Champion

Studs in Spurs: Cooper

Book Cover: Champion

Once upon a time Cooper Holbrook was a champion, racking up buckles and buckle bunnies with ease. But the years have not been kind to the former bull rider, leaving him so broke and broken he doesn't recognize himself or his life anymore . . . until Hannah Anderson, the mother of his former student Skeeter, swoops into his world.

Hannah reminds Cooper of what he had and what he lost, and most of all, how strong the attraction he'd denied himself then still is between them now.

Champion was previously released by Samhain Publishing. This is a reissue, reedited but with no substantial changes to the story.

Excerpt:

He paid the kid and shoved his change into his pocket before grabbing the beer off the counter. Ready to be home again, he headed out to the truck.

As he fired up the big diesel engine, he made his game plan. Step one, put the beer in the fridge, minus one for himself. Step two, get out of these boots and jeans so he could be comfortable, kick up his feet on the coffee table and maybe watch a little television.

If the pretty little thing he’d left behind was still awake, he’d maybe have some more fun with her. If not, no big deal. He’d gotten off once already tonight, and there was always the morning.

Yup. It was a damn good life he had.

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Cooper tried to remember that when about a mile from the house, the truck’s engine went dead silent. With the power steering and power brakes gone, it took both hands and a good amount of strength to steer the heavy vehicle to the side of the road. He had to stand on the brake pedal to bring the two-ton pickup to a stop.

“What the fuck?” There was no one in the truck to respond to his question, but he could venture a guess at the answer himself. Something had to be wrong with the computer controlling the electrical system.

Frigging new vehicles. Everything was high-tech and computerized nowadays. One little faulty computer chip could leave a man stranded and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to fix it.

Give him a good old car or old truck any day. Something from the last century. That he could take apart and put back together again, but not these new pieces of shit.

It was all a moneymaking racket, designed to make a man have to bring it in to the dealer to get serviced rather than handle it himself.

He knew he shouldn’t have let Glen talk him into buying this thing. He’d been fine with his old truck. He’d liked that truck. He missed it, especially right now.

Glen had wanted him to buy this piece of crap, so Glen could get his ass dressed and come and get him now.

Trying to find his phone Cooper patted the back pockets in his jeans, then the front breast pocket in his shirt. It wasn’t there.

He felt in the console under the dashboard. It wasn’t there either.

“Crap.” He must not have brought it. How could he not have? He always left it on the front table by the keys.

A memory hit and Cooper got a clear vision of exactly where he’d left his cell—plugged into the wall in the kitchen because the battery had been almost dead.

“Shit.” He pounded the dash with the palm of his hand. Hell of a lot of good it would do him there.

Just his luck. Of all the times that phone had been with him and he hadn’t needed it, now that he did, it wasn’t here.

Maybe whatever was wrong with the truck had been a passing fluke. Taking a shot that his luck had changed, Cooper turned the key in the ignition.

Nothing. Dead silence. The damn engine didn’t even turn over. It looked as if he’d be walking the rest of the way home. A mile carrying an eighteen-pack.

On the upside, this could serve as his exercise for the weekend since he hadn’t done a hell of a lot much else.

Trying to look on the bright side only pissed him off more, so he grabbed the beer and got out of the truck. After locking the door behind him, he pocketed the keys and let the bad mood consume him with every footstep he took toward home.

Cooper resisted the urge to count each and every step so he could rub it in Glen’s face when he finally got there. Glen had talked him into buying the truck. Glen had brought to his attention the fact that they needed beer, and he hadn’t offered to get it himself. This was clearly all Glen’s fault.

You’re making money now, Coop. Why not treat yourself? When could you ever afford a new truck before this? As he put one boot in front of the other, Cooper remembered the truck conversation with Glen clearly.

Bullshit. Two years old and his new truck was breaking down along the side of the highway. His old truck had never left him stranded like this.

Lights coming up from behind him had Cooper turning. Thank God. Maybe whoever it was would give him a ride. He squinted into the glare.

