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But this ain’t her first rodeo…
Pete Wellington’s mission: take back his birthright, the All-Stars Rodeo. First, he must earn the trust of Chloe Lawrence, daughter of the city slicker who stole Pete’s legacy. But this princess of the rodeo isn’t who he imagined. Chloe has beauty, business savvy and spirit, leaving Pete to wonder…has he been aiming at the wrong prize all along?
The First Family of Rodeo: Book 2
July 2018 from Harlequin Desire
HIS BEST FRIEND'S SISTER is tinged with some humor as Renee's cookie baking adventures don't run smoothly. There are also some sexy hot scenes as they make love, which only adds to the red-hot passion that flows between them. Renee is a sympathetic heroine that readers will be rooting for. Oliver certainly feels the same way, and he wants to protect and cherish her. But she pushes him away, not wanting to be a burden. Their story will make readers smile and cheer them on. A tale full of emotion and passion, don't miss HIS BEST FRIEND'S SISTER. --Romance Reviews Today
I loved how the story came together and gave Pete and Chloe the happy ending and future they deserve. If you’re a fan of Western romances, this series should be on your shelf! Recommended Read.--Harlequin Junkies
Sweet, sassy and scrumptiously sexy! The next book in Sarah M. Anderson’s First Family of Rodeo series is fast paced, full of strife, and has just enough gentle cowboy worked in there to sweep us off our feet! --Thoughts of a Blonde
It took everything Chloe Lawrence had to keep her winning smile locked into place.
“Miss,” the stock contractor said, taking off his hat and slicking his thin hair back before replacing the Stetson, “this isn’t how we did things back when your father was in charge.”
The first time some grizzled old coot had said that to her, she had been genuinely shocked. For all intents and purposes, Milt Lawrence hadn’t been in charge of the All-Around All-Stars Pro Rodeo since her brother Oliver had wrestled control of the family empire away from the older man four years ago. The All-Stars was one of the family’s many holdings, had been ever since her father had won the rodeo circuit in a poker game thirteen years ago.
Oliver had managed the rodeo from a distance while simultaneously running their main company, Lawrence Energies. Which meant that, on the ground, Chloe was the Lawrence the stock contractors had been dealing with.
“Mort,” she said, keeping her voice warm and friendly instead of angry. “This is just a slight change in who’s qualified to compete.”
Which was not necessarily the truth.
Allowing women to compete with the men was anything but slight. But it wasn’t like she was suggesting they cut calf-roping or anything.
Dale Jenkins, an older man with his stomach hanging over his belt buckle, stepped in front of Mort. “What Mort is trying to say,” he drawled, “is that of course we’re still interested in supplying the All-Stars with our stock. But you’re just the Princess of the Rodeo. You’re good at it, of course,” he added, as if that somehow made it better. “But…”
He aimed a big smile at her, one that Chloe recognized. But that just grated on her every nerve.
When she’d been younger and so excited to open and close every rodeo, Dale had given her that exact same smile and patted her on the head as if she were a puppy and told her that she looked “right pretty up on that horse.”
If he patted her on the head now, she might break his hand.
“Gentlemen,” she said, putting as much force as she could into the word. “There is no harm in trying something different. If it works, the All-Stars will gain viewers, fans and sales. When those three things combine, you know what that gets us?” She waved her hand to encompass Dale, Mort and the other cowboys paying attention. “More money. A rising tide lifts all boats.”
“Women ride barrels,” said a crusty old fart named Dustin Yardley. He stalked right into her personal space. “You’re asking us to be part and parcel of something we didn’t sign up for. The All-Stars is a men’s rodeo.” He gave her a look that was so mean she had to fight the urge to take a step back. She wouldn’t show fear before these men.
Of course, meanness was Dustin’s natural look, so it was hard for Chloe to tell if he was extra condescending today or not. “And we,” he went on, “are the men who make the rodeo work.”
Oh, that absolutely did it. She had heard some version of that speech in Des Moines, Kansas City, Shreveport, Memphis, and, worst of all, in Fort Worth. Now she was hearing it in Sikeston, Missouri.
