I nodded and looked down at my hands. “I know how that feels.”
I felt his gaze on me. “You don’t like your job?”
“No, not really.”
“What would you like to do, instead?” His voice sounded genuinely interested.
“Train horses and set up a stable for rescue horses.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw his head snap. “What? Are you serious?”
I chuckled and looked directly into those baby blues of his. We were at a stop sign and he stared at me, in no hurry to keep driving. “What, you don’t think I know enough about horses?”
“That’s not it at all. I knew from the way you handled the horse the other day that you knew exactly what you were doing. How long have you been around horses?”
The smile on my face couldn’t be helped.
“For as long as I can remember. After my mother died, my father didn’t know what to do with me because I all but stopped talking. A therapist suggested horses. From the moment I walked into that barn, I felt a peace that I couldn’t explain. Even as little as I was, I knew I was safe. Happy. Being with the horses helped me forget for a little awhile. I guess it’s always been my escape, and there were plenty of moments in my life growing up that I needed an escape.”
My voice trailed off and Tanner took my hand in his as he started to drive again. The way his fingers seamlessly intertwined with mine felt so right. I didn’t even bother to pull it away, even though that tiny voice in my head told me to. The contact made me feel…content.
“I’m sorry you had those moments in your life, Timber. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like.”
A sense of warmth rushed through my body as I stole a glance at Tanner. I knew with all my heart he meant every word he said. I looked back out the window and let my mind wander. All the times I tried to explain to my father why I spent so much time at the stables, he had never let a word of it sink in. Or at least that was how it had seemed.
I shook the thought away.
“You seem to enjoy being around horses as well,” I said.
Tanner smiled. “I love it. Always have. I’m pretty sure my mom had all of us boys on a horse before we were even able to sit up on our own.”
We both laughed.
“Horses really do make you happy, don’t they?”
He nodded and smiled again. I could stare at him all day when he smiled like that. So carefree and beautiful. And that dimple. Lord, that dimple.
“Yeah. Her folks raised and trained horses mostly for barrel racing. My mama won her fair share of buckles herself.”
My grin widened on my face. “I can totally see that.”
“Yeah, she did it all through high school and college. Probably could have taken it as far as she wanted to, but she longed to be a rancher’s wife.”
“Did your father rope or bull ride?”
Tanner pulled into a parking spot in front of a store on Main Street. “He did both. Gave it all up, though, to run the ranch. That was his one and only dream—to be a rancher like his daddy and his granddaddy before that. He always said the other stuff was just for fun, but it somehow got passed down to his three sons.”
After Tanner shut off the Jeep, we both got out and met at the front of it. “Did your father’s dad pressure him to be on the ranch working?” I asked.
Tanner gazed down at me. “Nah, not at all. He was my granddad’s only living son. He lost his older son in a car accident.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“I didn’t know him, and I don’t think my father really did either. Dad was an…accident. His older brother was gone and out of the house after dad came along.”
I nodded. “Oh, I see.”
We walked slowly down the sidewalk. It was covered with a light dusting of snow, and the streetlights dotted here and there were decorated in Christmas decorations of silver and red. Strings of holiday lights ran from one side of the road to the other. It almost felt like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie, it was so beautiful.
“Whoever decorates does a beautiful job of it,” I said as we walked.
“They do a great job with each holiday. When I was a kid, one of my favorite things ever was the July Fourth parade. Now I get to watch Blayze and Morgan experience all the things we got to when we were little.”
Even though it was freezing outside, my body warmed as I listened to Tanner speak of his niece and nephew. “They both seem to adore you.”
He grinned. “I love those two. It’s hard to be away from them so much and see how much they’ve grown when I come back home.”
I focused straight ahead as we walked along the sidewalks of Hamilton. It really was such a charming town. A part of me hoped that Tanner would take my hand again, especially since I had purposely not worn my gloves since I knew we would be walking in and out of stores.
Ugh. I needed to stop thinking about him like that.
“I’m sure that must be the hardest thing,” I said. “You said your grandfather left it up to your dad to work the ranch, though. What about you three boys? Has your father done the same with y’all?”
He nodded. “Yeah, he’s let us pursue our own dreams. Obviously, Brock and Ty are helping to run the ranch now, but I’m pretty sure if Ty hadn’t gotten hurt, or Brock hadn’t met Lincoln, they’d still be bull riding for a few more years.”
Tanner stopped in front of a home décor store and looked up at the sign. It was clear his mind was drifting somewhere else.
“What about you, Tanner? When will you work on the ranch? What’s your dream besides roping?”
He simply smiled and then motioned for me to walk into the store without answering my question.
Six stores later and I had a plethora of bags in my arms. It appeared that Timberlynn also had some more shopping of her own to do.
“I hate shopping,” I grumbled as we walked into the seventh store.
With a light pat on my chest, Timberlynn winked at me. “It was your idea. I saw a scarf in here earlier with Lincoln and Kaylee that I think your mother would love!”
“From me or you? You’ve already bought her three things to my one.”
She giggled, and a shock of lust raced through my body at the simple sound of it. The more time I spent getting to know Timberlynn, the more I fell for her. And the more I ached to be inside her. I had never been so attracted to a woman before. Why in the hell that didn’t spook me was something I didn’t understand, but also something I didn’t care to worry much about.
“This present is from you,” Timberlynn said. “I think your mom will love it.”
“Why does she need another scarf? She probably has fifty of them.”
“Not that kind of scarf, Tanner. This kind. It’s silk and stunning!”
I frowned as I looked down at the dainty, light-blue scarf. “You think she’ll like it?”
Timberlynn nodded. “Trust me. Timberlynn is wise. Timberlynn knows all.”
She smiled, and my knees trembled. I decided to finally say what I was thinking.
“Does Timberlynn have any idea how much I want to kiss her right now?” The words flowed out of my mouth effortlessly.
Her cheeks went pink with a light flush, and I fucking loved it. “You are a shameful flirt, Tanner Shaw.”
“I don’t disagree with you, but I did mean it. I want to kiss you.”
Timberlynn bit into her lower lip and then shook her head shyly before she turned and headed across the store to look at something else. I released the breath I was holding and looked around. As soon as I did, I groaned. Lindsey Johnson stood near the counter with two of her friends. One look at me and she seemed to come to life. She started my way, and I couldn’t help but glance over at Timberlynn. When I looked back at the approaching Lindsey, I saw that she had caught my quick glance. She frowned, her brows pulling slightly, but then quickly wiped the expression from her face. When our eyes met, she smiled widely.
“Fancy meeting you here, cowboy. Wasn’t thinking you would be back into town for another few days.”
I took a step back from her, crossing my arms over my chest. The last thing I wanted was to give her any wrong impressions. “Well, I’m back. Chance and I decided to take a longer holiday break this year.”
“That’s great. I haven’t seen either of you in town, though…been hiding?”
“Something like that,” I replied. Even I heard how clipped my voice was.
She forced a smile. “There’s a party tonight at the Blue Moose.”