Authors: Kate Hoffmann
Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance
The lights were on inside the campervan, and music drifted out from the CD player. He looked through the door to see Sunny straightening up the small galley kitchen. He knocked on the door and she turned and smiled.
“Honey, I’m home.”
A tiny giggle slipped from her lips and she opened the door for him and stepped aside. “Hello, honey, how was your day?”
“Oh, honey, it was wonderful. How was your day?”
“Just lovely,” she said. “Now give me my cheeseburger. I’m famished.”
They sat down at the table and spread the food out in front of them, sharing the chocolate malt between them. When that was gone, Logan fetched a couple of beers, removing the caps before setting the bottles on the table.
“I talked to the park manager. They don’t treat the grass here, so we can let Tally graze.”
“Great,” he said.
“I noticed there was an old saddle in the trailer. I was thinking I might get up early tomorrow, before we have to leave, and put her through her paces. Would that be all right with you?”
Logan nodded. “Just don’t get too attached to her.”
“I won’t,” Sunny said. “I know she’s meant for someone else.”
In a different life, he might have been able to make a gift of the horse. What would it be like to have that kind of financial freedom? He’d already had doubts that he could make the ranch work. There were times when all the scrimping and saving just wore him out.
“How many horses to do you have on your ranch?”
“I started with six mares and I have twenty-six now. I breed them artificially.”
“We do, too. Although we own the three stallions that we use for that. It’s sad that the mares never get to enjoy that particular pleasure.”
Sunny grinned. “Yeah, I know, it isn’t a pretty sight when they do it the natural way.” She took a bite of her cheeseburger. “Thank goodness, humans know how to do it better.”
He chuckled softly. “Thank goodness.”
They lingered over the meal, chatting about Logan’s ranch and his theories about horse breeding. He imagined this was what it would be like to have a woman in his life full-time. Meals together, companionship, mind-blowing sex and someone there to back him up, to make him feel as if life wasn’t as bad as it sometimes looked.
When they were finished, he helped Sunny clean up the table then watched her from the sofa as she sorted through her clothes and neatly folded them. “What time do we have to leave tomorrow?”
“Early. I’d like to get to the breeder’s place before dark. And then, I was thinking we could find a place to stay for the night. Maybe near a beach?”
“So, we don’t have to go to bed right now,” Sunny said. “We can have a little fun?”
“What kind of fun can we have in Cobar?”
She held out her hand, then pulled him to his feet. “It’s not what you do, it’s who you’re with.”
The moment he touched her, he couldn’t help but draw her into his arms and kiss her. It had become such a natural part of their life together. Kissing and touching. He couldn’t imagine how he’d go on without having her beside him.
Logan knew the realities of their relationship already. They’d have a beginning and a very definite ending. When their trip was over, he’d go back to his life and she’d return to hers. No matter how he looked at it, they couldn’t exist in the same world. Sunny wasn’t cut out to live in the middle of nowhere and he wasn’t going to settle into her life, living among the tall poppies.
“What are we doing?” he asked as she leaned over to turn up the music.
“We’re dancing,” she said.
He gasped. “You might be dancing, but don’t include me in this. I’m not going to let you turn me into a fool for your own amusement.”
“No, I’m not going to make fun. Dancing can be very sexy. It’s public foreplay. Everyone should know how to dance.” She listened to the music, then shook her head. “This won’t do.”
She searched the CDs but finally settled on a radio station. A soft instrumental tune came through the speakers and she glanced over her shoulder at him. “There. See?”
Sunny stood in front of him and took his hands. “Now, we’ll just sway a little bit, until you get the rhythm of the music.”
He drew a deep breath. “Really? I’m not going to be good at this.”
“Any man who is as good in bed as you are has to have some kind of rhythm. Now slip your right hand around my waist and pull me a little closer.”
“All right, I can get behind that.” But when he did, he forgot to keep swaying and he stumbled a bit before getting back into the song.
“Now, hold your left hand out and I’m going to just let my hand rest there.”
They continued to move around the cramped interior of the campervan, their bodies coming closer and closer with each verse of the music. To Logan’s amazement, he was doing quite well.
“It’s like sex,” she murmured, her lips brushing against his ear. “You just have to let go and enjoy it.”
“Now we keep doing this. And you whisper sweet things to me and kiss me and imagine what it would be like to take me to bed.”
“I don’t have to imagine that.”
“But you do,” she said. “Because dancing is all about anticipation and patience. Letting the feel of your body against mine play with your senses.” She drew back to look into his eyes. “Do you feel it?”
