Montana Hearts: Her Weekend Wrangler (9 page)

BOOK: Montana Hearts: Her Weekend Wrangler
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Their father shook his head. “No, this didn’t happen from some random flyby. The plane that did this had to have made several trips through. Someone did this on purpose.”

“We should check the other fields,” Dean said, running toward his truck. “If someone wants to put us out
of business they might target those fields, too.”

Josh ran with him, but Ryan stayed behind. “Whoever did this, we’ll find him,” he assured his father. “Any idea who could hate us this much?”

“A jealous person with no morals,” his father said, narrowing his eyes.

“Or someone who wants to keep us busy,” Zach complained. “Now we’re going to have to work twice as hard this season to grow
enough hay to feed the cattle or else put out a ton of money to buy from someone else.”

“I can ask Aunt Mary if we could lease her field this year,” their father said, throwing the dying blade he’d pulled up back onto the ground. “Then we’ll have to purchase new seed.”

More dread poured into Ryan’s gut as the enormity of the financial consequences this would have on them continued to register.
“She promised Owens he could use her field this season, but he hasn’t planted yet. We could still ask her. Tell her we’re in a bind. I’m sure Aunt Mary would rather lease the land to us.”

“Won’t that cause problems between you and your father-­in-­law?” his dad asked, quirking a brow.

father-­in-­law,” Ryan corrected. “I’ll explain the situation, but if he throws a fit, believe me,
there will be no love lost between us on this deal or any other.”

“Aunt Mary hates going back on her word,” his father continued. “Especially now, when she’s feeling sick and wants the rest of her life to count for what’s right.”

“Dad, we have no choice,” Ryan told him. “We
her field.”

“Yeah, and Ryan can butter her up before you ask,” Josh added. “All he has to do is show her
the progress he’s making with her filly.”

“You’re right,” their father agreed. “Ryan, let me know when it’s a good time?”

He nodded, anxiety welling in his chest. First, he’d have to “make progress” with Bree.

an inspiring pep talk from her brother, Luke, she arrived early for her second training session with the mare and filly armed with an arsenal of weapons to
win the day’s upcoming battle for trust.

The first tactic was to muster her courage and use the element of surprise. Instead of waiting for Ryan to show, she marched straight into the Triple T stable to the stall on the end. The horses were still munching their breakfast hay when she approached, and lifted their heads, perked their ears, and paused in their chewing as if to say,
What are you
doing here?

For her second tactic, she reached to press the play button on the portable CD player she’d brought along. The building soon filled with the soothing strands of one of her favorite country-­western ballads,
“Lovely to wake up by your side each morning.”
She hoped the horses might take the hint.

She glanced at the star on the filly’s forehead and her thoughts drifted to the
night she’d come face-­to-­face with the horse in Serenity’s stall when Delaney had made her help feed.

The red roan had looked at her with soulful eyes as if he didn’t want to be there any more than she did. Then later that night she spoke with her father and learned that the gelding had lost someone, too—­his owner.

It wasn’t the horse’s fault he’d been brought to her family’s guest
ranch and put in Serenity’s stall. No one really had control over where they were placed in the world. Just like this mare and filly that stood before her now. They’d all been hurt, needed to put the past behind, and move on.

Which led her to tactic number three. She needed to understand her opponents and discover weaknesses in their nature to press her advantage. She dug in her bag and pulled
out a bright orange carrot and a big, shiny red apple. The mare leaned her head forward and started licking her lips in anticipation.
Oh, yes, definitely a weakness.

A soft voice behind her asked, “Are you giving treats?”

Oh, yes, she was.
She turned to find Ryan’s son standing behind a hay bale a few feet away. “Hi, Cody,” she greeted. “Where’s Annabelle?”

“She’s with her puppies.”
The boy gave her a curious look. “How do you know her name?”

Bree flashed a smile. “Can you keep a secret?”

The boy nodded and cautiously stepped around the hay bale.

