Second Excerpt (See 1st for blurb!)
Bobby lifted Fiona to the seat and stepped back. She flicked the reins and clucked to the little mule. Off they went at a brisk trot. That left Bobby standing with Doyle and no one else nearby. Liam was off seeing to some other matter, and the rest of the grooms and stablemen were down at the main barn with the horses.
An itchy, shivery awareness swept over him, and he felt Doyle’s gaze, as forceful as a touch. Very slowly, he turned to face the taller man, resisting the urge to take a step or two closer—close enough for an actual touch.
At that point, Doyle shifted his gaze to follow Fiona’s progress down the lane toward the big barn, then around the nearer end of the training track. Two of the stablemen trotted past her, a couple of lengths away, and went into the track area with a pair of the tall thoroughbreds. The horses looked aside at the little mule but moved on obediently when their riders urged them. Fiona paused until they had entered the track, then turned Powwow back the way she had come.
For a breath, Doyle relaxed. Almost as if to himself, he murmured, “Good. She’s being sensible and careful. Thank the saints for that.”
Bobby felt some of the same relief, but any ease vanished as Doyle again turned his way. The man’s smile held something almost predatory. It was a look Bobby had never seen before. He opened his mouth, but no words came.
Doyle took a step closer, a half-step more. They were no longer even an arm’s length apart. “We need to talk,” he said, “privately. The best time would be when Fiona goes back to the house for her lessons in about an hour. You don’t have any urgent tasks, do you?”
“N-n-no. I was thinking of putting a pad and maybe the light saddle on Powwow while she’s a bit tired, but that could wait. I wanted to do it the first time without Fiona around, just in case there were any problems. This little mule doesn’t need the cowboy treatments Orr and Jase sometimes use, but I won’t let her act out, either.”
Doyle nodded. “Understood. Perhaps you can do that tomorrow. I’ve set today aside for getting everything on track here. I must make a trip to London shortly, so I need to be sure all is in place, worked out to function smoothly even when I’m not around.”
Again, his tone and the blaze of his eyes spoke of much more than simply the mule’s progress and Fiona’s involvement.
Bobby struggled to frame a suitable reply. “Yes, sure. Whatever you need or want to do…I mean, I’m here for that reason, too.”
Fiona approached then, checked Powwow, and looked at her uncle. “I know I have school time today, but can I make one more circle? Please?”
He made a production of looking at his watch. “I suppose so, one more only. Then it’s up to the classroom with you.”
* * * *
Doyle stood by while Bobby removed Powwow’s harness, brushed her down once more, then put her back in the paddock. When the young mule man went into the barn to put away the gear, he followed close behind. Sometime during the restless night, he had reached a sudden decision. He had to scratch this itch at least once before he could settle his mind on anything else. There was no other way to deal with it.
Bobby put everything away neatly, carefully, almost as if he didn’t realize Doyle was right behind him. Perhaps he really didn’t, for when he turned around, almost crashing into Doyle, he jumped, eyes going wide and color rising, then fading from his face.
“Er—unh—you wanted to talk to me?”
“Not really. I wanted to do this.” Doyle caught Bobby by the upper arms and dragged him forward the last few inches until they came together. He lifted one hand to tangle in Bobby’s thick dark hair, then pulled back his head to turn up his face. Bobby’s mouth was still open in shock when Doyle covered it with his own. He took full advantage of the opportunity and thrust in his tongue, dueling with the younger man’s in a match almost violent in its urgency.