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Authors: Wynter Daniels

HorsingAround

Horsing Around

Wynter Daniels

 

City girl Paige Eastman arrives at her recently deceased father’s Ocala, Florida, horse ranch to settle his estate, but she finds more than material assets with his business partner, resident cowboy Jake Skinner. The two engage in a hot fling until Paige learns she must sell the struggling enterprise out from under Jake.

All Jake wants is a chance to turn the business around since Paige’s father nearly ran it into the ground. But his attention quickly shifts to
wrangling
the hot prima donna who is now his partner. Can they overcome their differences without dousing the fire burning between them?

 

An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Horsing Around

 

ISBN 9781419928192

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Horsing Around Copyright © 2010 Wynter Daniels

 

Edited by Shannon Combs

Cover art by Syneca

 

Electronic book publication June 2010

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Horsing Around

Wynter Daniels

 

Chapter One

 

Paige Eastman lifted her gaze from her laptop when the taxi came to a stop in front of a white two-story colonial-style home. Could this be her father’s place? She surveyed the lush green landscape and rolling hills. Fishing in her purse, her fingers closed around the money she’d stashed for the fare. Maybe being here would answer some of the gnawing questions she had about the father she’d hardly known.

“This is the Circle O Ranch, right?” She handed the driver a fifty.

“Yes, ma’am.”
He stepped out of the car. Seconds later the trunk clicked open.

She climbed out of the cab and drew in a deep breath infused with the scent of fresh cut grass and something else, something vaguely unpleasant.
Another sniff.
Manure?
Nausea threatened, but she forced it back. Lord, it had to be a hundred degrees out. Why would anyone choose to live in such a hellishly hot place?

No one had even contacted her until more than a month after his death. Now she had the unwanted task of disposing of the assets of a man she hadn’t spoken to in more than ten years.

The ranch seemed inviting enough, though. The house looked well cared for and freshly painted. A porch wrapped all the way around it, the kind she’d always dreamt of. With the sprawling green meadows and a white split-rail fence, the property appeared exactly how she’d envisioned it.

The driver ascended the three wide steps to the wraparound porch and set her suitcases near the front door of the house. “Would you like me to take them inside for you?”

Giving the man a smile, she shook her head. “I’ve got it from here, thanks.” She waved as the cab pulled away.

Glancing around, she heard the whinny of a horse. Curiosity niggled at her. The only horses she’d ever laid eyes upon in real life had been with the mounted patrols she occasionally saw near Times Square.

Abandoning her luggage, she followed the sound around the side of the house. A huge black and gray horse approached. White markings dotted its face and its thick legs. The steady clomp of the animal’s hoofs mirrored the pounding of her heart.

It wasn’t the horse, but the rider who stole her breath away. Still a good twenty yards from her, she could already see the broad, muscled shoulders beneath his T-shirt, the long, powerful legs covered in faded denim.

Lord, the man was hot. With scenery like him, she could deal with the hellish temperatures, at least for the week or so this ought to take. With the ink still wet on her divorce decree, she deserved to make this forced trip part vacation.

Tugging at her collar, she realized she should have changed her clothes before she left the office. Sweltering heat engulfed her as the man drew near. His icy blue stare raked over her body. Despite the stifling temperature and humidity, a chill skittered across her skin. He must have noticed, because he gave her a crooked grin that charged the air with a crackle of sensual energy.

He patted the horse’s neck then dismounted. After he’d tied the reins to a post, he strode across the thick grass toward her.
Great walk, amazing legs, strong
jawline
and prominent cheekbones.
His dark hair brushed his shoulders and he had just enough stubble on his face to be sexy, but not messy looking.

“You must be
Owen’s
daughter.” His smile revealed deep dimples. “Welcome to Ocala.”

Offering her hand, she prayed her voice wouldn’t fail her. “Paige Eastman.” When they shook, electricity arced between them, nearly knocked her off balance. She let go, cleared her throat.

His eyes shone even bluer up close. And his lips, oh, Lord. He licked the bottom one and she imagined that tongue licking her. Her legs turned to jelly. Maybe this trip didn’t have to be all business. No reason she couldn’t put the property on the market and have a hot fling during her time here. She couldn’t remember the last time her body had responded to a man this way.

“Sorry about Owen. He was a good man.”

