Written by: Cyndi MacMillan

Tess Hiatt knew she was playing with fire, yet couldn’t seem to stop herself. This was the third time that she’d intentionally trespassed down the clearly marked path, the third day she had staked out a perfect spot to view the going’s on at the haiku Equestrian school. 

There was something mesmerizing about their exercises. And that one rider, the way he kept everything so controlled, so precise, peeked her interest. He would trot the circuit, then effortlessly move between gaits. The cut of his tight breeches, the spotless coat and the sheen on his boots spoke of routine and discipline, two things she lacked. 

A fence kept rider and horse within an enclosure and she wondered if they ever longed to just jump the expanse and head for the hills.

She stretched her neck, moved a branch and sighed. Where was he?

“You do realize this is private property, Miss?”

She almost lost her balance. Mr. Discipline was right behind her. Oh, crap! She felt warmth flood her cheeks. Her chin lifted in self-defense. “Hi,” she said. 

His look changed. A grin spread across strong features. “Hello. So, you’re curious?”

“Yes and no. Maybe?” Oh, he was handsome. Her heart rate picked up. 

The laugh was warm, friendly. “I can’t remember the last time I saw somebody ride bareback. He looks spirited. Hard to handle?”

“Jack? Sometimes. He does what he wants, but then again, so do I.” She patted the mustang’s neck and received a soft nicker in response. “We put up with each other. Have grand adventures. Sass and kick ass.” She tilted her head. “Who’s your short friend?”

“This is Basho. He is a rare, Japanese breed called Misaki uma. I won him in a bet. He’s happier just standing in a field or poking along beside a pond watching frogs, but I’ve grown fond of his gentle ways. I think he barely tolerates me.”

She couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “Maybe you should give him more reign.”

“Maybe you should give yours less.”

Her eyes narrowed. “When’s the last time you just let loose, Mister? Don’t you ever just gallop through the creek? Let the mountains pull you closer? Life doesn’t consist of a training ring, you know. When’s the last time you unbuttoned your starched collar? I am neither staunchy nor dull.”

“Dull? What, you find the haiku school so staunchy that you keep returning for a closer look? Yes, I saw you.” He leaned forward. “As far as creeks and mountains go, first, you need to learn to ride the proper way. Then you can go frolic in the wildflowers.”

Jack, sensing her mood, shook his head. “Easy, boy,” she whispered in his ear, leaning low over the horse. 

Tight Breech’s eyes followed her movement. She watched his gaze drop then zero in on her cleavage, saw his jaw clench. Tess became acutely aware of how much leg was revealed by her shorts. He seemed to have noticed that as well.

She felt slightly dissy. “I learned the basics, just. And I can ride fine, thank you very much. Probably could run circles around you and your students. I don’t need to learn Dressage to ride Western. They’re as different as ... well, as..... a Mustang and Misaki uma, as beer and sake.”

“We seem to have differing opinions.”

Basho snorted and Jack’s ears pricked. 

“I should be getting home,” Tess said, wondering why she didn’t want to leave when this man was so irritating. Cute. But as annoying as hell.

“Look, how about we just take a ride up the trail.  I think Basho likes you.” He gave a look, a long steamy look. "And as far as my buttons go, how about we talk about that some more? There may be some... merit... to showing more skin."

Tess blushed. Yup. Playing with fire. But she liked fire. “Okay, you can walk me back to the ranch. But watch out for Jack. He likes to nip.”