Wild For The Girl -- Oct 30, 2012
Reese stepped back as a forkful of horse manure flew past him. It landed with a plop in the large trailer that blocked most of the aisle outside the stalls.
“Shit,” he muttered. He hadn’t dressed for this. Then again, he hadn’t known he’d be tracking down the resort’s stable manager.
Maybe whoever had thrown the crap could give him directions.
He peered cautiously into the stall. A girl raked through the bedding, her boots and jeans were smudged with brown stains, and a tank top revealed bare arms that glistened with a faint sheen of sweat. A dark pony tail swung through a hole in the back of her ball cap.
None of the women he knew back east would ever consider work as a stable hand, including his most recent bed partner, Caroline, but it didn’t seem to be uncommon in the Rocky mountain town of Barringer’s Pass. It was just one of the things that made him glad he’d left.
“Excuse me. Can you tell me where I can find the stable manager?”
She turned, leaning into the rake she propped in the wood shavings. Girl was the wrong term, he realized. Young woman, and pretty under the dirty clothes, with delicate features that seemed at odds with her grubby job.
Blue eyes scanned him, looking faintly amused. “You found her.”
Her? He tried not to stare. “You’re T.J. Grady?”
“All my life. Who are you?”
He cleared his throat. “Your boss, at least for the next couple months.”
She straightened, did a slower head-to-toe inspection. He did a little looking of his own, since the tank and tight jeans revealed some interesting curves. “Mike’s son, huh? Reese, right?” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “I hope you’re not looking to make any changes in the operating plans for the stable, because Mike and I have an agreement.”
He hid a small jolt of surprise. Not many people in Barringer’s Pass, Colorado, called his father anything but Mr. Barringer, especially people who worked for him. Even fewer called him Mike. “I’m not changing anything, just holding down the fort until Dad recovers from the accident.”
“And letting you know your first customer will be here next Monday.”
He thought she’d show some irritation at that – his brother had warned him their stable manager had firm ideas about not working directly with the guests. But she just raised one eyebrow, barely perturbed. “Now see, Reese, that would be one of those changes I’m talking about. The ones that aren’t going to happen.”
Employees who thought they were the boss wouldn’t have lasted long if he were in charge; he was surprised his dad put up with it. “I’m not changing anything. I know the stable’s not fully operational. Trail rides will still begin in September, in time for the fall colors. This is something extra.”
“I don’t do extras. Just horses.”
Apparently T.J. also didn’t do good first impressions. “This extra involves the horses,” he said, calling on more patience than he cared to. “We’ve got an actor coming in who needs some riding lessons for his next movie. It’s a Western, and I’m told he plays a cowboy. The production company booked two of our best suites plus four singles for the next three weeks, so they get what they want, and they want their star to have lessons from an expert.” He gave her slight stature and dirty clothes a doubtful look. “I’m told you qualify.”
“True, but then there’s that other consideration – my agreement with Mike. I don’t work with people.”
“The actor is Tad Prescott.”
Any other woman would have lit up at that, but T.J. didn’t blink. “Guess old Tad will have to fall off a few times until he figures it out for himself. I don’t do people, just—”
“Horses. Yeah, I got that.” He could argue the point, but he had a hunch he knew how to get around T.J. Grady. “I guess I’ll have to bring in some other expert.”
“Guess so.” She turned her back and scooped up a forkful of soggy wood shavings, tossing them into the trailer beside him.
A strong smell of ammonia hit him from the urine-soaked shavings, burning his nostrils. Reese blinked watery eyes, but didn’t take the hint to leave. “I just thought you’d want to be the one working with him, since he’ll be using our horses.”
“My horses?” The rake hung in mid-air as she turned with a dark look. “I trained these horses myself. No one else is allowed to mess with them – Mike promised. I’m not going to let some Hollywood yahoo yank them around just because he’s a big star with a big movie role and a big ego to match.”
He decided not to point out that they weren’t her horses – but one argument at a time. “Not a people person, are you, T.J.? That’s okay, you don’t have to work with him. Just have a horse ready when he gets here Wednesday morning. I’m sure the trainer I find will be competent.”
“You’re not listening. No one touches my horses unless I say.”
“Then I guess you’re Tad’s instructor, because my dad arranged this himself before the accident.”
“Bullshit. He didn’t tell me.”
“Probably because some guy smashed into his car before he could.”
Her eyes narrowed to blue lasers. “I’ll ask him, you know.”
She fell into a belligerent silence as she took his measure. He didn’t like getting off to a rocky start with his dad’s employees, but she hadn’t given him any choice.
“Okay, you win,” she said, even though her hard look said the disagreement wasn’t over. “Tell Tad his lessons start at eight o’clock sharp.”
He smiled. “Thank you, I will.”
