There’s something bittersweet about a hero or heroine who stands in the shadows hoping with an aching heart that the one they love will one day take notice. Janie’s situation in ROUGH RIDER particularly resonates with me as she secretly pines for Dirk, the cowboy she knows she can never have.
Dirk emerged from the med trailer on his own, albeit a little unsteady. Janice watched him out of the corner of her eye as she flanked the next two bulls. With his arms over his chest and one booted ankle crossed over the other, he leaned against the chute to watch the last two rides. It was a deceptively casual pose that might have fooled anyone who didn’t know him, but she could tell by his pallor and shallow breathing that he hurt far more than he was willing to show. A moment later, the medic brought him a sling, but he didn’t put it on.
“C’mon, Dirk,” she cajoled. “Don’t be a dumb-ass. Let me help you with that.”
“Don’t need it,” he growled.
“Then why are you favoring the arm?”
He released it instantly from his chest with a scowl.
“Please,” she cajoled. “No one’s gonna think less of you for wearing the sling. Everyone saw how that bull freight-trained you.”
“Need both arms. I promised Rachel I’d dance with her tonight.”
“Then she’ll need to make do with a one-armed two-step.”
“No good. She’s Miss Rodeo Montana and I’ve just won the All-Around. The sling’ll screw up the pictures. She’s already gonna be pissed enough about my face.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Janice snorted but then grimaced at the truth of it. His face really was a mess with a split lip and a nose swollen to half again its normal size.
Dirk shrugged. “The whole PR thing is her gig. I won’t ruin it for her.”
“Then just take it off for the pictures.”
His mouth compressed. “Thanks for the concern, Janice, but just let it be, will you? I already have a mother.”
“Sorry…I just…well, you know…”
He cocked a brow. “No. I know.”
“I thought maybe we’d become friends is all.”
“A man can never be with a woman, Janice. Unless she’s a troll, there always reaches a point when the guy starts thinking about gettin’ into her jeans. It’s just how it is. You ain’t no troll, and I got a thing going with Rachel.”
Janice looked away, hoping he wouldn’t notice the flames heating her face. “That’s not what I…but you’d never…” She stammered at the idea that he’d ever think of her in way.
“No?” His gaze tracked slowly over her and his mouth kicked up in one corner. “Think again, sweetheart. By the way, I’ve noticed Grady sniffin’ around you. Be careful with him, Janice. He rides damn close to the edge sometimes.”
“What do you mean?”
His mouth moved, but the announcer’s blaring voice drowned out his reply.
“Next up is last year’s CNFR champion bull rider, Grady Garrison of Three Forks, Montana, coming into the short round on Rio Bravo.”
Janice grinned. “Speak of the devil…”
“Yeah,” he said. “And he’s about as much trouble.”
Janice grimaced. “Look, Dirk, I’ve been around long enough to recognize his type. Grady blows about as much hot air as a Chinook.”
His gazed narrowed. “Don’t be fooled. He does blow a lot of smoke, but his bad boy isn’t an act, and he doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut either.”
Her temper flared. If Dirk didn’t want her, why shouldn’t she go out with Grady? A drink or two was no big deal. “You didn’t take my advice about the bull, why should I take yours?”
“Because you’re a girl, Janice,” he replied. “I’d hate for him to change that.”
On those parting words, Dirk tipped his hat and limped away to join some teammates, leaving a dull ache in Janice’s chest. “That may be,” she whispered to his back, “but it seems nice girls always finish last.”
Dirk, meanwhile, doesn’t even recognize his own very real attraction to Janice. By the time he figures out that it’s really Janice that he wants, it’s too late. His buddy has already staked his claim.
For four years now riding rough stock had taken the edge off, had relieved some of the restlessness that shadowed him, but now the twitchy feeling was back with a vengeance and he didn’t know if rodeo was still the answer. There had to be something more, something to fill the void he felt deep in his gut. He just wished to hell he knew what it was.
He looked up to find Janice watching him. She quickly diverted her gaze back to her plate. Janice. That whole situation had his head all screwed up. He never should have gone to her last night in the shape he was in. He felt a trace of guilt but had a hard time summoning any regret over it. On the one hand, he damn sure wasn’t ready to jump feet first into a new relationship, but on the other, Grady’s sniffing around her almost had him spitting nails.
Rough Rider is in itself a rough ride. Dirk and Janice both make some really bad decisions. In Janice’s words: “Sometimes people make big mistakes. Huge life-altering mistakes. At the time they think they’re doing the right thing, but they realize later that it was for all the wrong reasons.” When their stars finally align years later, they are two very different people. Both wounded and wary, they very much deserve their happy ever after.
Dirk shoved the suitcase to the floor, wanting nothing more than to lay her down on the bed and kiss her senseless. He pushed the remaining clothing aside, grimacing at the pile of white cotton granny panties and cross-your-heart bras. He held up a pair with a scowl. “Please tell me these aren’t yours.”
“No.” Janice laughed. “They’re Mama’s. I’m packing her things for her. She’s decided to move up to her cousin’s place in Helena.”
“So you packing to go back to Vegas?”
“No,” she said. “Told you I’m stubborn. I was hoping if I stuck around long enough, you’d eventually see the light.”
“I’ve seen it all right, sweetheart. The whole damn sun is blazing in this room right now.”
By Victoria Vane
Contemporary Western Romance
February 3, 2015
Two wary hearts …
Janice Combes has two loves, bucking bulls and Dirk Knowlton. But Dirk only has eyes for a dazzling rodeo queen. How can Janice ever compete while mired ankle-deep in manure? Exchanging playful banter with Dirk is all Janice can expect—until the stormy night he knocks on her door dripping wet and needing a place to crash.
Dirk Knowlton is living the cowboy dream. Life should be good—roping, branding, backing broncs, riding bulls, but there's a void he can't seem to fill. After getting hung up by a bull, he wonders if this is really the life he wants. Restless and rebellious, he bolts…but there’s a certain cowgirl he can’t forget.
When a battle-scarred Dirk returns to his Montana ranch he's determined to hang on at any cost. Janice has come back home to lick her own wounds. When old dreams turn to dust, can two wary hearts take another chance on love?