Naked Cowboys, Book 2
Amy Stark has legendary bad taste in men, so she’s given up on finding Mr. Right. When a helpful and hot cowboy stops to help her change a flat, she’s convinced her run of luck isn’t going to change any time soon. Buck Montgomery is far too confident and cocky for her—a sure sign he’ll turn out to be yet another Mr. Wrong. But her decision to stay away from the cowboy is tested when her brother invites him over for a welcome-to-the-county dinner.
Buck left home at eighteen to make his mark on the rodeo circuit, but the lifestyle left its on marks on him. He had success riding bulls, but he’s not proud of everything in his past. When he and Amy start a tentative relationship, Buck knows he should tell her the truth about what lurks in his history before she hears it elsewhere, but every time he opens his mouth, all he can do is kiss her…
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“What a crock.” Amy Stark kicked her well-worn boot at the rear tire on her truck, which was now flatter than a pancake. “Damn you anyway, Matthew Stark.”
If her brother and her best friend weren’t off on their honeymoon, she’d really be mad at them. But she’d been so glad to see them married that she’d readily agreed to attend this cattle auction. She just hadn’t expected her truck to get a flat tire out here in the middle of godforsaken nowhere.
There was a jack in the bed of the truck, but at five foot two and one hundred ten pounds she knew she didn’t have the strength to do what was needed to change the tire. She pulled out her cell phone and rechecked the bars. Only one, and barely visible. Of course. It stood to reason she’d break down where there was no reception and damn little traffic. She thought about kicking the tire one more time, but all she’d do was hurt her foot and it wouldn’t solve any problems.
Sighing, she checked her watch again. Twelve thirty. The cattle auction would start in half an hour and she still had a twenty-minute drive to get there. And the whole reason for her going was to bid on a bull Matt had specifically wanted and told her how high to go.
Damn, damn, damn.
When she heard the rumble of a truck coming down the road, she thought she was having auditory hallucinations for a moment. But then, sure enough, a hulking black pickup came around the curve not half a mile away, driving as if it owned the highway. Hoping it wasn’t a sex pervert or a murderer driving, Amy waved her hands in the traditional motion for the driver to stop.
The pickup slowed, came to a stop about six feet from her and the driver’s door opened. And Amy nearly swallowed her tongue when she saw what climbed down to the road. At least six feet of honking sexy man, his tight butt clearly outlined in his jeans, broad shoulders stretching the fabric of his shirt, traditional Stetson clapped on his head. He turned and walked toward her with the typical loose-hipped stride of the seasoned cowboy. His face was tanned, accented by dark brows and the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. His lips were curved in a smile that could have melted her panties if she let it.
He surveyed her truck with its flat tire. “Looks like you’ve got a problem here. That’s some big truck for a woman your size to handle.”
Amy felt her temper spiking. A woman her size? Big truck? She jammed her fists onto her hips and glared at him. “I’ll have you know I drive this truck all the time. I just…just…had an unexpected setback here.”
The man laughed, a rich, deep sound. “I’d say so. Where you heading?”
She waved down the highway. “There’s a cattle auction not far from here. I was supposed to be there a while ago.”
“Oh? Taking something to your boss?”
To her boss? Holy shit. Who was this cretin? A relic from another century? She ground her teeth, hard, but decided arguing with him wouldn’t get her anywhere. If he’d just help her get the damn tire changed, she’d be on her way. Probably never see him again. Which under other circumstances might not be too bad. But right now she was having too much trouble controlling her temper to worry about other physical reactions.
“I just need to get there.” She found a pleading smile from someplace and pasted it on her face. “Is there a chance that you could help me? Do you have the time?”
“For someone as pretty as you, I think I can make the time. Where’s the jack?”
As pretty as her? Was this guy not the biggest chauvinist in the world? She was waiting for him to call her little lady.
She chuffed out a breath. “In the bed. I’ll open it for you.”
Still keeping herself under control, Amy unlocked the truck bed and raised the cover lowering the tailgate.
“I can take it from here,” he told her and handed her is Stetson. Black, like his truck and his clothes.
Amy was sure her back teeth would be ground to dust by the time she got her tire changed, but she couldn’t afford to annoy him. She just stood to the side, holding his hat like some hat rack or bimbo, while he expertly loosened the lug nuts and pulled off the flat. She’d never seen her savior before, so she glanced at the door of his truck to see if it had a ranch logo on it, but the panel was bare. Of course that meant nothing. She’d didn’t have Stark Ranch on hers either. It was too new.
