High-Stakes Passion

High-Stakes Passion by Juliet Burns Read Free Book Online

Book: High-Stakes Passion by Juliet Burns Read Free Book Online
Authors: Juliet Burns
hero or not, Mark Malone was more than just a story to her. He always had been and always would be. And this whole business had the potential to ruin her new career.

Four
    T he next afternoon, as Audrey headed to the bunkhouse carrying neatly folded stacks of laundry, she heard hooting and laughter coming from the barn. Curley, usually at her heels, barked and rushed inside.
    Audrey couldn’t resist changing course to check out the commotion. Maybe in this more relaxed atmosphere they’d let something slip about Mark. She had to get to the bottom of this mystery. There must be more to this story than his injury. What could have made him change so much? Had all his endorsement opportunities dried up after the accident?
    She followed the sounds back to the far corner of the barn. Dalt twisted and turned on the bucking mechanical bull, while Jim operated the lever.
    After a couple of seconds, Dalt flew off and landed on his backside. When he saw Audrey watching, he jumpedup, gingerly rubbing his behind. He sauntered over to her with his most charming grin. “Hey, Audrey. You wanna give it a try? I’ll make sure we take it real slow.” Dalt raised his brows, then actually winked—at her! Was he playing a cruel joke?
    Someone taunted, “Come on, Pete, show your sack!” Pete leered at her, blew her a kiss and then climbed on the barrel.
    â€œThey were just tellin’ him to, uh, to have some, uh, you know, courage,” Dalt explained.
    â€œMy dad’s a rodeo man, Dalt. I’m familiar with the expression.”
    â€œSo, you gonna be next?” He slipped an arm around her waist, pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “I’ll help you hold on, if you want.”
    â€œOh, no. I—” A small voice buzzed through her brain, tempting her. Why not? it whispered. You wanted to experience more of life, didn’t you?
    â€œOkay.” She plunked the laundry into Dalt’s unsuspecting arms. “I’ll need a step stool, though.”
    A huge grin spread over Dalt’s face. “Sure, sweetheart. Whatever you want. Come on in here and we’ll get you all fixed up.”
    Pete jumped off, and before she had time to reconsider her foolishness, she climbed on, coaxed by Dalt in his soothing southern drawl. The barrel began to rock in gentle, rhythmic motions. Audrey clenched her fists tightly around the rope. Her legs hugged the barrel so hard she could feel her thigh muscles straining.
    After a few seconds, with Dalt and the other guys cheering her on, the rocking motion sped up. She concentrated on not falling off, matching her body’s wits against the “bull.” A powerful energy surged through her. Her heartpumped faster. This must be what Mark felt when he rode. Excited. Challenged. Unconquerable. She stuck her right arm in the air and laughed.
    â€œDon’t you have dinner to cook?” a deep voice barked.
    The shouting and hooting silenced. The barrel stilled. Audrey caught her breath and jerked around to find Mark scowling at her. Her face heated as blood pounded in her temples. She knew her thighs must look even fatter, spread around the barrel. Shame and embarrassment washed over her. Why did he affect her this way?
    Dalt stepped over to Mark. “I was keeping her from getting back. It’s my fault.”
    Mark glared at her, ignoring Dalt. His breathing was ragged and his blue eyes flashed with heat.
    Audrey wriggled off the barrel, conscious of his gaze following her every move. Her awkward dismount couldn’t be helped, but she was determined not to be intimidated.
    She strode up to him and smelled the beer on his breath. He had some nerve acting as if she was shirking her duties! “Dinner, Mr. Malone, is warming in the oven. I was just about to call everyone in to eat. But you smell like you already drank yours!” She picked up the laundry Dalt had deposited on a hay bale and stalked off toward the house.
    All

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