The Billionaire's Ballet (Friends with Benefits)

By: Deanna Roy

I headed out the back exit and climbed the gate rather than opening it. It felt good to be outside. My lungs expanded and I took in a great gulp of air. I could breathe again. In New York I spent almost all my time indoors at rehearsals.

The horses were gathered around a water trough. I could see Jezebelle nosing her way alongside the others. She was gray-blue in the bright light and hadn’t changed a bit.

I took a rope halter from a hook by the gate to bring her in. This was something I couldn’t do in the city. While I loved the bright lights and lifestyle, I had definitely missed the slower pace of Texas. You couldn’t just step outside to ride a horse in Chelsea.

I talked softly as I approached the trough. A black foal startled and spirited away with high anxious steps. The others looked at me with languid eyes.

“Jezebelle,” I said. “Come.”

Her ears twitched, as if she, too, wasn’t sure what to make of this oddly familiar stranger. Then she lifted her nose and whinnied. I ran my hand along her mane. “It’s just me, girl. Just Jules.”

She seemed mollified as I slid the halter on and led her back to the stable and through the gate. Sawyer waited inside with her gear. “How long are you here for?” he asked as we saddled her up.

“A month,” I said.

“I hear you’re doing pretty well up there in New York. A ballerina and all.”

I cinched the rigging and adjusted the stirrups. “It’s been fun. Mother has come up for several shows.”

“She sure is proud of you,” Sawyer said. He patted Jezebelle on the rump. “Glad to see you up on your horse. We wondered if you were going to be all citified.”

I laughed. “You can take the girl out of the country…,” I said.

“Glad to see they haven’t taken the country out of the girl.”

My boot fit nicely in the stirrup, and I swung my leg over Jezebelle’s back. “You ready, my lady?” I asked, rubbing her head.

She stepped lively as Sawyer walked ahead and opened the gate for us. “Take her out for a spell. Bennett likes to walk her on the trail.”

I nodded, urging Jezebelle forward.

He’d mentioned Bennett twice now. There were a lot of horses in the barn. Bennett had a powerful former racehorse that was technically his. Or at least he used to. I wondered why he rode mine.

As we trotted out across the open pen, I thought about that last night when Bennett caught me confessing my love for Quinn to my horse. He had promised me she would be taken care of.

I just hadn’t expected he would do it himself.

One of the horse handlers waved at me and jogged ahead to open the gate to the back lot. The trail through the mesquite trees and brush had been there since the estate had been a real ranch.

Prettying up the barn and cleaning up the grounds had transformed a working ranch into an estate. Maybe I’d hoped my clothes and poise would do the same for me.

But nobody was fooled. Least of all me.

Chapter 5

One thing about nature is that if nobody touches it, it doesn’t change.

As Jezebelle picked her way along the trail, my heart soared with the recognition of each detail I’d treasured when I was a girl.

“There’s the ghost tree,” I told my horse, pointing toward a great towering oak with a giant knot in the bark that looked like a screaming woman.

“And elephant rock!” The big gray stone had a deep smooth indentation along a curve, leaving the impression of an elephant trunk.

Jezebelle tossed her head as if feeling my energy. I nudged her into a trot and the breeze cooled my face as we moved faster along the trail.

I wanted to shout out loud. My soul felt very full. The emotion was rare for me. Sometimes I felt it when I nailed the perfect pirouette or during a ballet, when I became completely, almost supernaturally, in sync with a line of dancers.

But this was so much easier.

The very idea made me laugh. It was true. I had to work very hard for the happy moments in New York. The rehearsal and performance schedule was grueling. The relationships between the dancers vacillated wildly between best friends to cutthroat competition. The travel was exhausting and yet you had to perform no matter how you felt, jet-lagged or not sure about the foreign food or down with a cold.

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