At last the tire was changed and the man tossed the flat into the truck bed. He pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket, wiped his forehead and his hands and retrieved his hat. He moved with a relaxed, effortless ease, yet there seemed to be a contradictory fine line of tension running through his body. As if he had to be wary at all times. What on earth was that all about?
“Thank you.” She held out her hand to him. “I really appreciate this.”
His hand nearly swallowed hers, the warmth of it seeping into her system. With great determination, she ignored the tingles that shot up her arm and spread throughout her body.
I’ve got to get out more.
“My pleasure.” He winked at her. “Hope you get to your boss in time.” He started to walk away.
“I’ll be sure to tell him what a help you were.” She couldn’t keep the edge of sarcasm out of her voice.
He just waved at her over his shoulder.
“Wait,” she called after him. “I didn’t even ask your name.”
“Just call me Good Samaritan,” he said without turning around.
Then he was in his truck, the big engine purred to life and he pulled away. Amy stared after him. She was used to having men hit on her, even in a casual way, unless they happened to be gay. Not that every man did, but enough so it was a common occurrence. But this guy didn’t even seem to take notice of her femininity. His attitude seemed more patronizing than anything else. She was surprised he hadn’t called her little lady.
She climbed back into her pickup, gunned the motor and laid rubber peeling out into the road, then decided she’d better settle down if she didn’t want to get a ticket.
Twenty minutes later, she pulled into Heiser’s Auction Site, where nearly every ranch in the area shipped their cattle for sale. Buyers came from three states to bid on the finest Texas produced. Afterwards there would be a barbecue with music and a bar and a lot of socializing. Amy planned to leave before then. She wasn’t much in the mood for socializing today, especially after the fiasco on the road.
The gravel parking area was already jammed, mostly with trucks and SUVs. Amy finally found a spot next to a pickup that looked like a black leviathan. For a moment, she thought it was the same truck that had stopped to help her, then realized how stupid that was. There were dozens just like it parked here.
As she hoofed it to the big barn where the auction was taking place, she could already hear the auctioneer’s voice ringing out, the bawling of cattle and the undertone of murmuring voices. She registered at the side door to the barn and received her number to use in bidding. Every auction was run differently. Heiser’s Auction preapproved bidders, assigned them numbers and gave them cards when they checked in.
Amy managed to find herself a seat at the end of a row, pulled her notes from her pocket and settled herself in. The bidding had just closed on a small lot of heifers so she touched the man next to her to get his attention. “Excuse me, but I just got here. Has the Charolaise bull come up for auction yet?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you Amy Stark?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. I’m sorry, but—”
He smiled. “Thought I recognized you. Abel Morgan.” He held out his hand. “Met you at the last auction, but I’m sure you don’t remember. Your brother and I were doing a little business on the side. So, Matt wants to increase his Charolaise stock?”
“Yes.” She shook his hand. “But I had a flat tire and got here late. If I missed it he’ll kill me.”
“Well, you’re saved. I think Heiser’s saving it for later. It’s the show piece of the auction, you know?”
“I sure do.” She grinned. “It’s all he’s talked about lately. Except of course for his wedding and his honeymoon.”
“Well, then. You’re in luck. Plenty of time.”
She leaned back in her chair, relaxed for the first time since the tire popped. Until she glanced around at the other people filling the stadium-style seating and spotted a newly familiar profile.
Oh, no. Oh, shit.
Yup. There he was, her rescuer in black, studying the heifers in the auction pen.
Well, all right then. Maybe he’d finally figure out who her boss was.
Amy watched with interest as cattle were shuffled in and out of the auction pen. She noticed the man in black bid on two lots of excellent Black Angus mares and two lots of calves. Was he restocking a ranch? Stocking a new one? She hadn’t heard of anyone new moving into the area, but then she’d been so busy with the wedding and the ranch the last few weeks she’d paid little attention to anything else.
Now she had the opportunity to study him, albeit from the safety of distance. He had a strong profile defined by a square jaw and high cheekbones. With his Stetson still firmly planted on his head, she couldn’t tell much more, but there was no hiding those impressive shoulders or that muscular body.
A tiny thread of heat sizzled through her, one she did her best to squelch. Just because she hadn’t had a date in months didn’t mean she had to get all hot and bothered about some stranger. And a chauvinistic one at that. Even if he did change her tire. She closed her eyes momentarily and the image of him crouched down by her truck, muscles flexing in his back and arms as he changed the tire, swept through her brain. Not to mention a very nice ass cupped by his black jeans.
