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Out of nowhere, Ian Shaffer had his arms full of woman. Curvy, petite woman. A mass of silky red hair half covered her face, and as she shoved the wayward strands back to look up, Ian was met with the most intriguing set of blue eyes he'd ever seen.
"You okay?" he asked, in no hurry to let her down.
He'd taken one step into the stables at Stony Ridge Acres and this beauty had literally fallen into his arms. Talk about perfect timing.
The delicate hand against his shoulder pushed gently, but he didn't budge. How could he, when all those curves felt perfect against his body and she was still trembling?
He may not know much about the horse industry, but women
Yeah, he knew women really well.
"Thank you for catching me."
Her low, husky voice washed over him, making him even more thankful he'd come to this movie set to see to his client's needs in person
and to hopefully sign another actress to his growing roster of A-listers.
Most agents didn't visit movie sets as regularly as he did, but he sure as hell wasn't missing the opportunity to keep Max Ford happy and allow prospective client Lily Beaumont to witness just what a kick-ass, hands-on agent he was. Given his young age, the fact that he was known as a shark in the industry happened to be good for business.
Ian glanced to the ladder that stretched up into the loft of the spacious stables. His eyes narrowed in on the rung that hung vertically, the culprit of the lady's fall.
"Looks like your ladder needs repairing," he told her, looking back to those big, expressive blue eyes.
"I've been meaning to fix it," she told him, studying his face, his mouth. "You know, you can let me down now."
Yeah, he was probably freaking her out by keeping her in his clutches. But that didn't stop him from easing her down slowly, allowing her body to glide against his.
Hey, he may be there to concentrate on work, but that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy the samplings of a tempting woman when an opportunity presented itself.
Keeping his hand on her arm, Ian allowed his gaze to sweep down her body. He justified the touch by telling himself he was looking for signs of injury, but in all honesty, he simply wanted to get a better look. If this was what they called taking in the local scenery, then sign him up.
"Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked.
"Just my pride." Stepping back, forcing his hand to fall away, she brushed her fingers down her button-up plaid shirt. "I'm Cassie Barrington. And you are?"
He held out his hand. "Ian Shaffer. I'm Max Ford's agent."
And if all went well, he'd be signing Max's costar Lily, too. There was no way he'd let her go to his rival agency without one hell of a fight first. And then maybe his very unimpressed father would see that Ian had become a success. He was a top agent in L.A. and not just hanging out at parties with women for a living. He'd become a powerful man in the industry.
Though the parties and women were a nice added bonus, Ian enjoyed stepping away from the glamour to be on set with his clients. And it was that extra touch that made him so successful. Between forging connections with producers and getting to know the writers and actors better, he could place his clients in the roles best suited to them.
The role Max was playing was perfect for him. The top actor was portraying the dynamic Damon Barrington, famous horse owner and former jockey. And for Ian, escaping L.A.'s hustle and bustle to spend time on a prestigious Virginia horse farm was a nice change of pace.
"Oh, Max mentioned you'd be coming. Sorry for falling on you." Her brows drew together as she gave him a quick assessment. "I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Ian shoved his hands into his pockets, offering her a smile. She could assess him anytime she wanted. "Not at all," he assured her. "I rather enjoyed the greeting."
Her chin tilted just enough to show defiance. "I don't make a habit of being clumsy
or throwing myself at men."
"That a fact?" he asked, trying not to laugh. "Such a shame."
"Do you make a habit of hitting on women?" she asked.
Unable to resist the gauntlet she'd thrown before him, Ian took a step forward, pleased when her eyes widened and she had to tip her head up to hold his gaze.
"Actually, no. But I'm making an exception in your case."
"Aren't I lucky?" Her tone told him she felt anything but. "Max should be in his trailer. His name is on the outside, and I believe another trailer was recently brought in for you."
Apparently she was in a hurry for him to be on his waywhich only made him want to stay longer. Finding someone who didn't care about his Hollywood status, someone who wasn't impressed with his power and money, was a refreshing change. The fact that someone was curvy, wore jeans as though they were made to mold those curves and had expressive baby blues was the icing on the proverbial cake.
"So you're the trainer and your sister is the famous jockey?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
The warm late-spring sun beat against his back as it came through the wide doors of the stable. Summer blockbuster season was just around the corner and, hopefully, once the film wrapped and he'd signed Lily, his agency would still be on top. His ex-partner-turned-rival would no longer be an issue.
