Holiday Hotties Romances, Book 3
Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.
Copyright © 2016, G.R. George.
All rights reserved.
One year earlier
Eight seconds, Jordan Beck thought. Eight seconds between me and the state finals. He climbed the gate to the chute. Inside, a 1600-pound agitated bull snorted, shaking its massive head. Jordan’s gaze landed on the bull’s large, blunted horns. His heart raced, as it did every time it was his turn to ride. The bull, Cupid’s Arrow, had a reputation for taking down even the most seasoned riders. Between his fast, whiplash-like spins and wildly high kicks, he was a crowd and judge pleaser. In bull riding, both the rider and the bull were scored. A docile bull could be the cause of a low score. Cupid’s Arrow was Jordan’s ticket to the World Championship He touched his chest, reminding himself to breathe. All he had to do was stay on for eight seconds.
Mike, Jordan’s older brother, pushed the top of Jordan’s cowboy hat down with enough pressure to secure it to his head. “You got this. You’re the best I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot. Cupid likes to spin to the left, so get ready to adjust. Keep your hat on, kid. Make me proud.”
There was no mistaking Mike and Jordan were brothers. They both had hair the color of wheat, thick, and cut short on the sides, a little longer on top. They both had hazel eyes, though Jordan’s had more blue in his, and they both had strong jawlines and a slightly crooked nose that rose a little at the tip. The main difference was height and build. Mike was over six-feet tall and lean as a whip. Jordan was five-eleven and built like someone who bailed hay for a living—wide chest, large arms, and narrow at the waist and hips.
Mike was almost a decade older. Jordan had always looked up to his brother, even following in his rodeo footsteps. Their father had died the year before. It had been Dad’s dream to see one of his sons take the championship.
“I wish Dad was here.”
“Me, too,” said Mike. “But you need to focus on the ride.”
Jordan had given up any semblance of a personal life for the circuit. Most of the riders had groupies in every city, but Jordan had known since he was twelve that he was gay. Growing up in rural Texas, he learned quickly that revelations of that magnitude were better kept private. He hadn’t even told Mike, but he’d promised himself that if he won the state and made it to World’s, he would come out. He was tired of hiding, tired of denying who he was to the people he loved, but most of all, he was tired of being lonely.
“Hey, J.” Mike tilted his head to the side. “You ready?”
“No worries. I’m set.” Jordan inhaled the sweet smell of hay, the musky tang of animal sweat, and the ripe scent of manure. The odors centered him, helped him focus on this moment. A life-changer, if all went well.
He handed his brother the rosin covered braid of his bull rope. Underneath, the bell jangled as the bull kicked his back feet. He pulled his leather glove on tight, checked the strap on his safety vest, made sure his chaps weren’t loose and wiggled his spurs. Check, check, and check. He finished by putting in his mouthpiece.
He took a couple of deep breaths. He wasn’t scared. On the contrary, he couldn’t wait to get on that bull, but less adrenaline meant fewer mistakes. He reached across to the chute gate, holding tightly with his left hand, his right on opposite wall. When he was secure on both sides, he set his booted foot on the animals back. The bull bucked and threw his hindquarters against the chute.
Running the glove up and down the braid, he heated the rosin until it was tacky. Next, he put his hand out, and Michael gave him slack. He warmed the handle the same way, shook down his bell, rolled the rope over, and then positioned his gloved hand back into the handle. Once the bull rope was tight, Jordan took the braid and wrapped it around his hand to secure his grip.
He kept his boots forward, keeping his spurs off the bull. The show should happen in the arena, not the chute. After a few more adjustments, he slid up on the bull and gave the nod.
The gate flew open. Cupid’s Arrow shot out, twisting sideways and bucking hard. Seven seconds. Jordan kept his knees tight, correcting his balance with every kick and spin. Six seconds. He kept his free hand up, fighting to keep his hips over the center of the bull. Five seconds. He jabbed in with his spurs. The bull reacted with a quick change of direction while kicking his back legs out. Jordan nearly lost his balance. Four seconds. Another quick and violent spin to the left, like Mike had warned, jolted him. Still, he held on. Three seconds. Four hard and high bucks put Jordan and the bull nearly vertical, and Jordan’s back slammed into the animal’s hindquarters. He squeezed his legs tighter, never easing his grip on the handle. Two seconds. Stay on, he told himself. Just stay on. One second. Cupid’s Arrow suddenly sunfished, leaping from the ground and throwing all four of his feet to the right as he twisted.
