and when did this man ever sleep?
was as if she'd stumbled into some Gothic novel, Steve Sheppard doing an
excellent imitation of a tortured soul. Perhaps a haunted one, too. The past
three nights had convinced her of that, one after the other following the same
be lying in her bed, tossing and turning, unused to her new surroundings and far
too anxious about the tangled mess she'd landed in to do more than drift off for
a few minutes at a time. For the remainder of the night, as the moon followed
its path across the sky, Ty stared sightlessly at the ceiling, glancing
occasionally at the bedside clock, frustrated thoughts of Steve racing through
her sleepless mind.
man was an enigma, one minutes distant and sarcastic, the next piercing her with
such heat in his crystal-blue eyes that she was briefly tempted to believe he
found her attractive. But before she could decide for sure, he'd have switched
back to the coolly remote figure of before.
this Jeykll-and-Hyde routine past of a plan to make her feel so totally
off-kilter she would give up and sign over her half of the partnership? Answers
eluded her, leaving her to toss and turn some more.
then, at roughly two A.M. each night, she'd hear the light tread of his
footsteps pass her door, followed by the creaky grown of the wooden stairs
yielding under his weight, and finally the muffled thud of the front door being
hope of a good night's rest shattered, she'd listen in vain for his return.
the morning, no matter how early she arose, there he'd be, sitting at the
kitchen table, a cup of coffee at his elbow, horse journals, horse show entry
forms, and auction notices spread out before him, a pen stuck behind his ear and
a yellow legal pad filled with his bold scrawl. Not that he ever showed her what
he'd written. As the days passed, it was becoming abundantly clear that other
than writing out and signing checks to pay off his debts, she wasn't going to be
trusted with a single important detail of his business. Their business,
but Mr. Sheppard seemed too determined to ignore that particular clause of the
tonight she'd had enough of the mystery surrounding his nocturnal
peregrinations. She'd had enough of a lot of things around here. Ty grabbed a
matching sweatshirt and pants and pulled them over the silk teddy she'd worn to
bed. After shoving her feet into a pair of sneakers, she was out, standing in
front of Steve's bedroom door, and, before giving herself time to reconsider,
was rapping hard against the wooden panel. The sound echoed loudly in the quiet
response, so she knocked again, just to be absolutely certain his footsteps in
the hallway minutes ago hadn't been a dream. Nothing but deafening silence the
second time, too. Cautiously, she turned the doorknob and stepped inside.
took her breath away. First the initial shock, swiftly followed by the burst of
anger. She didn't know how long she stood there, looking around in disbelief at
Steve Sheppard's room. "The sneaky rat!" She exhaled, primed for a
major reckoning with her partner.
expecting to find him in the barn, she went there first. A couple of lights,
casting a soft yellow glow, illuminated the perfectly swept aisles, the deep
roominess of the box stalls.
moved quietly down the center aisle, aware of the muted, muffled sound of horses
breathing. The three sleepy equines that remained at Southwind didn't even
bother to raise their heads to see who was trespassing upon their rest. She
walked past them, past too many empty box stalls, and out through the slight gap
left in the sliding carriage doors at the far end.
glowing tip of his cigarette served as a miniature flare in a night where
everything else was obscure. Recalling a technique described by an author she
loved to read on business trips, Ty squeezed her eyes shut for several seconds,
impressed by how much more her eyes could make out in the inky darkness when she
was off to the side, sitting by the wooden fence that enclosed one of the nearer
pastures. His back was bowed, his head bent.
sneakers crushed the roughly mown field, made crisp with cold night air, giving
him ample time to hear her approach. It wasn't until she was a few feet away
that she understood where they were, why he was sitting there. Her brief flash
of temper at his duplicity faded away.
if I join you?" Her voice sounded hushed, softer than the night sounds that
surrounded them or the rumble of the ocean off in the distance.
ahead. It's a free country." His voice was quiet, too, nevertheless, she
detected the fatigue and resignation underlying it.
sank down to the ground near him, and there they sat, the long, black,
rectangular expanse of freshly dug earth before them. Sudden hot tears pricked
at the corners of her eyes as she stared at the uneven clumps of dirt. Her heart
ached for him, for the depth of his loss.
cleared her throat, searching for something to say. "I should tell you, the
game is up. I went into your room a few minutes ago."
you've discovered my dirty secret." He didn't sound terribly surprised by
her admission, or as if he even cared.
isn't quite the adjective I'd use," she replied, remembering the
understated simplicity of the bedroom's furnishings. The king-size bed,
the row of bookshelves lining the opposite wall, the dark brown velvet sofa,
brightened invitingly with colorful, plump cushions, the standing lamps placed
at each end. The room was a haven, tastefully decorated with a keen, masculine
sense of style. And not a single smelly sock in sight.
