He’d hit a nerve. Or else just wounded her pride.
“I’m more concerned about head trauma. If your horse throws you—”
“I’m trained to fall the right way,” she reminded him.
“For a woman who is concerned about keeping her job, perhaps you should listen more and interrupt less,” he suggested mildly, even though she was beginning to get under his skin.
She pursed those full lips thoughtfully. Then her shoulders eased a bit. “You’re right. I’m nervous and defensive, and that isn’t going to help. What should I do first?”
He had to admire how fast she shifted gears.
“Hop on your mount and I’ll show you.” He watched as she placed a boot in the stirrup and swung her leg over. Smoothly. Easily.
He amended his earlier assessment of her skills. She had more in her background than a weekend at a dude ranch.
Quickly, he ran down what he wanted to see from her, starting with an explanation of what her hands were telling her horse. She practiced gripping the reins farther apart so she could feel the horse’s natural movement, allowing her to stay in sync with the animal. While the horse trotted around the track, Carson stepped out of the practice yard to check in with the two male riders in the arena. They looked better, but Carson wasn’t releasing them yet. He called over Nate—a ranch hand who’d been working closely with Brock and the quarter horses for more than a year—and tasked him with giving the riders a few more tips.
“Me? I’m no riding instructor.” The younger man scratched his head under his hat as he stared out at the arena, planting a dusty boot on the lowest fence rail. “I train horses, not people.”
“But if you had to give these guys a handful of tips to make sure they survive two weeks on horseback, what would you say?” Carson glanced back to check on Emma, who had slowed to a walk.
“I’d say I’d rather work the hot brunette.” Carson followed Nate’s gaze, and noted the appreciative grin pulling at his mouth as he watched Emma.
His protective instincts stirred, surprising him.
“Seniority has its privileges.” Though Carson didn’t plan on pursuing his attraction for the prickly stunt double, he needed to keep safe for two weeks, especially after seeing that vulnerable look in her eyes.
Then again, he wasn’t ready to walk away yet, either.
“You’re the boss,” Nate told him agreeably, turning his attention back to the stunt actors riding circles around the dirt track. “But the dude on the left rides too high in the saddle. Guess I could pull off his stirrups. Get him to work on his seat.”
Carson clapped Nate on the shoulders. “Good thinking. Whatever you can do. By the end of the week, they’re going to be racing and fighting on horseback, so I’d like to do whatever we can to keep them in one piece.”
Leaving Nate to take over with the men, Carson returned to the practice yard, his attention fully on Emma. The thought of her racing at breakneck speed in just a few days from now made him edgy. He didn’t want to tick off the stunt coordinator any more than he already had, and he had to get back to overseeing ranch operations, so he didn’t have time to interfere with the filming. But he wasn’t impressed with the level of safety he’d seen on set so far.
“Am I doing it wrong?” Emma called over to him as he neared her and Mariana. Her lean body swayed in the saddle. “You’re scowling.”
Of course he was. He wanted to drag her off her horse and see if those full lips were as soft as they looked when he kissed her. Instead, he was stuck teaching her how to stay on her horse before she broke her neck performing unwise stunts on his property. The thought of something happening to her only made him scowl more.
“Your hands are fine, but your seat is all wrong.” Had it been a mistake to work with her? To get involved when he had a multimillion-dollar ranching operation to oversee?
Heat crept up his back as he stared at her, an amused smile playing around her kissable mouth.
“My seat.” She forgot about her hand position and let the reins go slack as the horse halted beside him. “I didn’t know I could mess that up.”
He would have preferred crooning extravagant compliments in her ear about the tight curve of her ass, but that wasn’t going to help her stay upright during a race scene. Tightening his hold on his control, he reached to touch her left hand, nudging it higher.
“You need to be aware of your body at all times. Right now your hands are sending a bad message.”
Her eyes widened for a moment before she redirected her focus and moved her hands to the exact position he’d shown her ten minutes earlier. Away from his touch.
“Right. Like this.” Her cheeks pink, she stared down at Mariana’s head. “What else?”
He shouldn’t touch her again. Not when the point of contact from the first time still supercharged the air between them. He hadn’t gotten involved today because he wanted to hit on her, damn it. He was only trying to keep her from getting hurt.
“You’re sitting too far back in the seat.” His gaze veered to her hips as she edged forward. Saddle leather creaked. She used a hand on the pommel to inch along.
Making his throat dry as dust.
“Better?” she asked, her voice a quiet stroke to his ears.
He nodded. Then, forcing himself to finish the instruction since it was damned important, he touched the back of her thigh.
“Legs should be directly under you.” He let go almost instantly, backing up a step.
Still, the feel of her—lean muscle under those body-skimming jodhpurs—imprinted itself on his brain. He would be tracing a lot more of her in his dreams later.
“Is this better?” Her voice took on a husky note that he told himself must be from the dust in the air and not because the touch affected her as much as it had him.
“Looks good,” he managed. “Take a lap or two and see if you can maintain it.”
She rode off in a hurry and it was all he could do not take off his hat and use it as a fan.
He’d exchanged far more provocative talk—and touches—with willing strangers in bars that had left him cold. Why was this bristly, defensive stunt performer getting under his skin so fast?
The sooner he finished the riding lesson the better. He had a ranch to oversee, a family falling apart and a blackmailer to catch. Thoughts of Emma Layton would have to wait.
Four miles into her evening run, Emma regretted the decision not to take the cast shuttle back to her lodgings at White Canyon Ranch.
She’d been in a hurry to burn off the keyed-up awareness she’d felt all day working with Carson McNeill and thought maybe she could jog away that hypersensitive energy. Now, her thighs burned with a soreness that no workout had ever given her before. As a personal trainer strictly for female clients, she had plenty of thigh workouts in her personal inventory. In the future, she’d have to start recommending a day in the saddle to women who complained about their inner thighs.
Slowing to a walk on the grassy path alongside a fenced-in field between the Creek Spill lands and the guest ranch where second unit cast and crew members were staying, Emma checked her directions on the GPS. She’d asked one of the stable workers about the route she’d chosen, and he’d assured her the dirt road was good enough to drive on in a pickup truck. Running would be no problem. She’d thought she’d been well prepared, peeling off the jodhpurs and stuffing them in her nylon knapsack along with