Authors: Patricia Davids
Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Romance, #General
Austin wanted to take hold of her elbow to steady her ascent but she didn't give him the chance. She was a strange creature, a mystery with her scared-doe eyes and defiant rock thumping.
He lifted a hand to his temple, found the knot. It didn't hurt much, nothing compared to how the woman's arm must feel. He'd had a broken bone once when a horse and cow collided and his leg was sandwiched between. Hurt like the dickens.
He could hear her breathing, the puffs of someone unaccustomed to long hikes on rough terrain. He thought of her girly heeled shoes, her upscale clothes, the bleeding face. She was lying.
The question was, why?
He moved in behind her and took her elbow with one hand and supported her back with the other. She flinched, a motion that made Austin grind his back teeth. But she didn't pull away, a good thing, because Austin was a stubborn man. If he had to, he'd swoop her over one shoulder and cart her up the rise like a sack of sweet feed. She probably didn't weigh much more than a hundred-pound sack of oats.
They reached the top of the ridge and she paused for a moment to catch her breath and look around. Not a casual glance at nature's beauty, but a search. A furtive, wary search.
Austin's eyes narrowed. “My horse is this way.”
She spun toward him. “Horse?”
“Look, lady, there are no roads back in here. The nearest ATV trail is three miles and then it's another two miles to town. You either walk or ride horses.” Or like some high-rollers, you flew over in helicopters. Man, did that ever set his teeth on edge. He scowled. “You didn't fly in on a helicopter, did you?”
“No.” She hitched her chin. He noticed long red marks on her throat. Funny place to be injured in a fall. “I can walk if you'll lead the way.”
Stacking fists on hips, Austin rolled his eyes. “Afraid of horses?”
“Then why walk when you can ride?”
“But you said...it's your horse.”
“I don't know where you come from, lady, but around here a man doesn't ride while the woman walks. What's your name anyway?”
She hesitated before saying, “Annalisa.”
No last name. Interesting.
“Fancy name.” But then she was a fancy-looking woman, sleek and well-groomed. Except for the blood and bruises. “I'm Austin Blackwell. You're on my ranch.” Practically.
She pressed her lips together in an expression of worry. “I'm sorry.”
He glared at her. “For what?”
Her fingers fluttered. Exactly like the pulse above her collarbone. “Trespassing. I should have asked before...uh...hiking.”
Austin pinned her with a look. “Yeah. Hiking.”
It was none of his business if she fell or jumped or was attacked by Sasquatch, just as it was none of his business if she lied. None.
Austin started to sweat.
The last thing he needed was a woman with suspicious injuries.
They approached Cisco who'd found a patch of grass to nibble on. The sooner he got Miss Annalisa mystery woman off this mountain and into someone else's care, the easier he could breath.
“You know how to mount? One foot in the stirrup. Throw the other over. I'll give you a boost. You take care of the arm.”
She nodded and with a gritty determination given her condition, stuck a foot in the stirrup and hopped. Austin leaned in to help, a hand beneath her free foot, the other ready to brace her back. The scent of perfume, definitely not the cheap stuff, but mysterious like her, contrasted with the earthy, wetness of the falls. He did his best not to notice, but the fragrance reminded him of something. Something he'd put out of his mind long ago.
He clenched his teeth against the fantasy, hoisted her other foot and put her into the saddle as gently as possible. She was light if leggy, tall enough to reach his stirrups. And he was no small fry.
Annalisa's face paled with the movement. She bit back a groan. A small one, but he heard it.
“Easy,” he said, feeling like a heartless slug for hurting her. If he wouldn't have been thinking of her long legs and heady scent, he could have been more careful.
Yeah, and if that sorry calf hadn't gotten out, he wouldn't be here in the first place with his sixth sense screaming like a banshee.
didn't mean much in Austin's vocabulary. If life was as it should be, he'd still be in Texas.
He took Cisco's reins and tossed them over the saddle horn. In quick, efficient movements he swung into the saddle in front of his guest, taking care not to jar her. Annalisa leaned back, away from contact.
Austin shifted in the saddle to look at her. “Brace your bad arm against my back and give me your other.”
She hesitated, clearly not wanting to touch him. Well, too stinkin' bad. He didn't want her falling off.
“One broken arm is enough,” he barked. She flinched, eyes widening.
He grabbed her good hand and slapped it against his rib cage. With a
and slight tightening of his knees, he set Cisco on an easy walk through the trees.
Behind him, Annalisa was as stiff as new leather.
What was up with this lady?
Copyright Â© 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.
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of the individual works as follows:
HIS BUNDLE OF LOVE
Copyright Â© 2006 by Patricia MacDonald
THE COLOR OF COURAGE
Copyright Â© 2007 by Patricia MacDonald
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