Jo got out of the truck and stretched. Man, it’d been a long drive from Kentucky to Denver.
But she’d made it to Beaumont Farms.
Getting this job was a major accomplishment—a vote of confidence that came with the weight of the Beaumont family name behind it.
This wouldn’t be just a huge paycheck—the kind that could cover a down payment on a ranch of her own. This was proof that she was a respected horse trainer and her nontraditional methods worked.
A bowlegged man came out of the barn, slapping a pair of gloves against his leg as he walked. Maybe fifty, he had the lined face of a man who’d spent most of his years outside.
He was not Phillip Beaumont, the handsome face of the Beaumont Brewery and the man who owned this farm. Even though she shouldn’t be, Jo was disappointed.
It was for the best. A man as sinfully good-looking as Phillip would be…tempting. And she absolutely could not afford to be tempted. Professional horse trainers did not fawn over the people paying their bills—especially when those people were known for their partying ways. Jo did not party, not anymore. She was here to do a job and that was that.
“Sure am,” the man said, nodding politely. “You the horse whisperer?”
“Trainer,” Jo snapped, unable to help herself. She detested being labeled a ‘whisperer.’ Damn that book that had made that a thing. “I don’t whisper. I train.”
Richard’s bushy eyebrows shot up at her tone. She winced. So much for that first impression. But she was so used to having to defend her reputation that the reaction was automatic. She put on a friendly smile and tried again. “I’m Jo Spears.”
Thankfully, the older man didn’t seem too fazed by her lack of social graces. “Miz Spears, call me Richard,” he said, coming over to give her a firm handshake.
“Jo,” she replied. She liked men like Richard. They’d spent their lives caring for animals. As long as he and his hired hands treated her like a professional, then this would work. “What do you have for me?”
“It’s a—well, better to show you.”
“Not a Percheron?” The Beaumont Brewery was world-famous for the teams of Percherons that had pulled their wagons in all their commercials for—well, for forever. A stuffed Beaumont Percheron had held a place of honor in the middle of her bed when she’d been growing up.
“Not this time. Even rarer.”
Rarer? Not that Percheron horses were rare, but they weren’t terribly common in the United States. The massive draft horses had fallen out of fashion now that people weren’t using them to pull plows anymore.
“One moment.” She couldn’t leave Betty in the truck. Not if she didn’t want her front seat destroyed, anyway.
Jo opened the door and unhooked Betty’s traveling harness. The donkey’s ears quivered in anticipation. “Ready to get out?”
Jo scooped Betty up and set her on the ground. Betty let off a serious round of kicks as Richard said, “I heard you traveled with a—well, what the heck is that?” with a note of amusement in his voice.
“That,” Jo replied, “is Itty Bitty Betty. She’s a mini donkey.” This was a conversation she’d had many a time. “She’s a companion animal.”
By this time, Betty had settled down and had begun investigating the grass around her. Barely three feet tall, she was indeed mini. At her size and weight, she was closer to a medium sized dog than a donkey—and acted like it, too. Jo had trained Betty, of course, but the little donkey had been Jo’s companion ever since Granny bought Betty for Jo almost ten years ago. Betty had helped Jo crawl out of the darkness. For that, Jo would be forever grateful.
Richard scratched his head in befuddlement at the sight of the pint-size animal. “Danged if I’ve ever seen a donkey that small. I don’t think you’ll be wanting to put her in with Sun just yet.” He turned and began walking.
Jo perked up. “Sun?” She fell in step with Richard and whistled over her shoulder. Betty came trotting.
“Danged if I’ve ever,” Richard repeated.
“Sun?” she said.
“Kandar’s Golden Sun.” Richard blew out hard, the frustration obvious. “You ever heard of an Akhal-Teke?”
The name rang a bell. “Isn’t that the breed that sired the Arabian?”
“Yup. From Turkmenistan. Only about five thousand in the world.” He led the way around the barn to a paddock off to one side, partially shaded by trees.
In the middle of the paddock was a horse that probably was golden, as the name implied. But sweat matted his coat and foam dripped from his mouth and neck, giving him a dull, dirty look. The horse was running and bucking in wild circles and had worked himself up to a lather.
