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Beautiful distraction, p.10
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.10

           J. C. Reed
 

  At last, the door opens with a groan, and he motions me inside.

  The interior is divided into huge stalls with top and bottom opening doors and halls to the left and right. To my left, there are cows. On the right, there are stalls with horses. At the far end, there’s the storage area where he keeps the feed and the hay. Dust is flying as we walk.

  “The barn’s over one hundred years old,” Kellan says. “The land has belonged to my family for generations.”

  “Wow,” I say, impressed, and peer up, spinning in a slow circle.

  The morning light is spilling in through the high windows, and the pungent scent of hay, dust, and manure hits my nostrils. It doesn’t smell bad, just earthy—different from the city.

  I keep close to him as he opens the stalls and inspects one horse after another, then guides them outside with a smack on their haunches.

  I don’t know much about horses, but these ones are huge and well groomed. Even I can tell that Kellan takes great care of them.

  “Are you afraid of them?” Kellan asks.

  “What? No.”

  It’s not the entire truth. I’m not afraid of horses, per se.

  But these look like something out of a gladiator arena—the kind that could trample you to death.

  “Good. Maybe I’ll teach you to ride them, if you’re up for it.”

  “What makes you think I cannot ride?” I ask in a bold moment.

  He cocks his head, his eyes running over my body. “I can tell.”

  I don’t bother with a reply. There’s no point in telling him that he’s wrong because he isn’t.

  But damn, coming out of his mouth, I never know whether to feel insulted or not.

  For what feels like an eternity, he works in silence, swiftly moving from stall to stall, inspecting the wood panels and the large windows, opening more doors, refilling food. An hour later, he’s done, seemingly pleased, and we head back outside.

  “This is it?” I ask. It wasn’t so bad.

  “No, we still have to take a look at the bulls. Their barn’s about a mile away.”

  A mile?

  I’m not sure my legs can carry me that far, and yet I force a smile to my lips. “Sure.” I point at the barn. “Shouldn’t we do a bit of cleaning first?”

  “I don’t usually have my guests cleaning out the stalls, unless they ask me to.” He winks, and my breath hitches in my throat.

  In the sunlight he’s so gorgeous, it’s unreal. His green eyes seem to catch and reflect the golden light. The wind ruffles his hair, blowing a strand into his eyes. I want to brush it aside, but refrain from doing so.

  He beats me to it anyway and rakes a hand through his hair, the motion slow and sexy. I look away and wrap my arms around my waist, not because I’m cold but because I need to put something between us, even if the wall is imaginary.

  “Can I stroke the horses?” I ask. My glance travels to them. They’re feasting on the grass, their muscular bodies strong and majestic.

  “No, but you can ride one, if you want,” Kellan says. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to them.”

  Without waiting for my reply, he grabs my hands and guides me while telling me their names and recalling how he got each one of them.

  I try to listen, but all I can think about is his fingers on my skin, the heat of his body, the strength emanating from him.

  “This is Brenna,” Kellan says. “She’s the quietest, most patient quarter horse I’ve ever had.”

  “She’s beautiful.” I stroke her muzzle, almost expecting Brenna to bite or otherwise express her displeasure. To my surprise, she seems to like it.

  “You should ride.”

  “I can’t,” I say.

  “Can’t or won’t?” Kellan asks.

  “I can’t ride,” I say dryly. “You, being the expert, have already figured that out.”

  “You’ll pick it up in no time.” He looks up at the sky and frowns. Dark clouds are gathering in the distance, but it doesn’t look like it’ll rain soon. “Wait here while I get a saddle.”

  I wait until he’s out of hearing distance before I turn to Brenna. “You seem to know him well. You won’t tell me too that I should sleep with him, will you?” She gives a snorting sound, and I laugh. “Exactly my opinion. He’s hot, but just because someone’s hot, that’s not enough of a reason to bed him.” I reach over the fence to stroke her neck when I notice something moving.

  The barking carries over too late.

