This is my stop during the book blitz for My Favorite Story by Hilary Dartt. In this new contemporary romance book sparks fly between a bull rider who hates reporters and the reporter assigned to cover his three-month bull riding tour.
This book blitz is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The book blitz runs from 13 till 19 May. See the tour schedule here.
My Favorite Story (Mint Creek Ranch Series #1)
By Hilary Dartt
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Age category: Adult
Release Date: 13 May, 2022
When reporter Tessa Kincaid sees a job listing for a mysterious three-month assignment with bonus pay, she applies immediately. It doesn’t matter what it is—she needs the money. The first night in her new town, she spends several sensual hours dancing with a sexy cowboy she believes she’ll never see again.
The next morning, she discovers that man is bull rider Cody Davis, whose comeback tour she’ll be covering for the next three months … and that he hates reporters.
The last thing Cody Davis needs is a distraction—especially one as hot (and as great of a kisser) as Tessa Kincaid. Strict focus is the only way he’ll win the championship this year.
The two of them develop a tenuous professional relationship, their chemistry simmering just below the surface. When Cody finally begins to trust Tessa, though, she starts disappearing every night.
As the championship approaches, Cody must decide whether their relationship is an unwelcome distraction, or exactly what he needs to win the title, and Tessa realizes she’s in danger of losing everything—including the man she’s falling in love with.
For a small town, Prescott, Arizona sure knew how to throw a party. The rodeo dance was set up in the big parking lot of the feed and supply store. A chain-link fence surrounded the dance floor and bar. String lights zigzagged across the top of the chain-link. Montana insisted they show up an hour after it started, “to make sure things were really in full swing,” and sure enough, the place was teeming with people. After an afternoon under Montana’s tutelage, Tessa could already spot the difference between the real cowboys and the fake ones, and between the genuine cowgirls and the one-night wannabes chasing after the real cowboys.
As soon as they paid to get in, they made their way to the end of yet another line—the one for the bar.
That’s when Tessa saw him.
Old, worn boots. Jeans that looked like he spent the day out on the ranch. A white T-shirt that looked like he put no effort into dressing up, but proved that he put a lot of effort into something: the cotton stretched across his muscles — forearms, biceps, pecs — in a way that made Tessa’s mouth water. Definitely a real cowboy. He wore a black cowboy hat, so Tessa couldn’t really see his hair, but his dark sideburns ended where his 5 o’clock shadow began. His face was rugged, chiseled. And when he made eye contact with her, Tessa saw that his eyes were a startling, piercing blue.
She noticed, just for a split second, that his expression was bored, like he didn’t want to be there. But once their eyes locked, it took on an interest, an awareness.
And as she saw that, a burst of energy shot right down between her legs. She felt her face flush even though no one could have known.
“What are you —” Montana made a groaning noise. “Oh. Those are the Mint Creek Ranch boys.”
Tessa broke eye contact with the cowboy and became aware that he was flanked by two other guys. Well. They sure made ‘em good-looking in Prescott.
“That’s Sawyer.” Montana jutted her chin toward the trio. Tessa swallowed. She detected a note of wistfulness in Montana’s voice. She hoped to hell Montana wasn’t talking about the one in the black hat.
Feigning simple curiosity, she said, “Which one?”
Montana sighed. “The one in the red shirt.”
What a relief. “And who is this Sawyer?”
“Only Sawyer Nelson, the past future father of my children. The man I was going to marry.”
Tessa had so many questions, but now it was their turn to order drinks.
“I’ll get this round,” Tessa told Montana. “What’ll it be?”
“Seeing as those three are here, I guess I’m going to need something a little stronger than beer. Get me a shot of tequila, will you?”
Tessa ordered two shots for each of them. They took the first one then and there, slamming their shot glasses down on the counter before making their way to the edge of the dance floor. Once they found a spot where they could watch the electric sliding and two-stepping and dipping, Montana threw back her second shot and said, “I’m heading to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
Alone, Tessa sat down on a hay bale and began to take in all the detail she could. Wasn’t the whole point of this exercise to get a feel for the town’s atmosphere? Again, she noticed how friendly everyone was. Just like they had on the plaza earlier that afternoon, people greeted her with smiles and hellos. Although she should, she didn’t feel like a stranger there.
