Series: Tough Texan Series #3
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: November 30, 2020
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Best laid plans… Clint Guilliand had his life mapped out. Become the state’s best horse trainer and prove his skills in the highly competitive show world. With his protégé quickly rising in the show ranks, he can see his plan becoming reality. Until the day he looks at his best friend—the owner’s daughter—his star pupil… and realizes he’s falling for her—hard. She’s sweet and sexy and irresistible and completely off limits.
Rules are meant to be broken… Katy Thurston has decided men are a waste of her time. Her whole focus is on winning the American Quarter Horse Association National Reining Competition. But with Clint always giving her his breath-taking smile and smelling like paradise, she’s off her game. It’s show time for their new reining prospects, and when they go on the road together, they’re stuck in the small house trailer attached to the horse trailer—with just one bed.
The heart won’t lie… Katy is determined to win at Nationals, same as Clint. Only, Clint wants to win Katy, too. He doesn’t want to stand in the way of Katy winning the title, though. How long will their commitment last while only inches separate their bodies each night? Will these two competitive spirits be willing to take the biggest risk of all and dare to love?
Clint Gilliand nodded as the gelding slid to a stop, leaving long grooves in the arena sand. With nearly invisible commands, the beautiful woman urged him into a rapid reverse. The horse backed in a perfectly straight line for ten feet, then stopped and dropped his head, relaxed under the saddle. Clint clapped once and left his spot at the arena railing. “Good job, Katy. He’ll be ready to show soon.”
Grinning, Katy Thurston patted the gelding’s neck as she headed toward Clint. “Thanks. Sunny’s a great ride. Someone’s going to get a wonderful horse.” She shook her head. “I always have a hard time letting our prospects go. We raise them and train them, and before you know it, it’s time to say goodbye. It’s like selling my kids.”
He laughed. “How would you know?”
She laughed with him. “Well if I had kids, I’m sure that’s what it would feel like.”
As she exited the arena, her hips swayed with the motion of the horse. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. God, she was gorgeous. Her slim, yet slightly muscular figure and her long, dark-blonde hair affected him in ways his boss’s daughter shouldn’t. As she headed to the barn, her hat pulled down low against the noonday sun, his body responded, despite the fact that he was her trainer and long-time best friend.
What would she do if she knew how he felt about her? And what would Katy’s brother, Stone, his best friend, do? Stone had no idea Clint had these feelings about his kid sister. Sure, at twenty-seven, she wasn’t a kid anymore, but still. Would Stone mind?
He’d been fighting this attraction for months—and yet it had only gotten stronger. The sparkle of laughter in her wonderful big, blue eyes, the sexy swing of her hips in her confident walk, the sweet sound of her voice when they discussed the horses—these things only made him want her more.
He followed her into the barn and unsaddled Sunny, switching the bridle for a halter.
Katy led the young horse outside to the horse walker and hooked his halter to one of the chains. The handy contraption walked or trotted horses in circles and would cool the gelding down while she rode the next prospect.
Earlier, Clint had saddled a young sorrel mare, Solomon’s Beauty Bar Belle, named after King Solomon, the Iron Horse’s first bloodline stud. Katy would be working her next, and he’d left the mare in the shady barn. Now he tightened the cinch and led her over to where Katy stood at the walker. “Do you want to take a break first?”
She checked the cinch and mounted, swinging easily up into the saddle. “Naw, but I’ll take a water before I start.”
“You got it.”
Turning the mare, she headed toward the arena.
He averted his eyes, determined to get a handle on the attraction that was distracting him from the business at hand—training his boss’s daughter. Preparing her and the horses she rode for American Quarter Horse Association shows and reining and cutting competitions was his job. Showing the horses and winning championships increased the value of the Iron Horse Ranch’s AQHA registered bloodstock.
Before opening the gate to the arena, he pulled a bottle of water from the ice chest and handed it up to Katy. “Here you go. Take a minute and get that down you. No sense in becoming dehydrated.”
She uncapped it and took long swallows of the cold water, her head thrown back and her eyes closed.
Mesmerized, Clint watched her long, slender neck’s slight undulations. Tendrils of desire swirled in his belly. He jerked his gaze away, frustrated at his lack of self-control. He had to get a grip, but how? Everything he’d tried so far hadn’t worked. He was still drawn to Katy like no woman he’d ever known. He wasn’t exactly sure when his feelings for her had changed. But, one day, he’d looked at her and she wasn’t just his best friend anymore. She was sexy and sweet and irresistible and everything he couldn’t have.
