Desiree Holt | USA Today & Award-Winning Author

Naked Hunger

Naked Cowboys, Book 8

LRC Cowboy Book of the YearVeterinarian Sable Hunter is in Saddle Wells to take over for the retiring veterinarian. She has a reputation to build and can’t afford any distractions—which is definitely what giving into the heat sparking between her and local rancher Ryan Donovan would be. Nope, no time for sexy cowboys when she has to keep focused on work.

Ryan earned his stripes one bull at a time on the rodeo circuit. Now the prize money he saved is all on the line as he breeds bucking bulls. Raising livestock in Saddle Wells isn’t as exciting as the pro circuit, but the sweet new vet in town certainly livens things up. Sable claims she has no time for a relationship, so Ryan suggests they have some friends-with-benefits fun while he convinces her she doesn’t have to choose between career and love. But when a costly mistake puts her career in jeopardy, Sable could lose everything, including the man she’s starting to love.

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Chapter One

“Big change is a comin’.”

Sable Hunter listened to the words of the song blasting from her rental car radio and thought to herself that was certainly the truth. She was making huge, huge, huge changes to her life. For the first time since she’d made the decision to move, a thread of uneasiness wiggled its way through her. Was she out of her mind to leave everything safe and familiar to her and relocate like this?

“I have to do it,” she’d told her partner, Todd. “I’m really ready for a change.”

And wasn’t that just the understatement of the year.

Okay, maybe I’m crazy. Certifiable.

But she was tired of West Texas, beautiful as it was. Tired of not being able to do the work she wanted. Tired of Todd calling her the junior partner and telling her she just needed more experience handling large animals so the ranchers would be completely comfortable with her. That was never going to happen as long as he didn’t think she was capable. He certainly hadn’t expected a woman to answer his ad, and she’d spent the past seven years trying to validate his decision to hire her in the first place. She’d waited all that time, way too long, for him to shift half of the large-animal practice to her, and it hadn’t happened. He guarded it as jealously as if it were his wife. Maybe even more so, she thought with a snort.

Sable didn’t think of herself as a stupid person, but somehow it had taken her two years to realize he’d brought her in because he wanted someone besides himself to handle the small animals. The ranchers were his department, and he reminded her of that, gently, all the time. When she did get to assist him, he treated her as if she were still an intern learning her profession. Oh, he did it very smoothly, and probably without even realizing it. But still, it was there, rippling along beneath the surface. Sometimes she’d wondered if he’d let her buy in because she was the only qualified person who’d answered his ad. Not too many people wanted to live out at the back end of beyond, no matter how beautiful it was.

She’d made herself be all right with the situation because she’d needed time. Time for the practice to become lucrative enough that selling him back her share would give her enough to buy in someplace else. When the two of them had reviewed the books to come up with an amount, Todd had not been too happy with the amount her share was worth. Points to him, though, for agreeing to a fair price. So now she had a plump, if not fat, bank account and the prospect of a bright new future.

First, of course, she had to complete the deal waiting for her, praying it was as good as she hoped. Right now, all she had was an online ad and an exchange of emails. The wording of the ad flashed through her mind for the hundredth time. She’d clicked on it so often she had it memorized.

“Veterinary practice for sale. Large and small animals. Must be experienced with bulls. Friendly town, friendly atmosphere. Plenty of patients.”

A photo of the clinic itself had been included, a stucco building with a neat gravel parking lot, two big shade trees in front and a large fenced yard. She’d hoped it would come with living quarters, but maybe luck would be with her and she could find something affordable in… What was the name of that town again? Oh, yeah. Saddle Wells.

She had also done a search for any local newspapers and discovered the Hill Country Herald. The content was typical small-town Texas and gave her a good idea of what Saddle Wells was all about. She liked small towns. No, she loved small towns. While she enjoyed the small animals she worked with, her real passion was the cattle, especially the bulls. The article she’d read about the man who raised bulls for the rodeo seemed like a good omen to her.