Logan had danced before, but never like this. It was exactly as she said—slow, delicious foreplay. And yet, nothing they were doing was overtly sexual. It was all happening in his imagination. “I do,” he said.
They continued to dance, their bodies moving together, a slow burn growing between them. He bent close and captured her mouth with his, and yet the rhythm went on, as if the seduction had a life of its own. And when they finally stumbled to the bed, Logan wasn’t sure he’d be able to maintain any control at all.
His mouth covered hers in a deep, almost desperate kiss as they quickly undressed each other. She arched against him as they tumbled onto the bed. Pinning her hands above her head, he slowly entered her, and when he drew back, Logan looked into her eyes, as if reading her response to every move he made.
He knew he ought to get protection, but when he reached for the box of condoms, she shook her head. “I’m all right,” she said softly. “If you are...”
They’d been together such a short time, yet he knew he wanted to feel her completely. And it was perfect, a sensation so intense that his body trembled as he tried to maintain control. He knew how to move, exactly how to dictate her responses, how to bring her close and then draw her back from the edge. It was as if their bodies had been meant for each other, designed to give each other pleasure.
He braced himself on his arms, slowing his pace until she could feel every inch of him as he plunged into her moist heat.
Sunny’s breathing grew quicker, and he felt her body tensing ever so slightly. And when he was certain that she was as close as he was, he let himself feel it all. A delicious heat spread through him, his body slowly coiling tighter with each stroke. It was a tantalizing ascent, spinning up and up until every nerve in his body was humming.
“Look at me,” he whispered.
She moaned, her voice sounding like an echo in his head. He gently bit her lower lip and she opened her eyes. Sunny’s breath caught in her throat and, suddenly, she was there, tumbling over the edge.
A cry of surprise tore from her throat as her body dissolved into deep spasms. Their gazes never faltered and he drove into her one more time before joining her in his own powerful orgasm.
The pleasure seemed to go on forever, only abating when they were both completely spent and gasping for breath. Though his arms felt boneless, Logan braced above her and bent closer to kiss her. “Do you know how incredible that feels? To do that together?”
“Mmm,” she murmured with a sleepy smile. “We are becoming quite good at it.”
He chuckled softly and rolled off her. “You know what they say about practice?”
He stretched out beside her, lying on his stomach and toying with a strand of her hair. “It should be done enthusiastically and often.”
“I’ll remember that,” she said with a laugh.
Logan stared at her beautiful face. He wanted to tell her how much she meant to him, how he was falling completely under her spell, but he knew it was too soon. Sunny wasn’t the type to want undying proclamations of love and affection. She seemed to be happy when everything was light and carefree.
He ran his fingers over her brow, then dropped a kiss on her lips. For now, he’d play the game by her rules. “I’m going to go put Tally into the trailer for the night.”
“I’ll come and help you,” she said.
“No, you stay here. It’ll only take me a minute.”
She watched him from the bed as he pulled on a pair of shorts and slipped into his trainers. He noticed the box with the chocolate cake sitting on the counter. “We forgot dessert,” he said.
Logan grabbed the box and set it down beside her on the bed, then retrieved the single fork they had. “Why don’t you get started on that and I’ll be back in a few?”
He walked outside into the cool night, quietly closing the screen door behind him. A moment later, he heard a tiny scream and smiled to himself. Sunny was pleased.
Tally gave him a curious look as he approached, the light from the campervan reflected in her eyes. “Don’t worry,” he murmured. “You’re still my best girl.”
He rubbed the horse’s neck and she nuzzled his shoulder, her soft nose nudging him for a biscuit. He unclipped her from the lead, then walked her back to the trailer. He opened the upper sections of the trailer doors and turned Tally around so she could enjoy the scents on the night air. Then he grabbed a biscuit from the tin and held out his hand.
“One more day on the road,” he said as the horse took the biscuit from his palm. “Then I’m going to give you a few days’ rest.” He fetched her water and put the rest of the hay in the rack, then closed the trailer door. The filly hung her head out and he gave her another biscuit. “Good night, baby.”
He walked back to the campervan, and when he got inside, he found Sunny sitting cross-legged in the center of the bed. She pointed the fork at him. “You are the most amazing man I’ve ever met.”
Logan sat down next to her. She fed him a bite of cake and he smiled. “Are you saying that because of the sex or the cake?”
