Ruthless. Some said driven. An only child and
self-made billionaire, John Carruth liked things his way.
The sexy blond woman giving him five feet six inches of
attitude clearly had no intention of giving in to his
wishes. She stood in front of his desk in his new office,
hands on her slender hips.
"Renaming the rodeo isn't a good idea. The people in No
Chance, Texas, do things a certain way."
"Let's discuss it over dinner," he suggested. After working
with Chloe Winters for two weeks, John knew she wasn't
likely to jump at the opportunity. John figured he'd never
really had a meaningful relationship, but he'd taken a
lot of women to dinner. When a man made a lot of
money, he had female companionship for the choosing. Ask
Chloe shook her head, her eyes sparkling with temper and
probably a naive assumption that it was inadvisable to mix
business and pleasure. In John's opinion, it was always good
to mix business and pleasureâ€”it made for more interesting
dinner conversation. The lawyer in her no doubt dictated
extreme professionalism, and anyway, John could tell from
the way she carried herselfâ€”with pride and a certain
standoffishnessâ€”she wouldn't be an easy woman to seduce.
He was sort of glad for that. It was time for him to give up
women, maybe until he found "the one," or at least
someone whom he could regard as "possibly the one."
In fact, on this beautiful Texas June day, he told himself
it was time to turn over a new leaf and take all women
seriously before he ended up becoming a schmuck.
"Look, John," Chloe said, "you can't rename the rodeo
without speaking to people who have lived here all their
lives and believe their town name is part of their identity."
"No Chance is an awkward name. It's not attractive on
billboards. Something like Windy Corners has better appeal.
We need marketability."
It was probably too late to change the name for this year,
anyway. The rodeo was in four weeks. Someone had told him
they'd received around twenty rider entries. The name of the
rodeo was a millstone dragging down its popularity, as far
as he was concerned. He wasn't a romantic or a superstitious
person, but what cowboy would want to enter a rodeo called
The problem was obvious.
"Just because you have a major ownership stake in this rodeo
doesn't give you the right to romanticize the town to suit
your city ways," Chloe told him.
"I promised to give an honest appraisal of how to make this
rodeo profitable. In the five years this rodeo has been in
existence, it's barely broken even. First thing that needs
to change is the name."
"In your opinion."
They were at an impasse. He hadn't officially renamed the
rodeoâ€”not yet, anywayâ€”but he'd had a full-color mock-up made
of a brochure for when he met with the rodeo committee
tomorrow. He'd wanted to test his idea on Chloe first, get
her reaction, so he'd know how to sell his idea to the
others. Chloe thought the rodeo's old name was appropriate,
but he knew it turned off sponsors.
No big-name riders would enter without big-name sponsors.
Life was simple when one understood money, and he'd quickly
realized from the proposal the town of No Chance had sent
asking him to invest in their rodeo that the people here had
little understanding of the wonderful, alluring challenge of
making money. Thanks to his parents, he understood money
very well. Lured like a shark smelling blood, he'd left New
York on a whim.
He'd expected resistance to some of his proposed changes.
Yet something more romantic and yes, practical, was needed
to save this rodeo, something befitting a community that
didn't want to change but did want to grow. It was a
too-still place, with few amenities. John felt he could
change all that if he could work through the issues his way.
Wait until they realized he planned to build a huge hotel
here, make this backwater into a tourist destination that
included an enormous Ferris wheel the size of the London Eye
in England, and ultimately gambling casinos to rival those
in Las Vegas and nearby Louisiana.
He was going to have to go slowly, but he would attain his
goals in No Chance. The sweet sound of ka-ching! would have
to serve as his applause. He doubted the good citizens would
appreciate his plans for their downtrodden town, where the
only plant had long since closed. Apparently, No Chance's
paper plant had been run out of business by the neighboring
town of Farmbluff. Feelings were still running hot about
that, though ten years had passed.
Miss Ice Cool, with her smooth blond hair and constant
opinions, saw herself as No Chance's protector. She was
determined to thwart him, question his every move. And since
she was the town's legal counsel, he put up with her
debating. Truthfully, if he needed to boot any of the
lawyers he had working for him, he'd consider hiring her.