Todd had tried his best to talk her out of leaving. Obviously, he didn’t relish the prospect of tending to dogs and cats now any more than he had when she’d first arrived. Not to mention birds and snakes, of which there were a fair amount of in West Texas. He’d started actively looking for a new partner the day she’d told him she was leaving. She knew it would be so easy for him if she just stayed on, but she needed out and that was that.

“You sure you want to do this?” Todd had kept asking her. “You ready to handle a practice on your own?”

He’d never have said that to a man. In veterinary school, she’d run into some chauvinism, but it had been rare. Mostly, she’d been respected for her brains and her ability. Then she’d had such a great internship, not to mention three years in a practice with three terrific guys. She’d never have left there, except with four of them at the practice, there hadn’t been much opportunity to work with large animals. She certainly hadn’t expected this kind of prejudice when she’d showed up in West Texas. Would she find the same thing in Saddle Wells? God, she hoped not, but she’d need to be very careful about that. Not give anyone any reason to question her ability.

“Yes. Positive,” she’d told Todd. “Most definitely.”

And she was, as long as the reality turned out to be as good as the ad. A flight to San Antonio, an overnight stay since she’d landed too late to head out of town, a rental car and here she was, on her way to meet her future.

And no looking for a relationship, she reminded herself. This was her first solo practice. She needed to focus on one thing—being the best vet she possibly could. She knew how skeptical ranchers could be with a female vet. Hadn’t she suffered through that in West Texas? She could only give her energy to one thing right now, and that wasn’t a relationship.

As she got closer to the town, she turned on the GPS on her phone and punched up the address she’d programmed in. The directions took her right through Saddle Wells, giving her a chance for a quick glimpse of a very attractive Main Street. Then she hit the outskirts on the other side. Two quick turns and she was pulling up in front of Saddle Wells Animal Practice. The sandblasted sign at the front of the lot included a graphic of a dog and a bull. Yup, this was the right place. She knew it.

Sable parked her rental car to one side, turned off the ignition, took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She couldn’t believe how badly she wanted this to be exactly what it looked like—the practice of her dreams in the kind of small Texas town where she could live forever. And maybe eventually get her personal life on the right track. Not, of course, until she had her practice to where she was comfortable with it. But she could do it.

She hoped.

Well, get your ass out of the car and go inside, Sable. You won’t get anything accomplished sitting here.

Swallowing back a sudden case of nerves, she stood in the parking lot for a moment, inhaling the sweet scent of an early Texas fall, feeling the soft breeze on her skin cutting the heavy air. Then, with determination, she climbed the two steps to the wide porch and opened the door of the clinic. A bell tinkled, announcing her arrival. The woman sitting at a computer behind a curving counter looked up and smiled.

“You must be Dr. Hunter,” she guessed, leaping up from her chair. “At least, I hope you are.”

“That’s me.” She nodded and reached across the counter to shake hands with the bubbly blonde. “And please, call me Sable.”

“Well, welcome, Sable. I’m Deedee. Dr. Lynch will be so excited you’re here.” She grinned. “As we all are, of course. Let me just let him know you’re here.”

Sable took the moment to look around the waiting room. The first thing that struck her was the cleanliness, a must at vet clinics, but not always the case. Some clinics she’d visited had made her shudder. Chairs filled the waiting area, with a bench against one wall. Some people had cats in carriers, others had dogs on leashes. One even had a tiny dog in a small pet carrier.

A tall man with a blue heeler on a leash rose from the bench where he was sitting and ambled over to her. She guessed him to be in his fifties, with graying hair and tanned skin. He held out a hand to her.

“Drake Hammer,” he told her. “You must be the new vet.”

Sable laughed as she shook his hand. “I just got here for my look-see and haven’t even met Dr. Lynch yet except on Skype.”

“Don’t chase her away before I even get to talk to her, Drake.” She heard a voice behind her and recognized it as belonging to the man she’d Skyped with. She turned and saw Pete Lynch walking toward her from the rear of the clinic. He also had a hand extended. “Welcome, Dr. Hunter. You have no idea how glad I am to see you.”

“Sable,” she said again. “Please. And it’s nice to be here.”

She knew the man had been in practice here for thirty-five years, and that he had just hit sixty-five. He’d been blunt about telling her he was ready to retire.