Not really
. Her father had abandoned her and her mother fifteen years ago. Just picked up and left. That didn’t exactly qualify him as a
good man
in her book. He’d been distant even before he’d gone away. Yet she remembered some fun times with him, an occasional hug. For some reason she cherished those memories, even though animosity still remained. “Thank you.”

“I’m Jake Skinner. Your dad’s lawyer told me you planned to come.” He set his hands on his waist. “Did he explain about the damage to the bunkhouse?”

How could she think rationally with this incredibly sexy man standing in front of her? Who was he, anyway?
Caretaker?
Friend?
Employee?
Whoever he was, he was beyond fine. She hoped he planned to stick around for the length of her stay. Her nipples hardened and strained against the lace fabric of her bra, reminding her of her unfulfilled needs.
“Um, no.
He only said I needed to come down to decide what to do with the ranch.”

Jake’s face only grew more handsome with the slight furrow of his brow. He shifted and pointed past his horse. “Last big storm through here took out the roof of that building over the hill. Guess y’all heard about Tropical Storm Emily even up in New York City, huh?”

She tried to concentrate on what he’d said. “No, we didn’t. At least,
I
didn’t.” Guilt stabbed at her for not paying more attention to potentially catastrophic events in her father’s adopted state. Not like he’d paid her and her mother much attention, though.

She reluctantly dragged her gaze from Jake’s eyes and scanned the green pastures. A small brown building sat near a traditional looking barn. Blue tarps covered one side of the roof. “I assume the bunkhouse is where you live?” Her heart pounded so loudly she prayed he couldn’t hear it.

“Right.
At least I did until the storm opened a skylight. Roofers are coming in a few days. I’ll pay them from the operating account.”

The bookkeeper in her honed in on his words. “Operating account? You’re a signer on one of my father’s bank accounts?” All her father’s assets should have been frozen after his death.

He visibly stiffened. “Owen didn’t share much information with you about his business, did he? The tour operations are incorporated. We each had a stake in the company. His half goes to you now from what I understand.”

“Tour operations?” She had no idea what the man was referring to. Far as she knew, she’d been summoned here to dispose of his house, nothing more. Could he really be her father’s business partner? She wished someone had told her he’d had a partner.
So much for a fling with him.
Damn. Not a good idea to sleep with someone she might have to do business with. “What sort of tours are you talking about?”

A broad grin lit up his face and made his eyes sparkle. “Sounds like I need to show you around the ranch. You ride?” Her eyes widened and Jake had to laugh. “I’ll take that as a no.
Might want to change out of those clothes.”
He slid his gaze over her white blouse, buttoned clear up to her chin. She reminded him of all those stuffy bankers he and Owen had to placate a few years ago to get their original business loan. Stuffed shirts made his head ache and his skin itch. He didn’t trust them for a minute.

He could just picture her behind a desk under glaring fluorescent lights surrounded by mountains of adding machine tape. She could use some lessons on loosening up. Her pants looked way more suited to a sterile office than to riding a horse. Despite the conservative digs, he glimpsed a hot body underneath. If she’d release her chestnut hair from that severe ponytail she’d be downright sizzling. Way hotter than anything he’d seen in a long time.

Most of the women he knew had been born and raised in the area. Dating someone he’d known since kindergarten would be akin to incest in his book. But dating a banker type might be even worse. Anyway, she’d be leaving after she took care of the estate. Last thing he needed was a broken heart.

“I’ve never ridden a horse.
Never even touched one.”
She gasped when he grabbed her hand, easing it toward Daisy.

Even her skin felt different than that of the local women. Soft and velvety, her hands had probably never been calloused from gripping a pitchfork or holding reins for hours on end.

When they stopped right next to Daisy, Paige’s eyes grew huge and her complexion paled. No problem. He had loads of experience setting city folks at ease around horses. Giving her a reassuring nod, he set her palm on the mare’s side. “This is what you call a shire. She’s real gentle.
Pulls the
kiddie
wagon.”

“The
kiddie
wagon?”
She snatched her hand away and tucked it behind her back. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me.”

Owen had hardly ever mentioned Paige and she’d never visited in the three years he’d known his former business partner. Hard to believe the old man hadn’t shared anything about their business with his only daughter. “We do horse and buggy tours, carriage rides, hayrides, that sort of thing. Take tourists around the local horse ranches.”

