Jennifer Ashley

Excerpt: Riding Hard: Grant

Book 2: Riding Hard Series

Christina slid two beers across the bar’s top, barely paying attention when the customers told her to keep the change. She didn’t notice anything—not the hot, swirling air, the thumping music, or the laughter of the patrons relaxing on a Friday night.

He wasn’t supposed to be here.

Grant Campbell strolled in, the cocky, arrogant hotter-than-hell cowboy Christina had tried, and failed, to stop thinking about for the last year or so. He took off his black hat as soon as he walked through the door—he always removed his hat when he went inside anywhere—he was polite that way. He wore a button down shirt, which was formal for a man who lived mostly in T-shirts, but tonight was a special occasion.

His jeans stretched over thighs made tough with riding and stunt work, his walk graceful from the same. The dimmed lights brushed his dark hair, which in the sunlight had highlights of gold.

He didn’t come in alone. Grant was never alone. He’d have women with him, usually more than one.

Tonight, it was three. Two wore their hair long; one had cropped it short. All wore jeans that might slide from their slim hips any second, tops that were so tight they might have been painted on.

They were beautiful, of course, in that blond, smooth-faced Texas way. Why was it that every woman who followed Grant around was a walking cliché?

Except Christina. She had black hair that curled and would never lie straight, a body with more cushioning than she liked, and her dad’s nose. You’re a Farrell, honey, her dad liked to say. No denying it. He said it proudly, because he loved her, but Christina had long ago realized she’d never be petite.

The girls with Grant were shrimpy. Skinny, except for breasts that couldn’t be real. No woman was a perfect right angle like that.

The young women hung on him, fighting for which two would have his arms around them. Grant was grinning, the idiot, loving the attention. Christina slammed used beer mugs two patrons had left into the dirty dish tray, pretending she was way too busy to notice.

Grant got the buckle bunnies to settle down at a table, then turned to approach the counter.

He stopped between one beat and the next, his blue eyes stilling as his gaze fell on Christina. Christina glanced down, rubbing away at the rings the mugs had left. Grant hesitated, poised to turn around and go. He hadn’t realized she’d be here tonight.

Then he came on. Grant didn’t lose his smile, didn’t look the least apologetic. He was well-loved in Riverbend, this was Friday night, and this was Riverbend’s only bar. He had every right to be there.

Christina could have turned aside and let Rosie wait on him. She could have slipped out to the tables she was watching, as if she never saw him. Instead, she made herself turn from her wiping and give him a neutral look.

“Hey, Grant. What can I get you?”

His eyes flickered. Christina would not—absolutely would not—think about how he’d turned around those words seven years ago to get her to first go out with him.

What can I get you?

You, he’d said with a grin. Or your phone number. Or you meeting me at the coffee shop tomorrow.

Christina got propositioned every night, often with similar phrases. But Grant had turned on his Campbell charm, his beautiful blue eyes warm, and Christina had fallen hard.

She’d known Grant and his brothers most of her life. She’d gone to school with him, but he was three years younger, and she’d barely noticed him.

In the time between high school and his first legal entrance into Sam’s Tavern, Grant had sure grown up. He’d become tall, deep-voiced, hard-muscled, and athletic.

In the years following, while Grant and Christina had dated, then moved in together, Grant had grown up even more. Now he was a hot, tight-bodied man—successful, handsome … And he still had that kick-ass grin that had every woman in River County falling at his feet.

The frozen moment passed. Christina saw Grant pretend to relax, though the hand he rested on the counter curled to a fist. “Four beers. Whatever’s on tap. Oh, make one of them a light.”

“Watching your weight?” Christina asked as she lifted four mugs between her fingers, arranged them in front of her, and positioned the first one under the tap.

Grant didn’t answer. “What are you doing here tonight?” he asked. “Thought it was Bailey’s bachelorette party. Male strippers and everything.” He didn’t meet her gaze when he said male strippers.

“Starts later. I came in to help out a little.” Christina thumped one beer down in front of Grant, swiftly wiping up the foam that spilled out. “What about you? It’s Adam’s bachelor party tonight too.”

Grant shrugged. “Heading there. My friends got thirsty.”

Christina didn’t reply, especially since one of his “friends” now sauntered up to lean beside him. She was the short-haired one, and had big green eyes framed with so much mascara Christina was surprised her eyelids didn’t gum together.

“We’re always thirsty,” the young woman said, giving Christina a confident smile. “Keeping up with Grant is exhausting.”

Grant’s and Christina’s gazes met. Christina saw Grant’s eyes soften and stop short of rolling. He knew the girl was a bubblehead, and he knew Christina knew it too.

Christina and Grant shared a tiny moment, the two of them connected, the deep friendship they’d formed long ago showing itself for a brief space of time.

The glass at the tap overflowed and the moment broke. Christina snapped the handle up, poured out the excess foam, and shook the beer off her hand.

“Just one light, right?” She thunked the glass to the bartop and moved the next glass under the light beer tap.

“For me,” the short-haired girl said. “I’m trying to lose twenty pounds. I’ve already lost six.”

She eyed Christina as though she waited for her praise. Christina swept her a critical look, and decided that if the woman lost even one more pound, she’d be skeletal.

“Good for you,” Christina said without inflection.