“Pete’s already half-packed to get away on that boat of his,” Drake Hammer said with a chuckle. “Right, Doc?”

The vet grinned. “Close enough.” He looked at the blue heeler, who was nosing Sable’s hand and leaning against her leg. “I think Wolf is hoping she’ll stay too.”

“Well, he’s a damn good judge of character, so I’d say that’s a good reference.” Drake tugged gently on the leash. “We’ll go sit down and wait our turn. You show Dr., uh, Sable around and ask her when she can get started.”

Pete Lynch chuckled. “Are you getting the idea there’s a general opinion this is a done deal?”

“From you too, it seems.” She looked around the waiting room. “I can wait until you see your patients. They come first.”

“No problem. Most of them are here for shots, and the vet tech takes care of that.”

Sable remembered in their Skype meeting Lynch had mentioned the tech. “Will he be staying on?” She couldn’t run the practice without one, or maybe two, if she was lucky.

“I know he’d like to, but that will be up to the two of you. He’s anxious to chat with you. So is Deedee. Come on.” He led the way out of the waiting room. “Let me show you the lay of the land.”

She was more than impressed with the setup—the examining rooms, the pharmacy, the equipment, the entire operation, as a matter of fact. But he was busy with the patients, so she really couldn’t get a reading on him personally. There were also two teenagers, co-op students from the local high school, who greeted her nervously. She wanted to assure them she didn’t bite.

In the small office in the back, Lynch shared with her the list of regular clients. She pulled out her phone and scrolled through the list of questions she’d prepared, and the man she hoped would sell her his practice answered each of them in great detail. He also pointed out pictures of some of the ranches he worked on his office wall. There were more than enough ranches to keep her happy with their cattle and horses. She was especially excited about the place that raised bulls for the rodeo. She had done her internship at a clinic that specialized in large animals and was anxious to get back to it. She’d chafed at Todd Ainsworth’s restrictions for too long.

Finally, Dr. Lynch pulled up his financial records on the computer and turned the screen so he could go over them with her. He had a financially healthy practice, more than worth the price he was asking. Sable had to tamp down her excitement and force herself to be objective about everything. But damn, that was hard. Unless there was a hidden trap, this was exactly what she wanted. Exactly.

“So.” Pete Lynch leaned back in his chair. “I’ve given you a lot to absorb. It’s nearly lunchtime. How about I take you into town for something to eat. The place we’ll go is a popular one with the locals, and you might get to meet the owners of some of your future patients.” He tilted his head. “If we close the deal.”

Sable laughed. “I’m sure you can tell by my badly contained enthusiasm that I’m excited about this. I suppose I should put on my game face and negotiate better, but that’s not my style. So, yes, I’d love to check out the town and have some lunch.”

Dr. Lynch drove her through pleasant residential streets lined with large homes and mature trees, into a neighborhood of smaller homes, and finally into the downtown area. The sidewalks were filled with busy people moving from shop to shop and the curb was lined with vehicles. Busy little town, she thought.

The restaurant Pete ushered her into was named, quaintly enough, the Bit and Bite, and it was crowded.

A waitress clearing tables paused to speak to them. “I’ll have a booth for you in just two seconds, Doc,” she told him and hurried away.

She was as good as her word. In less than five minutes, Sable found herself settled in a booth against one wall, ice water on the table and a menu in front of her.

“You always get the royal treatment?” Sable asked.

Lynch chuckled. “Red Aguilar who owns the place also raises blue heelers. I’ve been treating his litters for ten years, ever since he decided to become a breeder.”

“Should I be taking notes?” Sable asked, only half-joking.

“Nah, you’ll get the hang of things soon enough.” He studied her across the table. “I hope this doesn’t sound sexist, and if it does, forgive me. I’ve worked with a lot of female vets before, most of them tip-top. But I don’t picture someone of your, uh, stature wrestling the large animals you’d be treating. Are you sure you can handle it?”

Sable laughed. This wasn’t the first time she’d been asked that question. She was sure her size had also been a big factor in why Todd hadn’t trusted her with the large animals they’d treated, no matter how many times she’d proved herself. She’d finally grown a skin thick enough to where it didn’t bother her. Much. Most of the time.

