Jim settled into the brushed leather of his ranching saddle. The saddle had a deep seat and the fenders turned the stirrups out perfectly. He was as comfortable here as most men were in a recliner in front of the television. He tried to keep his mind off Sarah's emerald eyes. No luck.
Focus on something else.
The deep indigos and golden streaks had faded from the sky, the sun now sat high enough over the white mountain peaks to start warming the air. A clear sky promised a peaceful day. It would be nice to spend the day--
A streak of color blurred past him. Ciervo lurched underneath him. Jim cursed under his breath, trying to steady his spooked mount. Up ahead he saw clods of soft earth flying up from behind galloping hooves. Panic set in.
Jim squeezed his legs as he leaned into the saddle and lowered his head. Ciervo dipped his haunches and rocketed forward. Within a stride his horse extended to a full gallop, his hooves barely hitting the ground. In mere seconds, they were gaining on the other horse. A sorrel.
Jim flung the reins around his body. The leather ends popped into Ciervo's thick hindquarters. The horse lowered his head and surged. Amazingly, the powerful buckskin found another gear. Jim's hat flew off, the leather strap catching hard against his neck. The wind buffeted his face. He squinted his eyes, leaned forward in the saddle, and gripped the reins with both hands. His body was now moving in rhythm with the horsepower beneath him.
Ciervo heaved in massive amounts of air. Pounding hooves and the horse's deep snorting breaths drowned the startled cries behind them. Ciervo's tail whipped through the air. Jim urged him on. Ten more feet. Five. He came even with the sorrel and reached for the reins, his fingers barely grazing the leather. He leaned further and Ciervo followed Jim's lead, nearly brushing against the other horse as the two animals raced across the valley. He reached out again and finally grabbed the runaway horse's rein.
"Hang on." Jim shouted above the deafening thunder of pounding hooves.
In one fluid motion, he planted his feet in the stirrups, rocked back in the saddle, and jerked Sarah's left rein down to his thigh. Sassy's head jerked, her neck curving until her muzzle met her shoulder. The mare's front feet planted into the soft earth, her massive weight tearing loose the grass underneath. As Sarah crashed into the saddle horn, a whoosh of air escaped her lips. Ciervo lowered his haunches and buried down to his hocks in the dirt. They came jerking to a halt. For a second no one moved. Jim let out his breath.
He looked at Sarah. She bent over the saddle horn, gasping for air. Her face splotchy red. When she caught her breath, she glared at him, her eyes nearly shooting daggers.
"What do you think you're doing? Are you crazy?" Sarah yelled at him and snatched her rein from his hand. Jim's jaw dropped. He could only stare at her. He'd just risked his life to save hers and she yelled at him? His fingers tightened on his reins, clenching into tight fists.
He knew it. Nothing but trouble.