Safe Haven (Xcite Romance)

By: Shanna Germain

Chapter One

‘YOU’RE FINE, YOU BIG lug. Quit your bitching.’ Kallie kept her voice soft and melodic, her tone a sweet-song of calm as she moved around the big gelding, one hand holding tight to his halter, the other making long, slow strokes along his mottled grey neck.

Toddy didn’t calm down much. Since he’d arrived at Safe Haven two weeks ago, he hadn’t quit any of his bad habits, not the wood chewing or the nipping, not the nervous prancing or the laid-back ears that were a clear threat to whoever came near, but he’d stopped trying kill her, which was an improvement. It had been a crazy couple of months. Three new rescues, stress about money and keeping the farm afloat, conversations with the bank, and, of course, ending things with Erik. She thought he’d been the man of her dreams – supporting her dream of a rescue farm, helping her make payments on the land, even asking her to marry him – but when she’d said no to the latter, he’d started pressuring her to sell the land to him. Which was where she’d drawn the line. She kind of missed having someone to help her out, and she definitely missed the sex, but it was better to be alone than to be with someone who wasn’t right for her. That’s what her nana had always said.

In the meantime, if she did nothing more than stand here brushing a nervous horse’s trembling flank all day, showing him that he was safe and loved, that was just fine with her. She swore the touch helped her as much as it did the animals. The farm, more than any other place, had always felt like home to her.

‘Yes, it’s your home now too,’ she sing-songed to Toddy. ‘Until you stop biting people, you big brat. Then we’ll find you a nice place, with someone who loves you. Not like those jerks who left you to starve.’

Toddy leaned his ears back, not in threat but to listen to her voice, and Kallie rewarded him with a bit more crooning.

That was the secret to working with animals, Kallie had discovered a long time ago. You could say whatever you wanted as long as you said it in the right voice. It was all about making them feel safe and loved. And most of the animals who ended up at Safe Haven, animals like Toddy, whose owners had left him locked in a barn for weeks with no food or water, they needed to feel cared for most of all.

‘You’re doing great, Big Guy,’ she said. Letting go of Toddy’s halter, Kallie slipped half a carrot from her pocket and held it out on her flat palm. Toddy eyed her with his big brown eyes. It always broke her heart a little when an animal was so scared they didn’t even come for treats. She kept herself still, willing him to come and take it from her, willing him to trust her enough to take the risk.

Down by the road, the other horses – six of them, all rescues like Toddy – neighed, one by one. She often joked about them being the farm’s warning system, but it wasn’t really a joke. They only neighed like that if a strange vehicle was coming up the driveway. And strangers were never a good thing at Safe Haven. It either meant an animal needed rescue or her Erik had sent one of his hired hands to try to talk her into selling the land. Again.

So much for her tiny moment of peace.

‘Shit,’ she swore, her tone sounding as grumpy as she felt.

In response, Toddy snorted and stamped his foot, throwing his head in the air, showing the whites of his eyes.

‘Sorry, big boy,’ she said, her voice almost back to its soft croon. ‘You lucked out this time. Me, not so much.’

She held out the carrot for another moment, hoping that the visitor would go away or that Toddy would come and take the treat from her. But he stayed in the corner with his ears back and the horses kept up their doorbell neighs. Sighing, she left the carrot in Toddy’s feed bin, then slipped out of the stall and went to greet whatever fresh hell was arriving on her doorstep.

It wasn’t one of the Eric’s hired hands. And it wasn’t, at least as far as she could tell, a new rescue animal. And if it was fresh hell, it was incredibly sexy fresh hell in jeans and black boots. A fresh hell of a tall, curly haired man pushing a motorcycle up her gravel drive. As he walked, the horses were following him, keeping as close to the fence line as they could, tossing their heads and snorting at him.

A second later, she realised they weren’t snorting at the man. They were snorting at the wriggling bundle of fur that was bounding up the driveway after him. Great. So it was a random drop off. She wanted to stop them right there and tell them that Safe Haven was full. She didn’t have time or room for any more strays. Not even cute strays. Especially not cute strays. She had enough trouble on her hands.

But her voice, which had so recently been crooning at a huge horse, now seemed stuck in her throat.

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