One Knight in Vegas

by Lenora Worth

When Cella Cassidy calls Sean Knight to her ranch to investigate the death of a prized rodeo bronc, the veterinarian alerts his brothers Jesse and Michael. The three brothers are trying to find out who is sabotaging several of the rodeo ranches around Nevada.

Cella inherited the Triple Seven Rodeo Ranch which specializes in raising, breeding and selling rodeo bulls and horses. She had a lot riding on this particular horse. She needs to put the Triple Seven back on top. The ranch has fallen on hard times but Cella didn’t know this until her father died. When Sean tells her the horse was poisoned, Cella thinks this is one more hurdle to overcome.

She’s determined to save her father’s legacy and Sean has a reputation as one of the best animal doctors in the West.

Sean and Cella go over her records and try to piece together clues. Could a worker have poisoned the horse? Or did someone from the outside do this?

When things escalate to the breaking point, they grow more attracted to each other. And soon Sean has a new goal--to keep Cella alive.



“Boss Lady, something’s bad wrong with Atlantis.”

Cella Cassidy could still hear her foreman’s shocked report from earlier this morning. Rockford Perkins had woken her from a deep sleep at around dawn. The ornery old foreman was a sweetheart underneath all that gruff and he’d been devastated after checking on their prize rodeo bronc Atlantis, only to find the bronc sprawled out and foaming at the mouth in his stall at the Vegas Desert Arena.

Cella rolled down the driver’s side window of her Chevy truck and flashed her credentials at the man checking on everyone who entered the big sprawling arena located just off the infamous Las Vegas Strip and then pulled into the designated parking lot near the stockyards. The truck skidded to a stop and she hopped down, the cool November air hitting her while dust floated around her black boots. Then she pushed at her long hair and glanced around, her worn leather jacket knocking back the chill left over from the desert night.

She’d expected the young ranch hand she’d sent here to help Rockford get Atlantis settled, to meet her and take her to the stockyard where the rodeo livestock was housed.

But the man waiting for her wasn’t Dex Coulter.

This man looked as if he’d been up half the night, a bit disheveled and scruffy and ready to rumble. The way he regarded her with a once-over appraisal sent a desert-style heat flushing up her body to chase away that bit of early morning chill.

Cella wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting since she barely knew him, but he was wearing buttery dark tan hand-tooled boots, nicely faded jeans and a t-shirt that showed off an impressive washboard set of abs. Not what she had envisioned in a veterinarian who specialized in rodeo livestock.

Neither was the dark scowl on his tanned face or the flash of concern moving through his silvery-blue eyes.

That concern didn’t bode well for Atlantis, but Cella knew this man came highly recommended from the WRC. Sean Knight traveled with the circuit and kept tabs on all of the events. Known for putting the animals first and sometimes rubbing abusive handlers the wrong way, apparently the man didn’t pull any punches.

“Hi,” he said, extending his hand. “It’s good to see you again, Cella. Even though it’s been a while.”

“Yes, about ten years or so, give or take a year,” she said, making sure her grip matched his.

Her daddy had always taught her to shake hands like a man but to act like a lady. The charge of awareness galloping up her spine reminded her to be professional while her heart reminded her that she hadn’t exactly been moving through the dating circuit these days.

That’s because she lived and breathed the WRC and spent most of her time trying to raise quality livestock for competition. Atlantis was at the top of that list.

“Good to see you, too, Sean,” she said, the warmth from his hand over hers staying with her after he’d let go.

Cella hadn’t seen Sean in a while since she’d been mostly confined to the ranch these days. She’d come home to Nevada from California to take over the day-to-day operations after her father had suffered a massive heart attack four years ago that had left him unable to work.

But she knew of Sean. The Knight brothers were highly involved in the WRC since their great, great grandfather had started the circuit over a century ago and their legendary father, Wallace Knight, had continued to expand the whole operation which had now grown into one of the biggest rodeo events in the country. Wallace had died about five years earlier in a tragic barn fire but his sons had continued in the rodeo tradition.

Tough as nails. That’s how Daddy described the Knights.

And right now she needed someone like that in her corner.

Sean was one of the best from what Cella had heard. He’d arrived this week in preparation for the big championship at the end of next week since it was his job to inspect all the livestock and make sure the animals were treated humanely and taken care of properly.

“Is my bronc still alive, Doc?” she asked while she tried to ignore his intimidating presence.

“For now. Let’s get to this and then we’ll talk,” he said, his eyes moving over her with a clear unease. “Word’s gonna get out and the press will be hounding you soon enough since he’s ranked in the top five. Right now, however, we’ve got one sick bronc on our hands.”

“All right. But I need to know everything,” she said, trying to stake her authority. “Don’t sugarcoat it. Just tell me the truth.”

His eyes moved over her again, a look of admiration on his face. “You get a lot of flak from your ranch hands?”

Embarrassed, she glanced back at him. “It’s not about that. I just don’t need this right now. And I don’t have time to decipher anything. Got it?”

His soft nod told her yes but the warmth in his eyes told her he understood. “Got it. You don’t trust me but I’m the only one here right now.”

