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Challenged by the Sheikh
By Kristi Gold
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe search for premiere horseflesh had brought Imogene Danforth to SaHra'a Stables. The discovery of prime man flesh had been a very definite plus.
She stood outside the open stall door watching the stranger's bare back as he shoveled shavings onto the floor, spreading them meticulously over the rubber matting. A rivulet of sweat slid down between his shoulder blades and tracked the pearl path of his spine before disappearing below the waistband of a pair of well-worn jeans. Those jeans and the tear right below the back pocket, his tensile muscle covered by warm sand-toned skin, garnered Imogene's complete attention.
Unfortunately, thoroughly examining a stable hand's assets was not on her agenda, even if he did have a landmark butt and expansive shoulders. Leasing a four-legged foe was her goal, even though her knowledge of the equine species could be compiled on the head of an amoeba. In fact, the last time she'd ridden a horse, she'd been five years old and the pony had managed to buck her off. And the last time she'd been involved with a man, he'd thrown her over for a more suitable partner. So when it came to horses and men, Imogene hadn't been too lucky in either instance. But she could still appreciate both, regardless of her less-than-happy history. However, her appearance here today was strictly business.
The dust kicking up from the shavings tickled Imogene's sensitive nose. No doubt, she was going to start sneezing in rapid succession. She never did anything halfway; this was no exception.
After five or so obnoxious ah-choos, Imogene muttered "Excuse me," in apology and greeting as she took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at her watering eyes, hoping her mascara had remained intact, otherwise she would be more raccoon than woman. Once her vision cleared, she directed her attention on the stable hand to find he had turned to give her a full-frontal view.
He was phenomenally tall and predictably gorgeous with tousled raven hair, a straight-edge nose and a shading of whiskers framing full lips that Imogene would wager had seen lots of action in the kissing department. His chiseled chest revealed the results of physical labor as well as a spattering of dark hair. The jeans began right below his navel, offering a glimpse of what Imogene's brothers used to call The Happy Trail, a path of hair leading to that part of the male anatomy that made men very happy to be men. And admittedly, made many women glad to be women - as long as a man did not utilize it as his primary brain.
Imogene finally traveled back to his eyes - thunderstorm-gray eyes rimmed with an almost black perimeter. Seductive eyes that surveyed her with barefaced interest, the same way she had blatantly assessed him.
"How may I help you?" he asked in a moderately deep voice that was darkly lyrical and surprisingly sophisticated.
Imogene could think of several responses, none that would be fitting for a woman who needed to keep her mind on her business, not on his butt. "I'm looking for Sheikh Shakir."
He braced both palms on the shovel's handle, highlighting the prominent veins on his arms. "Is he expecting you?"
Imogene obviously should have called first, but there hadn't been time. She'd found the stable on the Internet, discovered it was the closest to Savannah and then rushed out of the office. Besides, if she had called, only to find the owner wasn't available, then she would have missed out on this manly panorama standing before her. "Actually, I didn't make an appointment. I hope that won't be a problem since the sign out front says Visitors Welcome."
"That would depend on what you want from him."
"I need a good Arabian, and fast," she blurted before she realized how questionable that sounded. Where was her brain? Back in the Beemer?
His smile arrived gradually. A somewhat sardonic smile but patently sensual as his gaze raked over her, from blond bangs to sensible pumps, lingering at her legs and breasts. "I am Arabian, and I can be very good."
Saints above, he was flirting with her, literally baring her body and soul with a few choice looks and suggestive words. Oddly enough, Imogene wanted to flirt back. But she couldn't, or shouldn't. "I appreciate the offer, but I was referring to an Arabian horse."
He shifted his weight from one leg to the other while Imogene did the same, her heels digging into the artificial green turf covering the aisle - appropriate, considering the barn was as big as a football field.
"Are you interested in breeding?" he asked.
What a novel idea. Unfortunately, that was not on the agenda, either. "Excuse me?"
"Are you looking for breeding stock? Perhaps a stallion?"
"Actually, I'm looking for someone to ride." Someone? Oh, jeez. "I mean, I need a horse to ride."
His grin deepened, reflecting a trace of amusement and a very definite, very sexy charm. "How much experience do you have?"
Although she assumed he'd meant equestrian experience, his provocative tone indicated he might mean something else altogether, and so did the heat in his eyes. "I have some experience." Just a slight stretch of the truth, especially where horses and men were concerned.
He leaned the shovel against the wall then folded his arms across his chest. "Would you want a gentle mount? Or are you comfortable with something more daring?"
Imogene was suddenly assailed by the image of taking a wild ride with this particular stud. A long, wild ride. She inclined her head and gave him a coy look, greatly enjoying the exchange. After all, what harm could it do? She would probably never see him again after today. It sure beat the heck out of her usual money-matters conversations with men. "Whatever I need to stay in the saddle for more than a few minutes."
"That can be achieved with practice."
"Then I'm assuming you've had a lot of practice?"
What a confident cad. An incredibly stunning, confident cad.
Oh, Lordy, she had the hots for a stable hand. Her parents would certainly love that. But as much as Imogene wanted to continue playing this innuendo game, she didn't have time. She needed to find a horse and report back to her slug of a boss, Sid Carver, who'd gotten her into this mess by telling prospective clients she was an equestrienne extraordinaire. Next month, she was to join her client and his wife at their farm with her own show-quality Arabian, pretending to be a hotshot rider as well as a hotshot investment banker. Had it not been for the possibility of a promotion, she would never have stepped foot in a stable and risked stepping in something not at all pleasant.
Excerpted from Challenged by the Sheikh by Kristi Gold Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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