Gentling the Cowboy (Page 19)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(19)
Author: Ruth Cardello

With a nervous lick of her bottom lip, she asked, “What do we do now?”

He reached down and retrieved his hat from the ground, brushing it off on one thigh while noting the absence of one of their horses. “Looks like we chase down your damn fool horse.”

Sarah spun away from him to search the field. When she didn’t see him immediately, her whole demeanor changed. “Oh, my God, he’s gone.” When she looked up at him, he was temporarily held immobile by the real distress in her eyes. “I should have tied him to something. I wasn’t thinking. This is my fault. He has to be okay.” She gripped Tony’s arm, tears instantly cascading down her cheeks. His heart leapt into his throat. “We have to find him. You don’t understand. I can’t lose him,” she said desperately.

Her reaction was extreme, so extreme that Tony wondered if it about more than just her missing horse—perhaps a past loss she felt responsible for. He understood the second option far too well to be comfortable with it.

If she’s broken, I’m not the man for her.

He wasn’t the rehabilitation type—not with horses, and certainly not with people.

Her past is none of my business.

Yet he couldn’t look away from those pleading brown eyes.

He called to his horse, who instantly trotted over. He swung himself up into the saddle and reached a hand to Sarah, pulling her up behind him. She wrapped her arms around his waist, burying her damp face in his back. Had he been able to speak he would have told her that most likely her horse had headed back to the barn.

Don’t get involved.

Find her damn horse and tell her to go.

Sex is only going to make this worse.

“Do you see him?” she asked urgently, her arms tightening around him.

He shook his head. He would have said something to comfort her, but her fear seared through years of numbness and the words choked in his throat. Her emotion reached inside of him and pulled at what he’d long denied. Pulled at what haunted his nights and had driven him to this solitary life.

When he’d decided to invite her to stay for a bit, it had been because he enjoyed the idea of showing her how much pleasure she’d been missing. He’d chosen the pace. He’d been in control.

As they neared the barn, he didn’t see her horse as he’d expected to and hated the emotions that rushed in. It didn’t help that he felt her br**sts pushing against his back with each shuddering breath she took. Something that normally would have turned him on instead revealed the depth of her fear and made him want to pull her into his arms and comfort her.

She’s here for a night of fun—maybe a week tops.

I don’t care about her or her damn horse.

David walked out to meet them at the door of the barn.

“Have you seen the Paso?” Tony bit out the question.

David shook his head.

Tony turned his horse back to face the open field. He issued an order over his shoulder. “Send the men to do a perimeter check. I want a helicopter up in the air and every inch of the valley searched. No one comes home without that horse.”

In his often irritatingly calm manner, David drawled, “He couldn’t have gotten very far. With some on horseback and a few in trucks, we’ll find him before nightfall. You sure you want to involve Dean?”

As a tangle of emotions battered him, finding the horse was the only thing he was sure about. Spinning his palomino, he was on David, barking out his command. “I want that horse found. Now.”

David shrugged. “You’re the boss.”

Tense beyond what such an event should have made him, he snapped back, “I am.” With that, he urged his horse to move with more force than normal. Sarah clung to him even tighter as they surged forward into a gallop. He finally slowed at the top of a small hill that gave them a better vantage point, letting out a long sigh.

“Thank you,” Sarah said quietly from behind him.

“We haven’t found him yet.”

The grateful squeeze she gave him had nothing to do with holding on and sent his heart thudding painfully in his chest. “No, but we will. If anyone can find him, it’s you.” The faith she placed in him filled him with guilt. She deserved better.

He laid one of his hands over hers on his stomach and said harshly, “I have nothing to offer you outside of what we shared earlier. Don’t start thinking this is more than it is. When you find your horse you should probably go.”

He felt her take a shaky breath before she asked, “Is that what you want?”

He searched the open field and the edge of the surrounding wooded area as he answered, “No.”

They rode in silence down the side of the hill and headed toward the tree line. A helicopter flew overhead. The pilot tipped the aircraft in their direction. Tony directed him to the other side of the woods with a wave.

“I’m sorry that you have to do all of this for me.”

He didn’t answer her. What could he say? It’s not a bother? He wasn’t one to lie. He could only imagine what Dean had thought when David called him. The papers would love the story, too. He could see the headlines now: Carlton loses mind, now horses. Details on how far this reclusive horse trainer has sunk at eleven.

Oh, yes, he couldn’t tell Sarah that she wasn’t a bother.

She’d been trouble since the moment he’d found her in his shower.

But, God help him, he didn’t have the strength to warn her to leave again.

What did I expect him to say? It’s a flipping joy to disrupt my ranch and chase down your horse for you?

He said he doesn’t want me to leave, but he also doesn’t want me to stay.

What’s a woman supposed to do with that?

As she and Tony entered the shaded covering of the woods, she felt another wave of panic overtake her. And as they often did, her thoughts scattered and tangled as she tried to calm herself. I am so sorry, Scooter. I never considered that you could be the price of a wild adventure.

But that’s me.

I can’t be trusted to care for anything . . . or anyone.

It always ends badly.

Tears filled her eyes, making it impossible to see past the plaid of Tony’s shirt. I don’t know why I thought Texas would be different. That I would be different here.

They say you should write what you know.

I should stop trying to write a romance, and write a f**king tragedy.

Images of the intimacy she and Tony had shared just a short while ago rushed back to taunt her.

Okay, not all of this trip has been bad.