Layla Chase is a longtime friend. Elle and I met her shortly after we decided to become writers at a San Antonio Romance Authors meeting. Then we met for Saturday critique meetings around our kitchen tables, trying to clean up our stories well enough that editors wouldn’t think we were complete idiots. We’ve supported each other all through the years. So, I was thrilled to see her story show up in my inbox!
Her choice of blue collar hero is one I loved straight away, because it struck a chord with me. See, I have horses, two of them, that are visited by the farrier about every eight weeks. So, I know well just how sexy it is to watch a man fearlessly work with a restless horse while one of its hooves is trapped between his thighs… Okay, that’s my imagination at work. Enjoy the excerpt! ~DD
Excerpt from Layla Chase’s “Challenges Met” in Blue Collar
Following a long absence from a small Texas town, ex-soldier turned farrier accepts the flirtatious challenge of a wealthy rancher’s spoiled daughter
Sweat beaded along Javiero Paz’s eyebrows, and after lifting his hat, he swiped the heel of his palm over his forehead. Summer in south Texas often felt like living on the edge of a blast furnace. The heat intensified the earthy scents of dried hay and fresh manure—smells that had always been part of his world. Growing up the son of a horse trainer meant barns served as his playground. Since his discharge from the military, burying himself in his work with animals soothed his battle-weary spirit. The last tour—and the loss of his best friend—had pushed him close to the breaking point.
“Easy now, girl.” He shifted his stance and readjusted the horse’s leg on his thigh then scraped the file over the hoof. Three strokes in one direction then three in the other. Check for smoothness. Repeat. Might not be the most exciting work, but it beat riding in an armored vehicle into desert villages uncertain of the troop’s reception or always looking over his shoulder and waiting for the whine of a sniper’s bullet.
Galloping hoof beats broke the silence of the early afternoon, accompanied by a high-pitched whinny.
At the sudden sound, the mare shied.
Javi tensed before he straightened, patting a hand along the roan’s shoulders. “Whoa. You’re all right, girl.”
A blonde with hair that matched the coat of her palomino horse burst into the center aisle of the Wellington Acres barn. “Well, look who’s here. Javiero Paz.”
“Hello, Mandy.” Manners drilled into him since childhood made him lift a finger to the brim of his Stetson. He grabbed for the reins she tossed in his direction. The automatic action flashed him back at least a decade. His grip tightened, and he walked the sweaty, panting horse away from the mare he was shoeing. Bitter memories of being treated like a servant rose into his thoughts. Javi tied off the reins to a post and turned.
“I heard you were back.” She sauntered to the open tool box on a stand against the closest stall gate and idly picked up a pick and a file.
News had a way of being spread in a small town like Duketon. “Two months now.” A fire-engine red tank accented her full breasts and tucked into a hand-tooled belt cinching her narrow waist. Tight jeans clung to her long legs. The intervening years had been kind to this spoiled rancher’s daughter—if her trim figure and the sparkling gems on her fingers and in her ears were any indication. The same grapevine of gossip informing her of his return had supplied the information that Mandy remained single.
“Got that soldiering gig out of your system?” She ran the file over the tips of her manicured nails then speared him with a wide stare of her blue eyes. Her lips formed a pout as she ducked her chin.
Intriguing cornflower blue eyes used to haunt him in the wee hours of the night when his teen-aged hormones needed release however he could get it. Steeling himself from falling back into old habits, he approached the mare and ran a hand over her back. “Serving three tours was hardly a ‘gig’.” Military service had been his ticket out of this town, offering a kid from working-class parents the chance to earn enough money to attend farrier school, acquire his certification, and set up his business. Soon as he built up a solid clientele, he could start saving for the ranch he wanted to own one day.
Maybe if he didn’t make eye contact again, he could focus on the task at hand. Instead of thinking about how her body might respond to his demanding touch. Which would do nothing but jeopardize keeping her father as one of his accounts. Easing the mare’s hoof back onto his thigh, he returned to the hoof trim.
“I can’t believe you chose to work with horses.”
From the corner of his eye, he spotted the tips of her embellished red leather boots that probably cost her father a couple grand. The disparaging note in her voice set his teeth on edge. But he kept his expression impassive. Her sarcasm had always been razor-sharp. Somehow, he’d thought she’d have outgrown the rebel-child attitude. “The horse business has been good for your family. Certainly has provided you with a comfortable life. Surprised you don’t see that.” Or appreciate it. He ran his fingers over the hoof, satisfied with the smooth surface.
“Why be satisfied with being a big fish in a little pond? I want to see the world.”
He straightened to find her only a few inches away. Close enough her scent—an intoxicating blend of exotic musk and warm woman—filled his nose. Crap, how much willpower did he have to display? “Careful what you wish for.” He thought of how this pampered, protected woman would fare in a big city where opportunists would pounce once they learned the size of her daddy’s holdings.
“You know nothing about my wishes.” Her gaze roamed his chest and dipped lower before slowly climbing to his face.
Holding himself in check, he watched as her eyes widened and her nostrils flared after registering how his shirt clung to his pecs and biceps. He’d left home as a slender but wiry teen and returned a hard-muscled man. Now, if she didn’t suck the fullness of her lower lip into her— Shit. His cock twitched. “What do you want, Mandy? I have a job to finish.” Frustration added a growl to his tone.
“What I’ve always wanted.” She tilted her head and glanced from under her lowered lashes. “A taste of the forbidden.”