Sydney Thomas may be the newest Rodeo Queen on the circuit but she’s more than just a pretty face and fabulous horseback rider. If only her new boss could see it! But the frustrating, bossy, drop-dead gorgeous man seems bent on pushing her away at every chance he gets.
Scott Chandler learned at an early age that he needed to “cowboy up” and take care of his family. The one time he let his guard down, his heart got trampled and he’s not about to let that happen again. He knows Sydney’s type, Rodeo Queens who hide their manipulative ways behind good looks, tight jeans, and glittery tiaras.
But just as Scott and Sydney are finally realizing there might be more to their fiery relationship than scorching kisses and passionate nights. Secrets from their pasts come back to haunt them. Will the Cowboy and the Rodeo Queen ever be able to ride off into the sunset together?
T. J. Kline was raised competing in rodeos and Rodeo Queen competitions since the age of 14 and has thorough knowledge of the sport as well as the culture involved. She has written several articles about rodeo for small periodicals, as well as a more recent how-to article for RevWriter, and has published a nonfiction health book and two inspirational fiction titles under the name Tina Klinesmith. She is also an avid reader and book reviewer for both Tyndale and Multnomah. In her spare time, she can be found laughing hysterically with her husband, children, and their menagerie of pets in Northern California.
Excerpt #1 First Meeting
Sydney rolled up the sleeves of her shirt to her elbows and pulled the shirt from her chest in an attempt to cool herself. It was only April, but her shirt was already sticking to her skin at nine in the morning. She couldn’t help but smile and take in the smell of alfalfa, dust, and leather as she made her way through the jumbled maze of trucks and trailers, most with horses tied in the shade, dozing before their events. She knew how lucky she was; most people couldn’t honestly say that they loved their life, but she loved every minute she’d spent growing up in rodeo.
Sydney heard the unmistakable pounding of horse hooves on the packed ground behind her and moved closer to the vehicle on her right. Usually there was more than enough room for riders and their rigs in the walkway, but with the unexpected turnout at the rodeo today, there was barely room to maneuver. The horse was jogging pretty quickly and she didn’t have anywhere else to go, especially since another truck and trailer had chosen that moment to pull out of the gate ahead of her. The driver of the truck spotted her and waved her on. She tried to hurry through the opening he’d left her at the gate, but the rider behind her chose to slip between them, his mount’s shoulder knocking her into the gatepost on her right.
Sydney reached up to massage her shoulder before registering the surprise on the face of the driver of the truck.
“Are you okay, Sydney?” It was Bobby Blake, a friend of her father’s who must have been delivering some panels in the back of the arena.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she assured him before raising her voice. “I guess chivalry really is dead,” she yelled at the cowboy’s back.
She saw him jerk his mount to a stop before glancing back over his shoulder at her. “Look, honey, I don’t have time for you girls who don’t belong back here. This area is for contestants, not their groupies.”
“Want me to set him straight?” Bobby asked.
Sydney smiled her appreciation. “No, but thanks Bobby. I’ve got this.”
“Go get him, honey,” he teased. “He doesn’t know who he’s dealing with. By the way, congratulations.”
“Thanks, Bobby.” Sydney made her way toward the obnoxious cowboy seated on the sorrel. “Look, I don’t know who you think you are, but around here we tend to have a sort of unspoken code. When that walkway is packed with cars and horses like that, you slow down and you certainly do not push your way between a truck and someone walking. I don’t really appreciate hoofmarks across my back.”
She looked up at him as she came closer, refusing to let him intimidate her from his seat on the horse. “And as for being a groupie, I could probably outride you any day of the week,” she challenged.
The cowboy arched his right brow and a slow smile spread across his face. “Maybe we’ll have to see about that later.” With a tap of his heels, the horse jogged forward a few steps toward one of the stock pens.
Sydney narrowed her eyes as he left. What a jerk, she thought. Shaking her head, she rubbed her shoulder again and searched the back of the arena for the stock contractor’s trailers, noticing a lanky cowboy setting up folding chairs beside a Findley Brothers stock trailer.
“Excuse me,” Sydney began, making her way across the short grass. “Can you tell me where I might find Mike Findley?”
A weathered face returned her smile and Sydney realized he was much older than she had first assumed. “What’s that?”
Sydney realized that he probably couldn’t hear her over the clattering of stock panels as the cattle moved into the pens. “Mike Findley? Do you know where I can find him?”
“Oh, no, I’m not Mike. I’m Jake,” the man hollered.
“Hi Jake, I’m Sydney Thomas.” She raised her voice as well. “I was just crowned rodeo queen and I’m looking for Mike to see if we might carry the sponsor flags or run cattle for him today.”
Jake turned and faced her, crossing his arms. The cattle had quieted so he toned down his voice as well. “Well, Mike’s up with the announcer right now working out of a few details. But he’s not who you’d want to talk to about that.” He leaned back against the trailer, crossing his ankles as if getting relaxed for a long conversation.
Sydney raised her brows in expectation. When Jake didn’t say anything, she pressed. “So, who should I talk to instead?”
“That’d be Scott Chandler.”
Sydney sighed, finding it difficult to restrain herself from punching something. First she’d been shoved into a fence post and now a cryptic cowboy was obviously enjoying a joke at her expense.
“And where would I find Mr. Chandler?”
The Cheshire-cat grin on Jake’s face made her heart sink. No, life couldn’t possibly be that cruel. Her gaze followed the direction of his finger as he pointed to the cowboy atop the sorrel at the stock pen, obviously eavesdropping on their conversation. Swallowing the dry lump that had suddenly materialized in her throat, Sydney squared her shoulders and raised her golden eyes to meet the black eyes of her foe.
“Well, I think you just finished telling him off.” Jake grinned, anticipating the showdown to come.
Sydney had a few choice words that might have suited this moment if her mother hadn’t ingrained in her how unladylike it was to curse. A blush crept up her cheeks as Scott Chandler dismounted his horse and bowed deeply before her.
“Your Majesty,” he mocked. “I am at your disposal.”
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