Chloe was tenacious and persistent, traits he admired in a
tough lawyer. She could sway the close-knit coterie of the
town council his way if she chose to, so he needed her support.
Chloe supported nothing but the side she was on. John tried
his winning smile on her. "You and I have got to work
"I have no problem working with you."
"Working against me."
"Your words, not mine." She glanced down at her notepad,
marshaling her next argument.
He sighed. "I have to consider the bottom line. If the rodeo
is going to become the staple of this town, the town may
have to consider a name change."
Chloe shrugged. "Good luck with that. I certainly appreciate
your efforts to better our situation. But I hope you won't
mind me saying that our positions come with a certain amount
of conflict built in. You'll find most of us here a stubborn
He raised his hand. "I know, I knowâ€”you do everything your
way. And yet, the town came to me to finance the rodeo. My
opinions come with the deep pockets."
"We were hoping for a more silent hero."
"You and I will probably argue a lot," he warned.
"Not me. I'm all about peace and quiet."
"Sure, sure." John wondered if she allowed anyone a peaceful
"So," Chloe said, "let's get back to this brochureâ€”"
One of the rodeo clownsâ€”a beloved stalwart of No
Chanceâ€”rushed into the room. "Chloe," he said, "we've got a
"Calm down, Cody," she said, reaching out to soothe the
elderly gentleman. "What is it?"
He glanced at John. The billionaire was considered very much
an outsider; no one was sure what to make of him. Some
people said he was cold, too business-like. Others liked
him, thought he was working hard to improve matters, had a
strong guiding hand which had been sorely lacking in the
town's business matters before. Chloe respected John. He was
a smart man, but he was too handsome, too magnetic and too
self-assured for her taste. John was tempting as sin and
"It's okay," Chloe reassured Cody. "What's up?"
"Jessup's here, causing a ruckus. He's telling everyone that
our rodeo will never take off because Farmbluff 's already
setting one up. Got a backing of two million dollars, he
claims, from the old coot who owns the paper plant. Some of
our boys are about to give Jessup a bit of a lesson he won't
soon forget." He glanced at John, not certain if he should
continue. "The sheriff's on his way."
"I'll go," Chloe told John, but he followed her out of his
office and down the narrow aisle as Cody hurried off.
"This type of thing won't help the rodeo," John observed,
and over her shoulder Chloe sent him a look of pure
annoyance. "Bad reputations are hard to change. This is the
third fight we've had here this week, and it's not good for
the town's reputation."
"Do you ever think of anything besides the bottom line?"
John shook his head and kept walking.
Jake Fitzgerald saw that the visiting cowboy was more than
drunk. He looked a bit crazy, but that was nothing new for
Jessup. It was a warm day, maybe already ninety-seven
degrees by the noon hour. Everything was melting in the
heat, yet Jessup was still spoiling for a fight. Jake
watched as the ever-efficient Erin O'Donovan peered at
Jessup lurching down the walkway between the stalls. He'd
known Erin since first grade. For some reason she'd moved to
Farmbluff six months ago, a mistake in his opinion, but
there was no stopping Erin once she got an idea in her head.
There never had been. She'd been first in all their classes,
gone off to study medicine at Columbia, grabbed a few
scholarships. Erin was a whirlwind of activity, and Jake had
always had a secret yen for her.
He was a bull rider, always on the circuit. He had nothing
to offer a petite high-energy redhead. At the age of
thirty-two, he had almost nothing to offer anyone. A saddle,
a truck, some riding equipment, a hundred acres south of
town. He looked at her legs beneath her emerald-green skirt,
and with a certain hunger he had no intention of satisfying
admired the way her white blouse skimmed her curves. Gentle
Dr. Erin, committed to patching up cowboys at rodeos. Thing
about Erin was, despite moving to the enemy town, she'd
never forgotten where her real friends were. She came back
all the time to check on them, most particularly Cody and
his dicky heart.
Erin could check on his heart any time.
"Jake," Erin said, startling him. "Have you met the new
rodeo director and general partner, John Carruth?"
He put his hand out to the suit-wearing city slicker. "We've
spoken once. Welcome."
