The Hot Cowboy
Every woman loves a cowboy, especially when he is hot-as-hell. This hot-as-hell cowboy knows just how to put his uppity employer in her well-borne place. Meet Jack Johnson--starring in my latest novel, The Demon Duchess, available on Amazon.
A beautiful baroness has just been dumped by her longtime lover, The Devil Duke. To make matters worse, she has to deal with her surly horse trainer, who happens to be as handsome as he is difficult.
She dragged open the door to the stables, falling into a fit of curses as her dress got stuck in her heel again. Her entrance into the immaculate barn started as a stumble and quickly progressed to a calamity. It was those pesky shoes again, out to get her they were. This time the heel caught on a drain grate and sent her tumbling.
A rich masculine voice sounded from the shadows. “Whoa, there.”
Abigail’s head snapped up, peering through the low light until she made out the tall male figure at the end of the long row of stalls.
Mr. bloody Johnson.
“Bloody hell,” she hissed. “Not you.”
She hadn’t meant to say that out loud. She wasn’t acting like herself at all tonight. Bungling and tripping and swearing and acting in quite a haphazard manner. Abigail planned on never drinking again—and never getting her heart broken again either. She was in a sorry state to be sure.
She cleared her throat. “Were you speaking to the horse just now, or… to me?”
“A horse wouldn’t be stupid enough to wear those shoes in a barn.”
Abigail’s mouth fell open and a little gasp flew out. “I’m dressed for dinner, Mr. Johnson. I’m sorry if that offends you.”
She needed an interaction with him like she needed a hole in the head. Jack Johnson—the surly horse trainer from America. Trevor had hired him to work with her problem horse. The horse had been a birthday gift—a white Friesian with the glamour of Marilyn Monroe but the disposition of Adolph Hitler. The animal was a rare beauty, but impossible to ride. The trainer had been there almost two weeks, trying to ease the horse’s temper enough so that Abigail could ride her more than a few minutes without being thrown. The truth was: She didn’t like the horse and she liked the trainer even less. She found her time with the difficult man and the equally trying horse strangely disconcerting. Though the animal tossed her to the ground again and again, it was the way the American spoke to her that unsettled her.
“Is the Baroness having a bad day?” he drawled.
Everything he said seemed to drip with sarcasm. She could never quite tell if he was displaying a dry humor or just being contrary to spite her. He was obviously from a different class than she. He used plain speech, but didn’t seem quite like country people. The way he held himself and dressed suggested an educated background. She supposed he was unique, mysterious even—not that it mattered, because she couldn’t wait to be rid of him. If she had to suffer another one of his speeches on the benefits of Western vs. English riding she’d scream.
“I am having a bad day, in fact—a very bad day.”
“Yeah, I can tell.”
“What would you know about it?” she retorted snippily.
“You obviously have your feathers in a ruffle about something.”
He didn’t even have the decency to step into the light while he launched acerbic jabs at her. She wouldn’t allow him to stand there and hurl this abuse at her. If he wouldn’t come to her then she’d go to him. Abigail moved toward him, concentrating on where she placed her feet. She concentrated on enunciating her words too. She knew her speech was a bit slurred.
“I’m not ruffled in the slightest,” she said, smoothing a hand down the front of her dress. “I’ve decided to go for a ride, Mr. Johnson. I’ll saddle her up myself—I know the groom has gone to bed.”
“You should go to bed too.”
She was standing close enough to distinguish his features. Not that he was making it easy for her to see him. He was leaning over the Friesian’s stall with his face tilted close to the animal, stroking its long pale neck with one strong hand.
“I said I fancied a ride,” she said between her teeth. “I’m not ready for bed just yet.”
“You can’t ride.”
Her dark eyebrows slammed together in irritation. She remembered the wrinkle she was developing and tried to relax her forehead.
“Why ever not?”
“You’re all lit up. You can’t even walk straight in that getup, let alone ride.”
“You’re drunk as a skunk. If I lit a match, you’d go up in flames.”
Damn Americans and their direct speech.
“You’d be doing me a favor,” she muttered testily. “Anyway, even potted I can ride better than most women.”
The trainer didn’t speak to her like an employee and she supposed he wasn’t, although she was paying him. Well, the Duke was paying him (and a high price at that). Trevor claimed he was simply the best, except for the mythic and maverick trainer from the western part of the United States named John Jackson, who remained elusive to even the Queen herself. If you couldn’t get John Jackson to train your horse, then Jack Johnson was the next best thing.
Funny that, American men all have pared-down cowboy names—ignorant dusty hayseeds, the entire lot.
“You’ve been on the whisky bottle, huh?”
Abigail took a step back. Her breath probably smelled like a fire-breathing dragon’s after he’d burned an entire village to a crisp and forgotten to use mouthwash, but did he have to mention it? He was too familiar and yet remote at that same time.
“What are you doing in here this late anyway?” she snapped. “It’s nearly ten o’clock.”
“I’m paid to be in here,” he challenged. “This horse likes lots of attention. I was just saying goodnight to her.”
And caressing her into a stupor it seemed. How did he do that anyway? He had the knack that was for sure. She got near this horse and it sidestepped and tossed its head in defiance. She wore the evidence of their will-clashing all over her tender flesh. She was tired of being thrown off. The horse seemed like a symbol of all her failures. A rush of unreasonable desire to conquer the animal sliced through her. She would ride this horse tonight, even if it killed her.
Forgetting her flaming breath, she came to stand next to the trainer once more. The horse immediately retreated and Abigail let out an irritated sigh.
“How do you soothe her with your touch—you must show me,” she demanded.
