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Skeeter Anderson was born to ride bulls. He bypassed college to shoot straight to the top of the elite pro tour, but lately all he can seem to do is hit the dirt. Unwilling to admit his career might be over at twenty-one, Skeeter brainstorms a bull-riding boot camp with his buddies, which will put him closer to a girl who’s caught his eye—a stock contractor’s daughter called Riley.
EXCERPT (Rated G)
“And Skeeter Anderson hits the ground with the clock stopped at six-point-nine seconds.”
“Well, JW, I have to think that with the number of times this kid’s gotten bucked off, nine out of his last nine outs, odds are he’s used to the taste of arena dirt by now.”
“Used to it or not, this one’s gonna cost him, Jim. Without a qualified ride in this event, his ranking doesn’t make the cut. Skeeter’s officially off the tour for this series.”
“You’re right there, JW. Skeeter will be headed down to the touring pro division until he can get his points up to rank good enough to qualify for the series again. Let’s hope he works out the kinks in his riding and makes it to the finals in Vegas this year.”
Skeeter squinted through the bars on the faceguard of his helmet to see the clock. Seeing his time didn’t change anything. All the digital red glow of the numbers did was confirm what the announcers had said. The clock had stopped at six-point-nine seconds. Close but not close enough when he needed eight seconds to get a score.
Without a qualified ride during his last nine outs, for the first time in years he didn’t rank in the top forty. Only the best riders got to tour with this particular series. Skeeter was no longer one of them. That truth had echoed off the arena walls for thousands of bull riding fans to hear, thanks to the two announcers and their sound system. He pulled out his mouthguard and resisted the urge to throw it.
Sure, he could still ride for this association, but it would be in another division. In this sport, it was the equivalent of a baseball player who’d played in the majors—hell, in the World Series—being sent back to the minor leagues because he wasn’t good enough to cut it in the major leagues anymore. It sucked.
“Tough break, Skeets.” One of the bullfighters slapped Skeeter on the back while handing him his bull rope.
“Yup.” Skeeter grabbed his dusty rope. “Thanks.”
Behind the chutes, Aaron Jordan was there to meet him the moment he walked through the gate. “Don’t let being sent down to the touring pros get to you. You’ll be back here in a week. Two max.”
Aaron’s words had been encouraging on the surface, but all Skeeter could hear was pity behind them. Besides, it would take longer than a week or two to work his way back to where he’d been. But he didn’t bother arguing. What was the point?
“Yeah.” As Skeeter pulled his helmet off, he didn’t have anything more than that to say. He walked away from his friend and traveling partner, heading for where he’d left his hat before the ride.
A nine buck-off streak was too much for Skeeter to wrap his head around after having ranked among the top riders in the country—heck, in the world. They’d called him a prodigy. Joked he’d be the world champion before he was legal to drink.
They’d all been wrong.
Skeeter never ever thought he’d be in this situation, yet here he was. He needed a few seconds alone, but that wasn’t going to happen here and now while he was surrounded by people and cameras.
“What’s going on, kid?”
He turned toward Mustang Jackson, the rider he looked up to with as much respect as he had for the man who’d trained him all those years ago. Unlike Cooper, Mustang had never won the world championship, but he’d placed in the top ten riders consistently, year after year, and he’d been around for a long time.
“I suck, that’s what’s going on.”
Mustang chewed on his bottom lip and nodded. “After watching how you’re riding lately, yeah, I gotta agree with you on that.”
That was not what he’d expected Mustang, the tour cheerleader on most days, to say. A frown settled on Skeeter’s brow.
The older man laughed. “Don’t look at me like that. You know as well as I do, if you can hang on for six-point-nine seconds—”
“I should be able to hang on for eight.” Skeeter finished the sentiment he knew well. He’d heard other riders say it often enough.
“Yup. So, I’ll ask you again, what’s going on with you?”
He blew out a breath. “I don’t know.”
Mustang tipped his head to one side. “I suggest you take some time and figure it out.” Not real helpful advice, in Skeeter’s opinion. If even Mustang couldn’t figure out
what was wrong, after giving all of them good riding advice for years, then there was no hope for Skeeter’s future in this sport. That truth sat in Skeeter’s chest like a lead weight, making it hard to breathe.
He raised his gaze to meet Mustang’s. “I’ll try.”
“You do that, and in the meantime get back to your basics. Hop on some practice bulls. Hell, get back on a damn bucking barrel.”
“The barrel? You serious?” Skeeter’s eyes popped wide. He hadn’t been on a barrel in years. Not since his lessons with Cooper back in Arkansas.
“I never joke about bull riding.” Mustang’s brows rose high. “Just do it, kid. Trust me.” He knocked back the brim of his cowboy hat and was gone.
Ride a practice barrel like the little kids who weren’t old enough to ride bulls? Skeeter had ridden to a sold-out arena in Las Vegas. He’d competed in front of stands packed with thousands of fans. And now, he’d be reduced to riding a barrel in the backyard.
“You okay?” Aaron’s voice brought Skeeter back from where he’d been wallowing in his misery.
“Nope.” If Skeeter could stand to admit to himself his career could very well be over, at least at this level of competition, he might as well admit how miserable he felt about it to his best friend.
“Yeah, didn’t think so.” His traveling partner let out a breath.
Make that former traveling partner. Aaron would still be following this tour circuit, while Skeeter was going back in the touring pros.
“I’m gonna go get out of this stuff.” Helmet in his hand, Skeeter turned and headed for the back. He could pack away his chaps and his vest in his gear bag. There’d be no championship round for him today.
His path to the riders’ dressing room took him down a hallway lined with life-sized posters of past world champions. Some of these men had long since retired from the sport. These were the men Skeeter had grown up idolizing back when he only dreamed of competing pro. Back when his mom had taken on extra shifts to pay for his equipment and later, when he started to compete, for his entry fees. All while he’d mowed every lawn he could find in walking distance to earn money to help.
Some of the champions pictured were still competing. Skeeter had traveled, joked, eaten and prayed with them for the years he’d been with this tour. He’d ridden alongside champions, competing at their level—until now.
Now, it could all be over. His mom’s money and hard work gone to waste. All of Cooper’s countless hours of coaching—all for nothing.
Hoping none of the guys would be in the dressing room, Skeeter bit his lip and fought against the hot sting of tears, not brought on by sadness but anger. Anger at himself. Who else did he have to blame? He’d somehow let this happen, though he had no idea how. Just like he had no idea how he was going to fix it.
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“In Thrown, Cat Johnson has given her readers an enjoyable new love story while satisfying their need for more on characters from the past. She has also given us an interesting look forward, something I’m very excited about, and most of all she’s stayed true to these characters and what they represent. I am one happy reader who is ready to do a complete series re-read just so I can read this book for a third time!” ~SLICK, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews 5 Stars
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