I squeezed my eyes tight, as if doing so somehow blocked out the truth. “That’s not what I’ve always wanted to do.”
“I don’t believe you,” he said. “And here’s why. You’ve been dancing since you could walk. You’re just here until you can start dancing again, right? The whole teaching shit is a backup plan just in case you can’t dance. It’s not what you really want to do. You already admitted that to me.”
My mouth opened and I planned on telling him he was wrong, but dear Lord that was not what came tumbling out of my mouth. “A year ago I didn’t think I’d be sitting here, enrolled in college. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. And you’re right. When Dr. Morgan tells me next month that I’m okay to start dancing in three months or whatever, that’s what I will do, because that’s what I loved to do. What’s so wrong with that? I won’t be here, where it feels like I don’t understand anything.”
Jase was quiet for a few moments. “Nothing is wrong with that.”
Feeling like I stripped bare and did a nak*d jig for no reason, I threw my hands up in frustration. “Then what’s the point of this conversation?”
He smiled and shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know. You started it.”
“I did not!”
Jase retorted, “Yes, you did. You asked me what I was planning on doing. I was just returning the favor.”
I rolled my eyes. “I want to hit you.”
“Even more now.” I shot him a look.
Slowing the Jeep down to turn onto a narrow road that looked vaguely familiar, he tilted his head to the side. A beat of silence passed. “Well, if you do end up being around here and deciding to stick with teaching, you’ll be wonderful at it. And if not, then that’s good, too. I know how much dancing means to you.”
I didn’t know what to say about that, but then I realized where we were. Sitting up straight, I peered at the sign dangling from the chain. “We’re at the farm?”
Sudden nervousness hummed through my veins. “Why?”
“It’s just something I thought about.” He winked, and I bit back a groan as my stomach flopped in response. “You’ll see.”
I turned wide eyes forward as we traveled up the bumpy, uneven road. Beyond the cornstalks and the field where the cows grazed, I saw what I figured Jase was thinking about.
A fissure of fear ran down my spine as I remembered our conversation about dancing and riding horses. “Oh no . . .”
Jase chuckled as he parked the Jeep in front of the barn. “You don’t even know what you’re saying no to.”
Pulse picking up, I rubbed my sweaty palms over my jeans and swallowed hard. The last thing I wanted was to die a horrific death in front of the boy I harbored major feels for. “Jase, I don’t know about this. Horses are big and I’ve never been on one. I’m probably going to fa—”
He placed the blunt tip of his finger on my lips. Surprise jolted through me. “Stop,” he said softly, his deep gray eyes locking on mine. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Okay? You’ve just got to trust me. And you trust me, right?”
Before I could respond, he moved his hand, smoothing the finger along my bottom lip. I shivered as his hand drifted over my chin and then disappeared.
Drawing in a short breath, I nodded, but I’d probably agree to play inside a wood chipper if he touched my lips again. “I trust you.”
“Good.” There was a flash of a quick smile and then he was out of the Jeep.
I tracked him with my eyes, feeling a little dizzy. It was the truth. I did trust him and that was a big deal for me. I really hadn’t trusted any guy since Jeremy, anyone except my brother.
But I had trusted Jase from the moment I had met him.
I wasn’t going to die today. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I climbed out into the sticky heat. Summer didn’t want to loosen its hold on this area at all.
My hands trembled as Jase joined me. Unfortunately, he tugged a white shirt on over his head, covering up the feast for my eyes. That was a damn shame, because if I was going to end up breaking my neck today, at least I would do so staring at his chest and abs.
The barn door creaked open, and an older man stepped out. Having never seen him before, I still knew right off the bat he was Jase’s father. It was like staring at Jase thirty years from now.
Hair the same rich, brown color, skin dark from either a life in the sun or long-forgotten ancestry, he was as tall and lean as his son. Steely gray eyes moved from Jase to me and then widened as they returned to his son.
He sat the metal bucket he was carrying down on the gravel as his dark brows furrowed. A small surprised smile appeared on his handsome face.
Jase grinned as he placed a hand on my lower back. “Hey, Dad, this is Teresa. She’s Cam’s sister.”
Recognition flared. “Cam’s little sister? Ah, the dancer.”
I felt my cheeks flush. How in the world did this man know that? And if that piece of background news had come from my brother, God only knew what else Cam had told him.
“That’s her,” Jase replied, moving the hand on my back up a notch.
“Hi,” I said, waving my hand as awkwardly as humanly possible.
His father’s smile spread as he strode toward us, his head cocked to the side in a mannerism that reminded me of Jase. “You cannot be related to Cam. There is no way a pretty girl like you shares DNA with that ugly mug.”
A surprised laugh broke free. I think I liked this guy.
“And there is also no way you’re here with this one.” He nodded his head at Jase, who frowned. “You must be lost.”
Okay. I really liked this guy. “You’re right. I don’t even know who this person is.”
Jase’s frown slipped into a scowl as he glanced down at me. “What the hell?”
His father winked, and in that moment, I realized that Jase got not only his looks, but also his personality from his father. “So what are ya’ll doin’ here?” He pulled a red handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his hands as he eyed his son. “Jack’s with your mom, down at Betty’s.”
“I know. He goes there every day after school.” Jase dropped his hand, and the spot along my back tingled. “I’m showing Tess the horses.”
