Heart Of The Eagle. Lindsay McKenna
shoulders and drifted off quickly. The study was her one refuge while Jim Tremain was there. Usually, she would take a nap in the living room where the fire crackled and popped with friendly sounds, lulling her to sleep. Now she closed her eyes, wondering what he might think if he knew she slept on the couch every night instead of in a bedroom. What did she care what he thought? Grousing at her inability to make many decisions in her life yet, Dal let it all go, sleep claiming her almost immediately.
Millie woke her near three, stroking her hair in a gentle motion. “Time to get up, lamb.”
Dal groaned, stretching and yawning. “Three already?”
“Already,” Millie agreed, looking down at her. “What time did you finally get to sleep last night?”
“Around four in the morning,” she admitted, her voice thick with sleep as she sat up.
“Didn’t you hear me?”
“My room’s in the back. You know I don’t hear a thing.”
Dal rubbed her face tiredly. “Rafe usually does.”
Millie nodded, her eyes mirroring her unspoken worry. “Why don’t you try and sleep in your own room tonight?”
Her heart suddenly began pounding in her breast and Dal felt herself going all shaky inside. “No…I can’t, Millie. Not yet.”
“But Mr. Tremain is here. He’s a stranger to the house. What if he finds you sleeping out on the couch?”
She shrugged tiredly. “He’ll have the guest bedroom next to your room, Millie. I doubt he’ll hear a thing if I do wake up. Besides, I’ll work late tonight for Rafe, here in the study. By the time I get my bed made up in the living room, Jim…I mean Mr. Tremain, will have already gone to sleep.”
“Whatever you say, lamb. Speaking of Mr. Tremain, he’s been outdoors most of the time snooping around.”
Dal looked up, smiling. “Snooping?” she teased. Millie distrusted everyone in general unless they had been born on the Triple K.
“Poking and prodding. You know. Charlie, the farrier, came in to tell me he was out in the stud barn looking over Rafe’s stock.”
Rising, then folding the afghan and hanging it neatly on the back of the leather couch, Dal asked, “Is that where he is now?”
“Guess so,” Millie groused. “That man’s got the curiosity of a cat.”
“Probably nine lives, too,” Dal said, chuckling. She put her arm around Millie and walked out of the study with her.
“You gonna go find him?”
“Sure. Matter of fact, the day’s so nice, I think we’ll take a ride. Rafe wanted me to check that new barbed wire fence the hands put up in the southern pasture. Mr. Tremain looks like he might put a leg over a good horse, so let’s not disappoint him.”
“Humph! Ask me, that man was born to the saddle.”
Dal felt lighter, happier. Happy? When had she last felt like this? The feeling was so foreign to her that it sobered her sharply. She divided her attention between the housekeeper and her unexpected revelation. “We’ll be back around seven at the latest.”
“Just in time for supper.”
Dal grabbed her dark brown felt cowboy hat and dropped it on her head. The late April day was turning mild, with the temperature probably somewhere in the high forties, she figured. She was used to below-zero conditions of winter, and forty felt like summer. She decided to leave her sheepskin coat behind, since the long sleeves of her shirt would be warm enough. Then she headed toward the Arabian stallion barn.
Jim looked up as many of the horses whickered simultaneously in greeting. There was Dal, at the entrance to the airy barn, walking toward him. He saw that she looked rested, the shadows gone from beneath her blue eyes. Did she realize how graceful she was? He had a tough time disguising the inner hunger he felt for her as she drew abreast of him.
“I see you’ve made friends with our three studs,” Dal said with a smile as she opened the box stall of a white stallion, led him out to the center of the aisle and placed him in the cross ties. “You ready for a ride with me?”
Jim followed and picked up the tack box from the tack room, handing her a currycomb and taking a brush for himself.
He began brushing down the stallion. “Sure.”
She grinned at him, then went to the tack room to find the appropriate saddle. “Trusting soul, aren’t you? You don’t even ask where we’re going or what we’ll be doing.”
He took the blanket and saddle from her and tacked up the Arab, which pawed restlessly in the ties. Jim’s amber eyes were dark and thoughtful as he looked across at Dal. “I’m trusting of some people,” he countered.
“And how do you know you can trust me?” Dal taunted softly.
She laughed outright, curious as to how he saw her. “My mouth?”
“Or maybe it’s your large deerlike eyes. Vulnerable mouth and trusting eyes,” he murmured, finishing his task by bridling the horse.
Dal gave him a grim look. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
He handed the reins of the horse to her but she shook her head. “He’s yours to ride. His name is Flight.”
Jim smiled. “Fast, eh?”
“You’ll see,” she promised, walking down to another stall.
Within minutes Dal had her favorite gray gelding saddled and they were off at a brisk trot toward the southern pasture. Flight pranced sideways, blowing and snorting beneath the capable hand of Jim Tremain. From time to time Dal would drop back slightly and watch him handle the spirited stallion. Millie was right; Jim knew how to ride with the best of them. His thighs were long and powerful against the stallion’s barrel, and he rose and fell with each stride of the horse, as if they were one. He was beautiful, Dal decided. The man and the stallion; one and the same with so much spirit fused with pride and maleness.
“You and Flight suit each other admirably,” she complimented dryly, riding at his side.
Jim’s eyes narrowed as he studied her. “I hope your brother approves of me riding one of his prize stallions.”
“Rafe knows I’d never let anyone ride Flight who didn’t know what he was doing.”
“Is my wrangler side that obvious?”
She grinned. “You’ve got bowed legs like the rest of us. What do you think?”
His laughter was deep and clear and it freed Dal in a breathless sort of way. When he smiled, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened, and the smile lines around his mouth became grooves that eased the hardness of his features.
“I thought you were going to blame my Navaho blood,” he teased.
Dal became more serious, her curiosity overcoming her natural distrust of him. Flight was a volatile animal at best, and yet beneath Jim’s firm but sensitive hand the stallion had never once tossed his head or fought the bit. Her gaze rested on Jim’s hands, and she recalled him sensitively caressing the flesh of her palm. Her heart beat a little faster as she savored that branding moment earlier.
“I owe you an apology, Jim.”
“I called you a half-breed. I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”
His eyes were filled with amusement. “I didn’t take what you said seriously, so don’t apologize. You were a little out of sorts, that’s all.”
Dal cast him a spurious look. “I haven’t figured out whether you’re a mind reader