A Cowboy in Manhattan(5)

He couldn’t seem to stop his smirk. “I bet you’ve got those princess tan lines at the bikini mark.”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Much more attractive.”

To that, he gave her a mock toast. “No argument from me.”

Then, to his surprise, she leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Truth is, I twisted my ankle.”

He leaned forward to meet her, lowering his own voice to match. “Is that a secret?”

She shook her head. Then she shrugged her slim shoulders. “Not exactly, I just…” Her red lips pursed together, and he couldn’t help thinking about kissing her.

Her cheeks flushed a light rose.

Was she thinking about kissing him back?

As quickly as it formed, he banished the thought. It was a ridiculous assumption.

“Are you embarrassed about hurting yourself?” He settled on a much more likely explanation.

“It was a silly accident,” she confessed. “I’m usually really careful about my shoes, but—”

“Rare, medium or well?” Mandy called to them.

Reed didn’t take his gaze off Katrina. “Rare.”

“Medium,” she put in. “And nothing too big, please.”

Reed felt a smile grow. “You’re not up for a cowboy twelve-ouncer?”

Her hand moved to rest on her flat stomach. “My dance partner has to be able to lift me.”

“Maybe you need a stronger partner.”

“What I need is to lose two pounds.”

“You look perfect to me.” The soft words were out before he could censor them.

A slow blink camouflaged her reaction. Then she brought her teeth down on her bottom lip and determinedly turned her attention to Caleb, who was carrying the platter of steaks to the table.

Reed had said something wrong. He wasn’t sure what it was, but she’d abruptly shut him out.

Katrina didn’t know why she’d told Reed about her ankle last night. It was a foolish slip of her tongue. It compromised her ongoing efforts to keep her two worlds apart, and this morning she vowed to do better.

In the years since her father’s sister, her generous Aunt Coco, had taken her under her wing and convinced her parents to let her move to New York City with her, she’d been living two separate lives. In New York, enrolled in the ballet program at the Academy, she felt vibrant and alive. She was a part of the cultural mosaic Auntie Coco, a renowned contemporary painter, had been so careful to expose her to while she was growing up. She fitted in. She was normal, accepted, even respected. In Colorado, she was out of step. An anomaly who could never show weakness.

She often wondered why her aunt had decided to rescue her from the ranching world, what it was she’d recognized as a kindred spirit in a ten-year-old child. She’d always meant to ask. But Coco had died of a sudden aneurism two years ago before Katrina had had the chance.

Now, she came to the bottom of the stairs of the Jacobs’ house and took a bracing breath. Her two brothers and two sisters were already dressed for the day’s work, sitting at the breakfast table eating pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs. It never ceased to amaze her that Mandy and Abigail could consume so many calories and keep such trim figures.

As she pivoted around the end of the staircase, she was careful not to limp. Then again, Reed would probably tell Caleb, and Caleb would tell Mandy, and once again she’d be the pathetic, weak branch on the robust Jacobs family tree.

She approached the breakfast table to a chorus of good mornings, taking the empty place next to Mandy, searching the table for fruit, or maybe a whole-grain muffin. But a platter of fluffy pancakes was handed her way, followed by maple syrup and a mounded serving tray of eggs.

“Thanks.” She nodded to Abigail, setting the heavy platter down in an empty spot in front of her plate. “Is there maybe an apple or something in the fridge?”

Everything seemed to still for a moment as four sets of eyes turned her way.

“I’m not a huge breakfast eater,” she explained, ignoring the tantalizing scents of melting butter and warming syrup.

Abigail started to stand.

“No, no.” Katrina quickly waved her off, coming to her feet. Pain tripped in her ankle from the sudden movement, but she schooled her features. “I’ll get it.” She quickly headed for the kitchen.

“Abigail and I can stay on the ranch for a few more days,” Seth said, his conversational voice coming through the big, open pass-through between the kitchen and dining room. “But then they’ll need us in Lyndon to help with my campaign.”

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