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Logan Quinn stared down the long, tree-lined driveway. He'd expected Willimston Farm would be upmarket, but he hadn't expected a feckin' estate. He turned the campervan off the main road and felt a sense of unease come over him.
When he'd made plans to stop along his weeklong route to Perth, all Logan had wanted was a spare stable, fresh water and a place to park. His old mate Ed Perkins had been working as a stable manager at Willimston for the past few years and had offered a place to overnight. Logan wondered how Ed's boss man might feel about the raggedy campervan and trailer ruining the perfectly groomed landscape.
If the sprawling house didn't give visitors a clue to the wealth of the owners, the outbuildings did. The low-slung buildings were painted white with green doors and shingles, a clear indication of the bottomless bank account that funded the place. Logan couldn't help but think of his own ranch on the fringes of the outback, the ramshackle house, the rough stables.
He'd worked for years to put together the cash needed to buy his own operation, sometimes juggling his job as an investment banker with one or two other jobs. And though the ranch was far from perfect, it was the first home he'd ever known.
After a childhood spent watching his father bounce from place to place, sheep station to cattle ranch, all the family's belongings contained in the back of a pickup truck, Logan needed a place to put down roots.
Every time he drove up the dusty road and saw the weathered stable and tiny house, he felt a measure of pride. He was building something for the future. And maybe someday, he'd have a family and they'd know a real home, a place where they could feel safe and secure.
A kid couldn't help but feel that way on Willimston Farm, he thought to himself. "Someday, my place will look like this," he murmured. Logan chuckled to himself. "Yeah, right. And someday, pigs will fly."
He slowly pulled the campervan to a stop and turned off the ignition. They'd been on the road for eight hours. It was time for the both of them to stretch their legs. He watched as a tall, lanky figure approached, then recognized his old friend Ed beneath the brim of the faded hat.
Logan stepped out of the camper and pulled off his sunglasses. "Ed! Hey, mate. Good to see you."
Ed yanked off his leather gloves and shook Logan's hand. "Logan Quinn. How was your drive?"
"Long. It feels good to stand instead of sit." He glanced around. "This is quite the place. You landed yourself a nice spot."
"It's good. The owner isn't around much. He has a mansion in Brisbane, too. But when he is here, he's a decent chap. Simon Grant. He's big in energy. Appreciates fine horses, too. So, who's watching your place while you're on the road?"
"I've got Billy Brantley working for me. Remember him? He worked with us that summer out on the Weaver ranch."
"He's a good guy. Hard worker." Ed nodded in the direction of the trailer. "Enough of this chatter. Are you going to show me?"
"Sure. Let's get her out." Logan walked to the back of the trailer, dropped the ramp and opened the doors. He smoothed his hand over the flank of the filly as he moved to take her halter.
"Come on, darlin'," he murmured. "Let's get you out of this trailer and into a paddock. You need some exercise." The filly slowly backed down the ramp and, when all four hooves were on firm ground, Logan circled her around Ed, letting him observe the horse.
He'd never been more proud of something that he'd accomplished as he had been of breeding and raising Tally. And though he knew not to get too attached to one of his horses, Logan was forced to admit that he loved everything about the pretty filly.
"Jaysus, Logan, she's a beauty." Ed stepped forward and examined the filly with a keen eye. He ran his palms over her, peered into her eyes and patted her neck. "You say she's sold?"
"Why? Do you want to buy her?"
"Hell, I'd be crazy not to show her to my boss. He's always looking for new stock."
Logan shrugged. "Yeah, she's sold. To a guy over in Perth. He's got a nice breeding operation."
"No. How much?"
Logan told him the price and Ed shrugged. "It's a fair price. I probably could have gotten you more. I would have liked to breed her with a stallion we have. They would have made some beautiful babies together." He paused. "Why didn't you keep her for yourself?"
A sliver of regret shot through him at the question. "I would have loved to. But I need the money."
"Things are tough?"
Logan chuckled. "Define tough.''''
"Why didn't you give me a call? I could have helped you out."
"You're helping me out now. Letting me stay here for the night. Now, do you have a paddock for my lady? I think she could use a good run."
"Come on, then. I saved the best for you."
They walked toward one of the low barns and when they reached the paddock, Ed opened the gate. Logan rubbed the filly's neck then sent her inside. She trotted around the perimeter, her ears up, her nostrils sniffing the air.
"What's her name?"
"I call her Tally," he said. "Her official name is Quinn's Tally-Ho Wallaroo. But maybe the new owners will give her a different name."
"She is a beauty."
Logan nodded. "Yeah. She's the first colt born on the farm, the first I raised from a baby. Hell, I feel like she's my kid and I'm sending her off into the world."
Ed patted him on the shoulder. "I expect letting the first one go is always the hardest. I've set up a stall in this barn here," he said, pointing over his shoulder. "You can pull your campervan around to the back. Just inside the door there's a loo and a shower."
"Thanks," he said.
"Have you had dinner yet?"
"Yeah. I picked up something along the way. Once I have Tally bedded down, I'm going to turn in, too. I'm knackered."
"Well, I'm up at sunrise. I'll bring you some breakfast before you leave."
Logan nodded. "Thanks. For everything. I really appreciate it."
"No worries," Ed said.
As Ed walked back to the stable, Logan turned his gaze out to the chestnut filly in the paddock. He'd always thought that Tally would be the center of his breeding program at the farm. He'd never imagined that he'd have to give her up. Just the thought of turning her over into someone else's care caused an ache deep in his gut. But horse breeding was like roulette. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and other times you walked away with nothing.
