Optimism is best reserved for fools.
So why hold her hand? Why invite her to stay another day? He couldn’t justify either any more than he could stop his heart from thudding wildly in his chest when she touched him. He wished it were a simple itch a night of sex would cure, but in his near-thirty years he’d never felt anything close to this.
“You probably want to check on your horse,” he said, needing to break free of whatever web of fascination she was spinning around him.
Her hand shifted as if she were preparing to pull away. His hold on hers tightened instinctively and she smiled. Damn. I don’t know if I do care if she’s a liar. A night with her would be worth whatever she found here to write about.
He dropped her hand with determination. It did matter. He’d protected his privacy for far too long to piss it away because some damn woman thought she could play him. “Well, you know where he is. David will show you around the barn if you need anything. His office is in the main aisle to the left.”
The momentary confusion on her face was almost comically kissable. Her chin lifted in defiance and she said, “Thank you.” But in a tone that didn’t sound at all grateful.
A stronger man wouldn’t have stood and enjoyed watching her cute, jean-clad ass strut angrily down the driveway to the barn. Tony barely blinked.
“A woman like that would never be happy here,” Melanie said from behind the screen door of the porch.
“Is she leaving today?” she asked.
Tony shook his head, but didn’t turn away from watching Sarah. She stopped at the entrance, looked over her shoulder at him briefly, then disappeared into the barn.
“Don’t suppose you’d welcome my opinion?”
With a brief shake of his head, Tony turned, strode up the steps, stepped around Melanie who was holding the door open for him, and headed up the main staircase. It was time he found out what his little blonde was hiding.
Unlike the night before, the barn was alive with activity. Two young men who were mucking stalls stopped and rested their picks for a moment when they saw her. Another man paused from brushing down a horse in the aisle behind them. They all appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties. Hard to tell much more at the distance she was from them, but Sarah smiled and waved. Just because she wanted to strangle their boss didn’t mean she couldn’t be friendly.
None returned her wave, but instead quickly returned to their work.
“Don’t be offended,” a deep male voice said behind Sarah. “They don’t want to do anything that would risk their jobs here.”
Sarah turned and her eyes widened as she looked over the man attached to the voice. Is every man in Texas hot? The blond-haired beefcake took off his hat and held out a hand to shake hers. She used to think that suits were sexy, but jeans and plaid were blowing that theory away. His blue eyes smiled down at her. Sarah appreciated his beauty as one would appreciate a painting or a sculpture, but her heart didn’t race when his hand closed on hers. She felt grateful for his warm welcome, nothing more.
I guess I go for the broody type.
“You’d fire them for saying hello?”
“I wouldn’t,” he said, but his tone implied that others might. “David Harmon, ranch manager.” He released her hand and replaced his hat.
“I guessed as much. Sarah Dery. Tony told me your office was in here.” Sarah stuffed her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “I thought I’d come out and see my horse.”
David walked with her through the barn to the shelter and paddock her horse was in. “He settled right in. Most do.” He rested a forearm on the top of one wooden rail and tipped his hat back. “You planning a long visit?”
Who’s planning any part of this? I’m flying by the seat of my pants, hoping none of you turn out to be serial killers. Sarah looked over her shoulder at the entrance to see if Tony had followed her. Of course, he hadn’t. “Not sure yet.”
David followed her gaze before meeting her eyes and said, “He’s not as bad as people say.”
Okay, that’s somewhat reassuring and a bit cryptic. I wish I’d brought my notebook with me. I could use that line.
“What do they say?”
David looked surprised. “You don’t know?”
Sarah shrugged. “Should I?”
He scratched his square chin as he considered her question. “I doubt it would help.”
Not only do Texans speak slowly, they also apparently talk in code.
They both turned their attention to the horse before them. Sarah decided to find her answers through less direct questions. “David, how long have you worked here?”
“Nearly five years.”
“That’s a long time. You must know Tony pretty well.”
“I understand him.”
That’s more than I can say, so here goes: “He said I could stay until I cement my plans for my drive back to Rhode Island. Do you think I should?”
David didn’t answer at first. Then he said quietly, “Sometimes the only way you can determine a good choice from a bad one is by how much you like the person you see in the mirror the next day.”
Not really sure that helped.
She let his words echo through her again. Do I like who I am? Not my nose. Not my expensive highlights. Me. Just me.
“Like” might be too strong of a word.
I thought I would be more.
Which led to a life-guiding question.
Who do I want to see in the mirror tomorrow?
Someone who made her way no matter the obstacles, here or somewhere else in Texas. Success requires perseverance. Mountain climbers don’t let a little rain stop them. Men went to the moon with less technology than I have in my phone.
I can do this.
I can find my story.
Tony stood next to the small nightstand where Sarah had left her spiral notebook. Would she have left it out if she had something to hide? Normally, he would never consider reading the private writings of anyone—mostly because doing so required a certain amount of interest on his part, which he hadn’t felt about anything in a long time.
But that book held the answers he needed.
Is Sarah taking notes on how I run the ranch? Is she working for a news rag? Why is she here?
He flipped the purple cover open and his jaw went slack with surprise as he read the first page.
This is what life is about: seeing new places, meeting new people, grabbing life by the . . . and squeezing until it coughs up a story worth telling.