It'll take more than one go-round to win this rodeo of the heart...
Thirteen years after her father was killed in a rodeo accident, Samantha Quincannon is facing her worst nightmare. An EMT, she has avoided rodeo duty like the plague. Now her career depends on her ability to face down her fear.
Cody Shaw hasn't seen Sam since the night of her father's accident, and their reunion is anything but typical. So is her reaction when a bull ride gone wrong lands him, broke and bleeding, in her reluctant care. And, until he's well enough to travel, in her bed. He knows he's far from a model patient, but would it kill Sam not to act like she'd rather climb on a bull herself than have him underfoot?
One thing hasn't changed--their off-the-charts sexual tension. They both put up a good fight, but soon the heat burns through their resistance.
Even as Sam fights to protect her heart from the one danger she didn't see coming, something else becomes clear. Rodeo is in Cody's blood, and nothing, not even Sam, can make him quit taking crazy risks.
It's up to Sam to decide if she's ready to put on her big-girl boots--and ride.
Warning: Lots of hot, sweaty, down-and-dirty lovin'. Cowgirl up!
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 27, 2009
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Devil Inside by Kate Davies
Sam Quincannon hunched down on the bleachers and tried to ignore the crowd. It wasn't easy; the grandstands were filled to capacity and enthusiasm rolled off the gathered spectators like a huge, heated wave. A popular country-rock tune blared throughout the arena.
A brisk wind whipped strands of hair out of her French braid. Scowling, she shoved the offending hair behind her ear and turned slightly to block the wind.
"If it isn't the Hunchback of Homely Dames," an amused voice drawled. Bill dropped into the empty space next to her. "Jesus, Sam, you look like you're on death row."
"Bite this," he countered, dropping a foil-wrapped object in her lap.
Sam unwrapped it carefully. Of course it was the traditional beef sandwich. She caught a drip of barbeque sauce before it could hit her khaki pants. "Thanks."
"No problem." A smear of sauce decorated his left cheek, but thanks to that Homely Dames crack, Sam decided to keep her mouth shut. Let him look foolish for a little while--served him right. "Best food at the fair."
Sam nodded. Foursquare's beef sandwiches were the best--or at least they had been, last time she'd been here. It had been thirteen years, but judging by the mouth-watering smell, it still deserved the praise.
She took a bite and chewed slowly, looking around for the first time since she'd taken her seat. There was a new Sponsor's Club building at the far end of the arena, with a bar inside and a deck outside, depending on whether you wanted to actually watch the action or just get drunk. The grandstand where she was sitting used to be wooden, back in the day, but it had been replaced by a fancy new metal version some years back. Sam remembered reading something about it in the paper, but hadn't paid much attention.
Her eyes flickered across the arena, taking in the dirt surface, the wooden fencing, the promoter's banners flapping in the breeze. That hadn't changed, either. And neither had her reaction to seeing it. Flinching a little, she tore her gaze away and took another bite.
"So what did you do to piss the chief off?"
"Excuse me?" She did her best I'm-six-years-older-than-you-so-don't-mess-with-me look, but it just rolled right past him.
"Come on. You're famous for getting out of this gig. Legendary, almost. So how come you didn't get your vacation this year like always?"
Sam looked away, anger rising in her again. "Vacation during high-traffic times will no longer be guaranteed," she parroted. "You know that, Billy."
"I know the party line. But everyone knows it was directed at you."
"Everyone?" She stared at him. "Everyone? Good to know I've got such a fine reputation with my fellow workers."
"Get over yourself," Billy said, rolling his eyes. "No one blames you for wanting to stay away. I mean, after..." His voice trailed off. "Anyway. I just... You've always gotten a pass from the chief. I was just wondering what changed this year."
"Unofficially, I need to work on my quote-unquote irrational fear before I'll be considered a good candidate for the new training program."
"He held up your recommendation? Bastard."
"Unofficially." Sam grabbed his arm and stared at him, unsmiling. "And if you breathe a word of this to anyone, I'll cut off your balls with a Swiss army knife and make earrings out of them."
"Shit, Sam." Billy crossed his legs. "I wouldn't say anything."
Sam pressed her lips together and looked down at her hands, inspecting the close-cut nails for barbeque sauce. She could trust Billy, she knew; otherwise she wouldn't have said anything at all. But it didn't hurt to have a little insurance.
"He could have a point, though," Billy continued, and totally blew any warm fuzzies Sam had toward him to smithereens.
She shot him a withering glare, which he ignored. "What point?"
"When was the last time you were here, Sam?"
She said nothing. She didn't have to.
"It's been thirteen years, Sam. I know it was horrible, but..."
"Horrible doesn't begin to cover it," she said. "And you have no idea what I went through that day. So if I chose not to come back, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. And it certainly doesn't mean I'm warped."
"No one said you were."
