Love Somebody Like You

BOOK: Love Somebody Like You
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Books by Susan Fox
 
Caribou Crossing Romances
“Caribou Crossing” novella
Home on the Range
Gentle on My Mind
“Stand By Your Man” novella
Love Me Tender
Love Somebody Like You
 
Wild Ride to Love Series
His, Unexpectedly
Love, Unexpectedly
Yours, Unexpectedly
 
Also by Susan Fox
Body Heat
 
Writing as Susan Lyons
Sex Drive
She's On Top
Touch Me
Hot in Here
Champagne Rules
 
Anthologies
The Naughty List
Some Like It Rough
Men On Fire
Unwrap Me
The Firefighter
Love Somebody Like You
S
USAN
F
OX
ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter One
Sally Ryland squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, but the numbers on her computer screen didn't change. The mortgage payment would come out of Ryland Riding's bank account today, the feed bill was a month overdue, and her quarterly insurance premium came due in two weeks. She loved this place with all her heart, but most of the time she was treading water, desperately trying to keep the whole operation afloat.
If the bank foreclosed on this property, not only would her business go down the drain, but she'd be homeless. She'd lose her personal piece of heaven, not to mention her beloved horses and flock of chickens. She'd lose her way of life. Her independence. She'd be left with nothing.
But it wasn't going to happen. Day by day, she hung on—even if it was by fingernails bitten to the quick. And so far today was proving to be one of the good ones. The mail had brought a couple of checks from riding students, totaling enough to hang on for a while longer.
Just as well Corrie had quit two weeks ago, and that Sally hadn't been able to find a new assistant. Even though Corrie had worked for peanuts plus a free room, Sally needed every “peanut” now. This past weekend, a married couple who boarded horses with her had told her they'd be moving from Caribou Crossing to the Fraser Valley.
She stood up from the old desk in her office in the barn, stretched, and dug her fingers into her aching lower back. It was damned hard work handling this place on her own, but she'd done it before and could do it now.
It was Tuesday afternoon and the eight kids in her beginner children's class—aged five to seven—would be here in an hour. Energy overcame the exhaustion that had dogged her footsteps since Corrie's departure, and she bustled out of the office, smiling. She loved children as much as she loved horses, this countryside, and her chickens. Life was good after all. It was great, in fact.
She'd long ago put her old dream of a happy marriage and two or three kids behind her. Or, rather, her husband, Pete, had killed that dream. The charming boyfriend who had wooed her so romantically had, once they were wed, taught her how insidiously love could tip over into fear and pain. No way would she ever put herself in that position again—which meant she'd live her life alone.
She brushed aside the negative thoughts. Pete had been dead for three years. She was safe. Her life was her own.
The lesson horses that she'd brought in from the paddock waited in stalls. As she headed for the tack room to gather grooming supplies, the sound of a powerful engine coming down the driveway outside made her change direction. Striding down the wide aisle between the banks of stalls, she spoke to the horses who hung their heads over the doors, their ears cocked. “No, I'm not expecting anyone.”
She stopped in the doorway of the barn, squinting against early-July sunshine as a big silver pickup truck stopped in the parking area. Hitched to it was a battered silver and white trailer, the kind of rig that contained living quarters for humans and for horses. She'd had a smaller version in her barrel racing days. An image flashed into her mind.
A younger Sally, dressed in her brown and silver rodeo costume, leaned for ward as her horse cleanly rounded the third and last barrel on the course and they sprinted for the finish line. The announcer's voice boomed, “Looks like Sally Pantages and Autumn Mist are gonna chalk up another win today, folks!”
A punch of nostalgia hit her. For the mare that had been her partner and best friend. For life on the circuit. For the woman she'd once been. Before Pete.
Outside, the engine cut off, the driver's door opened, and a man stepped down. With the sun in her eyes, she couldn't see details, only the shape of a cowboy, from hat to boots. He had the stride of one, too: easy and athletic, confident and purely male. In her early twenties, she'd found that so sexy.
Now, she drew back into the shadows. At thirty-two, it was a very long time since she'd felt sexy. Men made her feel wary, not aroused.
Pete's hands, gripping her shoulders . . . “Other men,” he said, “they only want one thing from you, baby. Don't you lead them on now. Remember, I'm the one who loves you, who understands you. You're
