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Tempted by a Cowboy
By VONNA HARPER MELISSA MACNEAL DELILAH DEVLIN
APHRODISIA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDust swirled around the legs of the two dozen mustangs trapped in the large corral. Beyond the wood enclosure waited the typical high desert offerings of dried grasses, hearty shrubs, low hills, and endless miles of wilderness. Occasionally, one or more of the wild horses stopped its uneasy movements and lifted its head to stare at the horizon.
From where he stood on the other side of the corral, cowboy and horse wrangler Miguel Perez easily read the mustangs' body language. Born free, they wanted nothing more than to return to the land of their birth. But it wasn't going to happen because they'd been on acreage that was the responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management. After due consideration, the bureau had declared that there was too much horseflesh for the acreage.
"I don't like it any more than you do," Miguel informed them, speaking from the depths of his heart. "Wild's all you've ever known. No matter what happens out there, you believe you should be allowed to live the way nature intended." Not taking his eyes off the thousands of pounds of hearty and well-fed horseflesh, he fell silent.
An ache ground through him, burning his eyes and making his fingers clench. Restless in a way that had been part of himsince early childhood, he absorbed the mustangs' energy.
In his mind's eye, he slid between the wooden slats and approached the tall black stallion with the lightning-shaped blaze running down his face and flowing mane and tail. Seeing the human approach, the stallion would rear, his eyes showing too much white, nostrils flared. Standing his ground, Miguel waited for the animal to settle. Then he'd stepped forward and placed a calming hand on the stallion's muscled neck.
It's all right, all right. Everything's changed for you, but you'll survive. We're in this together, you and me. I understand you, and you'll come to understand me. To trust. To love. Maybe even to comprehend that I had no choice but to step into your life.
The grind and groan of an approaching vehicle pulled him back from his thoughts, but as a dust-caked BLM truck bounced into view, he left a small part of himself with the stallion he'd already named Blanco in honor of the white blaze. The journey toward their becoming one had begun.
After stopping some thirty feet away, the truck's driver silenced the engine. As the mustangs had done when Miguel had pulled in with his truck and single-horse trailer, they galloped to the far end of their enclosure. Both truck doors opened. Miguel took quick note of the driver, a tall, robust man in a standard brown BLM uniform who appeared to be in his early forties. His thinning hair was close-cropped and his boots, although dirty, were sturdy looking. Then he turned his attention to the passenger.
He hadn't expected to see a woman out in the middle of nowhere, especially not one about five and a half feet tall with slender arms and legs and a double handful of long, dark hair that she'd caught at the nape of her neck with something he couldn't see. Her close-fitting uniform revealed never-ending curves. His first reaction was that BLM needed to hire sturdier women for the physically demanding work.
His second spawned from his cock. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had sex, several months for the simple reason that managing ten thousand plus beef cattle on a massive and remote ranch didn't lend itself to frequent interactions with the opposite sex.
As the two closed in on him, he read her name tag: DAWN GLASS. She looked like a dawn all right, with lively hazel eyes that swept over her surroundings and then settled on him. Appraised him. Everything about her expression said she loved and embraced life. She was either deeply tanned or, like him, came by her dark coloring naturally. But whatever her nationality, she wasn't Hispanic. He would have known.
"You must be Miguel Perez," the man whose name tag identified him as Brod Swartzberg said. "From what you said, we figured you'd be the first to get here."
Miguel had called the number he'd been given via cell a couple of hours earlier to make sure he had the location right. At the time he'd spoken to a man, probably Brod, which had added to his assumption that he'd be working solely with men. From the way Dawn studied her coworker, he concluded Brod outranked her. As for why she'd chosen a career devoted to managing public lands mostly in the middle of nowhere instead of availing herself of civilization's comforts . . .
"How many others are you expecting?" he asked, directing his question at Dawn.
"Today, three," she said, still meeting his frank gaze. "A couple more tomorrow and what, five or six next week. We were hoping for a greater response to the program, but it's a large investment in time and effort."
Miguel knew that she was talking about the program in which qualified horse trainers had been invited to compete to see who could do the most with a wild mustang within a set time frame. Although the wranglers would be financially reimbursed to a certain extent, she was right, only a fool would get into the competition for the money.
Money had nothing to do with his reasons for having come here. Doing what he could to ensure a future for at least one of the mustangs drove him.
"How long have you been here?" Brod asked. "Long enough to get a feel for the animals?"
A "feel" for horses, as the other man called it, came as naturally to him as breathing. It was human beings he wasn't sure he'd ever figure out, not that it mattered. "I'm interested in the black stallion, the one with the white blaze."
