Walker grumbled under his breath as the taxi pulled up to the arena. Horses. Why did it have to be horses?
He wasn’t a really big animal fan, and now they expected him to babysit some pretty-pretty princess rodeo queen. Perfect. Just perfect. What had he done to deserve this kind of assignment?
“Not from around here, are you, pal?” the taxi driver asked.
The FBI agent lifted a brow. “What gave me away?” he asked sarcastically, handing some money to the driver. The hour-and-a-half drive from the airport certainly hadn’t helped cool his temper any.
The driver shook his head. “Word of caution. Watch your back with these roughnecks. They don’t always take kindly to strangers. Especially ones dressed like Feds.”
Walker silently laughed. If the driver only knew. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.”
He grabbed his dark-brown leather duffel before sliding out of the taxi. It pulled away as soon as he’d shut the door.
Walker scanned the rodeo grounds with his hazel eyes. Trucks and trailers lined each side of the dirt road, and horses were either tied or penned up between the trailers.
A few dogs chased around a group of kids, who were yipping and laughing, while the cowboys and cowgirls got ready for the show that afternoon.
Walker sighed. He definitely didn’t fit into this crowd. Well, there was no changing that.
He just adjusted his black suit coat, letting it hide his shoulder holster and badge. No sense in riling anyone up. He slipped a picture out of the end pocket of his duffel and studied it. Perfect.
How was he supposed to find one cowgirl among many? And this wasn’t a normal assignment. He couldn’t just go asking where she was.
That would only get people suspicious, and he didn’t need that. Walker slipped the picture into his suit coat pocket. Well, here goes nothing.
Colby Parks finished brushing out Levi’s gleaming buckskin coat. The gelding’s back left hoof was cocked, and his head hung low as he dozed in the afternoon sun.
Sometimes it was hard to believe that he was a champion barrel racer. The cowgirl smiled fondly at her beloved horse before stepping to the cab of her new Tundra and grabbing her digital camera.
The green-eyed twenty-eight-year-old loved taking pictures. And she’d discovered that she could get some awesome pictures while everyone was getting prepared for their events.
Colby pulled her beige cowboy hat lower on her head to shield her eyes from the sun as she stepped out onto the dirt road.
Before she had a chance to decide which direction to go, she caught sight of someone who didn’t belong in this scene.
She snapped a quick picture, allowing her to study him a bit longer without being so obvious. Black suit and tie, dark sunglasses, spit-and-polish shoes.
He had cop written all over him. She sighed and blew her bangs out of her face. She had a feeling she knew just why he was there.
The cowgirl slipped her camera into her back pocket before walking toward the cop. She ignored the looks from some of her fellow competitors.
No one on the circuit knew who she really was, so there was no reason for pretty boy to be there. Dust swirled around her boots as she closed the distance between herself and the cop.
“Come with me,” she hissed, grabbing his hand before he could protest.
She’d had her fill of cops over the past ten years. She’d thought she’d managed to give them the slip when she’d gone to college and then joined the rodeo circuit.
Apparently, her freedom was about to end. Colby was nearly knocked off her feet as the cop stopped. She spun around, fury written all over her face.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she snarled, standing in the middle of the roadway.
Whispers and snickers could be heard around them. Colby ignored them as she stared down the cop. If she weren’t so angry, she would’ve noticed how good-looking he was.
He filled his suit out nicely, and he had the type of thick, wavy hair that a girl would love to run her fingers through.
“Miss Parks,” he said, his deep, raspy voice stopping her in her tracks. “Your father…”
Colby held a hand up. “Let’s get something straight right now, Mr., ah…”
“Agent Walker Langley.”
“Well, Agent Langley, Senator Hoffmann is NOT my father. He’s my stepfather. No one even knows I have any connection to him. I don’t need any protection. And why the FBI? Not enough crimes to solve?”
Walker frowned. It was easy to see by his narrowed eyes that he was trying hard not to lose his temper.
“Listen here, you spoiled little rodeo queen, I don’t want to be here either, but I don’t question my superiors.”
Colby stared in shock. No one had ever talked back to her like that. She adjusted her purple-and-black-rimmed glasses before replying.
“Then I’m glad we agree. So why don’t you just run home to your pretty little wife and perfect job and leave me alone?”
Walker growled and grabbed her arm.
“Let go,” she demanded.
Walker stopped by her trailer and pushed her against the cold aluminum side. She winced slightly from the impact.
“I would like nothing more than to just turn around and leave,” he snapped.
“But my conscience won’t let me. Your brother was killed today to get to your father. I will not stand by and see you killed too.”
“Jordan?” she whispered, her knees buckling under her. “But I just talked to him.”
Colby shook her head in disbelief. She’d never been close to her parents, but her stepbrother was a different story. Despite their age difference, the two had been the best of friends.
And now he was gone? Colby closed her eyes, suddenly feeling faint. She soon collapsed into Walker’s arms.
Walker stood in the shadows of the trailers and watched as Colby trotted her horse toward the arena. The woman still looked shaken up, but he knew from experience that cowgirls wouldn’t quit.
He ran a hand through his hair. His years of training should have cautioned him not to just blurt out what had happened to her brother. That had been callous, even for him.
He didn’t know what had gotten into him except that Miss Colby Parks had gotten under his skin. Well, it wasn’t going to happen again.
Colby was under his protection, and he’d never lost anyone before. It wasn’t about to happen now either. He was going to stick to Colby like glue, no matter what she felt about it.
Walker ripped his black-and-gray tie off and shoved it in his coat pocket. Next, he unbuttoned the top two buttons of his dress shirt and ditched his coat.
He slipped his gun in the waistband of his pants under his shirt.
This was a crowd he wasn’t looking forward to having to blend in with, but the letter he’d received hadn’t left him much room for argument.
He’d just have to count on his team to settle this case quickly before he went insane.
He stepped closer to the arena to see the riders better. If asked later, Walker would say it was merely professional curiosity.
He needed to get to better know the woman he was supposed to protect, after all.
Colby’s name was soon called, and Levi charged into the arena like a freight train. His muscles quivered under his shining coat as he spun around the first barrel.
He leaned so closely that Walker was sure that Colby was going to fall off, and he found himself holding his breath.
Levi found another gear as he dug his hind legs into the dirt and raced back to the gate, Colby leaning over his powerful neck. Her brown braid and his black tail flowed in the wind.
Walker glanced up at the scoreboard as Levi crossed the timer. Sixteen flat. Not a bad time at all. It would be interesting to see if the time held up.
He shook his head and walked back toward Colby’s trailer. He had a feeling he was going to have another fight on his hands when he talked to her about sleeping arrangements.