The Return (BookShots Flames)

By: Erin Knightley

FOREWORD




When I first had the idea for BookShots, I knew that I wanted to include romantic stories. The whole point of BookShots is to give people lightning-fast reads that completely capture them for just a couple of hours in their day—so publishing romance felt right.

I have a lot of respect for romance authors. I took a stab at the genre when I wrote Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas. While I was happy with the results, I learned that the process of writing those stories requires hard work and dedication.

That’s why I wanted to pair up with the best romance authors for BookShots. I work with writers who know how to draw emotions out of their characters, all while catapulting their plots forward.

Erin Knightley and I had so much fun working on our first BookShot Learning to Ride, that we were ready to throw our hat in the ring for another project together. We chose this one, The Return. It’s the story of a man who rides bulls and a woman who rides horses, but underneath all of that, it’s about two people who find their way back to each other. And Erin’s got a way of putting her heart into every word. I know you’re going to love it.

James Patterson





Chapter 1




This was it. The final run of the night.

In the year since Mack McLeroy had qualified for the professional bull riding tour—the major leagues of professional riders—he’d done well for himself. But tonight he was looking at a crowd, and a cash pot, bigger than anything he’d seen in his career.

And tonight he was going to win everything.

So far, he’d had three lucky draws. He’d pulled bulls who were mean enough to score big points, but whose moves were right up Mack’s alley. In two words, he’d killed it. And not only had he had three of the best rides of his life all in a row, but two of the top contenders had ended up injured. Sucked for them—they were both good guys—but the win was solidly within Mack’s reach.

Anticipation pumped through his veins like a drug as he lowered himself onto Son of Sam for the last ride of the night. The beast was as black as sin and twice as ugly, with fat asymmetrical horns that curved haphazardly away from his bulbous head and a long, rangy tail that looked like something you’d pull out of a clogged drain. He moved restlessly in the chute, his flanks fairly vibrating with tension. But Mack grinned and patted the animal’s muscled back.

Bring it, Sonny.

SOS was famous for his unpredictability, which always made for an interesting ride. It also made for high scores.

Mack shook his head, excitement pooling in his gut. Six figures. That was more money than most of his friends from high school made in three years. All those people who had called him crazy for setting his sights on the rodeo were about to eat their words.

Leaning forward, he pulled the rope across his hand in a tight suicide wrap. With that kind of money at stake, he planned to stay stuck to that bull if it killed him. SOS shifted anxiously beneath him. Mack chuckled. “Ready to dance, Son? How ’bout I lead?”

He took a deep breath, lifted his free arm, and shouted that he was ready. The moment hung suspended in time for a heartbeat or two, Mack’s body poised for action.

Three, two, one…swoosh!

The gate swung open and SOS exploded into the arena, bucking like a sonofabitch. The crowd roared in approval as he spun left, then immediately changed both tactics and direction, throwing Mack momentarily off-balance. Thank God for the suicide hold, which saved his bacon as he fought to get back in position.

Even as he whipped back and forth with SOS’s earthquake-worthy bucks, he managed to right his center of gravity. And then he found the pocket—that place where he and the bull fell into a sort of violent rhythm together. Apparently the creature wanted to dance after all. Mack grinned for all of a quarter of a second before all hell broke loose.

One moment he was in the zone, and the next he was riding blind. The rhythm that had been there before dissolved into instant chaos. What the hell? A millisecond too late, his brain processed that in the frenzy of bucking, the bull’s tail had whipped forward and slapped him across the face with the force of a steel pole. Instinct made his eyes slam shut. But that was the worst thing that he could have done.

Son of a—Before he could even finish the curse, he was airborne, tethered to the earth by nothing more than the thin strap of leather wrapped around his hand. Not good—not good at all. The force of his momentum, which snapped the leather taut, nearly yanked his arm off. He flopped backward, colliding with the side of the bull before ricocheting up again like a boulder bouncing off a trampoline.

Even as he was thrashed around, he worked to free his hand, frantically tugging at the cursed strap that only moments ago he’d praised. Who knew he was so good at wrapping? Each buck made him dizzier and more disoriented. His blood rushed in and out of his head like a tide on crack. Desperation clawed at his brain and he yanked and pulled for all he was worth. Then, just when he was sure he was a goner, the strap gave way and he went flying.

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