“The cake,” she said. “And the sex. The cake wouldn’t taste nearly as good without the sex. Although, the sex might have been even better had I known there was cake at the end.” She bumped against his shoulder then gave him a quick kiss. “Is Tally put to bed?”
Logan nodded and took another bite of the cake. “If it’s all right with you, I think we should take a couple days in Adelaide. Tally could use the break and so could we.”
“I don’t need to be anywhere,” she said. “I’m enjoying this trip.”
“We’ve got a long stretch of outback to get through tomorrow.” He reached out and took her hand, then pressed a kiss to the spot below her wrist. “I’m glad you’re going to be there when I have to give her up. It will make it a lot easier.”
“You are going to miss her,” she said softly.
Logan nodded. “Yeah. I’ve raised her, I’ve seen her almost every day in the last three years. She has this personality and it’s like we know each other so well.”
Sunny set the box down beside her and wrapped her arms around his neck, giving him a fierce hug. “I understand,” she murmured. “Really, I do.”
“I know,” he said. And she did. She was maybe the only person who truly would know how hard it was for him to give Tally away. Logan flopped back onto the bed and Sunny curled up beside him, throwing her leg over his hips.
They lay quietly, Logan listening to the rhythm of his own breathing. He was starting to come to grips with losing Tally. But at the same time, he was wondering how he’d ever let Sunny go.
Before they slept, he pulled her into his arms and made love to her once more, this time slowly, savoring every single moment between them. It was all right to dream about the life he wanted someday. But it wasn’t very practical to wish for things that he couldn’t possibly possess.
Sunny was one of those impossible dreams. Though he could see a future in his mind’s eye, he didn’t really want to believe it could happen for him. It was best to keep his hopes and dreams based in reality and not pure fantasy.
. Did you have a good night?”
Sunny ran her hand over the filly’s nose, and the horse nodded her head. Tally had such a sweet disposition that Sunny had already fallen in love with her. Though she felt a bit guilty about her feelings, she knew Padma would understand. There was enough room in her heart for two favorite horses.
“We girls have to stick together,” she murmured.
Her father had tried for years to get her to ride a gelding, but Sunny had stubbornly insisted that her mare could jump just as well as any male—or formerly male—mount. It wasn’t accepted wisdom in the equestrian world. Very few show jumpers rode mares. But she felt a duty to at least promote the idea that female horses were good for more than just breeding.
She clipped a lead onto Tally’s halter and slowly led her down the ramp. The horse seemed grateful to be out of the confines of her traveling coach and pranced along beside her. Sunny attached her to the secure line and Tally bent down and began to nibble at the damp morning grass.
The sun was just above the horizon. Glancing over her shoulder, Sunny wondered how much time she’d have before Logan woke up. They had a long drive ahead of them, most of it a straight line through the desolate outback, but she found herself looking forward to the time on the road. She and Logan made good traveling companions.
She’d never thought much about the kind of man she wanted in her life. She’d pretty much enjoyed whatever sort wandered through. But spending time with Logan, Sunny realized there were certain qualities she needed to find in a long-term prospect.
A tiny smile curved her lips and she shook her head. She’d never been the kind of girl who thought about forever, especially when it came to men. But now, she realized she’d just never met a man who was so perfectly suited to her personality as Logan was.
He had a calming effect on her, a way of making her slow down and think before she reacted. And he didn’t tell her what she wanted to hear—he told her the truth. If she was acting like a brat, he called her a brat. He wouldn’t allow her to goad him into an argument, thus making it impossible to have the tempestuous type of relationship that she’d always sought in the past.
It was strange how her whole attitude had changed since she’d met him. After London, she was like a ship without a rudder, just circling aimlessly with no destination in mind. But now, she felt focused, completely aware of who she was and what she was doing. And she wanted to ride again.
Not just ride, she thought. Really train. Get her mind and her body into the right place to win. Immerse herself in the sport. She was never more comfortable than when she was in the saddle. But now, she realized she could be comfortable off the horse as well—with Logan.
She leaned against the wall of the trailer and closed her eyes. Though she was twenty-six years old, Sunny had never really felt like a woman. And now she did. Now she knew what she wanted from her life, and it wasn’t just cute boys and expensive things. She wanted a man who fed her soul, who made her laugh. A man who expected her to be a better person.
She drew a deep breath and shook her head. Though life on the road seemed to pass at a slow pace, Sunny felt as if she were on board a runaway train. Everything about her was changing inside and she couldn’t keep up. The problem was she didn’t want to keep up. She just wanted to let it all happen.