  I turn around the moment Kellan yells from a distance, “Sniper, no!”

  But it’s too late. All I see is the blur of a rich black and tan mutt before paws settle on my shoulders and I tumble backward, landing on my backside. The impact is softened by the blanket of mud reaching up to my calves and now covering half of me. But I don’t have time to digest the fact that I’ve just landed on my backside in front of the hottest guy in history – oh, the mortification.

  “Sniper, no,” Kellan commands. “Get off her now.”

  I stare into the softest brown eyes. Sharp, exposed teeth are barely inches away from my face, but there’s also a pink tongue that hangs out.

  “Ava, don’t move,” Kellan whispers, the undercurrents of his voice filled with worry and—

  Fear.

  From the corner of my eyes, I watch him inch closer very slowly, palms slightly raised, his voice whispering soothing words to the German Shepherd.

  Oh, he can’t be serious.

  I roll my eyes and struggle to sit up as I push the large dog aside. “Good boy,” I praise and pat his oversized head.

  “No, don’t touch him,” Kellan says.

  Seriously, he really sounds panicky.

  “Why not? He’s such a sweetie.”

  And he is.

  The dog licks my wrist and leans into me, almost throwing me back into the mud. His enthusiasm and excitement are contagious, and I find myself laughing.

  It takes me a while to rise to my feet and look up all the way into Kellan’s eyes. His gaze is strange, filled with a heat so scorching hot it burns my skin.

  No one’s ever looked at me like that.

  “He likes you,” Kellan says, taken aback. His voice carries a mix of admiration and respect, but his face shows something else. “Do you have a dog?”

  “No, my parents never let me have one.” I look at Sniper, who’s jumping up and down, begging me to rub him in his dog language. “Why?”

  He shrugs. “I was just wondering. This dog doesn’t like anyone but me.”

  “And me.” I run my hands through Sniper’s coat, then begin to rub his ears.

  “It took me half a year to get him to let me touch him,” Kellan remarks, watching me with a strange expression. “He’s a military dog with PTSD. I adopted him. So no, it’s not normal.”

  “Everyone likes me,” I mumble.

  His brow shoots up, his usual arrogance returning. “Not everyone.”

  His statement hits me like a slap in the face. My head snaps to him. “What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

  He shrugs and moves closer. His fingers curl around my upper arm, and before I know it, I’m back up on my feet again, Sniper instantly forgotten.

  Kellan’s standing close, looking down at me, his hot breath warming my lips.

  “I don’t like you,” he whispers, his expression dark, his eyes hooded.

  What. The. Fuck?

  As I stare at him, I realize he’s probably jealous.

  Jealous that his dog likes me.

  “Are you always this blunt?” I shake my head and yank my arm out of his grip. “Wait, don’t answer that. I think I know the answer.”

  “Trust me, you don’t.”

  The air around us seems to have cooled down a few degrees.

  What’s with this guy, blowing all hot and cold? Why can’t he just be like a normal human being and at least pretend to be charming until he’s deceived his way into my panties?

  “I don’t like you either,” I say and turn a
round to leave. His grip on my arm holds me back.

  “Ava?”

  “What?” I snap at him for no reason. It’s such an immature reaction, but I can’t help feeling hurt. Hurt that he doesn’t like me. Hurt that he’s jealous when it’s not even my fault. Hurt that he can’t be happy that his dog likes me.

  “I don’t like you,” he says again.

  “You made that part perfectly clear.”

  “No, you don’t understand.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “You’re not unlikeable. I don’t like you because I want you. You should take that as a compliment. The women I didn’t like were always the best lays.”

  My mouth opens and closes.

  “You’re such an asshole, you know that?” I say through gritted teeth.

  “Why? Because I just told you that I want you?”

  “No, because you’re implying that I could be just another one of your conquests. That’s all I am for you, right?” My eyes are ablaze as I step forward and poke a finger into his hard chest. “Did you ever ask those women whether they liked you?”

