Something was off with him. He lacked the warmth that had been present just moments ago. What had changed? Then it dawned on her. The group. Had the men tipping their hats at her bothered him? As if Roth could read her thoughts, he smiled and nestled her closer against him.
Leaning in close to her ear, he said, “I’ll show you a real cowboy when we get back to the room,” then winked.
There was her naughty man. Still, what had prompted the shift she’d seen in him? He’d never displayed any hint of jealousy before. Not wanting to ruin the moment, she didn’t address it. But she would when they returned to the hotel.
For the next two hours they occupied seats in the VIP section, directly above the chutes, and watched bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling and undecorating. Tressa cooed during the mutton busting, where children raced sheep. Though it was quite entertaining, her nerves took a beating. Her worst fear was of one of them falling and breaking something. Luckily, it didn’t happen.
After all of the main events had ended, they decided to do the vendor stroll. Hand in hand, they moved along the trails of vendors peddling everything from wallets to horse saddles. She joked about getting one of the saddles and strapping it onto Roth’s back. He was all for it.
“So, what did you think?” Roth asked, draping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. “You think you want to add cowgirl to your résumé?”
“Heck, yeah,” she said. “And tonight I’ll show you how good I ride.”
“Let’s skip the vendor stroll and the Rawhide Steakhouse. We need to get back to the room right now.”
Tressa bumped him playfully. “You are insatiable.”
“I can’t help it. You bring out the hungry beast in me. And the hungry beast has to pee. I’ll be right back.” Roth started away, but stopped. Backtracking, he pressed a hard kiss to her lips. “Don’t move.”
“I’ll be right here.”
Once Roth disappeared around the corner, Tressa leaned against the metal railing and watched the remainder of the kids’ calf scramble. She laughed aloud as a dozen or more kids chased black calves. And she’d thought the mutton busting was amusing.
Tressa glanced up when something brushed her elbow. A tall, attractive, dark-skinned man wearing a black cowboy hat smiled down at her. Something happened in the arena and the entire place erupted in cheers and applause, drowning out whatever the man had said.
“What?” she yelled.
He leaned in uncomfortably close. “I said cowboys and cowgirls in the making.”
“Looks that way.”
Instead of him leaving, like she would have preferred, he continued chatting her up.
“You’re not from around here,” he said.
Curious, she asked, “Why do you say that?”
“There is close to a thousand people in this arena and you’re the only one not wearing a cowboy hat.”
Tressa sent a glance around her. He was right. She tossed her head back and laughed. “I am not. My boyfriend and I flew up today for the rodeo.”
The man made a pained face, then placed his hand over his heart as if he’d been stabbed. “Oh, the b-word. You just killed me with seven letters.”
“Nine, actually. But who’s counting?”
Dead Man Walking continued to go on and on about something, but Tressa tuned him out. Then as if there had been a shift in the atmosphere, she glanced to see Roth standing several feet away.
Thank God. Maybe now this chatterbox would move on. But instead of Roth joining them, Roth’s steel-cold gaze assessed Dead Man Walking, and judging by Roth’s body language, walking was about to be dropped from the title.
* * *
Extreme turmoil clawed through Roth when he turned the corner to see some man bent over, whispering something in Tressa’s ear. When she laughed, jealousy—a quadrillion times greater than anything he’d ever felt before—tore through him. His throat tightened and pain drummed in his temple.
What the hell had he said to her?
Roth shuddered, resisting the urge to charge like a bull and knock the bastard over the metal rails. He’d never been an insecure man, so he couldn’t explain why the scene in front of him rubbed him so raw. But it did. His jaw tightened and every breath he took was drawn out and heavy, almost like fire in his lungs.