Ace High (Lost Creek Rodeo #6) - Heather B. Moore
NOTE TO READERS:
All characters and situations in this book are fictitious and do not represent actual people or situations.
The following towns and locations in this series are also fictitious:
Sam Houston Community College
Broken Hearts Ranch
“Can you help me down, handsome?”
Lars Jackson turned to Mallory, who sat on the horse a few feet away. The women he’d taken out on a ride were all dismounting now. His buddy, Ryan Prosper, had been teaching the women at the Broken Hearts Ranch how to ride horses, apparently. But he was only doing it as a favor to his sister, because the last thing on earth Ryan wanted to do was teach beginning riding lessons. Ryan was a partner in Kellie’s business, as well as the ranch manager. And since Lars was staying in Lost Creek for a week or two, he’d been roped into helping this morning. Or more like threatened.
Lars was enjoying a nice bed at Ryan’s place and the meals at both Ryan’s and Kellie’s, so he opted to help with the riding lessons.
Now, Mallory smiled at him from atop her horse. She wore more pink than he’d ever seen in his entire life, but she was pretty in her own way. Huge brown eyes, brunette hair, sweet smile. But she’d been making flirtatious comments for the past hour. He’d been cordial—friendly, even—but he might now have to draw the line. Get whatever ideas she had about him out of her mind.
He wasn’t interested in dating, hadn’t been for a while. So this level of flirting only grated on his nerves. Especially when Ryan was spitting distance away and trying not to laugh. Lars cut his friend a look that said: A little help here?
Ryan just winked and turned to his own horse, leading the mare to the stream they’d stopped near. The other two women in the group had managed to dismount on their own and were now at the stream as well.
“Sure thing, ma’am,” Lars said, crossing to the woman and her horse. He had no intention of “helping her down,” but he’d be happy to give her some instruction.
“Put your left hand on the top of the saddle,” he said. “Then your right hand can grasp wherever else will give you balance as you swing your leg over the horse.”
“Like this?” Mallory asked, tossing her hair, then arching her back as she made the movements more dramatic than they needed to be.
Her lips pushed out as she swung her leg over, then she seemed to let go of the saddle. For no reason.
Before Lars could react, she landed against him.
His arms went around her, and his feet did a double step to keep his balance.
“Oh my,” Mallory said with a giggle. “I didn’t see that coming.”
I should have, Lars thought as he released her.
She didn’t let him step away from her, though, because she turned and grasped both of his arms. “Thank you so much for saving me. I probably would have sprained my ankle.”
“The distance to the ground wasn’t that far,” he deadpanned.
Her hands moved up his arms, over his biceps. “I have weak ankles, so you definitely saved me, handsome.”
He grasped her wrists, then firmly removed her hands. “Glad you’re okay, then, ma’am.” He released her wrists and stepped away. “Now, lead Maggie to the water with the others.”
Mallory’s gaze looked amused. “Can you help me? I don’t want to do it wrong.”
Lars heard a snort, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t one of the horses. Ryan should pull up a chair and eat some popcorn while he was at it.
“It’s a one-woman job,” Lars said. “Take Maggie’s reins and lead her to the stream. She can see it, hear it, smell it, so it’s really just giving her permission.”
Mallory’s pink-lipsticked mouth pushed into a pout. “Oh, all right. I’ll try it, handsome. After all, you’re the cowboy, so I assume you know what you’re talking about.” She tossed her hair again and reached for the reins.
Lars tried not to grit his teeth. Or cuss. Or simply get back on his horse and head to the barn, where the animals were much more sensible than this woman. He watched Mallory do just as he told her, and soon, Maggie was drinking from the stream. Mallory glanced back at Lars, catching him watching. She waved.
Lars released a breath, then looked over to where Ryan stood apart from the other women, his face a stoic mask. But his eyes were definitely laughing.
Lars joined his friend at the stream.