He gave me a searching glance, studying me as if I were a new species of night creature, fascinating and grotesque.
I wiped at the blood running from my nose and instantly regretted it. A bolt of pain shot through my head at the contact.
"Tilt your head back," the man ordered. He immediately pushed his fingers through my hair and guided my head back, cradling my neck. "It doesn't look broken," he told me. I could feel his breath on my face. His low, gravelly voice sunk into the pit of my stomach.
"Who the fuck are you?" I mumbled, adrenaline still coursing through me. I pulled away, still pissed the man had broken up our fight.
The man let go of me and took a step back. I'd managed to get blood all over his white shirt, but that was his fault--who wears white to a horse barn?
The corner of his mouth rose slightly. "Estevan."
He didn't bother to use his last name or explain he was the trainer. He just assumed I would know him.
Which of course, I did. To say "I've heard of you" would have been an understatement. This was the man the riders at the barn were gaga over. Their Olympic champion. The star of every horse-training video in Brazil, the man who graced the cover of February's Dressage Today. But I had just been punched in the nose and was feeling like a bit of an asshole.
He frowned. I could see why the women admired him. He was gorgeous. I never imagined myself falling for the dark-skinned, exotic type, but his tousled black hair and powerful thighs tucked in tight breeches were making me feel nonconsensually attracted. He had beautiful, golden brown eyes, but the beauty was hardened with sharp cheekbones and a small white scar across his eyebrow.
"I was Beth Clark's trainer," he said. "She was a remarkable woman."
He looked like he meant it, so I relented. "Paul King."
"Beth's nephew, yes? I've heard about you." What had he heard? There was a sarcastic smirk on his mouth, which suggested what he'd been told was unflattering.
"What happened?" He fell in step with me. His strides were graceful, athletic, and he made me feel clumsy, clutching a busted nose and with a back that felt like someone had just kicked it. Which, come to think of it, someone had.
"Collin tried to break into my office." I walked up the steps to the clubhouse. "What are you doing here so late? It's nine o'clock."
Estevan cocked his head toward the barn. "Cosmo's left hock was swollen before I left for my tour, and I wanted to check on him as soon as I had a free moment."
"I didn't see another car in the driveway."
"I rode my Ducati."
It took me a second to translate "Ducati" into "extremely expensive motorcycle". I was tempted to go look at his bike, but the blood drying on my face reminded me of the pressing task at hand.
I stumbled on the porch step and Estevan reached out to steady me. "Why would he be breaking and entering?"
"I had the locks on the office changed when I took over," I told him. "Maybe he wanted to steal something, or break my computer. Who knows? The guy is trying to sabotage the barn." I leaned the broken screen window against the side of the building.
Estevan opened the door to the clubhouse for me. "If he starts stealing from boarders, they're going to leave."
"I know." I beelined for the bathroom. "I'll get a restraining order to keep him off the property." Estevan followed me inside.
As I rinsed my face, I wished he wasn't there, because I nearly whimpered from the pain and couldn't since he loomed in the doorway.
"Are you back in town for the season?" I blotted my face with a towel and bit back a curse at the pain.
When I looked up, Estevan was studying me again, in that way that suggested either he was checking me out or sizing me up for a punch. I'd had enough punches for one evening, so I let myself momentarily fantasize that it was the former.
"Yes," he said, his eyes settling on mine. He didn't smile, but he looked at me intently. "I've got a lot of training to catch up with."
"Well, it'll be good to have another man around the place."
The corner of his mouth quirked up slightly. "I like being surrounded by so many women."
"I'm sure you do," I mumbled, heading to the office. The window was scratched from where Collin had pried loose the screen, but nothing else had been disturbed. The office was small, only a desk, several file cabinets, and a large bulletin board. But in the corner I had stuffed all my clothes, since the loft up the narrow stairs was too small to fit anything other than a bed.
I found my last clean T-shirt, and realized I needed to stop at a Laundromat. And apparently buy surveillance equipment. Not to mention go grocery shopping, which I hadn't done in a week. I'd never lived a lifestyle where food purchase, preparation and consumption wasn't something integral and enjoyable, but here I found I had no time to eat, let alone cook.
As I changed Estevan watched me carefully from the doorway, as if any moment I might burst into flame.
"I think you should have your nose checked out," he advised.
I shook my head. "The last thing I need is a medical bill a week before we run out of shavings."
He didn't dispute my logic. Like my weekend helper, Leah, even I was now pricing priorities in horseconomics.
"Then how about a beer?" Estevan asked, eyebrow rising. "I'll buy."
I nearly made a snide remark saying he'd better, considering he made three times off the boarders what I did. But he gave me another confusing look, and I began to suspect this was a pickup. If so, I didn't want to ruin it. It had been months since I'd done anything with anybody, and the idea of getting laid by this strong, handsome stranger sounded like the perfect ending to what had otherwise been a shitty day.
I smiled. "All right."
"Good. You drive, I'll change." He turned away and walked out of the clubhouse.