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Grace Brannigan Romance Author
Ever since Tye Jenkins was seventeen she'd been head over heels for Jake Miller, but she'd been too young and she'd chosen rodeo instead of Jake.
Now, ten years later unfinished business brings them together, the same night Tye suffers a devastating bull riding accident.
Chapter One copyright 2012 Grace Brannigan
Someday, that bull would kill someone. Tye Jenkins just knew it. She straddled the top rail of the bull chute as old Hit Man moved restlessly from side to side.
Tye let her gaze roam the rodeo yard. Her heart jumped like a young colt on a brisk morning as she stared, transfixed, at a dark-haired man. Jake Miller. He stood close by, a cocky look of assurance on his lean face. He was a head taller than most of the men around him, a stranger in business clothes among mud-spattered cowboys. His suit looked expensive, not the most common attire down by the pens. She had never before seen him dressed like that, yet he carried it off with nonchalance and elegance. He stood, feet planted on ground churned up by countless boots and three days of rain, his dark head bare to the falling mist. Tye didn’t try to stop the smile spreading across her face. Only Jake could pull off a suit at a rodeo in the drizzling rain.
She hadn’t seen or heard from Jake in ten years, not since that terrible night she’d left. He’d showed up now, the night she planned to remember for the rest of her life -- the night she’d make the rodeo finals. With the bittersweet knowledge of the past firmly in her mind, Tye sensed it was fitting Jake should be here to see her triumph.
Even knowing she was short on time before her ride, she continued to stare at Jake. Why was he here? What was that expression in his face -- a mixture of pain and want? Tye wiped the mist from her eyes, knowing she was wrong. She drew a deep breath.
He had changed, matured, yet something in his eyes remained the same. How long had she loved that strong face with its wide cheekbones, no-nonsense jaw touched by the faintest shadow of beard and deep-set eyes of the lightest blue? Her seventeenth summer she had loved him with a young woman’s vibrancy. They’d spent endless time together, planning, talking, dreaming. Back then, Tye had thought Jake could do no wrong.
She drew a deep breath and looked around. Why was he here? It wasn’t to see her! He was already drawing attention: she could see some of the girls nudging each other. Her throat dry, Tye drew a deep breath and then pressed her lips together. There were a lot of handsome faces like Jake’s, but he had a presence. He always had. Jake was special, that’s why she had loved him so much, until she had walked away.
Hearing her call, Tye stood up against the metal bars, gripping the top rail tightly. As she did so the bull in the chute hopped sideways, rattling the metal gates.
Adrenaline pumping, Tye jerked her gloves on, her gaze sweeping the yard, oblivious to everything until her glance lit once more on Jake. He was still there. Seeing him broke her concentration, brought in a flood of memory. Live, intense heat struck Tye and she closed her eyes tightly for a brief moment in exasperation. She had gotten over him. Anyone with a lick of sense knew ten years was a long time to pine over any man.
Deliberately, she looked away. Rubbing rosin on her gloves and rope, Tye centered her attention one hundred percent on what she knew of the bull, Hit Man. True to form, he was bouncing in the chute like a young kid throwing a temper tantrum. Hit Man shot her a glance now and then, probably to see if his head games were rattling her. He was one of the oldest bulls on the circuit, but anyone in rodeo knew he’d give you the ride of your life.
Tye's heart pounded wildly in her chest and up into her throat as she threw her leg over the chute and climbed down on the bulky-muscled bull. Quickly, she gripped the flat, braided rope as the bull lunged from side to side. Dry-mouthed, Tye wrapped her hand while the bull bellowed. He turned his head and seemed to glare at her with one eye, then with a quick twist tried to horn her.
"Watch your legs there, Tye!" someone shouted, but she had already pulled them up. Tye focused on keeping her feet from being pinned between the animal's sides and the metal bars. Steadying hands of the cowboys at her back helped her stay upright as the bull continued to ram the sides of the chute.
Her fingers tightened on the rope and she gave the signal to open the gate. With vivid clarity Tye saw the gate swing open, felt the rush of air from her lungs. Like a race car in its first heat, a ton of Brahma bull exploded into the rodeo arena; twisting and spinning. His cloven hooves sank into the mix of mud and manure. He knew his job and damn! he did it well.
The ornery bull did his best to defy the laws of gravity. He lunged forward, coiled to the right, came down, whipped to the left and dove again. Tye had watched this bull and knew what to expect, but every bone in her body was being jolted to hell and back. She was determined to ride it out and do it in style. As the bull spun, she spurred him, her concentration intense.
The clock in her head ticked off. Tye held fast like a winter's burr on a blanket. Two. Three. . .this was the longest six-second ride of her life. Five. Triumph began to burgeon in her chest. She had him. Hit Man wasn't getting away.
As the bull reared his head up, they hung suspended in the air for a moment. Then, with surely no more than a quarter of a second left, Tye felt him twisting, going over, taking her with him.
All time stopped, silence reigned, the cheering crowd disappeared. There was only she and Hit Man. It seemed to Tye, in that split second of realization that the bull had won. She tried to throw herself clear, but she couldn't get her hand free.
They slammed into bone-chilling mud. Tye felt her head snap sideways, saw the dull grey sky overhead. Clods of dirt and mud slapped her. She smelled manure, then sweat and heat rolling off the animal, which lay atop her. When she tried, she couldn't move, so she lay still, her legs pinned under the dead weight. If looks could be believed, the bull had dropped dead.
A kaleidoscope of images flashed before Tye. Her first pony, the mare Daddy brought home from the rodeo. Ribbons on her wall, the first bull she had ridden. The gate opened and Tye knew again exhilaration mixed with fear. What a ride. A high like no other.
Daddy, a hard-drinking, fun-loving man. A family man, when he was home. He had been gone a lot when she was growing up. One rodeo after the other. Daddy said he lived to rodeo.
Tye experienced again the guilt inside her, but she hadn’t spoken up, not even when her brother, Ben, smashed the plaque listing Daddy's rodeo honors. If only she had told her family it was her fault Daddy had left. If she had tried harder to win more ribbons and trophies, maybe Daddy would have stayed.
A dark-haired man flitted in front of her, with piercing blue eyes, so light they looked ghostly. Jake. She had always loved him, never stopped. But he hated her for what she’d done. His mouth moved, his beautiful mouth. She didn't understand the words, but they had a calming effect.
The crazy swirl of remembrances slowed and dimmed as Tye floated gently.