“Her name’s on her collar,” Bree told him. “Last year when I came home to visit, my best friend, Sammy Jo, and I went hiking every day along the path bordering your family’s fields. And each day Annabelle came bounding
out to greet us. After the first few times, I started bringing her treats.”

Cody took a step closer. “Do
have a dog?”

“My father has one. A German shepherd. It follows him around everywhere, but I don’t have one of my own.” She dug again into her bag of tricks and pulled out two ziplock baggies. “Here,” she said, placing them into Cody’s small hands. “One is for Annabelle. She really
likes my grandma’s homemade dog biscuits. And the other is for you.”

“Me?” Cody stared at the bag. “You brought
a treat?”

Bree nodded. “I hope you like fruit leather?”

He opened the baggie and bit off one end of the sweet, sticky sheet of dried strawberry. “Oh, yeah.” Cody quickly finished the rest and gave her a big smile. “Thanks. Annabelle’s going to love her treats, too. Would
you like to see her puppies?”

Bree thought of the next item on her brother’s list of advice.
Enlist recruits.

“Maybe later,” Bree said, smiling at her new friend. “How ’bout right now you help me with these horses? Do you want to feed the mare a treat?”

As the boy nodded, her gaze fell from his familiar brown eyes to the slight dent on the tip of his chin. She had to admit Cody was
Just like his dad.
No doubt he’d grow up to be a heartbreaker as well.

“Move real slow,” she cautioned, though she doubted he was in any danger. While they’d been talking, Cody had already moved close enough to the stall to pet the horse, and the mare hadn’t reacted in a negative way.

The boy stepped up to the half door of the stall and the mare eagerly took the carrot from his hands.
Standing beside him, Bree then offered the mare an apple.

Cody, get away from there before you get bit!” Ryan hissed from the open door at the other end of the stable.

“It’s okay,” Bree assured him. “The mare doesn’t consider him a threat.”

“But I am?” Ryan walked toward them and the mare pinned back her ears and began to toss her head.

Bree laughed. “Yes, you are.”

“She likes me,” Cody told his dad.

“Many horses have a different reaction to children than they do to adults,” Bree added. As if on cue, the next song on the CD player crooned,
“Nothing like a young’un to soften the likes of this old heart.”

“What’s with the music?” Ryan asked, stepping into a nearby stall out of the mare’s sight but still within Bree’s.

“I thought it would help them

Ryan grinned. “Great idea. Creates the perfect mood.”

The filly sidled up against her mother, and when Bree reached for her, the filly pulled away.
So much for a truce.

“Cody, you better run, or you’ll be late for school,” Ryan told him.

“Bye, Bree! Thanks for the treats.” Cody hurried toward the door and waved to his dad. “Bye, Dad.”

Ryan returned the wave and then
motioned for Bree to join him as he opened the stall door of a black quarter horse with a white strip across his nose. “Bree, I want you to meet the Blue-­Eyed Bandit.”


He nodded and she glanced at the muscular horse, but was more aware of Ryan than the animal before them. Broad shoulders. Strong arms. He waited for her reaction, so she smiled and said, “Nice.”

Ryan circled
around, touched the small of her back, and she jumped forward, which . . . placed Bree between him and the horse. Too late, she recalled her brother’s instructions,
“Don’t get caught behind enemy lines.”
She took a step forward to give the animal a pat on the neck, without letting Ryan know she was really trying to distance herself from

“I thought maybe we’d brush Bandit together before
you give the filly another shot.”

Bree frowned. “You think I need a confidence boost?”

Ryan took another step toward her, and grinned. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry about the other day, but this time I have a plan,” Bree informed him.

He gave her a direct look. “So do I.”

She glanced away and spotted a bucket of brushes already set in the corner of the stall. She took one and handed Ryan
another. “Okay,” she agreed. “I’ve got this side.”

Bree expected Ryan to brush the
side of the horse, but he stepped up beside her and set out to work on the same side of the horse as she.
What was he doing?

She slid him a sideways glance and he smiled, took her hand in his, and pulled her fingers up to the horse’s mane. “Feel how soft his hair is,” Ryan murmured, his voice close
to her ear. “How sleek.”