She wondered what he’d look like naked, sprawled out in a bed. Was he big all over? Every part of him? A tremor fluttered through the walls of her pussy, strong enough that she had to squeeze her thighs together.
Stop that. Right now.
She opened her eyes and forced the images away. She had business here and it wasn’t having erotic fantasies about a stranger, especially one with his attitude. But she certainly was curious as to who he was and where’d come from.
As the sale wound down, people who had placed the bids they’d come to make eased out of the stadium seating and headed for the barn where the after-sale party was set up. Amy could hear the noise of laughter and voices filtering in, even with the loud chant of the auctioneer. She knew Matt would have stayed, but she just wasn’t in the mood right now for boisterous merrymaking. Especially if it meant running into the man in black.
At long last, near the end of the sale, the Charolaise bull was herded into the pen and the spirited bidding began. Amy was lucky. The price went beyond what many of the buyers were willing to pay, even a little more than Matt had told her, but in the end she had the winning bid. When the final lot of cattle had been sold the people remaining cleared out, no doubt heading for the bar.
She paid for her purchase—Stark Ranch didn’t need certified checks any longer— and made arrangements to take delivery of the bull. Then she made her way out to the parking lot, heading for her truck. She jumped when strong fingers closed over her elbow.
The deep voice flowed through her like warm molasses. His grip on her elbow forced her to stop, but she jerked her arm away.
“That’s my intention.” She looked up at him then, instantly recognizing who it was, wished she hadn’t.
His eyes, black as onyx and slightly almond shaped, glittered with amusement and something else. Something she had no intention of trying to identify. Something that made her entire body react as if singed by a flame. Pulling her thoughts together, she pasted a smile on her face. “Let me thank you again for helping me today, but I really have to leave.”
His mouth quirked up in an amused smile. “Doesn’t your boss allow you to party with the big boys?”
Okay, that was it. She glared at him. “It just so happens, Mr. Insufferable, that I’m the boss. I own our ranch with my brother. What millennium are you from, anyway?”
He laughed, the same rich sound she remembered from earlier. “Sorry. Just yanking your chain. I saw you bid on the bull, so I figured I’d already stepped in it.” He winked. “Shows you what happens when you assume. So how about telling me your name?”
She didn’t see any reason not to answer him since he could certainly find out from someone else.
“Amy Stark. My brother Matt and I own Stark Ranch.”
“So you’re Matt’s sister.” He rubbed his jaw. “Sorry about the boss crack before. I was just teasing.”
“Uh huh.” She stared up at him. “So you know Matt?”
“I’ve run into him a couple of times in town. He gave me some helpful advice.”
Advice? About what?
“Matt knows a lot about this area,” she told him. “Our family has owned this ranchland for three generations.”
“Good to know since it seems we’re about to be neighbors.”
She tilted her head. “How’s that?”
“I just bought the Hayes Ranch, which isn’t too far from yours.”
He was going to be a neighbor? Damn. A million questions bumped each other in her brain, but she settled for one.
“Then maybe you should tell me your name?”
“Buck. Buck Montgomery.” He lifted his hat. “Nice to meet you, Amy Stark. I’m sure we’ll run into each other again. Now that I’m going to be part of the community, that is.”
“Oh, um. Yes. I’m sure we will.”
Buck Montgomery? Those images she’d been trying to suppress came crowding back, making her wonder what he’d look like buck naked.
She shook herself. “Well, I need to be on my way. Good luck with the ranch, Mr. Montgomery.”
His grin widened, became more infuriating. “You just go ahead and call me Buck. I don’t stand much on formality.”
She might have been flattered if she didn’t have the feeling he was somehow laughing at her.
“Okay, fine. Buck.” She spat out the name.
“Sure I can’t persuade you to stay for one drink?” he asked.
“No, but thank you. Maybe another time.”
And maybe not. She and her friend, Reenie, had a habit of not choosing too well in the man department. But Reenie had recently broken the cycle and was happily married to Matt, so maybe there was hope for her. Still, starting something that might fall apart with a neighbor didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. But as she walked back to her truck, she couldn’t get the image of him out of her mind, or the erotic sound of his voice of her head. And behind that lurked the unlikely thought that she’d seen him somewhere before.