None of the stock contractors or riders or promoters had ever had an issue with her running the All-Stars when her brother Oliver or her father, Milt, were nominally in charge. All she’d had to do then was phrase her orders as coming from her family.
From a man.
But this year was different. At the beginning of the season, Oliver had ceded all control, real or imagined, to Chloe. He was way too busy to handle the All-Stars. He’d gone and fallen in love with Chloe’s oldest friend, Renee Preston—who came with a certain amount of scandal, what with her being pregnant with her dead husband’s child and the rest of her family under indictment for running a massive pyramid scheme.
And besides, Oliver hated the rodeo. Chloe still didn’t understand why. She loved it and she’d been pushing for more control over the All-Stars for years. It hadn’t been until Oliver had gone behind their father’s back to give her the television distribution negotiations that she’d been able to prove her skills.
And prove them, she had. She wasn’t just the Princess of the Rodeo. Not anymore.
Or so she’d thought.
This season should have been Chloe’s victory tour. Finally, the rodeo she’d loved since her father had won it was hers and hers alone. The TV deal was just the first step. She’d also launched her own line of couture cowgirl clothing named—what else?—Princess of the Rodeo and it was selling well. Sure, the workload was insane and yeah, she didn’t get much sleep anymore. But her brother had managed the rodeo while running a billion-dollar energy corporation. She could juggle some cowboys and clothing. She had to—this was just the beginning.
She had plans. Great plans.
Plans that required people to go along with them.
The one variable she hadn’t accounted for. Damned people.
She gritted her teeth. “Mister Yardley,” she said. She didn’t have time to stand around debating. She just needed them to nod and smile and say they’d be happy to try something new. “I’ll be sure to pass that sentiment along to your wife and two daughters, who delivered the agreed-upon calves to the Bootheel Rodeo last year—by themselves—while you were recovering from surgery. How’s the heart, by the way?” She did her best to look sweet and concerned.
Not that Yardley was buying it. His eyes narrowed as his lip curled. He was not a man who took kindly to having his authority questioned, especially not by someone who was just a princess. “Now you look here, missy,” he began, his cheeks darkening.
That’s when a male voice behind her said, “Problem?”
Inside, her heart sank.
If she had expected anyone to barge into this situation, it would have been her younger brother, Flash Lawrence. He was not only a Lawrence heir but also a cowboy who rode for the All-Stars. He was legendary for three things—his charm with the ladies, the chip on his shoulder and his short-fuse temper.
She’d had plenty of trouble in Omaha when, in the middle of a similar conversation with similar contractors, Flash had decided Chloe’s honor needed to be defended. It had taken all of her negotiating skills to get the police to drop the charges.
She would be so lucky if it was Flash who’d spoken. But today was not her lucky day.
Yardley smirked as he made eye contact with the man standing behind Chloe. The very last man she wanted to deal with. She would take a hundred Jenkinses and Yardleys and Gandys rather than deal with this one man.
“Pete Wellington,” Yardley said and Chloe didn’t miss the sudden warmth and good cheer in his voice. “What a surprise to see you here.”
He didn’t sound surprised. In fact, none of the men she’d been trying to reason with looked shocked that Pete Wellington had ventured from his East Texas ranch to drop by the All-Stars rodeo in Missouri.
“How’ve you been?” Mort asked, then he cut a glance at Chloe. “We’d love to see you at the rodeo again.”
Yeah, that wasn’t subtle. But before she could point out that Pete Wellington hadn’t had jack crap to do with the All-Stars in years, Dale spoke. “You here to compete?” he asked, beaming widely. “We sure do miss seeing a real professional in the arena.”
Lord, why didn’t they just roll out a red carpet and lick his boots clean? Chloe had to fight back a scream of frustration. She didn’t like it when people took pot shots at Flash, but the fact was he was a damned good rider. He’d earned that seventh-place world ranking on his own, no matter what anyone else thought.