That is, until a pair of jeans, filled out in the best possible way, obstructed her view. She had to lean back to look up and see who the muscular legs belonged to, and she couldn’t quite fight the quick shot of pure lust that ignited in her belly when she realized it was the blue-eyed cowboy from the bar.
Now he was smiling at her, and the effect was so disarming, she smiled right back. Then she realized she probably looked like an idiot, so delighted to be smiled at by this extremely handsome man. She tried to tone it down, but then he said, “Would you like to dance?”
So many questions rushed through Tessa’s mind in that moment. Where was Montana? Where were the other two cowboys? Who was this guy? Did she even know how to dance?
“I’ll admit, silence isn’t the response I’m used to.” His eyes twinkled, and Tessa laughed out loud.
“It’s just — I came with someone, and I —”
“Oh.” He looked disappointed. “If I’d known you’d come with someone …”
“Oh! Not a he someone, a friend. A colleague. It’s not —”
“Well, that’s a relief. I guess you don’t have any excuse not to dance with me, then.”
Tessa held up her full shot. “I haven’t finished this yet.”
“Well, get to it. And then we can dance.”
Tessa didn’t even bother trying to resist. What better way than dancing with a real, actual cowboy, from a real, actual ranch, to experience Prescott life? She tossed back the tequila, stood, and threw the empty shot glass in the trash.
The cowboy held out his hand and she took it, immediately noticing the feel of his calloused skin. Suddenly, an image of his rough palm against her stomach, making its way up to cup her breast, flashed itself on the front of her consciousness. She shivered.
“It’s June in Prescott! Are you cold?”
“No,” Tessa rushed to say. “Just got a shiver, that’s all. Probably the tequila.”
“The cowboy turned to face her and took her other hand in his, backing up, pulling her with him onto the dance floor. His eyes locked on hers, he said, “Somehow I don’t think it’s the tequila.”
Then he winked and pulled her close, just as a slow song started. He settled one hand on her waist and with his other, he held her hand. Although the position was old-fashioned, Tessa found that she liked it. His mouth was just next to her ear, and when he spoke, his voice sent a skittering of goosebumps over her skin.
“You’re not from around here.”
Tessa didn’t miss the fact that it was a statement, not a question.
“No.” She didn’t know how much to say. She was a woman, traveling alone. She would be hanging out around town and returning alone to a hotel room every night for the next week until they left on tour. Yes, maybe she had the hots for this guy, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a serial killer. As she’d done many times in her work, she decided it was best if she took control of the conversation.
“Born and raised.”
“This is my first rodeo dance,” Tessa said. “You come to them often?”
“Nah. When I do, it’s because my friends drag me along.”
“Why do they have to drag you?”
Just for the briefest of moments, she felt his shoulder tense under her palm. “Not really my thing. I’d rather be at home, watching the sunset from my back deck.”
Well, Tessa thought, that sounded pretty pleasant. “Is that what you do to unwind?”
Although the conversation had been flowing so nicely, Tessa’s new companion stiffened. Then he seemed to remember they’d never met, and therefore, the question was purely innocent.
“Do I look like I need to unwind?” His voice held a little humor, but also real curiosity.
“To be honest,” Tessa said, “Yeah. When I saw you standing there with your friends, you looked bored. Like you’d rather be somewhere else. And, honestly, you looked stressed.”
Quite to Tessa’s surprise, he threw his head back and laughed. “You got all that from one look at me?”
Tessa wasn’t sure what to say. There was an edge to his voice. She sensed she had better step carefully. She wanted to keep dancing with him. For some strange reason, even though she’d just met the guy, she wanted to be the one to relieve that stress.
Besides, at this point, her body might revolt if she tried to walk away.