Opening her eyes, Sunny glanced around the interior of the trailer. Her gaze fell on the wire racks in the front that held feed and straw. Above that, she’d noticed an old saddle and bridle, and she grabbed them both, then searched for a saddle pad.
The pad was buried under a moldy duffel bag. She shook the straw off it, then walked out of the trailer into the new morning. “Look what I found,” she said, calling to the filly.
Tally perked her head up and slowly walked toward her. When Sunny reached her side, she set the saddle down and examined it carefully. The leather was dry and cracked and the fittings tarnished, but the cinch was still strong.
“You wanna go for a ride?” she asked. She smoothed the pad over the filly’s back then lifted the English saddle over the pad. “We’re going to have some fun, you and I.”
The bridle was in better condition than the saddle, but it needed adjustments before it fit the filly properly. Sunny worked at the buckles and snaps, and when she was satisfied, she unclipped Tally from the rope line and jumped up into the saddle.
Gathering the reins between her fingers, she softly clucked her tongue and touched her heels to the horse’s flanks. Tally immediately sprang into action with a quick walk.
Sunny had a very precise warm-up and she took her new mount through the paces, learning to read the horse’s reactions and adjusting her commands along the way. When they were both warmed up, she nudged the horse into a slow gallop and made a big circle around the campground lawn.
Tally was grateful for the freedom, and Sunny wished that she had an open field or a dirt track so she could give the filly her head and let her fly.
When they’d made two circles around the grassy area, she let the reins go slack, and Tally continued in the wide arc. Sunny let her hands drop to her side, then closed her eyes and tipped her head back.
The connection between them was so perfect. They moved together, like one being. Sunny held her arms out and smiled. She was a horse, running through an open field, the sun growing warm on her back, the air crisp in her nose, her mane flying out behind her.
She heard a whistle and felt the horse shift beneath her. Opening her eyes, she saw Logan standing in the doorway of the campervan. He watched her with a smile on his face and he waved to her.
She grabbed the reins and steered Tally toward the campervan, drawing her to a stop in front of Logan. “She’s wonderful.”
“You look wonderful on her,” he said.
She bent over the horse’s neck and hugged her. “Then sell her to me. I promise, I’ll take good care of her.”
Sunny saw the change in his expression, the shadow of regret that colored his reaction. “I can’t,” he said. “The deal is made. There’s nothing I can do.”
“I’ll make you a better deal,” she said. She could see how much Logan loved the filly. It just didn’t seem fair that he had been forced to sell her, especially to someone he didn’t know.
“I bet you will.”
She met his gaze, staring at him with a stubborn tilt to her head. “I’m not going to give up. By the time we get to Perth, she’s going to be mine. You won’t be able to say no.” With that, Sunny pulled the horse around and continued her circle of the lawn. “Can she jump?” she called.
“I never tried,” he said.
“Go inside and get a blanket, the white one.”
He did as she asked and she explained how to lay it out on the ground in a long, narrow rectangle.
“What are you going to do?”
“See if she’ll jump over it.”
“She’ll just run over it,” he said with a smile.
“Maybe, maybe not. Go grab a few of the cushions and put them on top of the blanket.” When the impromptu jump was constructed, Sunny brought the horse to a slow gallop again and, carefully controlling her speed, turned her toward the jump.
To her surprise, the filly didn’t rush or balk. She neatly leaped over the obstacle as if she’d been doing it her entire life. Sunny glanced over at Logan. “See.”
“That was beautiful.”
“She wants to jump. She’s meant to jump.”
“I’m going to walk over to the restaurant and get us some breakfast.” He turned to walk back inside.
“I’m not going to give up,” she called after him.
Sunny continued to ride until Logan left, then cooled the filly down and got her fed. The ride had left her sweaty, so she grabbed a towel and her cotton dress and headed for the showers.
It was going to be a long day on the road, and it felt good to work off a little excess energy before heading out. She ran her fingers through her hair then lathered it up with the shampoo that Logan had bought her.
When they got to Adelaide, they’d need to pick up the package that Lily had sent her. After that, she and Logan would be free to enjoy themselves, with an unlimited budget available for hotel rooms and decent meals. But Sunny knew she’d need to proceed carefully. Logan had his pride and he could be stubborn. He wasn’t going to appreciate her throwing her wealth around as if she thought nothing of it.
She stepped out of the shower and wrapped the towel around her wet hair, then pulled the dress over her damp skin. The thin fabric clung to her curves but she didn’t care. After brushing her teeth, she gathered her riding clothes and slipped into her shoes.
