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Keeping an eye on the sideview mirror and steady light pressure on the truck's gas pedal Nick smoothly backed the silver two-horse trailer into the small opening of the round pen. His brother, Jake, stood next to the corral fence, frowning and staring at the trailer. Each kick from the horse inside rocked the trailer side to side. Nick shifted the truck into park but kept his foot on the brake and then waved his arm out of the drivers' side window to get his brother's attention.
"He's not tied so when you open the door be ready to get the hell out of the way," he shouted.
Jake nodded, then squeezed between the fence and the trailer and Nick heard the harsh clangs of numerous locks being thrown. A loud squealing of metal hinges sounded, combining with the clattering of sharp hooves. The horse let out a high-pitched scream before jolting the trailer up and down as the animal lunged out of the trailer. Nick heard the trailer door slam shut and put the truck into drive, pulling the rig quickly away so Jake could close the corral gate. He pulled the truck and trailer around to the side of the barn, then came back to stand beside Jake, who stood with his elbows and one booted foot propped on the corral railing, watching with narrowed eyes as the horse careened around the enclosure.
"Jesus Christ, Nick." Jake's usually level voice was hard. "The bastard that did this should have been shot."
"Trust me, I was tempted."
"There's not an inch on him that's not scarred. Even his ears. How the hell did you get close enough to get the halter on him?"
Nick sighed, suddenly feeling very, very tired. "I tranqed him with the dart gun. Hated to do it, but itwas the only way." He clucked and the big-boned quarter horse draft cross twitched his ears towards him. For a second Nick saw something soft flicker in the horse's eyes, but then it was gone and the madness was back. Lowering his head the horse charged to the center of the enclosure and struck out aggressively with both front legs.
"Looks like it's worn off though."
Jake snorted, watching the gelding's dramatic display. "Ya think?" He double checked the latch on the pen gate, "You've got your work cut out for you with this one, Nick, maybe more than you realize. I hope he's worth it."
Nick looked into huge brown eyes, seeing nothing but fear and distrust, but he also saw beneath the scars and misbehavior to the proud beauty the horse had probably been before he'd been bought and misused by a cruel owner.
"They're always worth it, Jake."
The hairs on the back of Nick's neck prickled and he reined to a halt just outside of the hidden copse.
She was here again.
He exhaled silently, ignoring his now racing heart. Moving carefully he dismounted and ground tied his horse, knowing the abundance of grass would keep the animal quiet and satisfied. Stepping off the path he moved quickly to the shelter of a huge Hemlock tree and relaxed against its trunk, crossing his arms over his chest. The moon was full overhead but shadows cast by the enormous, low-hanging limbs would keep him hidden from her view. The low gurgling of the stream she sat beside would absorb any slight noise.
God she was beautiful.
Wrapped in a light-colored shawl because of the cool night she sat at the edge of his stream, knees drawn up to her chin, dangling a leafy vine in the water, completely oblivious to his presence. Thick dark hair trailed loosely down her back and Nick saw that a portion of it was trapped beneath her. Modern women just did not have hair like that, not without hundreds of dollars worth of styling help. Gut instinct told him that the gorgeous mass cascading to the ground was real. Nick could almost feel the silky-smooth texture of it trailing over his jaw and across his chest as her mouth moved down to his stomach, his abs...
Shit ... He shifted slightly, trying to ease the sudden heaviness in his groin.
She sighed, turning her head slightly in his direction and resting her right cheek against her knees. Moonlight painted her skin so translucent it appeared lit from within. She had a fragile bone structure, sweet, very delicate features; high forehead, dark arching brows and eyes a color he couldn't make out ... Full, sensuous lips had him clenching his jaw against a groan of intense longing.
She shivered and wrapped her shawl more tightly around her, but her small shoulders continued to tremble. Nick frowned; the thought of her being cold bothered him, although why he should care was beyond him. After all, she was trespassing on his land, invading his private domain.
And he didn't give a shit.
He wanted to take her in his arms. Share his body heat until both of them were burning.
The urge was insane. Coming out here in the middle of the night just to see her was insane.
She walks in beauty, like the night ... The words popped into his mind, a poem he had heard once but damned if he remembered where or when. Most likely from a movie, since reading poetry was not high on his list of good times, although he had to admit that the line was certainly beautiful ... like her. Nick rolled his eyes at himself; waxing poetic at his age wasn't a very good sign.
Soft undulations reached his ears. Humming. She was humming, for Christ's sake. Low, slightly husky, the soothing rhythm floated to him, vaguely foreign sounding. Sort of like a lullaby. Leaning towards the stream she plucked a blade of grass from between two rocks and ran the tip of it around her open palm, following the outline of each finger with the slender blade. Long, slow, stroking caresses. Up, down, and around. His throat tightened and his fingers clenched tightly against the wave of lust that gripped him. He imagined her hands upon his skin, slowly caressing ... and then her lips following their path downward...
Suddenly she froze, her hum cut off in midstream. The blade of grass fell forgotten to the ground as she subtly cocked her head to one side, listening.
Muscles tensing, Nick wrapped his palm around the hilt of his knife. He stood tense, ready for trouble until she finally relaxed and focused her gaze on something near the water. Soon he was able to see what had her attention. A black-crowned night heron had landed in the stream about thirty feet from where she sat, an unlucky fish dangling from his wet beak. She smiled at the bird, a truly genuine smile that dimpled her cheek and flashed small white teeth. Nick caught his breath--He wanted her smiling at him that way, pure, open and trusting. Jesus! What the hell is wrong with me? Now I'm jealous of a damn bird!
Spreading its wings the heron flew away to enjoy its prize and with childlike enthusiasm she busied herself digging in her pack, pulling out a sketchpad and pencil and beginning to draw by moonlight. The pencil moved quick and sure and Nick guessed she was capturing her memory of the bird while still fresh. He craned his neck, trying to get a glimpse of her drawing.
Oh Christ! His mouth went dry when in one of the most unintentionally seductive displays he had ever seen, she stood and used both hands to massage her butt, arching her back and causing her breasts to thrust out against her shawl. Full and natural, they were more than enough to fill his hands and more than made up for her lack of stature. She might be small but she had more than enough to satisfy him. Her wetdream hair fell long and wavy down her back, past her thighs to almost touch the ground. Her soft appreciative sigh as the stretch loosened tight muscles reached him all the way across the clearing and he bit back a growl.
He wanted her now; soft and wet, stretched out naked in his bed, up against the wall; bent over a chair with her ass in the air, or hell, out here would do just fine too.
He sucked in a deep breath, knowing he was in deep shit when the flood gate of erotic images opened. When it came to her his body seriously outruled his brain, and if he had to endure much more of this torture he was definitely going to explode.