  He steps back and smiles at me, the kind of smile I wish I could smack right off his face. ”No need to. Their screams always said it all.”

  With that, he heads back to the horses, whistling for Sniper to follow after him. The dog doesn’t. Panting, he sits on his haunches and looks up at me, waiting.

  “Now, that’s a good boy,” I say, smiling, and pat his head. “I don’t like him. And I bet you don’t like him either.”

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  There’s a difference between longing and living out a fantasy. There’s also a difference between desiring intimacy with someone who’s your dream guy and wanting something that you know is bad for you. Dream guy or not, I know it can and won’t end well with Kellan.

  I stand rooted to the spot for a good five minutes before I decide that whoever Kellan is, he’s definitely not someone you want to let too close to you or your heart.

  For one, he’s too good-looking. Beautiful people always get away with anything.

  And second, while I’ve met my fair share of bad boys, and, as such, am rather familiar with their game, Kellan takes it to a whole new level.

  He’s too arrogant for his own sake.

  He behaves like every woman is fair game and the world is his playground. If he thinks he only has to ask and I’ll jump on his bandwagon, he’s mistaken. The fact that he wants me and makes no secret out of us never being more than just a fling makes him a whole different kind of dangerous.

  It’s all too tempting.

  I don’t know how to deal with someone like him.

  Keeping away from him is no longer just an option. It’s become a priority because there’s no way I’ll ever turn into one of the women he’s used and left behind.

  “I’m heading back inside,” I call out and begin my ascent before he can stop me.

  “What about work?” he shouts.

  “You can do it yourself. I have no intention of staying.”

  “Fine. Suit yourself. Let’s see how far you get without me.”

  Wow.

  The guy really assumes I’ll need him just because I’m a woman.

  Talk about being sexist.

  “Condescending jerk,” I say and head in the direction from where we came.

  “I heard you,” Kellan yells after me.

  “I hope so.” I turn back to him, my gaze boiling. “Because that’s my honest opinion of you.” I continue walking with Sniper glued to my ankle, glancing over my shoulder a few times to see whether Kellan’s coming after me. He makes no attempt to follow.

  That’s fine by me.

  Sniper is a much better companion anyway.

  The house is a long way up the hill. From where I’m standing, I can’t even see it, but I’m confident it’ll barely take me ten minutes to reach it, fifteen minutes tops. I huff and groan as I trudge through the mud, and realize climbing up a hill is way worse than climbing down. I’ve barely managed to walk a few yards when a gust of wind whips against my face. I lose my equilibrium for a moment and tumble backward.

  I fall on my backside, and a scream escapes my throat.

  The pain shooting through my ankle is excruciating. My vision blurs. I bite my lip hard to stifle the yelp lodged deep in my throat. Sniper barks once, then twice, and then he runs off, probably frightened by my scream.

  “Fuck. Fuck,” I mutter as I try to scramble to my feet but find that I can’t.

  My hands go to my throbbing ankle. It burns when I touch it.

  “Are you okay?”

  Kellan’s voice reaches me a moment before he does. I nod and look up at him through the curtain of unwanted tears clouding my vision. Sniper barks again. He’s standing next to Kellan, eyeing us both.

  “Good boy,” Kellan says to the dog. “He came to get me.”

  “I’m fine,” I squeeze through gritted teeth, even though I’m anything but. The throbbing pain in my ankle shoots up to my knee in long pangs. In spite of the wind, my back is slick with sweat. I broke my arm when I was five and had my tonsils removed at nine, so I know what physical pain feels like. However, this hurts so much, I might just pass out.

  My ankle feels like it’s been run over by a truck.

  “I’m fine, “ I say again. Pushing up on my arm, I try to stand—to no avail.

  “Let me see.” Before I can protest, Kellan’s pulled off my boot and his fingers are on my bare skin, inspecting, prodding.

  His touch is torture.

  “It hurts,” I choke out.

