A/N Sorry it's been a while guys, just been getting ready for Christmas, doing my shifts at the bar and restaurant as it got busier and busier, as well as trying to finish all my college work. So hope you like this chapter, R and R and let me know what y'all think =]

Chapter 5

The stubborn mare under me refused to take heed of my warnings and twisted viciously before bucking and throwing her hind legs high, trying to pitch me forward, as she reared up in the next second I seated myself deep in the saddle and only by years of practiced managed to keep my nose from smashing into her neck line. Yeah that wouldn't be a pleasant experience.

With a deep breath I pushed my feet down in the stirrups and sat my weight back in the saddle and pulled the reins so the mares head bowed and she started to stubbornly back up. It was shocking, to know that this horse was actually broken and not even a green horn. She was a prize winning horse used in the rodeos in barrel racing. But damn is she was a bitch, she knew I was only putting her through her paces and loved to throw me. I would be glad when her owner came to pick her up in a few days.

The sound of a rumbling truck coming along the dirt road and parking near the gate had me glancing over my shoulder, my eyes narrowed as the door slammed and my hated enemy stepped out. For once it wasn't Dustin.

Sensing my distraction the mare crow hopped, yanking her head so that the reins snapped from my grasp, trying to gather myself I leant forward trying to snatch them. Wrong move, I should have grabbed the hair at the base of her neck to cling on, halfway bent and reaching, she spun, flailing her hind legs and sending me flying from my seat.

Dust kicked up blinding me before I closed my eyes, on instinct I rolled towards where I knew the fence was, and thanked god that I had made the corrals with a gap between the floor that was large enough for me to roll under. The sound of thundering hooves slamming behind me let me know that the mare was out for payback.

Once clear I cursed and shot to my feet, kicking the wooden poles in annoyance. "Yeah well next time I come to the stalls with extra oats you ain't getting' any! And I'm still going to put you through your goddam paces! 'Cause I'm your trainer and you can't fucking kill me!" I said as the horse snorted, turned and flicked her tail at me.

"Looks like your struggling there Meg."

I glared at Nickels as he sauntered up to me in his clean, pristine cowboy boots. Probably didn't do a day's work in those ever.

"Life's hard work Nickels. That's what makes it worth living. What can I do you for hoss?"

Nickels eyes me from my worn boots, up my scruffed jeans, over my buttoned shirt, lingering on my chest long enough to contemplate decking him before finally meeting my gaze.

"I'm here to see if you've thought anymore on my offer." His smug grin was tempting me to definitely deck him, after all the Sheriff would understand…..after a night in jail at least.

"As a matter of fact I have." A grin slowly started to spread across his face. "And I decided you can stick it even further up your asshole."

Oh the fury on his face, fracturing the carefully constructed look on his face was so worth it. I had a tendency to try people beyond their limits, and when they ticked me off I would wield that ability to my utmost.

"Now you listen to me Megan. You keep doing what you're going to lose everything. Your parents didn't want to see this place run to the ground, or their only daughter so run down with it. You're struggling to keep this all going and you won't be able to pay your debt to me. I'm offering you a solution; I'd take it if I were you."

Richard Nickels, or the Rat as I referred to him as personally, had profited from the beef industry he had inherited off his father and the young age of 15. Fair do's to him, he learnt the trade and even branched into areas of realty development and stock shares. Lately he'd been looking at ranches he was interested in buying and commercialising into ranch holiday homes. He had come to me not long ago offering a more than fair price for my place, it was the perfect location and could offer the full experience, he said. But I'd never sell, he knew that, so the loan my father had taken out with the Nickels not long before he died, had been passed down to me. So to try and coax me to sell, Nickels had started pressing for his payments, increasing the interest, and with my salary I couldn't afford lawyers to fight my case, so I simply scrimped the money together. But a few weeks ago he had come to me with a different proposal. Simple, I marry him and I no longer have to pay or worry over anything. I could still work the ranch but I would have to put up with holiday makers wanting to watch the action. Again the answer was hell no.

"Good thing I'm not you and you're getting your payments so you have no reason to come here and bug me. Now get the hell off my property."

"Now you listen to me, if you don't take my offer things are going to get a hell of a lot-"

In a few short steps he was towering over me, his hand gripping my wrist in a bruising hold. I would have winced if I wasn't so stubborn to not show weakness. But that didn't mean I couldn't knee this guy in the gonads.

"Get your damn hands off her." The quiet voice held such threat and violence that it was nowhere near a warning, my knee paused on its way up to Nickels family jewels.

Nickels spun his head and snapped at Dustin. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Dustin yanked Nickels back so the man had to actually stumble to catch himself. "I'm working, what's your excuse?"

Nickels tilted his head up, ever the higher superior business man. "I'm here on business, this doesn't concern you."

"Like hell it does. You don't grab a lady like that if you're doing business. And she told you to leave, I suggest you do it. Now."

Bono, the traitorous dog that he was growled from Dustin's side, evidently loyal and agreeing with him. And okay I had to admit so did I.

Nickels seemed to consider his options for a moment and so did I, he either stayed to bug me and me or Dustin shot his ass, or he saved said ass and left. The smart businessman he was he took the latter option.

As the truck drove off kicking a cloud of dust up in its wake, I felt the full weight of Dustin's eyes on me.

So I got my offense ready, after all that was the best defence, right?

"What the heck were you playing at? You didn't have to interfere I can handle myself ya know." I snapped.

Dustin just stared at me for a moment, then quicker than I could react he had me by the waist and leant so far forward that when I leant back to avoid him I would have collapsed on my back if it wasn't for his hold on me. My lips opened to say something snarky and get him to back off, but nothing came out. The closeness of him, oh man, he was so hot I felt I could melt. He smelt of male and work and the stables, and the feel of those honed and hard worked muscles pressed deliciously against my front…..I needed a cold shower, fast.

"I have just about had enough of your bullshit. Everybody knows Nickel's is bad news, so tell me now. Just how much trouble are you in?"

I don't know what prompted me to say the words that sprang out of my mouth next, but they bypassed the filter in my brain that kept most of my thoughts in my head. And I had no clue how he would react.

"Yeah, and what if I don't? How are you going to make me?"

The pure heat in his eyes had my heart stuttering. And by the gods, was I glad that the filter between my brain and mouth had malfunctioned. Because I knew Dustin could make me tell him everything, I ashamed to admit. And with that smirk on his face, he knew exactly that he could. Where did all my bravado and sass go?