Supporting the weight of the beer in one arm, he stuck his thumb out like a damn hitchhiker and hoped for the best. The car slowed and then pulled onto the shoulder just in front of him.

He jogged to the passenger side. As the window rolled down, he leaned low. “Hey. Thanks for stopping. I broke down. I live just—”

“I know. I saw your truck back there. Get in, Cooper. I’ll take you home.” The familiarity of her voice jostled his memory, though he was having trouble pinning down who it belonged to.

He reached out, grabbed hold of the handle and opened the door.  The overhead dome light illuminated a familiar face that had him smiling. “Hey, funny meeting you here.”

“Lucky is more like. You’re close to home, but not close enough to be walking. Especially at this time of night. You could get run down being on foot on this dark road.”

“You ain’t kidding.” Cooper slid into the passenger seat and put the beer on the floor between his feet. Slamming the door, he turned toward the woman he knew, but not nearly well enough. “I feel ridiculous saying this, but I don’t even know your first name.”

She laughed. “That’s not really a surprise. Since Skeeter calls me Mom, there’s no reason you would know my first name.”

“Yeah, and I figured I probably shouldn’t call you Mom too. Now, I could call you Mrs. Anderson—” He cocked a brow and let that suggestion hang in the air, hoping she’d give him an alternative to that formality.

“No.” She shook her head. “I haven’t felt like Mrs. Anderson for quite a few years now. If it weren’t for me wanting to have the same last name as Skeeter, I would have gone back to my maiden name long ago. But anyway, just Hannah is fine.”

“Hannah.” He rolled the name around on his tongue and in his mind. “That’s pretty. I like it.”

That wasn’t any bullshit either, though he’d been known to throw the shit on occasion. Especially if it got him what he wanted with a woman.

Next to him, she shrugged. As she flipped on her directional signal, she glanced in the rearview mirror before pulling out onto the road. “I guess it’s okay. I always wanted something more exotic. My name seems so . . . sensible.”

Hannah Anderson might be the most sensible woman he’d ever met. He figured he shouldn’t say that, because from what he knew, she lived that way out of necessity, not by choice.

Her husband had abandoned her and her son years ago. Back when the kid was only seven. Skeeter, with the indiscretion of youth, had spilled that tidbit during his first bull-riding lesson with Cooper.

Aside from having never heard her first name until now, Cooper had gotten quite a lot of other information regarding this woman from the boy. He’d let out his mother worked two jobs, a day shift and a night shift, six sometimes seven days a week. Obviously, it was a struggle for her to support the two of them as a single mother.

The kid had also informed Cooper that his mother didn’t work Sunday mornings because that’s when they went to church. Meanwhile, Coop’s biggest concern regarding Sunday was that he couldn’t buy beer.

They lived in different worlds, him and her, yet they’d somehow collided thanks to one little boy who wanted to learn to ride bucking bulls.

“So, you on your way home from work?” Cooper eyed her waitress outfit. One of those god-awful, ugly blue-and-white polyester dresses diners made their staff wear for some inexplicable reason. Though even in the unflattering dress, he could see she had some damn nice curves on her.

Her light-brown hair was pulled up in a tight bun at the back of her head, just like it always had been when he’d seen her either dropping off Skeeter or picking him up. That was likely because she’d been coming directly from one of her jobs—the first as a nurse at the hospital and another at the diner. He supposed both occupations required that her hair be kept up and out of the way.

Whatever the reason for it, the style made Cooper want to set her confined tresses free. Watch her hair cascade down her back so he could run his hands through the silky strands. Bury his nose in it and see what she smelled like up close.

“I had the late shift at the diner. Good tips on a Saturday night, so I don’t mind too much.”

“And Skeeter? Where’s he at while you’re working?”

“He’s home. Hopefully in bed sleeping, though more likely he’s up watching television. When his grandfather was alive, they’d be home together while I worked, but my father’s no longer with us.”

