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The sun was just about to slip beneath the horizon when Jo finally made her way to Hawk’s place to get his recommendations for contractors. Kristy’s enthusiastic confession about Hawk had occupied Jo’s mind for most of the afternoon after her return from town. Hawk is for dark deeds in dark places. A shiver slithered across her skin, her reaction unsettling. There was something about Hawk Stephens that made her nervous—disconcertingly so.

She glanced up the long, dusty driveway leading to his home. Magnolia trees lined its edges, their ivory blossoms lending a gentle beauty to the walk. A soft whinny from the distance garnered her attention and she wandered toward the sound, craning her neck to see beyond the trees in her line of vision.

She saw the horse first, its coat so black it reflected a blue sheen in the light cast from sunset. The magnificent animal danced around his trainer, following gestured commands effortlessly. Jo stood and observed, fascinated with the respect the man and animal had for one another, their interaction an orchestration of patience and practice. The horse lowered its head, nuzzling the man’s chest. The trainer stroked the animal’s long neck, leaning in close to its ear.

“He talks to ’em, you know.”

Jo jumped into next Tuesday, turning to face a tall, wiry man with a face like aged leather.

“I’m sorry?” she asked.

“Hawk over there,” he replied, pointing to the ring. “His horses. He talks to ’em and they listen. Never seen anything like it.”

Her vision traced the path of his finger, her pulse accelerating at the sight of black hair falling across the man’s face as he pulled the cowboy hat from his head—a face she now recognized as that of her neighbor. “Like voice commands, right?”

Placing a booted foot against a tree stump, he shook his head. “He doesn’t need words. It ain’t that kind of talking. He has an affinity for ’em. Understands ’em. And they take to him. He gets that from his mama. That’s something those fancy degrees couldn’t teach him.” He smiled, extending his hand. “Name’s Ray.”

“Jo,” she replied, taking his hand. He shook it firmly, trapping it in his grip. He gave her a smile revealing a little more gum than teeth in a couple of places.

“So, what’s your story?”

She gently tugged her hand but he held fast, grinning. “M-my what?” she stammered.

“You know, your story. What’s a sweet little thing like you doing out here wandering around the farm? All…” He picked up her other hand to inspect it. “Single and such.”

“I, ah…”

“And a pretty thing you are too. Hair like honey and eyes like caramel. Where’d you come from?” The gappy grin once more.

Jo couldn’t help but smile. “I met Hawk earlier today. I bought the monstrosity next door and he told me to stop by for the names of some contractors.”

Ray brought Jo’s hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to the backs of her fingers, winking. “What you need done, darlin’? I’m real handy.”

“Pops,” a deep voice drawled.

So taken aback by this character of a man, Jo didn’t even hear Hawk approach. Pops? Her gaze darted between the two men.

Ray chuckled. “I know, I know. Kid got all the looks in the family. You’d never know he’s mine. Looks just like his mama, that’s a fact.” He released a weighted sigh. “Left me with my drinking, she did.”

Jo opened her mouth to speak but fell victim to stunned silence. She glanced to Hawk for help, only to find him shaking his head and battling a smile. Her attention flew back to Ray when he leaned close.

“Don’t you worry none. I’ve been sober for five years.” He rubbed his chin. “That’s why my second wife left me. Said I wasn’t no fun once I quit the bottle.”

“Oh.” What else could she possibly contribute to the conversation?

Ray placed his hand on his hip, a pensive expression crossing his features. “Now, Mary Jane, she—”

Hawk’s rich laughter brought the confession to an end. “Okay, Pops. Let’s not scare her off right away.” He turned his regard to Jo. “Miss Montgomery, a pleasure to see you again.”

As he removed his hat and his long hair fell around his face, she began to tingle. In all kinds of intriguing, long-forgotten places. “It’s Jo, please.”

He smiled, a crescent-shaped dimple she had overlooked earlier winked at her from the side of his mouth. “I see you’ve met my father.”

She studied the two of them. Two pairs of eyes the exact shade of blue stared back. “Yes. He’s quite…charming.”

Ray slapped his thigh, throwing his head back in laughter. “Charmin’. Ain’t been called that before.” He glanced to his son. “Now here’s a lady, Silent Hawk. Knows how to act proper-like in society. She’s gonna stand out like a virgin in a whorehouse around these parts.”

He continued to hoot in laughter. Jo plastered a smile on her face, uncertain if she was the source of his humor or ridicule. She heaved a silent breath of relief when Ray’s arm draped around her shoulder. “I like you, darlin’. You’re real clever.”

She shrugged in modesty and cleared her throat, glancing at Hawk before looking back at his father. “You called him Silent Hawk?”

Ray nodded. “That’s what his mama named him.”

“I’m half Apache,” Hawk offered.

Jo’s tingling surged into an unnerving, steady throb of awareness. Good Lord, he was devastating. She watched him, entranced, as the wind kicked up, blowing the silk of his hair across his face. One hand was in his pocket, pulling denim tautly across his pelvis, the other held his black hat. His jeans hugged muscled legs, tapering to dust the surface of worn leather boots.

His feet shifted, drawing her attention back to his face, where she expected to see amusement at her open regard. Smoldering sapphire eyes met hers instead, infusing her with heat. Unable to draw her focus away, she continued to stare, the beat of her heart echoing loudly in her ears.

“Well, okay then. I’ll just head on back and leave you two kids to your…” Ray cleared his throat. “Business.”

“Good night, Pops,” he said with a nod.

Jo turned to watch Ray disappear into the nearing darkness and then slowly turned back to Hawk, as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He was going to be trouble, she sensed it. Trouble she had no idea how to handle.

He was standing directly behind her when she turned, the smell of him infiltrating her senses. Horses. That was the scent she’d struggled to place earlier. Leather, spice and…horses. Jo met his gaze, fear skittering down her spine. Her breath stilled in her lungs when he reached out, pulling at a section of hair she hadn’t even realized had fallen across her face to tuck it behind her ear. Jo’s heartbeat tripped all over itself from the contact.

Definitely trouble.










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