Grant didn’t respond. Christina remembered when he’d once said, I don’t like skinny women. You never know when something sharp is going to jam you in the eye.

He caught Christina’s gaze, and another flicker passed between them.

Grant shoved mugs at the girl. “You take those two back for me, sweetheart,” he said. “I’ll be right there.”

The young woman gave him a sly look. “Better hurry.” She sashayed away, raising the glasses at her friends.

“You taking them to Adam’s party?” Christina asked as she filled the last mug. “Are they old enough? Maybe I should card them.” She knew they were legal—the girls had been in here before—but she couldn’t help herself.

“You know me better than that, Christina,” Grant said, frowning. “At least, you should.”

Christina finished the last beer, printed out his bill, and set it next to him. “No, I don’t think I ever did.”

Grant’s brows slammed together. He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and yanked out a couple of twenties. “Keep the change.”

“No.” Christina swept up the bills. “I told you before. I don’t want tips from you.”

Anger sparked deep in Grant’s blue eyes. Last fall at the rodeo grounds Christina had worked a booth serving drinks. When Grant had bought some beer then tried to drop a twenty into her tip jar, Christina had yanked out the money and burned it.

“Just keep it,” Grant growled. He grabbed the last beers and walked away.

Christina pretended not to watch his very fine ass as she counted out the change and slapped it onto the polished wood. Pretended, but she couldn’t take her eyes off him. Every part of him looked good—back or front. Damn it.

She swung around, snatched up more dirty glasses from the other side of the bar, and nearly threw them into the tray, holding back at the last minute so she wouldn’t break anything. Hard to do, because she suddenly wanted to smash every glass in the place.

When she turned back, it was to see Grant sitting at a small round table with all three women more or less on his lap, laughing like maniacs.


“Hey, you’ve got a tip here,” a deep voice rumbled at her. Ray Malory’s tall body blocked Grant and his sweeties, his hard face softening as she turned to him.

“Yeah.” Christina felt a frisson of relief. She ignored the money and rested her arms on the counter. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Just got back. Championships in Lubbock this week. I told you about that.” He’d done more than tell her. Ray had taken her out the night before he’d gone and they’d ended up at her apartment.

“Oh, I know. It just seemed like a long time.”

Ray liked that. He gave her a warm look with his green eyes. “If I’d known you missed me so bad, I would have tried to come home sooner.”

Christina laughed. “No, you wouldn’t. The day you leave a rodeo early is the day you’re done.”

Ray had to grin. “How about a beer to celebrate? Hurry it up, barmaid. I tell you, the service in this place is terrible.”

“You’re a shit.” Christina felt better as she turned to pour him a beer. At least somebody was interested in talking to her. She didn’t have to giggle and jiggle to catch Ray’s attention.

The warmth vanished as soon as Grant threw his head back and laughed.

Christina loved the way Grant laughed. He opened himself all the way, no holding back. He was a warm-hearted man, liking everyone, wanting the world to like him. Not a mean bone in him.

Yet, he could fight with the best of them. He didn’t take any shit from anyone, and his arguments with Christina had been loud, long, and passionate. The making up afterward had been just as passionate.

One of the young women managed to straddle Grant’s lap, and now she took his face in her hands and kissed him on the mouth.

The bottom dropped out of Christina’s world. She set the beer down. Ray said something to her, but she couldn’t hear. She could only see the young woman with short hair kissing Grant, and Grant’s big hands coming around her waist, holding her steady, just as he’d held Christina for so long, never letting her fall.


Christina dragged her attention back to Ray, who wasn’t smiling anymore. He’d turned his head to follow Christina’s line of sight, then looked at her again, his mouth a grim line.

“Why don’t you call me when you’re over it?” Ray shoved a bill onto the bar—way over-tipping, as Grant had—and got himself off the stool.

Christina’s heart squeezed with remorse. “Aw, come on, Ray. Wait.”

“Listen, baby, I don’t need to worry about who you’re thinking of when you’re with me. You give me a call when you decide.” Ray swept up his beer and walked away, raising his hand to friends across the room.

“Damn it.” Christina forced herself not to look at Grant, but the double-kick of Ray walking away had her gut clenching.

Ray was a good guy—he didn’t deserve to be hurt. He was also very attractive, with his dark hair and sinful green eyes.

But in the end, he wasn’t Grant. He’d never be what Grant had been to her, and Ray knew it. Damn, damn, damn.

“You need to go,” the other bartender, Rosie, said to her. Rosie’s eyes twinkled. “Your sister’s party, remember? Go—have fun. I got this.”

“Thanks, Rosie. Here.” Christina gave Rosie the tab and money from Ray. “Keep the tip.”

Christina signed herself out on the computer, gave Rosie a brief hug, and took up the change she’d left for Grant.

On her way out, she stopped at Grant’s table. The short-haired woman, still on Grant’s lap, looked triumphant, but the other two were waiting to cut her out. Grant seemed indifferent—if Christina and the rest of the world wanted to watch him with other women, it was their problem.

“You left your change,” Christina said to him. She dropped it on the table between the drinks. “Y’all have a good night.”

She walked away. If she swayed her butt a little on purpose, gaining the attention of every male in the place, who cared?

Grant sure didn’t. Christina’s heart ached. They were done, had been done, and there was nothing more to it. She had to get on with her life.

No matter how freaking hard that was going to be.

Return to Grant

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