  “I hope it’s not broken,” he mutters.

  I rise up on my elbows to get a better look and instantly wish I hadn’t. A large, purple bruise is forming where the bone is located, and my foot looks like it’s about to swell.

  Kellan presses his fingertips against it, and I whimper. He holds my ankle in place, then presses some more, moving his fingers around.

  “Not broken,” he declares eventually. “I think it’s just a minor sprain, but it could be worse. I’ll take you back to the house and get it bandaged up for you.”

  “No, thank you,” I mutter. “I’ll be fine.”

  “Ava, you’re not fine. You can’t walk. You need help.”

  I do, but I’m still angry with him.

  “I don’t want your help,” I hiss. “I don’t need help from someone who doesn’t like me but wants to use me for a good fuck.”

  He lets out a breath. “What I said was out of line. I didn’t mean it.”

  I scoff. “Yeah, right. What part? The one about wanting me or not liking me?”

  Sighing, he sits down next to me. “About not liking you. Obviously, there are parts of you that I like.”

  I stare at him in disgust.

  Is he talking about my body?

  He makes it sound like that’s a good thing.

  “Forget it.” I make a move to get up, but he holds me down.

  “I don’t know you, obviously. I can only judge from what I’ve seen so far. You’re likeable in general. I do enjoy your company, otherwise I would have sent you away.”

  He likes my company—the thought makes me smile just a little bit. “You’re just saying that because you want to help me.”

  Kellan shakes his head slowly. “No, I’m saying that I sort of care for you. That’s all. I find that difficult to deal with.”

  His words strike me speechless.

  Our gazes lock, and something passes between us. A moment later, another jolt of pain shoots up my ankle, and I wince.

  “That’s it. I’m not taking no for an answer,” Kellan says, our strange moment broken.

  I nod and hold my breath as he lifts me up in his arms like I weigh nothing and cradles my head against his shoulder as he carries me back to the barn.

  The shooting pain becomes a dull, consistent throb, and I bite my lip to hold back a swear word.

  We reach the barn, and he saddles a horse, then helps me up, both of my legs danglin
g on one side. He places himself behind me, one hand holding the rein, the other wrapped around my waist to keep me secured in place as he guides the horse.

  Even though it’s the last thing I want, I press my palm against his thigh to hold on for support. His muscles are hard and defined. Broad from riding and God knows what else. His chest feels like steel against my face.

  “Hold on to me.” His voice is gentle. I nod and do as he requested. “Ready?” he asks.

  I nod, and the horse jolts into action.

  Up close, he smells amazing. I inhale the blend of heat and shower gel, of nature and something so heady it makes me want to press my lips against his skin just to see what happens.

  Good thing he’s sitting behind me, oblivious to the nature of my thoughts and the irregular beat of my heart.

  Get a grip.

  He’s just a guy, albeit the hot and forbidden kind.

  Like my mother used to say, all women go through the phase of liking a bad boy…they fuck one, cry over one, and then they marry the boring and safe accountant next door.

  I’ve tried my hand at the dating part plenty of times. Most of the guys I went for were boring, and just plain jerks, who thought sex follows shortly after the drink tab and is a mandatory part of any first date. However, none of them were like Kellan.

  My fingers travel up just a little bit—obviously in need of something to hold on to. Something hard is prodding my hip—I can’t tell if it’s the saddle or if the situation is getting Kellan excited.

  The thought gets me so hot and bothered, I suck in a gulp of air. My lungs feel devoid of oxygen, and my breath is coming in odd little bursts. The picture of him naked and sprawled out on a bed instantly enters my mind. Certain parts of him are blurred, like even my fantasy knows that nothing I’ve ever seen before could measure up to him. I want to look, if only to see whether that part of him is as delicious as the rest. But I refuse to give in to my perverted brain’s command.

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  After what feels like an eternity, we reach the front porch. Kellan finally unmounts and secures the bridle to the veranda, then lifts me in his arms again.

 
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