Authors: Tessa Berkley
Tags: #contemporary, #Western, #Scarred Hero/Heroine
“Did it ever occur to you I didn’t need your help?
I can take care of myself. The last thing I want is some starry-eyed fan causing a scene. If someone took a picture or writes it up in a column, that little landing in my arms could cost me a backer. Ma’am, I don’t need that type of help.”
Her head came up, a bit of anger in her stance. “My mistake, it seems. I should have realized a big man like yourself wouldn’t need someone to talk to after seeing the bull that sent him down in the ranks get ridden by the competitor on his coattails. Pardon my concern.”
“Okay, you’ve seen I’m okay. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got better things to do.” He brushed two steps past her. As sharp as his words were, it rankled him to see her face turn red. He needed to get free and get out of there before John Parker found them and asked questions.
Glory stepped back, her eyes flashing with hurt and indignation. “Well, I guess I better go. I wouldn’t want to detain the great Travis Hargrove from his business.”
Travis gritted his teeth. He was acting like an ass, yet he couldn’t help himself. “Look, miss, I gotta get myself some sponsors so I can ride again. I—”
“The name’s Glory, Glory Beebe. A name you’re going to remember,” she snapped, and punctuated her statement with a stab of her finger at his chest as if she were trying to skewer his heart. “But if it’s sponsors you want, my advice would be to get rid of that chip on your shoulder, cowboy, before someone knocks it off.”
Road to Glory
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Road to Glory
COPYRIGHT © 2015 by Tessa Berkley
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Yellow Rose Edition, 2015
Print ISBN 978-1-5092-0186-0
Digital ISBN 978-1-5092-0187-7
Published in the United States of America
To my husband,
who daily shows me that trust and love run deep,
and to Jewelann Butler,
who had enough faith in me to believe in this story,
I say, thank you.
To my wonderful editor
and the team at Wild Rose Press,
it is an honor to work with you.
Holding tight to the metal rails, he slid his legs around the sides of the fifteen hundred pounds of pure dynamite. At the weight of the human on its back, the bull lurched forward, rattling its horns against the metal bars of its cage and giving Travis Hargrove a taste of the power coiled beneath. A ragged intake of air made the roar of the crowd seem even more macabre, if that were possible. But this was a dream. Or was it?
Travis dampened his lips with the edge of his tongue, only to taste sandy grit as it rolled against his teeth. Hands reached out from the safety of the sidelines to steady the animal as he drew the rope tight over the palm of his right hand, binding the two together. Around him, the activity in the arena and the noise behind the chutes became a blended, indistinguishable whirl of sound as his concentration deepened.
He yanked the rope as tight as possible, with no thought to the possibility he would cut off his circulation, and then to make doubly sure he pounded the thick braided rope deep into the pocket of his gloved hand. His lungs burned, competing against the muscles tightening to hold the air inside as he refused to let it rush from his lungs. All he needed was eight seconds, a good ride, and a safe landing. He adjusted the protective jacket and took a deep seat. The heels of his spurs rolled against the gate, and the metal vibrated. Below him, the bull snorted, hot air forming mist around its nostrils as if the fire of Hades lodged in its lungs. The beast’s muscles twitched and bunched, yearning to be set free.
Travis shoved his hat down tight upon his head and locked the muscles of his upper thighs by pressing his knees tight against the animal’s sides. With a turn of his head, he looked at the man to the right of him. The cowboy didn’t look up. He’d been here before, performed the same ritual many times. A deep foreboding sent a shiver of fear clawing up Travis’s backbone. It was wrong, all wrong. Yet there was no escape. A cold sweat broke out beneath the shadow of his hat. Once more he filled his lungs with air, then gave a tight nod.
The air echoed with the sound of the chute latch being lifted. The metal gate groaned with the wails of demons. Air flowed around his legs as the animal jerked to its left and leapt from the narrow confines of its cell into the great arena. The crowd roared their approval. Like some giant wave, the bull rose, then came down stiff-legged, pile-driving all four legs into the ground.
The first bone-jarring jerk sent a shower of sand and sawdust into the air, pitting his skin. Travis could have sworn he felt his teeth loosen. He tilted left and tried to regain control by pulling his hips forward. The animal seemed to anticipate its rider’s moves, twisting to the other side, leaping straight up, then jerking its hind feet out behind in a corkscrew motion, using all its cunning to unseat him.
Travis heard his head snap from the centrifugal motion before it was jerked backward to nearly hit his spine. Still, somehow, he clung on. In his mind, he counted: four, five, six seconds. Being unable to dislodge the man on his back infuriated the beast. It turned and circled tightly to its right. In the distance Travis caught the flash of one rodeo clown’s red wig as the bull whizzed by. The crowd thundered to their feet; their cries filled the air, adding to the maddening din.
His chest heaved at the unrelenting pressure on his body. His arm popped, and he felt the pull as it moved from its socket. To keep from screaming, he gritted his teeth against the rubber mouth guard as the hot pain surged up his right side and across his chest. Still he didn’t let go. He wouldn’t admit defeat.
