“Ew!” Rayna Landers’ spike-heeled boot skidded in a huge pile of manure. Double doors, a hundred feet away, beckoned. At last, the final barn, lined with bored-looking Longhorns, on the endless, roller-coaster-rideless evening at the State Fair of Texas.
Captivated cowboys, cowgirls, and mini versions of both surveyed the cattle. The only place she wanted to see beef was in the form of filet mignon topped with mushroom sauce at Morton’s The Steakhouse.
A huge russet-colored bull glared at her through a rail barrier that surely couldn’t contain the monster. Unmoving. Unblinking. Maybe he’d read her mind. He pawed at the sawdust under an enormous hoof with clear intentions of pulverizing her.
Despite the warmth of the late September evening, a chill seeped into her bones. She turned away from the massive beast and lunged for the safety of the nearby exit.
She looked back, certain the creature would surge through the fence and run her under. Something solid stopped her flight. She yelped and muscled arms caught her.
“Sorry ma’am. Didn’t see you coming.” He stood well over six feet with eyes so green they almost glowed. Even with her at five feet nine and wearing heels, he still had a few inches on her. The requisite black hat, sitting at the perfect angle, couldn’t quite restrain his raven curls. The cleft in his chin deepened with each heart-stopping smile.
While his looks gave her heart an erratic rhythm, his hands on her forearms felt safe, steady.
Step away from the cowboy.
Her feet took the mental hint, and she tried to wipe the muck off her heel in a patch of grass. She gulped for fresh air, but the smell of the stockyards persisted.
“Are you all right?”
“Fine. It was stuffy in there.” Downtown Dallas had never before reeked like this. At least, not in her experience.
“It does get warm in there. At least our fair is always in the fall, so we don’t cook.”
A beautiful Palomino stood next to a trailer, its pale, golden coat gleaming and platinum tail swishing. Rayna stepped closer, drawn by the mare’s beauty. Years ago, her city-dwelling father had taken her to several dude ranches, but she hadn’t gotten this close since. The Palomino was her favorite color, and her fingers itched to touch the creamy hide.
“You can pet her if you want, ma’am.”
“She’s yours?” Gorgeous man, gorgeous horse.
“Name’s Clay Warren. This is Buttercream. Raised her myself, but I let my mama name her.” He stroked the horse as he regaled Rayna with a list of the mare’s awards and ribbons.
Though enchanting, the horse didn’t hold her attention, but the man certainly did. Buttercream whinnied as if she knew their focus had shifted away from her.
Clay winked. “Guess she doesn’t like competition from beautiful ladies.”
Her gaze flew back to the horse and warmth crept over her. The cowboy’s boldness jangled her nerves, yet she liked it. She tucked a long strand of hair behind her ear.
“Oops.” The cowboy looked past her and winced. “Hope your husband didn’t hear that. Sorry, I didn’t see a wedding ring.”
She turned. Her brother stalked toward them, a disgusted scowl marring his features. She frowned. Surely he and Gabby were getting along okay. They were perfect for each other.
“Rayna,where did you go?”
“She’s coming.” Adam’s stare riveted on Clay.
Why did he have such an annoying tendency to be overprotective of her? “Okay Adam, you drag me here as a guise to date my best friend, and then you abandon her. Not a good plan.”
Adam’s jaw clenched. “I don’t think this stranger needs to know that.”
“Clay Warren.” A confused frown flawed his forehead. “I was just acquainting the lady with my horse.”
Wondering who Adam was, no doubt, all dark hair and eyes like their dad, while Rayna’s auburn hair and amber eyes must have come from the absentee mom.
“This is my brother. . .” Rayna searched the crowd behind them for Gabby.“who is supposed to be impressing my best friend with his plans for a future ranch. Adam, you’d better go find her.”
“I think I’ll stay right here.” Adam crossed his arms over his chest.
“Rayna wanted to pet my horse. Go ahead.” Clay took her hand and smoothed it down the mare’s velvety muzzle.
His calloused grip swept warmth up her arm.
“We need to go find Gabby.” Adam’s tone was glacial.
Apparently he noticed when Clay’s hand lingered over hers a little too long. Rayna sighed. She didn’t want Gabby mad at Adam, and he obviously wouldn’t budge without her.
“Your horse is exquisite.” Not wanting to let the cowboy go, her eyes locked with his again. “Thank you for letting me visit with her.”
“Anytime, ma’am. Nice meeting you.” He tipped his hat and offered his business card. “Do you have a last name, pretty lady?”
“Landers.” Her insides pooled like melted butter. She’d never experienced such blatant flirtation—especially in the face of her brother’s resentment.
Clay held the card longer than necessary. His fingers grazed hers.
About the book: Ad exec, Rayna Landers meets bull rider, Clay Warren at the State Fair of Texas. While Rayna thinks she’s content solo, Clay longs for marriage and family. Though poised to win his third world championship, his ranch is in a slump. Clay convinces his publicist to hire her advertising firm in a last-ditch effort to keep his employees and lasso her heart.
Soon the city girl is on the ride of her life, until the rodeo unearths buried memories from her past. Clay sees her through the trauma, but an injury and his stubborn determination to get back in the hypothetical saddle threatens their budding relationship. Can they rely on God to find their common ground or will they draw a line in the rodeo dust that neither will cross?
About Shannon: Central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. Her debut novel, White Roses won the 2011 Inspirational Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category. The 18th Annual Heartsong Awards named Vannatter 3rd Favorite New Author, and White Roses #1 and White Doves #8 in the contemporary category. The Arkansas Democrat Three Rivers Edition voted Vannatter one of 20 to Watch in 2011.
She has taught fiction workshops at The American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in St. Louis, MO, The White County Creative Writers Conference in Searcy, AR, Life Press Christian Writers Conference in Memphis, TN, Ozark Creative Writers Conference in Eureka Springs, AR, and Ozark Romance Authors Conference in Springfiled, MO. She also taught a writing class as a continuing adult education course at the Arkansas State University.
The first book in her Texas rodeo series, Rodeo Dust will be available through Heartsong Presents in October. Rodeo Hero and Rodeo Ashes release in 2012. Learn more about Shannon and her books at https://shannontaylorvannatter.com.