She handed him the empty bottle and grinned. “Thanks. Go easy on me now, Grandpa.”
He laughed. Being twenty-seven to his thirty-two, she always made a big deal of his age. “I wouldn’t have to go easy on you if you knew how to ride.”
She gave him a mocking scowl. “I’ll get you for that, just you wait.”
“Hey, you two, how’s it going?” North, Katy’s older brother, asked them as he and his wife, Faith, joined them at the arena fence.
Clint thrust out his hand, and the two men shook. “Are you all going for a ride?”
“Yep, I didn’t have court today, and we decided it would be a good time for a last ride. With Faith’s tummy growing like it is, it won’t be safe for much longer.”
Katy smiled at Faith. “Pregnancy becomes you. I hope I look as beautiful as you when I’m expecting someday.”
Faith smiled. “It’s one of the few perks. Wait until you try morning sickness.”
Katy laughed. “It might be the one thing that could interfere with this appetite of mine.”
Clint chuckled. “I’d like to see that.”
Katy scowled at him, trying not to smile. “Shut it, buster.”
“We’d better get going. See you later,” North said.
Clint waved them off. “Have fun.”
Katy turned toward the gate. “They’re such a sweet couple.”
He closed the gate after she entered the arena, and she began warming up the mare, jogging and eventually cantering.
When Beauty was ready for work, he called, “Five.”
Katy nodded. Walking to the center of the arena, she faced the left side and stopped, ready to perform AQHA reining pattern 5. Starting on the mare’s left lead, she galloped two large circles, then slowed to a canter and rode a smaller circle before stopping in the center again. After a few seconds, she spun to the left four times and stopped. A moment later, she took the right lead and repeated the same maneuvers to the right.
Clint nodded. Katy was doing well on the young mare. No tail twitching, and Beauty’s ears were pricked. The young horse was paying attention and enjoying the exercise.
Next, Katy took Beauty out on her left lead and galloped a large circle to the left, performing a flying lead change at the center of the arena. She continued into a large circle to the right, changing leads again.
Clint crossed his arms, resting his weight on his back foot. Katy had worked hard on this mare. Beauty had had problems early on with her lead changes, but today they were almost imperceptible. His gaze moved to Katy. Damn, she looked fine up on that horse. His hands tensed as he ran his gaze over her slender waist and taut, curved butt.
She continued on her previous left-hand circle but didn’t close it. Instead, she ran up the right side of the arena past the center marker and slid to a stop, hesitated, made a right rollback on the horse’s haunches, then rode back the way she’d come.
Clint made a mental note. That rollback needed some work. The mare wasn’t quite getting the correct weight distribution on her hind legs. Not keeping her weight on her pivot leg could cause problems. Katy had probably noticed the slightly awkward placement, but he’d mention it to her just the same.
Katy was now rounding the circle in the opposite direction. She ran up the left side, passing up the center of the arena, and slid to a stop. She waited a second, then did a left rollback and rode back in the opposite direction.
Clint nodded. Katy had corrected the horse. This rollback was much better.
She rode back around the circle again without closing it, continuing up the right side of the arena past the center marker, and then slid to a stop, leaving fifteen-foot grooves in the sandy arena. The mare tucked her head nicely, and Katy backed her in the tracks she’d just made for a full ten feet, then stopped and let her settle.
Clint walked over to them. “She’s improving. Practice some more and then put her through a few rollbacks before you bring her in. She needs work on her back end.”
Katy nodded. “I felt it on that first one. She’ll get there, though. I think it’s taking time for her feet to catch up to her brain.”
Clint grinned. “I couldn’t have put it better.” He patted Beauty’s neck. “I’ll go saddle the other two.”
Katy clucked to the mare, and they walked away.
He and Katy were also breaking two younger prospects. The horses were green broke, and now he and Katy were putting some miles on them, teaching them their gaits and putting a handle on them. It was important to teach the young horses to respond to the lightest touch on the bit or rein. He had to make sure they learned to pay attention to the least pressure of a rider’s leg or heel. All this had to be learned before serious reining competition training could be done.
By the time he’d finished saddling the prospects, Katy had returned to the barn. At the graceful way she dismounted, his admiration stirred, along with something else that had no business getting fired up. He shook his head. Dammit. Why couldn’t he remember that they were just friends? His heart fell as the thought hit him. Oh man, he had it bad. And, so far, he’d found no way to deal with it.
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