His bid for a bride

By: Carole Mortimer

PROLOGUE

IT WAS sexual attraction.



Pure and simple.



Except there was nothing pure or simple about the way Skye felt right now.



She was hot and feverish, knew her eyes must be overbright, her cheeks flushed, each breath she took painful with the effort it took to complete even such an instinctive function. Her breasts were pert, nipples hard with arousal beneath the fitted pink sweater she wore, and as for the heated desire between her thighs—!



She could feel all that—and yet she wasn’t sure she even liked the man responsible for all these totally new, confusing feelings.



‘Connor, I have no intention of selling Storm to you just so that he can break your beautiful daughter’s neck for her the first time she tries to show off riding him in front of her friends,’ Falkner Harrington now told Skye’s father scathingly.



Falkner Harrington.



Arrogant. Condescending. Mocking. Handsome as the Vikings represented by that unusual first name!



Overlong blond hair, which should have looked ridiculous in this age of much shorter styles, merely added to this man’s already overt masculinity, the sharpness of his features; straight brows over hard blue eyes, his nose an arrogant slash, sensual mouth twisted with derision now, his chin square and determined—all these things merely emphasized the man’s untameable appearance.



Her more conservative father, in his business suit, shirt and tie, Skye acknowledged ruefully, looked more like a domesticated cat facing the fierceness of a jungle feline.



Her father shook his head smilingly. ‘Skye could ride before she could walk,’ he told the other man with dismissive affection. ‘Falkner, I promised to buy Skye an Arabian as an eighteenth birthday present,’ he added before the younger man could voice any more of the derision he made no effort to hide in that arrogantly handsome face. ‘More to the point, Falkner,’ her father added ruefully as he could obviously see the younger man’s disinterest in such a promise, ‘you and I both know that Storm’s unpredictable temperament just isn’t suited to the showjumping circuit.’



Falkner Harrington, at thirty-two years of age, was one of the top riders of the world showjumping circuit, and had been so for the last ten years.



But, as Skye also knew from numerous newspapers articles about the man, he was as much known for his prowess off the showjumping circuit as he was on it!



But, nevertheless, he had some nerve talking to her father in that condescending manner—because her father’s whiskey company had been this man’s sponsor for the last seven years.



She also didn’t like the fact that Falkner Harrington seemed to see her as some little rich girl who didn’t know one end of a horse from the other, merely wanted his precious Arabian as a fashion accessory to show off to her friends.



‘Skye?’ the younger man echoed mockingly, icy blue gaze flickering over her with scathing dismissal. ‘With a surname like O’Hara, wouldn’t Scarlett have been a more apt preface?’ he added derisively.



The taunt, Skye was sure, had more to do with her almost waist-length copper-red hair, confined in a ponytail at the moment, than it did with her surname!



Heated colour warmed her cheeks at this man’s deliberate rudeness; as if his own first name were so ordinary. Although, Skye had to admit, there was no denying how perfectly it suited his look of Viking fierceness…



‘My eyes are a sky-blue.’ She spoke for the first time, defensively, her voice husky, the slight Irish lilt making it more so.



Eyes of the same clear blue met her gaze with bold amusement. ‘So they are,’ Falkner Harrington acknowledged mockingly, that gaze raking over her with merciless assessment now, taking in the rounded beauty of her youthful face, the pink sweater over pert breasts, denims fitting tightly over the long length of her legs. ‘And you’re almost eighteen,’ he echoed sceptically, obviously finding that very hard to believe.



She was five feet six inches tall, not that short for a woman, her hair, when it wasn’t confined, a mixture of blonde, cinnamon and copper, her skin, now that she had at last passed through puberty, pale and flawless, her figure perhaps a little on the slender side rather than voluptuous, but there was time for that.



There was certainly nothing about her, Skye decided indignantly, that warranted this man looking at her as if she were no more than a precocious child!



‘Come on, Falkner,’ her father cajoled. ‘Just letting Skye take a look at the stallion isn’t going to do any harm, surely?’



‘No harm, no…’ the younger man agreed slowly, still looking assessingly at Skye.