“Something like that,” she admitted, glad he seemed to read her stress.

Cella thought about the barns and stables of the Triple Seven Rodeo Ranch where she’d helped deliver Atlantis. She’d been involved in the rodeo all of her life, had competed in everything from barrel racing to cutting and roping and now taught those particular competitions to teenaged girls in a yearly summer camp. Her daddy still kept her ribbons and trophies in his office back at the ranch.

She’d placed all of her hopes and a substantial amount of cold hard cash on Atlantis. The gelding was spirited and determined. A true champion.

 Daddy had bragged on Atlantis for years. “He’s the one, suga’. He’s got that Cassidy spirit. Mean and stubborn.”

Henry Cassidy was mean and stubborn too, but Cella loved him anyway. She hated seeing her strong daddy slipping away from her but he was fighting his fate tooth-and-nail.

Her father and Wallace Knight had been friends when they were younger. But Wallace had been killed at about the same time her dad had gotten so sick. His three sons were alive and well and doing pretty much what Cella was doing, taking care of business.

She wouldn’t tell her father about this until she had information to reassure him. And she prayed she would have good news, that this would all be okay. Better to let Henry sit quiet and rested for now. He stayed so tired these days and this news would only get him rowed up. She’d have to tell her daddy later today, whatever she heard from Sean.

Sean waited for her to pass. Then he gave her the run-down. “My intern Bobby is with your man Rockford, keeping an eye on Atlantis. I’ve got an ambulance coming to move him to the veterinarian area. He has a high fever and trouble standing. Labored breathing, he’s twitching and his pupils are dilated. We have to move fast. I’m afraid he could go into convulsions.”

“Convulsions?” Cella closed her eyes and took a breath. This was not good. “Is he going to die?”

“Not if I can help it.”

That didn’t sound encouraging.

Atlantis had become the one to watch. The Appaloosa had been bred from one of the best quarter horse studs in the state of Nevada and he’d just turned five. A good age to be at the top of his game. After climbing higher in the rankings with each event, the beautiful, willful bronc with a lineage that dated back to the first domesticated Mustangs had made it to the WRC finals and would be ridden by one of the top contenders. All of the championship riders hoped to draw Atlantis.

Now the bronc with attitude and heart and the guts to win might not make it. She had to do something.

Because letting her daddy down was not an option.

Cella and Sean hurried into the area where the livestock was housed in various stalls and paddocks, the sounds of rodeo people going about their work and the scent of fresh hay mixed with manure reminding her of just how much money was riding on this event. Sometimes, these big productions were more like a circus than a rodeo. Especially this one. It was Vegas-style all the way, with country music stars on stage all week, food booths scattered here and there and all sorts of side shows and flashy gimmicks to keep the fans enthused.

But all she could think about was Atlantis, so strong, so proud, and born and bred to buck cowboys off his back. “I can’t lose this bronc,” she said.

“I’ll do everything I can,” Sean replied, his tone firm, his demeanor shouting quiet confidence while her silent scream shouted for him to do something.

Glad that Sean was here in Las Vegas early since the finals would be held next week, Cella braced herself for the worst. She’d heard he was staying in town for the duration since he was licensed in not only Nevada but Wyoming and Montana, too, purposely so he could travel with the WRC. When Rockford had called in a panic, she’d told him to find Sean first. She had to hear about Atlantis and Sean would be the one to tell her what had happened and if the bronc would live or die. She’d also put in a call to her regular vet, too.

Rockford came barreling up the aisle, his bow-legs wobbling, his gray-tinged handlebar mustache doing two perfect curls. He looked as if he hadn’t slept either, the few gray hairs on his head scattered like sagebrush over his bald spot.

Grabbing at his aged hat, he said, “I’m so sorry. I shoulda been watching out for him better. I fed him his hay myself last night and left Dex with him. Now I can’t find Dex. That kid ain’t worth a dime. I don’t know what happened to Atlantis but this morning I found him all—.”

Her foreman stopped at the look of steel the vet shot him. “Why don’t we let Cella see him and then I’ll explain things.”

Cella was just as upset about this as Rockford. Atlantis was their ticket back into the big time. Getting back in the Western Rodeo Circuit had been her goal since returning to Nevada. She’d been fighting an uphill battle of trying to keep the Triple Seven legacy alive. And she’d been holding onto her daddy, too. But she was afraid if Atlantis died, so would Henry Cassidy. She couldn’t let that happen yet. They’d lost her mother when she was a teenager, and she wasn’t ready to let go of her tough, stubborn father.

When they reached the stall where Atlantis was being held in isolation, she gasped and put a hand over her mouth, her gaze slamming into Sean’s. Atlantis looked scared, his dark eyes rolling, his nostrils flaring, and his mouth and lips a strange bluish-gray.

“What in the world has happened to my bronc?” she asked Sean.

Sean bent down over the writhing horse, his hand moving with a soothing steadiness over the sick bronc.

“My best guess,” Sean said on a hard edge. “He’s been poisoned.”