"No one had to say it," she said. "I can see it in their eyes."
Billy started to argue, but he was interrupted by a squeal from the bank of loudspeakers suspended by wires in the center of the arena. Shooting her a this-isn't-over glare, he leaned back in his seat and focused his attention on the wide expanse of dirt in front of them.
Sam felt her muscles tense, the familiar strain overtaking her as the announcer warmed up the crowd. She'd been a basket case around the rodeo even before... She shook away the thought. Majestic music swelled, accompanied by the pounding cadence of horses' hooves as riders entered the arena.
Oh, God. She was going to be sick.
Sam closed her eyes, sucking in a deep breath in an attempt to settle her roiling stomach. She silently cursed Billy for getting her that beef sandwich, and herself for eating the whole thing. Then a tap on her knee brought her eyes open again. Billy was looking at her with a mix of concern and support. "You okay?"
She nodded, once, although she wasn't sure if that was really true. He removed his hand, and for a moment she missed the warmth and pressure. Not in a sexual way--she'd babysat him when he was a kid, for heaven's sake--but just the companionship of longtime friends. And if she had to work this shift, there was nobody she'd want as her partner more than Billy. She knew, if everything went to hell, Billy would have her back.
The arena was half full by now, horses stamping the freshly-turned dirt as they jostled and jockeyed for position. Riders in matching outfits held multi-colored flags that whipped gaily in the breeze.
Sights and sounds and smells assaulted her from all sides, wrapping her up in all the bad memories she'd avoided for so many years now. It all came rushing back, the fear, the horror, the crushing anguish of watching her father die.
She should have told Chief Branson to fuck himself. No promotion was worth this hell.
* * *
Dirt crunched under Cody Shaw's boots as he navigated the labyrinth beneath the grandstand to the chute where his ride was scheduled to start. He'd pulled a middle of the road ride, not first, not last. It was a good slot, early enough to wow the crowd, late enough to gauge the competition.
Didn't matter, anyway. Today was his day. This was the ride that was going to put him over the top and into the national standings.
He took a deep breath and pulled his hat low, blocking out the bright sun that filtered through the metal grandstand. Music filled the air around him, sending a thumping drumbeat pulsing through his veins. The excitement was almost palpable, emanating from the crowd, the other riders, even the stock waiting impatiently in the holding pens.
It had been a couple of years since he'd been to the Four Corners rodeo, but some things were the same all over. The rodeo grounds were laid out in pretty much the same configuration, with chutes under the grandstands and holding pens for the rodeo stock in back. The bulls were already in place, ready to be prepped for the ride.
The arena director strode up to Cody, carrying a clipboard and looking official. "You're up," he said, making a notation on his paperwork. "You'll be riding The Devil Inside, chute eight."
Cody nodded briefly and walked over to chute eight. Climbing up the gate to straddle the chute, he looked to make sure his gear was on tight. The Devil Inside twisted from one side to the other, trying to shake the intruder off his back, but Cody finished his gear check with a minimum of fuss.
A couple of tugs tightened the flank strap, and he nodded to the rodeo stock man to indicate he was ready. He lowered himself on The Devil Inside's back and wrapped the bull rope around his hand. In response, the bull tried his best to buck Cody off, a losing proposition in the close confines of the chute. It looked like a good ride was in the offing.
Dimly he heard the announcer shout his name, but his attention was focused on the bull. He never got used to this adrenaline rush. He hoped he never would.
An indrawn breath, a brief, closed-eye prayer, and he signaled that he was ready. A buzzer sounded, the gate opened and he and The Devil Inside burst through into the bright sunlight.
* * *
Three bull rides down, far too many to go. She'd made it through the rest of the events, but the bull riding was the one she hated the most. Sam sat ramrod straight, her eyes focused on the arena. Much as she wanted to ignore the rodeo, she was on the job. Someone's life might depend on her.
Her heartbeat sped up, thumping violently in her chest. God, she hoped not. Not here.
The announcer, safely ensconced in the booth at the top of the grandstand, was busy bantering with the rodeo clown to fill a few minutes as they waited for the next rider. She shook her head, smiling despite herself at the groan-worthy joke they'd just finished. It had been thirteen years since she'd been inside this arena, and even the jokes were the same.
That was part of the appeal, she knew; audiences could depend on the rodeo to provide consistent, down-home entertainment. And the undercurrent of danger was a draw, too, at least for everyone else.
"Ladies and gentlemen, turn your attention to chute eight. Riding The Devil Inside is a man who's in the hunt for a national title. Currently number eleven in the national standings, rodeo star Cody Shaw!"
The gate flew open with a clang, and a bucking, twisting bull exploded into the arena.
A cheer rose from the audience, growing louder as The Devil Inside leapt around the arena and the rider held tight, his opposite arm swinging over his head.
