Equine therapist Trisha Bolton has a secret. One she's not allowed to tell anyone. Finally given the chance to start over, she just needs the backing of local ultragorgeous neurosurgeon Mike Dunning!
No stranger to betrayal, Mike has every reason to be wary of Trisha. Yet each touch sparks long-extinguished flames in Mike, and soon their sessions in the barn become more steamy than either of them bargained for! Mike's had enough of secrets in his life. But can he convince Trisha that she can trust him with hers?
|File size:||244 KB|
About the Author
After the fourth manuscript, she realised there was no going back...she was officially a writer. When not in the middle of her latest book, Tina enjoys crafting stained glass panels, riding horses and hiking with her family. Fluent in Portuguese, she divides her time between Brazil and the United States and loves to use exotic locales as the backdrop for many of her stories.
Read an Excerpt
Someone was in her barn.
At least, according to her horse's soft nicker there was. Balancing the bay gelding's right rear hoof on her thigh, Trisha Bolton paused, the curved metal pick in her hand coming to a halt as she listened. Great. It had taken a couple of firm nudges to get Brutus to lift that last leg so she could finish scraping the debris from the bottoms of his hooves. She didn't want to signal she was done until she actually was. Because she doubted he'd co-operate a second timeeven for a chunk of carrot.
Brutus snuffed, a huge exhalation of sound, and shifted his weight. Maybe he was just impatient to be let out to graze with the other horses.
"Steady, boy." She readjusted her grip so his hoof didn't slide down her thigh and drop onto her foot. "We're almost done."
"Hello?" she called out, just in case. "I'm over in the cross ties."
No one responded.
She frowned as she caught the soft sound of footsteps at the far end of the concrete aisle between the stalls, heading her way. So there was someone here. The shoes were quiet, making little sound, each step planted carefully. Not rubber-soled quiet like a tennis shoe, but not the defined click of a riding boot either.
Five miles south of Dusty Hills, Nevada, her little chunk of land lay at the very end of a quarter-mile dirt track. Not the kind of place someone just happened upon. If you found her operation, it was because you came looking for it. And she didn't have a client at all today, which meant
Oh, Lord. Roger?
She swallowed hard, then forced herself to relax. No, he'd been moved to Virginia. Would be there for a very long time, according to the courts.
Today was their third anniversary, though. It would be just like him to reach out and remind her that he was still a part of her world, no matter how many miles separated them.
Brutus would be able to see whoever was here from his position at the front of the stall. Trisha, however, still hunched over his back hoof, had her choice of two lovely views: the slatted back wall of the grooming area or her horse's muscular backside. She could take her pick.
She tried again. "Who's there? Larry?"
Her barn helper wasn't scheduled to muck out the stalls again until tomorrow morning. And Penny was out at a supply fair, hoping to score a new bareback pad for those of their patients who had better control over their motor skills. And, besides, both of her workers knew enough to make their presence known when they came through those barn doors. As did all of her clients. There was even a cheerful sign to that effect over the entry beam: Feel free to say hello!
Fear of what could be out there still governed so many of her decisions. Most days she was okay, but today wasn't one of them.
There was still no answer to her greeting. And the footsteps were closer now. Still quiet. Stealthy, almost.
Brutus tossed his head, the clips attached to either side of his halter jingling in a way that didn't help her nerves. Her fingers tightened around the wooden handle of the hoof pick. She could always use the tool as a weapon, if need be, although the thought of cutting someone with it made her feel physically illreminded her too much of past events.
The agents had sworn her new identity was secure. That assurance, along with the many miles between her and her past, was supposed to ensure her safety. But she'd seen enough to know there were no guaranteesof anythingin this life.
Giving up on finishing her task, she took a step back and allowed Brutus's hoof to settle heavily on the ground. He shifted his weight onto it and tried to glance back at her, probably wondering what the heck was going on. Then his ears pricked forward, and he looked at something off to the right. She flattened her hand on his haunch, so he'd know where she was as she swiveled toward the front, keeping her body close to that of her horse. The earthy smells of fresh manure and warm animal faded away as she struggled to keep track of the sounds.
Should she call out again?
What if it was someone she didn't know? Or, worse, someone she did?
Get a grip, Trish, and think.
