Once the gate clicked, she didn’t head for where he stood. Instead, she went back to ignoring him entirely as she propped a booted foot up on the gate and watched the show Sun was putting on for them.
What. The. Hell.
He was going to have to amend his previous statement—most women were his specialty.
Time to get back to basics. One compliment, coming right up. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wear a pair of jeans like you do.” That should do the trick.
Or it would have for any other woman. Instead, she dropped her forehead onto the top bar of the gate—a similar motion to the one she’d made out in the paddock moments ago. Then she turned her face to him. “Was it worth it?”
His generous smile faltered. “Was what worth it?”
Her soft eyes didn’t seem so soft anymore. “The blackout. Was it worth it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
That got a smirk out of her, just a small curve of her lips. It was gone in a flash. “That’s the definition of a blackout, isn’t it? You have no idea who I am or what I’m doing here, do you?”
Sun made that unholy noise again. Phillip tensed. The woman he didn’t know looked at the horse and shook her head as if the screaming beast was a disappointment to her. Then she looked at Phillip and shook her head again.
Unfamiliar anger coursed through him, bringing a new clarity to his thoughts. Who the hell was this woman, anyway? “I know you shouldn’t be climbing into the paddock with Sun. He’s dangerous.”
Another smirk. Was she challenging him?
“But he wasn’t when you bought him, was he?”
How did she know about that? An idea began to take shape in his mind like a Polaroid developing. He shook his head, hoping the image would get clearer—fast. It didn’t. “No.”
She stared at him a moment longer. It shouldn’t bother him that she knew who he was. Everyone knew who he was. That went with being the face of the Beaumont Brewery.
But she didn’t look at him like everyone else did—with that gleam of delight that went with meeting a celebrity in the flesh. Instead, she just looked disappointed.
Well, she could just keep on looking disappointed. He turned his attention to the most receptive being here—the donkey. “How are you this morning, Betty?”
When the woman didn’t correct him, he grinned. He’d gotten that part right, at least.
He rubbed the donkey behind the ears, which resulted in her leaning against his legs and groaning in satisfaction. “Good girl, aren’t you?” he whispered.
Maybe he’d have to get a little donkey like this. If Betty wasn’t his already.
Maybe, a quiet voice in the back of his head whispered, that blackout wasn’t worth it.
He took another swig of coffee.
He looked back at the woman. Her posture hadn’t changed, but everything about her face had. Instead of a smirk, she was smiling at him—him and the donkey.
The donkey was hers, he realized. And since he already knew the donkey’s name, he must have met the woman, too.
That’s when he realized he was smiling back at her. What had been superior about her had softened into something that looked closer to delight.
He forgot about not knowing who she was, how she got here or what she was doing with his prize stallion. All he could think was that now things were about to get interesting. This was a dance he could do with his eyes closed—a beautiful woman, a welcoming smile—a good time soon to be had by all.
Genuine compliment, take two. “She’s a real sweetie, isn’t she? I’ve never seen a donkey this well-behaved.” He took a risk. “You did an amazing job training her.”
Oh, yeah, that worked much better than the jeans comment had. Her smile deepened as she tilted her head to one side. Soft morning light warmed her face and suddenly, she looked like a woman who wanted to be kissed.
Whoever she was, this woman was unlike anyone he’d ever met before. Different could be good. Hell, different could be great. She wasn’t a woman who belonged at the clubs but then, he wasn’t at the clubs. He was at his farm and this woman clearly fit in this world.
Maybe he’d enjoy this break from big-city living more than he’d thought he would. After all, his bed was more than large enough to accommodate two people. So was the hot tub.
Yes, the week was suddenly looking up.
But she still hadn’t told him who the hell she was and that was becoming a problem. Kissing an anonymous woman in a dark club? No problem. Kissing a cowgirl who was inexplicably on his ranch in broad daylight?
He had to bite the bullet and admit he didn’t remember her name. So, still rubbing Betty’s ears, he stuck out a hand. “We got off to a rough beginning.” He could only assume that was true, as she’d opened with a blackout comment. “Let’s start over. I’m Phillip Beaumont. And you are?”
Some of her softness faded, but she shook his hand with the kind of grip that made it clear she was used to working with her hands. “Jo Spears.”
That didn’t ring a single damned bell in his head.
It was only after she’d let go of his hand that she added, with a grin that bordered on cruel, “I’m here to retrain Sun.”
“You’re the new trainer?”
Jo fought hard to keep the grin off her face. She wasn’t entirely sure she succeeded. Even yesterday, when he’d been toasted, she hadn’t been able to surprise Phillip Beaumont. But she’d caught him off guard this morning.
How bad was his hangover? It had to be killer. She could smell whiskey from where she stood. But she would have never guessed it just by looking at him. Hell, his eyes weren’t even bloodshot. He had a three-day-old scruff on his cheeks that should have looked messy but, on him, made him look better—like a man who worked with his hands.
Other than that...she let her eyes drift over his body. The jeans weren’t the fancy kind that he’d spent hundreds of dollars to make look old and broken in—they looked like the kind he’d broken in himself. The denim work shirt was much the same. Yes, his brown boots had probably cost a pretty penny once—but they were scuffed and scratched, not polished to a high shine. These were his work clothes and he was clearly comfortable in them.
The suit he’d had on yesterday had been the outfit of the Phillip Beaumont who went to parties and did commercials. But the Phillip Beaumont who was petting Betty’s ears today?
This was a cowboy. A real one.
Heat flooded her body. She forced herself to ignore it. She would not develop a crush or an infatuation or even an admiration for Phillip Beaumont just because he looked good in jeans.
She’d been right about him. He had no memory of yesterday and he’d spiked his coffee this morning. He was everything she couldn’t allow herself, all wrapped up in one attractive package. She had a job to do. And if she did it well, a reference from Phillip Beaumont would be worth its weight in gold. It’d be worth that smile of his.
“I believe,” she said with a pointed tone that let him know he wasn’t fooling anyone, “that we established our identities yesterday afternoon.”
The change was impressive. It only took a matter of seconds for his confusion to be buried beneath a warm smile. “Forgive me.” He managed to look appropriately contrite while also adding a bit of smolder to his eyes. The effect was almost heady. She was not falling for this. Not at all. “I’m just a little surprised. The other trainers have been...”
“Older? Male? Richard told me about his previous attempts.” She turned her attention back to the horse to hide her confusion. She could not flutter. Too much was at risk here.