In an effort to keep the mood light, she leaned back so they could look at each other, and she smiled. “Yeah.”
“Well,” he said, smiling widely back at her, “I guess you’ve nailed it. I’d say that’s an accurate representation of my attitude tonight. Most nights, actually.”
He pulled her close again and she said, “I do have a keen sense of observation.”
She felt him laughing. They didn’t speak again.
As the slow song faded out, the drummer threw in a few quick beats and the music came back to life with a rousing tune that had people pouring onto the dance floor. Tessa figured this mysterious cowboy would want to call it quits with her, so he could head out into the crowd and find another woman to dance with. But he surprised her by grabbing one of her hands and twirling her around before pulling her back into the same slow dance position.
“I don’t really know how to dance to this music,” she said.
“Lucky for you, I do. I’m an excellent leader.”
True to his word, the cowboy twirled her and swung her and dipped her in time with this fast music, and by the end of the song, she felt herself gasping through her laughter.
“Pretty good for a newbie,” he said.” But it looks like you could use some water. I’ll get us some.”
Tessa figured this was it: his out. She told herself she’d wait on the edge of the dance floor for a couple of minutes, and when he didn’t come back, she’d return to observational mode and write this off as a moment she’d remember for the rest of her life.
But before he’d taken more than four or five strides towards the bar where the self-serve water cooler sat, he turned around and came back.
“Want to come with me?” He pointed toward the bar and said, “I don’t want some other dude to snatch you up while I’m gone. I think I’ve got at least another dance or two in me.”
Teenage-girl excitement swelled up inside Tessa’s torso, and she found herself grinning again. “Sure.”
Sure, like she didn’t mind either way. Sure, like she hadn’t just been imagining him in her hotel room bed. Sure, like she hadn’t gone so far as to consider what he’d want for breakfast. Even if she was never going to see him again.
He gestured for her to go ahead of him and she tried to walk without sashaying. Somehow he managed to beat her to the water cooler, where he poured them each a cup of water.
Maybe it was the tequila, or maybe it was the state she was in, but Tessa started talking and couldn’t quite seem to stop.
“You know, I never liked country music much. But listening to it here, tonight, it does have some pretty good stories, doesn’t it? It really has a good beat, too,” she said. “And you’re right, you’re an excellent dancer.”
Then she giggled, a bona fide girly giggle. The cowboy seemed amused by this. Tessa didn’t know if amusement was what she was going for. But he did look more relaxed than he had a little while ago. She sincerely hoped it was thanks to her.
“So what else do you do, aside from sitting on your back porch watching the sunset?”
His expression turned serious. “I like riding my horses. Trail rides, sightseeing. You know.”
“Actually, I don’t know. I think I’ve only seen maybe three horses my entire life. They’re so big and powerful. They kind of scare me.”
She saw him catch the innuendo, and her face burned. A movement behind the cowboy caught Tessa’s eye. It was Montana, waving wildly, motioning for Tessa to come over. She didn’t look upset, though, and Tessa couldn’t bear to tear herself away from her new dance partner. So she waved back and when the cowboy said, “Then what are you doing here? You know Prescott is pretty much the Old West,” she gave him her full attention.
Tessa didn’t feel quite ready to reveal the truth about why she was here. People didn’t often trust reporters. They assumed journalists were always looking for secrets that they’d store up to spill to the world at the most inopportune time. Which wasn’t true. But still. She decided to keep it simple. “I’m here for work.”
He looked like he wanted to ask her something else, but the music changed again. This time it was a song even Tessa recognized.
“Take one more drink,” the cowboy said. “You’ve gotta dance with me to this one.”
A few seconds later, they were back on the dance floor, bodies pressed together. Tessa could feel the heat of his skin through the thin fabric of her dress. Desire, hot and fierce, made her body vibrate with unmet need.
It couldn’t be love. Certainly not after less than an hour and a few country songs. It was tequila, and atmosphere, and being in a new place.
At the same time, Tessa knew it was something special. She decided then and there that she would commit every single detail of the night to memory.