my
wife.”
She jerked her shoulders, banishing the memory as the man came toward her. Probably he was a prospective boarder, or a parent looking to arrange lessons for his child. Though she never felt comfortable being alone with a man, new business would sure be welcome.
“Sally?” he said as he approached, sweeping off his straw hat. “That you?” Where she stood in the shade of the barn, he wouldn't be able to see her very well.
“Yes. Do I know—”
Oh my gosh. She did know him. Now that he was close, blocking the sun's glare, she recognized that striking face with the dark skin and bold features of his aboriginal heritage. She hadn't seen him in seven years, not since she married Pete.
“Ben Traynor?” She gaped at him, remembering the wiry bronc rider three years her junior, with his cocky swagger and those dancing chestnut brown eyes framed with long black lashes. “What are you doing here?”
He was all grown up now, that was for sure. Around six feet tall, he was still lean but more solidly muscled, nicely filling out clean Wranglers and a tan Western shirt with rolled-up sleeves. His left arm was in a collar and cuff sling.
“Just passing by,” he said in a husky drawl. “It's been a while.”
Her gaze lifted back to his face, even more handsome with maturity. Shaggy dark hair brushed past his shirt collar, hair that glinted with chestnut highlights that matched his eyes. Those amazing eyes. Eyes that, she realized, were making their own survey of her body and face.
“Yes, it has,” she agreed.
His gaze reminded her that she'd changed, too. Ben would remember her in figure-hugging pants and fancy Western shirts, with long, strawberry-blond hair and a touch of make-up. Now her clothing was loose and nondescript; she chopped off her hair with nail scissors when it got in her eyes; and the closest thing to make-up her face ever saw was lip balm. Not only didn't she have the time to fuss over her appearance, but she had learned that it was safest to be semi-invisible.
As for Ben Traynor, he couldn't be semi-invisible if he tried. She managed to tear her fascinated gaze from his face. The sling that looped around his neck and cuffed his left wrist sure did bring back the old days. And for a moment she was the old Sally, teasing, “Still can't stay on a bucking bronc, eh?”
“Fractured my damned shoulder competing at Williams Lake.” The Stampede and Rodeo had been held this past weekend, the Canada Day long weekend.
“Fractured?” That was worse than she'd guessed. Grimacing in sympathy and regretting her joke, she said, “Sorry. How bad is it? Are you going to be out of commission?” Rodeo cowboys were notoriously tough to the point of being stupid. A broken bone wouldn't necessarily stop one from riding.
Ben scowled. “Yeah. The doc says if I ride before it heals some, that'd probably be the end to my season.”
“Not to mention you could wind up with a serious enough injury that it ends your career. We've both seen that happen.” Some cowboys were so “macho” that the word was a synonym for “idiotic.”
He nodded. “And I still got a lot of good years in me.”
“If your shoulder's that bad, are you supposed to be driving?”
“Nah. But what'm I gonna do? Sit on my butt in Williams Lake? Figure I'll drive back home to Alberta, and catch up with the rodeo in a bit.”
“How long will you be out?”
“He says I should give it six weeks. So that means . . .” He gave a one-shoulder shrug.
“Three or four?” That must be one serious fracture.
“Worst-case scenario, I figure three. I heal quickly and I need to get back in the game. You know how that goes.”
“Yeah.” You only made money if you competed and placed. Earnings also determined whether you qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo and the chance to win higher purses, not to mention championships.
A grin snuck across his mouth, a cousin to that old cocky one. “Just so's you know, that bronc didn't buck me off until after the buzzer. I ended up taking first.”
Though she was impressed, she wasn't about to act like a buckle bunny. She'd always hated the way those rodeo groupies oohed and aahed all over the cowboys. “Guess that's some consolation.”
His eyes twinkled. “You always were hard on me, Sally Pantages. But damn, it's real good to see you all the same. It's been forever.”
And that brought her back to reality. She hadn't been Sally Pantages for a long time. “It has,” she said stiffly. Since she'd last seen Ben, she'd given up barrel racing, married, moved from Alberta to British Columbia, bought Ryland Riding along with Pete, built up a business—
“I was sorry to hear about your husband.” His gruff voice cut through her thoughts. “It's not right, a guy that young dying from a heart attack.”