Dawn and Brod exchanged a look. "Are you sure?" she asked. Once more her gaze leveled on him, and her eyes darkened, letting him know she was trying to dig beneath his surface. "This herd's been here nearly a month, long enough for them to get used to hay and for us to study them and ensure their health. He's the resident stud, probably sire to the majority of foals."
"That's what I figured."
She didn't understand his decision, or more likely, she didn't understand him. But she wanted to. Otherwise, she would have dropped her gaze, right? Wouldn't have sent a sensual zinging his direction.
Dawn Glass wasn't a beautiful woman, not in the way of the creatures who wound up on magazine covers. Her hands, although small like the rest of her, sported a number of tiny scrapes and scars. They were strong looking in keeping with her muscled forearms and what he could see of her thighs and calves. He didn't think she was wearing makeup and was close enough that he'd be able to smell her perfume if she was wearing any.
A woman who didn't think of herself as one, or so deeply female that the exterior package didn't matter? There'd been a zing, right? It hadn't all been his imagination, or had it?
What was he thinking? Hadn't he just allowed as how he didn't get humans? His interest in what made her tick was a byproduct of having gone too long without sex and standing nearly toe to toe with a ripe example of the other half of the human race. Her breasts, although his fingers itched to explore them, didn't appear to be overly large, and her pants didn't tightly cup her crotch. She wasn't giving him a come-hither look or planting her hands on her hips, no moistening of her lips. Still ...
Damn it, he was here to pick up a mustang to take back to the spread west of Yreka where he'd given the last three years of his life. No way would she let him throw her into the trailer and haul her there with him.
"You're experienced?" Brod asked. "Of course you are or you wouldn't be here. Even before I was assigned to the mustang project, I was curious about what it takes to change a bronc into a child's saddle pony. More guts than I have."
Shrugging, Miguel turned his attention back to the corral. As had happened when he'd first seen the wild horses, his heartbeat kicked up. In his mind's eye, he saw his beautiful and equally wild mother sitting high and proud and fearless on a bare back. Galloping full-out, she lifted her head and laughed as the wind threw her hair in an ebony stream behind her.
Untamed. A creature of the land.
"You're committed to the natural horsemanship's gentling techniques?" Dawn asked. "I know you had to sign the contract saying you'll adhere to every aspect of the approach, but if you have the slightest hesitation about what you're being required to do-"
"Hold up, Dawn," Brod interrupted. "There's no reason for us to get off on the wrong foot with, what did you say your name was? Sorry but the trainers are all running together in my mind."
Extending a hand in the man's direction, Miguel introduced himself. After shaking Brod's hand, he turned toward Dawn. For just a moment she stood with her arms by her sides and her head tilted to the side. Then she placed small but strong fingers in his paw. A current of heat raced through his heart and headed south. Even when they broke off the contact, she kept her gaze on him.
Heat, everywhere. A wildfire waiting for the wind to turn it into a monster.
What was she looking for, maybe trying to reconcile herself to his Hispanic heritage? Maybe trying to make sure he wasn't lying about his commitment to natural horsemanship? If she went back with him, she'd soon understand how foreign the concept of breaking a horse's will and spirit was to him.
"You didn't answer me," she said. "You're completely onboard with the program?"
"Why don't you watch and find out."
Damn but Miguel Perez had a scrape-the-nerve-endings voice, Dawn acknowledged. The wind's love affair with his ink-black, nearly shoulder-length hair wasn't helping her maintain her equilibrium and she wasn't about to acknowledge the effect his molded-to-his-hard-ass-jeans was having on her libido. If their handshake had gone on any longer, she'd have been forced to press her thighs together.
Turning her face into the hot breeze did nothing to cool her cheeks. She could only hope her tan hid her flush. From the moment she'd spotted Miguel standing alone and self-contained near the corral, her day had spun in a full circle. Yes, she was accustomed to living and working in a male-dominated world. Yes, she'd been the recipient of more than her share of come-ons and responded to a handful of them. But seldom did she feel as if she'd been sucker punched.
Turned on and hot to fuck.
Primitive to primitive, no boundaries established and no quarters given. Going at it, just the hell going at it.
Teeth clenched in defense against the primitive bitch who'd suddenly made an appearance between her ears and thighs, she worked at making sure her eyes weren't bugging out of their sockets.
Male. Five hundred percent male. Dark and strong, right at six feet with a sinfully flat belly. Shoulders broad enough to hold their own against any and all bucking broncs, eyes straight out of midnight, a simple blue T-shirt too damn in love with that solid chest and washboard abs. And the jeans, the damnable jeans. And a cowboy's thighs and calves beneath the denim.
