Melissa started walking, and Tango fell in easily beside her. Her face was pinched and pale, and there was clear tension across her slim shoulders as she made her way toward the ranch road, but at least she was making the effort.
A couple of Stephanie’s border collies streaked toward them, obviously assuming there was work to be done. Melissa tensed, and Jared put an arm around her. “They won’t hurt you.”
“They look…friendly.” But her voice was slightly higher pitched than normal. “Will they scare Tango?” “Tango’s bomb-proof.”
The dogs circled the small group a couple of times, then settled in back of Tango’s heels, obviously up for whatever the job might be.
Melissa led the horse in silence down the slight slope of the dirt road, curving east toward the river and a row of horse pens. Stephanie was teaching a junior jumping class in the main arena behind them. The Ryder farrier was working on a yearling with the help of two cowboys who were trying to teach the twitchy colt the proper etiquette for hoof care. Meanwhile, stable hands moved hay, filled water troughs and repaired fences.
There was an endless cycle of work on a horse ranch. When he was in the city, Jared missed the predictable rhythm. In his corporate life, he was putting out one fire after another. He couldn’t plan a single day, never mind a season.
“Did you come to an agreement about Tappee?” she asked as they approached the red-gated pen.
Jared shook his head, increasing his pace to unlatch the gate in front of the horse. “Stephanie voted with me, but Otto sided with Anthony.”
Her forehead furrowed as she cautiously led Tango through the gate. “I don’t understand.”
Jared pulled it shut and flipped the latch. “There’s a clip under his chin. Release the lead rope.”
She reached cautiously under the horse’s head. But she found the clip and clicked it free.
Tango instantly reacted to the familiar sound. Knowing he was free, he bolted, spraying clods of dirt at Melissa.
It was all Jared could do not to laugh at the horrified expression on her face.
She sputtered out the dirt while the horse rolled onto his back, relieved to be free of the saddle.
“What don’t you understand?” he asked, instead.
She brushed away her hair and rubbed the back of her hand over her face. “I don’t understand why you had to vote. Aren’t you CEO of Ryder International?”
“This isn’t a Ryder International project.”
“Oh. I thought…”
Jared cracked the gate open to man-size so they could exit the pen. “It’s the Genevieve Fund.”
Melissa raised her brow in a question.
“The Genevieve Ryder Memorial Fund,” Jared explained. “It’s a charitable trust named after my mother.”
“Is your mother…?”
He nodded. “She was killed twenty years ago.”
Her forehead creased. “I’m sorry.”
Jared shrugged, brushing past the sharp stab of conflicting emotions that tightened his chest. “It’s been twenty years.”
Melissa’s green eyes were round and soft. Her voice dropped to a husky level that somehow hit him in the solar plexus. “I’m still sorry.”
They stared at each other in silence, and once again he was struck by the intelligence in her eyes. Only this time, it was laced with compassion. There was something he didn’t understand about this woman, something lurking just beyond his comprehension.
“There are five members of the Genevieve Fund board,” he told her, leaning an arm on a fence rail, forcing the frustrating dilemma from his head.
“Who’s the fifth?” She mirrored his posture.
“My brother, Royce.”
“I take it he gets to break the tie?”
“He’ll be here on Saturday.”
“Does he work on the ranch or with the construction company?”
“Neither. He works for Ryder International, but he’s involved in acquisitions, not in the day-to-day business.”
“So he was the one who found Saxena Electronics?”
And there it was again. “How do you know about Saxena?”
“I told you, Jared.” She smoothed her mussed hair back from her forehead. “I read the newspapers.”
“And you remember obscure facts like that?”
She shrugged. “Sometimes it’s a blessing. Sometimes it’s a curse.”
“Ever heard of Bosoniga?”
“Little country in West Africa.” She grinned, revealing flashing white teeth. “Is this a quiz?”
“We’re building a school there.”