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The ranch hand my dad employed is the cowboy of my dreams.
This country girl has to take a risk to tame the possessive ex-con with a paper handle on his temper and a protective drive that might wind him right back behind bars. He might be too hot for a virgin to handle and stay sane.
I want to hold onto him forever, but could an older man like him ever want a younger woman like me, or is he only in it for the horses?
*Possessive Rider is an insta-everything standalone instalove romance with an HEA, no cheating, and no cliffhanger.
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I hefted a square hay bale up onto my shoulder out of the back of the trailer, feeling the pull of an old strain running down my back that the cold didn’t help any. Already the three horses had their attention on me, ears perked against the bright sky, eyes alert. The older geldings let out low whinnies of recognition, breath clouding in the air as they trotted over to me.
For the time that I was here, they were mine and I was glad of that. They were solid horses, easy to ride and well bred too. Kind tempered and quick-footed. Aside from Jago, the stallion I’d taken a particular liking to, they were steady and predictable, exactly the kind of ride I’d have expected for a place like this.
After the assault charge, stablehand at Underbeck was a good gig to fall into. Pay was decent, accommodation on site and who cared if it was in the middle of nowhere? City living hadn’t panned out so good for me. If the Hall family wanted to pay me to care for horses none of them bothered to ride while I scrubbed my slate clean and they got good karma, tax breaks or all of the above for their philanthropy, then lucky me.
My phone rang just as I threw down the first bale and I took it out while I crunched my way back over the frozen grass and mud to the trailer. I didn’t recognize the number, which was usually better than when I did.
Setting the phone down on speaker, I heaved the next bale up to my shoulder. With gloved fingers knotted around the string, I was confident I had the heavy load balanced enough to scoop the phone up again and carry on with work while I talked. Better than staying still and freezing solid.
“That Tanner Michaels? This is Graham Cooper over at Highgate Stud. Got a few questions about your application.”
“What can I do you for Mr Cooper.”
Dumping the new bale down, I crouched to break it up and scatter hay about and let the horses picked over it, selecting the best bits for their share. I needed to move on before the gig turned to ferrying daddy’s little princess to horse events and watching her try to stay on Jago’s back. That’d be a stretch too far for my patience. I knew I wasn’t built for babysitting. Highgate needed to pay off for me.
“I won’t beat about the bush. There’s a gap in the dates before this last job you’re in. It don’t paint the prettiest picture. But maybe you were traveling? Seeing a bit of the world.”
The Halls’ daughter was off studying abroad. Had been since before I turned up. I guess folks with money did that. Not me.
“Look, it’s all in the past. I was hoping you’d be the kind of guy to overlook a couple of stupid choices in favor of a man’s horsemanship.” I laughed like it was the obvious choice.
His laugh was more stunted.
“Well. That may be. But I need to know the kind of people working with my animals. Got a lot tied up with them. I’m sure you understand, Tanner.”
I clenched my jaw as silence stretched on the open line between us, waiting for him to say that he wasn’t going to have an ex-con sniffing around his expensive ponies. He wanted me to make it easy for him. Fuck that. I swallowed, waiting another beat, then breathed out slow. Rip it off fast – that’s the way it hurts the least.
“Hell, I better stop wasting your time. Take my horse-rustling plans elsewhere.”
I cut the line off dead and rammed the phone back into my pocket, huffing out a steaming breath through my nostrils.
The water in the trough had frozen over again. The ball float I’d set in it the day before to give a break in the ice to let the horses drink was on the ground. I picked it up and hurled it but still didn’t feel any better and the damn ice was still a good inch thick.
I kicked the trough and the clang of my boot against the metal echoed over the hillside. Up on the ridge, Jago started but didn’t run. His attention was on the gate at the top of the field and my eyes followed his.
There was someone up there. I squinted against the low sun as the woman climbed the gate and dropped down onto the frozen grass.
Jago wasn’t the kind of horse to welcome strangers. I was already striding up the hill to intercept her, about to yell at her to get the hell away from my horse. Last thing I needed was some idiot getting kicked.
I expected Jago to pull his usual skittish act and dance away snorting, but he lowered his head and walked towards her.