He was a whole lot less confident that Angel, who liked older women, could resist hers. “I’m more concerned that your self-defense classes are only so good.”
“You mean because I didn’t take you down when you snuck up behind me just now?” she asked. “It wasn’t exactly a dark alley situation.”
Her smile knocked his thoughts out of whack. “I didn’t sneak up on you.” Not on purpose, although it depended on one’s perspective, he supposed. He pulled his brain back into its rightful position. “For what it’s worth, you’d be better off avoiding dark alley situations altogether. You don’t exactly have the instincts of a Georges St-Pierre.”
The next thing he knew he was on his back on the ground, looking up at the sky, as the first drops of rain spit in his face. A sharp rock ground its way under his left shoulder blade.
Elizabeth leaned over him, her hands on her thighs. “Sure I do. All I require is the right motivation.”
“Happy to be of service.” He’d set himself up for that so it was hard to be mad. Not at her, anyway.
He got up, dusted dirt and gravel off the seat of his jeans, then took a quick look around. Angel and Tyce were still in the stable. The other boys had gone to the cookhouse for breakfast. Most of the hands were out in the pastures. The yard was a ghost town. No one had witnessed the tiny powder keg flipping him onto his ass. He’d love to get her into a gym where there’d be no risk of real harm. She wouldn’t stand a chance. He rubbed the sore spot on his shoulder. Not much of one, anyway.
Slim fingertips scored the flesh on his wrist. Anxious amber eyes sought out his. “Did I hurt you?”
“I think I’ve lost the use of my arm.” He let it hang limp at his side for added effect.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be such a baby.”
So much for compassion. “Please. Don’t hold back. Tell me what you really think of me.”
A dimple in one cheek flashed in and out of existence. “It might be best if I don’t.”
“That hasn’t stopped you so far.” She’d had no trouble vocalizing any of her opinions to date. If she cared that he was her boss, no one would be able to tell. She certainly didn’t offer him much respect.
Yet, while she frustrated him—he liked getting things done and her constant questions and insistence on rules slowed everything down—she was the only person other than Dan and Dallas who challenged him directly anymore.
He didn’t like to be challenged. Neither, however, did he like to be bored. She wasn’t boring—he’d give her that. To make things more interesting, she was exceptionally pretty in the coveralls and those Barbie doll-sized rubber boots. He wished he’d ordered them in pink so he could find out her opinion.
An urge to kiss her struck hard. An itch to run a thumb across her cheek to find out if her skin was as soft as it looked followed hot on its heels. He leaned forward a fraction. There was no one around. No one would know if he kissed her. He had a hunch she might not object, even though the power dynamics between them were skewed in his favor.
But it baffled him somewhat to find he was attracted to her. He usually preferred a sure thing—someone easy to bed and easy to shed—who had no expectations of any long-term or permanent commitments, because he had no intentions of extending his gene pool. Ever. He’d been turned down for a vasectomy by three different specialists so far, due to his age, but as soon as he hit thirty-five, he wasn’t taking no for an answer. It was one of the few ways for him to get back at Giaco, who’d tried hard to convince him to return to Chicago as his legally adopted heir so the family name could live on.
Ryan didn’t have a real name of his own anymore, thanks to the Jackal, so he’d felt no need to oblige him. He’d once been Giaco Cienetti Tosaro, but that boy had died along with his father. He was a liar and a reformed thief. He could be a harsh businessman when left unchecked. He didn’t have anything to offer any offspring that they could be proud of, in fact. Money was about all he had going for him, and even that wasn’t a real attraction when one knew its source.
He had no idea what Elizabeth’s expectations of a man might be, although he suspected they’d be high. It might be best for him to back off, at least until her probationary period was over. He couldn’t very well tell her she wasn’t right for the job after he’d kissed her—he didn’t doubt for one minute that she’d take legal action against him if he tried. She had tons of spirit packed into that tiny frame. He admired that about her.
The pattering raindrops increased their tempo. Any second now, the sky would bust open. He straightened. The urge to kiss her wasn’t gone, but it was under control.
“Go on and have breakfast before you get wet,” he said. “I’ve got something to take care of in my office.”