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1. Describe your hero, Casey, in three words.
Determined (stubborn), physical (sensual), protective (always).
2. What kind of research went into writing this story? What was the most interesting information that you discovered about the sport or the circuit?
In the name of research and integrity I crossed the Pacific on the back of a turtle, landed in Seattle, went to Montana, home of my hero, caught up with other authors writing for the American Extreme Bull Riders Tour, and ended up in Deadwood South Dakota when the PBR was in town.
What I learned:
- The American Anthem is hard to sing. You start from B flat and you need a range of an octave and a half to get the F in ‘free’. Kudos to those who can. All hail Whitney and Beyonce.
- Bull riders are young … (alt version: I might be getting old)
- And short (alt version: I’m getting taller with age and I was tall to begin with).
- This is a Colosseum sport. Those eight seconds are brutal.
- Those bulls are athletes and competitors and they’re treated very well. Says the former Aussie farm girl…
3. What was the toughest scene for you to write?
My heroine almost loses her baby early in her pregnancy and winds up in hospital. She hasn’t told anyone she’s pregnant, including the hero, but it all comes out. That moment when she realizes she wants this baby, this future, and she wants it hard. She wonders what she’s done wrong, whether it’s punishment … That was a hard scene to write.
4. Can you share a deleted scene from the book?
My motherless heroine is a stock contractor’s daughter. She’s criss-crossed America on the rodeo tour with her father since she was four-years-old. She sees her hero every second weekend—provided their schedules coincide.
As an author with togetherness in mind what do my characters do in that down time between tour dates? Go to bed for two weeks? Get put on ice? I decided my heroine might phone my hero. Here’s the result. I like it. Not sure I’ll keep it.
It was nine at night and her father was asleep and Rowan was in her room, with her dress on and her boots on and nowhere to go, a tube of mascara in her hand and one eye looked good and the other eye looked like she’d been in a fight and who was she kidding? She needed makeup lessons—the internet directions simply weren’t cutting it.
She had an ache in her heart and an ache in her loins and the temptation to do something about it was strong. She had Casey’s number, and how she’d come across that had less to do with asking and more to do with outright theft of tour information, but the phone was in her hand and she dialed the number before she could change her mind.
He answered on the third ring and she should have hung up. Instead she said hello and gave him her name and the silence after that was deafening.
She was phoning for no reason. Didn’t have a thought in her head, and who could make conversation out of that? “What are you doing?” she asked instead.
“Looking at my hands,” he answered.
“I’ve done that. Although possibly not for the same reason.”
“They’re all busted up,” he said.
“Oh. Same reason, then,” and relaxed a fraction when he chuffed a quick laugh. “I’m wearing my dress,” she said next. “And my boots. I figured you should know.”
“Where are you?”
“In my room. It’s a practice run.”
Silence again, then, “So how’s it going?”
“The mascara needs work. I haven’t tried the lipstick yet. I’m thinking red’s not my colour. Not without practice, at any rate.”
“I hope you’re not expecting my help there.”
“No, but I’d like praise for trying. Can you do that?”
“Always.” He sounded so warm and sure and she settled back against the pillows on her bed, boots and all and crossed one knee over the other the better to observe them. It wasn’t as if they were dirty. They were straight out of the box.
“Which boots?” he asked.
“The red ones. The brown ones make me taller and I love the round toe but the red ones are bold and reckless. I can be reckless.” Within the confines of her room.
“And how does the dress make you feel?”
“Lost,” she said. “I love it, don’t get me wrong, I want to wear it out. But there’s a confidence issue.”
“What if you were somewhere no one knew you? Would that make it easier?”
She thought about it. “Would I be alone?”
“Probably not for long,” he said dryly. “But for the sake of fantasy, pretend that someone you know is with you. Someone you like and feel comfortable with. A girlfriend.”
She didn’t have any of those.
“Giselle, from breakfast the other morning. Or the Australian girl who used to hang out with Troy. The ones with identities of their own, who bring something other than bull riding to the mix.”
“Okay, I’m making up an imaginary girlfriend,” she said. “She comes from Brazil, her family grows oranges and she’s a well-known portrait painter. She talks to me about artwork I’ve only seen in books but I like her anyway because she never makes me feel stupid. I wish she existed.”
“So you’re at a gallery opening of a friend of hers, in Brazil,” he said. “And you’re wearing your dress and those red boots and everyone there wants to know who you are because you’re unique and they’ve never seen the like and they’re interested. When you say you raise bucking bulls and take photos for major magazines they’re doubly interested. You could have any one of a dozen men. What do you do?”
“I look for you.” The words were on the tip of her tongue, and she let them fall.
Silence. “I’m not there,” he said at last, and it seemed as if the words were reluctantly said. “What do you do?”
“You bought the dress. Why aren’t you there?”
“I gave you the tools. You did the rest. Figured out what you wanted and how to make room for it in your life.”
She was still looking for him. “Oh,” she said. “How did you bust your hands?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he offered gruffly. “Nothing to be proud of, though.”
“Tell me about college,” she said next. “How was it?”