“Now, gentlemen,” Pete said from behind her and she had to repress a shiver at the sound of his voice, deep and rich. “You know I retired from riding years ago.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t make a comeback. It’d be an improvement. A huge one.” Yardley started to step around her to shake Wellington’s hand, but Chloe wasn’t having any of it. Pete’s father, Davey Wellington, might have founded this rodeo, but he’d also lost it fair and square in a poker game to Chloe’s father, Milt.
She wasn’t going to let anyone cut her out of her rodeo. Especially not Pete Wellington.
Just as Yardley stuck out his hand, Chloe spun to face her nemesis, accidentally hip-checking Yardley. “Whoops,” she said, working hard to keep her eyes innocent when Dustin stumbled. “Why, Mr. Wellington,” she cooed. She’d once heard Flash call him that and Pete had snapped that Mister Wellington was his father and she absolutely wasn’t above using every single weapon at her disposal. She batted her eyelashes and shifted so her breasts were at their best before finishing, “I didn’t see you join us!”
She looked up at him through her lashes—a move that usually gave her total control over the situation. But Pete Wellington wasn’t distracted by a pretty face. If that were possible, she would have had him eating out of her hands for the last ten years.
Instead, he said, “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Princess of the Rodeo.” His tone was only slightly mocking. “You’ve got things well in hand, I see. As usual.”
Chloe refused to react. She didn’t even allow her cheeks to heat as the old farts around her started chuckling. She’d been performing in public as the Princess of the Rodeo since she was sixteen, three years after her dad had taken over the circuit. Every weekend, at the featured All-Around All-Stars Rodeo, Chloe opened and closed the show by riding a horse into the arena and carrying a huge American flag.
The All-Stars was the big leagues for cowboys who wanted to demonstrate their skills at calf-roping, bronco-busting, team roping, steer wrestling and bull riding. It didn’t bring in as much money as the Total Bull Challenge, which was strictly bull riding. But Chloe had plans to change that.
The first step was to find her breakout star—who was absolutely not her brother Flash. She’d love to find a female rider, a positive role model to bring in younger girls. After all, that strategy had worked wonders for the Total Bull Challenge’s bottom line when June Spotted Elk had worked her way up through the ranks. Why shouldn’t Chloe replicate that success?
Pete smirked down at her while Dustin chortled behind her. They were the reason that, at this very moment, she wasn’t replicating any success.
She hated Pete Wellington and his smug attitude and his built body, not to mention his freaking amazing jaw that only looked better with a five-o’clock shadow. And his eyes! They were almost gray when he looked down at her from under the brim of his brown cowboy hat but, depending on the light, changed to either light blue or green. Oh, how she hated Pete’s eyes in particular. They were simply the most beautiful color she’d ever seen and some days, all she wanted to do was stare into them endlessly and watch them shift with the changing light.
But more than that, she hated the way he looked at her. Would it kill him to acknowledge that she was a damned good steward to his beloved rodeo? That she ran a tight ship and got things done—like television distribution and increased revenues?
Apparently, it would kill him because she only saw mocking contempt in his eyes. His lips curved into something that could have been a heart-stopping smile on a man with a soul but on him was nothing but a taunting sneer.
He was in Missouri for one reason and one reason alone—to knock her down in front of the very men she most needed to buy into her new plans.
If that’s how he wanted to play this, fine. It wasn’t her fault his father hadn’t been able to hold his liquor. Nor was it her fault that the man had been a lousy poker player who hadn’t known when to hold `em or when to fold `em. But Pete acted as if she’d stolen his rodeo. As if she’d been there, pouring Davey Wellington another shot of whiskey and whispering in his ear.
Basically, he looked at her like she was the devil incarnate and he treated her accordingly.
She was only too happy to return the favor.
“It’s true I have much more to get my hands around than you do,” she replied easily, keeping everything light, as if she weren’t intentionally insulting his manhood. “But it’s so nice to see you getting out and about again.” She patted his upper arm, pointedly not noticing the way his hard biceps tensed at her casual touch. “You let me know if you need any help dealing with the crowds. I know it can be overwhelming if you’re not used to it.”
Any hint of a smirk on his nice, full lips died, which only made her smile broaden. But instead of launching a counterattack, Pete swallowed hard and said, “Big night?”
