broken into a tango. “Joe is the closest thing I have to a brother.”
Even though he did have a male sibling.
“Violet is my sister,” Melanie countered. “Her family is my family.”
Even though her own parents were sitting at a table only a few feet away, pointedly ignoring each other.
He studied the circle of faces that surrounded them, let his gaze settle for a beat on Joe and Violet, then focused on Melanie again, his voice hardening. “I’m not giving them up.”
“I was here first.”
Which was why his position was so much more precarious. He had only just found this weird and wonderful extended family that was more about loyalty than blood. Melanie’s ties to them were forever.
“So this”—-his fingers flexed, creating a slight, dangerous increase in pressure—-“would be incredibly stupid. Especially for us.”
She tilted her head in question.
“You don’t like me. You certainly don’t trust me,” he said.
“Depending on the circumstances. You are a good friend to them. If you hadn’t forced Joe to come to Texas in the first place, he’d still be in Oregon instead of over there trying not to fall face--first into Violet’s cleavage—-which is pretty damn impressive in that dress.” Melanie smiled fondly at the two of them, then brought her gaze back to meet Wyatt’s. “I’ve seen you risk life and limb for him in the arena.”
He shrugged. “I’m a bullfighter. You do what it takes to make sure the cowboy and your partner walk away.”
He didn’t have to explain. She’d been on the rodeo trail long before she took her first steps, and her brother was also a bullfighter. But she shook her head. “You’d do the same for a complete stranger in a back alley. If I ever got caught in the middle of a convenience store robbery, you’d be the person I wanted standing at the Slurpee machine.”
“But not sitting across the breakfast table.”
She pursed glossy red lips as she considered the question. “It would be too crowded with you, me, and whatever agenda you’re currently working. I’d have a hard time deciding where I fit into the scheme of the day.”
“Says the woman who makes a living parting the unsuspecting public from their hard--earned dollars.”
“Ouch.” But the edge in her voice was more amusement than offense. “I’ll have to tell Human Resources to add that to the job description.”
“And this conversation is a perfect example of why we would be a disaster. Despite this.” He traced a featherlight arc across her skin with his thumb.
She let her lashes flutter lower, to match her voice. “We could sneak off for a single night of depraved sex. Get it out of our systems.”
For a moment, the possibility hovered between them like a heat mirage. They both inhaled sharply, then exhaled slowly.
“Been there, tried that, have the divorce papers to prove it.” And he would not let his dick lead him into that steel--jawed trap again. Not when he had so much more than a simple broken heart on the line. He flashed a smile, bright and lethal. “I have it on good authority that you can—-and will—-hold a grudge.”
“Every girl needs a superpower,” she said with an equally toothy grin.
“Yours could make future Thanksgiving dinners a little awkward, don’t you think?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I think I am both reasonable and mature enough to handle myself.”
“History begs to differ.”
Color flared in her cheeks, a visible gauge of her rising temper. “Are you trying to irritate me?”
She blinked. Then laughed in disbelief. “You really think that’s going to help?”
“Can’t hurt. And it comes so naturally to both of us.” He twirled her, then pulled her close again, nearly eye to eye with her in heels. “We can’t be friends.”
The song was winding down. One more chorus, and he would have to step away to dutifully tap the father of the bride on the shoulder and cut in for the traditional dance with the bride’s mother.
“We also can’t avoid each other completely,” she said.
“Close enough. I live in Oregon; you live in Amarillo. I visit a few times a year, and even when I am here, you’re usually working. It’s been over a year since Joe and Violet got together, and we’ve barely crossed paths, except at holidays.”
“Then we should be safe. I’ve had plenty of practice behaving myself at Miz Iris’s house.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Also not what I’ve heard.”
“Hey, it was all at least half Violet’s fault.” Her soft laugh was laced with affection. Then her eyes narrowed again. “So we agree on one thing.” She dragged a fingernail lightly down his neck on the pretense of flicking off a speck of the infernal glitter Violet’s son had blasted them with upon arrival at the reception hall. “This—-”
“—-is not worth the risk.” Wyatt kept his voice cool, despite the hot pulse of his blood.
“And we swear never to speak of it to any of them.” Her gaze sharpened on his face. “Ever.”
He curled his lip. “Would you like to spit on our hands and shake to seal the deal?”
“Sunshine,” she drawled. “If I decide to swap spit with you, I guarantee it’ll get a lot messier than that.”
He gave a strangled laugh, dropped his hands, and took a step back as a passing waiter shoved plastic champagne flutes at them for the latest in an endless series of toasts.
Ignoring the drunken ramblings of some distant cousin, Melanie lifted her glass. “Here’s to no lovin’ between this man and this woman.”
“For as long as we both shall live,” he agreed mockingly.
They tapped their glasses together, and both tossed back the champagne.
She handed him her empty glass before sauntering over to join Joe and Violet. Wyatt rocked back on his heels, appreciating the view…as he was sure she had intended. He took two full steps in pursuit before he caught himself, turned, and walked in the opposite direction.
A decision he would live to regret for a very, very long time.
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