Meet Tyler Ransome.
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Tyler stepped into his tack room and grabbed a bottle of water from his cooler. When he moved to southern California three years ago, he was glad Fermino and Arizona were in his rearview mirror. Seeing Bobby in Burbank a year ago surprised him. Finding out he was working out of another trainer’s stable, as an assistant, shocked the hell out of him. Then he got his own spread, under his name. Too quickly, in Tyler’s mind, but Bobby was always working an angle.
That hadn’t changed.
Turning to step out of the tack room, his boot struck something metallic, sending it rolling out the door. He picked it up. It was a travel mug, but it wasn’t his. And none of his riders had been here today.
An image came to mind, of the small brunette with Emily—Willie? That was a weird name. She’d had a cup in her hands when she walked up to him. He turned the mug around. There was a picture of a spaceship on the side with the title “Full Tilt” in chaotic lettering. He chuckled. “Full Tilt” was the long-running science fiction show starring Kirk T. Williams, one of the generous benefactors of the center.
Figures, he thought, Willie would have a sci-fi travel mug. She looked like one of those girls he knew in college. Bright women who hid their attractiveness behind glasses and hunched shoulders. They were all sharp as tacks and scared the hell out of him at the time. Now, they only intimidated him.
Willie’s shoulders were not hunched, but Tyler could tell how much she discounted her beauty. Confident women stood taller in his presence and looked him in the eye. They smiled, flirted. Emily’s client kept her eyes to herself. Too bad she had to poke poor Belle and crow-hop down the rail to him. It couldn’t have helped her self-esteem, even if she didn’t fall off.
He was still staring at the mug and thinking about the smile on Willie’s face as she loped Belle around, when a familiar voice startled him back to the present.
“Trying to sound out the letters?”
Tyler’s head whipped up, his eyes wide. A tall blonde stood in front of him, leggy in her tight blue jeans and showing plenty of enhanced cleavage in a low-cut peasant blouse. She may have aged out of the rodeo queen circuit, but she wasn’t surrendering her youth without a fight. There were a few lines as her blue eyes sparkled and her full mouth turned upward in a taunting smile.
“What are you doing here, Missy?” He forced the words from his throat.
“Is that any way to greet your ex-wife?” Her voice had a purring Texas drawl that tightened his jaw even further.
The marriage ended five years ago. Two years of that consisted of fighting before the divorce finally took, banishing him from Scottsdale. Melissa had gotten everything, including the ranch he bought before they married, all his stock, and full custody of their son, Zac. Tyler managed to keep his stud horse, Cats Blue Boy.
“Coming to see if there’s anything else you can squeeze out of me?”
The smile never left her face, although her eyes hardened. “Of course not. Daddy’s lookin’ for a new horse for me to show. Got anything we might like?”
Missy had always been active in the Quarter Horse Association, from her days as a youth rider, to her current status as an amateur. During their marriage, Tyler realized how little she actually cared about horses. With Missy, it was all about the status of riding the most expensive horse while wearing the most expensive clothes. Every year, she went to the World Invitational Show, and every year she had a two-page ad in the Quarter Horse Journal, extolling her virtues.
“I wouldn’t sell you a stick horse.”
“Well, that’s a pity. You know how Daddy loves a bargain, and I’m sure you don’t have anything that would break our bank. Perhaps some of the larger trainers have something in our price range.” She turned, then looked back over her shoulder. “I hear Bobby’s in town. Maybe he’s got a horse for me.”
There were a number of things Tyler wanted to say. Most of them were variations on how much he hated her. All of them included profanity.
He bit his tongue until she left.
“God. Damned. Witch. From. Hell.” Each word fell with a step as he strode down the barn aisle, gripping Willie’s coffee mug. “I need a walk.”
As he marched around the corner, he thought about his son. He hadn’t dared ask about him, although he was dying to know. His heart ached, wanting to see Zac again. He’d be eleven now. He wondered if he was walking again, or talking.
Every time Tyler thought about Zac slumped in his wheelchair, he thought about that night—and wanted to dig his own grave and climb in.
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