Buck stood watching Amy Stark walk back to her truck, fascinated by her trim body with its unconscious sway of hips, and the way her rich sable curtain of hair bounced with each movement. Her dark brown eyes when she’d glared at him on the highway had been full of piss and vinegar—could you say that about a woman? The thick lashes framing them had only made them more intense. And that mouth. Jesus. He’d be dreaming about that mouth for a long time.
His gaze still followed her as she put one booted foot in front of the other. The Concho belt threaded through the loops of her jeans emphasized her slender waist, and he recalled how the soft cotton of her shirt had caressed her breasts. Breasts he wouldn’t mind holding himself.
Not here, Bucko. Not now. And maybe not ever.
Buck Montgomery today was a totally different man than the one he’d been a year ago. He’d changed everything, including parts of his appearance. He’d done a good job burying most of his past and he wanted to keep it that way.
Why the hell had he flirted with her on the road? Acted like such a chauvinistic ass? Maybe because he’d sensed it would turn her off. Because he was instantly attracted to her and he needed to shut that down before it got started.
Getting involved with Amy Stark would be a huge mistake. The women he’d had in his life didn’t even come close to the class that she wore like a second skin. Even now he didn’t remember half of their names. Some he hadn’t even bothered to find out to begin with. A roll in the hay was a roll in the hay.
But all that was behind him now. Every bit of it. He had a fresh start here and he didn’t intend to blow it. How could he tell Amy that what she saw wasn’t what she’d get with him? That if he let her see beneath the surface she’d run like hell and take his chance for a new life with her. Accumulating the money to buy the ranch had taken too much time and too much sweat and agony to waste this opportunity because he thought with his dick instead of his head.
But, man, she was something, and not just her body. She was the first woman he’d met in years that he wanted more than just physically. The first he wanted to match wits with. Dance with. Laugh with. Spar with. Her clear hazel eyes had spit fire at him, and her full lips couldn’t disguise the sass she handed out liberally. He’d really had to control the urge to grab her up and kiss that smart mouth until she had no breath left. And that would be a huge mistake.
The path he’d chosen might make for a lonely life, but he was sure no woman like Amy Stark would want him if she knew the truth about him, even though he wasn’t that man any more. Maybe in the future, when he’d really established the man he was now, things might be different.
Of course, by then she’d probably be married with a houseful of kids. Sometimes life just sucked.
“Glad to see you made it today.” A huge hand clapped him on the shoulder and he shifted position to see Fred Barnes, the realtor who’d handled the sale of the Hayes Ranch. “How’s it coming on the ranch? Getting settled yet?”
“It’s coming along just fine, and I’m a settled as I can be for the moment.” He gestured toward the auction barn. “Added some good stock today to what’s already there. They’ll deliver it as soon as I finish getting the feed in and the pastures ready.”
Barnes nodded. “I saw the lot. With what the Hayes left it won’t take you long to build the place back up to full strength. Hired on any help yet?”
Buck shook his head. “So far it’s just me. I’m being very careful with my money until I get through the first year. But it’s almost summer and I figured if this place was like all the other ranching towns I’ve been through there’s a lot of experienced kids looking for summer jobs.”
“That’s true. The Starks can be a good resource for you. I saw you talking to Amy a couple of minutes ago. Sharp gal.”
Buck snorted a laugh. “No kidding. Got a tongue like a pitchfork.”
Barnes chuckled. “Yeah, you wouldn’t want to get on her bad side. I’d get in her good graces, if I were you.”
Yes, if he could keep it objective and not insult her any more.
“You, um, didn’t say anything to anyone about…”
“What we discussed?” Barnes should his head. “If you only knew the secrets stored in this old head. I keep confidences, son. And keep them very well. Although like I said, I think you’d be better off just telling people.” He looked Buck in the eye. “Most of it, anyway.”
“Yeah, well, the problem with that is once people know where to look and what to look for, it’s all over but the shouting.”
“Your decision. But don’t shortchange the people around here. You’d be amazed at what they accept.”
“Like you said, it’s my decision.” Buck shoved his hands in his pockets. “Buy you a cold one?”
Barnes lifted an eyebrow. “I thought—“
“Strictly soft drinks. But that doesn’t mean I can’t watch you enjoying one.”
“All right then. Let’s go. And get some of that good barbecue. Too bad Amy left. They’ve got a band and everything. Bet you and she would look fine on the dance floor.”
“Maybe some other time.”
Or maybe never. If he once got his hands on any part of Amy Stark’s body, he wasn’t sure he could keep himself from tasting and touching every bit of it.