A look she deeply resented. If he would just once let her near the stallion then she would show him—



She drew in a deeply controlling breath, forcing herself to smile naturally—which wasn’t easy when she considered this man had insulted both her father and herself in the last few minutes! ‘I really would like to see Storm, Mr Harrington; my father has done nothing but sing his praises since he saw him last week,’ she added encouragingly.



That deep blue gaze flickered briefly in the older man’s direction. ‘I wasn’t aware you had been to see Storm, Connor,’ he murmured softly—dangerously so.



Skye glanced at her father too, knowing by the slightly reproachful look he shot at her that she had just said something indiscreet.



‘I happened to be in this area on business last week,’ her father told the younger man with a dismissive shrug. ‘You were away at a competition at the time, but your groom kindly let me take a look at the stallion you’ve told me so much about.’



‘Really?’ The younger man’s relaxed demeanour hadn’t changed by so much as a flicker of the eyelids, and yet his displeasure at this revelation was nonetheless tangible.



Skye didn’t hold out much hope of the groom escaping verbally unscathed from this disclosure. ‘Surely it’s only reasonable for my father to want to take a look at something he intends offering to buy?’ she dismissed lightly.



Falkner Harrington looked at her coldly. ‘Reasonable, yes—if I had had any idea your father intended offering to buy one of my horses at all,’ he rasped. ‘Least of all Storm.’



‘But why would you want to keep him if he’s unsuitable for jumping?’ Skye continued recklessly; goodness knew her father, as this man’s sponsor, knew what it cost to stable, train, and compete horses who were suitable for the circuit, let alone ones that weren’t in that class.



Falkner Harrington looked down his arrogant nose at her impertinence. ‘Could it just be that perhaps it’s because he’s unsuitable for that purpose that I have my doubts about selling him to a young girl barely out of braces?’ he rasped harshly.



The twin spots of angry colour in her cheeks clashed wildly with the redness of her hair; how could this man possibly know that until a few months ago she had worn braces on her teeth?



Skye could see from the corner of her eye as her father shifted in his chair at this visible display of her rising temper, but she was too indignantly furious now to heed that subtle warning.



‘So you’re unwilling to even let me see Storm?’ she snapped between clenched teeth.



Falkner Harrington shrugged broad shoulders. ‘I have no problem at all with your seeing him.’



‘Then—’



‘Merely with your ever owning him,’ he concluded scathingly.



Skye opened her mouth, closing it again with a snap as her father sat forward slightly and lightly touched her arm. She glanced up at him, knowing her frustration must be evident from her expression.



He gave a barely perceptible shake of his head before turning back to the younger man. ‘As you know, Falkner, I have a pretty impressive stable myself in Ireland. I taught Skye to ride there,’ he added lightly. ‘She really is a very capable horsewoman,’ he assured the other man. ‘Professional standard, in fact,’ he added firmly.



That cold blue gaze flickered over her briefly before Falkner gave another shake of his head. ‘We’ve already agreed Storm’s temperament isn’t suited to that way of life.’



‘We’ll settle for just seeing him,’ Connor cajoled.



‘If you insist!’ Falkner Harrington accepted impatiently after a brief glance at his wrist-watch, obviously aware that he owed at least this much politeness to the man whose company was his professional sponsor. ‘Storm should be back from his gallop by now.’ He rose abruptly to his feet, at once revealing why he had looked down his arrogant nose at Skye’s own height minutes ago; at least six feet four inches tall himself, he must tower over almost everyone he met!



Her father, a man Skye had looked up to and admired her whole life, looked positively short beside the younger man, even the breadth and power of the older man’s shoulders doing nothing to allay that impression; Falkner Harrington had wide, powerful shoulders himself beneath the black jumper he wore, his waist and thighs muscular in cream riding trousers and boots.



The Falkner stable, as Skye had discovered for herself when she and her father had driven into the yard in their hire car a few minutes ago, was a large concern, and although the house itself was slightly run-down, both inside and out, the stables and training grounds were of the very highest standard.

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