If it came down to it, an intruder would have to duck under one of the nylon ties that secured Brutus's head to either side of the grooming stall, giving her a few precious seconds to slip behind the animal and out the other sidepreferably without getting kicked in the ribs in the process, if something startled her horse.
Like a gunshot?
"Easy, boy." The soft quaver in her voice made Brutus's moist coat twitch beneath her fingertips. He could sense her growing fear.
Why she'd decided to keep her rifle locked in a safe in the house was beyond her. No, it wasn't. She'd rather risk her own safety than that of her young patients.
She slid her hand back a few inches, tangling her fingers in the long silky strands of Brutus's tail. There were no true pain receptors in the hairs, so he wouldn't feel a thing if she had to use it to give herself some momentum to swing behind him.
If they'd found her, they'd target her and not her horse. At least, that was her hope.
There! A man came into view on Brutus's left, silently facing her from the other side of the aisle with dark narrowed eyes. His shoes were black. Shiny. Leather bottoms. A professional's shoes. Thick dark hair was swept back from his face, and his hands were buried in the pockets of his gray slacks. If her heart hadn't been thundering in her chest like that of a racehorse headed for the finish line, she might think the stranger was dangerously handsome.
As it was, he just looked dangerous. Hard carved lines made up his jawline. And a muscle tensed and released repeatedly in his cheek.
Terror swept over her as he withdrew a handempty, thank Godand motioned her out of the stall without a word.
She stayed put.
"C-can I help you?" The hand in Brutus's tail tightened into a fist as she prepared to bolt. She held the pick slightly away from her body, hoping to draw the man's attention to it and make him think twice about coming in after her. The memory of bloodtoo much bloodmade bile rise in her throat. Could she really slash him with it?
Yes. She'd already proven she was capable of things she'd never dreamed possible.
He motioned to her again, his frown deepening as his eyes moved to the horse and then back to her.
Why didn't he say something?
If you think I'm coming out of this stall, without knowing exactly
Her horse had had enough of the thickening tension. He pinned his ears and shied to the right, hindquarters shimmying in an arc away from her. The abrupt movement caused her to lose her grip on his tail just as he let out a shrill whinny.
It was as if a bomb had gone off. Trisha found herself flying through the air, steel bands around either arm as she tumbled through space and landed in a heap on the hard concrete outside the stall.
Scratch that. It wasn't concrete. It was a body. The steel bands: hands, which still gripped her upper arms. His breath whooshed against her ear in rhythmic gusts.
And the words coming out of his mouth Well, those weren't sweet nothings.
So he could talk.
She patted the ground in a panic, searching for her hoof pick. And then her heart stopped as she saw it. Five feet above the guy's head. Too far to reach.
Her thighs were wedged between his, and she felt every hard muscle of his torso tensed and ready, but that wasn't what she was worried about. As quick as a bunny she stroked both palms over the stranger's sides, down his lean hips, and then dragged them back up the front of his thighs, feeling for any lump that wasn't a body part. Roger had taught her exactly where to look. Had made her pat down her contact. Right before he'd aimed his gun and.
She reached the man's pelvis, fingers probing, searching.
"What the hell?" The stranger flipped her over so that he was on topweight resting on his bent elbows, strong thighs still bracketing her legs. Only now her hands were imprisoned by his on either side of her head. "Are you seriously doing this? Now? You could have been killed."
Her brain hitched. She'd thought she was going to be killed. By him.
There was still one place she hadn't checked. The back of his waistband. But she couldn't move. And she was having second thoughts about who'd sent him. Especially since things were beginning to show some interest at the spot where they were joined together.
Breath still sawing in and out of her lungs, she stared up at him, trying to hold perfectly still. "Who are you? And why are you here?"
One eyebrow crept up, and his frown eased. "Maybe you should have stopped to ask that before feeling me up."
This was no killer. So who was he? She licked her lips, praying he wasn't an estranged parent of one of her patients. If so, she'd definitely not made the best first impression. Then again, neither had he.
"Why didn't you say something, instead of just standing there? You scared me to death. Not to mention dragging me out of the " She closed her eyes for a second before reopening them and glaring. "You never make sudden movements around a horse. Especially not that horse. You could have gotten us both killed."
The harsh dipping of something in his throat caught her attention. He stayed put for another second or two then rolled off her with a harsh oath and climbed to his feet. "Believe it or not, I was trying not to scare him into doing something crazy."
