Excerpt: One Stubborn Cowboy

One Stubborn Cowboy by Barbara McMahon

Book Three: Cowboy Heroes Series

There was no warning.

One minute Kelly Adams was calmly crossing the deserted country road heading for the old-fashioned feed and grain warehouse on the edge of town. The next moment a large pickup truck tore out of the barnlike building, its tires squealing on the pavement as it skidded in the turn. Righting itself, it headed directly for Kelly.

Jumping out of the way at the last second, she felt surprise and fear clash within her, producing instant anger. Kelly caught her breath and turned after the truck.

“Dammit, you imbecile! Watch where you’re going! Do you think you own the blasted road?” Her heart was pounding at the near miss. She could have been killed!

The truck slammed on its brakes and began backing up.

After twenty-eight years in San Francisco with nary an accident, she couldn’t believe she had almost been run down by the only moving vehicle on an otherwise deserted road. She was furious. Just who did that driver think he was to come barreling out of the building like that? There could have been children crossing the road, or an elderly person who wouldn’t have moved as quickly as she had.

“Just you wait,” Kelly murmured between clenched teeth as she watched the truck draw closer.

The pickup truck was white-and-blue with big all-terrain tires, the jacked-up body and the mud splatters along the sides giving evidence of its off-road travels. It backed up quickly, drawing to a stop beside her.

Kelly held her ground until the cab of the truck was even with her, the throaty growl of its engine loud in the afternoon stillness. She’d often been teased she should have red hair–instead of blond– to match her temper. It boiled over now. She’d give this reckless driver a piece of her mind. Maybe next time he wouldn’t be so quick to drive so wildly.

The truck was higher than usual. She had to look up to see into the darker interior. As the driver glared back down at her, she drew a breath in shock. If she had thought she was angry, it was nothing compared to the visage of the man facing her. Narrowed black eyes looked out at her from under a jutting brow creased in an angry frown. His eyebrows almost met, his frown was so ferocious. His lips were thinned, tight with hostility. She could feel the strength of his emotions almost envelop her.

“What the hell did you call me?” He was a big man, with wide, strong shoulders, muscular arms, strong, chiseled features. His expression was grim, his voice harsh and deep.

Kelly’s emotions flared, her blood boiling. He had a hell of a nerve being mad.

“I called you an imbecile. Idiot might apply, as well. Who do you think you are, pulling out like that? What if someone who couldn’t move fast had been crossing the street? This is California–didn’t you know pedestrians have the right of way?” she said, her teeth still gritted. She tilted her chin defiantly, her own blue eyes blazing with anger. “You could have killed me with your reckless driving! Do you think you own the damn road?” Her glare was like ice, challenging his, never wavering.

“What did you call me?” he growled again between clenched teeth, his gaze raking her as she stood defiantly in the hot sun. His eyes moved insolently from her flushed, angry face to her breasts, heaving with emotion. Pausing only a moment, they drifted lower, to her trim waist, flaring hips and long legs encased in stone-washed jeans.

Kelly felt a frisson of a different kind of anger run through her. How dare this man look at her like that, as if she was on exhibit! She held her ground resolutely, feeling the heat of her indignation build.

“I called you an imbecile. You hard of hearing? You drive like a maniac, accelerating out of there like that, without seeing if anyone was in the street. Where’d you get your license, out of a cereal box?” she asked scornfully.

For a split second Kelly wondered what she’d do if he got out of the truck. He was so big, and looked mean. But she was not about to back down.

“You’re new around here, aren’t you?” he said softly, the change menacing. “So I’ll give you some advice. Don’t ever talk to me again like that, or you’ll be sorry!” His hands were tight on the steering wheel, his face shadowed by his hat.

Kelly shivered in spite of the hot day. She could feel his resolve as he said the words. But she had grown up in some tough neighborhoods. She wasn’t easily intimidated, certainly not by some reckless cowboy in the wrong. She continued staring at him, tilting her chin defiantly.

“Oh, yeah? What are you gonna do about it?” she flung back. Just let him open the door and try something. She knew a move or two that might surprise him. Self-defense was a way of life, a part of growing up in the city, and she’d studied different ways to keep safe.