Her heart hammered in her chest. All she could feel was the warmth of his arm pressed against hers, the firm grasp of his hand over her own.

“Breathe in his scent,” he continued.

She’d forgotten to breathe altogether until he mentioned it. She took a deep breath and drew in Ryan’s fresh,
scent instead. “He’s . . . he’s . . .”

She spun around and found
Ryan’s face just inches from her own. She couldn’t help it; her gaze drifted to his mouth. His lips parted, he bent his head, and—­she gasped, recalling how she’d been in a similar position when he’d helped her escape from the wobbly bookcase in the general store.

“He’s what?” Ryan whispered.

“He’s . . . good.”

“Good?” Ryan asked and chuckled, a rich, glorious sound. He pulled his
head back and gave the horse a pat on the rump. “I’d say he’s great. Top of the line.”

So are you.
My, oh, my, but he
a charmer. No wonder the ladies clung to him wherever he went. All he had to do was give them one look with those big brown eyes, flash them that award-­winning smile, and—­poof! He got whatever he wanted.

But was this what
wanted? After her
dumped her in New York? Her brother’s words shot through her thoughts.
“In case plans go awry, always have an exit strategy.”

“Ryan Tanner,” she exclaimed, pushing him away. “Are you trying to

He grinned. “What if I am? Is it helping you to relax?”

“Just the opposite,” she said truthfully.

His smile waned. “I thought if I charmed
, then you could work your charm with
the horses . . . like you used to.”

So he had been manipulating her the whole time for his
benefit. Of course. She should have known better than to allow herself to think any different. Then she considered his words and realized he’d actually paid her a compliment.

“W-­wait a minute,” she stammered. “You think
a charmer?”

“One of the best. I’ve seen you train.”

She couldn’t remember seeing him at any of her past training sessions.

“At the fairgrounds, summer before senior year. You helped your competitor with the black and white colt?”

“Oh—­I remember.” She stepped forward and poked a finger into his chest. “You came up to me and my friend with a girl on each arm and asked if I’d like to join you.”

He nodded, his expression innocent. “I was
fascinated by what I saw that day and wanted to talk to you about the methods you used to bring the colt around.”

“Really?” She felt herself blush. “I thought . . . you wanted something else. And I said . . .” She hesitated as more heat rose into her cheeks. “I said,
‘Get lost, Tanner. Looks like you already have more women than limbs unless you grow a tail.’ ”

He grinned. “Yes, you did.”

She held his gaze for a long moment, then said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t in the mood to join your doting fan club.”

He grimaced. “I was hoping the other girls would get bored and leave so I could join
. I’d have stayed all afternoon and watched you train if . . .”

“I hadn’t been so mean?” She smiled at him. “Why?”

“I’d never seen a horse respond to anyone that way before.” He looked
her straight in the eye. “You’re the reason I became a horse trainer.”

She stared at him in silence for several long moments, unable to fathom how she could have thought him indifferent. He looked sincere, he sounded sincere, and she sincerely wanted to believe him with all her heart. Then she realized . . . he was trying to
her again!

“You switched tactics,” she accused.

does have its uses,” he admitted.

“Honesty?” She smiled and a certain calm stole over her. “I’ll have to try that.”

Especially since Luke’s advice to
“lock up your emotion, block out everything except the mission at hand”
didn’t seem to be working.

She went into the end stall to the tune of
“a little love is all you need,”
and sure enough, when she showed a genuine interest in the
filly, the little horse responded by coming close and nuzzling her hand. Visions of Serenity still popped into her head, wrenching her heart, but by the end of the session, when Morning Glory playfully pulled the scarf from her neck again, she could honestly say they’d formed a bond.

And from the way Ryan’s eyes now sparkled when he looked at her? For better or for worse, she guessed she’d
formed a bond with
, too.

“Yes, we’re making progress,” Ryan said, flashing her a grin as he talked to his aunt Mary on his cell phone. “Why don’t you come over here next week and see for yourself?”

BOOK: Montana Hearts: Her Weekend Wrangler
11.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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