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Tempted by a Cowboy

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Phillip’s head swung up in a careful arc, another disarming smile already in place as he gave the girls a squeeze. “I wanted to show Sun to Katylynn and Sailor.”

“Mr. Beaumont,” Richard began again. Jo heard more anger in his voice this time. “Sun is not—”

“Wha’s wrong with that horse?” Sailor took a step away from Phillip and pointed at Sun.

They all turned to look. Sun was now bucking with renewed vigor. Damn stamina, Jo thought as she watched him.

“Wha’s making him do that?” Katylynn asked.

“You are,” Jo informed the trio.

The women glared at her. “Who are you?” Sailor asked in a haughty tone.

“Yes, who are you?” Phillip Beaumont spoke slowly—carefully—as his eyes focused on her again.

Again, her face prickled with unfamiliar heat. Get ahold of yourself, she thought, forcibly breaking the eye contact. She wasn’t the kind of woman who got drunk and got lost in a man’s eyes. Not anymore. She’d left that life behind and no one—not even someone as handsome and rich as Phillip Beaumont—would tempt her back to it.

“Mr. Beaumont, this here is Jo Spears. She’s the horse...” She almost heard whisperer sneak out through his teeth. “Trainer. The new trainer for Sun.”

She gave Richard an appreciative smile. A quick study, that one.

Phillip detached himself from his companions, which led to them making whimpering noises of protest.

As Phillip closed the distance between him and Jo, that half-smile took hold of his mouth again. He stopped with two feet still between them. “You’re the new trainer?”

She stared at his eyes. They were pale green with flecks of gold around the edges. Nice eyes.

Nice eyes that bounced. It wasn’t a big movement, but Phillip’s eyes were definitely moving of their own accord. She knew the signs of intoxication and that one was a dead giveaway. He was drunk.

She had to admire his control, though. Nothing else in his mannerisms or behaviors gave away that he was three sheets to the wind. Which really only meant one thing.

Being this drunk wasn’t something new for him. He’d gotten very good at masking his state. That was something that took years of practice.

She’d gotten good at it, too—but it was so exhausting to keep up that false front of competency, to act normal when she wasn’t. She’d hated being that person. She wasn’t anymore.

She let this realization push down on the other part of her brain that was still admiring his lovely eyes. Phillip Beaumont represented every single one of her triggers wrapped up in one extremely attractive package. Everything she could never be again if she wanted to be a respected horse trainer, not an out-of-control alcoholic.

She needed this job, needed the prestige of retraining a horse like Sun on her résumé and the paycheck that went with it. She absolutely could not allow a handsome man who could hold his liquor to tempt her back into a life she’d long since given up.

She did not hook up. Not even with the likes of Phillip Beaumont.

“I’m just here for the horse,” she told him.

He tilted his head in what looked like acknowledgement without breaking eye contact and without losing that smile.

Man, this was unnerving. Men who looked at her usually saw the bluntly cut, shoulder-length hair and the flannel shirts and the jeans and dismissed her out of hand. That was how she wanted it. It kept a safe distance between her and the rest of the world. That was just the way it had to be.

But this look was doing some very unusual things to her. Things she didn’t like. Her cheeks got hot—was she blushing?—and a strange prickling started at the base of her neck and raced down her back.

She gritted her teeth but thankfully, he was the one who broke the eye contact first. He looked down at Betty, still blissfully cropping grass. “And who is this?”

Jo braced herself. “This is Itty Bitty Betty, my companion mini donkey.”

Instead of the lame joke or snorting laughter, Phillip leaned down, held his hand out palm up and let Betty sniff his hand. “Well hello, Little Bitty Betty. Aren’t you a good girl?”

Jo decided not to correct him on her name. It wasn’t worth it. What was worth it, though, was the way Betty snuffled at his hand and then let him rub her ears.

That weird prickling sensation only got stronger as she watched Phillip Beaumont make friends with her donkey. “We’ve got nice grass,” he told her, sounding for all the world as if he was talking to a toddler. “You’ll like it here.”

Jo realized she was staring at Phillip with her mouth open, which she quickly corrected. The people who hired her usually made a joke about Betty or stated they weren’t paying extra for a donkey of any size. But Phillip?

Wearing a smile that bordered on cute he looked up at Jo as Betty went back to the grass. “She’s a good companion, I can tell.”

She couldn’t help herself. “Can you?”

Richard had said his boss was a good judge of horses. He’d certainly sounded as if were true it in that interview. She wanted him to be a good judge of horses, to be a real person and not just a shallow, beer-peddling facade of a man. Even though she had no right to want that from him, she did.

His smile went from adorable to wicked in a heartbeat and damned if other parts of her body didn’t start prickling at the sight. “I’m an excellent judge of character.”

Right then, the party girls decided to speak up. “Philly, we want to go home,” one cooed.

“With you,” the other one added.

“Yes,” Jo told him, casting a glare back at the women. “I can see that.”

Sun made an unholy noise behind them. Richard shouted and the blondes screamed.

Jesus, Jo thought as Sun pawed at the ground and then charged the paddock fence, snot streaming out of his nose. If he hit the fence at that speed, there wouldn’t be anything left to save.

Everyone else dove out of the way. Jo turned and ran toward the horse, throwing her hands up and shouting “Hiyahh!” at the top of her lungs.

It worked with feet to spare. Sun spooked hard to the left and only hit the paddock fence with his hindquarters—which might be enough to bruise him but wouldn’t do any other damage.

“Jesus,” she said out loud as the horse returned to his bucking. Her chest heaved as the adrenaline pumped through her body.

“I’ll tranq him,” Richard said beside her, leveling the gun at Sun.

“No.” She pushed the muzzle away before he could squeeze the trigger. “Leave him be. He started this, he’s got to finish it.”

Richard gave her a hell of a doubtful look. “We’ll have to tranq him to get him back to his stall. I can’t afford anymore workman’s comp because of this horse.”

She turned to give the ranch manager her meanest look. “We do this my way or we don’t do it at all. That was the deal. I say you don’t shoot him. Leave him in this paddock. Set out hay and water. No one else touches this horse. Do I make myself clear?”

“Do what she says,” Phillip said behind her.

Jo turned back to the paddock to make sure that Sun hadn’t decided to exit on the other side. Nope. Just more bucking circles. It’d almost been a horse’s version of shut the hell up. She grinned at him. On that point, she had to agree.

She could feel her connection with Sun start to grow, which was a good thing. The more she could understand what he was thinking, the easier it would be to help him.
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