Riding for Love by Tina Susedik
Eve Dayton, owner of a riding ranch, rose above her childhood past and overcame the emotional damage her boyfriend caused when he married another woman. When someone starts sabotaging her ranch, Eve is desperate to find the culprit before she loses everything. Is it a coincidence or is the return of Denton Johanson tied to the mystery?
Divorced Denton Johanson returns to his hometown to help convict the embezzling controller of the family business. When he runs into Eve, he realizes his feelings for her are still strong enough to try and win her back. His fear of horses won’t get in the way of his goal and decides the only way to be near her is to take riding lessons from her. Can he convince her that his love is real and he is not behind the mystery surrounding the ranch?
Eve leaned against the door frame of the woman’s bathroom. Grasping her purse against her stomach with both hands, she tried calming the herd of horses charging through her system. Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward and peered through the leaves of a tall potted plant placed to obscure the view of the restrooms. Her pulse picked up speed. Rose and Denton approached Max.
“Smart move,” she muttered. “Chicken. You should be raising chickens instead of horses, moron!”
She slapped her hand over her mouth when an elderly woman walked out of the bathroom and gave Eve a small smile and a wide berth. The woman went to her table and whispered something to her companion, probably about a crazy lady talking to a tree. Eve suppressed a laugh. Crazy, that was her all right. Crazy to be afraid of Denton and the rush of adrenaline snapping her nerve endings at the sight of him.
“C’mon, girl, he can’t eat you.” Visions of Denton nibbling on her neck sent shivers up her spine and down her legs. “Well, not literally, anyway.” Over the years, though, memories of his desertion had eaten away at her, turning her into an emotional cripple, afraid of becoming close to anyone except Tom. “Damn! Why did he have to show up tonight and ruin the evening?”
She peered through the branches of the plant. Max kissed Rose on the cheek. Rose’s introduced Max and Denton.
Eve couldn’t help comparing the two while they shook hands. Both men were good-looking, tall, about 6’2. Max’s hair was blond, straight and short, while Denton’s was dark, wavy and worn nearly to the collar of his pale blue dress shirt. Max’s slim, wiry physique hid a strength making him capable of handling even the largest animals. Denton’s broad shoulders and hips accentuated his slim waist making him seem taller than Max. Women’s eyes followed Max when he came into a room, but he seemed to pale in comparison with Denton.
The men shook hands, but didn’t immediately let go. Max frowned. Did Denton grimace? Were Max’s fingers turning white? Were they going to start arm wrestling in the middle of the restaurant? Not that it mattered, but did Denton think she and Max were lovers? Max said something and the three of them turned in her direction. Eve quickly stepped back, hoping the rustling branches weren’t obvious. She peeked through the leaves again. They were still looking her way.
“Oh, hell!” she muttered. “I can’t hide out here forever.” Wiping her hands down the sides of her dress and taking a deep breath, she stepped into the hallway, head high, shoulders back, knees trembling. “I’m not chicken,” she said surprising a couple sitting nearest the restrooms.
“Eve, what a nice surprise,” Rose said, giving Eve a gentle hug when she reached the table. “You remember my son, Denton, don’t you?”
Eve couldn’t believe Rose’s question. What was she trying to pull? Even though her relationship with Denton had ended years ago, her friendship with his mother had grown and blossomed. Before she answered, Denton leaned over and placed a quick kiss on her cheek.
A lighted blow torch placed directly against her skin wouldn’t have burned anymore than his simple peck. Memories flashed back at her. Denton chasing her around the trees in his parents’ yard. Denton’s first tentative kiss on their fifth date. His last soul-searching one the evening before he left for college. The one from a lover during his Thanksgiving break.
“Hello again, Eve.” His soft words snapped her out of her memories.
“Hello, Denton,” she managed to utter, avoiding his eyes and glancing at Max.
Max observed the interaction. The urge to mark his territory overpowered him. He took Eve’s hand in his. “You two know each other?”
Max expected Eve to answer since Rose was only a passing acquaintance. When she didn’t say anything, he glanced at Eve. Her face had gone from pale back to rosy again and kept her eyes on their clasped hands. With a subtle motion, she turned the pearl side of her ring to the inside of her hand, leaving only the thin, gold band showing. What the hell?
It was obvious he was not going to get an answer from neither Eve nor Denton. He raised an eyebrow at Rose.
“Max, Eve and Denton went to high school together. They haven’t seen each other in a long time,” Rose answered Max’s silent inquiry. “Denton, Max is a veterinarian and takes care of Eve’s animals.”
“We’re out enjoying one last quiet evening before the seasonal rush starts,” Max said trying to cover the awkward situation while still trying to figure out all the currents flowing around them. It was more than the way Denton looked at Eve like a lost puppy having found his way home, or the way Rose watched Denton looking at Eve. There was so much voltage zapping between Eve and Denton, Max thought the restaurant lights should be popping and snapping. Was this Denton an adversary? A future friend? He sure as hell wished he knew because the situation was getting more strained by the second.
An awkward silence landed on the foursome once more. Eve didn’t understand Rose’s smug smile. Max squeezed Eve’s fingers tighter and glared at Denton as the silence stretched. Denton looked alternately between Max and Eve’s joined hands and their faces, seeming to come to some decision. He stepped forward and took Eve’s other hand in his.
“Eve, I need to talk to you,” he said, pressing her fingers in his.
Max’s hold on her hand increased as he gently pulled her away from Denton. Denton grasped her hand tighter.
“Please, Eve. I need to explain.”
Eve tried to turn and face Denton. Max’s grip pulled her back toward him. She was beginning to feel like a piece of taffy, being stretched and tugged to the maker’s satisfaction. A glance at Rose’s smiling face and Eve realized she wasn’t going to get any help from her. Max and Denton acted like gladiators in a coliseum ready to fight for their lives. Eve only wanted to leave. People were starting to stare at the foursome still standing beside the table. Eve tried to remove her hands from both men. Their grips became equally stronger. Her fingers began to tingle from lack of circulation. She tugged again and finally faced Denton.
“Please let go of my hand. I have nothing to say to you,” she said quietly.
Soul Mate Publishing: http://www.soulmatepublishing.com/riding-for-love/
Facebook: Tina Susedik, Author