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Storm is a veteran striving to overcome his demons. Peyton is a divorcee clawing her way out of despair. When she and her family’s prize racehorse are threatened, the two are forced out of their hidey-holes to ward off the enemy.
Peyton watched as Storm brushed the horse with long, slow strokes. He leaned forward and whispered in her ear. Sassy turned her head and looked at Storm with big, brown, loving eyes. He kissed her snout.
Heat surged through Peyton at the thought of Storm’s warm, knowing lips on hers. She opened the gate, drawing his attention. The hurt look in his eyes also held confusion. Her heart ached in response. Shame ripped through her. She had caused this kind and caring man pain. All over the simple fact she didn’t like the secrecy of him and Coach bugging her office to protect her. When boiled down, how stupid it was for her to get angry. Two of the men she loved most love her and wanted to keep her safe. Loved. Her heart thudded. More heat surged in her veins. The words she’d planned to say escaped her.
“Are you okay? Did something happen? Where’s Coach?” He asked with a hint of urgency in his voice.
“Everything’s fine. Don’t worry; he walked me out here.”
Earlier in the day she would have been angry that her brother felt the need to walk her from the house to the barn; but now, not so much. Relief at his—their—overprotectiveness sunk in.
Those amazing dark eyes staring at her looked to be welcoming her, yet his body language, his rigid stance and distance sent a different message. Silently, she prayed she hadn’t totally messed this up already.
Sassy snorted and nudged Storm’s shoulder blade. She wasn’t done being combed. Storm turned back toward Sassy and gave her a long stroke with the brush over her back.
“Did you need something?” Storm asked, without so much as a glance over his shoulder. The coolness in his voice froze the blood in her veins.
A small part of her wanted to run and hide, pretend nothing had happened between them, but her heart wouldn’t let her. From behind him, she wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned into him, resting against his back.
His muscles tensed and he held his breath.
“I’m sorry, Storm. I’m sorry for the way I acted today. I know you and Coach were just looking out for me and I appreciate that.”
He let out a long, draining breath. Sassy’s brush fell from his hand onto the soft bed of hay. Gripping her wrists, he pulled her hands from his waist and then he turned to face her.
The seriousness in his dark gaze seized her breath.
“I’m sorry, Peyton. I should have never let things get this far. I knew better. I’m not good for anyone right now. Especially someone like you.”
Her heart cracked in half. He was dumping her. Tears clung to the corners of her eyes. She’d be damned if she’d cry now, not after trying so hard to prove to herself and everyone else, that she was a strong person. Anger pushed the hurt to the back burner.
Peyton hitched her chin in the air. “Someone like me? Exactly what is that supposed to mean? I’m weak? Unworthy?”
“No. That didn’t come out right.”
He reached for her, but she stepped back.
“How was it supposed to come out?”
His gaze flew to his feet.
Her pulse pounded like a jackhammer. She was so angry with him right now she could spit nails.
She blew out an exasperated breath. “That’s it. You have nothing more to say?”
Storm cleared his throat and lifted his gaze. “You’re the most fascinating woman I’ve ever met. You’re kind and loving. And as for weak, that is certainly not a word I’d use to describe you. I’m shocked you’d even suggest that or your worthiness. You’re worthy of so much more than me. You deserve a whole man. Someone free of the type of baggage I carry. A man you can count on to not…to be…” he paused, squeezed his eyes shut, sucked in a deep breath and let it out. “A man who has his shit together, and one you can count on to be there for you one hundred percent of the time.” His voice trailed off.
Storm spoke with such conviction she knew he believed those awful words he’d spoke of himself.
Peyton stepped toward him and made sure not to let her gaze waver. “So, what you’re saying is that somewhere out there is a man for me with absolutely no problems whatsoever.” Her sarcasm stabbed at her own eardrums. She took a second to realign her tone. “One who’ll…I’ll go out on a limb here, love me as much as I think you do. One who would protect me at any cost like I believe you would. You’re saying this guy is out there somewhere and I should go find him.”
Storms jaw clenched and pulsed. “Yes.”