“Easy in some ways, hard in others. Growing up with five brothers, I was used to sharing space but I still didn’t fit. I was more used to doing, rather than thinking. Climbed the walls on occasion. Got into bull riding when I blew off an assignment to go to a rodeo. A guy I’d gone to school with was there. He loaned me his gear and I signed up to ride. I went back to college more relaxed than I’d ever felt, and with enough cash to see me through for a month. I wasn’t born to bull riding, I wasn’t bred to it but hell I needed it. And it wasn’t just for the money.”
“It’s the challenge,” she said. “There’s nothing like it. The focus. The danger. The adrenaline dump running through your blood.”
“How long since you last rode?” he asked, and now it was her time to be quiet.
“I—a while. I got hung up here at home a year or so back. Cracked ribs, a punctured lung, ruptured my spleen and ended up in hospital awhile. My father fired three men over it, including our foreman who’d been with us for fifteen years. I haven’t ridden since.”
The boots suddenly looked garish and she uncrossed her knees and drew her legs closer to her chest the better not to see them. Confidences like that should never be spoken, and if they were they should be glossed over as soon as possible.
“Which bull was it?”
“One of our younger ones. I thought he was going to be good, you know? Casey, he could buck, and he was one of mine, out of the bloodlines I’ve been crossing and I wanted a winner, I was hungry for it, but he never made it on tour. He was a little too interested in killing people. My father had always thought so, but I couldn’t see it. Didn’t want to see it. Turns out my father was right.”
“And you were the wreck.”
“Yeah, well. Nothing ventured.
“It turns my stomach.” She could hear it in his voice.
“Because I’m a woman?”
“Because I feel the same way every time someone goes down and doesn’t get back up. It’s not a road for the faint-hearted.”
“I know.” She’d been living this life since she was four-years-old. No choice, and if there was a choice to be had now, she couldn’t see it. She knew what he meant. “Anyway, I don’t ride any more and on the whole I don’t miss it.”
“Here’s a question. Would you let your daughters ride?”
“Yes,” she said and closed her eyes. “Sheep first, then steers. I’d start them young. Train them right. Same way I was trained.”
“I don’t know if I could let them,” he said.
“That’s the thing about children—sooner or later they’ll find a way to do what they want. Letting them has nothing to do with it.”
“I’m a full partner here in the business,” she said. “Half of everything is mine, and it’s a lot, and I’d appreciate if you kept that to yourself. I don’t even know why I’m telling you except that I kind of need you to know. I also need you to know that I’ll never cash out.” She couldn’t see her way clear of this life. Her family unit was too small. Unlike Casey’s family situation, there was no one else to inherit, no one to pick up the slack.
“I won’t mention it,” he said gruffly, after a long pause. “But for what it’s worth, people have already figured where you stand and what you’re worth. I know well and good that I’m never going to match you for money or possessions. Maybe you think less of me because of it.”
“I don’t. Maybe you think less of me because I don’t have much of an education.”
“Education’s about information. You probably know more about genetics, animal breeding and bull riding than I do. And photography.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “Want me to tell you what I own?”
“Yes,” she murmured, and picked up the other lipstick she’d bought last time she’d been in town. This one was a soft, beige-pink. She’d liked it on the shop and when she’d drawn a line of it on the back of her hand. Now not so much.
“I have a log cabin in the mountains that I rent out to hikers over summer and skiers during winter. It comes with not enough land to run a horse, but it’s mine free and clear, and maybe one day I’ll sell it or maybe I won’t. And while I’m motivated to make the money I need to get the education I want, I’m not motivated to make money just so I can buy stuff. I don’t want the big spread. I don’t want to be tied down. I want to see more of the world, not less.”
“Bull riding’s good for that. You could go to Australia and Brazil.” He fascinated her, this cowboy. The thirst in him for something other than what he’d been born to. “If I went out with you to dinner, where would it lead?” It was a question she’d been tossing round ever since he’d kissed her. She wasn’t a complete innocent. She knew where kisses like that were likely to lead.
“Judging from the kiss we shared it’d probably lead straight to the nearest bed.”
“And after that?” She wasn’t saying no. She hoped he realized that. “What happens at the end of the tour? Because I really don’t think you have any intention of staying on another year. Not if you get the money you need for school.”
“I ask you if you want to come with me, you say no, and we walk away with battered hearts and a pocket full of fine memories. That’s how I see this going, Rowan. No lie.”
“So why would you still want to do it?”
“Did I mention the memories?”
“And the personal growth and exploration?”
He hadn’t mentioned that. “Sounds painfully won.”
“The fun,” he said next.
“You’re not exactly one of the fun-loving cowboys on the tour,” she reminded him. By and large he kept his alcohol consumption low and he didn’t screw around. Not that she knew of, and she would know.
“I do like to keep my fun times private,” he said. “Nothing wrong with that.”
“Do you think we could keep others from finding out about any fun times we might have?” she asked, and he was silent for a long time.
“You mean your father,” he said at last.
“I mean everyone.”
Accidentally educated in the sciences, Kelly Hunter didn’t think to start writing romances until she was surrounded by the jungles of Malaysia for a year and didn’t have anything to read. Eventually she decided that writing romance suited her far better than throwing sterile screw-worm flies out of airplane windows, and changed careers. Kelly is now a USA Today bestselling author, a three-time Romance Writers of America RITA finalist and loves writing to the short contemporary romance form.