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The Boss and His Cowgirl

By:Silver James

The Boss and His Cowgirl - Silver James


One

Clayton Barron owned the room—held the emotions, the very hearts and minds of his audience in the palm of his hand. He controlled them with the power of his voice and the words he uttered with such complete conviction. He was in charge, just the way he preferred it. He’d been born, bred and raised to be a US senator—and more. Now into his second term, he stood at the podium of the convention of the Western States Landowners Association in Phoenix, Arizona, and the words rolled off his tongue, his voice infused with sincerity.

Georgeanne Dreyfus, his communications director, had written and fine-tuned the speech. The phrases she’d crafted pushed all the right buttons for this audience. Just as they’d practiced at the hotel last night, he paused for a beat then raised his chin and squared his shoulders.

“I understand your frustration. My great-great-grandfather settled the Crown B Ranch long before Oklahoma achieved statehood. He worked that ranch with his own hands. He survived storms, fires, droughts and floods all so he could leave the land—our birthright—to his children and their children.” He inhaled and shifted his expression to reflect a hint of arrogance. “It’s time we acknowledge our family legacies. We live on the land. Work it every single day of our lives, from sunrise to dark. It’s time we tell the government to back off. It’s time they stop tying our hands with their arbitrary rules and regulations. It’s time we take back what is ours.”

The room erupted into cheers, whistles and loud applause. He basked in the crowd’s admiration. After a long standing ovation, the president of the association crossed the stage to shake his hand and thank him. He glanced toward the back of the room. His chief of staff offered a discreet thumbs-up. The head of Clay’s personal security team stood nearby, his restless gaze scanning the room. Time to move through the crowd, glad-handing his way to the exit. He had an hour to make it from downtown Phoenix out to Scottsdale for his next engagement, a fund-raising dinner with some of the party’s biggest donors.

His gaze strayed to the indistinct figure standing just off stage. Georgie. He didn’t have to see her to picture how she looked—straight-cut bangs, her hair scraped back from her face and twisted up in some impossible way, black eyeglass frames dominating her features. He’d overheard more than one reporter comment on her sexy librarian vibe. She’d been there in the backstage shadows the whole time, listening, and more than likely silently mouthing each word as he spoke it. He quirked the corner of his mouth and winked at her. Georgie had been a steady part of his team almost from the beginning. He relied on her to put heart into his words, to spin the press just right. She worked hard for him and he appreciated her efforts. He was lucky to have her at his side.

He cut his eyes toward the back of the auditorium and tilted his head—Georgie’s signal to head out. As soon as he descended the steps from the stage, Boone Tate, his chief of staff and cousin, appeared next to him. Clay was a firm believer in keeping it all in the family.

Boone leaned close to whisper in his ear. “Hunt says there’s a group of protesters out front. Local cops are handling them but we shouldn’t linger too long.”

Working a room like this came naturally to Clay. A quick grip of hands, a few brief words, never stopping, always moving toward his goal—the exit. They reached the convention center’s lobby a few short minutes later. Outside, an exuberant crowd milled about, waiting for Clay’s appearance. A second, more sinister group pushed against a line of local law enforcement officers.

Hunter Tate, chief of security and Boone’s older brother, arrived and steered Clay away from the wide doors. “Taking the back way out. The SUVs and local police backup will meet us at the loading dock.” Flanked by the security team and led by the Phoenix Convention Center’s security director, they hurried down a side hallway toward the rear of the huge building.

The group hadn’t gone twenty feet when the lights went out and sparks lit up the dark. Choking smoke filled the air. The security team switched on flashlights. Hunter grabbed Clay’s elbow, urging him forward.

“Wait.” Clay stopped dead. “Where’s Georgie?”

“On it.” One of the plainclothes security guys peeled off and jogged back the way they’d come, his light bouncing in the swirling fog. He called back over his shoulder, “I’ll bring her.”

A few minutes later they emerged through a metal fire door. A black SUV waited in the alley between buildings. Sharp reports—too close to the sound of gunfire to be ignored—erupted nearby. The security team surrounded Clay and Boone, ran for the vehicle and pushed them into the backseat.

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