His lips tightened, then he let his eyes wander again insolently down the length of her, his expression changing.

“Sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Was there a trace of amusement in his tone?

Kelly felt the wave of hot color wash over her. She wished he would get out of the truck. Her hand clenched in a tight fist. She’d like to wipe that insolent look off his face, show him she wasn’t to be intimidated by some small-town, hotshot, cocky cowboy.

Before she could reply, however, the old owner of B. J.’s Feed and Grain came around the back of the truck, slapping his hand hard against the metal side.

“What’s going on out here?” Jefferies asked, the wizened man peering between Kelly and the driver.

“Just welcoming a newcomer,” the man drawled mockingly, raising one eyebrow as if daring Kelly to challenge his audacious statement.

Her angry gaze never left his face. His straw cowboy hat was pulled low on his forehead, throwing his face in shadow. She could make out his eyes now, despite the low brim. They were not black as she’d first thought, but a dark, stormy blue. Dark brown hair hung beneath his hat, brushing the collar of his blue checked shirt. It looked thick and springy. She wished for a second she could see him without the hat. Wished he would get down from the truck and face off. Her heart began to beat faster in anticipation.

“You go on home, Kit. Kelly has the right of it. Next time don’t pull out so fast if you can’t see that the way’s clear!” the old man admonished.

With a quick glance at Jefferies the driver seemed to calm down. His gaze returned to Kelly and he touched the brim of his hat with two fingers, giving her a mocking salute. “We’ll have to continue this interesting discussion at another time.”

The man put the truck in gear and accelerated, tires squealing on the blacktop as he pulled away.

Kelly watched the truck speed down the highway, the air still charged from their encounter, her heart racing. Had he looked this time before pulling away? Probably not.

Who was he? She hadn’t met him before. Kelly would never have forgotten him. Did he live nearby?

She turned to Jefferies, a smile settling on her face. “Thanks for coming out. I thought tor a minute he was going to get out and knock me down.”

Had she hoped he would try? She would have liked to see him up close and in her face. Was he as tall as he looked sitting in the cab of the truck?

“Not to worry.” Spying her sketch pad and pencils his face lightened. “You’ve come to draw the old place? Molly said you were an artist.”

She smiled and nodded, casting another quick glance at the departing truck. “That and a writer. I illustrate my own books. I wanted to sketch the feed store, if that’s all right with you.”

“Sure it is. Come on in, then. Don’t you go worrying about yon Kit–he’s hotheaded and wild, but he doesn’t come to town much anymore. He knows he was in the wrong, though it didn’t make him happy, did it?” Jefferies chuckled. “Sure was fun, watching you stand up to him. Not many people do, poor boy.” Jefferies shook his head as they walked into the dim feed store.

Kelly could see no reason for Jefferies to consider that insufferable, arrogant man poor, or a boy. From the weathered look of his face he must be well into his thirties. And what he probably needed was more people to stand up to him. Who was he anyway, the town bully?

She could tell him a thing or two. As always after an emotionally charged event, Kelly thought up several scathing comments she should have made. She glanced down the street once more, wishing she’d had a little longer to tell him off.

Wondering if she’d ever see him again.

It took Kelly a few minutes to calm down and capture the mood she needed to sketch pictures. Over and over her mind replayed the truck roaring toward her, the angry man driving it. Each time her heart sped up with the memory. It had been unexpected and frightening. Yet the driver had intrigued her.

His chin was strong and firm–with maybe a hint of stubbornness. He had deep lines carving his cheeks, bracketing his mouth. His skin was dark and tanned like a cowboy. But the blue eyes were unexpected, especially with his dark hair. His shoulders and height indicated a tall, large man. She remembered his muscular arms, the strong hands on the wheel. Arrogant cowboy.

Did he live near town, come in often? Jefferies had said he didn’t. Who was he?

With an effort she dragged her thoughts back to the sketches she wanted to do. Soothed by the deft strokes of her colored pencils, she settled in to draw different scenes of the unusual store from a child’s point of view, trying to capture the aspects that would appeal to children. The drawings began to take shape. But at the back of her mind echoed the question of who Kit was. And when she might see him again.