Finding true love can be a long ride.
Everyone knows Lucas Burr, rodeo star and cowboy, the man who put the tiny Texas town of Burrwood on the map. When one nasty and suspicious fall nearly ends his career, Lucas needs help. Jack Gable isn’t Lucas’ first choice but he’s the best physical therapist in town.
Out and proud, Jack Gable likes small-town life, but finding Mr. Right is harder than in a city. A former paramedic who’s worked plenty of rodeo nights, Jack is familiar with the damage done to a cowboy’s body. He can heal Lucas…if Lucas cooperates.
Lucas is sure he was sabotaged—he’s been riding since he was a kid and the ride felt off. He also owns a quarter of the booming rodeo business and a big family ranch, meaning plenty of suspects to investigate…with Jack along for the ride.
Straight shooter Jack is unafraid of small-town gossip…and also not afraid to tell Lucas how he feels. He’s ready to rope him into a very real relationship that could change everything for the more secretive, reserved Lucas.
But can Lucas come to terms with his feelings, or will public pressure and judgment tear the couple apart?
Reader advisory: This book contains references to homophobia, animal cruelty, and a non-nurturing parent.
General Release Date: 6th October 2020
Sitting on the rails waiting for his ride, Lucas Burr watched the opening fun. He owned a quarter of the rodeo that had put Burrwood, Texas, on the map…at least the rodeo map. The stands needed to be full and the crowd happy—not for his ego, but for the rodeo.
His mom rode into the grand opening, leading the little kids’ rodeo group for parents to cheer. Burrwood Rodeo was known for being overly safe with the kids’ events. They took place earlier in the day and with more safety than required.
The announcer whipped up the crowd into gushing over the kids and how they ranked in their events. Lucas couldn’t help but grin. That had been him once, only he’d traveled around Texas with his dad competing against guys older than himself. The prize money had helped keep the family ranch going. He liked being around smart and daring men and the adrenaline was a rush every time.
“If that isn’t the finest set of rodeo kids in Texas, just ask Miss Betsy and she’ll tell you. Thanks, Betsy Burr and the rodeo kids of Burrwood!” the announcer shouted.
Betsy waved to the crowd. The other rodeo riders cheered too. Burrwood Rodeo was also known for its family atmosphere, even with plenty of young bachelor riders. Lucas hated policing the ones who got drunk early or were a bit too handsy. Some men didn’t have any respect anymore, but this was Texas and, thirty or sixty, Lucas wouldn’t stand for it. But after what Lucas had done to one drunk cowboy who disrespected his mother, the other cowboys minded their manners.
“Ready?” the old goat asked.
Lucas turned and nodded to his manager, Greg Simon, who looked very much like an old goat. Long white beard, always chewing tobacco, and wiry and nimble.
“Another day, another ride.” Lucas shrugged it off. “Attendance is up. Kids’ group is bigger than ever. We’re newer than most but we’re attracting more riders and bigger crowds.”
“I told you, safety. People like a scary fall now and then—a little drama just like a crash at NASCAR—but most of the falls are harmless, just like a spin-out at the races. When it comes to the kids, they like their children’s program extensive but extra safe and run by rodeo moms.” Greg nodded.
“You were right from the start there.” Lucas liked his mom running something and she loved the cheering crowd and attention. He hadn’t worried too much about it at the beginning, because of course they kept the kids super-safe. But last year one creepy employee out at an East Texas rodeo had been found dead after being accused of touching a rodeo kid.
The guy hadn’t made it to jail—he hadn’t made it out of the rodeo once the parents had heard about it. People thought horses and bulls could kick—pissed-off parents were the most dangerous thing. Taking matters into their own hands might shock some people but not true Texans.
“Keep an eye on Mom and who she lets volunteer.” Lucas looked at Greg. Mama listened better to Greg when it came to business chats.
“Sure enough, but it’s only the moms and she’s got plenty willing.” Greg chuckled.
