“You really don’t belong here.”
One cowboy stepped forward. The overhead light hit the brim of his black cowboy hat, casting a dark shadow onto his face. The shadow, combined with the ten-day-old beard he wore, made it almost impossible to read his expression. His hands hung at his sides, the left shoulder at a slightly lower angle, probably from where he’d hit the ground rolling earlier.
“This is no place for a girl.”
June knew who this cowboy was—she’d know that jaw, those shoulders anywhere. Travis Younkin was the most famous bull rider on this circuit and one of the best bull riders in the last decade. He’d been on the verge of winning the TCB Harley Pro Challenge finals—the major league—in Vegas before that one last ride had taken a few years of his life. She’d followed his career before it got shot to hell and back—well, it was more than that. She’d followed a lot of riders’ careers, studying their rides for what worked and what didn’t. Travis was the one bull rider who’d held her attention in a more personal way, one that went far beyond a good ride. There’d always been something about him…
After his wreck, she’d cried for him.
Now he was trying to claw his way back up to the bigs. Aside from Red and one or two other guys, he was the only one here who could claim to be a real professional.
And he didn’t think she could do this, either.
The old anger flared up as she heard her father’s voice when he caught her watching bull riding on TV. You ain’t getting on those bulls, Junie. She could even hear the smack of his hand hitting the table, the wall, her face—because there was always a smack—as he said it. Unconsciously, she flinched as her body remembered the one time he’d caught her on a bull. And he’d been sober then.
She pushed the memories away. This was about here and now. Bulls didn’t give a crap for awful fathers and neither did she. She was going to ride and that was final. No way in hell would she let an old memory screw up her foot in the door. No one was going to tell her what she could and couldn’t do. Not anymore.
That included Travis Younkin.
Damn, if June didn’t get on a bull soon, all this adrenaline would go to waste and she would have to dig out her running shoes and do laps around town with her dog just to cool down. She turned her attention back to Travis, ignoring the thrill of attraction that had a small part of her wanting his autograph. This was not about meeting one of her idols, a man whose picture she’d taped to the inside of her school notebook. She wasn’t a love-struck girl. She was a woman. A bull rider.
“Listen, I appreciate your point of view, but Mort owes me this tryout. I’m here to ride. Ball and Chain, Hallowed Ground—it doesn’t matter to me what I draw. I’ll ride any bull.”
Well, it mattered a little. Ball and Chain was a good draw, practically a pussycat of a bull. But Hallowed Ground? Only two men had ridden that bull in twenty-seven tries last year.
Red Willis and Travis Younkin.
If that’s what it takes, she reminded herself.
“You can’t ride Hallowed.”
That’s what Travis said. What she heard was, You can’t ride. God knew her father had said that often enough. Well, she was going to show that man. She was going to show Travis—show them all.
She could ride with the best of them. She just had to prove it, one bull at a time.
“Hey, come on, Younkin. If the girl thinks she wants to ride Hallowed, then she should ride Hallowed.” Red was still itching for a fight. It’s not like he could haul off and hit “the girl.” However, June didn’t think he’d mind a whole lot if she got turned into a mud puddle in the ring.
The rest of the cowboys were split between the Travis camp—worried for her safety—and the Red camp—just plain pissed someone like her existed.
The delicate male ego. They’d put their bodies on the line to ride a bull, but one woman made them twitchy.
June settled her hat back onto her head and made sure the eagle feather was in the right place. She checked the tie that held all three feet of her thick black braid to her belt.
Long ago, she’d learned that loosely tying her hair to the back belt loop was the best way to keep it from flying up and smacking her in the face in the middle of a ride. That was how she’d first broken her ankle—it hadn’t been the bronco that bucked her, but the hair hitting her square in the eye that knocked her off. Confident that everything was in its place, she turned to Mort.
“Bring me Hallowed.”
“No.” Not intimidation or a threat. Just an order that Travis expected Mort to follow.
She knew where he could shove his orders.