He grinned at the memory and she glimpsed a flash of strong white teeth in his brown, too-handsome face. ‘We had some good fun. I used to want to be like those guys over there,’ he went on, nodding to where the stockmen taking part in the rodeo were sitting on the rails looking for all the world like extras in a classic Western. ‘I told my parents I wanted to be a rodeo rider when I left school.’
Lucy stared at him. ‘A rodeo rider?’ His shirt was dazzlingly white in the glare, and she could see the riders on the rails reflected in his sunglasses. There was a sheen to him, she thought, a kind of glamour that belonged on a yacht in St Tropez or skiing off piste in Gstaad, not here at a ramshackle local rodeo with bull-riding and steer-wrestling and greasy pigs. ‘You?’
Still leaning on the rail, Guy glanced up at her with another of those film-star smiles. ‘Funny, that’s exactly what my father said—and he said it in just that tone of voice too!’
Lucy wished he would stop smiling like that. It was too much. He was too much. Too vibrant. Too good-looking. Too charming. Too everything. She looked away, annoyed to find that the smile seemed to have been imprinted on her vision so that it was just as vivid even when she wasn’t looking at him.
‘What did your mother say?’
‘She told me not to be so silly.’
His imitation of his mother’s crisp tones was no doubt wickedly accurate and, in spite of her determination not to find him the slightest bit amusing, Lucy was betrayed into a laugh, which she tried to cover by adjusting the old stockman’s hat on her head. She had borrowed it that morning and it was a little big, but it made her feel authentic, unlike Guy Dangerfield, smile or no smile. He might have a closer connection to the outback than she did, but at least she tried to fit in. He just stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.
‘I’m surprised you’re not having a go today if you were that keen,’ she said.
‘I know better now,’ said Guy. ‘I leave the hard stuff to the experts like Prince Charming over there.’
He nodded across the ring to where Kevin was sitting on the rails, looking quietly confident as another wild horse pawed the ground in the chute, impatient for release into the ring. ‘You need to be tough to take on bareback bronc riding.’
‘I know,’ said Lucy, deciding to ignore the Prince Charming jibe. ‘Kevin says it’s the supreme rodeo challenge,’ she was unable to resist adding. She was at that stage of infatuation when just saying Kevin’s name was a thrill.
‘Kevin said something?’ Guy straightened from the rail in mock astonishment. ‘When? I didn’t know he could talk!’
‘Very funny,’ said Lucy coldly.
‘You’ve got to admit that he’s not exactly chatty,’ he said. ‘I’ve hardly heard him say a word at meals since I arrived. I mean, we all know about strong silent types, but that’s ridiculous!’
‘There’s nothing ridiculous about Kevin,’ Lucy flared up. ‘He just doesn’t say anything unless it’s worth saying. It’s one of the things that makes him a real man—unlike some,’ she added pointedly.
Guy leant back against the fence and folded his arms, but Lucy was sure that behind those stupid sunglasses, his eyes were dancing.
‘So you think a real man incapable of making conversation?’
‘No, he just doesn’t waste his time spouting stupid rubbish—like giving people silly nicknames, for instance!’
‘Cinders, are you by any chance implying that you don’t think I am a real man?’ Guy tsk-tsked. ‘I’m hurt!’
If Lucy had believed for a moment that he had been really offended she would have been embarrassed, but, as it was, she just lifted her chin at him.
‘You’re not like Kevin,’ she said.
‘Apart from the fact that I can string more than three words together at a time, what’s the real difference between us?’
‘Kevin’s tough,’ said Lucy. ‘He’s steady, he’s sensible and he works hard.’ Belatedly, she realised that she hadn’t made him sound much fun, and she waited for Guy to point it out, but he only grinned.
‘How do you know you couldn’t say the same thing about me?’
She eyed him with frustration. Surely he must know how frivolous and superficial he appeared next to someone like Kevin? ‘You don’t seem to take anything very seriously,’ she said at last. ‘Do you even have a job?’
‘Of course I do!’ He pretended to sound affronted. ‘I’m in investment banking.’
‘Oh…banking,’ said Lucy disparagingly. ‘That’s not a real job.’
‘Hey, it’s not all late lunches and corporate jollies, you know!’
‘How did you get into banking?’
Guy smiled crookedly. ‘I have to admit that it’s a family firm.’
Just as she’d thought. No doubt he’d been given a token job with a plush office to sit in while everyone else did all the work, Lucy decided. He probably rolled up at ten and spent most of the day at lunch catching up with pals on the old boys’ network.
‘I don’t think you can compare working in a bank with what Kevin does,’ she said, determinedly unimpressed. ‘You don’t need the same kind of skills.’
‘Maybe,’ said Guy, ‘but what can Kevin do that I can’t?’
‘Well…he’s a brilliant horseman.’ Lucy had never, in fact, seen Kevin on a horse. As Guy had pointed out, she was usually in the kitchen when the stockmen were at work, but she had heard them talking about how good Kevin was often enough.
‘I can ride.’
‘I don’t mean English riding.’
‘English riding?’ Guy raised his brows, a smile hovering around his mouth, and she gestured irritably.
‘You know what I mean. Just sitting on the back of the horse and pottering along a country lane. I’m talking about real horsemanship—working with the horse, being able to control it absolutely the way Kevin can. Taming a wild horse, or bringing down a cow without hurting it…all the things he does every day.’
‘I admit I don’t spend a lot of time on horseback in the bank, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be a stockman if I wanted. Could Kevin run an investment bank, do you think?’
Lucy looked at him suspiciously. ‘Are you really telling me that you can ride like Kevin?’
‘I’m not saying I’m any good, I’m just saying that I could be a real man if I wanted to.’
As usual, his face was poker straight, but his voice held that undercurrent of amusement that so riled Lucy. She didn’t believe a word of it. He was just teasing her, probably miffed because she thought that Kevin was more of a man.
Lucy’s chin went up. She had had enough of being teased by Guy over the last few days. ‘Prove it,’ she said.
‘Prove that I can ride?’ Guy rubbed his jaw, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. ‘Short of throwing myself on to a spare horse, I’m not sure how I can do that.’
‘We’re at a rodeo,’ she pointed out sweetly. ‘There are plenty of horses back there.’ She nodded in the direction of the holding pens behind the makeshift arena. ‘You could take part in one of the competitions.’
‘Have you seen those horses?’ Guy made a comic face. ‘Half of them are completely wild!’
Lucy shrugged. ‘You said you could ride,’ she reminded him.
‘Well, there’s riding and riding, if you know what I mean.’
‘You’re the one who said you could ride like Kevin. I don’t think it would be easy, but a