Read an Excerpt
Wild And Wicked
By Joanne Rock
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Kyra!" Jesse Chandler shouted to his business partner as he strode into the barn housing the offices of Crooked Branch Horse Farms. He juggled purchases from the tack shop until he reached a sawhorse table where he could set them down. "I've got all the leather you wanted. Saddles and bridles, riding gloves and a dominatrix outfit - oh, wait. That last one wasn't a business purchase."
He sorted through the new supplies in the converted old building Kyra used strictly for storage and office space. The horses Kyra bred and trained lived in much more modern quarters behind this barn.
Removing price tags and testing the leather of the new stock, Jesse waited for his best friend and colleague to appear. He'd never made her blush in over ten years of trying, but hope sprang eternal. No matter that Kyra Stafford was the one woman in Citrus County he'd never hit on, he still loved to make her laugh.
"Perfect," came a feminine purr from over his left shoulder - far closer than he'd anticipated. "I think you need an assertive woman to keep you in line, Jesse Chandler."
For about two seconds, he reacted to the sultry promise he must have imagined behind the words. Awareness fired through him, heated his insides despite the breeze drifting in the wide-open barn doors. The Gulf of Mexico rested a mere thousand acres away to border the northwest corner of the state of the art Florida horse farm and training facility. Surely the gentle wind off the water should have helped him keep cool in February.
But then Kyra stepped around him to stand by his side and look over the new tack, her long blond hair grazing his arm. Smart, sensible Kyra Stafford who had never flirted with him for so much as five seconds.
What the hell was the matter with him?
Shaking off an absurd sense of attraction he'd never felt for his best friend before, Jesse attributed the Twilight Zone moment to too many nights alone. He definitely needed to remedy that situation this weekend.
"Funny, I don't see any dominatrix garb here." Kyra glanced up at him with her bright blue eyes. Innocent blue eyes, damn it. And smiled. "Be careful what you wish for, Jesse."
From any other woman, Jesse would have pegged that remark for blatant enticement. But he was obviously going through major sensual deprivation if he was hearing come-ons in Kyra's speech. Hell yeah, he'd be more careful.
Clearing his throat, he decided maybe they were just both getting too old for the game of trying to make Kyra blush. "Guess I left the spiked collar at the store." He started hanging bridles on the wall, determined to make tracks between him and this ill-advised conversation. "That's okay. I don't go for the hard-core type anyway."
"Seems like you're not going for any type lately," Kyra observed, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she leaned a blue jean-clad hip into the sawhorse table. At twenty-four, she looked sort of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Bonanza - a petite blonde in dusty cowboy boots with enough determination and drive to move mountains, or, more often, stubborn horses. "Is southern Florida's most notorious bad boy finally mellowing?"
Allowing a saddle created for one of their new ponies to slide back to the plywood with a thunk, Jesse turned to face the woman who knew him best. The woman whose question mirrored his own recent fear.
"You know I couldn't mellow if I tried." Not that he would try. He was too content with bachelorhood, even though his last girlfriend was sticking to him like glue despite his best efforts to move on. He needed to show Greta he wasn't the forever-after - or even a three-date - kind of guy.
"Why? Because there'd be ten women lined up in Victoria's Secret lingerie and armed with apple pies if they knew you were thinking about settling down?" She tried on a pair of fawn-colored riding gloves and stared at her hand encased in suede.
Jesse grinned. "As if that would be such a hardship."
She cocked an eyebrow at him in one of Kyra's classic don't-bullshit-me looks.
He shrugged. "I don't know what's up. I've been putting in a lot of hours making final preparations around the Crooked Branch before I turn my attention to my custom homes business. Maybe I've just been working too hard lately."
He hated leaving Kyra to run the business all by herself, but that had been her stipulation from the moment they'd went in on the operation together. She'd vowed to buy back his substantial share of the farm once she'd made it a success.
And damned if she wasn't whooping butt on that promise already. As soon as she clinched one more horse sale, she'd own the controlling share of the business.
The farm had been great part-time work for Jesse in the years he'd played minor league baseball for kicks. But now that he was closing in on thirty, he was mentally ready to hang his own shingle for a custom home-building business and let Kyra go her own way with the Crooked Branch. His older brother had told Jesse last spring that he would never be able to still his wandering feet, but Jesse disagreed.
He might not be able to commit to any one woman, but he could commit to a place, damn it. Not only was he putting down roots in Citrus County, he was cementing his ties to the area by starting his own business here.
Still, he worried a little about leaving Kyra to her own devices at the training facility. Running a horse-boarding-and-breeding business wasn't exactly a cushy way of life and as the date for him to bow out approached, Jesse couldn't help thinking about all the tough jobs that Kyra would be left with to handle solo. The physically demanding aspects of handling stubborn horses. The chauvinistic attitudes of some of the owners. He hated the thought of anyone ever giving her a hard time.
She eyed him with quiet patience, reminding him why she was so damn good at working with antsy horses. "Are you sure you're working, Jesse, or are you maybe overcompensating for leaving in two weeks? No offense, but this is more tack than we'll need in two lifetimes." She studied him in that open, no-holds-barred manner that had made him trust her from the moment they met. "Are you just using the excuse of work to hide out from some overeager female of the week?"
Jesse shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
Why in the hell had he thought he might be able to hide anything from this woman? Kyra's eyes might be innocent, but they were wise.
Excerpted from Wild And Wicked by Joanne Rock Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.