"The stallion you're interested in," Brod said, sounding a thousand miles away, "is on the upper end of the age we prefer to work with. The vet tried to look at his teeth to get a more exact age, but he wasn't having any of that."
After a quirk of his mouth she felt in her belly, Miguel started toward the corral. Against everything that made any kind of sense, she studied his stride or rather what walking did to his buttocks. Only belatedly did she think to catch up with her supervisor who was following Miguel. By the time she reached the two men, Miguel was lifting a leg in preparation for climbing over a rail and entering the corral.
"What are you doing?" she blurted, her four years with BLM and the last four months devoted to the mustang project kicking in. "Are you crazy?"
He swiveled toward her, leg hooked over a rail and hands on the one above it. The sun settled on his features, giving them depth and stealing her breath. "Getting to know my horse," he said.
"On foot, without a rope, alone?"
He answered her concerns without saying a word. I know what I'm doing, his eyes said. And I don't need or want you questioning me.
But if he got hurt, if he wound up with broken bones and a bleeding body ...
Remember what I said, his eyes responded. I don't need you. Or anyone.
Chapter TwoThe moment he was inside the corral, the enclosure became Miguel's world, or rather the horses did. A part of him remained aware that Dawn Glass was watching his every move, judging him as a woman does a man. But these moments were for Blanco and him; everything else could wait.
The broncs were still in the far corner, most clustered behind Blanco. Because there were no foals in the group, he concluded they and their mothers had been separated from those that had been selected for the training program and hopefully remained free. Only a half dozen were stallions, the rest yearlings or barren mares.
Step by measured step, he approached the stallion. Instead of retreating, Blanco stood his ground. Whether he was deliberately putting himself between the human and his mares or more curious than the others didn't matter.
"You're beautiful," Miguel told him, his voice low and confident. "Wild but no longer free. You don't understand what's happening, and you don't like it. But it's going to be all right. You're safe with me. Safe." As he spoke, he wondered if Dawn Glass understood that his words had been carefully chosen. Blanco's coat was glossy despite a few scars on his shoulders and rump, probably from fights with other stallions.
"All this change, particularly the confinement, is confusing and frightening, but you'll learn to trust me, and once you do, you'll relax."
Now paying only small heed to what he was saying, he continued speaking to the stallion. The two of them shared the same gaze, the same energy, even the same air. In the distance, the desert Blanco had always known waited, but as long as the stallion listened to the human, the desert wouldn't call to him.
By moving smooth inches at a time, Miguel came within three feet of Blanco. He continued talking, his voice as musical as his throat could make it. Even as he chose soothing sounds designed for a wild animal, he wondered if they would have the same effect on Dawn Glass.
Because he didn't know any other way, he'd approach her as he did a horse, slowly so she'd have time to get used to his presence. He wouldn't make any sudden moves, and although he ached to clench his arms around her and seal her body to his, he'd hold off.
She wasn't wild, not the way Blanco or he was. A modern woman accustomed to assured and modern men, she'd have certain expectations. But because he had only scant understanding of, and interest in, those expectations, he'd rely on what he knew. She'd become his wild mare, driven into his corral and nervously awaiting his next move.
Although he could throw a rope over her, he wouldn't. Instead, he'd slowly close in on her. He'd give her time to get used to his presence, his smell and movement, the dark messages in his eyes, his muscles and body. Bit by bit, she'd stop thinking about breaking free. Her system would begin to react to his male reality, her nipples hardening and sex heating. No matter whether she leaned into him or turned her back on him, when he reached for her, her body would spark.
In his grip, his grasp and control, she'd cease to be who her name tag said she was and sink into instinct. Woman, reacting to man, skin on fire and heart racing, lungs expanding in a desperate effort to bring enough oxygen to her system.
What are you doing? she'd ask.
Showing you what it is to be a woman.
And because those were the words she'd long been waiting to hear without knowing it, she'd melt into him. Surrender her body to him. Strip off her clothing and spread her legs for him.
And he'd bury himself in her. Turn his selfhood over to her.
Not that simple, damn you!
Propelled by years of experience, Miguel extended his hand palm down toward Blanco. Throwing up his head, Blanco back stepped. Then, perhaps prompted by his engrained curiosity, the stallion again held his ground and slowly extended his head.
Excerpted from Tempted by a Cowboy by VONNA HARPER MELISSA MACNEAL DELILAH DEVLIN Copyright © 2009 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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