Wondering how Ben had heard, she ducked her head and muttered, “Thanks.” She hated it when people offered sympathy. It sent sour pangs of shame and guilt through her. People assumed she was a grieving widow who'd been deeply in love with her husband. The bitter truth was, in the last year or two of her marriage she'd more than once wished Pete dead, and his death from a massive heart attack at age thirty had been partly her fault.
It was time to change the subject. Not to mention, time to get back to work. She straightened her shoulders. “Ben, I have kids coming for a lesson and I need to get their horses ready. It's been nice seeing you, but . . .” And it had been. Not only was he awfully easy on the eyes, but for a moment he'd taken her back to the days when life was uncomplicated and fun. When
she
had been uncomplicated and fun. She'd actually relaxed with him, which was something she rarely did with a man. Now, though, she needed to get back to her routine.
“Can't get rid of me that easily.”
For the first time since she'd recognized him, a shiver of anxiety rippled through her. The easy grin on his face did nothing to relieve it. A man's smile and charm didn't guarantee safety.
Ben went on. “'Sides, your sister'd have my hide.”
Her heart gave a painful jerk. God, how she missed her family. “You've seen Penny?”
“At the rodeo in Wainwright. She was volunteering at one of the concessions. We got chatting. She said her sister used to barrel race and gave your name, so I said I used to know you. When I mentioned that I was heading out to Williams Lake, she told me where you were, and about Pete. She asked me to stop by if I had a chance.”
“She did?” It was almost six years since Sally had spoken to her family, since they'd cut her out of their lives for marrying Pete and moving here. Once, she and her younger sister had shared confidences, ganged up on their parents, done each other's hair. Now, after all this time, Penny had asked Ben to drop by and see her? “How is she? Did she say—” Frustrated, Sally shook her head. “No, sorry, I don't have time to talk.” She was desperate for news, but her students and their moms would be here soon.
“I'll help you get the horses ready.”
She eyed his sling, knowing he needed to wear it so the broken bones would heal in the correct position. “What can you do with one hand?”
“I'd be real happy to show you.” His low, suggestive chuckle and the gleam in his eyes left no doubt that he was talking about more than saddling a few horses.
And Lord, for one quick, astonishing moment, she felt a responding tingle of sexual heat. Turning quickly to hide the color that flamed in her cheeks, she said crisply, “If that was an attempt at flirtation, I'm not interested.”
“Okay, sorry. Old habits, I guess.”
Old
habits? Hah! No doubt he still cut a swathe through the buckle bunnies.
“I'm right-handed,” he went on. “I can help with the horses. Then how about I hang around while you give your lesson? Maybe give my horse some water and exercise. After, we can talk about Penny.”
He sounded matter-of-fact, with no hint of teasing innuendo, and he'd offered her the best inducement in the world: news of her family. She shot him a glance over her shoulder. This was Ben Traynor. He might've been a cocky young charmer, moving from conquest to conquest, but she'd never heard a single word about him being mean to a woman. Or to an animal. She'd always liked the respectful way he treated horses, even including the broncs he rode, those trained buckers whose immediate mission in life was to toss him out of the saddle and onto the dirt of the arena floor.
She'd probably misinterpreted his comment about showing her what he could do with one hand. Why would a sexy guy like him be flirting with a drab, worn-out woman like her?
Though she wasn't big on trusting men, something told her she was safe with Ben.
“Sure,” she said. “Thanks.”
 
 
Sally had changed, Ben thought as he followed her into the barn. There were moments when she seemed like her old self, but she was less outgoing and more guarded. Like she wasn't sure whether she trusted him. But then he'd been twenty-two the last time she saw him. She didn't know what kind of man he'd turned into in the past seven years.
She was older too—must be thirty-one, thirty-two now—and it showed in a bunch of ways. She was leaner than before, in body and face, and he'd never seen her in practical work clothes before—though the sway of her hips and butt were still sexy despite the loose jeans. Her fiery copper-gold hair used to hang well past her shoulders; now it was short and curly, framing her face. She still had that cute dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks, but her forehead and greenish gray eyes had tiny creases that suggested her life wasn't a bed of roses. She looked like she could use a weekend at a spa.
BOOK: Love Somebody Like You
8.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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