I confess, I like things just as neat and orderly as you. Guilty as
long hair brushed her shoulders as she shook her head in self-disgust.
"Stupid of me to fall for it. I should have guessed it was a put-on the
moment I figured out why you keep shoving all your filters in your front pocket.
You can't stand for even a cigarette butt to fall on the ground and mess up
Southwind," she accused gently.
filters on butts don't decompose."
they don't, but that doesn't seem to bother any other smokers I've run into.
Just to satisfy my curiosity, could you tell me how long you planned to let the
rest of the house fall into unspeakable rot?" Ty inquired, her voice mild.
"How long were you going to keep up the pretense?"
felt the air stir as his broad shoulders lifted in a careless shrug. "Who
knows?" It was a reasonable bet, thinking you'd clear out when you saw the
state of the place. Wouldn't you have been tempted to play it the same
but it was still a low-down rotten trick, and now that I do know, I'd appreciate
it if you used the dishwasher." She hoped she sounded properly chastising
but doubted she was succeeding--on reflection, her profound relief at
discovering that she wasn't sharing a house with the world's biggest slob
outweighed her annoyance at having been taken for a ride.
image of his neatly ordered room flashed in her mind once again. "Did you
study history in school?" The question was casual, as if she weren't deeply
curious to know more about this frustrating and complex man. The titles of the
books lining his shelves had been a surprising revelation. But at least now she
knew why he'd made that crack about Ty thinking she was Marie Antoinette. She
wondered how many people were aware of this side of him.
mean college? Didn't have time for it. I've been riding full-time since I
finished high school. But there's a lot of free hours to read when you're on the
road, stuck in airports, soaking horses' legs, sitting around during rain
delays, that sort of thing. You can only shoot the shit with friends for so
long, and , anyway, I've always liked books."
the photographs? Are they yours, too?"
tip of his cigarette burned brighter for a second or two.
a real good look, didn't you, Junior?" The tone was slightly mocking.
"Check my sock drawer, too?"
she didn't reply, Steve let out a heavy sigh. "Okay, yeah. My parents
bought me a camera when I first went overseas. I got to know Europe pretty well,
traveling from country to country, following the show circuit there.
Photography's been a great way to record all the places I've been."
very good." An understatement. The quality of the work she'd seen far
surpassed the typical holiday snapshot. "Am I right in thinking the large
one over your bed was shot near Zurich?" It was a stunning picture, taken
at dawn, the morning sun mixing with the mist and mountain peaks.
a couple years old, from when I competed at the Zurich International. Fancy Free
won the Grand Prix for me there." Steve paused, staring blindly at the
thick clumps of dirt in front of him, while memories of that summer swept over
him. Fancy had been in tip-top shape, full of his signature razzle-dazzle. The
crowd had gone wild, cheering madly as Steve and Fancy Free turned in perfect
round after perfect round. Fancy had loved all the attention, knowing it was his
due. God, he missed his horse so damn much.
voice broke into his thoughts. "I remember the beauty of those mountains,
the peaks especially. The notion of time vanishes completely up there, perched
on top of the world. There's no past or future, it's just you and clouds and
as if you know the area well. Winter skiing?" he drawled.
was at a school in Switzerland, in Gstaad, for four years."
Did you like it?"
Her response was flat, unequivocal.
was beginning to expect the unexpected from her. For the past three days, he'd
watched her--surreptitiously, of course. Three days of observation to realize
just how different a woman she was. Definitely not the spoiled, flighty type.
No, she was a class act, unflappable and efficient. With no fuss or muss, Ty got
things done. He'd dumped some shit jobs on her, too, both yesterday and today,
waiting to see what she'd do--everything from paying the mountain of overdue
bills that covered his office desk, to telephoning the insurance company and
badgering them for information on the status of his claim, to cleaning out and
organizing the tack room. He'd even given her water buckets to scrub. She'd
tackled each without a murmur of complaint.
annoyed the hell out of him that he was beginning to like her.
she was way too bloody desirable for his peace of mind wasn't helping a whole
lot, either. Especially when he could tell that most of the time, she wasn't
even trying to turn him on. Like now. Simply sitting next to him, warm, quiet,
talking to him as if she were trying to understand, as if it mattered.
wanted to touch her. Badly. The thought hadn't ceased drumming inside his brain.