He held a hand toward her, but she ignored it and scrambled to her feet under her own power, hoping she looked more in control of herself than she felt. "Well, consider that a fail." She glanced at Brutus for proof, only to find him with his head hung low, lids half-shut. His nostrils flared as he huffed out a tired breath.
Really? Trisha rolled her eyes. Thanks for backing me up there, bud. You could at least look a little shaken up.
The stranger eyed the horse as well, looking more than a little wary. "I guess now's as good a time as any to ask. Are you Patricia Bolton?"
She nodded. At least he hadn't used her other name. A few more muscles came off high alert.
He continued, "Well, Ms. Bolton, despite our rather questionable introduction, it seems we share a mutual acquaintance." One of his hands shifted to the small of his back. The one place she hadn't checked.
Her brain skittered back toward panic, the blood draining from her head. "Is it Roger?" she whispered.
His gaze sharpened, and he lowered his hand, taking a step forward, only to stop when she jerked backwards. He shook his head, his eyes still focused on her face. "No, not Roger. Clara. Clara Trimble. Her mother said you were hoping to work with her. I'm Mike Dunning, the neurosurgeon who performed her operation."
Mike had seen all kinds of expressions on a woman's face as she lay beneath himlust, need, affection, love. But never in his life had he inspired abject terror. He should have realized the hands sweeping over his body had had a quick furtive quality to them, not the slow, languorous touches he was used to. She'd been looking for something specific.
"I'm sorry I scared you." He'd been a little panicked himself when that animal had given that high-pitched shriek. His nerves had already been stretched to breaking point the second he'd set foot in the barn, and each step had made the feeling that much worse. He hadn't dared call out to her, had barely been able to push one foot in front of the other.
Mike and horses could no longer be considered friends. Not that they'd ever been particularly close. But four years and a whole lot of distance had changed nothing, it seemed. He still couldn't stand to be near them.
The woman in question gave a rough exhalation of breath, drawing the back of her hand over her brow and leaving a smudge of some dark substance that made his lips curve.
He'd tackled her to the ground, what did he expect?
"Clara," she said. "Of course. Doris said she was going to ask you to contact me. I expected a phone call, not a visit."
His brows went up, more convinced than ever that putting his patient on the back of a thousand-pound animal was a bad idea. Both the horseand its ownerseemed strong-headed, unpredictable. He'd seen first-hand what kind of devastation that combination could cause. He curled his left hand into a loose fist, the emptiness he found there mirroring the void within his chest. "I'm not about to prescribe something for a patient I can't fully endorse."
"Oh." She bit her lip and backed up another pace or two before dropping onto a white plastic bucket against a nearby stall door. "If you had just called first."
"I did try. I left a message on your machine a few hours ago. I had a break and decided to stop over in person, instead of waiting for you to return my call." He turned to look at the animal behind him, expecting it to break free of its ties and grab hold of his shirt at any second. He gestured at it. "And if this is your idea of safe, then I'm afraid"
She stood in a rush. "Brutus isn't one of my therapy horses. I can assure you the horses I use with my patients are extremely gentle and love their job. Brutus is a special case."
Special. Yes, he could see that. About as special as its name.
He glanced around the rest of the barn, but it was empty. "So where are the other horses?"
"Out in the pasture. It's their day off. Brutus was just about to join them." She crossed over to her horse, murmuring something in a low voice before wrapping an arm under the creature's neck and leaning her temple against it.
He swallowed back a ball of fear when the big animal shifted closer to her. "Could you come away from there, please?"
Instead of doing as he asked, she leaned sideways and grabbed a loop of leather off a peg on the wall and unclipped one of the ties holding the horse in place. She replaced it with a hook from the loop in her hand. Then she unsnapped the tie on the other side.
The creature was free, except for that thin cord she held.
As if knowing exactly what he was thinking, the horse snorted and bobbed its head.
"What are you doing?"
She eyed him, a slight pucker between her brows. "I told you. Brutus needs to be turned out."
To his shock, she held the length of leather out to him. "Do you mind leading him while I take the wheelbarrow out to the compost heap?"
"I'd prefer it if you just put him in a stall." He gestured to the row of empty boxes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A must read, loved it.