“Been sold out for weeks.” Of course, part of that was because Dwight Yoakam was the closing act. It’d been a huge get, bringing a country star of that magnitude to this tiny corner of Missouri.
But she was going to put on a hell of a rodeo while she had butts in the seat. She had to. If this didn’t work…no. There was no if here. It would absolutely work. When the rodeo took off, she’d be the one holding the reins.
She braced herself. Now he would come up firing. Now he would try to destroy her with a witty comeback. She could see the cords on his neck straining as he ground his teeth. No matter what he said, she wouldn’t let him get to her.
Now. Surely now.
“Pete, maybe you can make the little lady see sense,” Mort said.
“About what?” Pete replied, but he didn’t look away from her.
“About women,” Dustin said. He whipped his hat off his head and slapped it against his leg. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
Pete stepped back and looked Chloe up and down, his gaze traveling the path over her blinged-out cowgirl shirt and customized jeans—both from her Princess of the Rodeo clothing line—way too slowly for her taste. “I don’t know, guys. She looks pretty qualified in the woman department, if you ask me.”
Chloe blushed. She didn’t want to, didn’t want Pete to know that his words could affect her at all—but she couldn’t help it. Was he…protecting her? Or just ogling her?
What was going on?
“She wants to let women compete!” Dustin all but roared.
“Don’t get us wrong,” Dale went on in his pleasantly condescending voice, “women can ride the hell out of barrels.”
“And they’re good-looking,” Mort unhelpfully added.
Chloe managed not to lose her ever-loving mind. But she couldn’t stop herself from gritting her teeth and closing her eyes. Their words shouldn’t hurt. They wouldn’t.
“But you put a pretty little thing out there in the arena with a man and he’s gonna get distracted,” Dustin said, disgust in his voice. “And a distracted cowboy is a hurt cowboy. You know that, Pete.”
Pete cleared his throat, making Chloe open her eyes again. He had to be loving this open rebellion. Hell, she wouldn’t be surprised if he’d orchestrated this whole scene. She glanced around—yep. They’d amassed a crowd of about twenty people. Lovely. There would be plenty of witnesses to her humiliation.
At least Flash wasn’t here. There wasn’t a single bad situation her brother couldn’t make worse.
Then the weirdest thing happened. Pete Wellington—a man who had never bothered to hide his hatred of her—lowered his chin and, from under the brim of his hat where no one else could see it, winked at her. Before she could figure what the hell that was supposed to mean, he stepped back.
“You’re right,” he said to Dustin in particular and the crowd of cowboys in general. “I happen to know firsthand that, because we don’t have mixed competitions, no one has ever been injured in the All-Stars rodeo.”
Chloe blinked. Was that…sarcasm?
In her defense?
What the hell was going on?
There was a three-second pause while Pete’s words settled over the crowd before the first chuckle started. Another joined it and soon, all the guys who’d ridden in rodeos, past or present, began to laugh.
“Face it, boys,” Pete went on, “we’ve all been stepped on by a bull or thrown by a bronco.” Heads nodded in agreement. It was practically a sea of bobbing cowboy hats. “Women have nothing to do with the bones I’ve broken or the bruises I’ve suffered—no offense to my momma, who tried to keep me out of the arena. I say, if women want to compete on our teams and they can help a team win, why wouldn’t we want that to happen?”
The bobbing stopped and Dustin pounced. “Are you serious, Wellington?”
“Have you ever seen my sister rope a steer?” Pete shot back. “She could give any man in this arena a run for his money.”
Chloe stared almost helplessly up at Pete. He hadn’t gone in for the kill. He really was defending her.
When he looked down at her, an electric shock skated over her skin. Then he completely blew her mind by saying, “If Chloe says it’s a good idea to open up the team competitions to women, then it’s a good idea.”
“You can’t seriously think she’s had a good idea.” Dustin spat into the dirt.
“Do I look like I’m joking?” Pete shot back.
Chloe gaped at the man.
Who the hell was this Pete damned Wellington?