* * *
One song melted into the next and into the next, and Tessa danced with the cowboy through every single one of them. She didn’t think she had ever had this much fun in her whole life. She couldn’t wait to call her mom and tell her all about it.
The evening passed so quickly that Tessa couldn’t believe it when the band’s singer announced, “All right, Prescott! You’ve been a great audience tonight! One last song. Let’s close it out with a bang!”
“Is it midnight already?”
“Why, is your carriage going to turn into a pumpkin?” He looked at her with such tenderness she couldn’t believe they’d met only a couple of hours ago. It was as if he, too, was memorizing every detail of the evening, knowing it was all they had.
But maybe … this would be her home base for three months, after all. She hadn’t told him as much, but maybe she should.
“Last dance?” he said, and even though it was another exciting, fast-paced tune, he pulled her in as if it were slow and lilting. They swayed, so close together Tessa swore she could feel him breathing.
In that moment, everything seemed to fall away and it was just the two of them on that dance floor under the stars.
Then, quite suddenly, Tessa felt tears stinging the back of her eyes. Did this have to end? She willed herself not to cry over what was obviously a one-night experience.
She was a city girl and he belonged here, in the country. In three short months, she would return to her normal city life, covering city things like council meetings and budgets. If it were possible, that thought made her even more sad.
After what felt like a snap of the fingers, the last song ended. A pair of floodlights in each of the corners flicked on. This should have immediately zapped the romance out of the moment, but he was looking at her again, sadness mixed with the tenderness she’d seen before.
Suddenly, Tessa remembered Montana — it was time to go, and she hadn’t seen her since the waving. Now, the dance floor was almost empty, and there was no sign of her.
“Your friend?” The cowboy said. Tessa nodded. “I’ve seen her off and on throughout the night but I don’t know where she ended up. And we didn’t exchange numbers.”
“You came with your friend but you don’t have her phone number?”
“Well, really, we just met. I didn’t expect for us to get separated. And it’s been a whirlwind of a day. I don’t think either one of us even thought about it, since we were attached at the hip all afternoon.”
“What’s your friend’s name?”
“Montana,” Tessa said. “I forget her last name.”
“Hart,” the cowboy said.
“Right,” Tessa said. “That’s it.”
“I’ll bet I know where she’s gotten to.”
“You know Montana?”
“Sweetheart, in a town like Prescott, everybody knows everybody. Nobody’s a stranger. Which means,” he added, tapping his temple as if she should remember this, “no privacy, either. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks Montana’s run off with my man Sawyer.”
The infamous Sawyer. That made sense, based on the way Montana was looking at him earlier, like being near him was equally torturous and rapturous.
“Where are you staying? I’ll see you home, and I’ll call Sawyer to check on Montana.”
Again, Tessa stalled, uncertain about whether she should reveal where she was staying. He didn’t seem like a serial killer … but they rarely did … What if he sneaked into her hotel room in the middle of the night —
His laugh, loud and deep, interrupted her thoughts. “I’m not going to follow you up to your hotel room and pull out a knife, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ll drop you off at the door, make sure you get safely inside. My offer to see you home is pure chivalry.”
This had her laughing, too. “Okay. And I’d really appreciate it if you’d just make sure Montana is okay.”
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and dialed. When he didn’t get an answer, he said, “That son of a gun. Glutton for punishment, that one.”
“What you mean?”
But he didn’t answer. He was too busy typing what Tessa assumed was a text message.
“We’ll give him two minutes and then I’ll call him again. You drive here?”
“Montana and I walked. I’m staying over at the Saint Michael.”
It was an old brick hotel on one corner of the downtown plaza.
The cowboy nodded. “I know the place. Shall we?” He offered his arm and Tessa put hers through, noticing the way his bicep felt: warm and hard and — she had to stop thinking this way, immediately.
The feed store was two blocks from the downtown plaza, and Tessa wished it were farther. She wished they could walk all night.
“So what was it like to grow up here?” she asked as they started off.