The few campers in the campground were still asleep as she headed back to the campervan. Tally walked up to her and nudged her hand, looking for a treat, but she gave the filly a pat on the nose and continued on.
The breakfast bags were sitting on the table when she stepped inside. But Logan was nowhere to be found. She opened a carton and grabbed a piece of bacon, nibbling on it as she went back to the door. She saw him coming across the lawn, his hair damp from the showers. He was bare chested, a towel draped around his neck.
She felt a warm rush of desire at the sight of him. He was such a beautiful man, long limbed and slender hipped, his broad chest burnished by the sun. He stopped to rub Tally’s nose, then continued toward her.
“I am ready to eat,” he announced.
“Me, too,” she said.
As he stepped into the campervan, he grabbed her waist and pulled her into a long, deep, electrifying kiss. Sunny moaned as she dropped her things on the floor and wrapped her arms around his neck. Logan gently tugged the towel from her hair and tossed it aside. His fingers tangled in the damp strands and he molded her mouth to his.
When he finally drew away, she was breathless, her heart beating at a frantic rate. Logan kissed the tip of her nose and then dropped one more kiss on her lips. “I think we better eat our breakfast and get on the road.”
She smoothed her palm down his chest and then lower, to the front of his jeans. She could feel the stiff ridge beneath the denim. “What are we going to do with this?” she asked.
“I’m sure that will go away on its own. Don’t worry. There are more where that came from.”
Sunny giggled then kissed him again. “Good. I’ll be counting on that.”
As Sunny finished unpacking the breakfast and spread it on the table, he wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. This was what it was between them, these easy, sweet mornings followed by wild, passionate nights. She could survive forever living a life like this, Sunny mused. Anywhere, as long as Logan was with her.
She drew a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. It seemed like a dream. But then, sometimes dreams did come true.
* * *
the entire day driving southwest on the narrow sealed road, a straight and seemingly endless line through the outback.
The towns were few and far between, sometimes more than a hundred kilometers between anything remotely civilized. Logan couldn’t imagine what the endless stretch would have been like without Sunny’s company. But between the music and the sound of her voice, the drive was bearable. No, it was actually enjoyable.
She made everything so much more fun. And he hadn’t had this much fun in his life for a long time. He hadn’t really thought it was important to laugh and be silly. From the time he was a child, he’d taken a serious approach to life. His father had moved from job to job, mostly finding work on sheep stations or cattle ranches in desolate areas of the outback.
All of this emptiness brought back old memories, those days that they’d travel, looking for work, wondering where the next meal would come from. His younger brother had suffered most. They’d both overheard the conversations, his father’s angry outbursts, his mother’s sobbing pleas. But Sam hadn’t been able to deal with the fear and uncertainty as Logan had.
“New game,” Sunny said, reaching over to touch his arm.
“No more memory games,” he said. “You beat me every time.”
“No. This is called What Were You Thinking?”
“Are we going to talk about selling Tally again?”
“No, I want to know what you were just thinking. And you have to answer me honestly. Complete and total honesty.”
Logan shook his head. He’d told her stories about his childhood and his family, but they’d been shined up and all the sad and pathetic details had been omitted. He shouldn’t have lied, but he’d never thought there’d be a time he’d want to tell the truth.
“I was just thinking about when me and my family would travel through the outback. Just recalling all those old feelings I had.”
“What kind of feelings?”
He paused, considering how to explain to her. “Dread,” he finally said. “Fear. Frustration.” He glanced over at her. Her expression had changed from lighthearted curiosity to concern. “It just wasn’t a good time in my life.”
“Tell me,” she said softly. “I really want to know.”
“My dad never had a good job. We moved from place to place while he looked for work, usually on sheep stations or cattle ranches. Sometimes they had a house for us. Usually it was more like a shack. And sometimes we lived in a tent.” He shook his head. “School was always a spotty thing. If we lived near a town, my little brother and I would go, usually dressed in the same clothes every day. But if we were out in the bush, my mom would teach us. I always liked that.”
“How did you learn about horses?”
“I worked a horse farm during my summers off from high school. I got a scholarship to a private boys’ school, but I couldn’t stay there in the summer and my folks didn’t need me around, so I worked. Learned everything I could about horses. Then I worked my way through university and took a job at a bank and started saving to buy my own place.” He chuckled softly. “And here I am with you.”
“What is your brother doing now?”