“Yup,” Richard said, the disappointment obvious in his voice. “That’s Kandar’s Golden Sun, all right.”
Jo watched the horse run. “Why’s he so worked up?”
“We moved him from his stall to the paddock. Three hours ago.” Jo looked at the older man, but he shrugged. “Took three men. We try to be gentle, but the damn thing takes one look at us and goes ballistic.”
Three hours this horse had been bucking and running? Jesus, it was a miracle he hadn’t collapsed in a heap. Jo had dealt with her share of terrified horses but sooner or later, they all wore themselves out.
“That’s the thing. No one knows. Mr. Beaumont flew to Turkmenistan himself to look at Sun. He understands horses,” Richard added in explanation.
Heat flooded her cheeks. “I’m aware of his reputation.”
How could anyone not be aware of Phillip Beaumont’s reputation? He’d made the People Magazine “Most Beautiful” list more than a few years in a row. He had the sort of blond hair that always looked as if he’d walked off a beach, a strong chin and the kind of jaw that could cut stone. He did the Beaumont Brewery commercials but also made headlines on gossip websites and tabloid magazines for some of the stunts he pulled at clubs in Vegas and L.A. Like the time he’d driven a Ferrari into a pool. At the top of a hotel.
No doubt about it, Phillip was a hard-partying playboy. Except…except when he wasn’t. In preparing for this job, she’d found an interview he’d done with Western Horseman magazine. In that interview—and the accompanying photos—he hadn’t been a jaded playboy but an honest-to-God cowboy. He’d talked about horses and herd management and certainly looked like the real McCoy in his boots, jeans, flannel shirt and cowboy hat. He’d said he was building Beaumont Farms as a preeminent stable in the West. Considering the Beaumont family name and its billions in the bank—it wasn’t some lofty goal. It was within his reach.
Which one was he? The playboy too sinfully handsome to resist or the hard-working cowboy who wasn’t afraid to get dirt on his boots?
No matter which one he was, she was not interested. She couldn’t afford to be interested in a playboy, especially one who was going to sign her checks. Yes, she’d been training horses for years now, but most wealthy owners of the valuable horses didn’t want to take a chance on her nontraditional methods. She’d taken every odd job in every out-of-the-way ranch and farm in the lower forty-eight states to build her clientele. The call from Beaumont Farms was her first major contract with people who bought horses not for thousands of dollars, but for millions. If she could save this horse, her reputation would be set.
Besides, the odds of even meeting Phillip Beaumont were slim. Richard was the man she’d be working with. She pulled her thoughts away from the unattainable and focused on why she was here—the horse.
Richard snorted. “We don’t deal too much with the partying out here. We just work horses.” He waved a hand at Sun, who obliged by rearing on to his back legs and whinnying in panic. “Best we can figure is that maybe something happened on the plane ride? But there were no marks, no wounds. No crashes—not even a rough landing, according to the pilots.”
“Just a horse that went off the rails,” she said, watching as Sun pawed at the dirt as if he were killing a snake.
“Yup.” Richard hung his head. “The horse ain’t right but Mr. Beaumont’s convinced he can be fixed—a horse to build a stable on, he keeps saying. Spent some ungodly sum of money on him—he’d hate to lose his investment. Personally, I can’t stand to see an animal suffer like that. But Mr. Beaumont won’t let me put Sun out of his misery. I hired three other trainers before you and none of them lasted a week. You’re the horse’s last chance. You can’t fix him, he’ll have to be put down.”
This had to be why Richard hadn’t gone into specifics over email. He was afraid he’d scare Jo off. “Who’d you hire?”
The older man dug the tip of his boot into the grass. “Lansing, Hoffmire and Callet.”
Jo snorted. Lansing was a fraud. Hoffmire was a former farm manager, respected in horse circles. Callet was old-school—and an asshole. He’d tracked her down once to tell her to stay the hell away from his clientele.
She would take particular joy in saving a horse he couldn’t.
Moving slowly, she walked to the paddock gate, Betty trotting to keep up. She unhooked the latch on the gate and let it swing open about a foot and a half.
