Home > Mackenzie's Magic (Mackenzie Family #4)(3)

Mackenzie's Magic (Mackenzie Family #4)(3)
Author: Linda Howard

"Damn it," he muttered, bending over her. He sank his long fingers into her hair, sifting through the tousled silk as he stroked his fingertips over her skull. "Why didn't you tell me you were hurt?" "I didn't know I was." It was the truth. What did he mean, hurt?

"I should have guessed." His voice was grim, his mouth set in a thin line. "I knew you were pale, and you didn't eat much, but I thought it was just stress." He continued probing, and his fingers brushed a place on the side of her head that made her suck in her breath as a sickening throb of pain sliced through her temples.

"Ah." Gently he turned her in to him, cradling her against his shoulder while he examined the injury. His fingers barely touched her scalp. "You have a nice goose egg here." "Good," she mumbled. "I'd hate for it to be a bad goose egg." He gave her another narrow-eyed look, something he had down to an art. "You have a concussion, damn it. Are you nauseated? How's your vision?" "The light hurts," she admitted. "But my vision isn't blurred." "What about nausea?" "A little."

"And I've been letting you sleep," he growled to himself, half under his breath. "You need to be in a hospital."

"No," she said immediately, alarm jangling through her. The last thing she wanted was to go to a hospital. She didn't know why, but some instinct told her to stay away from public places. "It's safer here." In a very controlled tone he said, "I can handle the safety. You need to see a doctor."

Again there was that nagging sense of familiarity, but she couldn't quite grasp what it was. There were other, more serious, things to worry about, however, so she let it go. She took stock of her physical condition, because a concussion could be serious, and she might indeed need to be in a hospital. There was the headache, the nausea... What else? Vision good, speech not slurred. Memory? Rapidly she ran through her family, remembering names and birthdays, thinking of her favorite horses through the years. Her memory was intact, except for... She tried to pinpoint her last memory. The last thing she could remember was eating lunch and walking down to the stables, but when had that been?

"I think I'm going to be okay," she said absently. "If you don't mind, answer a couple of questions for me. First, what's your name, and second, how did we wind up in bed together?" "My name's MacNeil," he said, watching her closely.

MacNeil. MacNeil. Memory rushed back, bringing with it his first name, too. "I remember," she breathed. "Alex MacNeil." His name had struck her when she'd first heard it, because it was so similar to the name of one of her nephews, Alex Mackenzie, her brother Joe's second-oldest son. Not only were their first names the same, but their last names both indicated the same heritage. "Right. As for your second question, I think what you're really asking is if we had sex. The answer is no." She sighed with relief, then frowned a little. "Then why are we here?" she asked in bewilderment. He shrugged. "We seem to have stolen a horse," he said. Chapter Two

Stolen a horse? Maris blinked at him in total bewilderment, as if he'd said something in a foreign language. She'd asked him why they were in bed together, and he'd said they had stolen a horse. Not only was it ridiculous that she would steal a horse, but she couldn't see any connection at all between horse thievery and sleeping with Alex MacNeil.

Then a memory twinged in her aching head, and she went still as she tried to solidify the confused picture. She remembered moving rapidly, driven by an almost blinding sense of urgency, down the wide center aisle of the barn, toward the roomy, luxurious stall in the middle of the row. Sole Pleasure was a gregarious horse; he loved company, and that was why his stall was in the middle, so he would have companionship on both sides. She also remembered the fury that had gripped her; she'd never been so angry before in her life. "What'is it?" he asked, still watching her so intently that she imagined he knew every line of her face. "The horse we 'seem' to have stolen is it Sole Pleasure?"

"The one and only. If every cop in the country isn't already after us, they will be in a matter of hours." He paused. "What were you planning on doing with him?"

It was a good question. Sole Pleasure was the most famous horse in America right now, and very recognizable, with his sleek black coat, white star, and white stocking on the right foreleg. He'd been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, had been named their Athlete of the Year. He'd won over two million dollars in his short career and been retired at the grand old age of four to be syndicated at stud. The Stonichers were still weighing the offers, determined to make the best deal. The horse was black gold prancing around on four powerful, lightning-fast legs.

What had she been going to do with him? She stared at the ceiling, trying to bring the hours missing from her memory back to the surface of consciousness. Why would she steal Sole Pleasure? She wouldn't have sold him, or raced him in disguise, of course, on her own. She rejected those possibilities out of hand. Stealing a horse was so foreign to her nature that she was at a loss to explain having apparently done exactly that. The only reason she could even imagine having for taking a horse would be the animal was in danger. She could see herself doing that, though she was more likely to take a whip to anyone mistreating one of her babies, or any horse at all, for that matter. She couldn't bear seeing them hurt. Or killed. The thought knifed through her, and suddenly she knew. Oh, God, she knew.

She jerked upright in bed. Instantly pain mushroomed inside her skull, the pressure almost blinding her for a second. She gave a gasping, almost soundless cry; a hard arm shot upward and closed around her, preventing her getting up, but it didn't matter anyway. She felt her muscles going slack, unable to support her, and she slumped over on him. The pain quickly subsided to a far more manageable level, but the moment of agony left her weak and shaking, collapsed on his chest, in his arms, her eyes closed as she tried to recover from the shock. MacNeil gently turned so that she was flat on her back and he was half over her, one heavy, hairy, muscled leg thrown across her much slimmer ones, his arm under her neck, his broad shoulders blocking the light from her closed eyelids. One big hand covered her left breast, the contact brief and warm and electrifying, then moved up to her throat. She felt his fingers pressing against the artery there, then a soft sigh eased from him, and he brie fly leaned down to press his forehead against hers, very gently, as if he were afraid the touch might hurt her. She swallowed, trying to control her breathing. That was the limit of her control, though, because there was nothing she could do about the speed at which her blood was thundering through her veins. Only the thought of Sole Pleasure kept her focused. Maris gulped, opening her eyes and staring up at him. "They were going to kill him," she said in a stifled tone. "I remember. They were going to kill him!" Renewed rage bubbled in her bloodstream, giving force to the last sentence. "So you stole him to save his life."

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