A horn blew.
I did it!
The bull landed hard and tossed Jordan over his side.
Shit. The bull rope hung up, and he couldn’t get his hand out of the handle. Panic fluttered. He felt like a rag doll, as the bull threw him around. He could hear shouts, but not much more over the clanging of the bell and the deafening roar of his pulse in his ears.
He could feel his arm tearing from the socket. Pain struck like a lightning bolt. Then the handle came loose. Jordan had a moment to thanked God for releasing him.
“Get that bull under control!” he heard Michael shout. “Jordan. Jordan!”
A sharp blow snapped his head back.
His temples throbbed as he tried to focus. He blinked, rubbing at his gritty eyelids with his left hand. Still, his vision remained blurry.
“Something’s wrong,” he said. He couldn’t see light or shapes. Nothing but darkness.
“What?” his brother asked. “Talk to me.”
“I can’t see, Mike.” Jordan turned his head left then right. His world was pitch black. “I’m blind.”
The bar crowd cheered when “Love Stinks” blared from the speakers. The Anti-Valentine’s Day party at the Buck-n-Wild Bar had turned up every single and ready to mingle cowboy and cowgirl west of San Antonio. There was a large wooden floor for line dancing, saddles for barstools, large booths covered in faux cowhide, and a mechanical bull center stage. Applause was replaced by “yee-haws” and appreciative whistles.
Mike Beck took great pains to describe everything to his brother Jordan, from the wagon wheel chandeliers to the tables with beer barrel bases. It did nothing to raise Jordan’s appreciation. He heard the noise, he felt when people shoved against him, and he could smell the beer, whiskey, and bad aftershave that permeated the place.
He was still getting used to his blindness.
The ride the year before, the one that should have made his career, had taken everything from Jordan—not just his eyesight. Traumatic brain injury. He’d had to be watched twenty-four seven for the first several months, and the physical therapy crew had made him wear a stupid helmet. Strangely, there were a few occasions where he would see things—things that shouldn’t exist. The visions appeared to him like glowing shapes of creatures, large and small. Some shapes were almost human-like. Once, a physical therapist named Tom looked like a giant eight-foot blob of blue to Jordan. The doctor said he’d heard of similar ghostings with some TBI patients, and that it might or might not go away, but it wasn’t, as he’d hoped, an indication he’d get his sight back.
“How did you talk me into this?” Jordan asked. Hanging out at a bar on Valentine’s Day was the last thing he wanted to do. He’d never told his brother he was gay. There’d been no reason to discuss it, especially not in the past year. It wasn’t as if he could go out and find someone. Dating was a struggle for him as a sighted man but as a blind man? Impossible.
“Come on,” Mike shouted over the music. “You’re twenty-three years old. That’s too young to be a hermit. Besides, I see some ladies checking us out.”
He wished his brother would quit trying to push the “finding a girl” agenda on him. He wondered what Mike would think if he asked him to scope out some of the men. Jordan smiled at the thought. “You’re not going to take no for an answer are you?”
“Nope,” Mike said. “Let me get in a dance or two, and then we’ll go.”
“You see someone you’re interested in?”
“Not yet, but I’m hopeful.” He paused. “Maybe I’ll find someone nice for you too.”
“Don’t do me any favors,” Jordan said.
“You’re blind, J. Not dead.”
He felt Mike’s hand on his shoulder. “I’m off to find a dance partner. You okay here?”
Jordan patted the bar in front of him until he touched cold, wet glass then wrapped his fingers around the fresh mug of draft beer. He took a slow pull from the edge and said, “Yep. Got it handled.”
The noise and movement around him overwhelmed his senses. He pivoted his stool to face toward the hoots and hollers coming from the dance floor as more than a dozen boots stomped in unison to “Achy Breaky Heart.” He was tapping his toe to the music when he first saw the ghost—a tall, golden, diaphanous creature made of sparkles. Jordan dropped the mug in his hand, beer spilling on his pants and the glass shattering on the hardwood floors. The waitress nearly knocked him off the stool trying to clean up around him, and when he searched the darkness again, disappointingly, the ghost had disappeared.
