Horse Play (Horse Play #1)(5)

By: A. D. Ryan

As Halley and I drew nearer, I took in the deep blue color of his eyes and the way they sparkled like sapphires in the sun. I was instantly mesmerized. Halley continued to lope around the arena, and when I caught the stranger’s gaze again I got lost in his eyes once more. There was something in the way he was watching me that made me smile, and he returned that smile with one that caused an unexpected flurry of butterflies to erupt in my belly. Completely distracted by his smirk, I hadn’t even realized that Halley was headed for the small cross-rail just off the trail until we were nearly upon it.

Instinctively, I leaned forward in preparation for her to take the jump, but as I did, Halley stopped … and I kept on going. The ground came up to meet me far too fast, and all I felt was pressure in my head as I landed hard on my back.

Chapter 2. Thrown

After a few seconds, I opened my eyes and started to sit up. My entire body ached as I struggled to inhale deeply, and my head was spinning so fast, my vision blurred.

“Holy shit! Are you okay?” a deep voice called out to me. At first it sounded kind of hazy—like a dream. Everything soon became clear when I heard the disruption of the arena dirt and sensed a body next to me.

“Uh … yeah,” I groaned as I started to push myself up. The stranger slipped his left arm around me while I gripped his right hand with mine, and he helped me stand. I teetered slightly on wobbly legs, but his hand firmly gripped my waist as I struggled to keep my balance. As soon as I was on my feet, I looked around frantically for Halley, only to find her standing on the other side of the low fence looking at me like she was confused about what happened.

“Madison!” Dad’s panicked voice rang through the yard, and I looked up just in time to see him hop the fence with more ease than a fifty-three-year-old man should be capable of. “Kiddo, are you okay?”

With my body still in such close proximity to the stranger—the beautiful, beautiful stranger—I suddenly felt embarrassed. I pulled free of Mr. Blue-Eyes, pushing the stray hairs that had fallen from my ponytail off of my forehead and looked between my dad and the man who was looking at me like I was going to collapse any minute.

“Yeah. I’m fine,” I assured them both.

Dad breathed a sigh of relief before narrowing his eyes at me, and I shied away from his glare. I’d seen it before. I knew what was coming next. “What the hell were you thinking, Madison? I told you light training with Halley. She’s not ready for jumps! Are you trying to put her back out of commission?” he shouted.

“What? No, of course not! It … it was an accident,” I argued softly, not really relishing the fact that I was having my ass chewed out in front of a complete stranger.

“Wayne, I saw the whole thing,” Blue-Eyes said. “It looked as though the mare had just gone off track a bit. I don’t think … Madison—”

“Madi,” I interjected out of habit, preferring my nickname.

“My apologies. I don’t think Madi intended for this to happen.” He looked down at me with concern again. “Why weren’t you wearing the proper gear?”

Any gratitude I felt toward this man instantly fizzled as a frosty barrier slammed down in its place. He was just like any other man I’d ever known—a know-it-all who thinks they can tell me what to do.

Needless to say, I reacted angrily upon hearing his words. “Excuse me? And just who the hell are you?”

My dad shook his head before gesturing toward the brown-haired Adonis—the jerky, brown-haired Adonis—that was reprimanding me. Granted, I should have been wearing a helmet, but it wasn’t as though I had anticipated taking a jump … by myself. “I’m sorry. Madi, this is Jensen. Our new ranch hand. I just hired him this morning.”

I could feel my annoyance flare at my father for not consulting me on this. Yes, he was the boss, but this was also a partnership. Since when did he not run this sort of thing by me? I narrowed my eyes at this Jensen. “Can you ride?” I inquired snidely, eyeing him up and down, being careful to take note of his designer jeans. The tattoos didn’t exactly seem like something a ranch hand would spend their money on. Clearly he wasn’t farm material.