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Breaking Him

By´╝ÜSherilee Gray



Chapter One

The dry Montana heat was unforgiving today. Dust coated the back of my throat, my sweat-slicked skin prickling from the harsh midday sun. The thunder of hooves drew my attention from unpegging the laundry and over to the field behind the house. Two of my horses galloped along the fence line, kicking up more dust as they passed. I lifted my ponytail from my sticky neck and shielded my eyes to watch.

They slowed, danced around each other, sizing the other up.

Beautiful.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and looked to the sky, searching for rain clouds. We were in the middle of a drought, suffering the highest temperatures we’d had in over ten years. I had animals to feed, a ranch to keep afloat. If the rain didn’t come soon, I’d have the bank manager out here again, hounding me. These were the things that should be occupying my mind as I tugged the last towel from the clothesline.

But how could I concentrate on any of that with the low, steady murmur searching me out, coming to me on the light breeze? The way that gravelly yet soothing voice was being used to gentle one of my skittish mares made me tingle all over, until I was forced to squeeze my thighs together.

Folks around town called Elijah Hays a monster. They were intimidated, scared of him. Even said he was dangerous. Not to his face. Never to his face. You’d have to be a stupid son of a bitch to say any of those things to Eli—and crazier than they accused him of being. But I’d never seen him that way. Not once. I trusted him to take care of my ranch just like my father had.

The ranch’s main income came from cattle, but with the drought and everyone selling stock to get by, unable to afford the feed, cattle prices had dropped to an all-time low. If we sold now, we’d never recover. We usually survived the dry season by selling off the wild horses we brought in and broke for a nice profit. My dad loved horses, had wanted to eventually expand that side of our business. But this year, with him gone and only Eli here to work them, I didn’t know if we’d make it through.

Pushing back the strands of hair that had come loose from my ponytail, I turned to watch him, unable to help myself. How could I see him as the townspeople did when I witnessed him like this each and every day? Eli had a way with horses unlike anyone I’d seen. It fascinated me, watching this huge, at times unnerving, man care for and baby them. The way he could break a horse with kindness—taming, bending them to his will with whispered words and those big, gentle hands—until they seemed desperate to please him.

He stood beside the mare, one hand gripping the wide brush, dragging it over her shiny coat, the other following in its wake while he whispered sweet nothings in her ear. My attention was drawn to his forearms, corded and veined, dusted with dark hair. Pure strength. His hands never left her once. And God, they were beautiful hands—huge and so damn rough. I knew this because when I brought him coffee in the afternoons, his fingers would brush against mine. But what had my nipples hardening against the soft cotton of my dirt-streaked tank top was his unbelievably wide back. It was bulked up with thick slabs of lickable muscle, deeply tanned from hours spent outdoors. My gaze dropped to soft, worn Levi’s sitting low on his hips, cupping an ass that was meant to be squeezed, and often.

But if what people said was true, no one had ever squeezed that magnificent ass. No one had seen what he had hidden behind that straining zipper, either…

He swept the brush across the mare’s side again and again, biceps—thick as one of my thighs—bunching and rolling, dancing as he worked. I’d never seen the likes of him in my life. The man was beautiful, masculine on a whole new level. And he absolutely fascinated me.

The sound that had been steadily building in my chest slid past my lips before I could stop it. The needy moan loud enough for him to hear. I spun around before he caught me staring, quickly bending to pick up the wash basket at my feet. But it was too late. I’d been caught. The rhythmic cadence of Elijah’s deep voice cut off suddenly, followed by the crunch of gravel under his boots as he spun around.

He didn’t say anything. He rarely did, not to me—besides the “please and thank yous” he quietly rasped whenever I brought him food or drink. Otherwise he kept to himself. Had done so since he started working here twelve months ago.

I shivered again, that familiar zip of electricity shooting across my shoulders and down my spine. His eyes were on me. He had beautiful eyes, wide and thickly lashed. They were often on me, maybe as much as mine were on him. I liked it. I didn’t see Eli as a monster. Because if he had murdered his father when he was just a boy, like everyone said, the man had deserved it. My dad, God rest his soul, had said so many times. Said Wyatt Hays had been a mean son of a bitch and he was surprised no one had done it before his son took a kitchen knife to him defending his mom.

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