The beast stopped so abruptly Travis nearly lost his seat. He found himself thrown onto the massive hump just behind the animal’s neck, the air knocked from his lungs by brute force. Before he could regain the memory of how to breathe, the animal began to spin in the opposite direction at dizzying speed. Faces rushed past his gaze in a blur. Air whistled between his pants and the hide of the bull. His body tilted ninety degrees. An overwhelming urge to jump free filled his mind. But his determination to stick the ride was strong; he wouldn’t let go. Instead, he watched the ground loom into sight.
Something snapped. The strap which had been his lifeline gave way. Launched into the air, he could only wait until the motion slowed as he plummeted toward the arena floor. He hit the hard-packed earth with a shattering crunch and lay there too stunned to move, while the ground shook as the animal danced around him. The beast charged.
He hadn’t planned on being gored. A red hot poker skewered his side. A front hoof landed precariously close to his face, sending his brain into self-protective mode.
Travis did his best to roll into a ball. He raised his left arm to provide protection for his head. Beneath his elbow, he caught sight of the rough edges of a pair of horns as they lowered toward the ground.
Belly sucked in, Travis tried to roll free, only to feel the searing scorch of a horn along his side, catching his vest protector and pulling him from the ground. His body flipped like a rag doll as the beast gave one mighty toss of its head, and Travis’s chest protector and the fabric of his shirt parted company, flinging Travis to the ground.
He needed to find safety. Pain searing along his side, he extended his hand and clawed at the dirt, inching toward the chutes. Twisting his head, he caught sight of the bull’s red eyes. Paralyzed with fear, he watched the animal jog toward him. A prayer tried to form in his mind, but the clang of the clowns’ bells drove it away as they attempted to divert the devil’s beast. The sound sidetracked the bull’s attention, but only for a moment.
A hoof shoved against his chest, as if the great beast were playing with him. The pressure increased. Travis could feel the blood rushing toward his head, and then the air rang with a snap, followed by the rush of air from his lungs. Boots hit the ground as other cowboys dashed toward him. A bellow of rage from the bull stopped them in their tracks. Travis glanced back. His jaw grew slack. He heard the terrified scream of the crowd and watched in disbelief as the animal rose upward on his hind feet. The last sound echoing through his mind was his own terrified scream.
Travis Hargrove opened his eyes to the sights and sounds of the carnival outside the doors of the Broken Bow Civic Center. His heart hammering, his shirt stuck against his skin by perspiration, he blinked and watched the continuous line of people moving through the entrance. Each face beamed with excitement, wondering who would be the cowboy with enough luck to bring home the coveted gold buckle this go-round.
Yet even now I can’t forget.
His lips pressed together in a thin line, while his right hand tightened around the brass of the walking stick that had been anchored to his side for most of the past eight months. He wondered if the crowd had any idea how much courage it took for him to be here. How it hurt. That even in daylight he couldn’t escape the tortured dreams of that long-ago night.
If it weren’t for Portland, he would be the one waiting below to step up to the draw. His hand would reach in that hat and draw the slip that contained the name of his ride. Travis looked down at his boots. His brow twisted with the realization that it wouldn’t happen now, maybe never again. Six Killer had changed all that. His reality was filled with the cane, the limp, and the pain. These were his constant reminders that his dream kept fading farther and farther out of his reach.
Lips pressed firmly together, Travis gave a shake of his head. He needed to put it behind him. He needed to rejoin the rodeo or go back home in defeat. Shifting his weight onto his good leg, he scanned the crowd for the man he needed to find. The door to a trailer near the arena opened and a tall man with a white hat came out. Straightening his shoulders, Travis moved to intercept him.
At sixty-eight, John Parker was a former World Champion bronco rider. He not only played the role of surrogate father to the young men of the rodeo, he rode herd behind the corporate desk, corralling a new type of beast called paperwork. Today, he’d forgone his usual suit, reverting to his roots with boots, jeans, and a white snap-front shirt.
Beneath the brim of his straw cattleman’s hat Travis caught the grin of welcome as they met. Easing forward, he extended his hand. His mouth pulled to a one-sided wry grin as they shook. “How’s it going, John?”
“Good,” was the answer, as the man nodded toward Travis’s injured leg. “Glad to see they finally let you loose.”
“Thanks. It feels good to be back at the rodeo.”
“I’m sure it does,” Parker agreed. “Come on, we’ll go inside and get out of this heat.”
They moved toward the entrance, and John held the door so Travis could walk through. A gust of cool air swept down from the ceiling. John removed his hat and wiped away the perspiration beneath his hatband. “It’s been a while since you’ve been in an arena. But I guess the sights and smells haven’t changed a bit.”
Travis smiled and let the feeling of returning to the fold wash over him. “Nope, not that much.”
Parker chuckled and tucked his sunglasses inside his shirt pocket. He glanced around. “Looks like we’ve got a full house this afternoon.”
“Business is good, then?”
“Rodeo pulls in the crowd,” Parker replied. “Follow me.” He gestured to the ramp leading down to the section where the ranchers who provided stock sat clustered about, judging their competition and making deals with buyers on the circuit.