He ached to wrap his arm around her shoulders, pull her close, and breathe in
the intoxicating scent of lemon on warm skin that was her. As if of its own
accord, his hand rose. Then stopped and dropped. Because doing what he wanted,
holding her, kissing her, would be too fucking stupid for words, and his stupid
quota was already maxed out.
what was it they'd been talking about?
yeah. School. He wondered why a girl like her hadn't enjoyed being at one of
those swank Swiss schools, the kind of school that has no need to advertise, its
clientele assured: children of royal families, of oil magnates, of the
ultra-rich. Her kind. "So what was wrong with the place?" he asked at
last, picking up the thread of conversation.
don't think any one particular thing stands out in my memory. It was just the
school's overall atmosphere. I didn't like being in a place where the teachers
judged the students and the students judges each other solely in terms of their
parents' bank accounts."
that's true in a lot of rich kids' schools."
probably." She fell frustratingly silent.
what'd they teach you there?" he found himself asking, just to hear her
soft laughter had a musical quality. "Oh, everything. That is,
everything they considered essential to producing picture-perfect
representatives of the upper class. Lots of economics, languages, history, math.
Of course, we girls were given extracurricular classes in ballet, table setting,
flower arrangement, and comportment."
know, walking, standing, turning, descending stairs, getting in and out of a
low-slung sports car dressed in a brand new pair of Manolo Blahnkis. All these
skills were considered absolutely essential." Humor
still laced her voice.
the hell are Manolo Blahniks?"
eastern European torture device designed especially for women."
she explained patiently. "Very high heels."
He exhaled. "I thought you were talking about chastity belts." The
corner of his mouth tiled, pleased that he'd made her laugh. "How'd you
school? Oh, I was raised from birth to be an overachiever. Anything less than
perfection is unacceptable to my father. I can run in my Manolos if I have to,
though that wasn't actually required. Running was frowned upon."
descended once again as Steve tried to imagine that kind of an upbringing. Then
Ty spoke. "I was wondering whether I could ask you something."
what it is."
you mind telling me what your plans are? As your partner, I think I have a right
to know. You can't seriously intend to rebuild your business by having me scrub
water buckets and groom your horses. Though I'm sure it probably hasn't occurred
to you, it's possible I can help."
momentary sense of camaraderie between them vanished into the frigid night.
Steve's back stiffened. "Don't sweat it, Junior. The only help I need from
you is the green kind. Matter of fact, I've been devoting most of my waking
hours to mapping out how I'm going to spend all that 'ready cash' you've been
stockpiling. That is, when I'm not thinking I should have my head
examined," Steve finished softly, bitterly under his breath.
caught it. She didn't miss much.
please." Her own voice was now heavy with sarcasm. "Whatever
wouldn't in my shoes? First of all, I must have been frigging nuts to enter into
this partnership with you . . ." Especially because I'm wasting way too
much time thinking about how badly I want to jump your bones. When instead I
should be figuring out how to get you to sign over your half of the partnership.
everyone would immediately conclude that was a sure-fire sign of insanity,"
she retorted dryly. "And second?"
second, for missing a horse so goddamn much that every night, I'm either sitting
in his empty stall or out here by his grave, looking for answers in the
dark." The despair was as raw and ugly as the large rectangle of torn earth
sense of helplessness gripped her as she sat, not knowing what to say, her mind
awhirl. There was so much anger and pain inside him. More than anything, Ty
wished she could reach out and touch him but didn't dare. She was sure he'd only
rebuff her, thereby making the situation between them even more awkward and
deals with grief in their own way," she observed at last, speaking quietly.
"I don't think there are any special rules written down outlining
appropriate behavior when you've lost something or someone you love."
you're clearly an expert." he fired back, eager to lash out, letting the
words hang there, a razor sharp barrier between them.
thought of the mother she'd never had, the woman who'd died giving birth to her.
She thought of her horse, Charisma, vetted, sold, and delivered to new owners
without her even able to say good-bye. Thought of the hurt of being packed away
from home, from everything familiar. "No, I'm not an expert," she
agreed, suppressing the slight tremor that threatened her voice. She wasn't
entirely successful but prayed he wouldn't notice. Ty refused to lose her
composure in front of someone who thought so little of her, who wanted nothing
to do with her. Then, in a tone layered with the impeccable politeness drilled
thoroughly into the students at Ty's Swiss alma mater, she spoke. "Excuse
me, won't you? I find I'm suddenly tired." She rose swiftly, gracefully to
her feet, her retreating figure quickly enveloped in the cold, black night.
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