Sam sat frozen, sure she couldn't have heard what she thought she heard. Glancing at the reader board, she shook her head. It couldn't be the same Cody Shaw. It just couldn't.
Turning back, she stared at the rider as he flew by. From this distance, there was no way to tell if it was the Cody Shaw she'd known years ago. He'd been barely out of his teens when she had last seen him. And it wasn't like the name was that unusual. Could be someone else.
Suddenly, The Devil Inside twisted, slamming the rider headfirst into the metal fence. Horrified, Sam watched as the rider slid sideways, losing his precarious seat on the back of the bull. Then The Devil Inside gave a tremendous buck and the cowboy flew off over the bull's head, landing with a bone-crunching thud directly under the snorting, stomping animal. The crowd gasped as one stomp caught him in the chest, followed by a sweep of the deadly-looking horns as they connected with the rider's side. Then the bull was gone, distracted by the rodeo clowns and some stock men so it could be guided out the exit gate. The buzzer sounded in the suddenly quiet arena, a mocking tone that brought the audience out of its stupor.
Gasps and yells punctuated the air, growing louder as the crowd realized the rider wasn't moving.
Sam sat motionless, eyes fixed unblinking on the prone figure lying in the dirt of the arena. He was quite obviously unconscious, looking like nothing so much as an abandoned rag doll, surrounded by rodeo workers and sports medicine professionals employed by the national rodeo organization.
"Shit!" Billy was already halfway out of his seat, tugging at the kit under the bench. He turned back, glaring at Sam. "Come on!"
She couldn't move, couldn't look away, as memories flooded her. Suddenly, she was fifteen years old, and that was her father lying in the dirt.
Billy grabbed her sleeve and hauled her along with him. It was enough to bring her back to the present, and she snagged her backpack as she followed Billy out of the grandstand.
They raced to the waiting ambulance, Sam flinging open the back doors as Billy ran around front to start the engine. The downed rider would need to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Sam checked the gear, laying out the items they'd probably need--bandages, immobilizers, latex-free gloves, even an emergency airway kit.
She glanced at the stretcher under the bench seat. He was going to hate it, but that rider would need to be taken out on the stretcher.
Her father had been like most riders, willing to put up with any pain at least until he was out of the view of the public. It was one of the things he and Mom had argued about, along with the inherent dangers of the sport. As in everything, though, Dad won.
So when he broke a rib, he waved off assistance and made it out the gate on his own. A twisted ankle rated a cursory check by the sports medicine guys, and he limped out of the arena under his own power. He may have collapsed the minute the crowd couldn't see him, but a mix of bravado and superstition kept him upright as long as possible.
This rider wouldn't have the choice.
A rodeo worker in a bright red shirt ran up to the ambulance and closed one of the doors. "We need you in the arena, now," he yelled over the sound of the crowd.
Sam nodded, then pulled the second door shut and signaled to Billy to get going. Her jaw ached from being clenched so tightly. To bring the ambulance into the arena like this was a bad, bad sign. The last time she'd seen it happen, they'd loaded her father in the back and taken him away. Forever.
She held on as they opened the gate to let them through. The ambulance bumped and swayed over the rough dirt of the arena. Billy pulled up in front of the downed rider, positioning it so the majority of the spectators couldn't see what was happening. Preventing panic was as much a part of the job as stabilizing the injured rider.
But keeping her own panic under control was a far different thing.
Shaking herself out of her reverie, Sam opened the door and climbed out of the ambulance. Grabbing the stretcher, she handed it off to Billy as he joined her from the front of the vehicle. The sports medicine guys stepped aside as they approached, giving them room to maneuver. Sam noted that someone had already immobilized the rider's neck, which was good. Billy helped her move him onto the back-stabilizing stretcher, being careful to jostle him as little as possible.
With a well-timed heave, they had the stretcher up and into the ambulance and the doors closed before the crowd could focus completely on what they were doing. Muffled sounds outside the closed doors suggested that the rodeo clowns were working hard to distract the crowd, though it would be almost impossible to keep their minds off the accident completely.
Billy grabbed the blood pressure cuff and wrapped it around the patient's arm. "Vital signs?" He glanced up when Sam didn't respond.
"Shit," he muttered, then opened the door and waved at a passing sports medicine worker.
The red-shirted man hopped into the ambulance. "What can I do?"
Billy handed over his blood pressure cuff. "You can take over for me and let me drive. We need to get this guy to the hospital fast. And--" He glanced at Sam. "She could be having some trouble with this."
"Screw you," Sam gritted through clenched teeth. She didn't bother to look up, all her attention on the downed rider. "I'm fine. Just get this thing moving."
The sports medicine pro took the spot across from her, Billy racing around to the front of the ambulance and jumping in the driver's seat.
