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Casey Westmoreland entered the barn and paused, mesmerized by the sound of the warm, seductive masculine voice speaking gently to the huge black stallion being given a brush down. She was mesmerized even more by the man himself.
In her opinion, he was as gorgeous as any one male had a right to be. Mixed with Blackfoot Indian and AfricanAmerican Creole, she couldn't help but wish for more time to just stand there and admire what she saw.
Tall and ruggedly built with thick wavy black hair that fell to his shoulder blades, his blue shirt swathed a massive chest, and the well-worn jeans that covered a well-structured butt almost took her breath away when he leaned over to replace the brush with a comb. She didn't need for him to turn around to know what his features looked like. They were ingrained deep in her brain. He had an angular face with eyes as dark as a raven's wing, high cheekbones, medium-brown skin that almost appeared golden, a straight nose, stubborn jaw and full lips. She took a trembling breath and felt the warmth of a blush stain her cheeks just thinking about those lips and her secret fantasy of having her way with them.
Another thing she knew about McKinnon Quinn was, that at thirty-four, he was considered by many"especially now that his best friend and her cousin, Durango Westmoreland, had recently gotten married"to be the most eligible bachelor in Bozeman, Montana and its surrounding areas. She'd also heard his bachelor status was something he valued with no plans to relinquish.
It was her opinion from their first meeting a little over two years ago that there was a quiet and innately controlled nature abouthim. Although he shared a rather close relationship with her cousins, there was still something about him that gave the impression that not too many others got close to him. He picked those he wanted to be associated with and any others he kept at a distance. Whenever she was around him she always felt he was watching her, and she could always feel his gaze on her like it was some sort of a physical caress.
"Are you going to state your business or just stand there?" His words, spoken in a deep, cutting voice, caught her off guard and made her wonder if he had eyes in the back of his head. She was certain she hadn't made a sound, yet he had sensed her presence anyway.
"I know how important grooming time is and didn't want to intrude," Casey heard herself saying after a moment, deciding to finally speak up.
It was only then that he turned around and she forced herself to continue breathing"especially when a surprised glint shone in the dark eyes that connected with hers. "Casey Westmoreland. Durango mentioned you were here visiting your dad," he said in a voice as intense as the eyes looking at her.
Your dad. That term in itself was something Casey was still getting used to since discovering she had a father who was very much alive after being told he had died before she was born.
"I'm not visiting, exactly. I've decided to move to Bozeman permanently," she said, wishing he wasn't staring at her so intently.
She watched as he hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans"a stance that immediately placed emphasis to his entire muscular physique. Surprise once again lit his eyes. "You're moving to Bozeman? Permanently?"
He all but snapped the question and she wondered why he would care one way or the other. "Coreyâ€¦I mean, my dad, is hoping that moving to Bozeman will give us a chance to get to know each other better." Even after two and a half years it was still somewhat difficult to call Corey Westmoreland "Dad" as her two brothers had begun doing.
McKinnon nodded and she noted that the eyes studying her were more intense than before. He had a close connection to her father since Corey was the best friend of McKinnon's father. In fact, to her way of thinking, it was a deeper connection than the one she herself shared with Corey if for no other reason than because McKinnon had known her father a lot longer than she had.
"That's what Corey thinks, but is that what you think as well?" he asked, his voice breaking into her thoughts.
What I really think is that it would help matters tremendously if you'd stop looking at me like that, she wanted to say suddenly feeling like she was under a microscope. Whether he intended it or not, his gaze was provocatively sensual and was sending a heated rush all through her. "I think it wouldn't hurt. I've lived in Beaumont, Texas all my life and when the lease expired on the building holding my clothing store"and I wasn't given the option of renewing it"I considered the possibility of relocating elsewhere. I've fallen in love with Montana the few times I've been here and agree that moving here will give me the chance to develop a relationship with Corey."
Casey doubted that he did. Not even her brothers fully understood the turmoil existing within her after finding out the truth. From the time she was a little girl her mother had painted this fairy-tale image of the man who'd fathered her and her brothers"the man who'd supposedly died in a rodeo accident while performing, leaving her mother pregnant with triplets.
Carolyn Roberts Westmoreland had made it seem as if she and Corey Westmoreland had shared the perfect love, the perfect marriage and had been so dedicated to each other that she'd found it hard to go on when he'd died. According to her mother, the only thing that had kept her going was the fact that Corey had left her with not one, not two, but three babies growing inside her womb. Triplets who would grow up smothered in their mother's love and their father's loving memory.
It hurt to know her mother had weaved a bunch of lies.
Corey Westmoreland had never married Carolyn Roberts. Nor had he known she was pregnant with triplets. Legally, her mother had never been a Westmoreland. And to make matters worse, Corey had never loved her mother. For years he had been in love with Abby, a woman he had met years before meeting Casey's mom, and Abby was the woman he'd been reunited with and eventually married just a couple of years ago.
"And there's another reason I wanted to move here," she decided to add, getting to the reason for paying McKinnon a visit. "I felt a career change would do me good, and by moving I can do something I've always loved doing."
"Working with horses"which is why I'm here. I understand you're looking for a horse trainer and I want to apply for the job."
Casey tried ignoring the sensations that flooded her insides when McKinnon's gaze moved up and down her five-foot-three petite physique. His gaze glittered when it returned to her face, as if he was amused by something. "You're kidding, right?"
She lifted a brow. "No, I'm not kidding," she said, crossing the floor to where he stood. "I'm dead serious."