“I did my internship at a clinic that specialized in them,” she told him. When she named the vet she’d worked with, she could see Pete Lynch knew who he was and was impressed by her experience.

“You’ve got some old-timers here who might be pretty skeptical,” he warned her. “And even some of the younger guys.”

“I feel confident I can win their trust,” she assured him. “If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s my skills.”

And she was, for sure. She’d fought this battle from the day she’d enrolled in veterinary college, and she’d won every time. She didn’t plan to lose now. This was her dream. She was determined to live it now that she finally had the chance. She took a moment to look around the restaurant and saw that it was still jammed, and people were table-hopping to chat with each other. The décor was flat-out Texas, with paneled walls, wagon-wheel chandeliers and a Texas Lone Star flag framed and hung on one wall.

“Does everyone in town come here for lunch?” she asked.

“If they’re in town. That’s why I wanted to bring you here.”

He might have said more, but the waitress appeared at their table at that moment, so they quickly scanned their menus again. They had just placed their orders and Sable had relaxed in her seat, prepared to answer any other questions Lynch asked, when the air around her suddenly seemed to shift. What felt like an electrical charge whispered over her skin, making the fine hairs stand up and her pulse stutter. What on earth?

Dr. Lynch looked up and grinned. “Hey, Ryan. I was hoping to see you.”

“This the vet you were telling me about?”

The voice was deep and warm, rolling over her like hot molasses on a summer day and reaching deep into every crevice of her body. When she looked up, she nearly swallowed her tongue. She felt as if all the air had been sucked out of her lungs. She had seen many gorgeous men in her life, sexy men, handsome men, some all three. But whoever this was beat all of them hands down.

He was without a doubt the largest man she’d ever seen, big without being enormous. He was way over six feet, with broad shoulders, lean hips and long, long legs. The work shirt and faded jeans he wore could have been custom made for him. His face was square-jawed with high cheekbones. Lashes as black as the hair on his head and as thick as any woman’s framed eyes a startling electric blue.

Sable stared at him, her breath trapped in her throat, her nipples hardening painfully into sharp points and the pulse in her sex pounding like a bass drum. In her entire life, she had never had such an instantaneous reaction to a man. Any man.

“Sable?” Pete Lynch’s voice broke into her fog. “Let me introduce you to Ryan Donovan.”

Ryan Donovan. Of course, she thought. The man she’d read the article about. He was quintessential Black Irish. Thought to be descended from the Spanish, with skin that tanned rather than freckled, the black hair that was the iconic symbol along with the large muscular body. Sex on the hoof. She managed to shake herself into some semblance of awareness and nod to him.

“Hi. Sable Hunter. Nice to meet you.”

“And, yes,” Pete continued, “the new vet. I hope, anyway.” He looked at Sable. “Ryan owns the Gold Buckle Ranch.”

Sable knew what that meant. She lowered her gaze to his waist and yup, there it was, locked to a leather belt and nestled against his flat abdomen. “I read about you in the Hill Country Herald. You competed on the circuit.

His laugh had a rumbling sound. “Jinx Malone would like to make me out as some local celebrity, but I’m just an old rodeo cowboy.”

“But a very successful one,” she protested. “Not everyone gets a gold buckle.”

He shrugged. “As much luck as skill. I quit while I still had most of my bones intact and began breeding bulls for competition.” He narrowed his eyes. “If you take over from Pete here, you’ll be tending to them. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone your size wrestle a bull.”

God, she was so tired of hearing that. But getting irritated at a man who might be a client wasn’t going to do her any good. She’d found humor usually worked a lot better.

“Actually,” she told him, “bulls have been known to faint in terror just at the sight of me.” She winked. “Some men too.”

“Damn, you’re good, Sable.” Lynch burst out laughing. “Ryan, I think you’ve met your match.”

The look Ryan gave her was so penetrating it made all her girl parts quiver and her panties were suddenly drenched. Good Lord. What was going on here?

