Gentling the Cowboy (Page 20)

Gentling the Cowboy (Texan Nights Series #1)(20)
Author: Ruth Cardello

At least now I know that my bits and pieces work.

If I had tied Scooter to a tree, I could be having mind-blowing sex right now.

Oh, my God, I’m a bad person. My horse could be hurt and calling for me and all I can think about is how I’d like to be pressed this closely to Tony but without all these clothes.

No wonder he keeps suggesting I leave.

I’m a loon.

A loon who may have just killed her horse.

She hugged Tony’s strong back and said, “You’re probably wondering why I got so upset when we’ll likely find him and he’ll be just fine.”

“No.”

Her voice went up several octaves. “No, he won’t be fine?”

“No, I wasn’t wondering.”

Sarah stiffened in response. “Well, that’s not nice.”

He tensed beneath her touch. “I told you, I’m not a nice man.”

Sarah bit back an instant desire to agree with him. If she believed him, she’d leave the moment they found Scooter. But that was the problem: No matter what Tony said, she saw something in him that she couldn’t walk away from. Like on TV when people sit and talk to family members in comas, believing that they can be heard even when doctors tell them they can’t be.

Tony’s trapped inside this gruff man, but that’s not him. I know it isn’t. You could judge a person by what he said, but Sarah had always believed that a person’s true nature was revealed in his actions. Tony had taken her in when she’d needed a place to stay. He’d been unselfish in lovemaking and now was on a full-out hunt for an animal that meant nothing to him.

His tough talk was just that—talk.

Although she couldn’t see them at the moment, she could picture his soulful eyes looking down at her. I don’t believe you, Tony Carlton.

You and I were meant to find each other.

“Thank God,” Tony said, and for a moment Sarah’s heart soared until he added, “There’s your damn horse.”

Deep in the woods, quietly munching away on the short brush in the coolness of the shade, Scooter paused and looked up at their approach. He whinnied to the horse beneath them and received an answering call. Tony swung a leg forward over the head of his horse and slid to the ground, turning to help Sarah down.

“He looks unhurt. Does he come when you call?” Tony asked without taking his eyes off Scooter.

“When I have grain.” Tony turned to look at her and she said a bit defensively, “It was never an issue before.”

With no softening to the harsh set of his jaw, he said, “I could help you work on a few things with him.”

Hope welled within Sarah, but she fought to conceal it. She looked at him boldly and asked, “How long would that take?”

Desire lit his eyes and ignited a responding heat within her as she waited for his answer. “Could take a day,” a hint of smile pulled at one side of his mouth as they continued to stare into each other’s eyes. “Could take a few weeks.”

And there it was—an offer of an extended stay.

An opportunity to learn something entirely different than they were discussing.

A chance to see what was behind all that talk.

All she had to do was agree.

Leaning forward onto her tiptoes, she put a hand on his shoulder and said yes with a kiss that left them both shaking and gasping for air. A part of Sarah registered the sound of a helicopter nearby, but she was too absorbed by the look in Tony’s eyes to give it more than a passing thought. Sarah had kissed men before, and certainly done more than that with Doug, but she’d never felt wantonly out of control. She’d never experienced a desire for a man that was so strong it made everyone and everything else disappear, with nothing mattering beyond the touch of his lips and the feel of his skin.

A deep male voice pulled them harshly back to earth. “You might want to grab that horse before he runs off again. Guess I don’t have to ask how you lost him the first time.”

Tony straightened with a curse and turned toward a tan-uniform-clad man who, although he looked slightly older than Tony, shared enough of his physical features that Sarah wondered why neither seemed very happy about seeing each other. With a noticeable lack of gratitude in his tone, Tony said, “I appreciate your help today.” Now leave. He didn’t have to say the words for his meaning to be clear.

The other man smiled—an action as lacking in warmth as Tony’s words had been. “You’re not going to introduce me?”

When Tony made no move to do so, Sarah took a step away from him and put out her hand to the tall stranger who, no matter what, had come to help her that day. “Sarah Dery.” She noted the silver star on his shirt. Sheriff? Tony had called in the big guns for her. She looked back at him and would have thanked him again, but Tony’s expression was stone cold.

He needs to learn how to relax, she thought. That much anger can’t be good for you. Is it wrong that I can think of at least five ways I’d like to try to help him with that and all of them would require privacy?

Releasing her hand, the man said, “Dean Carlton. I’m the local law. You sound like you’re a long way from home. Are you here on vacation?”

Carlton?

Tony stepped in front of her, his aggressive stance a warning in itself. “Like I said, I appreciate you coming by.”

In spite of the fact that the two men looked on the verge of either a yelling match or coming to blows, Sarah felt for both of them. She placed her hand on Tony’s lower back and felt his muscles clench with tension beneath her light touch. She looked back and forth between them and felt a real sadness for whatever had happened that neither could seem to put aside long enough to see the other was hurting.

Dean leaned in and snarled, “One day I won’t.”

Tony shrugged dismissively, an act that appeared to anger the other man more.

Sarah understood their relationship even without knowing the details of it. Something causes a rift between two people, and time and pride only increases it. It may have taken driving hundreds of miles away from her problems, but now she saw them for what they were, and she felt grateful for the clarity she was gaining. It was that growing understanding of herself that made her say, “I appreciate your help, Dean. Maybe we could all have dinner together tomorrow night as a thank you to everyone who dropped everything to help me find Scooter.”

Two shocked Texans turned to stare down at her as if she’d suggested they both wear dresses and do a jig.