Sun stopped and watched her. Then he really began to pitch a fit. His legs flailed as he bucked and reared and slammed his hooves into the ground so hard she felt the shock waves through the dirt. Hours of this, Jo thought. And no one knows why.
She patted her leg, which was the signal for Betty to stay close. Then Jo stepped into the paddock.
“Miss—” Richard called out, terror in his voice when he realized what she was doing. “Logan, get the tranq gun!”
“Quiet, please.” It came out gentle because she was doing her best to project calm.
She heard footsteps—probably Logan and the other hands, ready to ride to her rescue. She held up a hand, motioning them to stop, and then closed the gate behind her and Betty.
The horse went absolutely wild. It hurt to see an animal so lost in its own hell that there didn’t seem to be any way out.
She knew the feeling. It was a hard thing to see, harder to remember the years she’d lost to her own hell.
She’d found her way out. She’d hit bottom so hard it’d almost killed her but through the grace of God, Granny and Itty Bitty Betty, she’d fought her way back out.
She’d made it her life’s work to help animals do the same. Even lost causes like Sun could be saved—not fixed, because there was no erasing the damage that had already been done. Scars were forever. But moving forward meant accepting the scars. It was that simple. She’d accepted hers.
Jo could stand here for hours listening to the world move, if that was what it took.
It didn’t. After what was probably close to forty-five minutes, Sun stopped his frantic pacing. First, he stopped kicking, then he slowed from a run to a trot, then to a walk. Finally, he stood in the middle of the paddock, sides heaving and head down. For the first time, the horse was still.
She could almost hear him say, I give up.
It was a low place to be, when living hurt that much.
She understood. She couldn’t fix this horse. No one could. But she could save him.
She patted her leg again and turned to walk out of the paddock. A group of seven men stood watching the show Sun had put on for her. Richard had a tranq gun in the hand he was resting on a bar of the paddock.
They were silent. No one shouted about her safety as she turned her back on Sun, no one talked about how the horse must be possessed. They watched her walk to the gate, open it, walk out, and shut it as if they were witnessing a miracle.
“I’ll take the job.”
Relief so intense it almost knocked her back a step broke over the ranch manager’s face. The hired hands all grinned, obviously thankful that Sun was someone else’s problem now.
“Provided,” she went on, “my conditions are met.”
Richard tried to look stern, but he didn’t quite make it. “Yeah?”
“I need an on-site hook-up for my trailer. That way, if Sun has a problem in the middle of the night, I’m here to deal with it.”
“We’ve got the electric. I’ll have Jerry rig up something for the sewer.”
“Second, no one else deals with Sun. I feed him, I groom him, I move him. The rest of you stay clear.”
“Done,” Richard agreed without hesitation. The hands all nodded.
So far, so good. “We do this my way or we don’t do it at all. No second-guessing from you, the hired hands or the owners. I won’t rush the horse and I expect the same treatment. And I expect to be left alone. I don’t date or hook up. Clear?”
She hated having to throw that out there because she knew it made her sound as if she thought men would be fighting over her. But she’d done enough harm by hooking up before. Even if she was sober this time, she couldn’t risk another life.
Plus, she was a single woman, traveling alone in a trailer with a bed. Some men thought that was enough. Things worked better if everything was cut-and-dried up front.
Richard looked around at his crew. Some were blushing, a few looked bummed—but most of them were just happy that they wouldn’t have to deal with Sun anymore.
Then Richard looked across the fields. A long, black limousine was heading toward them.
“Damn,” one of the hands said, “the boss.”
Everyone but Jo and Richard made themselves scarce. Sun found his second wind and began a full-fledged fit.
“This isn’t going to be a problem, is it?” Jo asked Richard, who was busy dusting off his jeans and straightening his shirt.
“Shouldn’t be.” He did not sound convincing. “Mr. Beaumont wants the best for Sun.”
The but on the end of that statement was as loud as if Richard had actually said the word. But Phillip Beaumont was a known womanizer who made headlines around the world for his conquests.
Richard turned his attention back to her. “You’re hired. I’ll do my level-best to make sure that Mr. Beaumont stays clear of you.”
In other words, Richard had absolutely no control of the situation. A fact that became more apparent as the limo got closer. The older man stood at attention as the vehicle rolled to a stop in front of the barn.