She stepped forward, propping the rake against the wall of the stall. He winced at the mixed smells of ammonia and manure wafting from her boots, and suspected she’d purposely stepped in that fresh pile as she crossed the stall. He watched with growing trepidation as she wiped her hands on her thighs, right over a large brown smudge. She held out her hand. “It was interesting meeting you, Reese Barringer. Welcome to the Silver Ridge Resort.”
Score one for the barn girl. He guessed that made them even. He took her hand without flinching and found her grip as sure and forthright as her personality.
“Interesting to meet you, too, T. J. Grady.” If his dad had any more employees like T.J. Grady, his two-month stay could not go fast enough.
T.J. looked at the cast that went from Michael Barringer’s toes all the way to his thigh, and tried not to imagine the broken bones beneath it, held in place by screws and pins. At least he looked alert today; they must have cut back on the pain meds.
“Does it hurt much?” she asked, scooting the chair around so he could see her.
“A constant dull ache, which is a lot better than when they brought me here three days ago.” The bed hummed as he brought it into an upright position. It also had the effect of making him appear more dignified and capable, the way she was used to seeing Michael Barringer. “I’m going crazy in this place, T.J. What’s new at the resort?”
Might as well get it out right away, so they could move on. “I met Reese.”
His eyes lit with pleasure at mention of his oldest son. “What’d you think?”
“I think you should have told me about Tad Prescott.”
“Shit.” He winced. “I was going to, T.J. I’m sorry, I know we agreed you don’t have to work with the guests, so if you want to bring in someone else to give him lessons, it’s okay with me. But I couldn’t say no to the business. The movie company is scouting locations, and if they decide to film here, it could mean a long stay in Barringer’s Pass. I want it to be at my resort. Why don’t you bring in whatshisname to do it?” He snapped his fingers. “That guy who lives in Juniper.”
Charlie Ferris. He liked to use spurs and thought obedience required fear. “I’ll do it.” She narrowed her eyes. “But next time you let me know before you promise to use my horses for something other than trail riding.”
“Yes, ma’am.” A smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth.
“What’s so funny?”
“I was thinking about Reese butting up against your attitude. I wish I could be there to see that.”
Reese again. She didn’t want to talk about him. Reese Barringer was manipulative and pushy, and his smile gave her a quivery feeling in her stomach. She hated quivery feelings. “What’s wrong with my attitude?”
“It might be called abrasive. You’re blunt and outspoken.”
She would have taken offense if he didn’t look so amused. “I don’t like pretense.”
“And I appreciate that. You’re one of the few people I know who will give me an honest opinion when I ask for it.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“It is with me.” There was that smile again. “I don’t know about Reese.”
She felt a twinge of regret that Reese might be as stiff as that suit had made him look. “If Reese is so stuffy he expects me to say yes to everything and kiss his feet, then he can take his big city arrogance and shove it.”
Michael chuckled as if the thought of that particular clash amused him. “Like I said, blunt and outspoken. I don’t think Reese is used to that. I’ve met his social circle back east, including a few of the women he’s dated. Perfectly polished, but in an artificial sort of way, and if they express opinions, they’re all very PC and subtle. It’s a little scary, if you ask me.”
T.J. couldn’t care less about the women Reese knew. The ones with politically correct opinions. Women he dated and most likely had sex with. It was no concern of hers. She didn’t care what sort of women he talked with, or even kissed, and she certainly wouldn’t want to imagine how he would unzip their beautiful dresses and stroke his hands over their silky-smooth skin.
She shifted at the sudden heat rushing through her and snapped back to what Mike had said. Covering her brief hesitation, she laughed. “Mike, you’ve been married and divorced four times. You might have a lot of problems with women, but you sure as hell aren’t afraid of them.”
His forehead wrinkled. “How do you know how many times I’ve been married?”
“Your name’s Barringer. You live in Barringer’s Pass. I doubt you can go out for dinner without making the local paper. A new wife is journalism gold, and they report every detail.”
“True, and precisely why I left.”
Reese’s voice behind her made her jump. She turned to meet a gaze that was clearly taking her measure, and she wondered how long he’d been standing there, listening.
“People in small towns are too wrapped up in other people’s lives,” Reese said as he approached his father’s bedside. “Frankly, I don’t know how you stand it, Dad.”
“You might figure it out if you ever stuck around long enough.” Michael shook his head, but smiled affectionately at his son. “I never should have let your mother talk me into sending you to those private schools back east. Should have had you graduate from Barringer High like I did.”
“I’m not sure that would have changed my mind, Dad. I’m just not a small town person. Besides,” he said, lifting an eyebrow at T.J. “It’s nice to have all those inferior sorts kiss my feet.”
So he’d heard. She forced a smile he couldn’t possibly mistake for sincere. “I think I’ll leave you two to talk business,” she said, standing. “Now that Reese has had a couple days to familiarize himself with the place, I’m sure he’s found a lot of ways to save us from our small town mediocrity.”
“Thanks for coming by, T.J.” Michael winked. “I knew you two would get along.”
“If you enjoy bloodshed,” she muttered as she left.