“Safe? I want us to be the Texas standard,” Lucas insisted.
Greg sighed. “Adults make their own choices and earn a bigger purse for bigger risk, but we run safe. Having paramedics and an ambulance always on site makes it so much easier for sponsors to buy in. Lowers the insurance. We look like pros, not hicks.” Greg spat chew on the ground. He was crowing over his suggestions.
Lucas shook his head. “Only in Texas are you a professional.”
Greg gently punched Lucas’ shoulder. “I’ve known you since you were ten. Your daddy taught you to ride and rope. I taught him how to make the most money at it. Respect your elders.”
Grinning, Lucas nodded. “I do, and I know I pay you enough to trim your beard and get a haircut. Any new ideas for the rodeo?”
“I’m getting trendy. Growing my hair out for a manbun next,” Greg joked.
A few guys looked over and snickered.
“I believe you’re joking, but the fact that you know what that is worries me,” Lucas replied.
“Rodeo is hot. Cowboys are a trend. Leather, rope and tight jeans. Ladies love ya. Men want to be you. We need to get videos up more. Not just fan stuff, but tape our events professionally and get interviews. Sell pictures of you guys,” Greg said.
“Banged up and bruised? Smelling like horse sweat or manure? Sure,” another guy commented.
Lucas wasn’t discounting the idea, but it was more for outsiders than the fans who paid to get in. “Video ain’t got smell to it. We can talk about it later,” he said to Greg.
The announcer boomed over everyone else. “First ride of the night is Tim Hayes. Tim is a Burrwood native who works as a firefighter when he’s not riding. Let’s see how long he can stay on his bull.”
The buzzer blared and the gates opened. Tim and Lucas had grown up together in the rodeo circuit, always competing and always friends.
“You got it, Tim,” Lucas called.
“You’re up next. Be safe.” Greg moved away.
They loaded the bull, snorting and stomping, into the chute. Lucas mentally prepped himself. The zone was his old friend. Just him and the bull, no crowd or anyone else. Certainly no thoughts about his mama watching. He’d been hurt so many times over the years that he knew it was mind over matter.
Broken bones would heal, bruises went away and drinking a few beers was better than getting hooked on painkillers. He refused to think about his dad except to know he was up there, looking out for him. Lucas blocked out that one wrong kick to the chest. His dad had ridden too long and his reaction time hadn’t been what it was, according to Mama. The helpers in the ring hadn’t been fast enough to distract the bull that day either. That was what Lucas remembered then blocked out.
That day would haunt him until he died, and he knew it.
The crowd cheered and Lucas looked up. Tim fell off and hopped back to his feet, letting the staff distract the bull while Tim flashed the crowd a big smile as he made it to safety.
“Nice ride,” Lucas said.
Tim nodded and clapped Lucas on the back. “Good luck.”
Everything was right, boots to hat, as Lucas climbed on. He closed his eyes. This wasn’t a fight. It was a challenge to join that animal for a short time, to feel the world through its power and raw nature. The bull snorted and kicked out its back legs hard, then its rear right leg on the rails.
“Easy, you’ll get to toss me soon,” Lucas teased.
The buzzer went off and Lucas relaxed his body but gripped the rope on the bull as the shoot opened. It was a fluid state that got his body jacked around like a nasty car crash. Greg’s analogy was right. The key to less injury was not to tense up.
The bull jerked right, over and over. Lucas adjusted his body and anticipated the move. Then it changed to a full kicking and bucking front to back, normally a horse move.
Lucas shifted and held on, but the bull shifted too and shook side to side while stomping. The complicated pattern made Lucas tense up for a second and that was all it took. He felt himself lose his seat so he let go of the rope, or he’d be dragged and trampled.
The helpers ran out while Lucas tried to tuck and roll, but the rump caught him. Better that than a hoof, but it threw him off his calculated fall and laid him flat out on his back with a hell of a lot of pain.
His hat flew away as his head hit the dirt.