Taken, Not Spurred (Page 36)

Taken, Not Spurred (Lone Star Burn #1)(36)
Author: Ruth Cardello

Smart man.

She closed her eyes and chuckled as she remembered the contents of the care package Carl had left along with the supplies they’d ordered: a huge box of condoms, all the fixings to make an ice-cream sundae except the ice cream, and vitamins. She and Tony had burst out laughing at the sight of the last item, but decided not to question the wisdom of a self-proclaimed expert.

When she opened her eyes, she found Tony watching her.

“What do you do for your parents’ business?” he asked, surprising her. They had avoided personal questions since their talk near the stream.

“I file, bill people, set up appointments.”

“You like it?”

“I hate it.”

“I didn’t take you for someone who would tolerate doing something you didn’t like for very long.”

“You’d be surprised. But I’m working on that. That’s what this trip is about—figuring out what I really want.”

“And then you’ll go home.” It was a statement, not a question.

Not if you ask me to stay. “Maybe, maybe not.”

“A woman like you would never be happy out here.”

A woman like me? His words stung like a slap. “What is that supposed to mean?”

He held up her perfectly manicured nails, running his work-roughened thumb over the soft palm of her hand. “You don’t have a callus on you, do you?”

She snatched her hand away. “I didn’t know they were a prerequisite to visiting Texas.”

“Don’t get all riled up by an observation.”

“Then don’t try to tell me where I could or couldn’t be happy. A callus or lack of one doesn’t mean a thing.”

“I’ve seen your horse.”

She huffed. “What’s wrong with Scooter?”

“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. “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 sorrow 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 into 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 her. “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 breasts, and Sarah buried both of her hands in his hair.