“It’s not my touch that pacifies this animal, it’s my temperament.”
“I’m sure you’re a regular bloody horse whisperer,” she muttered crossly. “While I seem to be the horse antagonizer.”
“You’re both too wound up—it’s not a good match.”
He had a way of stating things with such finality that it exasperated her no end. “A bad combination, you say. I’m sure Trevor didn’t think so when he chose her for me.”
“Maybe he should have picked a horse to complement your disposition instead of your clothes.”
The Baroness straightened and faced him. “You’re very rude, Mr. Johnson. Do you always speak to your clients in such a snide manner?”
“I wasn’t hired for my people skills, I was hired for my horse expertise and I’m telling you this horse is independent of its breed. It wants to run. If you want a horse to parade around in one of your frilly shows, it won’t be this one. You’ll have to saddle her up Western if you want to ride with her.”
“I assume by ‘parading’ you’re referring to dressage,” the Baroness sniffed. “This horse was meant for show, not recreation, Mr. Johnson.”
“Sometimes what we are meant for differs from what we desire.”
The declaration was so deep and altogether confusing that Abigail found herself wanting to kick him in his long, well-muscled shin.
“Are you actually suggesting an English lady ride in a Western saddle? I mean…for all to see?” she puffed in outrage.
“I’ve been suggesting it all week. She’ll like the looser reins, the feeling of freedom. This horse doesn’t want anything constricting her—she doesn’t want to be dominated. She wants to be let go.”
“What a preposterous idea. I mean, how would that look—a great wide saddle on this slim white horse? I wouldn’t be caught dead in such a predicament.”
“She doesn’t care how it looks.”
“Well, I do.”
“I’m not saying it would need to be permanent. Once you gained her trust you could saddle her however you pleased, but this horse is going to keep throwing you on your ass until you get over yourself.”
“Get over myself?”
He swung his body to face her, finally meeting her gaze. “That’s right. You English traditionalists need to learn how to bend the rules once and awhile.”
Abigail didn’t know when the chill had left her. She felt suddenly exercised and even flushed. She’d been so cold on the front steps of Devoy with Trevor, but now she was sweating around her hairline. Any moment her smooth locks would turn riotous and spring forth, breaking out of her tight chignon. This impossible man was causing her hair to frizz.
“Bloody Americans,” she spouted. “Your arrogance is baffling. We English ‘traditionalists’ were riding horses in English saddles before you were even a country.”
“If I remember correctly, we made our own country after we rebelled against your bullshit rules. We sent you bewigged fruitcakes packing, then we conquered the frontier by taming a wild breed of horse called the Mustang and riding them across an expanse of land called the American West that is about fifteen times the size of this damp little patch you call home. We taught our horses to work and let them run as fast as they wanted. I come from a place where horse and man are one. You people ensnare and enslave horses, force them to perform in beauty pageants.”
So he wanted to have a row, did he—and why not? She didn’t like the way he was looming over her, threatening her. She’d stand her ground and dish it right back. She’d had just about enough of men speaking down to her tonight. She didn’t have to be cool and collected around this one. He was nothing to her. She could yell and scream at him and it wouldn’t matter. Why not act like an ass for once in her life? Perhaps it would be rather liberating. A life of dignity and carefully crafted coolness had ended her up here, arguing with a glorified stable hand in the middle of the night. But it sure beat lying awake in her big empty bed, going over the happenings of this terrible day.
“Thank you for the history lesson, Mr. Johnson, but I think I’ll ride my horse my way!”
With that, she turned on her murderous spiked heels and hurled herself toward the carefully arranged saddle rack. When she spun back around clutching the saddle, he was there, blocking her way.
“You’re acting like a lunatic.”
“So what? Everyone else has lost their mind around here—dukes falling in love with bloody pixies. I’m sure you’ve heard.”
She hefted the weight of the saddle against the broad expanse of his chest, attempting to shove him out of the way. In one effortless motion he swiped the saddle from her and tossed it back on the stand. The bulk of the saddle had grounded her. Without it, she twirled like a teetering top.
He took her around the elbow. “Easy there, Slim.”
His hand was like a scalding brand on her bare arm. Abigail wasn’t used to being touched by unfamiliar men. The only man who had touched her for as long as she could remember had been Trevor. The rest of the males in her life had been servants who wouldn’t dare to touch her. This man wasn’t a servant, but he wasn’t a lover either.
She tore her arm away as a bolt of shocking heat ran up the length of it. Abigail noted the sardonic glint in his blue eyes. She had thought they were a flat grey, not a clear, bold blue—a stunning contrast to his tanned skin and dark curly hair.
“What did you just call me?”
“Would you rather I call you Tubby?”
Her nostrils flared imperiously. “I’d rather you call me by my title, Mr. Johnson.”
He crossed his arms over that broad chest and looked down at her like she was a child and he the patient parent. “What has your panties in such a bunch, Baroness?”
“We call them knickers here!” she exploded, liking the new experience of hollering. “And they’re in a bloody bunch because I’ve been passed over for a street urchin!”
Oh my, had she just said that out loud? Whisky certainly caused one to expel every word one was thinking. And she had not only hollered, she had shouted.
Jack Johnson gave a shrug. “You got dumped, big deal. It happens to the best of us.”
“Well, it doesn’t happen to me. I was supposed to be his duchess.”
“He’s already got a duchess.”
“Precisely my point,” Abigail frothed.
“I get it—you’re pissed because you blew your chance for a title upgrade. Well, don’t have a tantrum. I’m sure there is an earl or maybe even a marquess you can slam over the head with a stiff saddle and drag off to your bat-infested lair. ”