Read Rodeo Nights Online

Authors: Patricia McLinn

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Contemporary Romance

Rodeo Nights

Table of Contents

“Cowboy up – Wonderful story! … I loved everything about the story.” 5-star Amazon review

Rodeo Nights

By Patricia McLinn

 

 

~

 

Thanks to the staff of the Cody Nite Rodeo for their generous cooperation, especially Ray Owen and Roberta Sankey, and thanks to two genuine rodeo cowboys, John and Mark, who provided information and inspiration.

 

Also thanks to all those whose patient listening helped this one come to life (you know who you are) and especially to Peggy Cleaves and Angela Devine for saying the right thing at the right time.

 

~ ~ ~

Chapter One

 

STROKE.

The word echoed in Kalli Evans’ head as she hung up the phone with a hand she willed into steadiness.

The word was there when she called to inform her boss. Jerry didn’t argue, preferring the pinch of her temporary absence to possibly losing her altogether. It didn’t hurt that it coincided with New York’s slide into summer’s business doldrums.

Stroke.

Her eyes stung. She ignored it. Tears wouldn’t help.

Hanging up a second time, she pulled out her suitcase, swung open the closet doors and surveyed her choices. Not much would translate to where she was going.

“Wyoming!” Jerry had bleated. “What on earth for? I thought all your family’s in Connecticut.”

“Not all,” she’d said, though she had no blood ties to the Jeffrieses. She was related to them by ties of the heart.

And now Baldwin Jeffries had had a stroke. Five days into his twenty-first season running the Park, Wyoming, rodeo—running it every night, rain or shine, from the first Saturday of June through the last Saturday of August—”Jeff” had shocked everyone who’d ever known the indefatigable fixture of the region and sport by crumpling to the rodeo office’s floor.

Stroke.

The mirror reflected her tight face, and she acknowledged the grim word was not echoing alone.

Walker Riley.

Whatever had happened between her and Walker, she never questioned that his loyalty to Baldwin and Mary Jeffries was every bit as strong as hers.

She would see him in Park.

She lifted her chin. Walker Riley and the feelings she’d once had for him belonged to the past, when she had been young and foolish. Very foolish. Foolish enough to marry him.

* * *

HE COULD HAVE
stayed on the interstate nearly to Billings before dropping south. Probably would have been faster.

The left side of Walker Riley’s mouth twisted up, more with hard-earned self-knowledge than humor.

He’d known damn right well it would be slower-going on two-lane 291. And as for passing through Yellowstone Park...well, between the tourists and the way even his lionhearted camper-loaded pickup labored with the mountain roads, his rate of speed hadn’t been much more than a crawl. Couldn’t even fool himself he’d enjoyed the scenery. He’d hardly looked out the window beyond checking traffic now and then.

Spent too much time looking into himself. And the past.

He made a noise that caused the gray-muzzled dog to look up from its cedar-stuffed pad on the seat next to him. He laid his right hand on the dog’s flank, and with that reassurance, the animal dropped his head.

Looking into himself and the past...

More worthless pursuits were hard to think of.

A flash of color slid past on his left. The roof barely came level with where his elbow stuck out the open pickup window. Low and sleek, the car hurtled toward the future like a bat out of hell. Which was how fast it needed to go if the idiot hoped to pass him on the tight curves snaking through high-walled Shoshone Canyon. Why, to pass his truck like that, that jerk must have been going—Walker glanced at his speedometer and his righteous indignation fizzled—not all that fast.

He and his pickup definitely weren’t hurtling toward the future. More like turtling.

He fed the pickup more gas.

Up to a few years ago, he’d been one to live in the present, taking each season as it came, not pining for the one behind or the one to come. These days he’d found himself more in accord with looking to the future. Maybe that was maturity.

The left side of his mouth rose again, though he was careful to make no sound that would wake Coat. ‘Bout time he acquired some maturity, wasn’t it? His birth certificate said he was thirty-three and some days his body said he was a hundred and four.

So it was a good thing he was growing up enough to give the future a nod now and then. But the past...?

The past was what he was driving toward, no matter how slowly he went.

* * *

KALLI HAD FORGOTTEN
how the wind could blow in Park, Wyoming. Even in early June. She pushed a long strand of hair off her forehead. She should have taken time to put it up, the way she’d worn it flying from New York yesterday.

Holding her hair with one hand, she squinted against the brightness, trying to read the expression of the man walking toward her.

Tom Nathan had said to meet at ten outside the buff-colored brick dignity of the Shoshone County courthouse, after his breakfast meeting with the rodeo committee. She’d arrived at 9:40. She would have gone to the meeting of the independent committee that contracted with Jeff each year to produce the rodeo—if Tom had told her where it was held. Which likely was why he hadn’t told her.

Tom’s leathered face gave nothing away.

“Well?” she demanded.

He took the final three steps, stopped in front of her and sighed.

“Did they accept? What happened?”

“Just what I expected,” he said. “They’re highly impressed with all that gaudy success of yours. Had some things to say that’d turn your head right around.”

“But?”