His gaze locked with hers for an interminable moment and she almost forgot to breathe. Then he smiled, an expression nearly as lethal as his voice. “If you decide to buy the practice, come on out and I’ll give you a tour of the Gold Buckle.”

She almost asked if he meant the ranch or the one at his waist. Then she caught herself. What in the world had gotten into her? She never reacted to a man this way. Not ever. Damn. She wet her lips and gave him an answering smile.

“If things work out, I’ll look forward to it.”

“I think I’ll bring her out anyway,” Lynch said. “Maybe seeing those bulls will be a selling point.” He winked. “You good for this afternoon?”

Ryan nodded. “I am.”

“Then we’ll be out. She wants to see some of the ranches anyway.”

“Do it. I’ll look for you later, Doc.” He nodded at Lynch and then shifted his gaze to Sable again. “Nice meeting you.”

She couldn’t help laughing. “Same here.”

She watched him walk away, the muscles of his very fine ass flexing with each stride. He greeted people as he made his way to the exit. Then, just before he pushed open the restaurant door, he turned and looked at her, and once again that jolt of electricity sizzled through her. She had to drag her attention back to Pete, who was talking as if nothing had happened.

“He’s done a fine job with his ranch,” Pete told her. “Took his winnings from the rodeo circuit and sank them into a breeding business for bucking bulls. It was a little shaky at first, but now he’s got some good rodeo contracts and things are on solid footing.”

“I know it’s an expensive business.”

“It is, and we’ve all been pulling for him. He’s a good man.” He scratched his head. “Hope he’s not about to make a mistake though.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s got a damn good breeding bull, but he’s buying another one for great big bucks. It’ll put a crimp in his cash flow for a while, but Red Danger is considered one of the best breeders in the country.”

“Well.” Sable set down her coffee cup. “If that’s true, he can produce bulls that will bring him higher dollars from the rodeos and get himself some good contracts.”

“All true. We’re all hoping it works. We like him. He’s a good man and a good friend.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing his place.”

“I’d like to take you around after lunch so you can meet some of the other ranchers,” he told her. “Kind of let you get the lay of the land. We can make the Gold Buckle one of our stops. What’s your time frame?”

“I planned for three or four days if need be. My partner’s handling everything back in our clinic. I want to be sure this is the right decision for me, so I didn’t want to rush things.”

“Good. Good, good, good.” He took a swallow of his coffee. “I’ll tell you, Sable. I checked out all your credentials, obviously, and I believe I couldn’t leave my practice in better hands. That is, if we close the deal.”

Sable really wanted to get a look at some of the other ranches and take a more intensive tour of Saddle Wells before she signed anything. But every instinct she possessed told her this was where she belonged.

The waitress had just served their food when a woman practically threw herself at Lynch, giving him a huge hug.

“Hey, Reenie.” He laughed as she smooched his cheek and then straightened. “Better be careful. That husband of yours is pretty damn jealous.”

“He’d kiss you himself after saving that cutting-horse mare,” she told him. “You’re a damn miracle worker.” Then she turned her gaze to Sable. “Sorry. We’re really not all crazy around here. Oh, well, maybe we are. I’m Reenie Stark.”

“Crazy can be good,” Sable told her. “Really.”

“My husband and I own Stark Ranch about ten miles outside of Saddle Wells.” She pointed to the blonde standing beside her. “This is my friend Georgie.”

“Hi.” Georgie gave her a soft smile. “Nice to meet you. You’re the new vet, right?”

“She hasn’t signed on the dotted line,” Pete told them, grinning, “but I’m working on it.”

“Well, work a little faster,” Georgie urged. “We all know how anxious you are to take off on that boat of yours, and Rowan County needs a vet.” She looked at Sable again. “How long will you be here?”

“I planned on three or four days. If Dr. Lynch and I make the deal, I want some time to pester him with questions and get everything settled in my mind.”

“Are you staying in the city?”

Sable nodded.

Georgie shook her head. “That won’t work. You go get your stuff this afternoon and check into the B&B.”

“The B&B?” Sable frowned. “Is it here in town?”

