Sun did seem to be calming down. Which meant he hadn’t made that screaming noise in a couple of minutes. He was still racing as if his life depended on it, though. “I think it’s clear that Sun needs something else.”
“And that’s you?” He kept his tone light and conversational, but she could hear the doubt lurking below the surface.
The other three men had all been crusty old farts, men who’d been around horses their whole lives. Not like her. “Yup. That’s me.”
Phillip leaned against the paddock fence. Jo did not like how aware of his body she was. He kicked a foot up on the lowest railing and draped his arms over the top of the fence. It was all very casual—and close enough to touch.
“So what’s your plan to fix him?”
She sighed. “As I told you yesterday, I don’t fix horses. No one can fix him.”
She managed to keep the crack about whether or not he’d remember this conversation tomorrow to herself. She was already pushing her luck with him and she knew it. He was still paying her and, given how big a mess Sun was, she might have enough to put a down payment on her own ranch after this.
Wouldn’t that be the ultimate dream? A piece of land to call her own, where the Phillip Beaumonts of the world would bring her their messed-up horses. She wouldn’t have to spend days driving across country and showering in a trailer. Betty could run wild and free on her own grass. Her own ranch would be safety and security and she wouldn’t have to deal with people at all. Just horses. That’s what this job could give to her.
That’s why she needed to work extra hard on keeping her distance from the man who was still close enough to touch.
He ignored the first part of the statement. “Then what do you do?”
There was no way to sum up what she did. So she didn’t. “Save him.”
Because she was so aware of Phillip’s body, she felt the tension take hold of him. She turned her head just enough to look at him out of the corner of her eye. Phillip’s gaze was trained on the half-crazed horse in the paddock. He looked stricken, as if her words had sliced right through all his charm and left nothing but a raw, broken man who owned a raw, broken horse.
Then he looked at her. His eyes—God, there was so much going on under the surface. She felt herself start to get lost in them, but Sun whinnied, pulling her back to herself.
She could not get lost in Phillip Beaumont. To do so would be to take that first slippery step back down the slope to lost nights and mornings in strangers’ beds. And there would be no coming back from that this time.
So she said, in a low voice, “I only save horses.”
“I don’t need to be saved, thank you very much.”
Again, the change was impressive. The warm smile that bordered on teasing snapped back onto his face and the honest pain she’d seen in his eyes was gone beneath a wink and twinkle.
She couldn’t help it. She looked at his coffee mug. “If you say so.”
His grip tightened on the handle, but that was the only sign he’d gotten her meaning. He probably thought the smell of the coffee masked the whiskey. Maybe it did for regular folks, but not for her.
“How are you going to save my horse then?” It came out in the same voice he might use to ask a woman on a date.
It was time to end this conversation before things went completely off the rails. “One day at a time.”
Let’s see if he catches that, she thought as she opened the gate and slowly walked back into the paddock, Betty trailing at her heels.
As she closed the gate behind her, she heard Richard come out of the barn. “Mr. Beaumont—you’re up!”
Good. She wanted more time with Sun alone. The horse had almost calmed down before Phillip showed up. If she could get the animal to stay at a trot...
That wasn’t happening now. Sun clearly did not like Richard, probably because the older man had been the one to tranquilize him and move him around the most. She was encouraged that, although the horse did freak out any time Phillip showed up, he had sort of settled down this morning as she and Phillip had talked in conversational tones. Sun didn’t have any negative associations with Phillip—he just didn’t like change. That was a good thing to know.
“Just getting to know the new trainer,” Phillip said behind her. She had to give him credit, he managed not to make it sound dismissive.
“If you two are going to talk,” she said in a low voice that carried a great distance, “please do so elsewhere. You’re freaking out the horse.”
There was a pause and she got the feeling that both men were looking at her. Then Richard said, “Now that you’re here, I’d like you to see the new Percheron foals.” That was followed by the sounds of footsteps leading away from the paddock.
But they weren’t far away when she heard Phillip say, “Are you sure about her?”
Richard, bless his crusty old heart, came to her defense. As his voice trailed off, she heard him reply, “She came highly recommended. If anyone can fix Sun... She’s our last chance.”
She couldn’t fix this horse. She couldn’t fix the man, either, but she had no interest in trying. She would not be swayed by handsome faces, broken-in jeans or kind words for Betty.
She was just here for the horse.
She needed to remember that.
* * *
Phillip woke up early the next day and he knew why. He was hoping there’d be a woman with an attitude standing in a paddock this morning.
Jo Spears. She was not his type—not physically, not socially. Not even close. He sure as hell remembered her today. How could he have forgotten meeting her the day before? That didn’t matter. What mattered now was that he was dying to see if she was still in that arena, just standing there.
He hurried through his shower while the coffee brewed. He added a shot of whiskey to keep the headache away and then got a mug for her. While he was at it, he grabbed a couple of carrots from the fridge for the donkey.
Would Jo still be standing in the middle of that paddock, watching Sun do whatever the hell it was Sun did? Because that’s what she’d done all day yesterday—just stand there. Richard had gotten him up to speed on the farm’s business and he’d spent some time haltering and walking the Percheron foals but he’d always been aware of the woman in the paddock.
She hadn’t been watching him, which was a weird feeling. Women were always aware of what he was doing, waiting for their opportunity to strike up a conversation. He could make eye contact with a woman when he walked into a club and know that, six hours later, she’d be going back to his hotel with him. All he had to do was wait for the right time for her to make her move. She would come to him. Not the other way around.
But this horse trainer? He’d caught the way her hard glare had softened and she’d tilted her head when he’d complimented her little donkey. That was the kind of look a woman gave him when she was interested—when she was going to be in his bed later.
Not the kind of look a woman gave him when she proceeded to ignore him for the rest of the day. And night.
Phillip Beaumont was not used to being ignored. He was the life of the party. People not only paid attention to what he was doing, who he was doing it with, what he was wearing—hell, who he was tweeting about—but they paid good money to do all of that with him. It was his job, for God’s sake. People always noticed him.
Except for her.
He should have been insulted yesterday. But he’d been so surprised by her attitude that he hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to his wounded pride.
She was something else. A woman apart from others.
Variety is the spice of life, he thought as he strolled down to the barn. That had to be why he was so damned glad to see her and that donkey in the middle of the paddock again, Sun still doing laps around them both. But, Phillip noted, the horse was only trotting and making a few small bucks with his hind legs. Phillip wasn’t sure he’d seen Sun this calm since...well, since Asia.
For a moment, he allowed himself to be hopeful. So three other trainers had failed. This Jo Spears might actually work. She might save his horse.
But then he had to go and ruin Sun’s progress by saying, “Good morning.”
At the sound of Phillip’s voice, Sun lost it. He reared back, kicking his forelegs and whinnying with such terror that Phillip’s hope immediately crumbled to dust. Betty looked at him and he swore the tiny thing rolled her eyes.