John shook his hand. Neither of them were very warm about
the encounter. Chloe had preceded John into the enclosure to
look at Jessup and she sent Jake a brief smile. He nodded,
then went back to perusing Erin. Something possessive he
hadn't expected reared up inside him insisting he somehow
make certain the new Rodeo Savior in town didn't get an itch
They watched the drunk cowboy shadow-box a few circles,
jabbing at the air occasionally, doing himself more damage
than anyone else. Cody put a hand on the cowboy's shoulder
to calm him, then jumped back when an errant swing whizzed
by his ear.
The sheriff spoke up. "Mr. Carruth, you're probably the one
who should decide if you want to press charges of any
nature. Maybe Jessup just needs a nice, comfy jail cell
until he cools down"
"Well, Counselor?" John said. "Would you advise that?"
"I suppose he really needs a safe place to sleep it off,"
Sheriff Whitmore nodded. "We might see if we like him any
better when he dries out, Mr. Carruth."
"Please, call me John."
Jake bet the man had probably said that a hundred times
since he'd come to town. He was trying hard to fit
inâ€”everyone said so. Yet no one really seemed to warm up to him.
"I'd say the show's over," Sheriff Whitmore said. "Deputy
Gonzalez, cuff our visitor, please."
Chloe frowned. "Did anybody ask him why he thinks our rodeo
is destined to fail?"
"It is," Jessup said, whirling to face her. "Farm-bluff
already has all the best names lined up. I just came by to
tell you not to waste your time." He tipped to the left,
putting himself out of reach of Deputy Gonzalez's cuffs,
then righted himself. This whole drama was typical bad
behavior for Jessup, nothing new, but John Carruth stood
awkwardly in a corner, looking uncomfortable and out of
place in his suit. He didn't seem to know what to think
about small-town intrigues.
Jake caught John staring at Chloe, who didn't seem to notice
the man's attention. It would be amusing to watch Mr. Suit
try his city-slicker skills on Chloe. Chloe was married to
her horse, like any good barrel rider.
"Chloe, weren't you here since about four this morning
working Brandy?" Sheriff Whitmore asked.
"Yes." Chloe sank down on a concrete block next to Erin.
"John was here, too."
All heads turned to stare at the outsider with the stiff
suit and the rare smile. John shrugged. "Workaholic, what
can I say?"
"I never saw Jessup, though," Chloe added. "I don't think
anybody in No Chance would serve him so much liquor."
Sheriff Whitmore scratched his head under his straw Resistol
hat. "Jessup, you didn't need to come here and tell us
y'all's rodeo is better than ours," he said as Deputy
Gonzalez finally succeeded in cuffing the man, earning more
curses from the drunk cowboy. Jake decided to go do
something productive and leave the rodeo politics to Mr.
Suit. It'd be a great initiation for him. Personally, Jake
thought it was dumb that the man was brought here in the
first place. All No Chance wanted from John was his wallet;
he could have sent his money and stayed in Manhattan.
"Does anyone think Mr. Carruth and Jake share a
resemblance?" Chloe asked suddenly. Even Jessup stopped
fighting as all the occupants of the crowded breezeway
glanced at Chloe, then John. "It's just unusual to see two
men who are the same height, dark-haired, square-jawed, each
with really blue eyes," she pointed out.
Jake halted, turning to stare at John. His gaze swept John's
suit with displeasure. He would never wear his hair that
short, eitherâ€”almost military-style. "No."
John considered Jake's dirty jeans, worn-out boots, and
seen-better-days cowboy hat under which shoulder-length dark
hair flowed. "I have to agree with him."
Cody the clown chuckled. "Twins," he said.
Everyone laughed at the absurdity of that statement. Erin
stepped over to Jake, surprising him by sliding off his hat.
He let her, smelling her perfume and the delicious scent of
warm, clean Erin.
"You do have some resemblance," she said. "Mostly around the
eyes and chin. And the same hair color, a nice charcoal."
She slipped his hat back into place and stepped awayâ€”he'd
been electrified the second she'd moved so close to him. His
throat was dry; his blood beat hard.