Sharp Shootin’ Cowboy
By Victoria Vane
Hot Cowboy Nights, Book 3
TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT, COWBOY…
Weary warrior… After eight years as a Marine sniper, war-scarred Reid Everett is back in his native Wyoming. He knows and loves this rugged land, so working for wildlife services to reduce the booming wolf population suits him to a T.
Caring crusader… Wildlife biologist Haley Cooper is desperate to make a difference. Leaving the world of academia behind, she accepts a position as a wolf advocate to protect the animals she loves.
Raw attraction… Their jobs set them on a collision course, but chemistry sparks like wildfire between Reid and Haley. They’ll have to brave some rough territory if they hope to reconcile their polarizing views with a passion that won’t be denied.
Victoria Vane is a multiple award-winning romance novelist and history junkie whose collective works of fiction range from wildly comedic romps to emotionally compelling erotic romance. Victoria also writes historical fiction as Emery Lee and is the founder of Goodreads Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers and the Romantic Historical Lovers book review blog
Connect with Victoria Vane: Website | Facebook | @AuthorVictoriaV | Pinterest | Goodreads
“Mind if I turn on some music?” she asked.
“Go ahead. Anything but that hip-hop crap is fine with me.”
She looked up from the tuner. “You don’t like it?”
“Nope. And I hate that kind of dancing too. Guess I’m kinda old fashioned that way.”
“I don’t like rap or hip-hop either.”
She scanned several stations. The breezy lyrics of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something filled the air. You say that we’ve got nothing in common, no common ground to start from… She grinned. ”Apropos, don’t you think? I agree with you on the dancing, by the way. If I’m going to copulate with someone, I’d rather do it in private than in the middle of a dance floor.”
“Copulate? Strange word choice. Sounds a bit…clinical.”
“Yeah, well, I guess my brain is trained to think in scientific terms.”
“I’m a biology major. Pre-vet actually. I’ve taken almost everything I can at Mt. San Jacinto Community College. I’ll be transferring soon to UC Davis.”
“I hope to get into the veterinary college, but it’s pretty competitive. I’m doing a summer internship at a wolf sanctuary to improve my chances.”
“A wolf sanctuary? In Southern California?”
“Yes. It’s run by a group that wants to reintroduce wolves to California.”
“Yeah,” he scoffed. “Because that program’s been such a raving success in the Rockies.”
“What do you mean? Conservationists have saved them from the brink of extinction.”
“Wolves have been saved all right. And if they keep multiplying at the current rate, it’s our livestock that’ll be on the endangered list.”
She crossed her arms. “People should eat less meat anyway. It’s unhealthy.”
Reid cursed under his breath. “Ever been around a wolf, Haley?”
“No, but I’ve worked at dog kennels for years.”
“Wolves are not dogs,” he argued. “You need to get that straight from the start. Don’t think that a wolf can be tamed or trained. Or even a wolf cross. They might be cute and furry, but they’re damned dangerous animals.”
“And they still deserve our respect and our protection. All animals do.”
“I don’t argue that. I like and respect animals too, Haley, but predators like wolves and grizzlies need to be kept in check.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean their numbers need to be managed.”
“You mean by killing them?”
“When necessary,” he said.
“So you’re one of them?” She shook her head. “Why should that surprise me? I can partly understand people who hunt game for subsistence, but the ones who consider hunting and killing pure sport are another matter.”
“There’s something you need to understand before you pass judgment. I was born hunting, tracking, and shooting. I held my first rifle at about six years old. Killed my first elk at twelve. My family runs a hunting outfit just outside Yellowstone. It’s been our livelihood for three generations. “
“And I suppose you have all those animal heads mounted on your wall as trophies?”
“I do. A whole roomful. And I’m not going to apologize for it. I like hunting and shooting, but I’ve never killed anything just for the hell of it. We eat all the game animals. And every predator I’ve ever taken has been at the behest of the Fish and Wildlife Managers. Trophy hunting helps maintain the ecological balance.”
“Nature did fine on its own until people like you almost wiped out the predators.”
“People like me?” He mumbled a curse.
“Yes,” she declared. “And someone has to make it right.”
“And you think that’s you?”
“Not me alone, of course, but there are a lot of people who care about wildlife and the environment.”
“So you’re one of those green-living crusaders.”
His mockery put her further on the defensive. “Maybe I am, but certainly no more zealous than you are.”
He grinned. “So you’re actually saying we’re alike.”
She exhaled an exasperated huff. “Don’t twist my words. There’s a huge gulf of difference between you and me. I like animals alive, and you like their heads on a wall.”
“That’s not fair and you know it. I’ve been surrounded by animals my entire life. I was raised with dozens of dogs, cats, and horses. They’ve been a huge part of my life.”
“Then how can you hunt? I just don’t understand it. Why kill wild animals when we raise millions of domestic ones for consumption?” She opened her mouth to sound off again and then closed it with a sigh. “I’m not going to convince you anyway, am I?”
“Nope. And there’s no sense wasting any more breath on it. Let’s just agree to disagree.”
“If we avoid all the things we disagree on, what’s left to talk about?”
“We’ve hardly exhausted all the possibilities.”
“Next exit. Turn right,” she instructed. “Then left at the second light.”
They drove another mile in protracted silence.
“Turn here,” she said. “It’s the first house on the left.”
He pulled into the drive, put the truck in park, and cut the ignition.
“Thanks for the ride, Reid. It was kind of you.” She reached for the door.
“Wait a minute,” he stalled. He didn’t want her to go. Not yet. Although her opinions annoyed the hell out of him, her big green eyes drew him in. He’d never felt this kind of contradictory attraction before. Politics be damned; in this moment nothing mattered but his desire to taste her again. “Don’t go yet. I want to try an experiment.”
Her gaze narrowed. “What kind of experiment?”
“A simple one. I bet if we tried real hard we could find a number of things we can agree on.”
She snorted. “I doubt it. We stand on opposite sides of every issue as far as I can tell. Besides, what’s the point if we have to try? Most people connect over common interests and shared views. We have none of those.”
“Being on different sides doesn’t necessarily make us enemies, Haley. Good people are allowed to disagree. Some of the best solutions to the hardest problems result from differing minds coming together, meeting in the middle. Humor me, Haley. How about we just start with one and see if we can’t build on that?”
His gaze honed in on her mouth. He moved closer, close enough to feel her soft, sweet breath caressing his face. He waited. He’d made his intent clear. The next move was hers.
“Like what?” she whispered, licking her lips.
There it was again, that subtle invitation.
“This,” he answered.
His lips met hers in a soft exploration that asked, rather than demanded. She didn’t stiffen or retreat this time, but leaned into him by fractions. His mouth was gentle, tender and teasing, as if savoring the kiss. She couldn’t help responding to the warm, wet slide of his lips. Despite their differences, her body had been thrumming with anticipation the entire drive, even secretly craving this.
He slid to the center of the bench seat, cupping her nape, and angling his head, but still making no effort to exert total control. Instead, he coaxed with small flicks and darts of his tongue. It seemed he was right after all. It was possible to meet in the middle.