“Quiet, mostly. I had the best childhood. Riding, frog catching, fishing. Like I said, everybody knows everybody, so there’s no privacy. My mom knew everything before I had the chance to tell her any of it. She knew when Sawyer and I got in a fist fight in sixth grade and I broke his nose. She knew when we got in a fist fight in eighth grade and he broke mine. I loved it, though. Still do. I guess that’s why I’ve stuck around all this time.”
Tessa wanted to ask him if he’d like to raise his own family here, but she thought that might seem too forward. So she said, “You and Sawyer are brothers then?”
“Practically. For all intents and purposes, yes. We grew up on the ranch together. Our parents’ properties are adjacent. His parents owned a farm and our parents did lots of trading. Including the kids.” Now he chuckled. “Growing up, that was just the status quo. But now I realize it was a special, special thing. And then there’s the other guy you saw tonight. His parents had the property on the other side of Sawyer’s. So the three of us, plus my sister Annie, were constantly running around Prescott like a bunch of ruffians.”
By now, they were back at the square, and they stopped at the corner across from Tessa’s hotel. They turned to face each other. Tessa could picture him as a little kid, a dusting of freckles across his sunburned nose, mischief just behind his smile at every turn.
“I’ve never had a night like this, though,” he said.
“I haven’t either.”
She wanted to tell him so many things: that she’d never danced with anyone like that before. That she never imagined tearing off all her clothes in public, just to get closer to him. That she doubted she’d ever experience something like this again. In his eyes, she could see the reflection of the crosswalk signal turning to illuminate that it was their turn to cross. But he didn’t say anything, just kept looking at her.
“Do you think you’ll ever come back to Prescott?” he asked.
She nodded. The streets around them were deserted. This scene was so picturesque.
“It’s a really cute town,” she said. “Plus, maybe I’d run into you.”
He smiled. “I sure hope so.”
They walked across the street. The lights were on in the hotel lobby, and Tessa could see the receptionist behind the desk.
“Well, I guess this is good night,” he said.
Again, they stood facing each other, holding hands. Tessa let her eyes roam over his face, doing everything she could to ensure she would remember the precise color of his eyes, the exact shape of his chin.
“May I kiss you?”
Tessa glanced toward the hotel lobby, and Cody laughed. “I know. I said there are no secrets in Prescott. But don’t worry. That’s old Mrs. Meyer. She’s about as old as they come, and blind as a bat.”
“Then I would love for you to kiss me.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
He turned, rotating their bodies so Tessa was against the brick wall. He brushed her lips with his, gently at first. Tessa’s body responded. She grabbed his waist, pulling his hips against hers. She swore she could feel him through the denim. Her nipples hardened and she felt a rush of heat in her lower belly. A moan—completely involuntary—slipped out as she wrapped her hands around the back of his neck and deepened the kiss. His tongue slipped between her lips, tasting, teasing, and the kissing became even more passionate.
If they didn’t stop this now, she’d be inviting him up to her room. And if it were true that everyone knew everyone else’s business, word would get out. That would put her new assignment, and maybe even her whole career, at risk. Then, she’d be saying goodbye to all that money.
She ended the kiss, but her body wanted more. Her heart pounded and her lips felt swollen. She put her forehead against his chest and said, “I think I’d better go.”
He tilted her chin up, so they were eye to eye and said, “This has been a really special night.”
She couldn’t bring herself to respond. If she did, she might cry. So she nodded, and as soon as he gave her the space, she ducked under his arm and through the doors of the hotel lobby.
About the Author:
Hilary Dartt loves great adventures, whether she’s writing, reading, or living them. The author of nine women’s fiction novels, Hilary lives in Arizona’s high desert with her husband, their three children, her Weimaraner and running partner, Leia, a failed barn cat, and a flock of chickens. She loves camping, exploring in the Jeep, and dance parties with her kids.
There is a tour wide giveaway for the book blitz of My Favorite Story. One winner wins ecopies of all three books in the Mint Creek Ranch series.
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