Phillip Beaumont didn’t scare her. Or intimidate her. She’d dealt with handsome, entitled men before and none of them had ever tempted her to fall back into her old ways. None of them made her forget the scars. This wouldn’t be any different. She was just here for the job.
The limo door opened. A bare, female leg emerged from the limo at the same time as giggling filled the air. Behind her, Jo heard Sun kick it up a notch.
The first leg was followed by a second. Jo wasn’t that surprised when a second set of female legs followed the first. By that time, the first woman had stepped clear of the limo’s door and Jo could see that, while she was wearing clothing, the dress consisted of little more than a bikini’s worth of black sequined material. The second woman stood up and pulled the red velvet material of her skirt down around her hips.
Beside her, Richard made a sound that was stuck somewhere between a sigh and a groan. Jo took that to mean that this wasn’t the first time Phillip had shown up with women dressed like hookers.
Betty nickered in boredom and went back to cropping grass. Jo pretty much felt the same way. Of course this was how Phillip Beaumont rolled. Those headlines hadn’t lied. The thing that had been less honest had been that interview in Western Horseman. That had probably been more about rehabilitating his brand image than about his actual love and respect for horses.
But on the bright side, if he’d brought his own entertainment to the ranch, he’d leave her to her work. That’s what was important here—she had to save Sun, cement her reputation as a horse trainer and add this paycheck to the fund that she’d use to buy her own ranch. Adding Beaumont Farms to her résumé was worth putting up with the hassle of, well, this.
Then another set of legs appeared. Unlike the first sets, these legs were clad in what looked like expensive Italian leather shoes and fine-cut wool trousers. Phillip Beaumont himself stood and looked at his farm over the top of the limo, all blond hair and gleaming smile. He wore an odd look on his face. He almost looked relieved.
His gaze settled on her. As their eyes met across the drive, Jo felt…disoriented. Looking at Phillip Beaumont was one thing, but apparently being looked at by Phillip Beaumont?
Something else entirely.
Heat flushed her face as the corner of his mouth curved up into a smile, grabbed hold of her and refused to let her go. She couldn’t pull away from his gaze—and she wasn’t sure she wanted to. He looked as if he was glad to see her—which she knew wasn’t possible. He had no idea who she was and couldn’t have been expecting her. Besides, compared to his traveling companions, no one in their right mind would even notice her.
But that look…. Happy and hungry and relieved. Like he’d come all this way just to see her and now that she was here, the world would be right again.
No one had looked at her like that. Ever. Before, when she’d been a party girl, men looked at her with a wolfish hunger that had very little to do with her as a woman and everything to do with them wanting to get laid. And since the accident? Well, she wore her hair like this and dressed like she did specifically so she wouldn’t invite people to look at her.
He saw right through her.
The women lost their balance and nearly tumbled to the ground, but Phillip caught them in his arms. He pulled them apart and settled one on his left side, the other on his right. The women giggled, as if this were nothing but hilarious.
It hurt to see them, like ghosts of her past come back to haunt her.
“Mr. Beaumont,” Richard began in a warm, if desperate, tone as he went to meet his boss. “We weren’t expecting you today.”
“Dick,” Phillip said, which caused his traveling companions to break out into renewed giggles. “I wanted to show my new friends—” He looked down at Blonde Number One.
“Katylynn,” Number One giggled. Of course.
“Sailor,” Number Two helpfully added.
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 on 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 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.
“Philly, we want to go,” one of the blondes demanded with a full-on whine.
“Fine,” Phillip snapped. “Ortiz, make sure the ladies get back to their homes.”
A different male voice—probably the limo driver—said, “Yes sir, Mr. Beaumont.” This announcement was met with cries of protest, which quickly turned to howls of fury.
Jo didn’t watch. She kept her eye on Sun, who was still freaking out at all the commotion. If he made another bolt for the fence, she might have to let Richard tranq him and she really didn’t want that to happen. Shots fired now would only make her job that much harder in the long run.
Finally, the limo doors shut and she heard the car drive off. Thank God. With the women gone, the odds that Sun would settle down were a lot better.