Sam barely registered the change, focusing on stabilizing the rider and assessing his injuries. She cut open his shirt and spread it wide, noting the angry bruise covering him from neck to waist. At least one shoulder was dislocated, and his sternum didn't look good. Lifting his hand, she noted the glove he was wearing, glad he'd had at least this minor protection against injury.
From the opposite side of the stretcher, her new assistant removed the rider's jeans, expertly manipulating his knee. "Sprained," he said, visually inspecting the rest of the leg. "Possible broken femur. Name's Duane, by the way."
She almost corrected him until she realized he was talking about himself, not the patient. Luckily, he didn't seem to need a response.
Duane reached for a blanket to cover the rider. "How's he doing?"
Sam lifted one eyelid, flicked the penlight. "Still unconscious." Vaguely, she noted that the ambulance was moving, lights and sirens clicking on as they left the fairgrounds. Luckily, the hospital was just five minutes away, and Billy would have already called for a replacement ambulance. They'd probably pass each other on the way, since she and Billy would be at the hospital for a while. The rodeo would be on hold until the new EMTs arrived.
Much more would be on hold for this rider, for a lot longer. Potential broken bones, dislocations, a likely concussion. And even worse, the potential for internal bleeding.
Sam set up an IV as Duane began treating the obvious scratches and surface injuries. "What do you know about him?"
"Cody Shaw. From Wyoming. On track to make national standings in bull riding. Now, who knows?"
"Wyoming?" Sam kept her head down, kept working, though inside she went completely still.
"Yeah. Long-time rodeo family. His dad was national champion years ago."
She remembered. Gary Shaw and her father had been friendly rivals back in the day. At least they had been until her dad had died. Then it was as if the Shaws had completely dropped off the face of the earth.
Yet another reason to hate the rodeo.
She taped down the needle of the IV and began probing Cody's abdomen for obvious swelling. "Is this his first year at the Four Corners Rodeo?"
Duane shook his head, busy stabilizing Cody's knee. "He's here most years. Four Corners is one of the top regional events, you know. Nobody on the hunt for Nationals misses it."
So he'd been in town and she hadn't known it. Not that she would have expected to run into him, since she tended to avoid the rodeo. Still, it would have been nice to know.
She glanced at his face again, tight and shadowed despite his unconsciousness. Even with the passage of more than a decade she could see the family resemblance. He'd been just eighteen the last time she'd seen him, rangy and lean, but the last thirteen years had been good to him in the looks department.
He was definitely a heartbreaker now.
Well, except for the bruises and swelling.
The ambulance pulled up to the entrance, and two orderlies swung open the doors to retrieve the patient. Sam and Duane walked briskly next to the stretcher as Cody was wheeled into the hospital, relaying the vital information the emergency room crew would need. Then they stepped aside as the ER team took over.
Sam watched as the door closed, taking Cody out of her life again. She turned around and headed for the waiting room.
Duane tipped his hat and took off, ready to catch a ride back to the rodeo. Hopefully his services wouldn't be needed again today.
Billy caught up with Sam and started helping her with the paperwork. The two of them would remain on call at the hospital unless, God forbid, there was another accident at the rodeo. She couldn't imagine anything worse than playing musical ambulances with the replacement team. "Shitty day, huh?" Billy muttered, a sympathetic look in his eye. "You doing okay?"
"Yeah." Sam rotated her shoulders, trying to shake off some of the tension she'd been carrying since her shift started. "I'll be fine."
"How's the cowboy doing?"
"Seemed stable. I'd peg it as a class three injury, though I wouldn't be surprised if they medevac him to Harborview."
"I wonder if someone's notified next of kin."
Sam stilled, hating the way that sounded. "His folks live in Wyoming." Unless there was a Mrs. Cody Shaw. Just because no one had run down to the ambulance and demanded to ride along didn't mean he was single. Lots of the bullriders traveled alone. He could be married.
"How do you know that?"
Sam shrugged, keeping her eyes on the clipboard in front of her. "His dad was friends with my dad. I used to know him from the circuit."
A long time ago.
Before the accident.
The first accident.
"Maybe you should give them a call," Billy suggested. "Just in case."
"I'm sure someone from the rodeo has taken care of it," she said. "Here, sign this."
As distractions went, it was laughably transparent, but Billy was nice enough--or smart enough--to let it go. The conversation turned in a less uncomfortable direction, and Sam pretended to be unaffected.
But a corner of her mind kept gnawing on the situation, like a terrier on a bone. It had been thirteen years since she'd seen Cody and his family, thirteen years since she'd followed him around with her fifteen-year-old heart on her sleeve for everyone to see. Thirteen years since her world had come crashing down.
Fair or not, she'd learned to associate everything rodeo with that horrible summer, and run from it as far and as fast as she could. Now a reminder had dropped into her life with a thud. She was already more tangled up with it than she'd ever intended.
No way was she pulling the rope tighter.