He'd started working for an agency right out of college, thanks to a referral from a professor he'd impressed, but some lucky breaks and smart business sense had had him quickly moving to open his own. Unfortunately, he'd taken on a partner who had stabbed him in the back and secretly wooed most of their clients in the hopes they'd work exclusively with him in a new venture.
For the sake of his pride, he had to win Lily over and get her under contract. But how could his mind be on business with this voluptuous distraction before him?
"You've done your homework," she commented. "I'm impressed you know about me and my sister and our different roles."
"I do my research. You could say I'm pretty hands-on as an agent."
"Apparently you're hands-on with everything."
Oh, that was such a loaded statementone he wouldn't mind exploring if he had the time. His eyes held hers as he closed the gap between them. The pulse at the base of her throat quickened and her breath caught as she stared, unblinking, at him.
Damn work responsibilities. But surely a little flirting, hell, even a fling, would make this an even more riveting trip.
"Everything," he whispered. "Let me know if you ever want an experience."
When her gaze dropped to his mouth again, Ian resisted the urge to grab her, to taste her. There would be plenty of time for
anything she was willing to give. Besides, wasn't the chase half the fun?
"I think you know where my trailer is."
And because he'd probably crossed some sort of moral, ethical boundary, Ian turned and walked from the barn, leaving her with her mouth open.
Well, this was already the most exciting movie set he'd ever visited and he hadn't even seen his client yet.
Cassie tightened her grip on MacDuff's lead line. He was still new, still skittish, but she was working with him every single day and he was showing improvement. Every now and then he'd let her father, Damon Barrington, ride him, but he had a touch that every horse seemed to love.
At least MacDuff had quit trying to run from her. Now, if she could just get him to understand her silent commands that he had to mimic her pace and direction when they walked.
Her work with MacDuff and the other horses was just one of the many issues that had ended her marriage. Derek had wanted her to stop spending so much time with the "strays" she brought in. He'd insisted she stop trying to save every animal, especially when she'd become pregnant.
Cassie would never stop trying to save animals
especially since she hadn't been able to save her marriage. Her husband had obviously loved women and liquor more than her and their baby. His loss, but the pain still cut deep.
She focused on the line, holding it tight and trying to keep up with the routine because she was running a tad behind now.
Of course, she'd been thrown off her game already this morning after falling into the arms of that handsome, bedroom-eyed stranger. For a split second she'd wanted to revel in the strength with which he held her, but then reality had slapped her in the face, reminding her that she'd fallen for a smooth talker once. Married him, had his child and hadn't seen him since.
Well, except when he'd shown up for the divorce proceedings, mistress in tow. As if that busty bleach blonde would ever play stepmom to Cassie's precious baby. Hell. No.
Cassie swore she'd never let another man play her for a fool again, and she sure as hell wouldn't get swept away by another pretty smile and sultry touch.
Unfortunately, when she'd fallen into Ian's arms, she'd forgotten all about that speech she'd given herself when her husband had left. How could she have a coherent thought when such strong arms were holding her flush against a taut body? No woman would blame her for the lapse in judgment.
But no more. Cassie had her daughter to consider now.
With sweet Emily just turning one, Cassie knew she'd definitely gotten the best part of her marriage, and if Derek didn't want to see their baby, he was the one missing out.
So, no more sexy men who thought they were God's magnificent gift to this world. Although Cassie had to admit, even if just to herself, that her insides had tingled at Ian's touch. He'd been so strong, had smelled so
manly and had looked in her eyes as if she truly was a beautiful, desirable woman.
She hadn't felt anything but frumpy and still a bit pudgy since having Emily. The extra weight that refused to go away coupled with her husband leaving her for another woman were damaging blows to her self-esteem. Yet, Ian had held her with ease, which wasn't helping her ignore the potency of the mesmerizing man.
Getting swept away by another handsome man with sultry eyes and a powerful presence wouldn't do her any good. She had to concentrate on helping her sister, Tessa, win her way to the Triple Crown. They'd worked side by side nearly their entire lives, always with the dream of being Triple Crown winners like their father. And here they were, about to make history, and Cassie couldn't be more excited.
When Cassie had been too far along with her pregnancy, her father had stepped up to train Tessa. This racing dynasty truly was a family affair.
One race down, two to go.
The fact that the Barrington estate had been turned into a film set was icing on the cake. A script surrounding her father's legacy, legendary racing and past winning streak had piqued the interest of Hollywood A-listers, and, suddenly, the horse farm was all abuzz with lighting, sound guys, extras and security.