“Yeah. Skeeter mentioned that. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you. Anyway, Skeeter refuses to stay with a sitter anymore. He’s eleven now. I was babysitting other people’s kids at his age, so I guess I can’t argue. And I’ve known our neighbors forever so he could always go to them if he got scared.” She drew in a breath and let it out before continuing. “I suppose compared to letting him ride those damn bulls he loves so much, leaving him home alone for a few hours is nothing.”

She sounded weary. It made Cooper want to wrap his arms around her and hug her. The urge was so unlike him that it set his head spinning. But hell, maybe it wasn’t such a strange impulse after all, because he wanted to do far more than just hug her. At least that urge was familiar territory.

“Here we are. Home, sweet home.” She’d already pulled into his driveway, but until she’d said something, he hadn’t realized it. He’d been so enthralled by this woman and the unnecessarily hard life she lived that he hadn’t noticed they’d already covered the short distance to his place.

He wanted to say something before he got out and let her drive away. “He’s a great kid, Hannah. God knows, I’m no expert, but I think you’re doing a really good job with him.”

“Thanks.” She let out a sigh. “It just doesn’t feel like enough. If you didn’t let him come here to work and ride, he’d have no man in his life at all. That’s no way for a boy to grow up.”

Unable to deal with the enormity of the reality that he was the only male influence in this impressionable kid’s life, Cooper shook his head. “Having no father in his life is far better than having a bad one. Believe me, I know.” He’d learned that from his own childhood.

Still, a question remained. Why this woman was alone was beyond him. Were men nowadays so stupid they couldn’t recognize a keeper when they saw one? Cooper could see clearly Hannah was just that, but he wasn’t in the market for a wife or a kid.

The outdoor light on his front porch filtered into the car so he could see her as she shook her head. “I just want more for him, you know?”

“You deserve more too. So much more. One day, you’re gonna get it.” Just because Cooper couldn’t have a future with her, didn’t mean he shouldn’t make her feel better about herself.

She raised her eyes to meet his. “You think so? I’m not so sure.”

“I know so.” Cooper found himself leaning toward her as she leaned in toward him. When had they gotten so close? He could hear every breath she took even over the sound of the motor running.

“Thanks. I hope you’re right.” Her gaze dropped to his lips before she raised it back to his eyes.

Crap. He could think of nothing else but closing that distance and kissing this woman, even though she was the last person on earth he should be kissing. “Hannah.”

“Yeah?” She latched onto her lower lip with her teeth.

He tracked the movement with his eyes. “I can’t do this.”

“Do what?”

He swallowed but his throat still felt dry. “Kiss you.”

“But you’re not kissing me.” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“No, but I want to.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And I want you to.”

“Christ.” Sanity lost, he crashed his mouth against hers.

She responded with an enthusiasm to match his own, reaching up and grabbing the back of his head with both hands. She slid her tongue between his lips and he groaned.

After being with girls who were too young to know what the hell they wanted, it felt good being with a woman who not only knew, but was ready to take, what she needed from him.

Hannah sat facing him in the seat with one knee bent. When Cooper reached out, he connected with the bare skin of her leg.

Her skirt and the position made it too damn easy for him. He slid his hand up the inside of her thigh. She dragged in a ragged breath through her nose. That only encouraged him to go where he knew he shouldn’t, all the way to the crotch of her underwear. She responded by leaning in and kissing him harder, tangling her tongue with his.

He rubbed a thumb over her most sensitive spot through the soft cotton and a visible shudder ran through her. Christ almighty, she was responsive. He repeated the action, and Hannah rewarded him with a tiny sound so raw and full of need it sent a shiver down his spine.

What he could do with some time, a little more space and her naked. Or hell, even if he just slid that finger beneath those underwear and into her.

What would she do when he spread her wide and worked her in earnest?

His mind boggled at the thought—before the image of Skeeter’s goofy grin careened into his brain.

Cooper remembered how excited the kid had been when he’d agreed to take him on for lessons. How Skeeter had run to tell his mother, smiling from ear to ear. How concerned she’d looked when she’d no doubt began to calculate the many costs of having a son who wanted to learn to be a bull rider.

What kind of a man was he, taking advantage of a woman like Hannah?