“Oh, Thomas,” Harmony said when as they strolled into the Buck-n-Wild. They crossed the bar until they found an open booth on the far side. “This place is charming.”
“I told you,” Thomas said. “Now, let’s find you a cowboy.”
Harmony Jackson was his current client. A sweet woman who had the worst taste in men. She wanted to be in love so desperately that she’d managed to date every deadbeat between El Paso and Dallas. Thomas, who had a syndicated advice column, occasionally took on clients for two reasons—they could pay his steep fee or they were deeply and desperately in need of his help. Harmony fell into the desperate need category. Her yearning desire to be loved, torridly and passionately, called to him on a pathological level.
“Do you really think I’ll find someone here?” She rose up on her toes, her smile giddy.
Thomas scanned the room, reading the men and women who pretended to celebrate being single on the one day a year no one wanted to be alone. He could feel the same kind of longing from several men, and one in particular, whose need for love matched Harmony’s. He was handsome, tall, and had a kind face. Also, he could move his hips.
Thomas pointed to the dance floor. “That one there. I think you two would hit it off. Why don’t you go join in the line?”
“Will you go out there with me?”
“You don’t want the young man to think you’re on a date.” He nodded toward the dance floor. “Now go on out there before the song ends.”
Harmony flashed him a nervous smile and headed in the direction of the dancers. Thomas, who avoided human entanglements, scanned the room full of yummy men and women in tight jeans, pointy-toed boots, and ten-gallon hats. Damn, these cowboys and cowgirls knew how to show off their assets. The room was full of sexual tension, and he leaned back in the booth, soaking it all into his skin.
He actively searched for the man who’d caught his eye. He had short, light brown hair and light-colored eyes. He’d been good-looking, no doubt, and his body, damn, Hercules would have been envious, but that wasn’t what had struck Thomas. The man’s distinct lack of emotions grabbed his attention.
He couldn’t see the guy anymore from where he sat, and to his own astonishment, he wanted to see him again. A waitress stopped at the table. She turned her hip so he would have a nice view of her curves. “Can I get you a drink, pardner?”
Thomas smiled but shook his head. “I’ll get one at the bar.”
“Suit yourself,” she said. She leaned over to give him a better glimpse of her full breasts. “I’ll stop back by later if you change your mind.”
“Okay,” he said, scooting out from his chair. She was pretty and she oozed with the pheromones he usually loved to feast upon. No doubt she would make a nice plaything. But tonight, he had other entertainment in mind.
When Thomas threaded his way to the bar, the cowboy was gone. He scanned the room, finally locating the object of his interest following another man into the bathroom. Curiosity propelled him toward the back hall. There were two doors, one with a bull and the other with a milk cow. He pushed on the door with the bull. Inside, the man from the bar stood at the sink wiping his pants with a wet paper towel. The man who’d entered with him was standing several feet away. He gave Thomas a “what can you do?” shrug.
The front of the man’s hip-hugging jeans was soaked. “Looks like you had an accident.”
The cowboy started, sliding on a wet puddle near his feet. He slipped and fell on his ass.
The man who’d led him in rushed to the sink and tried to help, but the cowboy waived him off. “Are you okay, Jordan?”
The fallen man, Jordan, reached up, his hand finding air for a few tries until he finally grasped the edge of the sink. The other man tried to help again, but Jordan said, “I’ve got it.” Cautiously, he pulled himself up.
It was then Thomas realized the man was blind. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to surprise you.”
“It’s okay,” the guy said. “I live in perpetual surprise.” He turned toward Thomas, and his expression went from blank to curious. The look on the young man’s face registered shock. If he’s blind, then what is he seeing?
“Are you blind?”
“Yep.” Jordan sighed.
“Hey,” the other guy said, “I’m going to go get your brother.”
“No, don’t,” Jordan said, but the man practically sprinted out the door. Jordan shrugged, his cheeks flushed. “Bartender Jerry. He’s a friend of my brother Mike.”
He could tell the cowboy was embarrassed, but Thomas still couldn’t feel anything from him. His stormy gray-blue eyes tracked Thomas in a way that wouldn’t have been possible for a blind man. He took a step toward Jordan, and sure enough, the man took a step back, his ass hitting the sink behind him.
Thomas’s curiosity was now fully engaged. He waved his hand in front of Jordan’s face. “Tell me what you see.”