“Sure is,” Reenie broke in. “The Butterfly B&B. Best in the Hill Country. Georgie and her husband, Cade, own it.”

“And we’d like you to be a guest of the establishment, free of charge. It would be our pleasure.” She looked back at Lynch. “Doc, I told you to make arrangements for her with us. Why didn’t you?”

He shrugged. “What if she turned out to be a dud? Then you’d be stuck with her. I figured I’d check her out first.” He winked at Sable to show her he was at least half-joking.

“So how about it?” Georgie persisted. “I’ll make sure a room is all set up for you when I get home.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a business card. “Here’s all the info. Doc can drive you by it so you can see where it is.”

Sable was rapidly getting the feeling that the local vet was something close to royalty in the Hill Country ranching area. But she was somewhat uncomfortable about accepting free lodging from someone she had just met.

“I’m not sure—”

“Even if you end up not buying Doc’s practice,” Georgie added.

Reenie laughed. “You’d better say yes, Sable. Hardly anyone ever says no to Georgie. She’s a force of nature. Just ask her husband.”

Sable put the card in her purse. “Okay, then. Thank you very much. I’ll give you a call later and let you know what time I’ll be there.”

When the women had taken themselves off, Pete Lynch signaled for the check.

“How about we get out of here before the rest of Saddle Wells comes over with a pitch. Let me show you the countryside and some of the ranches you’d be servicing.”

“I’d really like that. The visit to some ranches sounds really good. Do you need to call first?”

“Nope.” He grinned at her. “I think I’ve got them all primed and on their best behavior.”

Sable had seen a lot of photos of the Hill Country, even more when she’d decided to do a search after she found Dr. Lynch’s ad. She knew it was a twenty-five-county region in Central Texas, although her focus would only be Rowan County, right in the center of it. As the vet drove her down one farm-to-market road after another, she was captivated by the beauty of the rolling hills and the vast acres of pastureland. Everywhere she looked she saw cattle and horses, and in some place goats and sheep.

Pete—he’d insisted she call him that or Doc, not Dr. Lynch—showed her some of the points of historic interest and gave her a brief overview of the cultures that formed what the area was today. They stopped at several ranches and she got a good feel for what the environment was here in Rowan County. She’d expected some pushback from the ranchers. After all, Pete had been here for years, and people didn’t always take well to change. But they were unfailingly polite and eager to explain their operations to her.

“Sure you’re big enough to handle these monsters?” was a question repeated at almost every stop.

She smiled and told them the first time they saw her work they’d stop asking that.

It was late in the afternoon when they pulled through the archway and down the drive at the Gold Buckle. Sable was irritated with herself when her pulse began to pound more heavily, especially in her pussy, which was sending her unwanted signals. Ryan Donovan was a man. Just a man. Nothing more. She’d do well to keep that in mind.

But when they parked in a gravel area to the side of the main house and he walked out of the barn, she couldn’t seem to squash the sense of anticipation that wouldn’t go away.

“Thanks for coming by,” he told Pete. Then he turned to Sable. “We’ve got some good rodeo stock in the barns right now,” he told her. “The hands are working with them to get them ready for the season. Let me show you around.”

When he took her arm to guide her inside the huge outbuilding, she felt his fingers on her as if they were licks of fire. The heat traveled through her entire body, sending sparks to her nipples and her sex. This was definitely not good. If she was going to be caring for this man’s stock, she couldn’t have a sex attack every time she saw him. She dug for all her personal discipline, but it was really damn hard with a man who was sex on wheels.

“Bucking, jumping and kicking is an inborn ability with the bulls,” he began as they walked down the wide central aisle. “That’s why the breeding is a very tricky, detailed, intensive process. The genetics of these guys come from Texas Longhorns and Brahman bulls that survived by tossing off predators.”

“I read that,” she told him, determined that he not think she was clueless. “Before I even contacted Pete, I did my homework. Although I did my internship in a large animal clinic, bucking bulls were never on our patient list.” She laughed. “They don’t raise too many of them in Kansas.”

He stopped and turned to face her. “You’re from Kansas?”

She laughed again, this time at the look on his face. “No, actually Montana. But I had a great opportunity with a vet in Kansas, so I took it.”