She heard footsteps behind her and tensed. She didn’t want Phillip to touch her. She’d meant what she’d said to the hired hands earlier—she didn’t hook up with anyone. Especially not men like Phillip Beaumont. She couldn’t afford to have her professional reputation compromised, not when she’d finally gotten a top-tier client—and a horse no one else could save. She needed this job far more than she needed Phillip Beaumont to smile at her.
He came level with her and stopped. He was too close—more than close enough to touch.
She panicked. “I don’t sleep with clients,” she announced into the silence—and immediately felt stupid. She was letting a little thing like prickling heat undermine her authority here. She was a horse trainer. That was all.
“I’ll be sure to take that into consideration.” He looked down at her and turned on the most seductive smile she’d ever seen.
Oh, what a smile. She struggled for a moment to remember why, exactly, she didn’t need that smile in her life. How long had it been since she’d let herself smile back at a man? How long had it been since she’d allowed herself even a little bit of fun?
Years. But then the skin on the back of her neck pulled and she remembered the hospital and the pain. The scars. She hadn’t gotten this job because she smiled at attractive men. She’d gotten this job because she was a horse trainer who could save a broken horse.
She was a professional, by God. When she’d made her announcement to the hired hands earlier, they’d all nodded and agreed. But Phillip?
He looked as if she’d issued a personal challenge. One that he was up to meeting.
Heat flushed her face as she fluttered—honest-to-God fluttered. One little smile—that wouldn’t cost her too much, would it?
She pushed back against whatever insanity was gripping her. She no longer fluttered. She did not fall for party boys. She did not sleep with men at the drop of a hat because they were cute or bought her drinks. She did not look for a human connection in a bar because the connections she’d always made there were never very human.
She would not be tempted by Phillip Beaumont. It didn’t matter how tempting he was. She would not smile back because one smile would lead to another and she couldn’t let that happen.
He notched up one eyebrow as if he were acknowledging how much he’d flustered her. But instead of saying something else, he walked past her and leaned heavily against the paddock fence, staring at Sun. His body language pulled at her in ways she didn’t like. So few of the people who hired her to train horses actually cared about their animals. They looked at the horse and saw dollars—either in money spent, money yet to be made, or insurance payments. That’s why she didn’t get involved with her clients. She could count the exceptions on one hand, like Whitney Maddox, a horse breeder she’d stayed with a few months last winter. But those cases were few and far between and never involved men with reputations like Phillip Beaumont.
But the way Phillip was looking at his horse…. There was a pain in his face that seemed to mirror what the horse was feeling. It was a hard thing to see.
No. She was not going to feel sorry for this poor little rich boy. She’d come from nothing, managed to nearly destroy her own life and actually managed to make good all by herself.
“He’s a good horse—I know he is.” Phillip didn’t even glance in her direction. He sounded different now that the ladies were gone. It was almost as if she could see his mask slip. What was left was a man who was tired and worried. “I know Richard thinks he should be put out of his misery, but I can’t do it. I can’t—I can’t give up on him. If he could just….” He scrubbed a hand through his hair, which, damn it, only made it look better. He turned to her. “Can you fix him?”
“No,” she told him. What was left of his playboy mask fell completely away at this pronouncement.
In that moment, Jo saw something else in Phillip Beaumont’s eyes—something that she didn’t just recognize, but that she understood.
He was so lost. Just like she’d been once.
“I can’t fix him—but I can save him.”
He looked at her. “There’s a difference?”
“Trust me—all the difference in the world.”
Jo looked back at Sun, who was quickly working through his energy. Soon, he’d calm down. Maybe he’d even drink some water and sleep. That’d be good. She wanted to save him in a way that went beyond the satisfaction of a job well done or the fees that Phillip Beaumont could afford to pay her.
She wanted to save this horse because once, she’d hurt as much as he did right now. And no one—no horse—should hurt that much. Not when she could make it better.
She wasn’t here for Phillip Beaumont. He might be a scarred man in a tempting package, but she’d avoided temptation before and she’d do it again.
“Don’t give up on him,” he said in a voice that she wasn’t sure was meant for her.
“Don’t worry,” she told the horse as much as she told Phillip. “I won’t.”
She would not give up on the horse.
She wasn’t sure she had such high hopes for the man.
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