The horses galloped at a frightening speed. The sleek black stallion quickly gaining upon the bay gelding. The stallion’s rider pulled alongside the gelding and grabbed for the reins as the gelding’s rider jerked the reins hoping the horse would swerve to the right.
Too late. The horses halted, the stallion’s rider jumped to the ground and pulled the rider from the gelding. His grip was tight and through clenched teeth came the words, “You know what we do to horse thieves?”
The rider in his grasp twisted to break free, but he only gripped tighter. A whimper assaulted his ears. It was then he realized how much he towered over this rider. He pulled the hood from the rider’s head.
“What the . . .?”
Fiery green eyes glared at him from a peaches and cream face with a perfectly shaped pink bow mouth.
“Unhand me, you brute!” She said. “I’m no horse thief.”
“The horse you were galloping away on does not belong to you.”
“It most certainly does. It was stolen from our ranch with several other horses two weeks ago. I was simply taking back what belongs to me.” Her gaze never left his and never faltered.
The sudden silence between them was electrified. Their gazes locked. His eyes were the deepest blue she had ever seen, his face a bit weather beaten but attractive. The dark curls upon his head begged to have her fingers run through them. She found herself holding her breath wanting him to kiss her while fearing that he would.
Approaching riders broke the spell.
A large man with red, curly hair and red beard came to a stop upon a white stallion. There were two men on horseback behind him. The big man looked at the two people before him and let out a hearty chuckle.
“A woman! A woman has almost managed to steal one of our horses?”
“It is not your horse!”
The man beside her put his arm around her waist.
The man on the horse raised a brow at the man on the ground. “You know this little spitfire?”
“I’ve seen her on the rodeo circuit. She’s had my attention for some time now.” He grinned, revealing deep dimples.
“He . . .” The rest of her sentence was cut off as he pulled her closer to his side.
“Well, I’ll take the horse. You can do with her what you will.” The big man grinned at the man on the ground and reached for her horse’s reins.
The man next to her handed the reins, of her horse, to the big man. He and the other two rode away.
She pelted his chest with her fists with no effect. “Why did you let him take my horse again?”
“If you wouldn’t have given up that horse, you would’ve been in terrible danger. That man has no care for people and he will stop at nothing to obtain any horses he wants.”
“So you lied, and I suppose you see yourself as my hero.” Her eyes flashed.
A mischievous smile played across his lips and he bowed. “At your service.”
“Unbelievable! I don’t need a hero. I need my horse.” Her words sounded biting even to her own ears, and when she saw a flicker of what? Pain? Flash in his eyes, she almost wished she could take them back.
“Look, I’m sorry about your horse. Let me take you home.”
Again their eyes met and she couldn’t look away. What was it about this man that had such an effect on her. Why did she want to hit him and kiss him at the same time?
“Fine, but I’ll sit behind you.” There was no way she was going to sit in front of him on that horse so that she would have to lean back against his broad chest and have his muscled arms around her to hold the reins. The thought alone brought heat to her cheeks. She hoped he didn’t notice.
He smiled as her cheeks grew pink with her words. “Have it your way.”
* * * * *
When they arrived at the ranch, he brought his horse to a stop at the end of the lane where some low-hanging tree branches hid them from the house. He dismounted the horse and reached up, put his hands on her waist and pulled her down. His hands lingered on her waist longer than necessary and when she looked up, his mouth met hers.
The kiss was quick and tender but her pulse was pounding and her knees were weak. She clung to his arms to keep her balance. He put a finger under her chin and raised her head to look into her eyes.
“My name is Elijah Shepard. I’m not a horse thief and I’d really like to see you again.”
She stood on her own now with many thoughts swirling through her mind.
When the thoughts cleared, she said, “If you’re not a horse thief, prove it. Help me get my horse back. That’s the only way you’re going to see me again.”
His lips formed a tight thin line.
She turned to go.
“Hey, you didn’t tell me your name.”
“Samantha. Samantha Bennet.”