Understanding registered in her dark eyes. “I see. Then I suppose I ought to take a look around the place. I didn’t realize my father’s estate included a business, or his half of it.”

“It’s a working ranch.
Fifteen acres of prime North Florida real estate.”
Which Owen had leveraged to the max.
He hoped she hadn’t inherited her father’s controlling nature. Never again would he blindly trust a partner, a decision that had cost him dearly.

She shielded her eyes from the sun and looked toward the stables, then the meadow. “It looks pretty, but I have no idea how anyone lives in this heat.”

He shrugged. “You get used to it pretty quick. Your father said his first summer here took a lot out of him, but after that it never bothered him.” Why did he even care if she liked the place? Only he did. “There are a few orange trees ’round the other side of the house. Should even be a few ripe enough to
eat.

She ignored his statement. “How big did you say it is?”

He couldn’t resist the opportunity to tease her. She needed to lighten up some.
“Real big.
Probably bigger than you could handle.”

Lifting an eyebrow, she met his stare. For a fleeting moment, he caught her full lips lifting in a grin, but quick as a wink, she frowned. “Excuse me?”

Straightening, he cleared his throat.
“Fifteen acres.”

“What’s land going for around here?”

No way would he sell. Not unless she forced him. He swallowed back the fear. “I haven’t checked recently. But the Circle O is more than just acreage. It’s a tourist destination. We’ve been written up in all kinds of travel magazines.”

“Oh?”

He was about to tell her about some of the plans he had to expand the business when Daisy whinnied and stomped a hoof on the ground.

Paige gasped and jumped back.

He couldn’t hold back a grin as he grasped her upper arm to calm her. “It’s all right. She gets a little restless sometimes.”

Her pretty face took on a pink flush. “Thanks.” She shrugged off his hand, but her smile sent a zing of heat coursing through him. She might be a cool, all-business city girl on the outside, but he definitely sensed a fire burning somewhere inside her, one she kept well hidden. Everything inside him warned him against starting something with her. But his cock had other ideas as it strained against his fly.

“You ought to change if we’re going to see the grounds.” He started toward the main house and she followed.

When they rounded the front of the building she stopped and huffed. “My bags are on the porch, but—”

He cut her off with a raised hand. “I’ll bring ’
em
inside.
Guest room or your father’s old room?”

Her face clouded and he winced.

Did I just say something that insensitive?

Of course she didn’t want to stay in
Owen’s
old room. “Jeez, I’m sorry. The guest room’s nice. I’m sure you’ll be more comfortable in there.” Recalling how painful it had been for him to stay at his grandmother’s house right after she’d passed away, he mentally kicked himself. He hoped he hadn’t upset her.

She gave her head a sharp nod. “That’s fine. I’ll carry my own things.”

He started to protest, but she practically ran to the porch ahead of him as if she couldn’t wait to get away.

He followed, circled past her and reached for her suitcase the same instant she did. Their fingers twined together on the leather handle. The warm softness of her skin struck him again. Their eyes met for a moment, locked. Her lips parted and her chest heaved. A sexy pink flush colored her cheeks.

Heat swirled in his belly and his pulse quickened. Her skin felt warm, inviting.

Suddenly she snatched the bag from his grip. “I’m not some silly little Southern belle you have to treat like a flower. I’m perfectly capable of carrying my own suitcases.”

“Whoa.” He backed away and raised his hands in surrender. She acted as stubborn and independent as her old man had. Would she be as mule-headed in business? His gut tightened. The fate of the business he loved lay squarely in her hands. He prayed she wouldn’t make any rash decisions about the ranch.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a key. Why tell her the door was unlocked? Pushing it open, she labored through with her suitcase, a smaller bag and a laptop case. She dropped her things in the foyer then turned to him. “Thank you, Mr. Skinner. I’ll come out after I’ve changed and had a look around the house.”

He held back a chuckle. Folding his arms over his chest, he leaned against the doorjamb. “Guest room is at the top of the stairs.
First on the right.
Mine’s at the other end of the hall.
Last door on the left.
In case you get lonely.” He threw her a wink.

Her jaw dropped, but she quickly snapped it shut. “You live here?
In my father’s house?”

“Maybe I should have explained what the damage to the bunkhouse means. The place isn’t livable with part of the roof missing. I’m camping out here until the repairs are completed.
Probably another week, maybe two.”

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