She watched as his jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed and immediately resented herself for thinking he looked infuriatingly sexy.
"There's no way I can hire you as a horse trainer," he said in a rough voice.
"Why not?" she asked with as much calmness as she could muster. "I think if you were to take a look at my résumé, you'd be impressed with my qualifications." She offered the folder she was holding in her hand to him.
He glanced at the folder but made no attempt to take it from her. "Maybe I will and maybe I won't, but it doesn't matter," he said, giving her an intimidating stare. "I'm not hiring you."
His words, spoken so calmly, so matter-of-factly, sent anger coursing through her veins, but she was determined to keep her cool. "Is there a reason?" she asked, still gripping the folder in her hand, although she no longer offered it to him since he'd made it blatantly clear he wasn't interested.
After several tense moments he said, "There're a number of reasons but I don't have time to go into them."
Casey steeled herself against the anger that swept through her body but it was no use. His words had assaulted her sensibilities. "Now wait just a minute," she said, her eyes clashing with his.
He crossed his arms over his chest and to Casey, his height suddenly seem taller than six-three. "Don't have time to wait either," he said smugly, glaring down at her. "This is a working ranch and I have too much to do. If you're interested in a job then I suggest you look someplace else."
Casey, known to be stubborn by nature, refused to back down. McKinnon had effectively pushed her anger to the boiling point. And when she saw he had gone back to grooming the horse, as if totally dismissing her, her anger escalated that much more.
"Why?" she asked, struggling to speak over the rage that had worked its way up to her throat. "I think you owe me an explanation as to why you won't consider hiring me." For a long while McKinnon remained stubbornly silent and Casey waited furiously, patiently, for him to respond, refusing to move an inch until he did.
Finally, after several tense moments, McKinnon sighed deeply and turned back to face her, feeling that he didn't owe her anything. He saw the angry lines curving her lips and thought that from the first time he'd seen her, he had found her mouth as tempting as the shiny red apple Eve had offered to Adam. And he bet her lips were just as delicious and probably even more sinful.
For crying out loud, couldn't she feel the sexual chemistry flowing between them even amidst all that anger radiating from her? And from him? The moment he had turned around and seen Casey standing in the middle of the barn, he'd felt a zap of emotions shoot to every part of his body as well as his testosterone spike up a few notches. The woman was so striking that even the bright sunlight, which rarely showed its face in these parts, didn't have a thing on her.
She exuded an air of sexiness without much effort and although she was frowning quite nicely now, the few occasions he had seen her smile, her mouth had a way of curving enticingly that made you want to kiss the smile right off her lips. Even now her angry pout was a total turn on.
Then there were her physical attributes. Dark brown hair that was cut in a short and sassy style complimented her mahogany-colored features, eyes the color of the darkest chocolate that could probably make you melt if you gazed into them long enough, and a petite frame that was clad in a pair of jeans that appeared made just for her body.
He had just seen her last month at her cousin Delaney's surprise birthday party. He was of the opinion that each and every time he saw her she just kept getting prettier and prettier, and his attraction to her that more extreme. She even had the ability to smell good while standing in a barn filled with a bunch of livestock. Whatever perfume she was wearing was doing a number on him and besides that, although he couldn't see her legs right now, he had them plastered to his memory. They were long, shapely and."
He met her gaze as he tossed the brush in a pail and shoved his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. "Okay, I'll give you a reason. This is a horse ranch and I'm looking for someone who can train horses and not ponies. Corey would never forgive me if something were to happen to you."
He inwardly shuddered as if imagining such a thing, then added, "For Pete's sake, you're no bigger than a mite. The horse that needs to be trained is meaner than hell and I need to get him ready for the races in six weeks. As far as I'm concerned, you're not the person for the job. Prince Charming is too much animal for you to handle."
Anger flared in Casey's eyes and she drew herself up to her full five-foot-three. "And you're making that decision without giving me a chance to show you what I can do?"
"Yes, evidently I am," he drawled.
"Then you're nothing but a male chauvinistic."
"Think whatever you like, but the bottom line is that I'm not hiring you. I'm sure there're other jobs in Bozeman that might interest you. And since you're familiar with running a clothing store, you might want to check in town to see if there're any employment opportunities available in that area."
Casey stared at him as she struggled to control the fury that threatened to suffocate her. He was right. She was wasting her time here. "In that case, there's nothing left for me to say," she said tightly, staring at his impassive features.
"No, there really isn't." And to prove his point he picked up the brush and began grooming the horse again, totally dismissing her once more.
Without saying anything else, an angry Casey strode toward the exit of the barn.
McKinnon watched Casey leave and released a deep sigh of frustration.
He knew she was pretty pissed with him but there was no way he would hire her to work on his ranch. Most Arabians by nature were mild-mannered and peopleoriented, but the horse sent here for training lacked a friendly disposition by leaps and bounds. The only explanation McKinnon could come up with was that someone had treated the horse badly in the past, and it would take a skilled trainer to turn things around. He knew Casey had been born and raised in Texas, so chances were strong she was used to horses. But still, if things worked out and he expanded his business to train more horses, she would be dealing with studs that were known to be mean-spirited. He refused to be responsible if something were to happen to her.
Besides that, there was another reason he wouldn't hire Casey. He had decided six years ago after Lynette Franklin had walked out on him that a woman had no place on his ranch.
Just thinking of Lynette sent resentment through all parts of his body. But then to be fair, he couldn't rightly fault her for wanting something he couldn't give her. And when she had left, she had made him realize that a serious relationship with any female was something he would not involve himself in again.