Mr. Winstead eyed his son. “Well, I’m going to be out back if ya’ll need anything.”
“We’ll be fine, Dad.” Jase started to turn.
“Wasn’t tellin’ you.” He looked over at me, mischief in his eyes. “If this boy’s improper with you, you let me know and I’ll take care of him.”
“Oh God,” Jase groaned, rubbing a hand down his jaw. “She’s a friend, Dad.”
“Uh-huh.” His father backed up, picking up the bucket. “Friends with a pretty gal like that, then you’re doing something wrong, son.”
My smile reached my ears as I turned to Jase slowly.
“Don’t even think it,” he warned. He looked like he wanted to strangle his dad as he reached down, wrapping his hand around mine. “Come on, before I embarrass my father with a good ole-fashioned redneck thumping.”
His father chuckled as he gave our joined hands a pointed look. “Friends?”
“Dad.” Jase sighed.
I giggled as he tugged me toward the fence and his father disappeared back into the barn. “I like your dad.”
He snorted. “I’m sure you do.”
“He acted like you don’t bring . . . girls here a lot.”
“I don’t.” Stopping, he let go of my hand and faced me as he stepped over a small retaining wall. “Then again, you just met my dad, so I’m sure you can understand why.”
Part of me was flattered that he had brought me to his home, a place where no other girl had traveled. But I was his friend and the other girls probably weren’t that.
“Here,” he said, placing his hands on my h*ps and lifting me up over the wall like it was nothing to him. “There you go.”
“I could’ve done that,” I murmured.
He shrugged. “I know.” Taking my hand again, he carefully led me through the high grass, toward the edges of the split-rail fence. “Be careful. There’s a damn groundhog or a family of them living on this farm. Holes everywhere.”
“Okay.” I wasn’t thinking about farms or groundhogs. Focused on the weight and feel of his hand wrapped firmly around mine, I had little room in my mind to worry about holes in the ground.
He was quiet as he guided me toward the gate in the split rail. Letting go of my hand, he unhooked the lock. Hinges groaned as the metal gates swung open.
I hesitated. “I don’t know about this.”
An easy grin appeared as he swaggered up to where I stood. “Tess, come on. You said you trust me.”
Shifting my weight from foot to foot, I stared over his shoulder. At the other end of the large pen, two horses grazed, their black tails flicking idly. “I do trust you.”
“Then come with me.”
One of the horses, its coat a mixture of black and white, reared its massive head. It turned, angling its muzzle toward our side of the fence. Neither of the horses had saddles on.
“They’re not going to trample you to death.” He took my hand again. “And I don’t even expect you to get on one.”
My chin jerked up. “You don’t?”
He smiled slightly as he caught a piece of hair that blew across my face, tucking it back. “No. This is a horse meet and greet.”
“I’ve never done a horse meet and greet before.”
“You’re going to love them.” He pulled me forward, and my lips twitched. “They really are gentle. Jack’s been on them a million times, and if I thought they were dangerous, he wouldn’t be anywhere near them.”
That was a good point. “Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Let’s do this.”
He didn’t give me a chance to second-guess myself. Within seconds we were inside the pen. Another steel bucket sat on the ground, full of grain. “I’m going to call them over, okay? They’re going to come flying. It’s close to feeding time. So be ready.”
Throat tight, I nodded.
My fear seemed a little unreasonable up until Jase lifted two fingers to his perfectly formed mouth and let loose a high-pitched whistle. The horses’ heads jerked up and then they took off, their hooves pounding on the beaten earth, racing straight for us.
I took a step back, hitting an unmovable wall of muscle that was Jase and bouncing off. An arm wrapped around my waist from behind when I started to move away, keeping me firmly in place, his front pressed to my back.
“It’s okay.” His breath was warm against my ear, and I was torn between being freaked out over the dinosaurs heading our way and freaked out over the fact I was in Jase’s arms. “You’re doing great.”
I gripped his arm as I squeezed my eyes shut. My heart worked overtime, jumping around in my chest as the thunder of the hooves grew closer, shaking the ground. A sudden plume of dust filled the air and a warm, wet breeze caressed my face. I pressed back against Jase, straining away.
“You got a visitor, Tess.” He rested his chin atop my head, which caused my pulse to try to outrun my heart. “Two of them to be exact.”
There was a pause. “Are your eyes closed?”
His chin slid off my head and then his chest rumbled as he laughed. “Your eyes are closed.” He laughed again. “Open them up.”
Cursing under my breath, I pried one eye open and then jerked against him. His arm tightened. “Oh wow . . .”
The black-and-white horse was the closest, standing mere feet away from me. The brown one wasn’t too far, shaking its head and making soft snorts. My eyes were wide as they bounced between the two creatures. “They’re not carnivorous, right? Because at their size, they could eat me.”
Jase laughed deeply as his hand shifted up, resting in the center of my stomach, just below my br**sts. “Horses do not eat people, you little idiot.”
I started, eyes narrowing. “There’s always a first.”
The lips pulled back on the black-and-white horse as if it was smirking at me.
“This one right here? Mr. Friendly? Jack calls him Bubba One,” he said in a quiet, calming voice. But air hitched in my throat when his thumb moved in a slow circle over the thin material of my tank top, hitting against the wire in my bra. “And the brown one is Bubba Two.”
Mouth dry, I wetted my lips. “That’s good for remembering names.”