He braced his arms on the top of the gate and rested his chin on his hands. He'd had a choice. Keep the horse or keep the ranch. Without the filly, the ranch would survive. Without the ranch, he had no place to keep his horses.
Hell, maybe another filly like Tally would come along. Though her sire and dam had produced two males in the past two years, the odds were good that he was due a filly. But what were the chances that she'd be as perfect as Tally? He'd hate to think that his one-in-a-million horse had come at a time when he couldn't keep her for himself.
A quiet curse slipped from his lips. This trip wouldn't be any easier if he continued to drown in sentimentality.
The sound of her voice startled him. Logan turned to find a woman standing beside him on the lowest rail of the gate. The sun was behind her and he had a hard time making out her features, so he stepped back from the gate and pulled down his sunglasses.
The beauty of her profile, outlined by the setting sun, hit him like a ton of bricks. Flaxen hair gleamed in the golden light, the strands falling around her face in delicate curls. She looked as if she'd just crawled out of bed.
Her eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses. She wore a loose-fitting T-shirt and the bottoms to a hot-pink bikini that barely covered her backside. The soft curves of her breasts were outlined by the thin cotton, and he could almost imagine the body beneath the shirt. His gaze drifted back up to her face and he took in her lush lips.
A tiny smile twitched at the corners of that sensuous mouth. "What's next? Are you going to want to check my teeth? Maybe run your hands over my withers? I can take a turn around the paddock if you like."
He hadn't realized his stare was so obvious. He turned away and fixed his gaze on Tally. "Youyou startled me."
"Good," she said. "I always like making a memorable first impression."
He laughed softly. She was teasing him and wasn't trying to hide it. But to what end? "Well done, then," he said. "I'm impressed." Logan glanced over at her. "Who are you?"
She held out her hand. "Lucinda Grant. My father owns this place."
He took her hand and gave it a quick shake. Her fingers were long and slender and tipped with shiny red polish. His mind flashed an image of those hands, skimming over his naked body, touching him in places he hadn't been touched for a while. Logan swallowed hard. Yeah, right. No chance a pretty little rich girl was going to waste her time on guy without a penny in his pocket.
"Nice to meet you, Miss Grant," Logan said.
"Oh, please. You stared at my arse. I think we're beyond Miss Grant. You can call me Sunny."
"I thought your name was Lucinda."
"It is, but everyone calls me Sunny. With a u. Actually, it really should be an o. My father always wanted a boy so he called me Sonny with an o until I was five. My mother changed it to Sunny with a u."
"It's nice to meet you, Sunny with a u."
She pushed her sunglasses onto the top of her head and turned her green-eyed gaze his way. "It's usually customary for you to tell me your name. You really do have the worst manners."
"Are you always such a smart-ass?" he asked, starting to enjoy the little game they were playing.
That brought a laugh. "I developed the talent in my teenage years and have perfected it since then. It's one of my best qualities."
He saw the glint in her gaze and Logan shook his head. He'd known girls like her, girls who weren't afraid to push the boundaries, girls who would say anything that came into their heads just to get a reaction. He usually made it a point to stay away from that type. They were impossible to figure out.
But there was something about Sunny, something more than just a quick wit and a sharp tongue. He saw something more vulnerable behind that bold facade. He could see it in those eyes, those incredibly beautiful green eyes.
Logan rubbed his hand on his faded jeans before holding it out to her. "Logan Quinn."
She stared down at his hand for a long moment and Logan wondered if she didn't want to touch him. But then, she reached out and ran her finger along the length of his forearm. The feel of her nail scraping his skin sent a shiver through his body. She glanced up at him and smiled coyly. "You have nice hands, Logan Quinn." Her gaze turned toward the filly, who was now watching them both with a suspicious eye. "Is she yours?"
"For now," Logan said.
With that, she crawled over the gate and dropped down on the other side, her bare feet causing a soft thud in the dirt. As she walked toward Tally, Sunny turned back to him. "Come on," she said. "I want to hear what you have to say about her."
Logan followed her over the gate and hurried to catch up. As he walked beside her, he risked a glance at her face again. God, she was the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. And the oddest, as well. She didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that she was wandering around in a T-shirt that was just thin enough to reveal what was underneath. Maybe she'd spent the day sunbathing topless . He swallowed hard as a vivid image flashed in his mind.
When they got within ten feet of the filly, Sunny stopped and held out her hand. "What's her name?"
"Tally," he said.
"Hey, there, Tally," she murmured.
Logan reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a biscuit, then handed it to her. "She likes these."
"Anzac biscuits? Me, too." She took a bite from the biscuit, then held the treat out to Tally. The horse immediately walked over and snatched the biscuit from Sunny's fingers.
Gently, she grabbed her halter and led the horse in a wide circle. Logan watched Sunny, his attention completely captivated by her long, slender legs and her lithe body. He felt a current of desire skitter through him and he drew a long breath.
Sunny carefully examined the horse, smoothing her palms over Tally, slowly taking in her conformation. And when she was finished, she motioned him over.
"Give me a knee up," she said.
"You're going to ride her?"
Logan linked his fingers together and she slipped her knee into the cradle. He boosted her up and Sunny gracefully straddled the horse. Tangling her fingers in Tally's mane, she gave the filly a gentle nudge, and Tally moved forward.
The sight of them both, a beautiful woman and an equally beautiful horse, was enough to take Logan's breath away. His pulse quickened and he found himself searching for his next breath. As she urged Tally into a gallop, he groaned, trying to keep his mind off the images running around in his head.