Cassie actually loved seeing her father's life played out by Max Ford, the handsome, newly married actor. And playing the role of her late mother was beautiful Southern belle and it-girl Lily Beaumont. So far the two were doing an amazing job, and Cassie couldn't wait to see the final product.
To cap off the racing season, Cassie was moving full throttle toward opening her own riding school for handicapped children. Since having her own child, Cassie wanted to slow down, and she'd always had a soft spot for kids anyway
something she'd thought she and her ex had in common.
Launching the school would be one more step in the healing process. So now she just needed to keep saving upshe wouldn't dream of asking her father or anyone else for moneyto get it off the ground.
Keeping a firm grip on the lead line, Cassie glanced over her shoulder to see Tessa moving toward her in slow, cautious steps. MacDuff really did get treated with kid gloves by everyone until he learned they were his friends.
"Maybe just a little," Cassie admitted, gently pulling MacDuff into a soft trot. "Give me just a few minutes and we'll get to work."
Tessa shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. "I'd rather hear what has my big sister so distracted this morning."
Cassie rolled her eyes at Tessa's smirk and quirked brow. She led MacDuff forward a few steps, stopped and moved back a few steps, pleased when the stallion kept up with her exact number and didn't try to fight her.
He was learning. Finally.
"I'm always amazed at how broken they seem to be," Tessa said softly. "You have this patience and gentleness. It's almost as if they know you're determined to help them."
"That's because I am." Cassie reached up to MacDuff's neck, offering him praise. "He's just misunderstood and nobody wanted to work properly with him."
"He was abused."
Cassie swallowed as she led MacDuff back to the stables. The thought of someone beating him because he hadn't had the right training sickened her. She'd known he'd been abused on some level, simply because of how he'd arrived all wide-eyed and nervous and then threw Tessa the first time she'd mounted him. But the second any horse, rescued or not, stepped onto Stony Ridge Acres, they were treated like royalty. No matter their heritage. Yes, they bred prizewinning horses and bought from a long lineage of winners, but it wasn't always about the win
. It was about the love and care of the animal. And since Stony Ridge was a massive farm, they could take in those strays Cassie had a soft spot for.
She'd always loved watching the trainers her father had for his horses. Years ago, female trainers had been frowned upon, but her father had insisted women were more gentle and less competitive by nature than men, thus producing better-tempered horsesand winners.
"You didn't happen to see a certain new hunk on the set this morning, did you?" Tessa asked as she pulled out the tack box and helped to brush MacDuff.
Cassie eyed her sister over the horse's back. "Aren't you engaged?"
"I'm not dead, Cass." Tessa brushed in large circular strokes. "I'll take your lack of answering to mean you did see him."
Saw him, fell into his arms, got lost in those sexy eyes that could make a woman forget she'd been burned
and maybe reveled in that powerful hold a tad too long.
"Even you have to admit he's one attractive man," Tessa went on.
"I can admit that, yes." Cassie switched from the currycomb to the dandy brush. "I may have had an incident this morning involving that loose rung on the ladder to the loft and Mr. Shaffer."
Tessa stepped around MacDuff's head, dropped the brush into the tack box and crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, spill it. You know his name and you said 'incident.' I want all the details."
Cassie laughed. "It's no big deal, Tess. I fell off the ladder. Ian happened to be there, and he caught me."
"Oh, so we've gone from Mr. Shaffer to Ian."
"He's Max's agent and apparently visits his clients' film sets. We exchanged names," Cassie defended herself. "Seemed like the thing to do since he was holding me."
"I love where this story is going." Tessa all but beamed as she clasped her hands together.
Laughing, Cassie tossed her brush aside, as well. "No story. That was pretty much it."
"Honey, you haven't even mentioned a man's name since you know who left and" Tessa held up a hand when Cassie tried to intervene "your face seemed to brighten up a bit when you said his name."
"It did not," Cassie protested.
Tessa's smile softened. "If you want to argue, that's fine. But he's hot, you finally showed a spark of life about a man and I'm clinging to hope that you haven't given up on finding love. Or, for heaven's sake, at least allowing yourself a fling."
Cassie rolled her eyes and patted MacDuff's side. "Just because this romance business is working for you doesn't mean it will for me. I tried that onceit didn't last. Besides, I have no time for love or even a date between training with you and Emily."
"There's always time. And, romance aside, have a good time. A little romp with a sexy stranger might be just what you need," Tessa said with a naughty smile. "Aren't you the one who forced me to take a few days off last month? You have to make time for yourself."