Seduction's Stakes Excerpt
Stumped, he led Mister Spoilsport back into his stall, threw him some more hay, refilled his water bucket, and stared down at the end of the shed row where Maddie and Archie looked like they were saying their goodbyes. She bounced her keys in her hand and kept backing away despite their conversation.
Why was Archie staying with the horse? Where was her groom?
“Scott?” he called to the young man mucking out Jumpin Jess’ stall.
The boy poked his head out of the stall. “Yeah, Boss?”
“I’ve got some business to take care of with Miss McCleery. Go down there, and offer your services to Archie. That man’s too old to be bedding down with horses.”
For a moment, Scott looked like Riley had just asked him to put a saddle on backwards. But he snapped his slack jaw shut and narrowed his widened eyes as he cleared his throat. He bobbed his head. “Sure thing.”
Riley knew Archie wouldn’t accept. He’d sleep near the horse out of devotion and duty. Just as Riley would have if Scott weren’t with him. Still, it made Riley feel a little better about seeing a respected trainer sleeping in a stall, to know he’d offered.
As Maddie backed farther away, Riley jogged down the row after her. Behind him, Scott’s boots crunched against the fine gravel. Passing Archie, Riley tossed the esteemed trainer an acknowledging nod and hurried on into the parking area. “Maddie?” he called out.
She stopped, but it took her a moment to turn around, as if she debated whether she would or not.
Scared rabbit, he mused.
When she did turn to face him, her bright smile sent whatever he’d planned on saying into oblivion. It went straight to his gut, turning it over on itself. “Where’s your groom?” he managed. Brilliant. Yet another stupid question that made his inability to think entirely too obvious. What was it about this woman that erased his ability to function beyond cave-man intellect?
Her puzzled expression said she hadn’t anticipated that question either. With a slight frown she answered, “He’s flying in tomorrow. He had some things to take care of.”
Riley slowed to a stop less than a foot in front of her and shoved a hand in his jeans pocket, doing his best to appear casual. “Archie’s staying with your horse then?”
“Why don’t you let me take you to your hotel. Leave Archie your truck in case he gets cold out here. He’s too old to be sleeping in barns.” Better. His voice sounded indifferent, almost confident, to his ears.
Her lips parted, but no sound came out. With a little laugh, her gaze skated across the narrow alley to her truck. When she looked back at him, her eyes flickered with apprehension. He cocked an eyebrow, waiting for her answer.
“Ah,” she stammered.
He’d have laughed if she didn’t look so damned cute gnawing on her lower lip. As it was, the nervous gesture only reminded him of what a delightful little mouth she had. His gaze fastened on it as he added, “I’ll bring you back in the morning.”
She shook her head. “I better not. I’m not so friendly in the mornings, and I have to pick up my groom and Sybil at the airport, first thing.”
A grin tugged at his mouth as a chuckle threatened to escape. She’d been pleasant enough the other morning, but he sensed she wouldn’t be glad he pointed it out. “You don’t have to say a word to me in the morning,” he coaxed. “I’ll bring coffee, and we can pick them up together.”
Her gaze fell to her hands, and she turned her keys over, and over, studying them.
Convinced she’d find yet another reason to refuse him, he goaded, “C’mon now, Maddie. You aren’t afraid of a six mile truck ride with me, are you?”
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