"Be still!" Nash yelled. But she wasn't. She scrambled to her knees, then fell back down.
"We haven't been properly introduced, but I think they like me," she joked, yet he heard her fear. Nash yelled and shoved at the pigs. The pigs lumbered off as he scooped her up in his arms, slung her over his shoulder and made his way out of the pens.
"This isn't necessary. I'm capable of—"
"Hush, woman." Unceremoniously he set her on her feet.
She staggered back a step. "Thank you, I—"
"What in Sam Hill possessed you to get in there?"
She blinked up at him. "I dropped the bucket and was trying to fetch it."
His gaze swung to his daughters. "You two didn't tell her that you are never to go in there?"
The twins stepped back a little, not saying a word.
He looked at Hayley. "No." His hand sliced the air.
"They know better and it's their responsibility to tell you the rules."
"It was my fault. I didn't even consider the danger."
"About ten of those animals are wild boar! Didn't you see the tusks?" He pointed to the pen. "You could have been trampled and gored. You're just a little thing and obviously know nothing about pigs and how mad they can get!"
She stepped closer, flinging mud off her arms. "So what are you upset about? That you had to stop work long enough to rescue me? That I could have been hurt and not be able to work? That I made a mistake?" She drew in a deep breath, her hands on her hips. "Or do you just need an excuse to yell at me?"
"I'm not yelling!"
Laughter prickled the air.
Nash's gaze snapped to the three ranch hands leaning over the corral fence, entertained by the scene. His glare sent them back to work. He looked back at Hayley. She was covered with mud. His daughters were behind her like little stone guards.
"Let's not talk about danger when you rode that wild horse!" She was in his face. "And at your age."
"My age? I've been doing this all my life!"
"Well, I've been doing this for about four days now, Nashville, so I think you should give me a break!" She spun around, grabbing the egg basket and corralling the girls before the threesome marched to the house.
Nash tore off his hat and slammed it to the ground, his breathing heavy. Damn fool woman! She could have been killed! He paced for a few minutes, trying to get control of his heartbeat, then headed to the house.
"Don't you dare track mud in here, Nash Rayburn," he heard her shout the instant he stepped across the threshold. "I just washed that floor!"
He froze. "Then come here!"
"No. Go back to work. I'm fine."
The girls peered around the corner of the foyer wall.
"Where is she, Kim?"
Hesitantly Kim looked at her sister, then her dad.
"In the bathroom," Kate said. "Cleaning up."
Nash toed off his boots, rolled up his muddy pant legs, then strode past his daughters, who flattened against the wall. He stopped at the bathroom. The door was half-open and Hayley stood there in lime-green bra and panties, bent over the sink, washing the dirt from her arms, face and hair. She was a head full of lather and a body full of delectable bare skin. Every hormone he owned jumped up and shouted, and he was helplessly transfixed as she rinsed, reached for a towel and straightened.
She gasped, covering herself with the towel. "Boy, you've got your nerve." She started to close the door on him.
His hand kept it open. Water dripped off her hair, making rivers over her shoulders to the swells of her breasts.
"Quit looking at me like that, Nash, 'cause I don't like you very much right now."
His gaze snapped to hers and he tried keeping it there. "That was careless."
Her expression fused with fresh anger. "You overreacted." She grabbed her robe off a hook and turned her back, pulling it on. Then she rounded on him. "You didn't have to upbraid me in public, and the girls are too young to remember rules like that." She yanked the sash tight. "They'll bow to an adult's decision most any time." She was in his face again, poking his chest. "And you should have told me the rules."
"I see that now." His gaze locked with hers, Nash knew he could get used to being this close to her, feeling her temper, then the fizzle of it. "I apologize."
He frowned. "That sure as hell doesn't sound like it."
"That's your problem. The matter is over."
Nash stared into her eyes and knew she was saying more than that. And he didn't like it.
"Why did you get so mad, Daddy?"
Nash twisted around. His daughters were staring up at him, on the verge of tears. He felt like a creep and knelt to face them. "I was scared."