‘‘Yeah, ‘but.’ ”

“Damn.” She turned into the wind, letting it stream her hair from her face and burn tiny bits of dust into her eyes until they watered. “Damn, damn, damn. You’d think they’d cut some slack—after all the success Jeff has brought them.”

“They haven’t forgotten.”

“Then why won’t they give me a chance to run it for him? I know what makes a business go. Before I can advise someone to buy into a firm I have to know if it’s a good investment, and to do that I have to know if the company’s working, if it
can
work—I have to know how to
make
it work.”

“Don’t have to convince me.”

“All businesses follow certain similar concepts. Even rodeo.”

Did they still think of her as the child who’d been Jeff and Mary’s summer visitor? Or the girl who’d followed in Walker Riley’s wake? That was a lifetime ago. She was thirty-one now, another person.

“They’re willing to give you a chance.”

“What?” Then why did Tom look as if he had something to say he knew she wouldn’t want to hear?

“They want to be sure things’ll go on as they have under Jeff and Mary. Can’t blame them. Because of the rodeo folks don’t just pass through Park. They have a meal, buy souvenirs, spend the night in a motel. If something happens to the rodeo, it happens to the whole town.”

From the first Saturday in June through the last Saturday in August, the rodeo’s the daily pulse of this town.

Jeff had said that to her when she was eleven years old, that first year her father had sent her west for a summer on his college roommate’s ranch. Each of the other three Evans children had followed for a summer or two. But Kalli had returned every summer. She knew what the rodeo meant.

She didn’t blame the committee for wanting to ensure the rodeo’s success. She did, too. It was the one way she could help Jeff and Mary.

“You’re mostly an unknown quantity, far as they’re concerned, Kalli. You know business, but you don’t know
rodeo
.”

She shook her head, sensing what was coming the way an animal senses a thunderstorm.

“They insist on having somebody who knows rodeo. Knows it inside out.”

The storm was closing in.

“You could do it, Tom. After Jeff, there’s nobody better. You’d be a consultant, someone for me to call on.”

“I would if I could, but I can’t be two places at once. Not even for Jeff. I’ve got a full plate this season. They want someone who’ll be here all summer. Someone who’s been around rodeo. Someone who knows the town and the circuit...”

They both knew the someone.

She’d decided last night, after seeing Jeff, still and frail in the hospital bed, and Mary, shaken but calm, that she would stay as long as it took to get them through this. But she hadn’t bargained for this.

A meeting with Walker, yes, but a summer? Reaction swelled in her. Not panic— Why should she panic? — but
wariness
. A summer. Working side by side.

“It’s the only way, Kalli. The only way to keep it for Jeff. And you know what it means to him…”

Rodeo was the blood that ran through Baldwin Jeffries’s veins. It was, after his wife, Mary, his love. It was as well loved, cared for, and fretted over as herself...and Walker.

“I guaranteed the committee there’d be someone with plenty of rodeo knowledge with you. And the two of you would work together for Jeff’s sake.”

“He might not come.”

“He’ll come. I called him same as I called you. He had a, uh, an obligation to fill over in Washington state, and then he was going to start driving.” Something twisted in her at the certainty that the “obligation” had been to ride a bull. “Heard from him before the meeting and he agreed to whatever’s necessary to keep the rodeo for his Uncle Jeff’s. He’s on his way. Ought to be here by tonight.”

* * *

“PHEW! IF I’D
known I’d be working harder with your help than I was doing it all on my own, I might just have said no thank you when you offered.” Roberta Chester swept salt-and-pepper curls from her forehead, swallowed long and deep from a can of soda and tried to glare at her new boss.

“I never offered to help,” Kalli amended mildly. “I said I wanted you to show me how things run.”

As always in moments of crisis or uncertainty, she had tackled work as if it could keep demons at bay.

“Yeah, that lasted ten minutes,” Roberta said. “Then you started showing me how to run things better.”

Kalli looked at the woman who’d been rodeo secretary for four years. In the chaotic three days since Jeff’s stroke, Roberta had kept the rodeo running.

“No sense looking at me like that, Kalli. I haven’t gotten my nose out of joint, so there’s no need for you to be thinking of ways to get it back in line.”

No sense pretending Roberta hadn’t hit the nail on the head. “I just didn’t want you to think I was ungrateful. I barged in here and—”

“And came up with some good ideas. You’re right, I should wring your neck.”

Kalli grinned a little sheepishly and the other woman burst out laughing.

“New York can’t be half as tough a nut to crack as we hear, if you’re any sample, Kalli. Way Jeff and Mary tell it, you’ve got that town by the tail, holding your own with the hardest of hardheaded businessmen. But here you are worrying about hurting the hired help’s feelings. Doesn’t look like you’re so tough, after all.”

“Don’t let appearances fool you, Roberta.” Others had, and it had cost them. “I can be as tough as I need to be.”

“You’re going to need to be if you’re really thinkin’ I’ll use that computer.”

Kalli laughed at Roberta’s dour look at the spare laptop she’d brought. It should serve the rodeo’s needs, for now. She wasn’t as sure about the durability of her small printer.

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