Struggling LA photographer Jeri Abbott is stunned to find that her unknown biological father has left her a ranch in the famed Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. With the intention of cleaning the old house of any family things and then selling the place she makes what she thought would be a quick trip, only to become entranced with the ranch, the land – and the handsome cowboy next door.
As Jeri explores her family history she finds herself reluctant to sell the ranch to a development company who wants to put in a glitzy spa retreat. The high, open country speaks to her and after deciding she does not want to sell Jeri realizes she may not have a choice.
Doug pulled Champ to a stop and dismounted with an easy grace, pulling the reins over the horse’s head and dropping them to the ground.
“Aren’t you going to tie him to something?”
“Nah. He’s trained to stand.” Doug walked to Jeri’s side and held up his arms. “Now can you dismount from there or do you need my help?”
Jeri all but bristled. “Of course I can dismount,” she said haughtily. “Gravity, you know.”
She might not be much of a rider, but surely she could get down from the top of a horse!
Except she couldn’t. Ignoring the screaming in her thighs, she stood in the stirrups and tried to swing her leg over the horse’s rump in a classic dismount, but halfway through her muscles froze. Her body didn’t. She kept going backwards, right into Doug’s arms.
Jeri didn’t know whether to be mortified or grateful. He was holding her without effort, his slim arms as strong as any muscle-bound boy starlet’s. She lay cradled against him, feeling the heat of him on her skin as if their shirts hadn’t been there, smelling the combination of horse and man that would beat out any cologne on the market. She hoped he couldn’t feel how thunderously her heart was beating.
He was laughing gently. “Guess you’re pretty out of shape, aren’t you?”
Back in LA Jeri would have said she was in excellent shape. For LA, maybe. For this part of Texas, no way. “For riding, at least.”
“Sorry,” he said with real contrition. At least it sounded real, even through a veil of laugher. “I should have realized. Do you think you can stand?”
For one moment Jeri really considered saying no and cherished a sudden fantasy of him mounting his horse with her still in his arms and riding off like a knight on a white charger. It was a humiliating embarrassment to have such a romantic girlish daydream, even if she was the only one who knew about it.
“Of course I can.”
But it wasn’t easy. He put her gently on her feet and kept an arm around her shoulders until she was steady. She could stand, but her legs protested. Her back protested. She was hurting so much it seemed as if even her hair were protesting. While it hurt Jeri’s pride to acknowledge it, she knew she’d never be able to get back on that dratted horse, let alone ride back to the house. What would he do with her? Throw her over the horse’s back like a dead body in the old Western movies?
Or perhaps, carry her in front of him like a prince on a white charger would a princess? Except Champ was an uncompromising brown. Not, she thought quickly, that it would make any difference…