“I’ve seen your horse.”
She huffed. “What’s wrong with my horse?”
“Probably nothing where you come from. But most people down here don’t put glitter on hooves and bows in manes.”
“So the extra time I take grooming my horse is proof that I wouldn’t fit in here?”
“I never said that.”
“Then what are you saying?”
He sighed. “It’s just a different way of looking at things.”
“You think it’s better to not even know the name of the horse you ride?”
“I know my horses.”
“Do you? I never hear you talk about them. I can’t believe you can have all those horses and not love one.”
“No need to get attached to something that’s not staying.”
Like me? Sarah thought with a shudder. She countered with more emotion than she knew the topic called for. “What a sad way to live.”
Tony looked up at the ceiling, shifting so he could tuck an arm beneath his head. “Not sad, just practical.”
Sarah moved so that she was above him, blocking his view. “Look me in the eye and tell me you never had a horse you were attached to.”
For a moment he looked cornered, angry. His whole body tensed, but she didn’t back down, she just raised her eyebrows and waited.
“I had a mare when I was twelve. My dad had gotten her for free from someone who couldn’t handle her. He’d hoped to train her a bit and sell her for a profit, but he couldn’t stay on her long enough to teach her anything.”
Sarah laid a hand on Tony’s chest, felt the heavy thud of his heart, and knew from the tension in him that she’d stumbled on another of his scars. “But you rode her?”
He nodded. “I did. She taught me about patience and how to listen to a horse. I hit the dirt a lot that summer before we worked things out.”
“What happened to her?”
“My father sold her.” His even tone might have fooled others, but Sarah heard what he didn’t allow himself to say.
“Even though you wanted her.”
Tony looked her in the eye and said harshly, “It was the right thing to do. We needed the money, not an animal we couldn’t afford to feed.”
“Where did she end up?” Sarah asked softly.
“I don’t know. My dad left me to do chores while he took her to auction.”
Sarah’s heart broke for him, but she kept the depth of her response to herself. There was too much more she wanted to know to risk shutting the conversation down. “What was her name?”
Tony closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and said, “Missy. She was nothing special, just a grade horse, a mixed-breed for sure.”
“But you loved her.”
He didn’t deny it.
“Do you ever take in troubled horses now?” she asked.
There was that wall again. She felt him withdraw emotionally even before he answered. “I don’t have time for other people’s problems.”
Sarah looked into his eyes, past his irritation with her questions, and saw the hurt he tried to conceal from her. He was afraid to care about a horse that wasn’t his. He didn’t want to love and lose again. She felt compelled to show him how it could be.
She laid her head upon his chest and said, “I know you don’t think much of Scooter, but I’ve had him for seven years, and he’s part of me. There were times when he was the only part I liked. I let guilt hold me down. I let my life get smaller and smaller until it nearly suffocated me, but whenever I would take Scooter out on the trails behind the barn we would run. He’s so smooth it felt like we were flying. And for just a few minutes, I was free and anything was possible.” She peered up at him and admitted, “You make me feel the same way.”
She could have sworn that he’d looked down at her in agreement, but the moment passed and his expression turned to a scowl. “I suppose it’s a compliment that I’m on level with your horse.”
Sarah pinched him lightly. “He’s easier to get along with, though, so sometimes he ranks higher.”
In one strong move, Tony rolled over on top of Sarah. “Is that so? Well, let’s see what I can do to improve my standing a bit.”
Loving the feel of his arousal growing against her stomach, Sarah wrapped her arms around his neck eagerly and joked, “Standing, sitting, rolling around on the floor—I’ve enjoyed all of your ideas so far.”
“That’s good,” he said between hot kisses to her neck, “because I can’t get enough of you.”
Even as her body began to hum with desire for him, her mind raced at his words. Could this be it? Is Tony the man I’m meant to be with?
Is this how forever starts?
Tony moved his attention lower to brush his lips tenderly across the tips of her br**sts and Sarah buried both her hands in his hair.
If so, I’m all in.
On the sixth day, during the third hour, Sarah rolled over to face him in their bed. He smiled warmly at her and her heart filled with worry. They hadn’t talked about what would happen next. Neither had mentioned their self-imposed time limit on their paradise.
I thought I was done hiding, but is that what we’ve done all week?
Our lives haven’t changed. Everything is the same back there—in reality.
Why did I give myself six more days of him?
Five more than I needed to know there was no avoiding this heartbreak. Like a movie where you know how it ends but you can’t stop watching.
What if this is it? We go home and it’s over?
Why did I think more time together would make things better?
“It’s Tuesday,” she said sadly, waiting for the reassurance she needed.
“I know,” he replied, his jaw tight and his expression guarded for the first time since she’d practically dragged him back into his own cabin.
Worry turned to panic. No, this isn’t how it’s supposed to go. “I don’t want to go back,” she admitted hoarsely.
He didn’t say anything, but she saw the torment in his eyes before he lowered his lids to conceal it from her.
Give me something, she pleaded silently. Anything to hold onto.
I’ll go first, if that’s what it takes. “I never knew it could be like this,” she said.
“You got your research for your book, then,” he said blandly, dismissively.
Quick, hot anger filled her. Bastard. “Is that how this will end? You become an ass**le again?”