The girl he’d picked up at the bar was inside, and he was just yards away with his hand up the dress of the mother of one of his students.

He was one sick motherfucker.

The accuracy of that particular term in this situation would have made him laugh, if he hadn’t been so disgusted with himself.

Cooper pulled his hand away and broke the kiss. “Hannah, I can’t do this.”

“I know. I’m not the kind of woman you’re used to. I’m not all doe-eyed and just out of school. I don’t own pretty clothes. I’m just plain and old and tired.” Pulling away, she dropped her arms from around his neck and let out a breath. “It’s okay. I understand. You’re not interested.”

“You shut the hell up.” He grabbed her face in his hands to force her to look at him. “You’re not any of that. You’re amazing. Any man would respect and admire you. Any woman should want to be like you.” Cooper dropped his hold on her. “And that’s why you need to steer as far away from me as you can. You deserve a man far better than me, Hannah. You and Skeeter both.”

“What do you mean?” A crease marred her brow as she shook her head. “Cooper, you’re the best man I know.”

“No, I’m not.” He let out a snort. How could she be so grounded in some respects and so naïve in others?

“You are. You took on teaching my son for free when you knew I couldn’t afford to pay you.”

He waved her gratitude away. “So what? That’s nothing but some time I would have wasted doing something else otherwise.”

“It’s not nothing. It’s absolutely everything to Skeeter.”

Cooper was in no position to be everything to anyone. Not to the kid or to her. “Let me tell you about me. I’m drunk most days. I spend far too much money. I don’t give a shit about anybody but myself and I’ll fuck any woman who’ll spread her legs for me.”

He’d been deliberately harsh. He had to be, because she was looking at him with hero worship he didn’t deserve and wasn’t sure he could resist.

Hannah shook her head. “Even if that’s all true, I don’t care about any of it.”

He let out a bitter laugh. “You should care.”

“Maybe I’m tired of doing what I should.” Her tone told him he could have her right here, right now, if he wanted.

This woman had been so trodden upon by life, and probably by Skeeter’s father too, that Cooper could unzip his jeans, shove those plain cotton drawers of hers to one side and plunge into her, no questions asked.

It would be very tempting to do exactly that. But for once in his life, he was going to do the right thing.

Unlike the girl inside, who he had no intention of ever running across again, Hannah was someone he’d have to see. Soon too. The next time this sweet, hardworking, caring woman brought her son around.

Cooper knew exactly where his soul would be going when the time came to put him in the ground, and it wasn’t where this woman would end up when her time came. He wouldn’t be the one to tarnish her goodness.

“Go home, Hannah. It’s late.” He opened the door, grabbed the bag with the beer inside from the floorboard and climbed out of the car. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Wait. Should I still bring Skeeter over to work next week . . . or not?” Her question, as well as the hesitation he heard in it, stopped Cooper dead in his tracks.

When he turned back, he saw the uncertainty in her expression. All it did was make him angry. At her for not being stronger and threatening to kick his ass if he did back out of their deal over something like this. At himself for acting like a horny prick with his hand up her skirt in the front seat of her car.

“Of course, you bring him. Dammit, Hannah, don’t you see? Skeeter’s what’s keeping me from burying myself in you so deep neither one of us would come up for air for hours. Yes, I’ll still work with him, I’ll teach him, but you need a good man to be a father to him and a husband to you. That man sure as fuck ain’t me.” Cooper remembered the other thing that had yanked him away from Hannah’s tempting lips. “Now, ’scuse me. I need to get back inside because there’s a girl I barely know waiting on me to fuck her. And I’m gonna, then say goodbye and hope I never see her again. That’s the kind of guy I am, Hannah. You need to remember that.”

She pursed her lips and shook her head. “No. That’s the kind you think you are, but you’re not. Not really.”

Cooper let out a breath. “Woman, you need to believe a man when he tells you the truth.”

“When you do, I will.”

Now she decided to grow a backbone. Shaking his head, Cooper slammed the door of the car and took a step back.

COLLAPSE

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