Seduction And The CEO - Page 12

“No, they won’t.” She wasn’t flirting anywhere near that seriously.

Jared grunted his disbelief.

The man was an alarmist. But he didn’t have the worst idea in the world.

Instead of arguing with him, she sidled forward, tucking her hair behind her ears and lowering her voice to a sultry level. “So how far do you think I’ll have to go?”

He brows quirked up. “You’re flirting with me?”

She leaned in. “Is it working?”

He shifted, letting his crooked hip and cocked head transmit his indolence. “All depends on what you’re after.”

What she wanted was the story of his life. And she was definitely prepared to bat her eyes a little to get it. “An exemption from riding your horse,” she said, instead. “He’s scary. Where’d you get him?”

“He’s a direct descendent of Renegade.”

Melissa tilted her head and widened her eyes, letting the silence go on for a moment.

“My great-great-grandfather’s stallion,” said Jared. “The pair of them settled this valley back in 1883.”

“I thought your grandparents built the original house.” She’d seen the impressive structure when she first arrived this morning.

“The house, yes.” He nodded downriver. “The original cabin’s been abandoned for decades.”

“So you’re the fifth Ryder generation to live here?” Her article wasn’t going to focus on the family history, but Melissa found herself fascinated by the thought of such deep roots.

“I’m the fifth,” said Jared. “Tango’s somewhere in the twenties.”

“You’ve kept records?”

“Of course we’ve kept records.” His tone told her she should have known that.

To cover the blunder, she turned and started walking down the rutted driveway, continuing her way toward the Windy River and the little white cottage she’d been assigned this morning. “How many horses do you have now?”

Jared fell into step beside her. “Several hundred. Several thousand head of cattle.”

“Is the ranch still profitable?”

He hesitated, and she could feel him looking down at her. “Why do you ask?”

She kept her focus on the quarter moon riding above the silhouetted mountain range across the river. “You went into construction.”

“How did you know that?”

“I heard people talk. Around the ranch.”


“No,” she quickly denied. “Just chitchat. You’re here. You’re usually in Chicago. People commented on it over lunch.” Truth was, Melissa had carefully orchestrated the conversation that had revealed that information and more, but there was no need to mention that to Jared.

“You seem to know a lot about me.”

She dared to look up at him. “You’re the boss. People naturally care about what you do.”

“They shouldn’t.”

She couldn’t help but smile at that. “Maybe not. But that’s not the way life works.”

“It’s gossip,” he stated. “Plain and simple.”

“It’s curiosity,” she corrected. “And it’s interest. And respect.”

He ground out an inarticulate sound.

“You can’t make millions of dollars and hope to stay under the radar,” she told him.

“How do you know I make millions of dollars?”

“How many acres you got here?” “Five thousand.”

“I rest my case.”

“Most cattle ranches lose money these days.”

“Most construction companies make money these days.”

Jared didn’t answer. They came up on the short bridge over the froth of a narrow spot in the river. A dirt driveway jutted off to the south, winding through a grass-and-wildflower carpet dotted with aspen and oak trees, which fronted the staff cabins. It looked exactly like the picture on the ranch Web site. This morning it had taken Melissa’s breath away.

“Which is yours?” Jared asked, nodding to the neat row of white cottages.

“Number six.”

“I’ll walk you down.” He turned on the driveway, and Melissa was struck by how easily he fit into the surroundings. He had a smooth, rolling, loose-limbed stride, and his booted feet never faltered on the uneven ground. A few lights burned behind curtained windows.

“Very gentlemanly of you.” She hoped to keep him talking as long as possible.

“Wouldn’t want you to run into a cougar.” He seemed to be teasing, but it was hard to tell.

She decided to assume the ranch staff weren’t in mortal danger this close to the buildings. “I’m more afraid of rogue cattle,” she returned.