“How did you end up in Texas then?” They were walking again, his hand at the small of her back, the touch just as incendiary as before.

“The job in West Texas appealed to me more than any others. Especially since I had a chance to buy in.”

“So what happens if you decide to move here and take over Doc’s practice?”

“My partner’s already agreed to buy me out, so there’s no problem.”

They moved along farther in the barn. As Ryan pointed out the different bulls to her, introduced her to some of the hands and explained more about his operations, she had to work hard to concentrate on what he was saying. In her thirty-two years, no other man had made her self-discipline and concentration waver the way Ryan Donovan did. Just being near him made the air around her sizzle and crackle. She wondered if he felt it too.

The last thing he showed her was Brutus, the current king of the breeding operation, and the stall he’d prepared for the new addition.

“I’m gambling here,” he told her, reinforcing what Doc had said. “But if it pays off, it will be more than worth it.”

“What’s in the next building?” she asked as they reached the end of the concrete center aisle.

“That’s where the hands and I stable our horses. You’ll be taking care of them too.”

“Should we take a look?”

He shook his head. “Most of them are out right now, working the pastures or riding fences. Next time.” He nudged her around to face him. “There will be a next time, right? You are going to buy Doc out?”

“Getting close to it.” She wanted to give Pete her answer before anyone else.

He let his gaze travel over her from head to toe and back up again, sending a wash of sensation over her.

“You sure you can wrangle those big animals? Pete sometimes has to ask one of us to help.”

She swallowed her immediate retort and dug up a smile. “Then I’m sure if I need it, you’ll give me the same help. Right?”

“Yeah. Right.” He still didn’t move. “Just want to make sure you know your way around these critters.”

“Trust me. Don’t let my size fool you. I did my internship with large animals, and most of them weren’t friendly. I can handle it.”

At last he said, “All right then. Thanks for coming by.”

They stood there for a long moment, gazes locked and neither of them acknowledging the electricity zipping around them that nearly turned the air blue. When he touched her elbow to nudge her forward again, it felt as if he’d kissed her skin with a branding iron.

Not good. Not good.

With a tremendous force of will, Sable pushed everything else out of her mind and concentrated on the things Ryan was telling her. She’d be caring for these animals. She needed to know everything about them, their environment and how they were cared for. When they finished checking everything out and he walked her back to where Pete waited, the cool breeze carried the fresh scent of his aftershave along with the earthy scent of the barn. It made all her senses tingle. She would have to give herself a stern talking to if indeed she bought this practice. After all, she’d be working with this man, and mixing sex and business could be a problem.

Or not. She’d wait and see.

“Thank you for the tour,” she told him, reaching for her best professional attitude.

“My pleasure.”

When he shook her hand, the same electricity shot through her. Only the slight narrowing of his eyes told her he’d felt the jolt as well. Holy hell! How would she handle being around a man she constantly wanted to see naked?

“Well?” Pete asked when they were back in his truck. He’d waited and chatted with one of the hands while Ryan had done the walkthrough with her.

“It’s everything you say,” she told him. “And everyone I’ve met seems friendly and easy to be with.”

“As long as their animals get top care,” he added.

“Which is a hallmark of my practice,” she pointed out. She glanced over at him, curious about something. “This boat of yours people keep mentioning must really be something.”

“Sure is.” A look of pure joy flashed across his face. “My wife and I have been planning to live on that boat as soon as I retire for a long time. Which,” he told her, “I hope is right now. We both love it here in Saddle wells, but I promised her we could travel, spend time together. Travel down the Gulf to the Caribbean. Do some fishing, some sightseeing, stay at some five-star hotels.”

“Sounds great. But won’t you miss the animals?”

“Maybe, maybe not. But I do believe I’m ready for a big change. And a promise is a promise.”

“I hope I get to meet her,” Sable told him.

“As a matter of fact, I have orders to invite you for dinner tonight.” He chuckled. “Bring your appetite. Maura puts on a good feed.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“Then let’s get down to the nitty gritty so we can be on time. She hates it when I’m late.”

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