When she hesitated, he gave in to a desire he couldn’t contain and lost himself in kissing her. He couldn’t get enough. He reached down, lifted her up and settled her legs around his waist, turning so her back rested against one side of the round pen as his hands ran over every inch of her.
A glimmer of sanity stopped him before he tore off her clothes. Not here. Not like this.
He eased her back to the ground and rested his forehead against hers as they shared a shaky breath.
Take your time.
Because nothing good lasts.
She took his face in both of her hands and searched his eyes for a long moment. A shy smile lit her face. “Okay.”
He buried a shaking hand in her hair and lay her head on his chest, not caring that she could likely hear the wild beating of his heart.
She said yes.
Over her head he saw David leaning against the side of the barn watching them. With a circular motion of one hand, his manager directed Tony’s attention to the area around him. In every doorway and every open space, there seemed to be a slack-jawed ranch hand doing just what David was: watching them.
I’ll f**king kill them.
As if his thought had boomed through the ranch, there was an instant flurry of action as all but David rushed back to their work. David shrugged and with a flip of his thumb suggested Tony move the action somewhere more private.
This is not the place for what I want to do. But he knew of a nice, secluded area nearby. “Would you like to saddle up and go for a ride?”
Eyes wide, Sarah asked, “What do you mean?”
What else could he mean? “Get your horse and let’s go somewhere private.”
He smiled. “Do you have better plans?” It was hard to look down into those trusting eyes of hers and not feel a bit guilty. By his standards, she was still an innocent. Whatever life Sarah had lived up in Rhode Island, it hadn’t taught her to protect herself. A better man would walk away and let her learn about her sexuality with someone who intended to marry her.
He leaned down and kissed her lips hungrily.
Luckily, I gave up on being a good man a long time ago.
Sitting deep in his saddle, Tony adjusted his hat to shade his eyes and began to question the wisdom of his idea. The palomino beneath him had been chosen at random. All the gentled horses were pretty much the same to him. They went through the same program, and he had high expectations for their behavior and responsiveness.
Sarah was not sitting as calmly. Her horse was excited and refusing to stand still for her. She circled him. He tossed his head and danced sideways in the other direction. Snort. Stomp. She circled him again.
“You sure you want to ride him without a bit?” Tony inquired calmly.
“I don’t like bits,” she replied and circled him again. “Once we get going, he’ll be fine. He’s just excited to be somewhere new.”
Tony held his tongue. He wasn’t interested in giving her riding lessons, at least not this kind. He asked his horse to move off and Sarah came up to ride at his side, then passed him. She pulled back on the reins a bit and her horse tossed his head in protest. Those little hooves flew beneath him even though his forward speed did not increase.
She leaned forward and whispered something to the horse, who instantly dropped down to a walk so the horses were side by side. She looked up, caught Tony watching her, and the most beautiful blush spread across her cheeks. “I told him that if he doesn’t settle down, I am going to get his bit out of my trailer. Sometimes all I have to do is say it.”
“You think he understands that?”
“It worked, didn’t it?” She patted the Paso Fino’s neck. “We understand each other. He likes to stomp around and pretend he’s a tough guy, but underneath all that he’s a marshmallow and he loves me. We don’t need a bit.” A hint of his opinion must have shown in his expression because she pursed her lips angrily and said, “You don’t agree?”
He explained rather than defended his opinion. “You’re attributing human emotions to an animal.”
“You don’t think a horse can love someone?” she challenged with a toss of her head.
Her question knocked on a door he’d slammed shut and wasn’t about to reopen now. Instead, he fell back on his father’s wisdom. “They’ll bond with anyone who cares for them, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you couldn’t be easily replaced by anyone else with hay and a brush.”
Those large brown eyes studied him for a few quiet moments. When she spoke, her tone was surprisingly kind. “You’re wrong, and I feel sorry for you. There are many things I don’t know, but I do know my horse. And I think it’s sad that you train so many and you don’t know yours.”
“Believe that if it makes you feel better,” he said, stung by the criticism and, worse, the pity. An instant later he regretted not holding his tongue. He hadn’t invited her out here to argue over ridiculous topics.
Horses were animals.
Plain and simple.
Like most men they were driven by two basic needs: food and sex. Women needed to believe that both species were more complicated than that, but that didn’t change the facts.
She turned away from him and they rode in silence along the fence and onto a dirt road that led to one of his open pastures. The land sloped a bit, allowing a view of a huge open space that ended in a lightly wooded area. With a flash of a smile, Sarah said, “I’ll race you to the tree line.” and off she went in a flat-out gallop, her hair coming loose and flying in the wind behind her as she leaned forward and urged her horse on.
It took Tony only a second or two to follow suit. He flicked his reins back, cracking his gelding on the rump, and they were off after her. He had the advantage of riding a larger horse with a longer stride, but she had covered quite a distance during his short period of indecision. He kicked in his heels and felt a rush of adrenaline. Unused to leather snapping on his flank or the surge of energy from the man riding him, his horse gave an excited buck before lowering his head and giving chase.
A sense of freedom washed through him as he and his horse flew across the open field. He vaguely remembered a time, long ago, when he’d ridden for the sheer pleasure of it. Back then it hadn’t been about working them or training them. It had been simply this. This exhilaration.
When did I stop feeling this—feeling anything?
They were closing the distance and would have overtaken Sarah when she came to a sudden stop at the first tree.